by Wilson J. Gaidry, III
The Milk Wagon
In the late 1890's Volumnia Barrow Slatter owned and lived on Residence Plantation in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, with her daughter Clara and Clara's husband Wilson Gaidry, son of the owner of a general store located on the property where the Holy Rosary Church in Houma is located today. The South was still trying to recover from the devastation of the Civil War and plantations were having a tough time surviving economically; Residence being no exception. Volumnia knew little about running a plantation, and like most plantation owners of the time was accustomed to a life of luxury; many plantations were lost because the owners did not know how to work or change their lifestyle in hard economic times.
Wilson was of Cajun of French descent, accustomed to hard work. He was willing to do whatever he had to do to keep the plantation going, and began overseeing the work in the cane fields. Sugarcane was the main cash crop grown on the plantation but at that time plantations also had farm animals; pigs, chickens and cows for meat, milk and eggs. All of the proceeds from the sugarcane went to Volumnia to pay for the taxes on the property and the upkeep of the house and farm buildings and equipment. Wilson managed to buy a dozen cows and Clara obtained 200 chickens; Wilson sold milk and eggs to the people in the town of Houma in the old milk wagon. He kept the milk money and Clara kept the egg money; that's how Residence Dairy started.
As the town of Houma grew, so did Residence Dairy and by the mid 1950's it was the main source of income for the plantation; it had 60 milking cows, bought milk from 13 smaller dairies, had a pasteurizing and bottling plant, three delivery trucks, and employed 10 people. The dairy thrived until the 1960's but the dairy business was very labor intensive and could not compete for labor from the growing oil industry in the Parish in the 1960's.