Skip to main content

Publisher and Contributing Writer

Featured Image: Gibbs and Redmond Ad that appeared in the St. Landry Whig Newspaper on July 18, 1846.
Photographs: Carola Lillie Hartley Collection.

Ever wonder as you ride through Opelousas what it must have been like one hundred or even two hundred years ago? This story will bring you back in time and show the changes made to just one corner in old Opelousas over its centuries of existence. Let’s explore the corner of Bellevue and Court streets, originally known as the old Gibbs Corner.

The northeast corner of Court and Bellevue streets has always been considered valuable real estate in downtown Opelousas. Located so close to the courthouse, it was said to be a perfect spot to do business. One of the first known businesses located on that spot was the Gibbs and Redmond Carriage shop owned by Joseph Gibbs and David J. Redmond, in business as early as 1846. By the early 1850s, the business was solely owned and operated by Joseph Gibbs, called the Gibbs Carriage Depository. That Bellevue and Court street corner became known as Gibbs Corner.

Who was Joseph Gibbs

Born in England in July of 1812, Joseph Gibbs immigrated to the United States, first settling in Virginia in 1831. He resided in that state, clerking in a mercantile store until 1837 when he moved to New Orleans, and from there he came to Opelousas.

Soon after he arrived in Opelousas, Gibbs married Miss Brigitte M. Carroll, a native of Auburn, New York (d. Feb. 22, 1861). The couple had three children, a daughter that died as a young child, a son Joseph and a daughter Elizabeth.

When living in Opelousas Joseph Gibbs was first in the painting business, then kept a hotel, and finally opened a carriage making and trim shop on the corner of Court and Bellevue streets.

The Gibbs carriage business operated for many years on that corner in downtown Opelousas. Working with Gibbs was Leonard “Tot-toute” Manso, a Free Person of Color, who was hired as an apprentice in February of 1850.  In May of 1853, Gibbs formed a partnership with Samuel P. Clark, and the business was renamed Gibbs and Clark. He remained in the carriage business until the outbreak of the US Civil War.

During the War years, since Gibbs was too old to enlist in the military, he took an active role in carrying supplies to the soldiers in the field, and became a mail carrier, getting mail from the soldiers and bringing it to their families and loved ones in the Opelousas area.

On October 21, 1865, an advertisement in the Opelousas Courier announced Joseph Gibbs was moving to New Orleans to devote his time to purchasing goods that he could sell to people who needed them in Opelousas and the St. Landry Parish area.  He accepted orders accompanied by money or drafts and shipped the orders via steamboats to St. Landry Parish.[1] However, it wasn’t long before he was back in Opelousas, working with S. P. Clark at the carriage shop on Gibbs Corner.

Besides his carriage and wholesale businesses, Gibbs was also an inventor, and created a device used on railroad locomotives that some called the Arrestor. Gibbs worked on that device for years until it was perfected in 1873. In early July of that year the New Orleans Picayune had this to say about the Gibbs invention:

“Mr. Joseph Gibbs of Opelousas has for months past been experimenting on an invention for the purpose of catching and arresting the sparks from locomotives. This was a desirable improvement, as thousands of dollars have been lost from fires occasioned by sparks, and it has long been the quest of inventors to make some arrester to prevent the escape of dust and cinders.”

“All that can be desired has been accomplished by Mr. Joseph Gibbs, and after a thorough trial on the Jackson Railroad, the success of the invention has been pronounced. All speak in glowing terms of the working of the Arrester, and especially passengers, who are not annoyed during travel by smut and burning sparks. It is expected all roads will adopt Mr. Gibbs’ improvement.”[2] [3]

Joseph Gibbs passed away at the age of 82 on Thursday, August 16, 1894, at the home of his daughter and son-in-law in Opelousas.[4] The funeral was held at the Episcopal Church in Opelousas, with burial in the Opelousas Protestant Cemetery[5] at the east entrance to the town (today known as Myrtle Grove Cemetery.[6]

Bodemuller, the Printer and St. Landry Clarion on Gibbs Corner

By the end of the 1870s, the Gibbs corner property was owned by Joseph Gibbs’ daughter, Elizabeth Gibbs, who later married Leonce E. Littell. In February of 1891, the Littell family demolished the old Gibbs and Clark carriage shop in order to construct a new building for Herman Bodemuller’s printing business and an office for the new St. Landry Clarion newspaper. Later that year, Bodemuller, the Printer was born.

Bodemuller, The Printer pictured during the 1890s.

Bodemuller’s remained on that corner until 1905 when the Opelousas Development Company, headed by John W. Lewis, purchased the property. At that time the printing company moved into the Moock Building on Bellevue Street, between Court and Main streets. It remained there until a new building was constructed for Herman Bodemuller’s printing shop in 1930, on Bellevue Street, in the middle of the South block, where Bodemuller, the Printer remained for many years.

The New Lacombe Hotel and the James Hotel

Although the Opelousas Development Corporation, headed by John W. Lewis, purchased the Gibbs property in 1905, the Littell family retained part ownership by holding many shares in the development company. It was during this time that the printing and newspaper office was demolished, and the new Lacombe Hotel constructed on the old Gibbs Corner.

The new Lacombe Hotel opened in 1909. When the development company was dissolved, the Gibbs Corner property was again owned by the Littell Family. The New Lacombe Hotel eventually became the James Hotel during the 1920s and operated on that Bellevue Street corner until the early 1950s when the old hotel building was demolished.

The James Hotel on the Old Gibbs Corner

Planter’s Bank and Trust Company

In 1955 the Littell family sold the property on Gibbs Corner to Planter’s Bank and Trust Company.  At the same time, the building to the east, at one time the Littell residence and later where the Association of Commerce office was located, was sold to the bank, and that building was also demolished.

Planter’s Bank and Trust Company soon after it opened for business in 1955 on the Old Gibbs Corner.

The new bank building, and a parking lot, was constructed on property where the old hotel and the Littell home/chamber office stood for many years. The new Planters Bank opened for business on Monday, May 7, 1956. The bank closed its doors in 1985.  Although it is presently unoccupied, the Planters Bank building sits on that old Gibbs Corner today.

[1] The Opelousas Courier, Opelousas, Louisiana, Saturday, October 21, 1865, Page two.

[2] The Opelousas Courier, Opelousas, Louisiana, Saturday, July 5, 1873, Page one.

[3] St. Landry Democrat, Opelousas, Louisiana, Saturday, July 5, 1873, Page three.

[4] Obituary of Joseph M. Gibbs on page one of the Opelousas Courier, on Saturday, August 25, 1894.

[5] Obituary of Joseph M. Gibbs on page one of the Opelousas Courier, on Saturday, August 25, 1894.

[6] Although his grave in Myrtle Grove Cemetery is marked with the death date of 1917, and that date is also used for U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current, according to his obituary in the Opelousas Courier of August 25, 1894, his death was on August 16th of 1894.