Kaplan historian gets book published

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"The History of Kaplan" was a six year project for historian, Donella Hargrave.

Six years of hard work researching archives, combing through tons of pictures, and talking with hundreds of people, Donella LaBry Hargrave’s project finally came to fruition.
Her book entitled, “History of Kaplan” was finally published and includes history of early buildings/businesses with maps, village government, railroad, brief bios of residents between 1902 and 1930, the first murder, first robbery, first attempted suicide/ murder, sports and entertainment for young and old, weather of early days, all based on her own research.
Hargrave became fascinated with her native town’s history when she was helping her father gather information on her father’s now published book, “The History of Cossinade”. (She is the daughter of Ella Mae LeLeux LaBry and Ewell LaBry.)
It was along this journey that Donella unintentionally began to collect information about Kaplan.
“When I was helping dad finish up his book, I was going around and collecting photographs related to Cossinade for him, and people were giving me random photos of Kaplan from different time periods. After a time, it really got me interested,” she explains.
Toward the end of the assemblage of Ewell’s book, Donella took a more dominant role in the process due to her father’s advanced age.
At the time her mother, half jokingly, recommended that she start a book of her own comprised of Kaplan’s history.
“As time passed, Dad and I felt a loss at not having a project to occupy our time. Mom suggested we do a ‘part two’ of the ‘History of Cossinade’. She knew I had collected a few interesting photos of Kaplan as I was helping for Dad’s book, she then suggested to do a history of Kaplan as the part two.
“After joking about the notion for a few months, then we thought...why not?” And the planning of the book began.
Hargrave thanks both parents for giving her the appreciation of those ‘times gone by’.
“Six months before I even thought of writing this book, I met the lay minister who brought Holy Communion to my parents at the assisted living home in Lafayette. Mom asked me to share some of the Kaplan photos with him. He was born in Kaplan. After the death of his father, his family moved to Lafayette. Over the next few months, Mom told him about Dad’s book about Cossinade, then she told him about the new project.
“On his next visit for Communion, the man left me an envelope. I was totally shocked to find a ‘never before seen’ photo of 1928 Kaplan. What are the chances that the man who administered Communion would be from Kaplan and have a few photographs to share with me? From that moment I believed that this book was meant to be. The book not only narrates the history of Kaplan’s inception, but it also specifically follows the people whose signatures appear on the 1903 petition to make Kaplan a village.”
Along the way, many interesting facts and stories from Kaplan’s formidable years will be disclosed.
For example, she reveals the minutes from the first town meeting in which, among other things, members voted to prohibit the use of a slingshot in the village of Kaplan.
Donella has organized her book based on industry. She speaks of each occupation individually and discusses the people connected to it. She can tell, based on census and draft records, who was listed as being employed by a bar tavern or saloon, or anything else for that matter, and for what time frame they were employed as such. From that information, she weaved together family history, documented facts, and oral accounts into a well-balanced tapestry depicting Kaplan life from 1902 until 1930. The photos that accompany the document are astounding. Seemingly for every subject matter, she has managed to find photos of the people and the blossoming town to allow readers a second hand view of what was emerging every step of the way.
In gathering information, virtually every source available was used. Access to the Kaplan Museum, library databases, church records, and online resources certainly helped, but Donella wasn’t satisfied with only that. She turned to the help of others such as Harvey Adams who collected charred documents and records from the Vermilion Parish courthouse, which burned in 1884, and created an index from what could be salvaged. Vermilion Parish Burnt Remnants is a valuable resource showcasing what little there is left from a time period in which many records were lost forever.
The author also turned to some of the information left behind by Amanda Hanks, deceased former librarian and author of “Louisiana Paradise.” In regards to Amanda Hanks and Ewell LaBry, Donella remarks, “I like to think that I am carrying on their legacy, and hopefully, I will be able to do them justice!”
As she waited for her sister, Gayla, to finish editing the last few chapters to put the parts to together to send to publisher, she decided to round up some research material for her next book. She discovered some research material she had forgotten about. Her daughter, Keisa, had turned over all her material from her term paper on Kaplan.
“I thought I had already gone through it. Well, since I enjoy reading, I read over some of the material again and a detail in that write-up caught my attention. That sent me searching again at the courthouse and through copies of the Meridional from 1901 and 1902.”
I discovered this detail: In the early decades of Kaplan’s history, the two blocks between First Street and Third Street along Cushing Avenue were considered the hub of Kaplan, the current locations of Thrifty Way Pharmacy to PACE, and the Railroad Depot, where CVS is now, was very important to the town. The land for the railroad was originally donated by David Todd owner of Wester Ogle Plantation. After the purchase of the plantation from Todd, and just before the plat for the town was laid out in 1902, Abrom Kaplan donated additional footage to the RR for the specific purpose of building a depot and station.
The interesting fact was that in December 1901, construction on the depot had begun. At that time, Kaplan had donated additional footage between Wilson and Louisiana Avenues for a depot and rail station along the railroad tracks. Then the area experienced torrential rains and the depot was washed away. Abrom rescinded the donation and donated land a bit further west between Church and Frederick Avenues, along the rail road tracks (Highway 14).
“I often try to imagine what the town of Kaplan would have been like with Cushing Avenue located where Jackson or Trahan Avenue is. How would it have developed differently?
The search for information is not over, and she urges anyone with stories or photographs of Kaplan, between 1902 and 1930 – or even a bit beyond, to contact her at 643-1417.
She is anxious to learn and welcomes a good conversation.
Hargrave thanks both parents for giving her the appreciation of those ‘times gone by’.
Donella lives in Nunez with her husband, Wayne “T-Black” Hargrave. Jointly, the couple has six children and ten grandchildren.
If you are interested in purchasing a book, they are available at Vermilion Bank or call Donella at 643-1417.


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