Finally, A Chance To Sightsee In Houma LA

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July 24th 2013
Published: August 9th 2013
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Most who know me well know how I came to be adopted by an extended family in the Houma LA area. I have stopped to visit a few times since we “found each other” in 2005 but have never visited with tourism as part of my agenda. This time, I vowed, would be different. As I prepared to depart Biloxi MS on Wednesday, July 17, 2013, I noticed a low tire on the left side of the Pilgrim. The owner of Woodland Farm RV Campground in Saucier MS offered me the use of his air compressor. I knew the tires were due for replacement soon but hoped they would last a few more miles.

I was able to keep an eye on the questionable tire in my mirror and saw the “slow” leak wasn’t quite as slow as I had hoped. Enough already! Changing a flat tire in pouring rain or oppressive heat is not my idea of fun, and, like the bumper sticker on the Pilgrim says, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” I pulled off I-10 in Slidell LA and into a tire shop. While new tires were being mounted, I walked across the street for a
Now That’s Homemade Cajun Cookin’Now That’s Homemade Cajun Cookin’Now That’s Homemade Cajun Cookin’

Kitchen Of Rudy’s Sister
refresher course in (what else???) Cajun gastronomy! With four “stickers” on the Pilgrim, I continued on to New Orleans via I-10. Southwest of New Orleans, my GPS guided me onto US 90 where I continued on to Carriage Cove Mobile Home Park in Houma LA. The relatively expensive, no-frills park is exactly what the name indicates and the few RV spaces available are geared towards long-term residents; however, it is clean and is as close to the friends I planned to visit as I could get.

After setting up, I called Miss Rose to tell her I had arrived and was quickly invited over. Several of us chatted into the evening and caught up on what we had missed on the phone before I headed back to the RV park. A good weather forecast for Thursday found me driving to Bayou Lafourche Folklife & Heritage Museum in Lockport LA. I was driving slowly as I neared my objective and spotted a heretofore unknown bonanza – the Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building! I have found that no matter how much I scour the printed literature and the Internet I occasionally find a diamond in the rough.

I visited
The Telephone Comes To The BayouThe Telephone Comes To The BayouThe Telephone Comes To The Bayou

Bayou Lafourche Heritage Museum - Lockport LA
my original target first. As I entered the small museum, the attendant on duty appeared from a rear room. She offered a genuine welcome and we exchanged pleasantries before she started a guided tour. The first stop was, logically, at an exhibit of a Native American palmetto thatch hut and a placard explaining the demography of the local Natives. Four of the tribes who met the first Europeans chose to vacate the area leaving only the Houmas who eventually adopted the French language. Through most of the 20th century, state racial classifications labeled the tribe members "colored." Although the Houma tribe now has been recognized by the State of Louisiana, their struggle for federal tribal recognition continues.

Rudy’s family belongs to the Houma tribe. According to Rudy’s sister and Wikipedia, Houma children could not attend black public schools nor white public schools until after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Before this time, Houma children could only attend missionary schools. A 2006 Dissertation, "Understanding an Indigenous Curriculum in Louisiana," by Nicholas A. Ng-A-Fook provides some interesting reading for those who are interested. The other exhibits address the sugar cane industry, cypress lumbering, the company store, home life and
Dugout Canoe c. 1600 ADDugout Canoe c. 1600 ADDugout Canoe c. 1600 AD

Center for Traditional Louisiana Boatbuilding - Lockport LA
innovations such as the telephone. The museum is a worthwhile respite on the way to Grand Isle LA.

I walked across the street to the Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building and found an interesting, friendly attendant at the helm (getting into the nautical mode, Har, har!). After chatting for 30-40 minutes, he asked if I was ready for the tour. The first artifact he showed me was a 24' cypress dugout canoe discovered in Little Lake by a group of shrimpers. After getting their lines caught in the snag several times, they pulled the nuisance to shore. Radiocarbon dating suggests a construction date between 1519 and 1622. The absence of obvious tool marks and several charred areas indicate the use of Native American construction techniques. Interesting.

As we worked our way through the museum, he showed me another dugout made with metal tools, trappers’ canoes and equipment, five new pirogues constructed specifically for different applications as well as several models and other artifacts that were in the collection. We next went into the back room where numerous less pristine vessels were on display and gasoline engine propulsion was introduced to the pirogue. Not only did outboard motors
Building Traditional Louisiana Boats By HandBuilding Traditional Louisiana Boats By HandBuilding Traditional Louisiana Boats By Hand

Center for Traditional Louisiana Boatbuilding - Lockport LA
find their way onto the stern of pirogues but some sport inboard engines with a shaft driven propeller.

Our final stop was in, ta-dah, the traditional boat-building area of the facility. Three traditional Louisiana boats were in varying degrees of completion on the day of my visit. The docent explained that the class meets for three hours once a week. Obviously, completing a boat requires a major commitment by the student. The instructors are available to answer questions or assist with learning skills and techniques, but all of the construction is done by the student. When completed, the student can truthfully say, “I built this boat myself.” Again, for most, the Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building is a worthwhile stop going to or from Grand Isle, but it alone does not merit a dedicated trip.

Singing “On the Road Again,” I continued south on LA 1 to Grand Isle. Numerous small boats of varying design and function were moored along the way. Interesting moveable bridges crossed the bayous and canals – draw bridges and vertical-lift bridges were the most common. Wikipedia has a short, interesting article about moveable bridges that includes an animation of a dozen different types. I was told by several sources that old Highway 1 is sinking and caused the construction of a new toll ($3.00) “highway.” I put the highway in quotes because over ninety percent of the new roadway is a bridge. I drove the old highway to Grand Isle and the new highway on my return.

Almost all the structures in the Grand Isle area, as well as many houses throughout southern Louisiana, have been built on stilts. Makes sense to me. What I found interesting was the varying amounts of structural elevation on houses that are neighbors. I was told by Rudy’s brother-in-law that money was usually the determining factor. Build higher and increase costs but add safety. Most stilt houses have an enclosure at ground level that resembles a storage shed for bicycles, lawn equipment, etc. When asked if some housed elevators, he replied affirmatively. Cool, but it beats walking up and down 25-30 stairs four or five times with groceries!

I spent most of Friday with Rudy’s family. Rudy’s brother, brother-in-law and I went for a drive to see the new levy that is under construction. On that trip, I saw yet another type of moveable bridge – a pontoon bridge, I’m told. This bridge floats on pontoons and opens by pivoting at one end of the bridge. There are interesting discoveries no matter which way I turn my noggin’!

On Saturday, July 20, I headed for Thibodaux LA and the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center. The Center is one of a number of properties scattered throughout Louisiana that comprise the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve. Acadia was a colony of New France that included what are now eastern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces of Canada and a portion of the U.S. State of Maine. The Acadians lived mainly in the coastal regions of the Bay of Fundy. During the 17th century, about sixty French families were established in Acadia, but they oftentimes found themselves entangled in a border conflict between French and British forces. Over a period of seventy-four years, there were six wars in Acadia and Nova Scotia in which some Acadians fought to keep the British from taking over the region. The British Conquest of Acadia happened in 1710.

Over the next forty-five years, Acadians refused to sign an unconditional oath of allegiance to Britain, participated in various militia operations against
Trapping For Food And Fur – A Cajun Way Of LifeTrapping For Food And Fur – A Cajun Way Of LifeTrapping For Food And Fur – A Cajun Way Of Life

Center for Traditional Louisiana Boatbuilding - Lockport LA
the British and maintained vital supply lines to the French Fortresses of Louisbourg and Beausejour. During the French and Indian War, the British deported Acadians in an effort to neutralize any Acadian military threat and to interrupt the vital supply lines Acadians provided to Louisbourg. There were numerous reasons why many (Catholic) Acadians did not sign an unconditional loyalty oath to the British monarchy. One was that the British monarch was the head of the (Protestant) Church of England. Another significant issue was that such an oath might commit male Acadians to fight against France during wartime.

Beginning in August 1755, three-quarters of the Acadian population in Nova Scotia (approximately 11,500 Acadians) were expelled, their lands and property confiscated and, in some cases, their homes burned. The Acadians were deported to British colonies from New England to Georgia. Some families became split up. Thousands were transported to France where they were ostracized for leaving their homeland in the first place. Most of the Acadians who ended up in Louisiana went back to France first and were then transported to Louisiana on Spanish ships to populate Spain’s colony of Louisiana and to provide the farmers needed to grow foodstuffs for
Five Pirogues, Five Designs, Five ApplicationsFive Pirogues, Five Designs, Five ApplicationsFive Pirogues, Five Designs, Five Applications

Center for Traditional Louisiana Boatbuilding - Lockport LA
the people of New Orleans. These new Acadian arrivals joined the earlier expelled wave which had come directly from Acadia. The Cajun culture was born.

Thibodaux sits at the junction of Bayou Lafourche and Bayou Terrebonne and was settled by Acadians about 1785. Since their establishment in Louisiana, the Cajuns have developed their own dialect, Cajun French, and developed a vibrant culture including folkways, music, and cuisine; but the troubles of the Acadians was not over. For the first half of the twentieth century, organized attempts were made to crush the Cajun culture. In 1916, for example, the Louisiana Board of Education forbade the speaking of French anywhere on school property. By the second half of the century, cultural pride experienced a resurgence. In 2003, Elizabeth II issued a Royal Proclamation acknowledging the deportation of the Acadians and establishing July 28 as an annual day of commemoration. The name of the day is translated as the "Great Upheaval."

The exhibits in the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center provide an interesting, concise overview of the Cajun heritage and culture. A discussion of Louisiana anything would be remiss if it didn’t address the impact of the Mississippi River on
Jammin’ Cajun StyleJammin’ Cajun StyleJammin’ Cajun Style

Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center - Thibodaux LA
Louisiana both as friend and as adversary. One large exhibit explores Louisiana’s musical roots and heritage from French fiddle music to ballads and jazz to Cajun country and swamp pop to the renaissance of Cajun music in the 1970's and 80's. Economic subjects such as the harvesting and processing of Spanish moss, the role and importance of sugar cane and cotton and, more recently, the role of petroleum exploration and production are surveyed. The harvesting of fish, shellfish and other aquatic creatures from the swamps, marshes and bayous that populate Louisiana is, rightfully, explored in some detail; and the various boat types that were developed to accomplish those harvests are outlined.

Other subjects include the craftsmanship skills used to build furniture and other household items, an architectural style that evolved from a variety of influences, the role of Catholicism in Cajun life and the family structure that remains important in Cajun society even today. I learned that a free Cajun music jam session is held every Monday evening. To jump ahead, I returned Monday for the entertainment and was warmly received. Most of the audience members that evening are regulars, and, even though I didn’t understand a word of the French lyrics, the melodies were exhilarating and the enthusiasm was contagious. The Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center is well worth a couple of hours of your time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 was my last full day in the Houma area for this trip. There was only one remaining attraction from my “A list” – the International Petroleum Museum & Exposition in Morgan City LA. The literature advises there are two free tours per day that take about 1-1/2 hours each. I opted to arrive for the morning tour to avoid the heat and found that I was the only patron. I learned the museum actually is an early offshore drilling platform that has become antiquated and taken out of service. Additionally, the museum serves as a training facility for potential offshore drilling rig workers. According to my tour guide, the “students” live on the rig for two weeks just as they will do when they are working off shore. A new group of students with luggage in hand was arriving sporadically during my tour.

This is one of those tours that is virtually impossible to describe and would be of little value as a self-guided tour. It definitely is not a “hands-on” tour but absolutely is an “eyes-on” tour. The tour was a “he would point and I would look as he explained” kind of a learning experience. My tour guide explained not only the equipment but the operation of the equipment and the innovations that have made this rig obsolete –drilling in deeper water, the use of remotely operated vehicles and the robotics that has replaced most of the equipment displayed on this rig. This tour might be the only one of its kind in the United States and has set a new standard for my highly recommended list.

Next I headed for the Louisiana State Museum in Patterson LA. This museum has two distinct themes in two wings that are bonded by one family. Francis Bennett Williams, president of the F. B. Williams Cypress Company, had four sons – the youngest being Harry P. Williams (1889-1936). After completing college in New Jersey and Tennessee, young Harry began at the bottom of his father’s business operating a dredge in the heart of the swamps of south Louisiana for fifty dollars a month and worked his way up through the ranks. The Cypress Sawmill Museum wing of
Hollow 800 Year-Old Cypress LogHollow 800 Year-Old Cypress LogHollow 800 Year-Old Cypress Log

Louisiana State Museum - Patterson LA
the facility highlights this aspect of Harry’s life and the family business.

There are numerous unique artifacts that shed light with a different twist on a relatively common subject for Louisiana heritage museums. A large hollow cypress log is interesting. Log cutting equipment, saw blade sharpening equipment and numerous other vintage artifacts are on display. One of the most interesting features is the silent movies of the era showing timber cutting, rafting logs in the river and loading/unloading logs onto trucks and rail cars. Rare and very interesting footage!

Harry was attracted to speed and drove fast cars and fast boats. Legend has it that he was once stopped in a small town for speeding. When he went to the town hall to pay the ten-dollar fine, he paid twenty dollars and requested that he not be stopped on his return trip. Harry had had his first airplane flight in 1909 in an airplane piloted by Louis Blériot - the first man to fly over the English Channel. In 1927, Harry and his wife, former Broadway and silent-screen star Marguerite Clark, were approached by Jimmie Wedell (1900-1934) who wanted to sell Harry an airplane. Harry bought his first
An F-4 Welcomes The VisitorAn F-4 Welcomes The VisitorAn F-4 Welcomes The Visitor

Louisiana State Museum - Patterson LA
plane from Wedell - a clone of the plane that Lindbergh had just flown across the Atlantic. With Jimmie as his instructor, Harry learned to fly.

During that time, Harry learned that Wedell had some definite ideas about what it would take to make an airplane go faster. Harry recognized the genius of Wedell and concluded his capital and business experience and Wedell’s natural gift for airplane design would make a great partnership. In 1929, Wedell and Harry Williams formed the Wedell-Williams Air Service. A landing field was cleared on land that had been part of the Williams sugar cane fields near Patterson. Eventually, the air service expanded until a flight school, aerial photography and aerial transportation services were offered at the Patterson airport.

In late 1929, Wedell-Williams began construction on its initial design for a racing airplane. Over the next few years, Wedell became famous for radically new aircraft designs that set multiple speed records. On June 24, 1934, Wedell was teaching a student to fly when he died in a plane crash that probably was due to structural failure. At the time of his death, Wedell was recognized as the speed king of the world, aviation’s
Several Replica Racing Aircraft Are On DisplaySeveral Replica Racing Aircraft Are On DisplaySeveral Replica Racing Aircraft Are On Display

Louisiana State Museum - Patterson LA
most successful designer of racing airplanes and the holder of more records than any other flyer. Syndicated columnist Will Rogers added, "Who knows but what aviation might not be permanently set back 100 miles an hour through the loss of this fellow, with the knowledge that was buried with him?"

On May 19, 1936, less than two years after Wedell’s death, Harry and the company’s chief pilot, John Worthen, flew to Baton Rouge for a conference with the Louisiana Governor. After dinner at the executive mansion, Worthen and Williams departed for Patterson. Immediately after takeoff, the Beech Staggerwing crashed from a cause that was never determined. Harry Williams’s remains were cremated and a portion of his ashes were spread over the Patterson Airport. In 1937, Marguerite Williams donated the Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport in Patterson to the State of Louisiana as a tribute to her late husband.

A half dozen replica aircraft are on display and informational kiosks feature several pioneers in Louisiana aviation. Trophies won by Wedell-Williams are on display. One of the most interesting features of the attraction is a unique, well-done movie. Both museums are free, interesting and provide a “two-for-the-stop-of-one” economy of time;
Sundry Waterlife Depicted In Interesting MuralSundry Waterlife Depicted In Interesting MuralSundry Waterlife Depicted In Interesting Mural

Bayou Terrabonne Waterlife Museum - Houma LA
however, strong appeal for either will be found only in a niche audience. If you stop, be sure to see the movie.

My final stop was at the Bayou Terrabonne Waterlife Museum in Houma LA. The museum houses a nice mural interpretation of water life in multiple forms near the entrance and then provides an overview of the interface between the Louisiana people and that water life. The small attraction is worthwhile as an “add-on” but would not be considered a “must see” for most.

In the course of my travels during the week, I made attempts to visit several other minor attractions that had been incorporated into my options list. My GPS was unable to zero in on precise locations for the E. D. White Historic Site - Louisiana State Museum Thibodaux, the Madewood Plantation House and the Southdown Plantation House/Terrebonne Museum and I was unable to find a sign or other marker to identify the attractions. I found the Assumption Parish Courthouse and Jail (a National Historical Landmark), but it is still a tourless, functioning parish facility.

There are some interesting attractions in southeast Louisiana, but I would suggest that only one, the International Petroleum Museum & Exposition in Morgan City, justifies a trip from as far away as Lafayette or Baton Rouge. Another, the Center for Traditional Louisiana Boatbuilding, would make a nice day trip from New Orleans or Baton Rouge. I plan to return to the area to see Rudy’s family and plan to try to track down those elusive facilities noted above.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 29


An “Inboard” Pirogue – Note The Driveshaft Penetrating The DeckAn “Inboard” Pirogue – Note The Driveshaft Penetrating The Deck
An “Inboard” Pirogue – Note The Driveshaft Penetrating The Deck

Center for Traditional Louisiana Boatbuilding - Lockport LA
Singing "Fishin’ From The Front Porch…"Singing "Fishin’ From The Front Porch…"
Singing "Fishin’ From The Front Porch…"

Scenic Drive to Grand Isle LA

10th August 2013

Boats, Oil and Jumbalaya
EEEEEEEhyaa! Everything but a story told in cajun. Well done.

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