Covington History segment provided by local historical writer Ron Barthet. View Ron’s blog Tammany Family here.
Bogue Falaya Park in Covington was a happening place in the beginning of the 20th Century. There were all kinds of dances, plays and general get-togethers in the park. Hundreds of people passed through the entrance gates of the community park on summer weekends to sit by the river, enjoy the shade of the large pavilion and listen to music or see a show of some sort. Click on the images to see a larger version.
It was first opened in July, 1909, as indicated by the following newspaper article from the St. Tammany Farmer. Click on the image to enlarge the type.
Here are some pictures of the entrance to Bogue Falaya Park. The first one is in the 1910’s.
A previous entrance to Bogue Falaya Park, according to the postcard caption.
According to Pat Clanton, the original large pavilion in the park was destroyed around 1915 and replaced with the current day pavilion, which is much smaller.
The large brick entrance posts are also interesting.
The entrance gate built in 1920 served pedestrians, but was modified a few years later to accommodate cars. The two pillars on either side of that gate were retained. They were restored in 2007 along with the historical marker that was placed on them originally.
On January 24, 1920, W. L. Stevenson wrote a letter to the St. Tammany Farmer proposing that the above brick entrance pillars be built.
The sign above is a replica of an earlier sign that adorned the entrance to the park. The new sign was built in 1993 using funds generated by the sale of a song-filled cassette about St. Tammany Rivers. CLICK HERE for more information.
The Documentation for Placement on the National Registry of Historic Places
On August 17, 2017, Bogue Falaya Park was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The narrative description of the park listed on the NRHP application went as follows (with some editing):
The Bogue Falaya River was pivotal in the development of Covington. Covington was at one point one of the major ports for cotton coming from Mississippi and Florida. In addition to cotton shipments were brick, lumber, beef, and poultry. In the early and mid-19th century, Covington was a central axis for trading and the Bogue Falaya served to link the town with Lake Pontchartrain and finally New Orleans.
Not only were goods and people moving from Covington to New Orleans, the residents of New Orleans were flocking to the Bogue Falaya riverbanks. Covington and the other towns were designated to be the 2nd healthiest place in the United States after the Civil War due to the significantly lower levels of disease related deaths. People would come to the Bogue Falaya to swim and to enjoy the clean air. Covington and the Bogue Falaya became such a prominent tourist attraction that early versions of bed and breakfasts were developed along the river and in the town to accommodate for these visitors.
Bogue Falaya Park is located on the eastern side of the city of Covington, Louisiana on the banks of the Falaya River. A thirteen-acre park located at the end of N. New Hampshire Street with a natural boundary of the river to the east and the suburban neighborhood to the west.
Within the park are two significant structures, the main being the pavilion situated at the end of the turning circle/ parking lot area within the park. The dominant feature of the park, the current pavilion was constructed in 1915 and has acted continuously as an important community gathering center for the city of Covington.
The second are the gates to the park, donated in 1920 by a Dr. Lawrence Stevenson. The remaining features of the gate include brick and mortar posts with marble plaques and three cast iron cannon balls a top each post. Originally larger, they have been receded to allow for vehicle access to the park.
In addition to these primary features, there is also an original lifeguard chair dating to approximately the 1950s. A dilapidated concession stand and newer construction wooden playground are also on the site and are non-contributing elements to the park.
The park offers a variety of vegetation featuring several live oak and long leaf yellow pine trees throughout.
Bogue Falaya Park, located within the city limits of Covington, Louisiana, was opened on July 1, 1909, along the banks of the Bogue Falaya River. Already a popular recreation site because of the river, the park developed into a central gathering space for community members of Covington.
The area is mostly sand with the only paved areas being the driveway into the park and turnaround area directly in front of the pavilion. The turnaround area features a small sculpture, stone benches, and is the most manicured/planned area in terms of vegetation.
The park has many trees most of which are cypress, oak, or long leaf yellow pine, which are common to the area. The ground is primarily sand, with some small growth of grasses. As it was always meant to be a recreational space and not a designed landscape, the park still retains its integrity as a contributing site and is the only resource of the park itself that dates to the original opening in 1909.
The lifeguard chair is a contributing object. The wooden portions of the chair (seat and back) have rotted away, but one can still easily tell that this was a lifeguard chair. It stands on the banks of the Bogue Falaya River and helps to illustrate the recreational aspect that the park and river played. It is constructed of pipe metal and fits the typical design of a lifeguard chair, being taller so that that lifeguard could see over crowds and well into the water. It dates to the 1950s and is thus, within the period of significance for the park.
The Bogue Falaya Park is significant for recreation and entertainment as the park has provided a recreational space that was not only used by locals, but residents of New Orleans as well, for over 100 years. The historic resources within the park have been continually used by residents and visitors and retain a high degree of integrity.
The park itself provides a rural oasis within the city of Covington away from the hustle and bustle of the downtown area. The park continues to this day to be a significant recreational resource for the community
Due to the relative health of the city of Covington and the access to the river, recreation became a large part of the Bogue Falaya and its banks. The land for the park was bought from G.R Tolson in 1908 by the City of Covington to establish a 13-acre park. The park was officially opened on July 1st, 1909. The city maintained the park from that time until 1938 when it was gifted to the State of Louisiana who managed it until 1978 when it was given back to Covington.
The original pavilion was constructed in 1907 and was destroyed in a storm in 1915, which necessitated the building of the existing structure. Even prior to the formal designation of the park, this original pavilion and riverbank area was a popular destination and a source of pride for residents and a featured tourism spot.
Multiple post cards were developed in this time with renderings and photographs of the pavilion. One shows visitors walking to the pavilion with their buggies parked in the grass.
Up until the 1960s, the park was a popular swimming spot for the residents of Covington, and on the weekends, residents of New Orleans. The pavilion was used as a gathering space for visitors to the park. The pavilion offers an open space for people to gather under and, when the park was still open for swimming, it offered a counter where you could purchase a basket of swimming essentials.
Behind the counter were showers and changing areas for swimmers. In the front, to the left-hand side was a concession stand where visitors could buy an assortment of refreshments. A jukebox was also in the pavilion. During the period of significance, the pavilion and park were open all night and became a place for teenagers to dance.
Current residents of the town of Covington recall that on the weekends there was barely a section of beach left to lay your blanket and fondly spoke of their youth – swimming during the day and dancing with friends into the evening.
The river, as told above, was the heart and soul of both commerce and leisure in Covington for a significant amount of time and a main reason Covington became a destination spot. The river was the center of life in Covington – where people would relax, wash their clothes, and even baptize their young. This continued up to and past the development of Bogue Falaya Park.
The park was built to accommodate the recreation of the river. The evolution of this area into a park is a natural progression of the use of the space, as represented by the fact that the original pavilion predates the land being bought for the park by one year.
Clearly, the need was there for a structure to provide shade, the needed facilities for such a popular swimming spot, and a place to gather as a community. The vitality and popularity of the park and pavilion continued up until the late 1960s when the river became polluted and the park went into a state of disrepair. In the early 1980s, the park was reopened and in 1984, it underwent a renovation. New sand was brought in, debris was cleared away, and the pavilion was cleaned and repainted.
The Bogue Falaya Park is significant because of the popularity of the park among residents of Covington and the pivotal role the pavilion played in providing services, entertainment, and a break from the heat during a time when tourism and recreation on the Northshore was at an unsurpassed rate. This park provided the main recreational access to the river and was a true center of the community during the hot months. The park and pavilion were also used for private family parties and gatherings as well as public town events throughout the year.
The original pavilion was built in 1907 and was destroyed in a storm in 1915. The existing pavilion was constructed that same year to replace the damaged original. The pavilion is a free-standing wood construction building located at the end of the parking lot turning circle and serves as the focal point in the park.
The pavilion is a one-story structure and is dominated by a large open air room. A set of five wooden stairs with a railing on both sides brings visitors up to a small inset doorway with wood trim painted the color tan. The interior space from the front entrance opens into a large square area with low wooden benches along the perimeter.
The back wall contains two sets of double doors, behind which is now storage/prepping area. This space was originally where visitors would rent swimming equipment and housed the changing areas for each sex. To the right and left of these doors are the current restrooms. A later addition, on the back-left section of the pavilion facing the back wall is a handicapped accessible restroom. To the left of the main structure is a low side addition, which used to serve as the concession area. The building retains a high degree of historic integrity for location, setting, design, materials, workmanship, feel and association. It has been continually used by the community for over 100 years and its historic features have been retained while also updating certain aspects of the building for modern uses. The pavilion is over 50 years old and retains much of its integrity from its construction in 1915, with some modifications and upgrades as stated above.
The gates are the next significant structure in the park and lie at the only vehicle access entrance to the park at the end of N. New Hampshire Street. Constructed in 1920 the gates were a gift to the park by Dr. Stevenson and were dedicated to his parents and the Rebel Ram Manassas, which was a submarine that served in the civil war to defend Louisiana.
Each of the two sides of the gate sit on a concrete footer. The focal points of the gate are two redbrick and mortar structures with a square concrete footer and a marble base. On the capstone are three cast iron cannon balls.
On the southern elevation of the eastern gate the plaque reads “Original Park Gates erected 1920, Restored 2007” and features a carving of the gates on the top of the plaque. The east and west elevations include a cement placeholder for the plaque.
The north elevation has a marble plaque with a carving of the Rebel Ram Manassas and reads “My Parents, Projectors of the Rebel Ram Manassas, Defender of Louisiana in The Civil War, Dr. Stevenson, 1920”. Dr. Stevenson donated the gates in 1920 in honor of his parents and the CSS Ram Manassas.
The CSS Ram Manassas was active during the Civil War as a part of the Confederate fleet. The Manassas has a unique history and was originally designed in Massachusetts as a towboat and used as a steam icebreaker. The ship was captured and purchased by Captain John Stevenson, who was the father of Dr. Stevenson. Captain Stevenson turned the icebreaker he had purchased into a ram – which is an entirely ironclad ship run by steam meant to (literally) ram other ships and to be impermeable to cannonballs.
The Ram Manassas was one of the first ironclad ships built for the Confederacy. Eventually, the ship was defeated, but its story offers a unique perspective into naval warfare during the Civil War. This history is especially relevant to the significance of this property due to its connection to the rivers.
Originally the gates had iron gates to enclose the park. These were removed with the increase in vehicle traffic to the park. Over the years, the gates were vandalized and fell into disrepair. The cannonballs were stolen and the plaques damaged. In 2007, the gates and plaques underwent restoration. The cannonballs were replaced with ones to match. The gates are contributing objects as, although they have been restored with the cannonballs replaced, they are over 50 years old and retain their historic integrity. The town appreciates and is aware of this history as was shown by the hard work that was put in to carefully restoring the gates in 2007.
Today, the park is used daily by locals and visitors alike. The pavilion is still available for private rental for celebrations and gatherings and is often booked. Town-organized events are also held in the structure, such as the philharmonic music event series and the Halloween Monster Mash.
The park is a source of joy and pride for all the residents of Covington and remains an important asset to the community. The gates to the park are also significant in and of themselves and offer a piece of history about some of the residents of the town.
The Bogue Falaya Park has served as a key recreational facility in Covington since it was first created in 1907-08.
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