by Carola Lillie Hartley
The office of Dr. A. J. Bercier sits on the corner of Vine and Court streets in the Opelousas Historic District, as it has since it was constructed in 1903. Although it’s seen different owners over the years, it has remained about the same as it did over a century ago.
The Dental Office of Dr. A. J. Bercier in the Opelousas Historic Distrrict
Who was Dr. Bercier
A. J. Bercier, the son of Eugene and Louisa K. Bercier, was born in Louisiana on March 14, 1858. His father’s family came from France, and his mother’s family from Germany. A. J.’s father was employed in steam boating during his entire life. He died in 1958 at the age of 36 years, not long after A. J. was born. A. J.’s mother remarried John Fahey, one of the best cotton planters in St. Landry Parish.
During his early days, A. J. worked in Fahey’s cotton fields during the day. His stepfather sent him to the private schools in Opelousas and eventually to Soule’s Commercial College, where he graduated and returned to Opelousas. For a short time he worked for Joseph Bloch, a leading Opelousas merchant of that time. He left with two friends to seek employment in Lake Charles. After a short time he returned to Opelousas and eventually entered the dental collage at Baltimore, Md, where he graduated and became a doctor of dentistry.
Upon his return to Opelousas in 1883, he opened his dental practice on the corner of Union and Landry streets next to J. Meyer’s and Co. In 1884, Dr. Bercier married Eleanor Hardy, the daughter of Pliny Hardy, a noted advocate of his day. The Bercier couple lived in a new house that was constructed for them immediately following their marriage.
The dental practice did so well that in 1903, Bercier built a new office on the corner of Court and Vine streets. That office is still standing today. It was used for a number of different businesses over the years and today houses a hair salon.
As a dentist, Dr. Bercier was known as one of the best around, and as a social person, he was called one of the most jovial and entertaining gentlemen. He was also known for his work in the community. During the late 1890s, the doctor was involved with other Opelousas businessmen in the organization of the Opelousas Progressive League. Although that organization did not continue to operate for long, Bercier urged them to continue with their purpose. He was instrumental in helping with the reorganization of that group in 1905, and accepted the role as its president.
The Opelousas Progressive League was active for a few years, and eventually it again had to be reorganized. Through all of the changes, Dr. Bercier continued to work for the Opelousas community. He was involved in helping to organize the first Chamber of Commerce in 1919.
In 1921, Dr. Bercier joined with his neighbor Herbert Richard in leading the effort to organize the Court Street property owners to help beautify the street and encouraged other such Opelousas street groups to organize and do the same. The purpose of those street organizations was to help kept the sidewalks and streets clean and sanitary, and promote efforts toward street paving and sidewalk construction, and greatly facilitate the city officials in their efforts to upbuild and beautify Opelousas. (What a great idea!)In 1922, Dr. Bercier was a promoter of the Cotton Carnival, that was held on October 25 of that year. This was a huge success and as a result, two more Cotton Carnivals were held in Opelousas in 1923 and 1924, with Dr. Bercier very involved in all the festivities.
Besides his dental practice, the good doctor also had other business interest. In the late 19 teens, Dr. Bercier began raising chicken. He acquired some special chickens known as Dark Cornish. Dark Cornish chickens were said to have super meat quality and were known for their brown eggs. They originated from England and were also known as “Indian Games,” These birds were broody and dual-purpose; however, they had a slow growth rate. The mature chickens had thick, compact bodies with wide backs and broad, deep breasts.
Bercier raised his chickens on three lots he owned in Opelousas. Those chickens were entered in poultry contests all around the state, and in other states as well. They were always winners, and Dr. Bercier’s chickens were known in many areas of the US. His original chickens were like pets to him, and he would never sell them. He would, however, sell their dark colored eggs and their offspring.
Dr. Bercier was very proud of his chickens. He was eager to show them off at every opportunity. He even had his prized Dark Cornish chickens take part in all three of the Cotton Carnival parades in 1922, 1923 and 1924.
Although Dr. Bercier was very involved in his businesses and in a number of projects and activities, he always made sure his main focus was his family. He was devoted to his wife and to their six children. The family suffered a great loss in 1904 when the Bercier’s oldest son, Pliny Hardy died at a young age while he was at school studying to become a dentist. Two of his other sons did become dentists, Dr. Eugene T. Bercier who practiced with his father in Opelousas, and Dr. Edwin Bercier who had a very successful dental practice in Rayne, LA for many years. Another son A. J Bercier, Jr. was in the cotton business in Opelousas.
Dr. A. J. Bercier died in Opelousas on Wednesday morning, March 18, 1925 at the age of 66 years. He had been sick for some time and underwent two surgeries. Although he was improving, his condition suddenly worsened which lead to his death. A few days following his death, Dr. Bercier was remembered in a tribute that was printed in the Clarion-Progress newspaper. That tribute ended with the following: “There is no death! What seems so is transition; This life of mortal breath, Is but a suburb of the life elysian, Whose portal we call death.” It was signed “A Friend.”
The office built by Dr. Bercier in 1903 remains in Opelousas today, a reminder of the time the long-standing Opelousas dentist left his mark on the community he loved.
Photo: Dr. A. J. Bercier is pictured standing on the porch of his new dental office on the corner of Court and Vine streets in downtown Opelousas soon after it was built in 1903. Dr. Bercier served the Opelousas area for over two decades as a professional and as a community leader. Besides his dental practice, he also raised a special breed of chickens that he entered in contests across the United States. Dr. Bercier’s office building stands today on that corner in downtown Opelousas, and is now owned by Vera Nagy, a local entrepreneur. (Courtesy of Emile Ventre IV, Chris Ventre and Jonathan Sebastien.)