This is the third oldest photo of Monroe I have ever seen. Only the two photos of the 1871 fire are older. It shows South Grand Street, where a parade seems to be happening. I’ve seen grainy copies published in the News-Star and in Dr. Williams’ book, “Founding Families of the Ouachita Valley” Volume Two. I thought if I can just get a clear look at it, I could figure out when it was taken, along with what parade it depicts. The negative (or original photo) was originally housed at ULM Library’s Special Collections department. It was given to the library by the Griffin Photo Studio, who had acquired it when they bought the Mealy studio. My boss worked hard to digitize the Griffin photos and emphatically stated she had never seen it before. So, sometime between the times it was donated and when she worked with the collection in the early 2000’s, it disappeared. I thought all was lost.
A week ago, I took a day off and went to Baton Rouge to visit the State Archives. They house the collection of Dr. E. Russ Williams, which includes a massive amount of photos. I found a very clear copy of the above photo, and I was finally able to make out some of the business signs!
Dr. Williams’ had identified the photo in his book as a Republican dignitary being greeted circa 1872. He mused it may have been P.B.S. Pinchback, Louisiana’s first African-American governor. He also pointed out all the construction debris in the bottom left corner of the photo, indicating it was not long after the 1871 Fire. He states the white, two-story building at the end of the street was probably the post war courthouse. I will agree that it had to have been after the fire. Just look at the burned tree in the photo! I have not found anything saying Pinchback ever visited Monroe though. The occasion is just a mystery. I can, however, pinpoint the photo date a bit further.
On the left-hand side of the photo, I can make out C. Bofenschen’s name on a sign, next to the building with a sign for E.W. Mealy’s Art Gallery. Both men had their businesses on South Grand. Charles Bofenschen sold watches and jewelry. Just past Mealy’s photo studio, is a sign that states, “Hot and Cold Baths”. I found an ad in the Ouachita Telegraph in the April 19, 1873 paper, that states James Douglass, the Grand Street Barber, was now offering hot and cold baths.
Opposite Mealy’s photo studio, another sign can be seen. It says, “D. Lemle’s New Store”. David Lemle moved to the town of Trenton from Monroe in February, 1874 and died in 1875 around 27 years old (he is buried in the Jewish Cemetery). This means the above photo was taken probably in 1873. No matter how I searched the Telegraph on Newspapers.com, I can find no occasion when there was a parade down Grand Street! That is the only mystery that remains.