Founding members of the new Youngsville Historic Society are interviewing lifelong residents to piece together the growing city's history.
Their memories paint Youngsville as a quaint, close-knit village of sugarcane farmers who used horses and buggies to traverse the area's gravel roads.
"Our life was just the village," said Lola David. "That was all we knew."
David, 89, opened Youngsville's first public library, which was just two rooms in her house that she filled with books. She moved, with her books, 22 years later to a building across from city hall that served as a more traditional library.
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During a Monday interview at Beehive Homes of Youngsville, David and other residents of the assisted-living facility shared stories like this.
"All of them separately mentioned to me something like this, 'We liked Youngsville small, and it took us a long time to get used to having all these people moving in,'" said Glenda Bryan, president of the Youngsville Historic Society. "The change was a little bit hard for them, and they're really happy that we're trying to preserve the history."
Youngsville has evolved in recent years from a small community of sugarcane farmers to a destination for young families. Just 2,617 residents lived in Youngsville in 2000 compared to 14,184 residents in 2019, according to data compiled by the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.
It was the rapid development that inspired Bryan to start the historic society.
"When I moved here in 2008, it was all sugarcane fields," Bryan said. "And it's changed so much just in 11 years that it made me realize that if we don't get histories and stories and photos of Youngsville's past, it's going to be lost."
Residents of the Beehive fondly remembered the Festival of Beauties, country Mardi Gras celebrations and big Sunday dinners.
They said there were only a handful of cars in the village, which were reserved for the doctors and taxi drivers. They only went to Lafayette three times a year — to shop for Easter, Christmas and the start of the school year.
They played at the haunted cemetery at Cade Plantation and woke up early to listen to the songs black people sang on their way to work at the sugar mill. Years later, in 1969, they would all stand outside in their pajamas to watch the Youngsville Sugar Company burn to the ground.
But above all else, the residents remembered Youngsville being home to a prisoner of war camp during World War II. The camp was located in the area where Foster Memorial Park is today.
"We were completely surrounded by sugarcane," David said. "Therefore, this is why the government sent the German prisoners here."
POWs were often sent to rural communities like Youngsville during the war to fill labor shortages in fields and mills.
"They were sent here during the war to help the farmers," Nell Morvant Vallot, 87, said. "So we had a lot of them marry the guards from here. I remember that very well."
David remembers blackout curtains in their home and curfews. She remembers teachers, including her own mother, manning stations in the village where they would use binoculars to look for planes.
"Teachers would do this free of charge," David said. "They didn't charge for this."
The Youngsville Historic Society has interviewed about seven people so far and plans to continue interviewing residents to learn about the city's past.
Bryan hopes to learn more about the railroad that used to run through Youngsville and the history of the community when it was called Royville. The United States Postal Service asked village leaders to pick a new name in 1908 because mail carriers kept mixing up letters meant for Rayville, a town in the northeast region of the state.
The Youngsville Historic Society plans to use the interviews, photos and other artifacts to create an interactive display at the new Youngsville municipal complex, which construction is set to begin on later this year.
Anyone interested in learning more about the new historic society can contact Bryan at 337-251-3216.