PHOTO: Zephirin and Vivian Cambre Perilloux (Photo courtesy of Coleen Landry)
Despite its current appearance of a sleepy little village
strung along River Road, Montz was once one of the two bustling towns on the
East Bank of St. Charles Parish, the other being St. Rose.
It has a post office, train station, several grocery stores
and garage (run by Elyzee Dufresne). Today, the town is hardly a shadow of
“The Corps of Engineers really helped destroy Montz, between
the Spillway construction and the levee setback in 1973 that displaced 44
families,” Coleen Perilloux Landry said.
Landry, youngest child of Zephirin and Vivian Cambre
Perilloux, remembers when Montz was a heaven on earth for a little girl.
“Pure innocence, “ she recalled. “Fields to roam and river
batture to play in.”
However, Montz has had more than its share of tragedy and
misfortune. Nov. 11, 1912 saw one of the largest train wrecks in U.S. history,
when an excursion train left New Orleans at 11:30 a.m. headed for Woodville,
Miss., in a heavy winter fog.
Following the excursion train was a freight train headed for
the same place. The excursion train had engine trouble when it reached Montz,
and the engineer sent a flagman named Cunningham back to place flares to warn
the freight train following.
However, for reasons unknown, the freight train didn’t stop
and slammed into the excursion train, nearly slicing it in two. Fourteen people
died at the scene and one later from his injuries. Doctors came from Laplace
and New Orleans.
Montz had its origins from early German settlers whose
families still thrive here. The name of Montz is a transmutation of the
PHOTO: Felix Perilloux, former St. John the Baptist Parish Police Juror (Photo courtesy of Coleen Landry)
Land transactions here date back to the 1760s and early
villages in the area included Virginia Town, Coffee Town and Keller Town. Many
of the black residents came to the area after the Civil War through the Son’s
of Levi benevolent Association, founded by Achille Hawkins, a free man of
color, through Good Hope Baptist Church.
The Montz post office opened Jan. 11, 1905, when the
population was estimated at 500 people. The fist postmaster was Louis Duhe. It
closed May 31, 1927, and the mail was forwarded to LaPlace, from where the
residents still get mail.
Education took a firm hold in the community, led by the
Keller family, who provided land for the Keller Consolidated School. Three
generations of Kellers served on the St. Charles Parish School Board, including
Ozeme, Flavin and Eddie. Flavin Keller’s school busses, called “transfers” in
those early days, transported children all along the East Bank. Landry recalled
the Keller family – “all very educated and all very skilled people who really
believed in education.”
Keller’s buses were more like trucks, with a bench along
each side, the students facing across the center. With the often-muddy roads,
the boys were often recruited to push the bus out of boggy holes.
Perilloux Plantation, built in the 1820, was acquired by her
grandfather, Felix Perilloux, who had a cooperage 9Barrel-making) business and
was a former St. John the Baptist Parish police juror. In time, Perilloux
Landing in Montz included two adjoining plantations and a small grocery.
Two views of St. Isadore the Farmer Chapel (1924-1965), originally a
mission of St. Charles Borromeo, later came under the supervision of
St. Joan of Arc and finally Sacred Heart of Jesus in Norco before its
destruction by Hurricane Betsy. (Photos courtesy of St. John Parish
Coleen Perilloux Landry is now a colonel in charge of
community relations and crime prevention for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s
Office. She traces her ancestry to a Perilloux, her
great-great-great-grandfather, who came from France to fight in the French and
Indian War and married in 1753 in St. Charles Parish.
Landry’s parents met at a party held at Perilloux
Plantation. Her mother was born in Lions and lived in Sunnyside Plantation
where DuPont is now. Together, they had eight children: Shirley Bassier, Anna
Belle Fourroux, Daisy, Charles, Reed, Emmett and Sheldon Perilloux and Coleen
Students from Montz, Sellers and New Sarpy attended the Keller
Consolidated School until 1920, when the school changed names to the Montz
School. Landry’s mother was president of the Montz School PTA for 15 years.
In 1927, when the Great Flood struck, the levee was moved
back and Landry’s grandmother donated the land for the new school site. In
1930, a new Montz school arose, a brick school with two classrooms and first
through third grades. Principal of the Montz School was Marie Cotten, who
taught from the 1920s thought 1942, when she returned to her home in Baton
Rouge. Miss Cotten was replaced at the school by Edith Trosclair, who continued
until the school closed in the mis-1940s.
Coleen Landry still fondly remembers Miss Cotton, one of the
top influences of her life, along with Sister Mary Joseph at St. Charles
The Great Flood of 1927 ripped a hole in the levee between
Montz and LaPlace, n the area still known as The Crevasse. The Bonnet Carre
Spillway construction which followed, while necessary to safeguard New Orleans
and other downriver communities, devastated Montz. The plantations of the
Kugler, Delhommer and Roussell families were all taken by the Spillway
construction, which began in 1929 and finished in 1931, with President Franklin
Roosevelt attending the dedication. Guide levees were completed in 1932.
In 1936, the school board requested that a road be built
through the spillway for Montz students to attend Destrehan High School and St.
Charles Borromeo School to avoid traveling on Airline Highway. At that time,
the CC Road, built by the Civil Conservation Corps squad near McReine Road, was
the only direct access to Airline from Montz, as Evangeline Road extended from
River Road to a dead end, only 12 houses along.
Her father was a St. Charles Parish deputy for 27 years, a
state trooper and a bodyguard for Huey Long. He later worked at GATX in Good
Hope before retiring to his plantation. “He was always very involved in
politics,” she said. “I grew up with the ins and outs of politics.”
During the war, her father was an air raid warden and her
mother volunteered for the American Red Cross and was also the light keeper for
the kerosene lookout light on the nearby point.
Coleen Perilloux Landry (L'Observateur Staff Photo)
Coleen met Elgin Landry in of Reserve while bother were
attending LSU. “I had to go all the way to LSU to meet someone from Reserve,”
Landry smiled. He is now retired from the National Weather Bureau. They have
four children and one grandchild.
Louisiana Power and Light built its Little Gypsy power plant
in 1960, adding more units in 1965 and 1969. Electricity had first come to Montz
when Landry was in second grade. Telephones came in 1953, when she was away at
LSU. Landry’s career took her to six years with Jefferson Parish sheriff Al
Cronvich and 20 years so far with her college friend, Sheriff Harry Lee,
including running his first campaign in 1979.
Zephirin Perilloux suffered one more tragedy late in life –
the encroachment of the Mississippi River. In 1973m the Corps pushed 44
families out and sliced most of front of Perilloux’s property. The elderly couple
were given three days to move out of their 1820 plantation house into a smaller
house in the rear.
“He died in 1977 at the age of 85,” Landry recalled. “I
really think he died of a broken heart.” Her mother followed in 1985 at the age
of 91. However, Zephirin Perilloux’s name will live on, as the firehouse on his
plantation site now bears his name.
By arrangement with Landry, the Montz firehouse permanently
displays Perilloux’s photograph and flies not only the American flag, but also
the French Fleur-di-lis in his memory.
TO SEE PHOTOS ASSOCIATED WITH THIS STORY, VISIT THE PHOTO GALLERY
* Sentences in bold have been updated for accuracy.
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