Carola Lillie Hartley
I once heard someone say: “People have stories, homes have stories, and all buildings have stories.” I agree. Since I have been collecting stories, and history, about many of the people, the homes and other buildings in Opelousas, and especially in what is now the Opelousas Historic District, I decided to share their stories. Here is the story of Thomas and Celestine Chachere Brooks, the widow of Judge Tom Brooks. Enjoy!
The Chachere-Brooks-Miles Home – Also known as “Yesterday”:
Located on East Grolee Street, these two photographs show the home of Celestine Chachere Brooks, the widow of Tom Brooks. Following the death of her husband, Mrs. Brooks built the home in 1900 where she and her children lived for about eight years. The first picture shows the home soon after it was built. The second picture shows the home in 1905 after it was remodeled, and a second floor added.
Who was Thomas Ballou “Tom” Brooks?
Thomas Ballou “Tom” Brooks, the son of Dr. John Guerry Brooks and Martha Reid Brooks, was born on October 25, 1858, in Mississippi. By 1860, he was living with his family in Opelousas, where he attended school and grew to manhood. On January 24, 1883, he married Celestine Chachere, the daughter of Theodose Constant Chachere and Perrinse Young Chachere. The couple had six children: Thomas Ballou Brooks (1888-1958), Pearl Brooks Lord (1884-1970), George M. Brooks (1896-1965), Clay Warmoth Brooks (1897-1976), Edwin Wallace Brooks (1893-1965), and James Overton Brooks (13 Feb 1900 – 13 Jun 1994).
In 1888, Tom Brooks was elected to serve as a Justice of the Peace for St. Landry Parish in Opelousas, with an office on Landry Street. He was reelected in 1892 and again in 1896. According to the St. Landry Clarion newspaper, in February of 1896, Justice of the Peace Tom Brooks moved his office from Landry Street to the office of old Judge Moore on Bellevue Street, near the office of the St. Landry Clarion, that was located on the corner of Bellevue and Court streets.
Judge Brooks was an active member of the Republican Party in St. Landry Parish. He was sometimes involved in some of the political bickering that was part of the local atmosphere during that time. He worked for the party during the elections of that period and in 1890 and 1894 he was appointed as an election commissioner assigned to the precinct at the St. Landry Parish Courthouse. In March of 1896, Judge Brooks was with a local organized group composed of Republicans, Independents and disgruntled Democrats whose mission was to allow the Negros of the Parish to vote in that year’s elections. Jesse Roy and his two brothers, were part of a courthouse mob who were intent on making sure that did not happen. As a result of the altercation that occurred between the two groups, Judge Brooks shot the three Roy Brothers, with Jesse Roy dying the next day. The judge was arrested and held on bond but was eventually freed and not charged.
Judge Brooks was very involved in other ways in the Opelousas community and St. Landry Parish. When the new Knights of Honor organization was established in Opelousas, Brooks was an organizing member attending the opening of the lodge and the election and installation of officers on September 4, 1889. He was elected as one of its first trustees that evening, and later served as an officer, elected as the head dictator (what the leader was called) in 1894. According to the article in the Opelousas Courier on September 7, 1889, the new Knights of Honor lodge members and officers enjoyed a “sumptuous banquet at the Opelousas Hotel during which many toasts were made, and a good time generally was enjoyed.”
Judge Brooks’ wife Celestine was also active in the Opelousas community. She was involved in her church and in town events. She joined the Opelousas chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), a national organization that was among the first organized for women devoted to social reform with strategies based on applied Christianity. Celestine was active in this organization, attending meetings and happenings including the annual Thanksgiving candy pulling. During the 1892 candy pulling, Opelousas young folks pulled 24 plates of candy. Mrs. Brooks won the prize for that year’s event – a beautiful silver filagree picture frame.
Judge Tom Brooks, age 40, died on Monday, August 28, 1899. At about 6:30 p.m. that evening when he was traveling in his buggy to his home, a shotgun accidentally discharged, hitting him in the right arm. His arm was amputated the next day. He was at first doing ok, but a few days later he died from blood poisoning. His funeral was held in Opelousas, with burial in Myrtle Grove Cemetery. Following his death, his wife and five children moved into a new home she had built on East Grolee Street in Opelousas. Mrs. Brooks was three months pregnant when her husband died. Their last child James Overton Brooks was born on February 13, 1900, in that new home.
The Brooks family lived in that home until they relocated to New Orleans in about 1907. When the Brooks family moved, in about 1909 the home was sold to Vance Miles Sr. who lived there with his wife and children until he died in 1944. His widow Mathilde Lacombe Miles continued to live in the home until 1950 when she moved to Alabama. Later a family by the name of Young occupied the home until 1974 when the Andrepont family purchased the home, named it “Yesterday,” and lived there until 1999.
After 121 years, The Brooks – Miles – Young – “Yesterday” home, built by the widow Celestine Chachere Brooks in 1900, remains today on East Grolee Street in the Opelousas Historic District.
So, where did those two photographs of the house come from?
On a personal note, this is an additional part to this story. I lived in this home on East Grolee Street from 1974 until 1999 and was active in its restoration and preservation for all those years. In about 1978, while I was at work, an older gentlemen knocked on the door of my home. My mother, who was staying with my young son on that day, answered the door. Since she had no idea who he was and why he was there she called to ask that I come home to talk to this man. I immediately left work and when home to meet the mam and ask why he wanted to see me.
The man introduced himself as James Brooks, and said he was born in the house in 1900. He told me his mother sold the home when his family moved to New Orleans a few years later. I invited him inside and he spend a little time looking around, thinking about his life in the home as a young boy. As he was leaving, he told me about two photographs he had of the home, one taken right after it was built, and the second taken in about 1905, after the second floor was added. He said he would send the photos to me. Years went by and those pictures were never sent.
In 1988-89, while working to get historic properties in Opelousas on the National Register of Historic Places, I asked the State Historic Preservation Officer to look at my house for possible nomination to the register. He said the house may qualify, but more information was needed, and if I had photos of the home in its earlier days, that would help the cause. I remembered Mr. Brooks saying he had those photographs but did not know how to contact him.
The following week as I was backing out of my driveway, I saw a taxi parked in front of my house. An older gentlemen got out and stopped me. He said he was James Brooks, and he understood I needed these early photos of the house. He came to Opelousas to get them to me. I was shocked since I did not know how he learned I needed those photos. I invited him to come into the house so we could visit. He thanked me but said he could not stay any longer since he had to catch a bus back to New Orleans. He only wanted to make sure I had those photographs, and he got in the taxi, and it drove away.
A few weeks later I received a phone call from a priest who said he was a relative of James Brooks. He asked if I had recently seen Mr. Brooks. I told him yes, he came by my house in Opelousas a few weeks earlier. He sounded surprised and told me Mr. Brooks had told people he came to Opelousas to see me. He said Mr. Brooks was in a nursing home in New Orleans, and since no one knew he left the home, they were not sure he was giving them the correct information. Apparently, Mr. Brooks left the home, took a taxi to the bus station in New Orleans, rode the bus to Opelousas, took a taxi to my house, rode the bus back to New Orleans, and went back to the nursing home. He did this all on his own without telling anyone until he returned. I never heard anything else from Mr. Brooks, and learned he passed away in 1994. Today I have the two photographs he gave me, framed and hanging on the wall in my home. I often think about James Brooks and relate to others the story of those photos.
Photos: 1st – Home of Celestine Chachere Brooks on East Grolee Street soon after it was constructed. 2nd – The home in about 1905 after renovation to add a second floor. 3rd – *Yesterday *shown in 1989.