A Mid-Life Love Affair
As I browsed through a copy of DONALDSONVILLE, a booklet within the Images of America series, I remembered a time when I had a less than enthusiastic image of the city, gained a renewed appreciation of the yesteryear-grandeur of William Donaldson’s town and recalled the charm of the city as it is today.
There was a time when I denied the city of my birth preferring to say that I was from the New Orleans area. Who, I thought, would be familiar with a small town named Donaldsonville. Let’s blame that on the naiveté of my early years.
As a child, I lived in a small world that encompassed a number of residential blocks where no one was a stranger. That neighborhood was integrated with several generations of people from different cultures and religious affiliations living door-to-door as extended family. I am told that native languages were spoken by the elders only when families of a particular heritage gathered together. Most of the time, they were “Americans” and spoke English.
As a teenager in the 50’s, my friends and I attended school and enjoyed the “best of times” in small town America. Donaldsonville had a movie theater, an ice cream parlor, a donut shop, parks, tennis courts, swimming pools and school activities that kept us busy. And, the Louisiana State Fair was an anticipated annual event. Still, I had not learned to appreciate the history and architecture of the city. It was just a small town situated on the Mississippi River.
I looked forward to ferry rides across that waterway in route to the wholesale houses in New Orleans. My family owned a dry goods store on Railroad Avenue in Donaldsonville and periodically went into the “city” topurchase the latest fashions and the best work apparel for men, women and children. I did not realize at the time that I was crossing the great Mississippi River that flows from humble beginnings in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, was first seen by Columbus during his expeditions, provided an escape route for the pirate, Lafitte and remains a major industrial portal. Again, let’s blame that on the naiveté of my early years.
Now, back to the town itself - that historic and architecturally-significant city of my birth. The city was established by William Donaldson in 1806 and has an interesting history connected to the Civil War and the Sugar Cane Industry. There are many buildings that exemplify major periods of architecture with styles ranging from Greek Revival to Art Deco and beyond. The Ascension Parish Court House, Lemann Building, Ascension Catholic Church, First United Methodist Church, Elks Lodge, and the small structure in Louisiana Square that once housed a medical practice are examples. I regret not having this knowledge or interest sooner. Again, let’s credit that to the naiveté of my early years.
It was an association with the Main Street Program in the late 80’s that drew my attention to the significance of the many historical and architectural aspects that make Donaldsonville distinctive enough to have a registered Historic District. I began touting Donaldsonville as my home town and inviting everyone to come and visit. Thus began a mid-life love affair.
Although I now live in Baton Rouge, I remain captivated by the history and architectural significance of Donaldsonville. When I visit my home town, I enjoy warm welcomes, wonderful food, shopping, and lingering visits to the structure – now a B&B - that once housed my family’s store. It’s a step back in time and a continuation of the love affair that began in mid-life.
(EDITORS NOTE: Yvonne Bahry Caballero is a former resident of Donaldsonville and daughter of the late Ede and Hattie LeBlanc Bahry. Her grandparents, John and Rose Hillal Bahry immigrated to Donaldsonville from Lebanon. Born into abusiness family, she and her siblings learned to "do business" Lebanese-style at an early age. Yvonne is a graduate of Ascension Catholic High and holds a Bachelor's degree in Sociology from Louisiana State University. Now retired from a career in healthcare, she enjoys transferring her memories to story form.)