Friday, July 30, 2010

Take a Trip to Natchitoches and Oakland Plantation

We have returned from Natchitoches.   I posted a few pictures via iPhone but I'll fill in some gaps here.  Let's take a trip!  (Disclaimer:  This one is pretty long - better get a cup of coffee...)

We hit Natchitoches in time for lunch at Lasyone's - meat pie platters, of course.  One of the things I quickly noticed that I don't remember from before is the sketchy cell phone service in Natchitoches.   I tried to post a picture of my meat pie lunch, but I see now that it didn't go through.  It looked just like this one from last year, though, if you want to see it.

From there we went across the street to the gift shop of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, now a minor Basilica.  We spent a long time in there visiting with the lady who has the shop and I bought a pretty stained glass cross to hang in my window.

On to Front Street where we encountered heartache.  The Pioneer Pub is closed for vacation until mid-August.  Oh!  Devastation!  I almost got in the car and went home.  At loose ends and unsure what to do with ourselves, we wandered back down to Kaffie-Frederick Hardware Store for a cold coke.  We wandered the aisles and soon began to regain a bit of composure.  I saw a cute Sock Monkey Jack-in-the-Box which made me feel better.

By then it was getting close to 3 p.m., so we decided to go check into our hotel and regroup.  The Church Street Inn is lovely and beautifully furnished.  We can just park the car and get almost everywhere we want to go on foot.

Our next stop was The Book Merchant.  Still smarting from the loss of The Pioneer Pub, we were glad to find the bookstore open.  We weren't the only ones lamenting the closure of the Pub; the Book Merchant himself was in a fugue of depression, too.

I found a couple of books I wanted to buy and Steve found a DVD of The Red River Campaign.  We visited for a bit, pet the shop cats, and moved on.  We picked up some Sam Adams at a grocery store and went back to the hotel.

This is the view from the balcony:

The Cane River is over there to the left side of the picture; you can see the bridge going over it.  That big building is the old Nakatosh Hotel which is now home to shops on the ground floor and condos on the top two floors.

As we sat on the balcony sipping our Sam Adams and trying to figure out where we were going to eat dinner in light of the calamitous loss of the Pioneer Pub, we saw a woman and her dog on the third floor.  It was kind of neat; she apparently had a place up there for her dog to use the bathroom, so she stood out there with him, talking on the phone and watering plants until he finished.  She looked over at us and said hello and she and Steve exchanged a few words about the dog.  Very nice.

You see the dog?  He's over to the right, a little, in this picture.

So we eventually ended up at Papa's Bar and Grill for dinner, after much floundering and debate.  They at least had Sam Adams.  We had an appetizer of fried onions and jalapenos which was pretty good.  Steve had a hamburger and I had a stuffed potato and a salad.  My stuffed potato was still cold in the middle so I just ate around the edges and ate my salad.  My heart wasn't in it.  Steve said his hamburger was okay.

After dinner we walked along the river:

...where we met some nice people.  Everyone has a story and people just talk to Steve.  We met this really nice guy who was fishing along the bank.  He had a dog with him and since we were both missing our dogs, we asked if we could pet his.  It was named Tom and he likes to fish and chase cats.  This was a great dog:

Tom's owner is an evangelist named Paul; Paul is founding the Veteran's Center of Hope in Natchitoches, a very worthy project which you can check out here.  Basically, its purpose is to help veterans assimilate back into the lives they left behind during their service, provide housing and job training.

Tom and Paul didn't catch any fish while we were visiting, but we had a lovely time talking and getting to know one another.  By that time, it was beginning to get dark, so we moved on and walked back up Front Street toward the hotel.

We sat out on the balcony again, had another Sam Adams and visited with a couple of girls who were also from Shreveport; they worked for Chesapeake Energy and were in town on business.  Again, nice conversation with some nice folks.

Our first order of business this morning was a stop at The City Barbershop where Steve let a fellow named Bill give him a first class shave and facial.  This was a 45 minute operation, at least.  Very luxurious!  Steve enjoyed it immensely and has it on his list of things to do whenever we go back!

We stopped in The Kracked Kernal for a fresh brewed cup of Mello Joy coffee where we met with, not the owner, but a fellow who helps run the place.  He's a former Marine and he and Steve had a long visit; yet another guy with a fascinating story to tell.  I'd love to relay his tale, but it's his to tell and you'll have to visit for yourself and hear him tell it.  While there, we bought some sugared pecans and Steve bought a truffle.  They'll be opening a sandwich counter there in the next few days and already are serving sodas and shakes at the ice cream fountain.  I really wanted a root beer float, but it was a little early for me.  I'll give it a try next time!

The main objective of the day was to visit one of the nearby plantations before heading home.  We settled on Oakland for this trip and decided to do Melrose the next time.  Oakland is a little closer; it's about 12 miles outside of Natchitoches.  The drive along the Cane River road was just beautiful.  Very curvy and scenic.  I liked this church:

and Steve liked this crazy birds that looked, at first, like flamingos.  We looked them up when we got home, however, and found out they are called Roseate Spoonbill.  They're crazy to watch as they skim the water with that beak, sifting out food!

I took pictures of an old gin, a store and other random things which I'll upload to Flickr later.  We finally got to Oakland which is assumed to be the most intact Creole plantation left in the country.  The land was acquired in 1789 by  Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prudhomme as part of a Spanish land grant.  It's now part of the National Parks system, having been turned over by the family in the 1998.  There are 29 original buildings still standing, many of which have been restored.  This is the main house with its famous Live Oak Alley which faces the Cane River; those trees were planted around 1825:

Construction of the house began in 1818 and was completed in 1821.  The timber is hand-hewn cypress; the walls are bousillage (a mix of clay, deer hair and Spanish moss); the plantation blacksmith made the door hinges and other hardware, the bricks were made by hand on the plantation and sun dried.  Most of the glass is still original and came from Switzerland.

Here's a little closer view:

Just inside that picket fence is what's called the "bottle garden"; it looks like the families through the years buried bottles of all kinds, bottom end up, to line walkways and paths.  I didn't take a picture of it, but the tour guide that took us through the house told us it's very unique and that the families who've lived in the house through the generations have continued the tradition and added more bottles.  So, some of them are quite old, dating back to the 1800s, and there are a few old Budweiser bottles in there, too!

The house originally consisted of four main rooms - a parlor, a dining room, and a couple of bedrooms, arranged in a square and surrounded by a large porch.  The house is, as they almost all were, raised off the ground where there was a small living quarters for the nanny and plenty of storage.  There's also a wine cellar under there, accessible by a trap door in the house.  Through the years, generations of family members have added to the house and now there is, for example, a kitchen which was added in 1948, and a bathroom.  This is the original dining room (looking into the parlor):

I liked the old plantation store which was actually still in operation until 1983; the gas pumps outside say $1.25.  The store was also the post office for the Bermuda area.  The store was opened after the Civil War and was used by sharecroppers and tenant farmers who bought supplies from the Prud'homme family.

The store sits closer to the main road (Hwy 494); the gas pumps are out of frame to the front and the main house was to the right and farther back.  Right by the flag is an old water pump which was cool.

Another view:

Other buildings on the property include pigeonniers (pigeon coops!):

The plantation was fairly self-sufficient and they raised most of what they consumed, including pigeons (squab) to eat.  There are mule barns, a carpenter shop, the doctor's house, and a wagon shed.  This is the poultry shed and turkey shed area where chickens were bred, hatched and fattened as well as turkeys.  This is just behind the main house:

It seems like everyone who visits Oakland takes a picture of the huge cane syrup pot which sits outside, so I did too.  The main house is just to the left; those live oaks are part of the Oak Alley leading up to the house.  The picket fence surrounds the "bottle garden".

This is the Overseer's House; it would have been his job to manage the workers, livestock, land and tools.  This particular residence was build in 1861:

This building was open for you to walk through and while not furnished, you can still see various patterns of linoleum on the floors and different wallpapers that were up through the years.  The parks service has an informational display set up near the front door and fireplace:

This is one of the slave cabins:

And finally, here is the corn crib and giant cistern.  The corn crib was built around 1821; the cistern collects rainwater which was used to water the stock.  It is 16 feet deep and held 4804 gallons of water.

Originally, the plantation consisted of some 2,000 acres, on both sides of the river, but the area now held by the National Parks service is much smaller than that - I think about 30 acres.  Some of the family still lives nearby and the farmland is still in cultivation throughout the area.  This was the first plantation west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on such a large scale.

All in all, it was a fascinating experience and one that really gives you a vivid picture of what plantation life was like.  As you sit there under the live oaks and pecan trees, you hear the cicadas and birds, it's easy to imagine what it would have sounded like back then with all the various kinds of labor going on.  The blacksmith shop, the sounds from the river, human voices, animal sounds, carts, wagons, tools...the plantation was a busy place.

I couldn't stop taking pictures of the huge trees...

...but a photograph just doesn't capture it.

By this time we were about as hot and sweaty as we needed to be so we headed back to the car and to home.  Like I've said before, we visit Natchitoches often, but each time we try to do something new, or add a new stop to our itinerary.  This time it was Oakland.  Next time:  Melrose.

If you've stuck through this post to this point, kudos to you, and thanks!  You deserve a Sam Adams!


Sandy said...

Great travelogue! Makes me want to hit the road....sort of!

sheyl said...

sounds like a good time! maybe we can make it down some time and you can take us there!

steve sounds like he is turning into papa. your comment about how he talks to everyone reminded me of papa. one of the things i think of when i think of papa striking up conversations w/ strangers was when we went on the train ride on the boone scenic railroad. after we got our tickets and were waiting to board, papa told anyone who would listen "they used to pay me to ride this train."

the memory makes me smile!

Amusing Bunni said...

That's such a cool post.
Looks like a great time.

Betsy said...

found your site while surfing the net about plantations. Glad it took me to your site..I am definitely gonna visit Louisiana.
My grandfather is from there and was baptized at Church of Immaculate Conception. I need to research some family history there.
Thanks for a great post.

Doyle Bailey said...

Enjoyed your post. Can't believe the quality of pictures you got on your I Phone. By the way, we have 3G in Natchitoches now. Kracked Kernel is gone and the Book Merchant just open latter part of the week.I live very near the Oakland Plantation. My wife Barbara and I operate Tour Natchitoches with Barbara and love to see people discover what you did on your excursion. We are both from Shvpt. Byrd (Barbara) Fair Park (Doyle).