Monday, August 21, 2023

Bayou Chicot History Part 9

The Hawkins House

Back in our days in Bayou Chicot, there were still several old houses around that had belonged to some of the early settlers such as the Haas House, the old Tatman House, The Griffith House where one of the good-looking mover boys lived, and of course the Thompson House that Miss Mable lived in until her death.  All but two of them were in ruins.  Many of these houses, once beautiful, had been passed down to descendants who chose to no longer live there, and had been neglected for generations. The Griffith House, where the Dudley Johnsons lived and who owned the last remaining sawmill in the area, still stands.  The one I want to tell you about is the Hawkins House.

Gin and I had freedom to explore the woods all around our house by ourselves except one place.  The Hawkins House was on the opposite side of the school from us.  It was in ruins but it was obviously a lovely home at one time.  It sat on the most beautiful site around with hundreds of trees of various varieties, and only our imagination could picture what it might have looked like in its heyday.

There was much folklore and mystery attached to this old house because there had once been a hospital there owned by Dr. Josiah Hawkins.  In fact, it was the only hospital in that area.  Stories told and passed down, and articles have been written about it; however, it wasn't until I did research for this series of posts that I actually learned the truth.  But let me first tell you what we grew up believing.

It was told that the Hawkins had been buried in the front yard of their home along with all their money and jewels.  There were tomb stones there that been broken and the graves obviously destroyed.  This fed into the likely hood of the tales being true.

The house and grounds were said to be haunted by the mental patients who had died from Dr. Hawkins's cruel experiments.  Apparently, there were those still living in Chicot who had heard the painful screams during the night.  I'm sure Gin and I thought we even heard them a time or two in the dark of night from our shared bed.

Another story was it was haunted by old Civil War soldiers who died there under the doctor's care.  These lost souls were actually seen roaming around without limbs, etc.  Perhaps the saddest story was that Dr. Hawkins's daughter, Belle who had been killed in an overturned buggy and lost her unborn baby, still cried at night. We were also told that Dr. Josiah E. Hawkins and his wife had been buried in the front lawn with all their money and jewels which explained why the tombs were broken and partially dug up.

The account, "Ghosts of Evangeline's Past," written by Tony Marks can be found HERE.  The writer actually quotes someone who knew someone from Chicot with this:  "It was called a sanitarium.  Dr. Hawkins performed experiments on the mentally insane. His subjects came from all over, not just local people. It is said that there were many who died there and were buried there."

Another person contributed what he had heard his grandmother say.  “Dr. Hawkins was kind of a scientist, and he would experiment with these people. There were some people that were pathological. They were dangerous, and there was an old cell or like a room with bars that they were kept in.  By experiment, I don’t know how bad the experiments were, but I always thought there could be people buried where that old house was that nobody knows about because people would come drop their family members off there and leave and never come back again.”

An article from 1956 printed in The Ford Times and written by Ben Earl Looney can be found HERE

These sure make for exciting tales but no one ever bothered to correct them until a few years later.

Miss Mabel describes the old house best:

"It had stood here for something like one hundred and forty years. This once grand old place had a colorful history and a historic past, it had weathered periods of pathos, and tragedy, of success and gaiety, of war time gloom and even medical distinction." 

The true story that has been handed down was the house had been built in 1840 to be a court house. The people living here had thought they could get the county seat located in Bayou Chicot since it was such a prosperous community at that time. However, politicians, in Opelousas were stronger, and the county seat of St. Landry parish was located there. In 1910 the area would be divided and renamed Evangeline Parish.  The county seat is now Ville Platte (just a few miles south of Chicot), so named by one of Napoleon Bonaparte's former soldiers, Adjutant Major Marcellin Garand (1781-1852), of Savoy, France.

Since, the house has served as best as can be remembered, as an early post master's home, as a girl's boarding school, as a Civil War refuge for a wealthy family from New Orleans and as the home of an eminent doctor and his hospital.

Circa early 1900's

Dr. J. E. Hawkins came into the community in 1872 with his wife Charity, sons Jeffie and Willie and daughter Belle. He liked the area and bought the land and the brick house. Dr. Hawkins added verandas across the front, south and north and a long wing on the back having several rooms. He next built an office out to the front of the house, and a little farther away behind the house, he built his hospital. Dr. Hawkins has the distinction of having the first and only hospital in all this area of Louisiana. Although it was never a sanitarium for mental patients, any patient unable to return home after treatment remained in the hospital and was cared for by Dr. Hawkins's servants and fed from his kitchen.

He also made regular buggy rides throughout the community any time someone needed attending to.  He did this at night and there are some interesting stories about some of his escapades.

Dr. Hawkins had his tenants plant hundreds of pecan trees all around his house, and many cedar trees and magnolias all out among the pecans. Miss Mable remembers that Dr. Hawkins had a greenhouse built where he grew rare plants, and that many years after the doctor's death there were huge japonica trees growing near the front porch.

All the open land was farmed by his twenty-five tenants and their families. They raised corn, cotton, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, and vegetables on shares with the doctor.  The crops were so productive that Dr. Hawkins saw a need for a cotton gin on his place to gin all the cotton grown there and some for the other people of the neighborhood, so he purchased a gin.

Dr. Hawkins also had cattle and needed hay to feed them during the Winter. He had heard of a new invention, the mowing machine, so he bought one and found a local man who could put it together and operated it to clear his acres of fields.

There was also a large pen across the road from his home with a high fence around it, and here he kept a large herd of deer. All the deer had small bells around their necks.  It's not sure why Dr. Hawkins had these, if it was for his enjoyment or for the meat.  At that time there were no legal restrictions against penning up your meat source.

Many young men aspiring to become doctors, came from far and wide to observe and learn from Dr. Hawkins.  He was well known all over the state and these young doctors went back to larger towns and cities to work.  One of these young men fell in love with Belle, Dr. Hawkins's daughter and I will allow Miss Mabel to tell their story.

"One young man who had come to learn from the doctor finished in medicine, returned to marry the doctor's daughter, Belle. He was Dr. Willie A. Quirk. He took his bride to Reddell, Louisiana where he set up practice. A baby girl was born to the Quirks, and she was named, Belle. A road ran through the woods from Reddell to Bayou Chicot. One day Mrs. Quirk and the little girl were riding in a gig on their way to engage a young girl to help in the house work and with the child. Just as Mrs. Quirk drove to the gate where the girl lived, there was an incline, the harness broke, the gig turned over backwards throwing Mrs. Quirk and the child out onto the hard ground. Both were hurt, and Mrs. Quirk did not live long as she never recovered from her injuries. Dr. Hawkins wanted his only daughter buried near his home. A brick vault was built at the north end of the porch, and here Mrs. Quirk was laid to rest." 

The story is that Belle was pregnant with their second child when she died.

Dr. Hawkins' wife died in 1888, and some years later he married Miss Bella Butchee, who was much younger than he - she was only eighteen and he was in his late sixties or early seventies. 

Dr. Hawkins became ill and requested that if he died that he be buried by the side of his daughter. He died in 1908 and that explains why there were two graves in the front of the house. Some years before the old house was torn down, Belle's granddaughter had both remains moved to the Vandenburg Cemetery, and placed by the side of the doctor's wife and son.

Dad would take Gin and me to walk around the remains of the Hawkins house and though there wasn't much left, we weren't afraid of stepping on hidden graves. Neither did we see the remains of barred windows.  It did always hold an appealing mystery and intrigue for us.  We were able to see touches of wallpaper on some of the boards of the dilapidated house, and a few old medicine bottles scattered around what was once the hospital behind the house.  This was before the grave remains had been moved, but there was evidence that the tombs in front of the house had been tampered with.  We, with Dad's urging and his own love for history could only imagine the stories this place could tell.  And they were not horrid, but endearing.

We loved this old place and it broke our heart to know it had been completely demolished and the land bought by a developer.  Now though, there are lovely homes enjoying what could have been an historical site and still has a story to tell.  At least we Lazenby girls will never forget the wonder and mystery of the old Hawkins House.  And now, you know it as well.

Part 10 and my final post about life in Bayou Chicot will tell all about the history of Calvary Baptist Church, which is its own fascinating story.  I'll see you next Monday.
Elizabeth "Libby" Day
Elizabeth "Libby" Day

Hello, My name is Libby. I enjoy reading good books, painting, blogging, spending time with friends and whatever my "Heart" leads me to do. Welcome to Beauty Without Within.

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