Amite City: Early History and Families, Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana


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                        EARLY HISTORY AND FAMILIES OF AMITE

 

According to local legend Amite is located just east of an old Choctaw Village. The last Chief of that village, a man named Baptiste, welcomed the earliest settlers. The earliest settlers in the area settled near the Tangipahoa River. In 1813 Elijah Self acquired land in Head Right 49 and Joel Ott in Head Right 50. These lands now compose much of the eastern part of Amite. Indians continued to occupy most of the lands until later settlers arrived in the area. Some of these included George Richardson, James Ballard, John Coleman, R.C. Self,  Rueben Ballard, Thomas Jones and Amos Kent. When the survey of the railroad between New Orleans and Jackson marked a route nearby, three men, William H. Garland, John M. Bach and S. Coleman acquired a large tract of land on the railroad about 68 miles from New Orleans at a spot that railroad engineers projected as a station stop. They proposed to develop a town around the station. Initially they erected a store, which promptly began doing a good business with the early settlers in the locality, and then they framed up a hotel. An article in the New Orleans Picayune of July 29, 1854, announcing an excursion, contained what might be the first mention of Amite in a newspaper. The article refers to Amite, one of the stations along the route, as a place designed for rest and refreshments. By August 1854, the track had been completed between New Orleans and Osyka, Mississippi. A later article in the Picayune reported that on August 17, 1854, an excursion train carried a large party of gentlemen from New Orleans to Osyka and back. The president of the railroad, Colonel Cole, and its chief engineer, Mr. Grant were in attendance. The visitors were treated to fishing in the Tangipahoa River and a ride to the state line before a formal banquet under the branches of a large old oak tree. Colonel William Christy presided and in a speech filled with classical allusion, named the new town Fillmore City. The name of Fillmore City did not persist and eventually the town took the name Amite. The survey for the town called Amite was made in 1860 by Major J.M. Wentz and N.J.  Herex. The following year the town was incorporated as Amite City.  As the town began to grow with homes and businesses the Methodists and Presbyterians built a single building to house both congregations. Archbishop Jean Marie Odin of New Orleans established the first Roman Catholic Parish in Amite when he sent Father John Scollard, around 1868, to take up religious work in the new community. Early parishioners were the Clements, Durnins, Illys,  Kopflers, Sharkeys, and Weigles. A young deacon in the Episcopal Church, Herman Cope Duncan, participated in the establishment of an Episcopal parish in the new town. By April of 1873, Duncan's labors along the railroad line had resulted in two new church buildings - the Church of the Incarnation in Amite and the Church of the Annunciation in Ponchatoula. The year 1869 proved important in the life of Amite because in that year Amite became the parish seat of the new parish of Tangipahoa created by Act No. 54 of the Louisiana Legislature. Members of the Amite City government, Mayor Henry Bankston and Aldermen G.R. Green, F.W. Huling, J.P. Longley, C.S. Stewart, W. Welhausen, and John Wentz were instrumental in securing creation of the new parish. The year 1869 also proved important in the history of Amite, for in that year the Gullet Gin Company located there. The firm came to Amite because its original plant at Aberdeen, Mississippi was destroyed during the Civil War. The charter of the Gullet Gin Company capitalized at $18,000 was recorded March 2, 1870. The firm continued to produce cotton gins into the middle of the twentieth century employing as many as 250 people. In 1937, the Honorable Harry D. Wilson (1869-1948) former Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture wrote an article about early Amite for the "News Digest" Newspaper. In the article he says,  "Amite was founded over 100 years ago as an Indian trading post, and  was quite a hustling town of some 1,500 or 1,800 inhabitants when I  went to work for the late Jacob Stern in his general merchandise store 56 years ago. At that time we did not depend on strawberries and vegetables for business. Amite was a real cotton market. It was the trading center for 30 to 40 miles on every side. At that time, there was more cotton handled in one day than is now handled in a whole season. Our citizenship has changed greatly and as rapidly as our trade territory and our agriculture industries. If my  recollection serves me correctly, on March 1, 1881, the day I was  installed as uncle Jake Stern's counter hopper, chicken coop maker,  and general all around country store helper, the following citizens
still residing here, or their parents were residents of Amite: Fred  Weist, Dr. Charley Stewart, Vernons, Sterns, Sternbergers, the  Kopflers, Feiglers, Forshags, Conners, Ellis's, D.H. Sanders,  Cothrans, Mrs. Henry Saal, Mrs. Noyes (then Mrs. Marion Bankston),  the Lautiers, Friersons, Andy Lawson, Charles H. Eagan, the Kemps,  Benders, Welhausens, Illys, Goldsbys, Wilsons, McElwees, Reids,  Sowells, Rothers, Van Osdalls, Warners, Houeyes, Addisons, Spillers,
James Scott, the Evans, Weigles and Dorhauer. You will note that only about 35 old families remain out of all the population that made up Amite 56 years ago."

 

The above has been written to provide genealogical researchers with an insight into the early origins of Amite. More can be learned about the entire history of Amite from Mr. Edwin Schilling's book entitled "Amite Now and Then", which can be purchased from the Amite City Chamber of Commerce. "TANGIPAHAOA CROSSINGS, Excursions into Tangipahoa History" is also an excellent source of information on early Tangipahoa Parish and the major towns. It was published in 1979 by Moran Publishing Company in Baton Rouge and was distributed by Citizens Nation Bank in Tangipahoa Parish.