HISTORY of Oakbourne Estates

Acorn to Oakbourne

Oakbourne Plantation to Oakbourne Country Club

Great oaks from little acorns grow. Thus grew the Oakbourne Country Club.  A writer in The Southern Golfer, April, 1957, describes the scene: “The rolling hills along the banks of the beautiful Vermilion River . . . once constituted the sprawling acres of Oakbourne Plantation.  Today a modern masonry, glass, and steel clubhouse looks over the same rolling hills of Oakbourne Country Club, a realization of the dreams of many community minded citizens who brought about this modern miracle in just a little over a year.”

But what was Oakbourne Plantation and how was it transformed into Oakbourne Country Club and the beautiful subdivision of Oakbourne Estates?

The land was prairie and woodland, where the Attakapas Indians once roamed.  Their artifacts – arrowheads, bone tools and sharps of painted pottery – still sometimes wash from the soil after a heavy rain.  Under the rule of Spain, the land became part of a Spanish land grant.  The portion of that grant that was to become Oakbourne Plantation, a tract of land in the Parish of Lafayette, “at a place called Prairie Sorrel,” came into the hands of John Grieg from Scotland, and eventually into the hands of Colonel Gustave Breaux.

Gustave Aurelien Breaux – Acadian Farmer, Soldier, Judge

Gustave Aurelien Breaux 1828-1920

On December 28, 1828, Gustave Aurelien Breaux was born of Acadian farmer stock in the Attakapas country of southwestern Louisiana.  Educated at Harvard, he settled down to practice law in New Orleans, where in 1856 he married Emilie Locke. Serving in the Civil War, he was commissioned colonel, although impaired health caused him to retire from active military service in the last year and a half of the war.  After bearing three children – Modeste Emilina (1857-1933), Samuel Locke (1860 – 1933), and Gustave Aurelien, Jr. (1869 – 1910), his wife Emilie died in 1872, at the age of thirty-five.  Colonel Breaux subsequently married Julia Josephine Barr (known familiarly as “Josephine”), who bore him no children.

Colonel Breaux was president of the New Orleans Jockey Club and the Pickwick Club.  For many years he was also head of the well-known Metairie Cemetery.  He practiced law for forty-one years with the firm Breaux & Fenner (later Breaux, Fenner & Hall), and regularly argued cases before the U. S. Supreme Court in Washington.  He served as a member of a Constitutional Convention in Louisiana and was elected to one legislative term in the State Senate. 

Beginning with a deed dated March 17, 1871, and continuing until nearly the turn of the century, Colonel Breaux purchased a series of contiguous tracts of land in Lafayette Parish, including the John Grieg tract.  This plantation, known as Oakbourne, was located on the Old Breaux Bridge highway near Magnolia plantation.

Oakbourne Plantation House, owned by Gustave Breaux and his heirs, burned to the ground in 1960 while renters were away.

The grounds included a two-story dwelling and kitchen, servants’ out- rooms and small buildings in the yard proper; private stable lot with stable and carriage house; corn cribs, fences, and other improvements.  Cotton and fine livestock were the cash products of the plantation.  Breaux came to enjoy the planter’s life so thoroughly that he and his wife spent much of their time at Oakbourne.  After Breaux’s retirement from his law office at no. 5 Carondelet in New Orleans, the couple moved to their country estate to live for the rest of the Colonel’s life.  Gustave A. Breaux died at Oakbourne plantation on February 24, 1910.

Breaux Heirs Sell Estate

On August 11, 1911, the heirs of the estate of Colonel Breaux sold Oakbourne Plantation, consisting of seventeen parcels encompassing a total of 1,132 arpents ( 1 arpent = 0.84628-acre), to the Baldwin Lumber Company, Ltd., for $50,000.  In addition to land, the widow transferred to the lumber company her share of a small railroad.  Specifically, it was “all of the shares of stock of the Lafayette & Carencro Railroad Co., standing in the name of the late Colonel Gus A. Breaux . . .” The terms of the total transactions were for $42,000, $7,000 of which sum was to be paid in cash and the remaining balance in sums of $5,000 a year for seven years, carrying six percent interest and to be paid on the ninth day of August each year.  Sellers of separate parcels were Josephine Barr Breaux, the widow, and Daisy Breaux Gummers, first married to Andrew Simonds.  The widow was “sojourning in Europe,” as contemporary sources reported, at the time of the sale.  Daisy Breaux’s current husband, Barker Gummers of Princeton, New Jersey, served as the widow’s agent and attorney in fact.  One of the witnesses to the signing was John C. “Jack” Nickerson.

Hard times hit the Baldwin Lumber Company, and ten years later the company was ready to sell the Oakbourne portion of its holdings.  On May 7, 1921, J. C. Nickerson and L. Leo Judice bought the property from Baldwin Lumber Company.

Jack Cameron
Jack Cameron "Jack" Nickerson (July 15, 1874 - August 19, 1957)

Jack Nickerson as Planter

As a plantation owner, Nickerson kept livestock – cattle and horses.  He cultivated his crop acreage, specializing in cotton, sugarcane and corn.  “He grew the sweetest corn you ever tasted.”  said Bill Mouton.  “I’d go into the field and eat it right off the cob.”  “Blue corn”, added Frank Lee appreciatively.  “It was white with blue spots.”
On the upland Nickerson grew pecan trees.  Despite an expansive acreage, however, the Nickerson family also maintained their residence in town.  Nickerson’s daughter Bella used to put on riding clothes and ride her horse from the Nickerson home on Sterling Street to the plantation, where she would stable her mount until she was ready to return to town.

The adjoining land around Oakbourne was countryside.  “It was all farm land. Just beautiful old farm land,” Glynn Abel said.  Sam and Lorraine “Teet” Foreman reminisced, “We used to walk along the Breaux Bridge highway near the seminary.  We’d cross cornfields and pasture to reach Oakbourne. No Surrey Street existed.”  Bill Mouton added, “From the highway you couldn’t see the plantation house.  It was hidden behind oak trees.  On the way we would pass a spring – a free-flowing spring.  That was Chargois Springs.  

Swimming at Chargois Swimming Pool

Someone made the spring into a well, bricking a wall up around it.  That way there was an artesian well bringing clear, cold water.  A large pond invited swimming, and a shady grove was perfect for picnics.  We all picnicked there.”  Bella Nickerson and her future husband, Dick Chappuis, were among the picnickers.

The land, which belonged to Cas Chargois, included a building where young folks came for music and dancing.  This recreation spot was between the Chargois home and the later American Legion property.

Chargois Park - Playing guitar Irene Barry (later Mrs. J. Alfred Mouton);
standing to her right J. Alfred Mouton

With the passing of time Chargois Springs and its happy crowds disappeared. The dance hall burned down, and only a chimney remained standing to mark its one-time location.

Planting the Acorn

Meanwhile, the man who planted the “acorn” that grew into Oakbourne Country Club, William T. Bass, was in action.
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the early autumn of 1954 Bill Bass dropped a hint to his wife Becky. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a place for people to go with their families and get together on a day like this?”
The next week Bass and three of his friends – Ben Freeman, George Thomas, and Woody Gratehouse – finished a foursome at the Municipal golf course. As they came in from the game, Bass suggested, “Why don’t we build a country club and golf course?” Irritated because of a hole he had played a few minutes before, Gratehouse said, “Sure, Why not? Muny is a nothing course.”  

Ben Hill Freeman 2nd President Oakbourne Country Club,
father of neighbor, Ben Freeman, Jr.



Freeman and Thomas both responded in favorable manner to Bass’s suggestion.  Together, the four men took up the idea enthusiastically, beginning to plan a golf course before they went home to dinner that night.

The next week a group of men sat in the Lincoln National Insurance office of Bill Bass, located across the street from Jack’s Coffee Shop on the corner of Buchanan and Vermilion streets in downtown Lafayette.  As was their practice, the men were talking golf, perfect time for Bass to introduce his idea.  At the time, as everyone knew, every golfer in Lafayette played at the Municipal golf course on Mudd Avenue.  Oil men, merchants, professionals, taxi drivers, truckers, cooks – all played together on the city course.  Muny was becoming too crowded, everyone agreed. 
"Let’s get enough people together and build our own club and golf course,” Bass commented. But the emphasis, Bass stressed, would be not on golf but on all-round recreational facilities for families.

Bass and his assistant, Luca Barbato, put together a group including Ben Hill Freeman, Sr. Dr. Sam Foreman, George Thomas, Dick Chappuis, J. Rayburn Bertrand, Glynn Abel and a few others.

Heymann Plant Nursery, 1953

Herbert Heymann was a staunch supporter, as were Freeman, Thomas, and Gratehouse from the foursome at Muny; Mims Mitchell; and Earl Flatt – and the list grew. A board of fifteen organizers appointed J. Rayburn Bertrand as chairman. The board included the original planners, plus Horace Rickey, Dr. F. H. “Happy” Davis, D.M. Glazer, and others.


Organizing a Country Club

Everything moved faster than anyone predicted.  On December 12, 1955, the Oakbourne Country Club was incorporated. . . . Land was the first requirement for a clubhouse and golf course.  Three sites came under consideration.  Eventually the one closest to Lafayette, Jack Nickerson’s Oakbourne Plantation was chosen.

The ridge running through that location is the primordial Western bank of the Mississippi River.  Coteau Ridge formed the only real elevation in the Lafayette area.  Thus this part of Oakbourne Plantation included low bottom land along Bayour Vermilion and higher upland, the change of elevation that a good golf course needs.

The organizers, who had originally set their sights on 300 acres of this land, scaled down their dream to 150 acres.  Interested Nickerson was ready to negotiate.  He set his price at one thousand dollars an acre.  George Thomas (of the negotiating committee) said, “Jack we’re going to give you $750 an acre, and that’s that.  And that was that, almost.

They thought they were getting some of the land with pecan trees, but Nickerson would not let go of that property.  

Jack Nickerson, 2nd from right, supervises spraying of his pecan trees

“For that money, you’ll have to take some low land.”  He intended to divide the better land into subdivisions for sale to the public.

The country club organizers wanted that pecan upland.  They had hoped to do some subdivided themselves to help pay off their investment.  But this way they were creating for themselves a debt of $112,500 for acreage that did not include suitable space to sell for residential use.  And, worse insult, too much of the land they were buying was swamp.

But the lowland part of their new property still bothered some of the members.  “Now what can we do with the swamp land?” one member asked.  “Drain it,” replied another.

Later on that’s what they did.  Among their membership, they found engineers to drain the swamp land.  “And the slope that the lower ground gave us was an advantage.  It created a better golf course.” said one member.  “Old Man Nickerson did us a favor when he kept his pecan trees.”

Oakbourne Country Club today


From Acorn to Oakbourne
by Bernice Larson Webb and W. Roy Hebert