River Road Rambler
A Curious Traveler along Louisiana's Historic Byway
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Map
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For the past two decades, I have rambled the River Road, which is my definition for making numerous leisurely excursions through this richly historic corridor. On most of these outings, I tried to ...
PART I: SACRED SPACES
1. Sacred Recycling
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A friend made a point of taking me to St. Michael’s Church in Con-vent. Behind the resplendent architecture, handsome paintings, and French hand-carved main altar of the main sanctuary was a small, quiet space that featured a grotto. “What do you see?” she asked with an impish grin. I looked around intently: five wooden benches facing ...
2. Look What They Found!
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The story of the old St. Gabriel Catholic Church reminds me of the best episodes of Antiques Road Show, the television program in which owners bring unidentified objects to an expert for evaluation. In the most dramatic instances, they are told they have a rare treasure. The owner’s response is usually something like: My goodness, it’s been ...
3. The Hardware Shul
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The Ace Hardware store sits tight on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Nicholls Street in Donaldsonville’s old downtown. And if you look closely, you can’t miss seeing that the building is an odd juxtaposition of architectural styles: a 1950s, one-story, shed-roofed ...
PART II: ELEGANT EVIDENCE
4. For the Life of a Garden
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Francois Gabriel Aime, born in 1797, was nicknamed “Valcour” by a family nurse. He married Josephine Roman and the couple lived with the bride’s widowed mother. Valcour bought a nearby prop-died, Josephine’s second brother, Jacques Telesphore, inherited her larging, and furnishing their home. In 1842, with input from his ...
5. The Story of Those Columns
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From the River Road, passersby may never notice the mysterious stand of architectural stubs in the shadows of a grove of old oaks. The site is almost lost within the surrounding sweep of pasture dotted ...
PART III: CULTURAL COLLECTIONS
6. My Guide at Carville Is Mr. Pete
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Some afternoons, Simeon Peterson parks his short, electric-blue bi-cycle in the covered walkway behind the National Hansen’s Disease Museum. He steps inside and removes his black straw fedora, trans-forming himself into Mr. Pete, docent on duty. He will guide you through the rooms of this unique facility, telling about some of the ...
7. Once upon a Time in St. James Parish
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I arrived one day at the St. James Parish Historical Society Museum as two buses of second-graders spilled out onto the tight grounds of the museum complex. The children, buzzing with anticipation, had been studying pioneer life, and each year their social studies teacher made an appointment to bring them from New Orleans to the little ...
PART IV: BOATS AND THE RIVER
8. With an Eye on the Batture
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One chilly November afternoon almost forty years ago, I was introduced to the Mississippi River batture. A family friend lured my hus-band and me and our three young children with an invitation for a great adventure over the levee. Like most people who live along the lower Mississippi, I have always regarded the levee as ...
9. Le Pelican’t
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Beyond the decorative wrought iron benches and lamp posts that re-development brought to the levee top in downtown Donaldsonville lies a broad flat swathe of batture. Just beyond its ragged edge, a sea-green buoy bobs on the current. Near it, a chunk of dark wood noses above the water, looking like so many of the timbers that ride the ...
10. The Queen and I
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On a warm June evening in 1977, I leaned across the polished wooden deck rail of the Mississippi Queen and waved enthusiastically to no the cognoscenti came to call her, was readying to cast off: her calliope brayed notes like a hoarse monster flute; her whistle shrieked and white smoke belched from the lacy filigree atop her black stacks. ...
11. The Story of Captain Mike
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The sounds of a Mississippi River ferry remain as distinctive and familiar as they were many years ago when I grew up in New Orleans: the metallic clank of the boarding apron as the weight of a car rolls across; the bass thrum of the powerful engines as the ferry sets out into the river; the heavy roar of the engines as they reverse to stop ...
PART V: RELICTS OF THE “PECULIAR INSTITUTION”
12. The Ironic History of Destrehan
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The view from the second-floor gallery of Destrehan Plantation is lovely—a sweep of emerald lawn framed by leafy old live oaks and a backdrop of green levee that seems crowned with ruffled willows and blue sky. On the several occasions I’ve taken guests to see this oldest documented plantation home in the lower Mississippi River valley, ...
13. A Place with a Past Ever-Present
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When I first visited Evergreen Plantation about fifteen years ago, it had only recently been opened to the public. Knowing that each River Road Plantation has a unique personality and an individual story to tell, I was curious to see what this one might offer. I couldn’t tell much from the road; all I could see through its stately fence was ...
PART VI: EVEN THE PRODUCTS HAVE STORIES
14. A Tale of Tobacco
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First, a disclaimer: I’ve never been a smoker and I believe implicitly in the Surgeon General’s warnings about the unhealthy effects of to-bacco and tobacco products. So it hurts me to confess that, despite this, I believe in perique tobacco. I love its rich and colorful tradition.Perique has been grown and processed in St. James Parish for ...
15. Anatomy of a Company Town
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Through the years, I’d peered through the fences encircling Colonial Sugars in Gramercy with a growing curiosity. I wondered why this plant didn’t resemble other manufacturing complexes along the River Road. Of course, it had the traditional industrial geometry of pipes and steel, but within its defining fences were also a block of ...
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When I approached LSU Press with the idea of writing a collection of essays about the River Road featuring places and aspects that I director of the Press, enthusiastically encouraged me. I should thank her for committing me to the most challenging project I’ve ever undertaken. It was premised on personal experience, but I determined ...
Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 2013