The old brick building next to Bayou Liberty at Camp Salmen began being called the “Salmen Lodge” after Fritz Salmen donated it, and a considerable amount of land, to the Boy Scouts for their new campground. However, the history surrounding the building predates Fritz Salmen, Scouting, Slidell and even the United States. It was a part of a nearly 300 year old community called Bonfouca on Bayou Liberty, one of the first on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It was established just after New Orleans was founded when a fellow named Bertram Jaffre (who called himself “La Liberte’”) and others settled where bayous Liberty, Paquet and Bonfouca came together. He helped pioneer north shore industries like cutting timber and making charcoal and bricks. Other Frenchmen moved here to do this and to farm, fish and hunt. They also built beautiful boats – schooners and sloops that plied the lakes and the Gulf Coast to trade in these products. These people gave rise to generations of Creoles whose decedents live here today. Bonfouca (the emphasis is on the last syllable) was a century and a half old when Slidell was just a rough rail-worker’s camp next to the tracks.
In the early decades of the 1800s a lake trader named Joseph Laurent built a brick “blockhouse” on a high bank of Bayou Liberty next to a wide spot where he could turn his schooner around. The building that was to become the Salmen Lodge was in the Creole style, with front and back porches, tall windows and a raised floor for ventilation. Laurent established a trading post here and had local Indians and settlers as his clients. Laurent also manufactured bricks and clay pits and brick rubble from this enterprise remain on the property. During the Spanish and early American eras much of the brick made on Bayou Liberty helped build the French Quarter we know today. For the rest of the nineteenth century the building served the local community as a store and an office for a ferry across the bayou.
At the very beginning of the 1900s Salmen Brick and Lumber Co. bought this property, and in the tradition of La Liberte’ and Laurent, cut its timber and mined its clay for bricks. Some twenty years later Fritz Salmen was conducting business in New Orleans when a thunderstorm prevented him from crossing the street. A boy with an umbrella showed up by his side and offered to help. When Fritz tried to give him a tip, the boy politely refused explaining he was a Boy Scout and this was his good deed for the day. Fritz was charmed, took the time to learn more about scouting, liked what he learned and decided to give the property, for which he no longer had a use, to the Boy Scouts of New Orleans. To honor his generosity they named the new Boy Scout Camp and its historic old trading post after him.
Some sixty years later, after nearly 400,000 boys had stayed at Camp Salmen, the Scouts where finished with the property and St. Tammany Parish Government acquired it to turn it into Camp Salmen Nature Park so future generations can continue to enjoy this beautiful piece of land. The plans are to return much of the park and the Salmen Lodge into what they were probably like in the early 1800s and possibly use the old trading post as a special event facility and a museum dedicated to the long, colorful history of Bonfouca.