Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Unique story behind 'Forgotten Baton Rouge'

Douglas Villien Sr., who hails from Maurice but lives in Baton Rouge, has assembled a collection of wonderful old Baton Rouge photographs in “Forgotten Baton Rouge” by Arcadia Publishing. As impressive as the photos are, the story behind many of them is enchanting. Villien’s grandmother, Maude Villien, attended Louisiana State Normal School at Natchitoches and became a teacher. Her first assignment was at the Maurice School in Maurice, and in 1918 she married Dr. Joseph A. Villien, a prominent Vermilion Parish physician.
Around 1912, however, Maude met William Belanger “Sweet” Hart in a chance encounter at Baton Rouge, Douglas Villien told me, and during this time “Sweet” presented Maude with a photo album filled with images from his visits to Baton Rouge.
Although Maude went on to marry another, she referred to the album as a gift from “a Hart to a Heart,” Villien said. The keepsake remained in her possession for 80 years and until her death in 1992.
“The photos were not only a lamenting memory of the couple but turned out to be of historical value for the city of Baton Rouge which have come to be incorporated into the Images of America series edition of “Forgotten Baton Rouge,” Villien said. “Most family members, especially William B. Hart, Jr. never knew these photos existed nor did they know ‘Sweet’ ever owned a camera.”
According to Villien, Hart (1890-1960) was the grandson of Dr. William Hart and son of William Joseph “Billy” Hart (sheriff 1896-1900 and 1916-1920) of Reserve, Louisiana, in St. John Parish. “Sweet” moved to Baton Rouge and began working at Standard Oil Refinery in August 1920. He continued there for 34 years and retired as head of the boilermakers in 1955. “Sweet” married twice during his lifetime, first to Bea Loudon of Zachary, then Rita Carmena, also from Zachary. He and Rita lived in Zachary and were buried there in Shaw-McHugh Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in East Baton Rouge Parish, dating back to 1787.
Annette Maude Gaidry (1895-1992) was the daughter of John Dreux and Philomene Rouen Gaidry of Montegut, Louisiana, a hamlet in south Terrebonne Parish.
            Villien, who is the author of “Between The Crossroads: A Centennial History of Maurice, Louisiana,” will sign copies of “Forgotten Baton Rouge,” from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, at Barnes & Noble Perkins Rowe in Baton Rouge.

Cheré Dastugue Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She also writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire, “A Cajun Dream” and “The Letter.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.