SLIDELL, La. — P2E president Jonathan Swain was meticulous in his planning when he entered negotiations with local leaders to build a first-class casino resort in Slidell. However, there was one incredibly important issue that remained. What would this new resort be called?
Swain prides himself on developing projects from the ground up, to reflect the communities they were meant to serve. That’s why it was determined that St. Tammany residents would be asked to name the project. A competition was announced with a five thousand dollar cash prize for the winning submission. Hundreds of St. Tammany locals submitted over four thousand ideas on social media and The Northshore Wins website. It took some time for Brent Stevens, CEO of P2E, to find the right name, but he knew it when he saw it.
On August 19, at Patton’s historic venue, Kimberly Frady, a local nurse still dressed in her scrubs stepped forward to accept her prize. While there were many excellent submissions, Kimberly’s stood out: Camellia Bay Resort. Several participants in the contest suggested names with derivatives of “Camellia” in the title, so they were also rewarded with gift cards. The submission was popular because it referenced Slidell’s official nickname, “Camellia City.” The flower has a fascinating history tied to the unique culture that makes the Northshore so special.
Like many towns in Southeast Louisiana, Slidell formed due to proximity to New Orleans. It was founded in 1883 as a railroad camp during construction of a line being built to connect New Orleans and Meridian, Mississippi. The man who financed the railroad’s construction, Baron Frederick Erlanger, decided to name the site in honor of his father-in-law, John Slidell.
The Camellia flower had a legacy long before the town’s inception. The most famous author of his day, Alexander Dumas, had already published his novel, “The Lady of the Camellia,” in which the flower was used as a symbol of fertility. The flower was also used by Harper Lee in “To Kill a Mockingbird” to convey themes of forgiveness and rebirth.
It’s hard to know exactly when the first resident of Slidell looked around his home and noted that they lived in a “Camellia City.” Most likely it was a traveler on the ever-important railroad the community was founded to support. After all, it is usually an outsider that points out what makes a place special. What can be said is that the first concrete link between Slidell and the Camellia came in 1951.
That was the year when local women established the Ozone Camellia Club, a club that is still active today. According to their Facebook page the group’s objective is to “stimulate the appreciation of camellias and to promote camellia culture in St. Tammany.”
The famous historian Mircea Eliade has noted a tendency for cities to have two names, one that can be found on a map and one to be used between neighbors. “Camellia City” functions in this way for the people of Slidell. After the town experienced an economic boom in the 1930s, Slidell residents needed a mechanism for telling which local businessmen were in fact “local” as opposed to newcomers to the area. The perception that a “Camellia City Bakery” was more likely to be locally owned than a “Slidell Bakery” took root.
As the association between the camellia and all things local grew, it became known as the “Camellia Culture” that the Ozone Camellia Club was founded to preserve and promote. The club codifies this tradition through pageants and flower shows every year. These annual camellia-themed events became more and more popular until the camellia was firmly intertwined with a feeling of local Slidell community.
By 1983, the local identification with camellia traditions had become too strong for it to remain unofficial. A resolution was passed that gives Slidell the title of “Camellia City.” In 1985, Slidell adopted a new city flag which, naturally, featured the pink camellia at its center. In 1998, August 25th was designated as Camellia City Day. P2E hopes that Camellia Bay Resort will become the newest addition to the camellia’s extraordinary legacy in Slidell.