Photograph: A view from the Courthouse Square in c. 1912 shows one of the fountains that was on the square for 36 years. (Carola Lillie Hartley Collection.)
Carola Lillie Hartley
Publisher and Contributing Writer
Did you know at one time the St. Landry Parish Courthouse Square in the heart of Opelousas had two beautiful fountains? That’s right. And they were even used as a goldfish pond for a while. Although those fountains had vanished long before I was born, I still remember older folks in the community telling stories about them and wishing they were still around. Those stories about the fountains on the square were great. However, there was so much more to this story. What happened during the construction of those fountains shocked the whole town. Here is what I learned about those fountains, plus the rest of that story.
Beautifying the Courthouse Grounds
At the turn of the 20th century, a group of Opelousas women began a movement to beautify the St. Landry Parish Courthouse grounds. This idea was the aftermath of a very successful 1903 Mardi Gras Carnival held in the city that drew thousands of people and was called one of the most successful events ever held in Opelousas. What followed was a desire by citizens to make their town more beautiful and appealing to the outside world.
A clean up and fix up effort began with a focus on the Courthouse Square. It was suggested that adding fountains on the square would make it more attractive. The St. Landry Parish Police Jury approved this idea and appropriated a little over $1,000 from the Contingent Expense Fund to purchase the fountains and other equipment needed to get the project completed.
Aaron Jacobs with Jacobs News Depot knew where to get the necessary pieces needed for the project. He ordered the Spanish style iron fountains, along with benches, water troughs, walk around fountains and other items. The Police Jury hired a local brick mason to supervise the project.
The Fountain Work Began
Preparation work on the project began during the middle of 1903, by August the fountains arrived in town and by September the other equipment arrived. The fountains were ready to be installed. But there was a problem. The man supervising the project was murdered before it could be completed.
The Murder of Charles H. Medicis
Charles H. Medicis, born in July of 1868, was the son of Martin Medici and the grandson of John Medicis of Opelousas. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Charles became a brick mason, and was the one hired in 1903 to supervise the installation of the two fountains and the ponds alongside them on the courthouse square.
About this same time, the daughter of Dr. D. A. Harmanson began receiving letters that were deemed inappropriate. Although these letters were anonymous, Dr. Harmanson was certain Mr. Medicis wrote them.
After the doctor determined Medicis wrote those letters to his daughter, he began looking for the man. All day on Saturday, September 12, 1903, Dr. Harmanson walked around town with a rifle looking for the young man, who was a close neighbor. He was not able to find him on that day, but he did spot him walking down the street near his home and the doctor’s home on Sunday morning. Dr. Harmanson stepped from his gate, and from the sidewalk fired a shot at Medicis, but did not hit him. Medicis ran, but the second shot struck him in the back, and he fell. The doctor then walked up to him and fired the third shot into his head killing the man. When news of the murder hit the streets of Opelousas, the town was in shock.
The Harmanson Family – The Trial and its Aftermath
Born in nearby Point Coupee Parish in 1847, D. A. Harmanson was a prominent physician in Opelousas for over twenty years. He was very involved in the community, as were all the members of his family. His daughter Pearl was selected to be the Queen of the just completed Mardi Gras Carnival that year. No one could believe this man would do such a thing. The doctor was arrested, and a trial date was set for November.
The trial of Dr. Harmanson was a hard-fought battle between District Attorney Garland and the defense represented by E. B. Dubuisson and Veazie and Pavy. Although there was no evidence that proved Charles Medicis had anything to do with those letters, the defense managed to convince some jury members it was he who authored them. In the end, the jury could not reach a verdict, with five in favor of conviction, and seven against. A mistrial was declared, and Dr. Harmanson was freed, never to be charged again. He moved to Mississippi. However, some of his children continued to live in town, and he was still involved in Opelousas social clubs until his death in 1922.
Completing the Fountains
In the meantime, the parish was able to get the fountain project completed. The ponds surrounding the fountains were stocked with goldfish, which helped to adorn the square. An event was planned to introduce the completed project to the town but talk about the murder of Medicis and the trial of Dr. Harmanson overshadowed that celebration.
For over 36 years, the fountains remained on the courthouse square. They became a gathering place for local citizens and visitors alike and they were a form of entertainment as well. On most evenings, especially during the warm days of summer, locals were gathered on the square, sitting on the benches near the two fountains, watching the goldfish swim around the ponds.
Removing the Fountains
In 1939, when the new St. Landry Parish Courthouse was being erected, it was decided that the fountains should be removed. Many in the community were upset, but the fountains were taken out anyway. They were in such good condition that Morgan Goudeau, Sr., the City Engineer, asked the Police Jury if he could have one to install in the swimming pool that was planned for the new park. In 1940 and for many years after, that fountain was a part of the wading pool in South City Park.
When the fountains were removed from the square in 1939, the Jury promised they would be replaced. They never were. From decade to decade, people talked about putting the fountains back on the courthouse square.
In 1970 when Opelousas celebrated its 250th anniversary, it was suggested the fountains be put back on the square. In 1975 when a local committee was formed for the 1976 US Bicentennial celebration, one of the projects suggested by that committee was the installation of a fountain at the entrance to the courthouse.
During the 1990s, fountains on the courthouse square were talked about again. And, just a few years ago, talk about installing a fountain on the courthouse square was spread around the community.
But no fountain was ever put back on the square. Wouldn’t it be great to have those fountains, or even just one, on the square again? Maybe someday one of the town’s civic clubs would want to take on a project to install a fountain on the square. Could be a great community project.