St. Helena Parish, commonly referred to as one of the Florida Parishes, is located in southeastern Louisiana. It occupies the land area bordered by the 31-degree north latitude (the southern boundary line of Mississippi), Tangipahoa Parish to the east, Livingston Parish to the south, and the parishes of East Baton Rouge and East Feliciana to the west, as well as the Amite River, which separates the last two parishes from St. Helena.
The parish is in close proximity to Interstate 55 and Interstate 12. State highway 10, which runs across the parish, is part of the proposed Zachary Taylor Parkway.
The geographic landscape of St. Helena Parish is appealing with its piney woods and rolling hills in the northern portion and flat woods and coastal plains in the southern portion. Creeks and rivers run through slash pine and hardwood forests. The elevation is approximately 220 feet.
This quiet parish is rural and has no railways, traffic lights or major waterways. However, it is home to a few large industries: Amerchol, a division of Dow Chemical, which develops specialty products for cosmetics and cleaning solutions; Cal-Maine, a major poultry egg producer with over 17 million dozen eggs sold in 2009; Kleinpeter Farms Dairy, a major producer of dairy products in Louisiana; and Southland Steel Fabricators.
A portion of St. Helena’s economy is based on the timber industry, beef cattle, dairying and truck farming.
The largest towns in St. Helena Parish are Greensburg and Montpelier. Unincorporated areas include: Pine Grove, Easleyville, Grangeville, Chipola, Darlington, Coleman Town, Liverpool and Hillsdale.
Thousands of acres of timberland attract wildlife, such as turkeys and deer. Some of these lands are often leased to hunting clubs. Hutchinson Creek Wildlife Management Area and Pine Grove Area Hunting Preserve are popular for recreational purposes.
The community of St. Helena Parish is an active one with several long-standing organizations including the St. Helena Historical Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, the Masons, the Liverpool Riding Club, Friends of the Library, the Civic League, the St. Helena Parish Tourist Commission, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and the American Legion.
Churches and schools are central to most social activities. Church denominations in the parish include: Methodist; Baptist; A.M.E.; Catholic; Church of Christ; Church of God in Christ; Full Gospel; Presbyterian and many more.
Before explorers from Spain and France began to arrive in the mid-16th century, the territory that was to become St. Helena Parish was inhabited by the Choctaw, Houma, Bayou Goula and Tangipahoa tribes who migrated and settled into the area.
Spanish explorers traveled and explored the Mississippi River Valley. They were not interested in colonizing the area and when they could not find the gold and other treasures they sought, they momentarily lost interest.
In 1683 French explorer, Robert de LaSalle claimed possession of the Lower Mississippi Valley for France, naming it La Louisianne. In the meantime, the English had about two hundred colonists on the east coast. After many difficult years, this area, while under French rule, failed to prosper.
During this time, Spain allied with France in the French and Indian War against England. After the British won the French and Indian war, France ceded Louisiana to Spain in return for Spain’s help during the war. For compensation of Spain’s losses, France granted her the French possessions in the lower Mississippi River Valley, including present day St. Helena Parish, in the secret treaty of Fontainebleau in 1762. This was prior to the Treaty of Paris, and not publicly announced until 1764. During the Spanish administration great prosperity came to the area.
In 1763, the Treaty of Paris confirmed the cession to Spain but modified the territory involved because England demanded East Florida, West Florida and Canada. This treaty gave Britain the east side of the Mississippi including Baton Rouge. In 1779, Spain regained West Florida from England.
With the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800, Louisiana once again became a French territory after Napoleon’s negotiations with Spain. It was a secretly negotiated treaty in which Spain returned the colonial territory of Louisiana to France. Boundaries of the territory being returned were not specified in the treaty. This later became a point of contention between Spain and the United States with Spain insisting the province of West Florida was not part of the territory included in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Spain continued to hold onto this area until the West Florida Rebellion of 1810 when a small group of colonists, increasingly dissatisfied with Spanish rule, declared their independence from Spain, seized Baton Rouge from the Spanish officials and declared themselves the free and independent Republic of West Florida. They became a nation for 74 days, complete with president, governing body, constitution and flag. It was the original Lone Star Republic. The original copy of the constitution is now in the Louisiana State Archives through a donation in 2002 by Leila Lee Roberts, the great-granddaughter of Fulwar Skipwith, only governor of the republic.
President James Madison had already issued a proclamation ordering Governor Claiborne of Louisiana to take possession on October 27, 1810. Governor Claiborne took possession of West Florida on December 10, 1810. It was proclaimed that all of the area eastward from the Mississippi River shall constitute one county to be known and called by the name Feliciana. The county was then divided into the parishes of Feliciana, Baton Rouge, St. Helena and St. Tammany.
A legislative act on April 24, 1811 created the parish from a tract of land bounded by Mississippi Territory and the Amite and Tangipahoa rivers. In 1832, Livingston Parish was created from the lower portion of the St. Helena Parish. Tangipahoa, Washington and St. Tammany parishes were created from the eastern portion of the parish
The original county seat was in Montpelier; but in time it was decided the parish seat should be centrally located, and the parish seat was moved to Greensburg.
In 1902, the New Orleans, Natalbany & Natchez Railway (NON & N) became incorporated and built a railway line from Natalbany in Tangipahoa Parish to Slaughter in East Feliciana Parish for transporting timber and strawberries. The line was dissolved during World War II.
Some important historic features in the parish are the Greensburg Land Office and the Old St. Helena Parish Jail. Both buildings have been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.
The Land Office is located adjacent to the St. Helena Parish Courthouse entrance on the courthouse square. The building is a good example of a small rural office building in the Greek Revival style.
The Land Office building is significant because it housed the St. Helena District Land Office which served the entire Florida Parishes. Although Congress organized a land district out of the Florida Parishes in 1812, no provision had been made for the surveying of the private claims and public lands in this area.
On March 1819, however, Congress officially named this region the St. Helena District and provided for its survey. It was here that Florida Parish residents applied for American patents to their lands. In fact, this can be seen as one of the many steps involved in the Americanization of Louisiana. In 1843 the land office was moved from Greensburg to Baton Rouge.
Some residents of St. Helena Parish still live on lands acquired from Spanish land grants. An interesting note: While Spain held the territory, all land dealings were recorded in Spanish. One record in the clerk of court’s office marks the change of government with a small notation at the end, ‘English, Thank God. ‘
The Old St. Helena Parish Jail is located adjacent to the courthouse square in the center of Greensburg. It is a simple two-story brick structure whose main space cuts through a square plan at a 45 degree angle. This leaves two small triangular spaces on each story. One of these contains a triangular staircase. On the cement floor is evidence of the location of cells. The bars on the windows are extant.
The Old St. Helena Parish Jail is significant in architecture as a good example of a mid-nineteenth century jail building. It is one of the oldest structures in St. Helena Parish.
Over the years, several markers were placed in areas of historical significance in the parish. One marked where Hwy. 43 became a toll road between St. Helena and Livingston parishes at the parish line. Another marker in Grangeville marked where a skirmish occurred on June 28, 1862, at Williams Bridge north of Easleyville.
The only marker remaining is in the St. Helena Parish courthouse square designating it as William Kendrick Square, for the donor of the land on which the courthouse is built. Another marker in the courthouse square commemorates the original settlers of the area.