Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The History of Margaret Place

The following history of Margaret Place is a combination of information form a city document discussing Historic Guidelines, the Calcasieu Preservation Society as well as other sources, including local historian Adley Cormier.

Michael de Riviere Pithon, born to an aristocratic French family in 1771, fought alongside Napoleon, and immigrated to Louisiana in 1814, settling on 167 acres on the southeast shore of Lake Charles. The Pithon family legends state that he bought some of the land directly from Native Americans and paid for it with a jug of whiskey and two good blankets. Pithon Street and Pithon Coulee are both named for this early French transplant.

A portion of that land became Margaret Place as detailed in "Who is Margaret and why does she have a place?"

Pithon PortraitThis portrait was commissioned by Bill Shearman when he purchased 109 Pithon from his mother, Ada Vincent, in 1981. The portrait was painted by Susan Smythe in 1983. The Shearmans gifted the portrait to the Ross family when they purchased and the traditon continued when Timothy Ieyoub purchased and, most recently, Hilda and Dean Day. The Day’s will leave was they move to 220 Wilson.

In 1910, a disastrous fire destroyed most of the city and provided an opportunity to construct anew. The city was rebuilt and its borders expanded. Swampy land along Pithon Coulee and other streams on the south shore of the lake was drained and filled.

In the early 20th century, the City of Lake Charles was expanding.Three streetcar lines further fueled this expansion. Streetcar lines were extended after the Great Fire of 1910 as the City rapidly grew south and east from the lakefront. The newly created South Ryan Street line provided 24 hour service to the families in the jewelbox subdivision known as Margaret Place,  providing access both to the business district at the heart of the downtown and to the recreational activities at Shell Beach and Barbe Pier. 

 Three principal lines existed: the Ryan-South Ryan line which began at Railroad Avenue and ran through downtown, then along South Ryan (now Dr Michael Debakey Drive) to Lake Street, ending at Shell Beach, the Hodges line which followed Ryan Street but turned east on Kirby and south on Hodges to Sallier then eastward, and the Goos line which ran east on Kirby to Kirkman, then north to Opelousas Street. In addition, the so-called "Dummy line" ran down Broad Street to connect downtown with the First Avenue and Broad Street area. These streetcars served the newly developing residential streetcar neighborhoods like Margaret Place, and those around the old state Baptist orphanage (an area collectively known as "Baptist Meadows" near St Louis High School), and Central Place (on the north side of the Charpentier District around Good Shepherd Episcopal Church).

Lake Charles had rail based streetcar service beginning in 1895 and running through 1926 when buses were introduced.

Allen Jefferson Perkins developed and named a new subdivision, Margaret Place, on the southeast shore of the lake which was bordered by Shell Beach Drive and South Ryan streets.

New routing for the Old Spanish Trail along the south shore of the lake became Shell Beach Road. At Walnut Grove, where the Port of Lake Charles City Docks are located, a new bridge allowed wagons and new fangled automobiles to cross the Calcasieu River.

The oldest surviving home in Margaret Place was built in 1912. While most homes were constructed between 1912 and 1937, there are a few homes constructed during the 1940s and 1950s and two built since 2000. 

Margaret Place contains numerous bungalows and bungalow variations. It has a lot of diversity within the bungalow style including an English Tudor, numerous classic Craftsmen, and a large foursquare.

Long Leaf yellow pine was a popular lumber element and was plentiful throughout Calcasieu Parish.  Allen Perkins was the "Perkins" of Perkins and Miller Lumber Company, Ltd.  Perkins and Miller were manufacturers of "rough and dressed Calcasieu long leaf yellow pine."  As indicated in this 1894 adertisement in the first city directory for Lake Charles, "extra lengths and sizes and railroad timbers a speciality."

Brick homes were more popular during this time period, although wood is still the predominant siding in Margaret Place. 

Margaret Manor, a four-unit apartment complex, is a charming Hollywood-Moorish structure circa another two-building apartment complex built in 1934. Both remain relatively unchanged. 

The Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society and Margaret Place residents, including then Mayor Willie Mount and her husband Ben, worked together to create the current historic district. On May 24, 1999, after extensive public and neighborhood hearings, the Lake Charles City Council adopted an ordinance creating the Margaret Place Historic District. Within the boundaries are 66 single family homes, 3 historical apartment buildings and one parochial school. While the east side of Park Avenue (originally known as “Line Avenue”) was not a part of the original Margaret Place Subdivision, the residential property on the east side was included when the city historic district was created..

Margaret Place celebrated its One Hundred Anniversary in 2012. The Lake Charles City Transit department re-created the historic route on Palm Sunday Weekend using the newest addition to the fleet, a period-looking trolley, painted the traditional color of the Lake Charles streetcars.