Otsego County, Louisiana

Shreveport Developer Enshrined His Roots

Otsego County, Louisiana

Shreveport native Kathy Ragsdale, a counselor there, pauses at Unadilla Street, named by real estate developer A.C. Steere, harkening back to his father’s Otsego County roots. (Jennifer Hill/AllOTSEGO.com)

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Shreveport’s Kim Oliver pauses en route to physical therapy to pose by the Oneonta Street sign. A.C.’s dad, a Portlandville native, may have shared stories of the City of the Hills with his son.

SHREVEPORT, La. – There’s a sign of Oneonta in Shreveport, La.

Yes, a sign.  A street sign.  Oneonta Street.

Wander around the city of about 200,000 in the upper left-hand corner of Louisiana, as far away from New Orleans as geographically possible, and you find a Unadilla Street.

And an Albany Avenue.

Oneonta and Unadilla streets are close neighbors, one block apartment, running east-west through the tony South Highlands neighborhood.

Albany Avenue also runs east-west, but through Shreveport’s middle-income Broadmoor neighborhood, which abuts South Highlands.

It turns out all three streets were named by Shreveport’s most prominent real estate developer, Albert Colwell (A.C.) Steere.

In the 1920s, Steere and his business partner, Elias Goldstein, designed and built neighborhoods and parks for all incomes throughout Shreveport, transforming it into the city it is today.

It further turns out that Steere, and to a lesser extent, Goldstein, also named streets and parks after beloved family members, friends, colleagues, and places.

Ockley Drive, where Steere built his mansion, was named for ancestor John Steere’s birthplace in Surrey County, England; Johnette Street, after his second wife; the beautiful Betty Virginia Park, after Goldstein’s daughter, Betty and Steere’s daughter, Virginia.

But why Steere named three streets after two small towns in Otsego County and one after the state capitol in the deep South was a mystery.

Henry Clay Walker III, a retired civil rights attorney in Shreveport in his late 70s, thought A.C. Steere was from Upstate New York and named them after the towns he grew up around.  Walker grew up knowing about Steere’s background because Goldstein was his father, Henry Clay Walker, Jr.’s law partner starting in 1917.

But Shreveport’s historical archives, at Louisiana State University/Shreveport’s campus library, showed A.C. Steere was born in Shreveport in 1879 and lived there most of his life.

The exceptions were when he attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and when he lived in Los Angeles 1906-08, where he learned his trade in the fast-expanding real-estate sector, applying those lessons when he returned home.

In a 1995 Shreveport Times article, local historian Eric Brock said Steere named streets after “places his family came from (Ockley and Stratford, England; Albany and Oneonta, N.Y., etc.)”  But he didn’t say who came from where, and didn’t mention Unadilla at all.

There was another problem with Brock’s claim, too.

“Unfortunately, I can’t verify that Brock’s information was accurate,” LSU-Shreveport’s Associate Curator and Archivist Laura McLemore said.  “He didn’t always cite his sources or show where he found his information.”

And verifying Brock’s research was impossible; he died suddenly of a heart attack at age 45 in November 2011.

It took the Greater Oneonta Historical Society to pick up the scent.

After researching genealogical records of people living in the area, GOHS Historian Wayne Wright found the Steere family lived in Otsego County for several generations in the 19th century.”

“Albert Colwell Steere, grandfather of A.C. Steere was a business man in our county and lived in the hamlet of Portlandville, Town of Milford,” Wright wrote in an email. “His son, Cyrus Samuel Steere, was born in Portlandville on March 12, 1845   He was married to Evaline Lyon, also of Portlandville.”

Cyrus was a merchant there, but by 1870 both he and his father had moved to Albany, and then to Shreveport, Wright found.  After Evaline’s death, Cyrus married Johnette Stevens. A.C. was the third of their five children.

One of Wright’s sources, “Steere Genealogy: A Record of the Descendants of John Steere,” by James Pierce Root (1890), also revealed the first Albert Colwell Steere was born in Hartwick.

A.C.’s grandfather’s first wife came from Oaksville, and some time after her death, he re-married and moved to Albany.  Several of his offspring lived in Hartwick, others in Cooperstown.

Wright did not find the exact reason for Steere naming the two streets “Oneonta” and “Unadilla,” but it seems clear Steere had an affection for the two towns.  And so far, there is no explanation as to why A.C. named a street “Albany” but not “Hartwick,” his grandfather’s birthplace.

Tragically, A.C. Steere is known in Shreveport history as much for how he died as for his transformation of the city’s landscape.  At only age 50, he committed suicide at his South Highlands mansion because he thought he faced financial ruin from the 1929 stock market crash.  It turned out he would have been set back financially, but not ruined.

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