The city of Zachary technically exists because a man named Darel Zachary donated part of his land to the Illinois Central Railroad in the 1880s for a train depot, one of many that sprang up about every 5 miles from Memphis, Tennessee, to New Orleans. It would become an important means of transportation for goods and people, said Betty Tucker, archivist and historian for the city of Zachary.
Tucker would use those tracks many years later to visit family in Arkansas, taking the train from Baton Rouge to Memphis as part of the journey, she told members of the Baton Rouge Genealogical and Historical Society at their monthly meeting March 21 at the Bluebonnet branch of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library.
“We’d catch the train at 6 in the morning,” Tucker said, and, of course, because there was a stop every 5 miles or so, the ride was long. “We’d stop at every little depot and pick up mail and people.”
Those days are gone, but Tucker keeps the stories alive with her near-encyclopedic memory of dates and facts, family names and Spanish land grants of what was once known as The Plains for its expanse of flat pasture land.
Zachary was incorporated in 1889, just a few years after the depot was established, and since its first council meeting later that year, the seat of government has never been far from where it stands today, near the historic village at the center of town.
In post-Depression East Baton Rouge Parish, the history of Zachary would again come into play, as a group of LSU professors spent years translating land grant records of the area into English, Tucker said.
The original records, in handwritten script, were in both French and Spanish, and a federal Works Progress Administration project hired the professors to translate and type out the records.
The original files are still stored at the East Baton Rouge Parish Courthouse, but the typewritten translated originals, as produced in the 1930s, are at the Zachary Archives.
Tucker’s talk touched on every part of Zachary’s history, from its preincorporation farming community to the role area residents played in the revolt from Spanish rule in 1810 that would create the Republic of West Florida, and perhaps its most tragic piece of history — the June 3, 1903, fire that destroyed nearly every business in Zachary, accounts of which are detailed in The Advocate’s June 4, 1903, edition.
“When I tell these stories, it’s like I’m there,” Tucker said, and she encourages those who want to learn more to visit the Historic Village and Museum.