For the second year in a row, the St. Bernard Parish Volunteers for Family and Community will use the historic grounds of Docville Plantation in Violet as a backdrop for its annual Christmas Tour. This year’s tour also will showcase the historical significance of two of the parish’s well-known landmarks, the historic St. Bernard Parish Courthouse and the Los Islenos Museum Complex.
“What’s special about this year’s event is that we’re highlighting how the old St. Bernard Courthouse and the Islenos Museum are both such integral parts of St. Bernard’s history,” said Shirley Pechon, who is co-chairing the event with Kathy Nunez. “We are, as they say, New Orleans’ most historical neighbor and we want to showcase that this year.”
The 22nd annual Christmas Tour will take place from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, at Docville, with free shuttle bus service running to and from the courthouse and the Islenos Museum until 8 p.m.
At Docville, 5124 E. St. Bernard Highway in Violet, Nunez said guests can browse the gift boutique with local artisans and crafters, feast on delicious cuisine from local food vendors, enjoy holiday sounds presented by St. Bernard Parish Public School’s “Community Christmas” featuring entertainment by local schoolchildren and take chances on a parade of prizes.
Under the direction of Charles Cassar, cultural arts director for the St. Bernard Parish school system, members of Chalmette High School’s Ambassadors Club will take guests on guided speaking tours of the historic grounds. There will be an area designated as Santa’s workshop, where Santa will be, along with an antique sleigh perfect for picture taking. The Grinch also will make an appearance and be available for photos, Cassar said.
Food vendors providing sustenance for the evening will include Today’s Ketch, Gerald’s Donuts and Restaurant, Crave, Par 3, Arabi Food Store, The Blue Porch, MeMe’s Bar and Grille, and Armond’s Eatery.
According to St. Bernard Parish historian Bill Hyland, the 700-acre Docville Farm, off St. Bernard Highway, stretches from the Mississippi River levee all the way to Lake Borgne. The property is the former estate of legendary St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Louis A. “Doc” Meraux, the father of Joseph Meraux, a banker, prominent landowner and the namesake of the Joseph and Arlene Meraux Charitable Foundation, which owns the property and has donated its use for the event.
“Constructed in the 1930s, Docville consists of a fascinating collection of agrarian buildings,” Hyland said. “The barn was constructed using trusses and cast-iron columns from the 19th-century French Market in the New Orleans French Quarter.”
Hyland said the farmhouse, resurrected after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, now houses many of the Meraux family artifacts, and its surrounding 130 acres has been designated as an educational learning center, which has become a popular venue for an array of community events.
Nunez said visitors to the courthouse, 1201 Bayou Road in St. Bernard community, will get to take in the building’s unique architecture decorated as an “ice palace.” There also will be a Christmas village on display and entertainment by Lynn Oaks School students and the Chalmette High School Jazz Esemble and Voices choir.
The original St. Bernard Courthouse was built in 1915 and was in use until 1939 when the parish seat was moved to Chalmette. For the next six decades, Hyland said, the structure served as home to several schools — St. Bernard School, St. Bernard High School, Beauregard High School and Beauregard Middle School. Hurricane Katrina closed the doors of the courthouse until fall 2013, when renovations were completed and several new occupants moved in, including the St. Bernard Parish Library, St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office and Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries.
Visitors who stop by the Los Islenos Museum Complex, 1357 Bayou Road in St. Bernard community, can peruse several remarkable structures, including the Coconut Island Barroom, Estopinal House and Kitchen, and the Esteves and Cresap-Caserta houses.
The Islenos, which means “islanders” in Spanish, are descendants of Canary Island immigrants to St. Bernard Parish, as well as places like Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and other parts of the Americas. The Isleno people migrated to St. Bernard between 1778 and 1783, and are still a very active community of people today, Hyland said.
Lucy Ruffino, St. Bernard VFC publicity chairperson, said last year’s event raised more than $36,750 that has benefited more than 20 local nonprofit charities, including funding three $1,000 scholarships given to graduating seniors from St. Bernard Parish.
Admission and parking at Docville is free. After taking part in the festivities at Docville, patrons can board shuttle buses for stops at the courthouse and the Islenos Museum where they will be charged a one-time admission fee of $15 per person at one of those sites. Visitors also can park for free at the courthouse and museum sites, but will have to pay the admission fee at one of those sites which will include shuttle bus service to the other two sites and back to where they parked.
Tickets to tour the courthouse and the Islenos Museum can be purchased in advance for $12 per person by calling Shelia Schulz at (504) 388-7625 or at the following locations: Aycock Barn, 409 Aycock St., Old Arabi; Arabi Food Store, 650 Friscoville Ave., Old Arabi; Armond’s Eatery, 808 E. Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette; Local Flair, 812 E. Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette; Hamilton Enterprises, 2200 E. Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette; Jeanfreau’s Meat Market, 2324 Paris Road, Chalmette; and the LSU AgCenter, 8201 W. Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette.
For information, call Nunez at (504) 913-5255 or Pechon at (504) 250-3641.