JULIA STREET WITH POYDRAS THE PARROT
THE PURSUIT TO ANSWER ETERNAL QUESTIONS
Sam Silverstein’s Department Store, 1945.
photo courtesy of charles L. Franck Studio collection at the historic new orleans collection
Have you ever heard of an old department store called Silverman’s? My grandmother used to talk about going to shop there during the Depression and for many years afterward, but that was long before my time. I have never seen a picture of the store and am hoping you may know something about this old-time shopping destination.
You are close – the name had silver in it, but it wasn’t Silverman. The name of the store was Sam Silverstein’s Department Store, and for the better part of 60 years it operated at the downtown river corner of South Rampart and Poydras streets.
Louis Silverstein (1839-1914), a local rabbi, was a successful crockery merchant who operated stores on Canal and Dryades streets before opening with his sons a third store at 442 S. Rampart St. Rabbi Silverstein’s son, Samuel, joined the family business in the 1890s, soon expanding the product line beyond crockery and hardware, and transforming the Rampart Street location into a large department store.
In 1922, after 26 years in business, Sam Silverstein turned the management reins over to his son, Maurice, and son-in-law, Leonard M. King. Sam Silverstein passed away in ’48 at the age of 79, but his namesake department store remained in operation until ’54, when it lost its lease and was liquidated. Although it looks different than it did in its heyday, the building has survived to the present day. It currently houses Walk-On’s Bistreax and Bar.
In response to the letter from Martha Morazan Fontenot which ran in the December 2014 issue, I, too, attended Alcee Fortier High School (1952-’55).
If a student brought a permission slip from home, it was permissible to leave campus at lunch time.
There were two drug stores and one grocery in the vicinity of school. Hermans Pharmacy was at Jefferson and Freret. A smaller one was second from the corner of State and Freret streets. H. G. Hill Stores was on the corner. Herman’s had a Soda Fountain; H. G. Hill had a meat counter. The smaller drug store was a known “hangout” for “truants” skipping class and was routinely patrolled by Principal Ruth McShane and (R.O.T.C.) Lt. John Stewart.
Jane McGee Kingsmill
Thank you, so much, for taking the time to write and provide further information. Yes, you’re absolutely correct that students could, if they had a permission slip from a parent or guardian, leave campus at lunch time. I appreciate your explanation, which may have exonerated Miss Morazan or at least given her the benefit of the doubt had her original query not contained the incriminating phrases “ignoring the rule not to leave campus” and “willing to risk being caught.”
Between your excellent memory and my detective work, I think we’ve solved the puzzle presented in our December 2014 issue! I am now quite certain that Richmond’s, the pharmacy I identified as being the most likely among a short list of possible candidates, to have been a favored lunch spot for fleet-footed Fortier students. Just as you remember, it was a small drug store located two doors down from the H. G. Hill store at Freret and State streets.
You are also correct about Herman’s Pharmacy, which was located at 2301 Jefferson Ave. at Freret Street. I should have included it in my original list but was concentrating on Freret Street addresses, so it escaped my notice.
Around St. Joseph’s Day, some friends and I were talking about Sicily and someone mentioned having heard of a place in North Louisiana called Sicily Island. I had never heard of it and hope you may know where it is and whether there’s an interesting story behind it.
The story of the Sicily Island colony is one of the more obscure and unusual chapters concerning foreigners who came to Louisiana in search of a better life. In this case, the intrepid new Louisiana arrivals hailed from Russia, not the Mediterranean.
During the early 1880s, the Hebrew Foreign Mission Society, in conjunction with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, worked to establish an agricultural colony at Sicily Island in Catahoula Parish. Located roughly 350 miles from New Orleans and about 75 miles from Natchez, Mississippi, the 2,800-acre site was purchased from the Newman brothers, prominent New Orleans financiers.
The colonists, Russian Jews fleeing their homeland because of religious persecution, faced significant hardship in their new home. The land proved difficult to cultivate, and the settlers were unaccustomed to Louisiana’s heat and humidity. Malaria hit the fledgling colony hard, and in 1882 the Mississippi River overflowed and flooded nearby land. Although the colony was situated on high land, the flood further stressed the faltering settlement. Colonists scattered. The agricultural resettlement experiment had failed.
Dear Julia and Poydras,
I have a dim childhood memory of elderly relatives talking about a small Louisiana lumber town called McElroy. The name struck me as an unusual one for South Louisiana. Now, years after the people who may have visited there are long-gone, I’m suddenly curious to know more the town. I have tried, without success, to find it identified on a map.
I am appreciative of any information you may be able to provide.
McElroy was located off the Louisiana Railway and Navigation Company’s rail line in Ascension Parish near the St. James Parish line. It was named for Texas lumberman John T. McElroy, vice president of the Ascension Red Cypress Lumber Company, a New Orleans-based corporation headed by Eugene B. Williams.
In 1910, the Ascension Red Cypress Company built McElroy to serve as a company town in conjunction with a 10-year project cutting lumber in the White Line Tract, which, at the time, was estimated to contain approximately 250 million feet of cypress. Never a big place, the town of McElroy existed for only a decade but produced a substantial amount of lumber. McElroy’s saw mill had an estimated daily capacity of approximately 100,000 feet of lumber.
By early 1920, the Ascension Red Cypress Lumber Company was in liquidation. The mill and its associated machinery were broken up and sold for quick cash, as was the company store with all its inventory and fixtures. Other items offered for cheap cash sale included carloads of lumber, 20 small cypress and pine frame houses and unspecified larger buildings.
The town of McElroy was no more.
Win a chappy’s restaurant gift certificate
Here is a chance to eat, drink and have your curiosity satiated all at once. Send Julia a question. If we use it, you’ll be eligible for a monthly drawing for one of two $25 gift certificates at Chappy’s Restaurant on Magazine Street. To take part, send your question to: Julia Street, c/o New Orleans Magazine, 110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005 or email: Errol@MyNewOrleans.com. This month’s winners are: Shannon Jones, Bossier City; and Amelie Sutter, New Orleans.