Neighbors from the Village of French Settlement celebrated the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of their community Sunday with free jambalaya, tours through the heritage museum and talk of the area’s history and people.
Friends and family gathered under the community pavilion and talked about why so many residents return to the birthplace of their ancestors.
Assistant Chief of Police Lawrence Callender said French Settlement dates back to 1800, when residents were involved in logging, farming, fishing and trapping.
Although Callender was born and raised in Baton Rouge, his grandparents spent considerable time in French Settlement, and he eventually returned to his roots.
“I bought a piece of our family land in 1983 and have been here for 32 years,” Callender said. “The tranquility of the area, it all drew me back. We have a good school system, the lowest crime rate in the state. It’s a great place to live and a great place to raise a family.”
French Settlement Mayor Toni Guitrau has worked with the village since 1995.
She started off as town clerk and has presided over the village as mayor for the past 11 years.
Guitrau said her interest in the community was piqued because “my grandfather, who just passed away in 2008, was one of the first aldermen. He was one of the first three men who went around town getting signatures to get the town incorporated. He lived long enough to see me become mayor a couple of times and my son become an alderman.”
Guitrau, who was born and raised in French Settlement, said she is motivated to serve the small river community because of her family roots.
“It’s all my family and friends, and some new people have come in,” she said. “We’ve only had about 460-470 new people over the past few years come to the area.”
Guitrau explained that in addition to doing the part-time job of mayor, she works as an executive secretary in Baton Rouge full-time.
Although Guitrau is the first female mayor of French Settlemen, she says doesn’t “really like pay attention to the men and women thing; I’m just a mayor.”
The Rev. Jason Palermo is the chaplain of the Police Department and local pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church, which dates back to 1889, and is the oldest surviving church in Livingston Parish.
Palmero feels that “a lot of people live out here simply because people are very hospitable, and they like a simpler way of doing things. We don’t have a lot of crime in this area because we’re good citizens. Family values mean a lot to people out here. That’s what a lot of people say about French Settlement, they like the fact that it’s small and spread out, so you’re not on top of everybody else.”
Joseph Lambert, a Knights of Columbus member and a resident of French Settlement, agrees with Palmero’s sentiment.
Lambert said that after growing up in Gonzales he was drawn back to the town because of the village’s rural, close-knit environment.
“When I grew up in Gonzales as a parishioner of St. Mark’s, the community was the church, that’s what it was about,” Lambert said. He feels he made the right choice to move nine years ago.
“It’s been a blessing, this is where my roots are, so this is where I came back to,” he said. “You know everybody, it’s family oriented. You need some help, all you have to do is reach out, and somebody is coming to help you. It’s a close-knit town, that’s what makes it successful.”
Livingston Parish Clerk of Court Tom Sullivan, is a res-ident of Denham Springs, but in his eyes “the good thing about French Settlement is it still has that country feel. They’re country people, they’re good people and that’s what attracts so many people to the area. You have your waterways, your good food and good people in general.”