Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Destination: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

It was a dark, cold, windy, winter morning in early February when we left the Prairie to deliver a little VIA Winnebago to hopefully the warm southern city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The sun rises as a big red ball starting a light show of reds, pinks and mauve against a blue sky.  A layer of snow covers the landscape until we drive over the Des Moines River and cross into Missouri.

Driving through acres of flat land waiting to be planted. The banks of the Mississippi River can be seen in the distance to our left.  Ganton is an interesting river town.  Large old houses sit on well-kept lawns.  Up and down the bluffs as we get closer to St. Louis.  The rock cliffs have icicles cascading in the areas not touched by the suns rays.  As you look across the brown landscape the green fields of rye or winter wheat make a beautiful contrast.  A taste green that  we will see further south.

Water sitting in the fields as we near the Arkansas border.  A result of all the rain and snow storms that have moved through this area this winter.  The Missouri Welcome Center near New Madrid has displays with information on earthquakes.  This is an "epicenter" for quakes!  

Across the Arkansas border and counting down the miles to the Flying J in West Memphis.  Will there be an Elvis sighting tonight?    A second spectacular light show on display for us as the sun sets.  A big red ball settling behind the horizon leaving behind changing colors blending against the blue sky!   Thank- you, Father God, for sharing your amazing creativity!

A foggy morning drive through Memphis in the dark, over the Mississippi River. But clear e In and out of fog. Was lost when we turned into Grenada, Mississippi to find some breakfast.  Thankfully, Gertrude, our Garmin, found the main road back to the Interstate.  WOW!  our view from the windshield went from foggy black night to clear technicolor day when the sun came up and burned off the fog!  Tall Southern Pines and the skeletal trunks and branches of the hardwoods line the highway as we head straight south down the middle of the state of Mississippi.

The grass in the ditches and median is green.  Daffodils, yellow flowers on the mustard plant and blooming forsythia bushes dot the landscape.  Acres of pine trees, all sizes.  Logging trucks.  Areas with cut tree trunks stacked waiting to be loaded and shipped to a mill.  We passed a Customs & Border Patrol boat being towed on a trailer.  It had four 300 HP motors mounted on the rear!  I believe it could move through the water way to fast to troll for fish!!

Cloudy and hazy, but 66 degrees as we cross into Louisiana counting down the miles to the dealer. Unit washed.  Dealer found. Quick check-in. Finished our  "tail-gate" lunch just as it started to sprinkle.

Capitol Park Museum

 The Capitol Park Museum is located along the bank of the Mississippi river beside the State Capitol building.  The museum has two floors with two permanent exhibitions.  
    Some highlights of the Grounds for Greatness:  Louisiana and the Nation exhibit:
  • France sold The Louisiana Purchase to the US in 1803 for 15 million or 4 cents an acre because Napoleon wanted to keep it out of British hands.  This area consisted of nine present day states and portions of 5 others!
  • The Port of South Louisiana between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, a 54 mile stretch of river , is one of the busiest ports in the world.  It is the nations largest in terms of tonnage handled.  The principle export, grain, accounts for more than 50% of country's annual shipments.  The largest import is crude oil!
  • Many people immigrated to US through this port, too.  
  • Memorabilia from the military role of this area in the 19th and 20th centuries from the War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans (remember the song??) through World War II. 
  • These people all lived or fought in this area:  Jefferson Davis, Gen Beauregard Jackson, Gen. Zachery Taylor, Muscian Louis Armstrong,  State Politician Huey Long, author Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Artist James Audubon.
  • Thought of the movie, "War Horse," when we saw the teeth saved from Gen. Beauregard's favorite horse!
  • Two trees are native to this area:  long leaf pine and bald cypress.  Both used by lumber industry
  • Industries: cane sugar, oil, salt, indigo, cotton, tobacco, rice and seafood.  A 50 ft. wooden shrimp trawler painted the typical colors turquoise & white and used until 2004 by a local family is an impressive exhibit.
  • We sat in a "fishing chair" that was used to catch a 1000 lb Marlin.  Huge lures were displayed
  • A "Go-Devil" engine that is used in the swamps. It's drive shaft goes straight out the back of the boat.
  • A  Civil War submarine that was found in Lake Pontchartrain.
  • An exhibit about steam boating.
  • Flatboats were floated down the Mississippi River by farmers to Natchez, goods sold, boats disassembled, sold as lumber, and  walked back north up the Natchez Trace.
Some highlights from Experiencing Louisiana: Discovering the Soul of America:
  • Cajin are descendents of the French Canadian (Arcadia) immigrants
  • Creole are descendents of slaves and some whites and speak a French dialect similar to what is spoken in the Caribbean
  • Baton Rouge means Red Stick.  A red pole adorned with animal bones was found at the site of this city.  It was probably a tribal boundary or an Indian "mourning" pole.
  • A trinity of veggies (onions, bell pepper & celery) are the basis for Louisiana  dishes. Cooks add these and garlic to a completed roux (browned flour in fat) as a foundation of their dishes!
  • A cure for Hansen's Disease or leprosy was developed at Carville, LA.  A sugar plantation was changed to a hospital for leprosy patients in 1894.  In 1941 Promix, a sulphone drug, was administered to the patients. The disease was controlled. Today, several drugs including sulphone make up the regime for the disease.
  • A Maradi Gras Gallery featuring the elaborate  costumes worn.
  • A "Po-boy" sandwich is made with fried bread filled with fried seafood, smoked sausage, meat balls, or roast beef and gravy.
  • Red beans and rice was a typical meal on Monday, washing day.
  • Think Gumbo, Jambalaya and Pralines or Crayfish, Oysters, Seafood Boils & Crocodile!
  •  A Christmas tradition  was building bonfires along the banks of the Mississippi River to light the way for Papa Noel, French for Santa Claus.
  • Spanish Moss is gathered,cured and ginned in a "Moss Gin."  The gin removes dirt and twigs,  separates the outer coating from the inner fiber and straightens the moss strands making it ready to be sold commercially.
St. Francisville, LA

   It is late afternoon.  We are driving north on Hwy 61, named the Great River Road, in the drizzle. On one side of the road we drive  past the Port of Baton Rouge with acres of oil storage tanks, refineries, chemical manufacturing plants along the bank of the Mississippi river.  Pine trees interspersed with cleared areas for homes, small business and grassland pastures with lakes on the opposite side of the road. 

    It is dark with a steady rain when we get to St. Francisville. The Best Western along the highway was full for the night. A bed and breakfast needed advanced reservations but driving through the pine trees we find the Magnuson Hotel.  The management tells us they have two alligators in the canal behind the motel.  Our room is on that side!  The alligators are only seen in the early evening when the caretaker feeds them.  But you park in front of the hotel and walk through to your  room in the back!  We did not see them.

   In the morning it was cloudy, but no rain!  We drove through the town finding the street with the historic houses.  Each house had a sign  along the street with the type of architecture and history.  Most are private residences.  Roses, azaleas, iris and magnolias are blooming under the huge oak trees with hanging moss. Some were decorating with purple, green, gold and wine multicolored swags for Mardi Gras.  Little shops like Grandmother's Buttons beckoned me, but they were closed. An Episcopal Church and the Court House were shelled during the Civil War. Bayou Sara was a trading post on the banks of the Mississippi River.

    Along the highway are Antebellum homes and plantations.  Each has a long lane winding under the canopy of low, thick, spreading branches of oak trees. Tall spires of pines.  The tall hardwoods have fuzzy green branches as new leaves are showing.  Cypress trees with their rounded knobby knees stand in the swampy areas.

Windsor Ruins
    Crossing into Mississippi the Highway 61 changes to The Blues Music Highway.  Markers along the way tell the stories of men and women and how the places they lived influenced their music.  We pass acres of pecan trees, blueberry farms and the entrance to the Natchez Trace.  The sun comes through the clouds as we drive through Natchez. 

     A sign points to the Windor Ruins exit.  A two-lane blactop curves through the back country. Huge gulleys, a result of continuous crops of cotton planted on the loose sandy soil by the plantation owners have eroded in the rolling land. Kudzu vines and moss covered trees line the road. The sun makes interesting designs as its rays shine through the leaves and branches.

   Twenty Three tall fluted columns with iron Corinthian capitals stand as silent sentinels in the forest to remind us of what had been! In 1849 Smith Coffee Daniell II, who was born in Mississippi in 1826, the son of an Indian fighter turned farmer and landowner married Catherine Freeland.  They had 3 childrenThey built a large mansion on the 2600 acre Windsor plantation in 1860.  He only lived in the mansion for a few weeks before he died at the age of 34.  The mansion survived the Civil War. It was used as a Union hospital and observation post sparing it from being burned by the Union troops.  After the Civil War, during a house party on February 17, 1890 a guest left a lighted cigar on the upper balcony and Windsor burned to the ground destroying everything except 23 of the columns, balustrades and iron stairs!

Vicksburg, MS

   Vicksburg is built on the hills along the banks of the Mississippi River. Barges are pushed down the river past the city. Cannons are everywhere reminding us of the Civil War battle that was waged in this town.  If you tour the homes they will show you holes made by the cannon balls.  We had driven through the battlefield park on the edge of town on a previous trip so we chose to visit the Old Courthouse Museum.

Old Courthouse Museum 

     The building is considered the finest antebellum structure in Vicksburg. It stands on one of the highest hills in the city taking up an entire city block. On the grounds a local planter, Jefferson Davis, launched his political career and from the clock tower Union troops raised the Stars and Stripes on July 4, 1863 signifying an end to the 47 day siege. 

      It has nine rooms filled with artifacts and displays of the history of the area. The Court Room on the top floor features an ornate cast iron judge's dias and railings.  The doors and windows are 11 feet tall.  The doors on all four sides open to balconies to create a cross draft to cool the 14 foot ceilings in the room.

Highlights of the nine rooms:

  • A room of antebellum clothing including wooden soled dancing shoes.
  • The word "Dixie" comes from a $10 bank note printed by a Louisiana bank.  It was printed with a 10 and a X.  In the center printed in large capitol letters DIX which is French for 10.  The term "pocket full of Dixies" was used to indicate being rich!
  • In 1884 Phillip Gilbert Sr  was the first shoe dealer in the US to adopt the idea of putting each pair of shoes in a separate box for sale to his  customers. Many of his shoes were of soft kid leather imported from France.  Wrapping them individually in boxes kept them from being scuffed!
  • A Beaten Biscuits Machine from 1900.  Dough runs thru rollers 100 times to roll them.  An 1850 cookbook stated: "to mold it again and again and again and roll it thin..."
  • What are Beaten Biscuits?  Before the days of baking powder and baking soda pearlash was used to leaven the biscuits.  It gave them a bitter taste, but by pounding and folding without pearlash, tiny air pockets formed in the dough.  When the biscuits were baked the air pockets expanded and caused the biscuits to rise without the bitter taste!
  • Pieces of sheet music in hard bound book form.
  • Coca Cola was first bottled in Vicksburg in 1891.
  • The displays are in beautiful antique wooden hutches.
  • A soldier would carry a box of lead weighing 15 or 20 lbs to melt down over campfire and molded into shot for his gun
  • Civil War caltrops: an iron devise looking like "jacks" with sharp points.  When thrown would land with 3 points upwards.  An enemy horse that stepped on one was instantly lame.
  •  The newspaper was printed on the back of wallpaper during the siege in 1863. The last edition dated July 4th has an added note by the Union soldiers who found the type set.
  • The USS Cairo, an armored gun boat was sunk in the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg.  It has been raised and put in a museum.  We have visited it in the past.
  • While Vicksburg was under martial law for 2 years the citizens were required to sign a loyalty oath to the US.  If refused to do so could not get permits to go in and out of town, not even to the cemetery for a funeral. Their plantations were given to Union speculators or occupied by soldiers.
     Back on the road driving north under a sunny blue sky with huge white fluffy clouds.  Acres and acres of flat farmland some with ridges for planting cotton.  Airplanes swooping overhead as they spray. A bear crossing sign! Tractors in the fields planting. Grain elevators. Farmsteads (called plantations) Groves of trees. Small towns. Acres of pecan trees. Cotton pickers and balers stored for the winter in open sided metal sheds.  Grain bins.  Tall electric poles march across the fields connecting lines for moving power from power plants along the Mississippi River.  Many trailer parks. Cotton gins.  A rice mill.

    North and west retracing our route back to Iowa and snowbanks! 
    Thanks for traveling with us!
     Prairie Schooners


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