He was born in Belgium and was the first of his family to come to America. His father, Lievin Vander Cruyssen, was described as “a prominent manufacturer” in Ghent who “gave employment to a large number of men” and was said to be prominent in political and social affairs.
According to biographer William Henry Perrin, when Lievin died, “he was very wealthy.”
His son Henri was first educated by Jesuits in Ghent then matriculated to the Academy of St. Luke at Ghent where he received his degree in architecture.
While working as an architect and builder in Belgium he became interested in chemistry and drugs and returned to school to prepare himself for the pharmaceutical profession. He came to New Orleans in 1884, shortly after the death of his wife of only two years, Alice de Wulf, and worked in the drug business there.
He came to Breaux Bridge two years later and went into partnership in the drug business with local physician and surgeon F. R. Martin, but something apparently happened to that partnership several years later. Perrin’s 1891 biography of Dr. Martin notes cryptically that he was in partnership with Vander Cruyssen “until recently” but “is now associated with his brother in the business.”
Vander Cruyssen had been in town only a short time when the Breaux Bridge Union got into trouble and was about to go under. Townspeople asked Vander Cruysen to take charge of the paper, which he did, and it promptly increased in publication by 25 percent.
Newspapering apparently got into his blood. In 1893, William Bailey, founder of the Lafayette Advertiser, sold that newspaper to Vander Cruyssen. Vander Cruyssen ran it for a decade, selling The Advertiser to A.J. Alpha and W.A. LeRosen in 1903.
His interest in newspapers may have come from an interest in politics that he inherited from his father, who held various political offices in Ghent. Vander Cruyssen was a Democrat and his editorial pages reflected his views.
The pages of his newspapers may have also reflected his European roots. We know little about the content of the Breaux Bridge paper under his guidance, but Lafayette historian Philip Dismukes noted that after he became editor, the Advertiser, “surprisingly devoted a great deal of space to international news” as well as “a goodly amount” of serialized fiction” and reviews of amateur plays. We can assume the same formula applied to the Breaux Bridge paper.
Vander Cruyssen was also one of the founders and the first manager of a literary and gymnastic association in Breaux Bridge, which apparently was a post of some importance. According to Perrin’s 1891 history of the town, Breaux Bridge at the time had “two dramatic and literary associations … each one possessing a large and capacious hall, with an elegant stage for the performance of their amateur theatricals.”
The combination of literary presentations and gymnastics was apparently not novel at the time. When UL Lafayette began its first athletic programs, events were almost always coupled with a literary or speech rally. The annual track meet that eventually became the Southwestern Relays began as an annual track and oratorical competition. In fact, there was a bit of controversy when one year Crowley High was accused of cheating at the event by bringing in a runner who was over age, and, perhaps more devious, an orator who had been professionally trained.
Vander Cruyssen was also apparently a music lover, acting as secretary of the Breaux Bridge brass band, and was organist for St. Bernard Catholic Church.
In October, 1888, Henri was married a second time, to Constance Broussard, the eldest daughter of Oliver Broussard of St. Martin parish. Their daughter, Alice, died as an infant.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.