Unusual monuments

Author explores origins of area landmarks

From the time Hilda Krousel moved to Baton Rouge in September 1951 to work as a teaching assistant in the LSU History Department, she was fascinated with landmarks and monuments that turned up in some of the city’s most unusual places. “I couldn’t find a book to tell me about them,” she said. “I said somebody should write a book about these.”

Over the years, Krousel collected research on Baton Rouge’s historic sites. “I thought about it and thought about it,” she said. “Finally when I got to be 85, I realized that we better do some of the things we want to do soon.” So last year, Krousel completed her new book, “Landmarks & Monuments of Baton Rouge.”

The book is the culmination of Krousel’s 60-year love affair with the city. “When I first came and I first went to the university, I fell in love with the university, the town and the people,” she said.

Most of the landmarks are old like Jean Étienne de Boré’s sugar kettle at LSU. Some are relatively new like the statue of Oliver Pollock at Galvez Plaza. But every site in Krousel’s book has a connection to the history of Baton Rouge.

De Boré’s sugar kettle, located on a circular base in front of LSU’s Chemical Engineering Building, led to the birth of the sugar industry in Louisiana, Krousel said. It was in the kettle that de Boré in 1795 successfully granulated sugar for the first time in Louisiana in what was “the culmination of the efforts of about 50 years of repeated attempts to crystallize the syrupy, mud-colored liquid that oozed from the sugar cane,” Krousel wrote.

De Boré’s experiments took place on his plantation at the present site of Audubon Park in New Orleans. Until his death in 1820, de Boré’s plantation was the center of the state’s expanding sugar industry. However, the Civil War brought the estate to near ruin. “Rumor has it that the kettle succumbed then to the dubious honor of being used by Ulysses S. Grant’s brother-in-law to make tafia, a form of white lightning, for his soldiers,” Krousel wrote.

When the war was over, the kettle was left to the elements. Years later, it was dug out of the mud and purchased by John Hill, a West Baton Rouge planter, who planned to use it in his iron foundry. A fading inscription on the kettle alerted Hill to its significance. To preserve the kettle, Hill donated it to the state.

It was first placed on the grounds of the Old State Capitol, then moved to the old LSU campus and later moved to the new LSU campus in 1926.

“The students first rolled it out to the Agriculture Hall. Later, it was mounted near Alumni Hall,” Krousel wrote. Finally, in 1972, it was moved to its present location at the Chemical Engineering Building, an outgrowth of the university’s famous Audubon Sugar School.

In 1979, the late Frank Hayden completed the 10-foot bronze sculpture of Oliver Pollock that overlooks Galvez Plaza in downtown Baton Rouge. Pollock was born in Ireland in 1737 and settled in Pennsylvania in 1760. He began trading with the Spanish West Indies and moved to New Orleans, where he became a wealthy merchant.

In 1776, when the American colonies declared their independence from England, Pollock became an American citizen. During the Revolutionary War, he worked in New Orleans as purchasing agent for the Continental Congress and for the Commonwealth of Virginia supplying the colonists with provisions, weapons and medicines. Pollock, who is known as the western financier of the American Revolution, spent much of his wealth aiding his adopted country.

Because Pollock’s portraits and papers were destroyed during the bombardment of St. Francisville during the Civil War, the sculpture is not a true portrait, Krousel said. “Hayden said that he rendered an artistic interpretation, giving the face very piercing eyes and a wide-open mouth as if crying out or gasping for breath.”

One of Krousel’s favorite landmarks is Hebe, the cupbearer to the gods from Greek mythology. Hebe was placed on the neutral ground on North Boulevard in 1914 by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Its members feared the increased popularity of liquor in Baton Rouge.

“They felt the need to erect some type of monument to glorify the virtues of temperance and abstinence from alcoholic beverages. After all, these were women interested in and recognized for supporting the values of home and family through abstinence and religious devotion,” Krousel wrote.

Originally Hebe had an ice tank in her base with drinking water fountains around it, but later these were removed. However, the fact that Hebe was associated with alcoholic spirits caused members of the WCTU much embarrassment.

Krousel writes about one of Baton Rouge’s most interesting monuments that disappeared in the early 1960s. It was an 8-foot-tall statue of Hernando de Soto located on the LSU campus behind the Greek Amphitheater.

The amphitheater was built in 1925, when the university was moved from its downtown location to the present campus. In the 1930s, the area behind the theater was designed as a garden and reflecting pool with the statue of de Soto in the center.

“The pool bred mosquitoes, leaves had to be netted out constantly and the water became stagnant,” Krousel wrote. In 1960, LSU officials had the maintenance nightmare filled with dirt and sand.

There are many questions as to what happened to the statue. Some believe that the crew filling the pond broke up the statue and dumped it in the Mississippi River. Others say it was buried when the pool was filled. Still others believe the statue was broken up and put with other stones to create an erosion barrier on the banks of the Mississippi.

Krousel doubts that many people know the origins of a large concrete memorial monument built to resemble the prow of the USS Louisiana near the busy intersection at Park Boulevard and Dalrymple Drive. At the center of the monument is a large brass replica of the Great Seal of the United States, a figurehead that once decorated the prow of the Louisiana.

The memorial contains three other plaques — one cast of metal from the USS Maine, which was destroyed in the Havana harbor during the Spanish-American War; one honoring the veterans of the Spanish-American War; and a third intending to give the date that the monument was erected. However, when the third plaque was cast, the wrong Roman numeral was used so the date is given as 1539 rather than the true date of 1939.

In 1910, the brass figurehead was removed from the ship and sent to Louisiana, where it was set up on the Old State Capitol grounds. In 1937, when the grounds were renovated, the figurehead was put in storage in the basement of the building.

J. St. Clair Favrot, the state’s adjutant and service commissioner for Spanish-American War veterans, worked with local veterans to create a memorial to the state’s veterans of the war. The monument was unveiled at ceremonies attended by Secretary of War Harry Woodring.

Krousel, a native of Tampa, Fla., is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Florida State College for Women, now Florida State University. As a graduate assistant at LSU, she worked as an assistant to T. Harry Williams, whom Krousel calls “a born teacher and entertainer.”

In 1953, she met local attorney Walter Krousel. Seven months later, they married.

“I had finished all my coursework and was working on my dissertation when we got married,” said Hilda Krousel, who took a break from her academic work to have five children. When her youngest daughter was 4 1/2, she went back to LSU to complete her doctorate, which she received in 1970.

Krousel enjoyed her research on the local monuments. “I think I could have been in school all my life,” she said. “I have this feeling of peace when working in the library, when working with this kind of thing, that I don’t get anywhere else.”