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C’est Vrai: Smokestack marks old plantation

Midway between Jeanerette and Baldwin on Hwy. 182, part of an old smokestack rises forlornly above the cane fields. It once stood above what some historians say was the finest sugar factory in Louisiana. The mill site and plantation were named after Adeline Brown Oxnard, the mother of Benjamin A. Oxnard.

A small community grew up around the plantation. In 1914, historian Alcee Fortier described it as “a post village” (one with a post office) and station on the Southern Pacific Railroad “in the great sugar district.” The population then was 750.

Benjamin was born in New Orleans in 1855, graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1875 and became president of the Planters’ Sugar Refinery in New Orleans in 1888. He came to the Teche area about 1890, buying part of a plantation that had been established before the Civil War by Gabriel LeClair Fuselier.

In 1892, Benjamin and his three brothers bought more land and divided the operation into five plantations: Adeline, Des Lignes, Saule, Estanica, and La Estanica. Together the plantations encompassed about 5,000 acres of tillable land and another 2,500 acres of woodland and swamp.

The Adeline sugar factory could grind more than 1,000 tons of cane a day. At first it produced only raw sugar and molasses. It began producing white sugar in 1907.

The mill and refinery burned to the ground on October 7, 1910, and all of the machinery was destroyed, but a new factory went up immediately and was in operation by the 1911 grinding season. This new factory was reputedly the largest sugar factory in the state, with the capacity to grind up to two thousand tons of cane each day.

Benjamin Oxnard sold some of the plantation land to pay for the factory and at the time thought about selling all of the land and establishing Adeline as a central plant to grind the cane of other farmers. But even with grinding his own cane and buying all that he could from area farmers, the mill was too big for its time. He couldn’t find enough cane to grind and he had to grind cane to pay his bills.

Oxnard shut down the mill in 1916, selling the equipment to mills in Cuba and Savannah, Georgia. Four hundred men, women and children moved from the Adeline community to Savannah when the equipment went there.

Oxnard leased his remaining land to tenant farmers, but continued to lose money until the 1940s, when oil was discovered beneath the plantation.

Adeline finally became profitable but Ben Oxnard was not there to see it. He died in 1924.

You can contact Jim Bradshaw at jhbradshaw@bellsouth.net or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.

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