Early 1800’s saw the development of what we now call the lake swamp when William Donaldson, a New Orleans Businessman, set up a small mill on the east shore of Lake Maurepas at Pass Manchac. This area remained largely unsettled until 1850 when Martin Schlosser, a German immigrant settled there. He obtained cabbage seeds from his native homeland and succeeded in growing cabbages, prized for their size and flavor, in the mineral rich black virgin soil. The railroad linking New Orleans to Jackson Ms. was established in 1856 which led to the settlements of Frenier, Ruddock, and Manchac. These communities were very close, everyone knowing everyone else, but their relationship with people in the surrounding parishes was almost non-existent. LaPlace was an almost 6 mile trek through the swamp, so visits to the city were usually a yearly affair. The area grew and at the height of its prosperity, Ruddock was a progressive community in 1900 with 1200 inhabitants due to the operation of the Barton Lumber Company and the Ruddock Cypress Co, Ltd. Frenier was still mostly agricultural, its two main crops being cabbage and black eye peas, with almost 800 settlers. The prized vegetables were harvested, packed in locally made barrels, and shipped via the railroad to Chicago and other northern cities. The German farmers would tell buyers that luck would bestow anyone who ate their cabbage and black eye peas. This custom spread throughout the country and is still active today as a New Years Day tradition to most southerners.
Most of the residents in these villages were able to lead comfortable lives. There were no grocery stores, so the housewives would stand trackside with their orders, waiting for the daily train to New Orleans. The returning train would stop the next day with orders filled. Like other farming communities, because of the hot, humid climates, workers would come in from the fields at lunch and return to their work at three o’clock in the afternoon. This all would change due to Mother Nature.
On September 29th, 1915, a hurricane was tracking for a direct hit on the small community of Frenier. By 9 am September 30th, water had risen 10 feet and at noon water had reached the height of 20 feet above normal lake level. The train returning from Jackson, Ms. had been held up due to the storm. The engineer took it on himself to take the engine and a couple of boxcars and head towards the communities to attempt a rescue of the stranded. The engineer knew where everyone lived and was stopping at each home, blowing his whistle so they could get to the train. In all, 22 people were loaded in the boxcars before the train was stopped as the tracks had been washed away to the South. The engineer reversed and headed back north, but the tracks were washed away there, too. As villagers were now stranded on the train with water two feet deep inside the boxcars, everyone knelt down in the water and prayed for their survival. The next day with water receding, the engineer with 22 villagers walked and swam along the tracks to safety. When the engineer made it back to the depot in Ponchatoula, he was fired for endangering railroad equipment.
In Frenier, a creole woman originally from Gentilly, Aunt Julia Brown, died the day before the storm. She was a large property owner and lived beside the track at Frenier. She was somewhat of a self confessed Voodoo woman who always sat on her porch playing a guitar and singing a song she had written. The song said that on the day she died, she loved the village so much, everyone would die with her and they all would go to heaven together. The hurricane roared ashore as everyone gathered to wake her along with several people from the Yacht Lurline who were also there to see her away. As the water rose, Mr. Brown climbed a tree and watched several of his friends literally swallowed up by the waves. Brown also saw Aunt Julia’s cypress box carried away by the waves and her corpse was found a few days later in the swamp. Even now, the haunted swamp tours still stop at the tracks and listen for Aunt Julia’s singing in the swamps at Frenier.
Today, most of the farm land is now in Lake Pontchartrain because of erosion and most evidence of life before the storm are all but gone.