Downtown Covington's Legacy of Art & Artists

To say that downtown Covington supports the arts is an understatement. 

Downtown Covington business owners are artists themselves in many ways, both in the traditional ways of thinking about art, and in more outside-the-box creative techniques of showcasing art as well. Here are the stories of the central business district merchant/artists who demonstrate skills central to the creation and  appreciation of art. 

In the middle of it all stands the landmark St. Tammany Art Association building, originally a toy store 100 years ago, now a resource providing outstanding classes, gallery exhibitions, and a mission of promoting the arts throughout the community. 

Below is a list of art galleries. Here's a sampling.  

Saladino Gallery, 409 E Boston St
Brunner Gallery, 215 N. Columbia St.
The Rutland Street Gallery, 828 E Rutland St
Gallery 421, 421 N Columbia St
Tripolo Gallery, 323 N. Columbia St
Marianne Angeli Rodriguez Studio Gallery, 430 Gibson St
Savoye Originals, 1601 N Collins Blvd
BB's Eclectic Creations, 203 N New Hampshire St
Covington Art & Frame, 529 N Florida St 


The list of artistic businesses is also quite impressive.

Several incredible restaurants showcase the culinary arts across downtown Covington, in every setting from elegant evening eating to the daily lunch cafe encounter (as well as a hot dog restaurant). The unique Louisiana style of delicious menu favorites is well represented, but there is an array of unique dining experiences available that cater to all tastes.

There are clothing stores that range from avant-garde fashion to vintage collectibles you can wear, apparel for the young and the young-at-heart. The downtown Covington offerings include general merchandise and sporting goods stores, as well as shops for the discriminating cigar-smoking aficionado and artists who need supplies, easels, and frames for their finished products.

Since Covington is a courthouse town, there are a number of attorney offices scattered about, but even the attorneys show off their artistic skills, with one attorney the recipient of many national awards for his essays, poems, and humorous cartoon books on the legal profession itself. Google the "Bard of Boston Street" to see what we mean. 


The Tammany Trace Bike Trail runs through the middle of downtown Covington.

One place of business specializes in the beauty of glass, for pieces of art as well as large corporate architectural installations.

And speaking of art, there's a galaxy of galleries, from exhibit galleries that offer works by a wide variety of artists in a wide variety of media, to individual galleries that spotlight the creations of individual artists, many of whom are nationally-known. Art schools are also a favorite, and visitors often seek out places where the famed writer Walker Percy used to hang out. 

Photographers are among the artists with their own galleries and studios. You can often see them taking clients for a downtown walk-around for pictures and posing in front of the classic old town storefronts.

For visitors who can't see it all in just one day, award-winning boutique hotel suites and several nearby bed & breakfast accommodations are available.

As time goes on, we will be adding to this website the stories of downtown Covington merchant artists, how they discovered their niche in the art of business (and the business of art), how they laser-focused their creativity, and most of all, how they packaged and promoted their art through successful merchandising. 

The main contributor to this website is Ron Barthet, a retired newspaper editor who has himself drawn a few cartoons and written a few books over the years. But we welcome artfully-written submissions as well. 

So sit back, take out a map (or a smart phone GPS app) and chart your course to downtown Covington, Louisiana. It's the place to be to be the artist you are.

showing where Covington downtown can be found.


Antiques and Uniques Festival
Walker Percy 
Three Rivers Art Festival Flows Into Covington 
The Columbia Street Landing Archways  
Movies Filmed In Downtown Covington 
Fall For Art
Covington Art Market

New Hampshire Street History

The Covington Heritage Foundation hosted a fun and informative event in the 300 block of North New Hampshire St. on a recent Sunday afternoon. Around 80 people attended, listening to speakers tell about the history of the Star Theater, the old Courthouse (now the Emergency Operations Center), the Southern Hotel and the St. Tammany Farmer Newspaper.

Michael LaFrance told the story of the early days of the Star Theater, its impact upon the community, and its participation in fund-raising efforts for War Bond sales. 



His talk included a visit inside the 77 year old building.

 
 Brenda Willis and Ron Barthet told participants about the history of the St. Tammany Farmer newspaper, as well as the Poole Brothers Livery Stables (and Undertaking & Embalming Service) building that preceded the paper in that location. 



Ms. Willis told about the local people who would come to visit the newspaper office, the politicians, the community leaders, and others, and she recounted what happened after the 1997 Covington tornado. "We looked out the door and all the windows in the courthouse across the street had been blown out," she said.  Brenda then took the group inside for a brief tour of the newspaper office.


The Southern Hotel


At the Southern Hotel, General Manager Miro Lago told the group about the history of the 112 year old building, including the time Governor Earl Long designated it as the "state capitol" following his lunacy hearing at the Covington Middle School gymnasium.
 


Over at the old Old Boston St. Courthouse, now being used as the parish's Emergency Operations Center, Director of Homeland Security Dexter Accardo, below, explained how the building was being used in times of hurricanes and other emergency situations. 

Key personnel from a wide variety of public and private agencies are represented in the communications center during an emergency.


He told how St. Tammany Parish and particularly his department was commended for its plan for handling the threat of Hurricane Katrina. Having a plan and modern communications helped the parish recover from the damage as quickly as possible, he said.


Accardo has been director for 15 years and praised the use of the old courthouse for emergency purposes because of its solid construction. Part of the operation has moved over to an administrative facility on Tyler Street near Champagne Beverage, however.

"We do a lot of training in emergency management," he said.

The tour stayed on the ground floor, but Accardo did mention that on the mezzanine level there were bunk rooms for rest breaks for the various personnel who work around the clock during an emergency situation.

An important part of the operations during an emergency situation is to receive calls for help as they come in, record them, distribute them to the agencies that can do something about them, but most importantly, keep track of them to make sure they were handled. 

"During a hurricane we can't send electrical crews out in the middle of the storm to fix something, but we have to have a system that will keep track of all these things and address them as soon as conditions allow," he explained. 

The system allows for  accurate computerized record-keeping as well, which helps in after assessments and reports. 

What is the number one type of call that comes into the communications center during a hurricane? "It's phone calls from people outside the area checking on the welfare of people within the affected area, their families," he said. "We had thousands of calls asking to check on their friends and relatives."

 What is the number one killer in a hurricane? Water, flooding, people being swept away and drowning. The number two killer in a hurricane is a heart attack. 

"People are under stress, first responders can't get to them in time, because of the weather conditions, and heart attacks wind up being the number two killer," he went on to say.

He commended the faith-based communities for providing the assistance needed throughout their neighborhoods were there to help in any way they could.
St. Tammany did well in recovering from Katrina because of its "operational plan" that was in place before the storm, and that plan had to be doubled and tripled to meet the challenges that were presented by that particular hurricane, he said.

Covington Grocery & Grain Company

The Covington Grocery & Grain Company was established in 1901 and soon grew into a major regional vendor with several branches in two states. It is a tremendous success story, made even more so by the fact that its founder, Ernest J. Domergue was a native of New Orleans, and came to Covington as a result of having fallen victim to the "yellow fever."

He recovered and eventually worked his way up in the business world as one of Covington's most successful entrepreneurs.


December 16, 1919, St. Tammany Farmer Advertisement

 Below is a report printed in the March 15, 1919, edition of the St. Tammany Farmer which detailed its phenomenal growth and dividends.

HISTORY OF THE COMPANY

"It is with pride that we point to the history of the Covington Grocery & Grain Company, Ltd., because it has not only been constructive in the sense of its personal business achievement, but has been progressive and influential in the extension and advancement of agricultural interests and uplift movements.   



"Along with the growth of the business the establishment of new branches has been accomplished by the adoption of modern improvements in new buildings for safe storage and quick handling of products and for the protection from fire.  The mother institution at Covington has been distanced by the rapid growth of business at Slidell, La., which now exceeds that of any of its branches.

"The business started with the Covington Warehouse & Commission Com­pany, Ltd., organized by E. J. Domergue and H. P. Gagnet and which was chartered July 5, 1901, with a capital of $25,000.00, of which $5400.00 was paid in by December 31, 1901, on which date the company issued its first statement.



"The first board of directors and officers were: H. J. Smith, President; S. D. Bulloch. Vice-President: C. H. Bickham, Secretary; Hardy H. Smith, Treasurer: the late J. .B. Wortham, the late Leon Roubion, and G. S. E. Babington.

"Owing to the operation of the company, the handling of wholesale groceries, etc., the name was appropriately changed to the Covington Grocery & Grain Co., Ltd., September 12, 1904. It being found that there were still greater opportunities of extending the business by the establishing of branch houses in other sections, July 11,1907, the charter was amended so as to allow the Company to reach out for business offered by an extended field. This resulted in the establishment of the Slidell branch in the same year, the Bogalusa branch in 1913, the Tylertown, Miss., branch in 1914, the Columbia, Miss., branch in 1915, Laurel Branch in 1918, Franklinton branch in 1918, with preparation for a branch in New Orleans and Hattiesburg.

"The Company is rapidly becoming one of the most important institutions of the kind in the State. Its combined sales, ending fiscal year December 31, 1918, are approximately three millions.

"Thirty-three semi-annual dividends, ranging from 5 to 10 per cent, have been paid during the Company's existence, and the prospects are very bright for future increase of business.

"Realizing that large quantities of feedstuffs were being imported that might be profitably grown at home, the Company has urged and encouraged the growing of these crops and the adoption and use of improved machinery and modern methods of cultivation. To ofFer facilities for the marketing and handling of home grown feeds and produce, it has anticipated putting up elevators. This will not only give opportunities to the home farmer but will facilitate prompt deliveries and the general service of the Company.


Click on the images to make them larger. 



 In a 1922 book called "The History of New Orleans," the author John Smith Kendall noted the following:

     Ernest J. Domergue, a native of New Orleans, laid the foundation of his successful career in commerce and finance at Covington, Louisiana, and quite recently returned to his native city, where he is president and directing head of one of the largest wholesale corporations in the South, the Interstate Wholesale Grocers, Incorporated.

Mr. Domergue was born at New Orleans in 1873, son of Ernest J. and Angel (Abadie) Domergue. His father was born in Paris, while his mother was a native of Northern France. Ernest J. Domergue acquired his public school education at New Orleans, and left that city in 1885, during the yellow fever epidemic. He was stricken with that disease, but subsequently entirely recovered his health at Covington. 

He then remained at Covington, where he began his business career as clerk in a store, later became a broker, and in 1900 organized the Covington Grocery & Grain Company, a wholesale concern. He developed that to a highly prosperous organization, and gradually acquired interests in other wholesale grocery houses, and in order to be at the center of the work of commercial concerns of which he is the head he returned to New Orleans in 1920 to make his home.

Mr. Domergue with his own extensive interests and in association with others organized the Interstate Wholesale Grocery Company, Incor­porated, and has since been its president. This corporation has two million dollars capital, and is one of the largest, if not the largest, whole­sale grocery concern in the South. 

With headquarters at New Orleans, the corporation operates eleven wholesale grocery houses, first among which is Mr. Domergue's individual business, the Covington Grocery & Grain Company, which he organized in 1900. 

The others, conducted by the central office at New Orleans, are the Slidell Grocery & Grain Com­pany at Slidell, Rogalusa Grocery & Grain Company at Bogalusa, Mer­chants' Grocery Company at Franklinton, Nicholas Burke Company at New Orleans, Dupont Wholesale Company at Houma, Percy-Lobdell Company at Thibodaux, Lockport Wholesale Company at Lockport, Renoudet & Dietlein Grocery Company at New Iberia, all these being in Louisiana, and also the Pearl River Grocery & Grain Company at Colum­bia, Mississippi, and the Foote-Patrick Company at Laurel, Mississippi.

Mr. Domergue is also president of the Commercial Bank & Trust Company of Covington, and a director of the Bank of Slidell. He is a member of the New Orleans Association of Commerce, Southern Yacht Club, and is a thirty-second degree Scottish Rite Mason and Shriner. He married Miss Belle Warren of Covington. Their four children are C. R. Domergue, C. O. Domergue, Irma and Leo.


Branch Locations of the Interstate Wholesale Grocers

Covington, La.,
 COVINGTON GROCERY & GRAIN CO., R. H. White, Manager

 Bogalusa, La.
BOGALUSA GROCERY & GRAIN CO., F. W. Watts, Manager

Laurel, Miss.
FOOTE-PATRICK CO., R. L. Patrick, Manager

Columbia, Miss.
PEARL RIVER GROCERY & GRAIN CO., C. L. Simmons, Manager

Tylertown, Miss.
TYLERTOWN GROCERY & GRAIN CO., J. L. Carr, Manager

Franklinton, La.
MERCHANTS GROCERY COMPANY, C. L. Gayer, Manager

Slidell, La.
SLIDELL GROCERY & GRAIN CO., Main Office

New Orleans
OFFICE C. R. Domergue, Manager 


Financial Statements Over the Years







August 3, 1918


Below is a 1905 account of the business:

 

Lee Lane Shops

Below are a series of pen and ink sketches of the shops on Lee Lane in 1982. Artist Winky Chesnutt made the sketches for an ad in the Chamber of Commerce annual magazine. 


Click on the images to make them larger. 






Lee Lane is the first street that crosses Boston Street as people drive in from the east, over the Bogue Falaya Bridge and past Boston Commons. The street, while only about two blocks long, packs in a dozen or so very quaint and interesting shops. It has provided the initial marketing exposure for many St. Tammany area artists and jewelry makers. 

Southern Living Magazine Article

Thirty four years ago, in 1985, an article in Southern Living Magazine had this to say about Lee Lane:

"Coving­ton visitors discover lovely neighborhoods and distinctive shopping areas. Most of the town is shaded by oaks, which are draped in gray-tinted moss.

"More than a dozen restored Victorian cottages are clustered along Lee Lane in Covington, near the Bogue Falaya River. Trimmed with gingerbread, curlicues, and balustrades, they house a varied collection of specialty shops.

"The restoration of Lee Lane began about 15 years ago (1970) when Mab Valois opened The Armoire. which features chil­dren's and women's clothing. Others soon followed her lead, applying fresh coats of paint to neighboring buildings and stocking them with hand-milled soaps, artwork, an­tiques, and hunilcraltcd items from across the South.

The Armoire

"Ann Moores opened The Kumquat, a bookstore and gift shop, on one corner of Lee Lane. The business soon outgrew the building, and Moores built a reproduction of a 19th-centurv plantation home across the street to house the store. The Kumquat offers an impressive selection of fiction and nonfiction best sellers, cookbooks, and children's books. Prominently displayed near the entrance are The Moviegoer, Lost in the Cosmos, and other works that estab­lished Walker Percy, Moores' father, as one of this country's outstanding contem­porary writers.

"Marjorie Allen patterned The Partridge after the year-round Christmas shops in her native Scotland. Many of the hand­made ornaments and decorative pieces are from Germany and England. One section of the shop is filled with nutcrackers of all shapes and sizes, from the traditional soldier models to a 3-foot-tall guard.


A Lee Lane streetscape by Ann W. Gauthier

"At The Pear Tree, the focus is on grape­vine baskets and dried flower arrange­ments. The Lily Pad's specialty is hand­made shower wraps, and the most pop­ular items at Quilts & Quaints are quilts with the double wedding ring pattern. Lee Lane's Backstreet carries a line of food products from Vidalia, Georgia, including burnt sugar mustard, Vidalia onion pickles, and onion relish."

Here's a link to a map showing what shops were on Lee Lane the following year, 1983.

For more information about Lee Lane, see the following links:

Lee Lane Photos From The Past

Lee Lane at Night

Lee Lane Map 1988

Southern Living Article About West St. Tammany

St. Patrick's Day Parade 2019

The annual St. Patrick's Day parade graced the streets of downtown Covington recently as hundreds of parade participants in a variety of costumes entertained the thousand or so people lining the parade route along Columbia Street, Gibson Street, Lee Lane and Rutland St.
It started at Columbia St. Tap Room and ended at Jewel's Cigar and Briar Shop.

Here are some photographs. Click on the images to make them larger.



Mayor Mike Cooper






Irish Wolfhounds


A lime green machine