Slidell remembers Fritz Salmen (1857(?) – 1934) with a high school, a street, his prominent old house and a certain former boy-scout camp. And of course, there is his industrial legacy. He essentially put Slidell on the map as it became a Salmen company town. Though the railroad men had naming rights, John Slidell was father-in-law to one of them, Salmen and his brothers were first to take full advantage of the new steel rails from the empty southeastern St. Tammany woods to the big city across the lake. They bought up vast tracts of virgin timberland and dug up good clay for bricks and used them as a foundation for an empire that included lumber, shipbuilding, farming, fired-clay products, banking, ranching, dry goods & groceries, real estate development, railroads and even a church. These industries employed, and fed the families of a great portion of Slidell’s population. Who was Fritz Salmen the man?
Fritz was a Swiss with a Germanic attention to detail, a high degree of inventiveness and a relentless desire to succeed through hard work. He lived during the “Gilded Age” of the late 1800s with its tremendous population growth, “laissez-faire” government regulations and great opportunities for clever, enterprising men to prosper. Some, like Rockefeller, Carnegie and Vanderbilt became known as “Robber Barons” by using predatory and monopolistic practices that helped give rise to the trade unions and their ornery cousins the anarchist. These contributed to the considerable labor troubles just up the road in another company town, Bogalusa. Though he too amassed a fortune and held close control of his empire, all indications are that Fritz Salmen was a kind and benevolent boss who was socially responsible for his time and well-liked in this town.
A glowing article in a 1920s trade publication explained how Salmen liked nothing better than staying in Slidell and minding his factories. He had a good rapport with his hired hands, having a “pretty intimate knowledge of their worries and problems. Every workman feels that he has a personal acquaintance with him and they speak of (him) as “the old man”…with affection. They know he is kindly, just and fair in his decisions and that loyalty to him will be rewarded.” This appreciation remains at the nature park named in his honor.