Ascension Parish Library program showcases Donaldsonville history

Michael Tortorich

Sidney Marchand III recently presented a video program highlighting Donaldsonville’s history.

During an Ascension Parish Library video presentation, Sidney Marchand III discusses a historic photo of the crowd attending the Louisiana State Fair in Donaldsonville.

The Ascension Parish Library hosted the virtual program, "Days Gone By: A Look at Donaldsonville’s Past," which has been made available via its YouTube account.

Marchand is a Donaldsonville attorney, author, and historian. His grandfather, Sidney A. Marchand Sr. (1887-1972), was the mayor of Donaldsonville from 1929 to 1933 and state representative from 1912- to 1916. He also wrote several books about local history.

Marchand began the program by recalling the early days of the library, which has been celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

As Marchand described, the ferry between Donaldsonville and Darrow was key to transportation prior to the Sunshine Bridge construction in the early 1960s. Even after the bridge opened in nearby St. James Parish, the connector roads were not complete initially.

Marchand also showed areas annexed into the city limits in the past 50 years. The city limits eventually absorbed areas such as Port Barrow, Churchville, and subdivisions along Bayou Lafourche.

Donaldsonville, founded in 1806 by English native William Donaldson, always had a diverse community. Groups well-represented over the years have included French, Spanish (particularly Canary Islanders), Jewish, African, Italians (particularly Sicilians), Lebanese, German, Cuban, Polish, and Mexican, to name a few. Many immigrants continued to speak their native languages in addition to English.

“With this mix of people here, I am told Donaldsonville has a peculiar accent,” Marchand said.

He recalled a story from a Houston lawyer where she said she recognized the accent spoken by Donaldsonville tourists who were on vacation in Mexico.

Marchand reminisced about the history of politics and businesses in Donaldsonville. The city once had multiple car dealerships and several “mom and pop” department stores, primarily located on Railroad Avenue. 

Through the years, the retail landscape has undergone changes and much of the business activity has moved to other parts of the city. The annexed area along Marchand Drive has grown over the years, anchored by major companies such as Walmart.

In 1956, Ormet in the Burnside area was the first plant to come into Ascension Parish. Over the years, industry along the Mississippi River has continued to proliferate. 

“That changed the complexion of Donaldsonville and the whole parish tremendously,” Marchand said.

In his personal observations, Marchand noticed changes in transportation which shaped buying habits.

“When the interstate highway was opened around 1972, and you connected that with the Sunshine Bridge, that was a very rapid trip from Donaldsonville to downtown Baton Rouge or to the shopping centers there, and the shopping in Metairie and New Orleans. That, I think, accelerated the decline of commercial activity,” he said.

Marchand concluded the presentation by showing and discussing several old photos.