When the property owners of the Cinclare Sugar Plantation, Harry L. Laws & Company, Inc., decided to clean and repaint the old sugar mill’s smoke stack, they began restoring more than simply the tall tower-like structure in Brusly.
Along with the restoration of the structure came the restoration of memories throughout the Brusly community; the restoration of the senses of many - the sweet smell of grinding sugar cane in the air and the indigenous sound of the whistle signifying the harvesting season’s beginning and end; the restoration of what has become an icon not only in a tiny community in Brusly, but throughout all of West Baton Rouge Parish.
“The smoke stack is an iconic symbol for Brusly and the west side,” said Drew Maciasz, Vice President of Harry L. Laws & Company, Inc.
Maciasz said that the company spent about $40,000 to restore the 210 ft. tall stack by getting it pressure washed, primed, painted and getting the letters re-painted.
“It’s probably about 8,000 square feet of surface area that was painted. And then the letters were done,” Maciasz said adding that each letter is 8-feet tall. “It was all restored to its original state.”
The smoke stack was originally built around 1950 and, once built, was the taller of two stacks at the Cinclare Central Factory – the initial name of the facility.
Maciasz said that while both stacks were in use, the shorter of the two would blow smoke and soot onto the taller one, as the two stood in close proximity to one another.
“The whole reason for restoring it was really to dress it up. It was dirty from years of use,” he said. “Our commitment to preserving our history was put forth to restore the smoke stack.”
Cinclare’s history began in 1878 when James Laws, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based investor, purchased Marengo Plantation. Laws, who named his company after his son, Harry, renamed the property “Cinclare,” after his business partner, Lafayette Cinclare Keever, who supervised Laws’ brokerage firm’s New Orleans office.
And though the factory has not been active since 2005, the Harry L. Laws & Co., Inc. group decided to show the WBR community that the company remained as vibrant as the restored stack, illuminated by 1000-watt lights on a clear Brusly evening.
“We’re still a strong company and it shows our commitment,” said Maciasz. “I think people take personal pride in seeing the smoke stack restored. There’s a lot of people in this area that had family members at one time or another work here.”
Arlen Landry, Brusly resident, never worked at Cinclare – but he was born there, and said that the restoration of the smoke stack has brought back many great memories of his childhood.
“When you’re coming home, especially at night, and you see that smoke stack lit up, it just brings back old memories of a lot of good people that used to live around there and a lot of friends,” Landry said. “To this day I’ll ride through Cinclare once or twice a year just to see what it looks like; just to bring back old memories.”
He said that he recalls when the tower was being built.
“Most of it was built in the summertime when we were off (school). There used to be a big pond close to where the smokestack was – we’d sit on the back of that pond and kind of lay back,” he said. “We watched the guys build the smokestack. You could lay back on your back and watch them without straining.”
Landry, 78, was born in his grandparents’ home on the Cinclare plantation. He and his parents moved to Brusly about a year later, but Landry remembers visiting his grandparents often until they moved when he was about 9-years-old – at which point he would visit his aunt and uncle, who lived on the property until 1953.
“I can remember when old Mr. (James) Laws, back in the 1930s, would come down from Cincinnati and spend 2 or 3 months at Cinclare during grinding season,” Landry remembered. “When my grandpa knew Mr. Laws was coming down, he would go light the heater at the big house - it was a furnace light. I can remember that vividly because I used to walk over there with my grandpa sometimes.”
The “big house” was the property’s main house where members of the Laws family would periodically stay during the sugarcane harvesting season until the late 1950s when E. Berkshire Terrell and his wife Evie became the first permanent resident managers to reside in the house.
Landry said that his grandfather, father, uncle and three aunts worked at Cinclare – an account that many in the Brusly area can identify with.
“My grandparents, my parents worked there, all my uncles worked there, I even started working there,” said Kirkland Doiron, Brusly resident.
Doiron said that his earliest memories were at Cinclare.
“When I was 3-years-old, (my father) used to take me to work with him,” he said, remembering his rides on the train, which transported bales of bagasse (the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice) from one end of the property to the other.
Doiron said that the recent restoration of the Cinclare smoke stack meant a lot to him and his family.
“Cinclare, period, means everything to us,” Doiron said. “Cinclare has been extremely nice to our whole family all these many years.”
Joanne Bourgeois, Brusly Town Council member, said that she was very happy when she found out the smoke stack was being restored.
“I think that it’s great, because through the years we just took it for granted… the smoke would pour out and then we’d notice sometimes that it did need to be cleaned, but when the mill shut down, it was very noticeable that there needed to be some cleaning and some restoration,” she said. “We just wondered if that would ever be done because of the plant being vacated.”
Bourgeois said she remembers occasional Sunday drives to her mother’s family’s home in Brusly from Baton Rouge, where she resided as a child.
“Whenever we’d pass Cinclare we’d know that we were almost to Brusly – we were almost there because we’d see the factory with the big white stack in the sky,” she said.
Walter Lander, Brusly resident of 40 years, said that he and many others look to the smoke stack as an icon and a landmark.
“I go up and down Highway 1... I’ll always look that way. When I take River Road, I look at Cinclare from the River Road,” said Walter Landry, 83, who worked at Cinclare for about 14 grinding seasons, which are 3-4 month periods when sugar cane is harvested and crushed to extract their juice, which is turned into sugar crystals. “It’s a landmark and I hope it stays there forever.”
Maciasz said that the restoration of the smoke stack and the preservation of the Cinclare property as a whole is a testament to the company’s commitment to the community and keeping the town’s history intact.
“The mill’s not going anywhere. It’s a historical structure itself,” Maciasz said. “I think it’s really a symbol to show people we’re still vibrant.”
Harry L. Laws & Company, Inc., today, manages over 12,000 acres of property, primarily in, but not limited to, agricultural production.