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Winding through Time

The Forgotten History and Present-Day Peril of Bayou Manchac

Mary Ann Sternberg

Publication Year: 2007

Once considered one of the most important waterways in the American southeast and a vital link in a shortcut from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana's Bayou Manchac rests in virtual obscurity today. Few now notice the bayou—which runs for eighteen miles, forming the boundary between several south Louisiana parishes—or remember that everyone from French explorers and steamboat captains to modern-day loggers and fishermen have plied its waters and lived along its banks. Even fewer are aware that the bayou remains a place of striking, intense beauty in spots untouched by development and pollution. In Winding through Time, Mary Ann Sternberg interweaves the bayou's history with tales, anecdotes, and personal observations, creating an entertaining and educational introduction to this overlooked natural haven. With the tenacity and skill of a historical detective, Sternberg uncovers Bayou Manchac's rich and colorful past. She reveals that the waterway that most know only by weathered highway signs on the parish line served, several times in its history, as an international border, forming part of the northern boundary of the "Isle of Orleans." She recalls the flourishing Native American cultures that occupied sites along the bayou as early as 250 b.c. and describes the many unsuccessful schemes over the years to make it navigable and thus provide a major commercial artery connecting the Mississippi River with Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain. Bayou Manchac survives still, she shows, as a somewhat frayed relic of our natural past valued mainly for its drainage capacity and abused by polluters. More than simply an environmental history, however, Sternberg's Winding through Time offers her personal narrative of "discovering" Bayou Manchac a few years ago and her growing awareness of its untamed beauty, historical significance, and threatened well-being. She traveled the bayou, meeting some of the people who live along its banks and who shared many of their stories. Through her engaging prose and lively commentary, she succeeds in providing a life-history and, indeed, a personality, for this geographical feature. Sternberg shines a long overdue spotlight on Bayou Manchac, questioning how such a valuable resource could have become so diminished. As she eloquently illustrates, the wandering tale of this little waterway, though unique, also strikes a cautionary note for other small historic American streams.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

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pp. 1-4

I FIRST NOTICED THE BRASS MARKER canted out of the grassy base of the broad Mississippi River levee about six years ago as I drove slowly along the River Road south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capital city. The narrow, winding asphalt ribbon follows the...

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1. What Is Manchac?

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pp. 5-9

LOUISIANA’S RIVERS AND BAYOUS have been integral forces in the history and development of the state, as water transport was the most efficient way to move goods and people over any distance. In verdant south Louisiana, much of the land was swampy, covered...

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2. Exploring the Bayou

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pp. 11-14

I WANTED TO SEE THE BAYOU from the inside before delving into its history, so I found a genial young man with a small motorboat. He was a local resident who had often fished Manchac with his father. It was a place he liked going, he confessed, but they had...

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3. Community Development, Then and Now

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pp. 15-22

STEVE FULLEN HAS CLEARED a tabletop amid the jumble and clutter of the expansive archaeology lab in a basement room on the LSU campus. Fullen, collections manager for the anthropology section of the LSU Museum of Natural Science, has pulled a plain...

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4. Iberville Discovers the Bayou

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pp. 23-28

IN 1698, PIERRE LE MOYNE, Sieur d’Iberville was summoned to Paris by Lord Pontchartrain, Minister of the Marine, who had chosen the naval hero of New France (Canada) to lead an expedition to the Gulf of Mexico, to locate the mouth of the Mississippi...

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5. The Bayou Has a Split Personality

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pp. 29-34

IBERVILLE’S JOURNAL PROVIDES the earliest documentation not only of the bayou’s existence but also of its peculiar hydrology. His struggle along the first eight miles and easy passage along the rest was an experience that would be duplicated many times during the...

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6. Colonial Development Begins with the French

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pp. 35-37

HAVING SECURED THE LOUISIANA TERRITORY with Iberville’s exploration, the French began to develop the lower Mississippi valley, concentrating settlements at New Orleans and Natchitoches and dispensing land grants along the Mississippi River. But...

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7. An International Boundary

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pp. 39-40

THE FRENCH CONTROLLED LOUISIANA until the mid-eighteenth century, by which time they had become embroiled on many international fronts. The colony had become a burden on their fiscal resources, so in late 762, French monarch Louis XV secretly ceded...

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8. The British Settle the Manchac . . .

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pp. 41-54

IN 1763, THE TERRITORY OF West Florida was one of Britain’s three new American acquisitions, along with East Florida and Quebec. West Florida extended from the Appalachicola River on the east to the Mississippi River on the west, from the Gulf of...

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9. And the Spanish Settle the Manchac

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pp. 55-70

ALTHOUGH THE BRITISH had assumed control of West Florida immediately after receiving it from France in 1763, the Spanish were slow to take possession of the Isle of Orleans. This delay occurred in part because they lacked sufficient troops to assign to the new colony...

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10. What the Louisiana Purchase Meant

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pp. 71-76

AFTER BERNARDO DE GALVEZ’S CONQUEST of British West Florida in 1799, Bayou Manchac remained a feature on contemporary maps, although it was no longer an international boundary and the back route had lost its allure. In 1802, however, political...

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11. When Andrew Jackson Dammed the Bayou

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pp. 77-91

THE WAR OF 1812 BROKE OUT a month after Louisiana became a state. The United States had declared war against Britain in response to numerous provocations, including the blockading of ports, hijacking of American merchants on the high seas, and...

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12. The Bayou in the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 93-101

ONCE ANDREW JACKSON’S DAM had been made permanent, large-scale plantation properties mushroomed along the Mississippi River. By the mid-nineteenth century, the river bank was far more developed than when James Willing had raided British...

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13. The Biggest Little Village on the Bayou

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pp. 103-112

HAMPTON’S FERRY, THE PLACE consistently mentioned as the soldiers’ crossing on Bayou Manchac, was the point where the dirt road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge met the bayou. The crossing was named for John Sidney Hampton, an East...

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14. When the Woodmen Came

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pp. 113-120

SOUTH OF THE CONVERGENCE, Bluff Swamp rises as a dense and beautiful tangle of bottomland hardwoods, thick with green textures and the complex scents of fertility and decay. It is also a museum of sorts, harboring a scattered handful of giant...

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15. Prehistory Redux

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pp. 121-122

In October 1932, several carloads of students dressed in waders and bathing suits and wielding picks and spades arrived on the south bank of the bayou, just downstream from the railroad bridge near Hope Villa. The students might have resembled...

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16. A Quiet Stream and Modern Development

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pp. 123-126

ALTHOUGH MASTODON FOSSILS lurked in the bed of the bayou, by the 1930s Manchac had grown quiet. Steamboats and barges stacked high with cypress logs no longer plied the channel, and the dream of the back route was effectively lost. A 1935 newspaper...

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17. Spirit of Place

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pp. 127-129

AS I CAME TO KNOW the bayou, I decided that the best way to fathom its spirit of place would be to rent a cabin and spend some time there. I located a rustic camp, ambient with warped doors and bumpy floors, set back only twenty yards from the stream. The...

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18. Contemporary Struggles . . . and Possibilities

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pp. 131-144

UNTIL THE 1950s, life along Bayou Manchac remained rural and slow-paced. The banks were sparsely settled except for the cluster of houses and remnant businesses at Hope Villa. In most places, thick stands of forest studded the land and, where trees...

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19. Where Are the Rose-Colored Glasses?

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pp. 145-147

It is tempting to imagine that, once Manchac had survived the dream of the back route, local jurisdictions would have mutually ensured that it remained a valued natural asset—protected for its history, its scenic beauty, and its recreational importance. Instead...


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pp. 149-156


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pp. 157-158

E-ISBN-13: 9780807135778
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807132531

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2007