HAMMOND — Members of the Southeast Louisiana Historical Association and their guests gathered for the group’s Annual Spring Meeting on
April 20 were taken on a pictorial trip through Hammond’s first 50 years of existence by authors who recently published a history of the city through the “Images of America” series.
The group, meeting at the Hammond Regional Arts Center, also learned about new discoveries of Native American presence in the Florida Parishes area from researcher Jason Thompson who had several dozen artifacts that he has found in the area on display.
Eric Johnson and Catherine Tijerino explained in their opening remarks that the book, “Hammond,” is a pictorial recounting of the city’s history from its founding in the late 19th century until the end of the 1940s. The authors said that they combed through thousands of pictures before selecting what eventually became the book’s content.
“We set out to do a complete history of Hammond, but we had so much material we had to stop at the first 50 years because that is all the publishers would take,” Johnson said.
The pair said they may publish a second book to complete the story of Hammond.
Accompanying their retelling of Hammond’s history was a slide show featuring many pictures from the book but additional pictures that did not make it into the historical account published in the “Images of America” series. “The publishers didn’t like some of the pictures we chose, and some were in such bad shape that they couldn’t be used, but we loved them anyway and decided to show them to you tonight,” Johnson said.
Johnson and Tijerino’s story starts with Peter Hammond, a native of Sweden who arrived in Louisiana in the mid-19th century and acquired a large tract of land that would later become today’s city. Hammond is buried, with members of his family and a favorite slave boy, on a quiet residential street in the city that adopted his name.
Peter Hammond, the authors related, took advantage of the vast forests on his tract to make an early living. A man of the sea, Peter Hammond provided pitch, pine tar, lumber and masts for the shipbuilding industry with his products being shipped on the nearby Natalbany River at Wadesboro near today’s Springfield.
Continuing the story, the speakers said the second leading influence in Hammond’s history was Charles Emery Cate who purchased land from Peter Hammond and built a sawmill and shoe factory in what is now the heart of Hammond. Cate would later sub-divide blocks in the fledgling city and build homes for settlers who began moving into the area.
After Peter Hammond gave rights-of-way through his land to the first railroad to come through the area, the little town began to flourish. During the Civil War, Cate’s factory was burned by U.S. troops who raided the area. However, at war’s end the town began to grow again with many jobs centered on the timber industry which continued to flourish.
Johnson and Tijerino said the railroad soon became the symbol of Hammond and the depot, which is still in use today, became something of the town’s center. The strawberry industry began soon after the Civil War years and within several decades was the mainstay of commerce in Hammond, a community that was eventually dubbed, “the Strawberry City.”
Strawberry buyers from throughout the nation would descend on Hammond in the spring to purchase the sweet berries grown throughout what is now Tangipahoa and Livingston Parishes. The historians said the berries grown in the region were the best in the United States and were famous in major cities all over the country.
Strawberry buyers and other out of town visitors who were attracted to Hammond because of its climate, scenic beauty, exceptionally clear artesian water and the ozone in the air, frequented the early hotels that sprung up in the city and became and important piece of the its history, Johnson said.
Tijerino said fire was a frequent problem in early Hammond. Fire destroyed the two most famous early hotels in Hammond, the Kidder Hotel and the Oaks Hotel. The Oaks stood on North Oak Street near the railroad tracks and was the precursor of several hotels that were built on the spot. The last hotel there, the Casa de Fresa, burned down in the early 1970s.
The authors told a story that was new to most of those listening to their lecture. In the 1880s, a famous soprano with the New York Metropolitan Opera, Julia Heinrich, was killed in a freak accident near the railroad station. Johnson said that the singer, enroute to New Orleans, was standing on the loading platform when a train struck a wayward baggage cart that then struck her.
Johnson, director of the Linus A. Sims Memorial Library on the Southeastern Louisiana University campus and Tijerino, a library staff member, had many more stories to tell and pictures to show during their lecture. For example, after all the fires the town eventually founded a volunteer fire department and required that commercial buildings be build with brick or stone. Many of those buildings are still in use in Downtown Hammond today. Hammond’s first brick house was built in 1895, and Johnson and Tijerino had a picture of it.
According to the authors, student activism is not new. They showed a picture of students marching down the town’s main street in 1907 demanding a new school. They eventually got their new school, but not until 1914.
The authors conceded that time did not allow them to tell all the tales they could about Hammond’s developmental years. Their story ended with the World War II years and two stunning photos: one of them of then Southeastern Louisiana College female students picking strawberries and the other of a German prisoner of war assigned to work in Hammond. The women had to pick the strawberries because most of the men were fighting a war, Johnson explained.
Following their talk, the authors signed copies of their book for historical association members.
Thompson, who spoke to the group at last year’s Annual Spring Meeting, said he has found new Native American artifacts from a period of approximately 3-5,000 years ago. He has found spear points, arrow heads, scraping stones and a rock carving, one of only two such objects found in this area. He said that while working to unearth ancient artifacts he makes it a practice to leave the land the way he found it.
Thompson said he plans to continue his field studies of Native Americans in the region and is doing field work along the Tangipahoa, Tickfaw and other area rivers.
Sam Hyde, director of the Center for Regional Studies at Southeastern, told the gathering the center continues to receive collections and to prepare them for public’s use. He said the center recently acquired records of contracts for indentured servants that go back to the 16th Century — material he had never seen before. Hyde said that an invitation is always out for those seeking to learn more about local history through the holdings at the Center.