The state owned practically all of what is now included in the town limits until 1855, when it subdivided the land to sell.
The New Orleans & Pacific Railroad and the Atchafalaya Basin Levee Board were among the first buyers. Other original purchasers of sites in the present corporate limits were Leon and Adolphe Dupuis, Hermogene Guidry, Joseph Latiolais, Alexandre Latin, Arcade Patin, Treville Guidry, Cyprien Dupre, and John Barrineaux.
Marcel, Antoine, Joseph Homer, and Onezime Patin bought land just outside of town, as did Evaniste Angelle, Alexandre Melancon, Frances Dauphine, D. Dupuis, Cyprien Melancon, Samuel Thorne, P. T. Hebert, Noah Phelps, and Cesaire Angelle.
John Talley and his son William, weren’t among the first purchasers, but early on they bought part of the land originally belonging to Samuel Thorne, the Dupuis brothers and others.
A good number of these first landowners had enough money to purchase more than one parcel and several of them became substantial landlords. Most of them lived in Breaux Bridge and bought the land as investment, with no intention of living there. A good number of them sharecropped the land. Some just kept it as an investment, eventually selling timber rights to the logging companies.
In fact, Henderson was at first so sparsely settled that it didn’t even have a name. For many years courthouse documents referred to the area simply as “near Grand Pointe” (as Cecilia was known), or, because so much of the land was swamp, as Cypremort (Dead Cypress).
Southern Pacific built a station in the area about 1900 as part of its ambitious plan to run rails across the Atchafalaya Basin. That first station was just about where the I-10 bridge begins on the western edge of the Basin and was called Lenora, a name that was used as late as 1970 to describe the location of the bridge.
Settlement near Lenora tended to spread to the south down the levee and that’s how Henderson was formed, but nobody knows exactly how it got the name.
Some people think it was the name was of a railroad worker who died while working on the line in the area and who is buried close to where the town is now. Another version is that the railroad worker was from Henderson, Kansas.
However it got its name, a small but flourishing farming community had developed at Henderson by the 1920s. Much of that was wiped out by the flood of 1927, but the resulting levee construction played an important role in redeveloping the town.
Refugees from the interior of the basin settled on the dry side of the levee rather than risk another flood. Also, swampy land in the area was drained when the levees contained the Atchafalaya. It became ideal farmland, yet close to the swamp for those who wanted to maintain ties to it.
Mr. and Mrs. Euclide Talley were among the first settlers in the Lenora area after the flood, moving about 1929 from St. Martinville to open a boarding house, restaurant, and grocery store for levee construction crews.
Henry Guidry, who’d seen his fish business in the old Atchafalaya community in the middle of the Basin wiped out by the flood, was probably the first to settle in the “new” Henderson, south of Lenora. He opened a grocery store, restaurant, and dance hall in the early 1930s. According to local lore, he jacked up his building at Atchafalaya, hitched it to a mule team, and pulled it to new land he’d cleared next to the levee.
Guidry began to establish Henderson’s reputation as a good place to eat—a reputation that grew after 1951, when the road to the levee was paved and people from other communities could get there more easily. Pat Huval bought Guidry’s place in 1954 and sold it a few years later to open a larger restaurant.
Aristille Robin, who’d first come to Henderson to work in Guidry’s restaurant, opened his own place after World War II.
Development of the crawfish industry in the 1960s added to Henderson’s reputation as a good place to eat, then the I-10 off-ramp made the town even more accessible, and that’s why today we think more about seafood when we think of Henderson than we do about the farms that still spread all around it.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.