Port Allen is a city in and the parish seat of West Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, United States. Port Allen is located between Interstate 10 and US Highway 190 on the West bank of the Mississippi River. The population was 5,278 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Port Allen is home to the Mississippi Riverfront Development which provides a breathtaking panoramic view of the Mississippi River and Baton Rouge, the West Baton Rouge Museum, the City of Port Allen Railroad Depot, Scott's Cemetery, the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, the Port Allen Lock.
The City of Port Allen Railroad Depot is a museum depicting the life of railroad workers in the 1940s. It includes a ticket booth, clothing and memorabilia from that era, along with the typewriter originally used at the depot. The 1950 caboose, which is also open for tours, is the only one in Louisiana that is almost totally restored to its original condition.
The Mississippi Riverfront Development offers a panoramic view of the Mighty Mississippi and Baton Rouge. The area includes a pedestrian promenade with special architectural paving, viewing benches, and ornamental street lighting. On this site a ferry operated between Port Allen and Baton Rouge from 1820 to 1968.
Scott’s Cemetery is the burial place of African Americans in West Baton Rouge's history and dates back to the 1850s. It is located at the corner of Court and Commerce Streets near the Riverfront Development. The Port of Greater Baton Rouge, located in Port Allen, is the head of deepwater navigation on the Mississippi River, serving barges and ocean-going vessels with international import and export facilities for all types of cargo, from grain to paper products, chemicals, manufactured goods, bulk ores and petroleum products. It is one of the top ten ports in the country. It handles roughly 61 million short tons of cargo each year, has of dock and of warehouse space. Its facilities include grain elevator storage, molasses, sugar, oil and coffee terminals.
The Port Allen Lock connects the Mississippi River to the Intracoastal Waterway, shortening the distance to the Gulf of Mexico by approximately . The Lock, a free-floating structure is the largest of its kind, as it serves as a man-made break in the levee. The massive structure has 90-ton doors and sides. The lock was constructed in 1961 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to replace the historic Plaquemine Lock. The Intracoastal Waterway is an east-west inland waterway shortcut that connects Florida and Texas, eliminating of shipping distance.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.6 square miles (6.8 km²), of which, 2.1 square miles (5.5 km²) of it is land and 0.5 square miles (1.3 km²) of it (19.39%) is water.
There were 2,012 households out of which 30.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.7% were married couples living together, 25.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.6% were non-families. 26.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.56 and the average family size was 3.09.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.5% under the age of 18, 10.1% from 18 to 24, 26.4% from 25 to 44, 22.9% from 45 to 64, and 15.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 84.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 80.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $30,254, and the median income for a family was $36,762. Males had a median income of $31,029 versus $22,333 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,439. About 19.2% of families and 24.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 34.4% of those under age 18 and 8.5% of those age 65 or over.
A French doctor from Nantes, Michael Mahier, was stationed in Baton Rouge in the employ of the Spanish crown when he acquired land across the river in present West Baton Rouge Parish. There, he laid out a town with streets, lots, and public grounds, which he named “la Ville de St. Michel.”
The town was well conceived but short-lived. A portion of the town survived into the 1860’s along the town of West Baton Rouge, laid out in 1854. The small community, location, now under the waters of the Mississippi River, was the precursor to the present Port Allen.
Dr. Michel Mahier sold the first lots in August, 1809, but died a few months later. He was 54 years old. His wife, Marie Francoise Sigorlot, carried on his work for a while, and died in 1822. In 1810, the settlers on the East side of the river, long unhappy under Spanish rule, rebelled. They took the post at Baton Rouge, expelled the Spanish authorities from the territory, and declared their independence as the “State of Florida.” They applied for admission into the Union and became part of the State of Louisiana in 1812. The West side of the river was a part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and had been admitted into the Union in 1807. This is the year that all West Baton Rouge Courthouse records begin.
Layout of St. Michel
The land originally set aside for St. Michel started at about present Alabama Street extending East about five blocks. The South end was about one-half block South of present Court Street and extended to about Georgia Street on the North. The town was five blocks long along the river and the cross streets were North, Louisiana, St. Michael’s, Claiborne, United States, and South Streets, running East and West.
The street running along the levee was Commerce, and to the West were Reunion, Concord, St. Maire, and West Streets, running North and South. Only the five-block strip between Commerce and Reunion was developed and sold. The middle block was vacant and evidently dedicated to public use. A record in 1817 calls Commerce Street “The Highway” and another calls it “Levee Street.” Perhaps Commerce Street in the present Oaks Subdivision is a carry-over of the name.
The Northern three blocks disappear from the records very shortly and by 1817 only one lot is mentioned, belonging to Anselme Mahier. By 1820, only the Southern two blocks appear in the records, perhaps because the Mississippi River had taken a good portion of St. Michele by then.
By 1820, the records indicate or mention only the Southern two blocks of the town, but business was going at a good pace. Frederick Arbour sold two small portions of his property on Commerce Street. One went to Andre Delahaye for $300. Andre Delahaye had a liquor license and sold his business in 1822 for $1,200. Then in 1822, the building alone but not the lot was sold to Hipolite Tivolier for $2,000. This included the billiard table. All of this was right at the ferry landing. Frederick Arbour sold his property to Francoise Toulouse in 1920, along with all buildings, billiard table, and boats for the ferry, for $2,500. This property was wide along Reunion Street and extended to Commerce.
St. Michel Development Stops
The widow Mahier had died in 1822, and in 1824, the heirs sold the whole plantation (of which St. Michel was a part), and all the vacant lots and unused streets in St. Michel, with the exception of (1) the lots claimed by Francoise Toulouse, Michel Mahier, Jr., Frederick Arbour, Nicolas Combell, and Auguste Leclercq; (2) lots on which had been built the courthouse and jail; and (3) the streets adjacent to said lots.
This meant that St. Michel then consisted of most of the Southern-most block, the courthouse across the street, and the West portion of the second block from the South (two blocks of lots along Reunion and the courthouse across the street). By the 1830s, St. Michel was a strip of lots along the public road (Reunion) between the road and the levee. This strip was about two blocks long. Sebastian Hiriart had bought the plantation and all vacant lots, and in 1832, he sold a portion of land in this strip, over along the road, to August Collier.
Commercial Strip Survives
These surviving lots of St. Michel can be traced down to the 1850s and1860s, when they disappear. This may have been the result of the Civil War and caving of the Mississippi River banks.
The conveyance records are very complex, and some lots were divided into strips as narrow as . The ferry continued in operation in the same place as when Frederick Arbour had it, and all lots are described as being on the road which passes in front of the courthouse. A space between two lots, about a block from the South end of town was called a “thirty-foot passage” in 1832, later called a “road,” and then a “public highway” in 1855. This evidently led over the levee to the ferry.
People who appear in the records of lots in this strip are VAlerin Allain, a free man of color (appointed undertutor of the late Michel Mahier’s minor children), Augustus D. Collier, Pierre Darbancens, Trophie Bertrand, Villeneuve Joachim, Adrian Blanchard, and many others, as well as some free women of color.
Pierre Clarens and Guillaume Dupuy were partners, and at Claren’s death in 1843, their property consisted of a wide lot with a bakery and various other small buildings. Samuel McFadin had two lots, and an advertisement in 1852 announced he had just moved to town and was prepared to accommodate men and horses. In 1853, he had a stable in Plaquemine and one could rent a horse and buggy one-way.
The Northernmost lot of this strip was bought by Louis Vasseur in 1844, and was wide by deep (from the road to the levee). Five transactions later, Jacques Gaspar Marre sold the lot and buildings to Onesiphore Bernare, Jr. (Recorder at the Court House) for $3,322, including groceries, hardware, liquor, the bar, the billiards table, and accessories, in 1850. In 1853 Philip Winfree bought the property and moved his “Capitolian Vis-à-vis” newspaper office there. In 1854 Joseph Joor bought him out for $3,250, including the press, imposing stone, type, cases, materials on hand, and all accounts. Henry J. Hyams was the next owner in 1856 for $3,560, and took over the business, and was editor of the newspaper “Sugar Planter” which published until 1925.
Town of West Baton Rouge
Sebastian Hiriart had purchased the Mahier plantation and the vacant lots of St. Michel, but in 1850, he lost it in court action, and Wing W. Kinchloe bought a portion of the Hiriart Plantation known as the “Old Saw Mill Lot.” This land covered just about the same area as that originally staked out for St. Michel, and includes present Roosevelt, Washington, and Atchafalaya Streets. In fact these streets and lots are part of the town laid out in 1854 by Kinchloe. Starting at present Alabama Street, the Town of West Baton Rouge originally extended three and a half blocks East to the Mississippi River.
In front of the Town of West Baton Rouge was a public road, and between that road and the levee was the surviving commercial strip of St. Michel. It is labeled “present town” on the original 1854 drawing in the courthouse. At the end of Court Street was the courthouse and jail, on the South side of the street, across the Public Road from the levee and ferry.
The East-West streets were Cypress (now Kentucky), Elm, Magnolia, and Court Street. The North-South streets were, starting from the West, Atchafalaya, Grosse-Tete, Opelousas, and Mississippi Street, which converged at a slight angle with the Public Road (River Road) which followed the levee. Present Washington Street is really an alley down the middle of the blocks (shown wide on the original plans).
At the 1860 succession of Eliza Russel, wife of Wing Kinchloe, the property was described as being 52 acres laid out in town lots, with buildings, exclusive of lots claimed by O. Bernard (two lots), Charles Ruston (two lots), and Jacob Coffman (26 lots). Coffman later sold his lots to Achille Druihet and Onesiphore Bernard. Kinichloe sold lots up into the 1870s but seemed plagued with seizures by the sheriff for nonpayment of taxes. Lots were 30 by , whereas the lots in St. Michel were wide.
Part of Michel Mahier’s estate was a “horse flat or shallon,” appraised for $70, and bought at public auction by Pierre Lafiton for $62. This shallon appears in French conveyances as “challon” or “chaland” and was a barge or flatboat, meant to be pulled by another boat. In 1810, Frederick Arbour obtained a license to keep a ferry “with sufficient and safe boats” and Joseph Grange cosigned his bond. When Arbour sold out to Francoise Toulouse in 1820, he included a boat with oars and riggings, a flatboat, and two skiffs. This passed to Lois Rapellet and Denis Demonceaux in 1826 with all buildings, two challands, five skiffs for use of the ferry, along with awnings, sails, and all the ferry rights.
In these transactions, the land at the South end of town and also the ferry boats changed hands The land was right across the street from the courthouse. In 1843 when Henry Bouvier Favrot sold the land and buildings to Louis Favrot, he included the boat named “Crabe” with its steam engine and paddle apparatus, the flatboats, and skiffs, and ferry rights.
In 1846, the property was sold to Robert Beal and William Lockwood, along with the steam ferry “Louisianais,” engine, tackle, and the right to run the steam ferry. This was a 15 year contract starting in May 1840 for the price of $9,000. When the property is sold to Samuel McFadden in 1852 for $1,500, no ferry is included, but the deed reads, “…where the steam ferry is now kept.” At his death, Mrs. McFadden buys the property for $50, and in 1860, the papers say that it is located “in St. Michel.”
When Anselme Mahier’s estate was settled in 1850, the estate included one flatboat. Other records indicate that the first ferry named the “Flying Bride” was a barge that worked on a long chain anchored to a buoy in the center of the Mississippi River. It was operated by C. Hubbs who signed a ferry lease on April 4, 1820, with the Board of Selectmen of Baton Rouge. There is disagreement about the first steam ferry, either “The Sophie,” which was owned by H.B. Favrot about 1840 or the “Jenny Baker” partly owned by Philippe Bauer.
St. Michel was laid out in 1810, and a strip of lots survived, though to be contemporaneous with the Town of West Baton Rouge, laid out in 1854. Separated from this Town by plantation fields was Sunnyside, laid out in 1871 by Mr. J.W. Burbridge. It was two blocks wide and divided into lots as far back as Eighth Street, although the property went back 80 arpents (two miles) into the woods.
Along the levee was Mississippi Street, then Second, Third, and so on. The street up the middle of the subdivision was named Burbridge Street. Sunnyside was laid out alongside the “Railroad Depot Grounds,” and at the ferry and steamboat landing over the levee (near present Courthouse Street).
The railroad depot was that of the Baton Rouge, Grosse-Tete, and Opelousas Railroad, and was the block between the present Charropin and Courthouse Streets. In 1882, the railroad bought additional depot property between present Louisiana Avenue and Courthouse Street and in the same year a two-story brick courthouse was built at Courthouse Street and Jefferson Avenue (Fifth Street). In 1883, the Baton Rouge, Grosse-Tete, and Opelousas Railroad folded and the Louisiana Central Railroad Company took over.
The old tracks ran along the south edge of what came to be known as Louisiana Central Avenue, and later, Louisiana Avenue. The depot boasted the roundhouse and selected houses. And although the tracks stopped at the levee, there was a tramway over the levee for loading cotton and other produce on the steamboats.
Perhaps about the turn of the century, the depot was abandoned, and the tracks relaid to go through the town or subdivision of West Baton Rouge (down present Roosevelt Street) and on to the main T. & P. line in Addis, with a depot at the Northeast corner of present Roosevelt and Court Streets. The old depot property was sold to Alexander D. Barrow in 1902 and this became Louisiana Central Subdivision.
In those days, Sunnyside was “the town” and the Town of West Baton Rouge was in eclipse. Sunnyside boasted all the major businesses, the depot, ferry landing, courthouse, bank, churches, and post office. In 1918 a devastating fire destroyed the business section of Sunnyside, including four of the largest stores and several dwellings—the block on either side of Burbridge, between Second (River Road) and Third were virtually burned out.
By that time, the train depot and ferry landing had moved South to Court Street and West Baton Rouge developed a large business district which lasted until the levee was moved in 1930. Then the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Court Street became the “center of town.”
Port Allen acquired its present name in 1878. The first post office was established in the 1870s, and the settlement had to have a name. It had been designated as “The Port” after completion of the Baton Rouge, Grosse Tete, and Opelousas Railroad in the 1850s. The terminus of the railroad on the Mississippi River became the port to which were shipped goods and produce from the Gosse Tete area. The town was named after Henry Watkins Allen, owner of Allendale Plantation in the north end of the Parish, and the Civil War Governor of Louisiana.
Port Allen was the terminus of a plank road which was built from Grosse Tete to the Mississippi River. In 1852, Henry Watkins Allen was a leader in the movement to build the road. At the completion of the road building, a big celebration was held in Grosse Tete. An announcement said that for the “bon vivants” there would be turtle soup, venison steaks, and truffles, boiled trout, court-bouillon, and hot coffee.
Village of Port Allen
By definition, a village must have 250 inhabitants. Port Allen was incorporated as a village on March 22, 1916 by proclamation of Governor Luther E. Hall. The Village of Port Allen boundaries were as follows: “Beginning at a point at the Mississippi River opposite the extension of the upper boundary line of the Public Road, known as the Plank Road; thence West along said line to 1st junction with the extension of the Western boundary of Lot No. 4, as shown on Waller’s map of the Burbridge Subdivision; thence East along said line to the Mississippi river; thence following said river to the point of the beginning.” The first mayor of the Village of Port Allen was Mr. Leon T. Bernard. The others were: Dr. Paul B. Landry in 1918, Dr. Biener in 1920, and L.I. Lefeaux in 1922.
Town of Port Allen
By definition, a town must have in excess of 1,000 inhabitants. Thus, on March 14th, 1923, by virtue of a proclamation by Governor John M. Parker, the Village of Port Allen became the Town of Port Allen.
The first mayor of the Town was T.L. Cronan, and the second was Henry Oncal. Later, Eugene Alexander became mayor, and following him, William C. Leblanc. On April 7, 1925, an ordinance was passed granting the Baton Rouge Electric Company a franchise to supply the town with electricity. On June 25, 1925, Henry Cohn donated a lot for the municipal water works. In 1929, the sewerage system was put down in the town, and in 1931, the cement sidewalks were laid out.
The Oaks and Cohn’s Subdivisions
As late as the early 1920s, Oaks Plantation was planted in rice, and Carolina Plantation in sugar cane. West Baton Rouge was surrounded by plantation fields and the dwellings were rent houses for field hands. In 1925, Mr. Henry Cohn, Jr. began carving Cohn’s Subdivision out of his Carolina Plantation fields, which started filling in the gap between Courthouse Street and Court Street with roads and lots.
Francis J. Whitehead, attorney, and Charles A. McDonald, a druggist in Port Allen and later Baton Rouge, organized “The Oaks, Inc.” in November, 1924, bought the Oaks Plantation from the Tegre family and started selling lots in “Oaks Subdivision” early in 1926. In 1927, Cohn Subdivision and the Oaks Subdivision were laid out.