Nicolas Chauvin de la Freniere
Until 1920, Jefferson Parish was comprised of a scattering of farms, pastures, and villages with some large plantations spread out along the Mississippi River. It was on one of these plantations that Nicolas Chauvin, a first generation Canadian born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and the eighth child of Pierre Chauvin and Marthe Autreuil, eventually settled taking the name, de la Freniere. With his wife, Marguerite Le Suer, the elder de la Freniere raised his three children on a 5000 acre land grant known as Elmwood Plantation that he had received from Bienville as a reward for his service to the colonization of New Orleans. At the death of Nicolas Chauvin de la Freniere, pere, the land passed to his son, Nicolas de la Freniere, fils, who later became Louisiana's Procureur General du Roi (attorney general) in 1763. It was on part of this 5000 acre land grant that the Jefferson Downs racetrack was eventually built. The racetrack was operational until 1965 when Hurricane Betsy devastated the area. The track was eventually rebuilt in another location, thus leaving the de la Freniere site vacant, and the dream of a park for Jefferson Parish was born. The park on the old Jefferson Downs site was named Lafreniere Park so that the historical significance of the name will never be forgotten.
The Land Becomes Available
After the destruction of the Jefferson Downs Race Track by Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the only undeveloped site suitable for such a park became available. The 155 acre site is centrally located in East Jefferson Parish. Fortunately, the owners of the storm-ruined race track decided to relocate and sell the land, and they held it for possible purchase by the citizens of Jefferson Parish.
Lafreniere Park Becomes Reality
Citizen's support for the park was widespread, and in September 1972 the Lafreniere Park Citizens Committee presented the signatures of over 12,000 people who favored the purchase of the site for a park. Based on this impetus and additional citizen support, the local bond issue was proposed, and local officials started to apply for matching Federal funds. A special bond election was called for February of 1973, and interested citizens began an intensive person-to person campaign to vote for the park. The result was the passage of a $5,000,000 Bond issue by a landslide margin with over 70% of the vote, and the site for Lafreniere Park was assured. Passage of the Bond issue was an historic event in Jefferson Parish, for it marked the first time a grass roots movement had succeeded in creating a project with such far-reaching community benefits. The project qualified for matching Federal funds from the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Hamilton, Meyer and Associates, Architects and Engineers of Metairie, were retained as prime consultants for the park, and after a national selection process, Theodore Osmundson and Associates, Landscape Architects of San Francisco, were engaged as the Lafreniere Park consultants to team with James F Fondren and Associates, Landscape Architects and Planners of New Orleans, to produce a Master Plan for the overall design of the park.
Construction started on Lafreniere Park in 1977, and the park was substantially finished and dedicated in 1982. Today, the people of Jefferson Parish have enjoyed the park for over twenty-four years, and the park's Master Plan has been able to stand the test of time. Although some elements of the original Master Plan were never constructed, the overall design concept is a success. Jefferson Parish residents will have a beautiful and functional park for years to come.
Park Development Time Line
- February 10, 1973 - Voters approve bond issue for the acquisition of the old Jefferson Downs Race Track
- August 23, 1973 - Jefferson Parish acquires an undivided one-half interest in the Downs property with option to acquire balance within an eighteen-month period
- September 27, 1973 - Council Ordinance #11376 establishes the Lafreniere Park Advisory Board
- June 11, 1974 - Jefferson Parish acquires balance of the Downs property
- January 2, 1975 - Adoption of the Lafreniere Park Master Plan
- September 16, 1977 - Groundbreaking ceremony for the development of Lafreniere Park
- November 6, 1982 - Dedication of Lafreniere Park