The Story of Abita Springs
The area now known as Abita Springs was the home of Native Americans as far back as 2,220 years ago. There was plenty of game, fish, and spring water that made this area very suitable for a comfortable life. A succession of different tribes continued to live here until the repressive government policies forced the Native Americans into Oklahoma. A few remained or later returned.
In 1820, the first Louisiana pioneers settled here. According to one account, Etienne Le Fleud moved his family to the Abita Creek, opposite a Choctaw village of approximately 25 families. It was at the home of their son, Paul, that the Indian women would stop in years later on their journey from Pearl River to Mandeville. The Indian women would catch the boat at Mandeville to cross Lake Pontchartrain by schooner to New Orleans. There they would peddle their well-made baskets and herbs around the city and especially the French Market.
In 1887, a Covington physician conducted extensive tests on the water of Abita Springs. The tests revealed that the springs contained minerals with good medicinal qualities. He recommended that the Abita area could be very valuable as a resort for boarders and invalids. Other physicians recommended Abita Springs for its climate and pure air.
The town register contains names from many nationalities. A few of the early settlers were African Americans. A large number of Germans moved to this area. Some English, Scot-Irish, and French names are evident. Many claim Choctaw heritage.
The first major resort hotel to open was the Long Branch, built in 1880. This structure is still intact and one of the town’s structures on the National Register of Historic Places.
At the turn of the century, there were many hotels and boarding houses that were almost always filled with guests. New Orleans families would take the train to Abita Springs as they escaped the heat and diseases of the city. The Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which was the carrier of Yellow Fever, was not common in this area. In a way, it was Yellow Fever that helped Abita Springs to prosper and become a major resort area.
The advent of automobiles and control of epidemic diseases created different lifestyles for the city folk and Abita Springs began to lose its appeal as a resort. Many of the Victorian summer homes and breezy hotels stood empty, though some of those weekend guests began moving to Abita Springs to live and would commute to New Orleans for work.
The town still appeals to those who seek a quieter life, fresh water, and the beauty of the Longleaf pine trees. A large number of artists, sculptors, jewelers, painters, writers, poets and philosophers have chosen the old houses of Abita Springs as their homes. The unique character of the town is its historic ambience, small town values, and an incredible amount of local talent.
A mayor and town council of aldermen govern the town. Council meetings are often well attended as local citizens participate actively in decision making. Vibrant and committed community organizations work together for the benefit of Abita Springs. They include the Abita Springs Women’s Society, the Abita Springs Civic Association, the Trailhead Museum’s Board of Directors, the Men’s Club, the Senior Citizens Club, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Volunteer Firemen, the Abita Recreation Committee, the Historic Commission, the Planning and Zoning Committee, parent/teacher organizations, and several garden clubs.
A few small restaurants and a bakery attract locals and friends. The Post Office has been a meeting spot for the “older generation” who always know the day’s happenings. John Preble’s Mystery House stands as ‘keeper of the flame’ for the town’s reputation as a funky, and proudly weird arts community.
The pavilion sits near the entrance to Abita Springs Park. Designed for the 1884 Cotton Centennial Exposition, and later disassembled and brought to Abita Springs, it has been restored and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once used by the summer tourists who drank from the springs beneath the pavilion, it is now used for numerous community activities. The Abita Springs Water Festival brings the town’s many organizations, two schools, and residents together for a celebration every October.