Harahan is a quaint, little town located in a sharp bend of the Mississippi River approximately 10 miles west of New Orleans. In 1718, French settlers were granted land which they called the Tchoupitoulas Coast. This land stretched for approximately 25 miles along the great river from New Orleans to the now City of Kenner. The name’s origin is credited to the indigenous Tchoupitoulas Indians, or perhaps it was named for the Chou pic fish which was plentiful in the area. Whatever the origin, the translation from the Indian language means “those who live by the water”.
The Tchoupitoulas Coast was fertile farmland and was graced with beautiful plantation homes, including the Tchoupitoulas House, once owned by Joseph Soniat du Fossat and Elmwood Plantation owned by Theodore du Fossat.
Records of the Tchoupitoulas Plantation date back to 1741 when Joseph Chauvin Delery de Boisclare obtained a grant from Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, a French-Canadian explorer. After a series of owners, it came into the possession of Joseph Soniat du Passat who had purchased it from Bernard Marigny. It remained in the family until 1924. Under the direction of this famous family the place prospered, growing sugar cane. It was one of the beauty spots on the river and one of the original oak trees still shades the grounds today where the home once stood.
The City of Harahan was named for the former president of the Illinois Central Railroad Company, James T. Harahan. Mr. Harahan was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1841, just as the United States was entering its greatest era of expansion. As a young man, he worked for many railroad companies and ultimately rose to become President of the Illinois Central Railway.
In 1844, the Illinois Central railroad workers created a settlement that became the forerunner of the City of Harahan and headquarters for the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad. A roundhouse and railroad yards were built and trains were ferried back and forth across the Mississippi River at this point. The remnant of that era is today known as Mays Yard and is still in commerce routing trains to and from New Orleans.
To the west of the settlement was a demonstration farm owned by Southern University where prize livestock and experimental crops were raised. In 1914, the I.C. Railroad and its stockholders bought the farm from the university and formed a land company. The new business honored James T. Harahan, who had died two years earlier, ironically in a train accident, by naming the company after him.
The largest landowner in the area in the 19th century was Joe Bartholomew, a black man who owned 100 acres in what is now Royland Subdivision. A. K. Roy, acting as Bartholomew’s agent, sub-divided the land for development and it was appraised for $150.00 an acre.
In the beginning, Harahan was a sparsely populated village of 400 people. It encompassed little more than two streets - Hickory Ave. and Oak Ave. A street car system known as the Orleans-Kenner Railway or the O.K. Line operated between New Orleans and Kenner from 1915 to 1928. The line ran sixteen miles from the St. Charles Parish line through Harahan along the right of way of Jefferson Highway to the Southern Railway Terminal in New Orleans. Families used the little train to transport children to school, fathers to work and wives to the larger shops in New Orleans. Buses replaced the train in 1930.
According to an article in the States- Item, the fear of gambling led to the incorporation of Harahan in 1920. At that time, developers built a large white house, not only for gambling but also with the intention of prostitution. This angered the residents. So much so, they appealed to the sheriff to prevent such activity. When nothing was done, the people organized so they could secure direct control of the affairs of the community. They petitioned newly elected Governor John Parker to incorporate the area on June 5, 1920 and he appointed Frank Mayo, Sr. as Mayor. The white house does not exist today, but the site bears the name, White House Park and is located behind the Whitney National Bank of Jefferson on Elodie Street.
The Huey P. Long Bridge, built in 1935 was the first bridge in Louisiana to span the Mississippi River. The construction of the bridge caused an economic loss to Harahan. The ferrying process was eliminated and employees who lived in Harahan were let go. Frank Mayo had worked for the railroad in charge of ferrying the train across the river.
Frank Mayo, Sr. served only one year of a two-year term. Governor Parker then appointed E. B. Anthony to replace him. After serving the remaining term of Mr. Mayo, Anthony was elected for a two-year term in 1922. In 1924, Frank W. Mayo, Jr. who had served as an Alderman was elected Mayor and remained Mayor for the next 34 years. Through the economic downturn and through the war years, the Mayor and Aldermen used their salaries to pay the city’s street light bill.
In 1923, William Doescher bought fifty acres of Tchoupitoulas Plantation for a dairy farm. The 50 acres encompassed an area from what is now Colonial Club Drive to Imperial Woods Ave. Two slave houses were still on the property, and Mr. Doescher used them to store hay for his dairy cattle.
In 1928, despite the hardships of flooding, the advent of the Great Depression and World War II, Harahan constructed its first City Hall along Jefferson Hwy. Harahan is governed by Louisiana’s Lawrason Act – enacted in 1898 to provide governing rules for all municipalities in Louisiana.
At this time, much of the area was still farmland, with the Doescher family dairy farm and the Picone and Lauricella family truck farms being three of the larger tracts. Today Harahan encompasses 2.5 square miles with two state highways going through the city.
After Mr. Mayo’s resignation in 1958, he was succeeded by Thomas F. Donelon who served almost six years. In 1964, he resigned and was elected President of Jefferson Parish. He was succeeded by acting mayor, Roy Geoghegan, until Governor John McKeithen appointed Paul Marcotte. In 1966, Freddie Wilcox was elected Mayor. He resigned in 1980 to serve as Community Services Director for Jefferson Parish. His unexpired term was filled by Alderman Carlo Ferrara, who was later elected Mayor for an additional four-year term.
In 1986, Gary Bougere was elected Mayor but resigned under threat of recall on New Year's Eve 1987. Alderman Tommy Anzelmo became the Acting Mayor in January 1988 until long-time City Clerk Barbara Butera was appointed Mayor – the first woman to serve as Mayor. She served as Mayor until her successor Carlo Ferrara was elected in the fall of 1988 and served until 1994 when Provino “Vinny” Mosca was elected Mayor. His term ran from 1994 until 2002 when Paul Johnston became Mayor. His term began in 2003 until his resignation in 2010 when he became a Jefferson Parish Councilman. Mr. Mosca was again elected Mayor in 2011 and served until 2014. Mrs. Tina Miceli became the first woman elected to the position of Mayor in 2015 she served until Timothy Baudier was elected and installed as Mayor on January 1, 2019.
Like Mayor Frank Mayo, Jr., Johnny Contrado also figures prominently in shaping the history of Harahan. Besides his role as fire chief, he was the village's first Marshall. His term extended from 1928 to 1965. Following him were John H. Witte, 1965-66; George R. Picone, 1966-77 (during his term the title Chief of Police replaced the title “Marshall”. Upon his death, Robert “Bobby” Prados served the remainder of his term. Michael A. Ranatza, was elected in 1978 and served until his resignation in 1984. Sandra Mader filled his unexpired term, making her the first woman Chief of Police in Harahan. She was a ten-year veteran of the Harahan police department serving as secretary to Mr. Ranatza, and also as superintendent of the Records Division. John Doyle was elected in 1984 and served until his death in 2002. Joseph Schaub, Jr. served Mr. Doyle’s unfinished term until December, 2002. Peter Dale was elected in 2003 and served until 2010; Jacob M. “Mac” Dickinson, V served from January, 2011 until October, 2013. Joseph Lorenzo served from October, 2013 until May, 2014, when Robert “Tim” Walker was elected in 2014 and is still serving.
Harahan is nicknamed “The City of Friendship” and is primarily a “bedroom community”. To quote long-term mayor, Mr. Mayo said, "We are a city of homes. We are also a city of fine churches. It pleases me very much to report that our city has more churches than saloons." He was right! There were five active churches in Harahan, and each made an impact on the growth of the city.
St. Rita of Cascia Catholic Church was designated a new Catholic Parish on September 15, 1950. The official act of the late Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel of New Orleans designated the territory within the City of Harahan and the adjacent land to the Huey P. Long Bridge as a parish. The first St. Rita Church was built in 1920, the same year Harahan was incorporated. The little, wooden church stood at the corner of 4th St. (now Columbus Ave.) and Oak Ave. which later became the site of the present Knights of Columbus building. As the Catholic population grew, a church & elementary school was constructed in 1952 on land purchased from John L. Lauricella and Sons. On May 22, 1963, the new church, which is the tallest structure in Harahan, was dedicated by Archbishop John Patrick Cody. Monsignor Roy Joseph Champagne was the founding pastor. St. Rita’s is located at 7100 Jefferson Hwy.
The Harahan Methodist Church, formerly located at 6500 Jefferson Highway had its beginning during the years 1941-42. Building materials were practically impossible to obtain because of the war. The first sanctuary was constructed of salvaged parts from a burned building. That small sanctuary was dedicated on November 10, 1945. Reverend Robert Jamieson was the first full-time pastor. Membership consisted of only 50 people. In 1952, the small frame building was demolished and the cornerstone for a new building was laid that same year. In 1954, the two-story education building was completed, and the church's name was changed to the St. Paul United Methodist Church. Unfortunately, St. Paul’s was disbanded in 2019 and the building is now being used for a commercial business.
Faith Lutheran Church, located at 300 Colonial Club Drive is the first Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod in Jefferson Parish. A groundbreaking ceremony for its construction was held on December 23, 1954. Its first pastor was Reverend Louis Nelsen. They also constructed the Faith Lutheran School for grades 1-8 at this location. A new church building was recently dedicated on this site.
The Harahan Christian Church was established in 1962 at 1535 Hickory Avenue. Reverend Dalton Burch was its first pastor. Reverend Marion F. (Sugar) Lauricella was the second pastor until his death when his grandson David Lauricella became its pastor.
Harahan has four playgrounds and parks – Soniat Playground, Zeringue Park, Royland Playground and White House Park. Soniat Playground is the largest playground with a recreation center/gym that was completed in March 1970. It contains a football field and 3 baseball fields. In the beginning, it had the only air-conditioned gymnasium in the area, along with rental shelters, a tot-playground and a ¼ mile walking track. Zeringue Park, located between Oak and Hickory Aves. at Wilson St. was named for the two Zeringue brothers who were killed in WW II. Royland Park, located in Royland Subdivision next to the auxiliary fire station was named after Mr. Roy who developed the subdivision. White House Park, located behind the bank in the S-curve on Jefferson Hwy. contains several, large live oak trees and the Harahan Senior Center.
The Harahan Senior Center was constructed with a combination of local, parish and state funds and was completed and dedicated in December of 1985. The property for the Center was loaned by the Marrero Land Company for the exclusive use as a Senior Center. The facility was furnished through donations from several area service organizations. Mrs. Raye Ann Chesnut, the original coordinator, along with Tom Laughlin started the Harahan Committee on Aging in 1975 with monies from the state and federal governments. During the ensuing years, the membership grew from 300 to 1600. Today, the Center provides meals for seniors at the center and also to shut-ins in the area with daily activities offered to seniors in the Harahan/River Ridge area.
The Fire Department began as a volunteer department in 1922. The department was reorganized in 1949 with Johnny Contrado as its chief. The original fire station was inside the current City Hall building. The present day Fire Station, built by the firemen, is located in the 1000 block of Hickory Ave. and is no longer staffed by volunteers. Past Fire Chiefs include Paul Gleber and Jimmy Pretlove, the current city Emergency Management Director for the city present-day Fire Chief Todd St. Cyr and the department’s 12 firemen protect the city from fires and other emergencies.
The town of Harahan became a city in November, 1953 when the census showed 22 people more than the 5,000 needed to obtain that status. As of the 2010 census, the population has grown to approximately 9,400 citizens with approximately 4,200 homes.
Today Harahan’s borders are not all inclusive. Once bordered on the East side by Power Line Dr. – so named because of the major power station that once stood there. The city boundries now include a stretch in the 6100 block of Jefferson Hwy. which includes a truck dealership and shopping center. A stretch of land earmarked for a new highway separates this property from the original city boundary. Harahan’s West side extends to Folse Ave., the North side ends at the Illinois Central Railroad track and the South side extends to mid-point of the Mississippi River which runs next to Harahan.