Elegantly Evoking Past Plantation Culture
18.12.2004 - 18.12.2004 12 °C
The Louisiana Byways map includes this section - Morgan City, Franklin, Jeanerette, New Iberia and St Martinville, There are little signs with red antique cars on them all over Louisiana marking Scenic Byways. The New Iberia website says:
"The Bayou Teche Scenic Byway follows a meandering moss-draped, oak tree-lined course through lush vegetation into the geographical heart of Acadiana. Following closely along the banks of the region’s most popular waterway, this picturesque route provides a firsthand glimpse of Cajun culture. Thousands of years ago, the present course of the Bayou Teche was the main channel of the Mississippi River, so you’ll also get a unique geological perspective of how the rich agricultural lands on this route were formed."
I had been very VERY disappointed in the tour we took to Oak Alley from New Orleans. It did not live up to expectations. When we lived in Jeanerette, we had made a trip to Oak Lawn in Franklin At the time we visited, Oaklawn was in DIRE need of paint. I do not remember whether we went inside or just visited the gardens.
The manor house (c 1837) was originally the home of an Irishman Alexander Porter who was successful politically and as a sugar planter, but not successful in leaving behind family members to inherit his plantation.
His wife and all his children died before he did. After he died in 1844, the plantation was inherited by his brother who also died. After the Civil War, his brother's wife had to sell the house to a wealthy New Yorker. In the early 1920s the estate was bought by the Barbour family, restored and opened to the public. Unfortunately, Captain Barbour passed away in 1930; but his widow continued to live there for nearly thirty years. The Barbours' daughter, Lucile married Thomas J. Holms II, a man from Chicago, Illinois, and they returned to live there permanently in the 1950's. When we visited in 1960, it was when the Holms' were in charge.
In 1963 (after our visit), Tom and Lucie sold Oaklawn to George B. Thomson, a young man form Crowley, Louisiana. He and his wife painted the exterior which required 500 gallons of paint. Just one year after the Thomsons moved in, hurricane Hilda cost the lives of 44 cedars along the property's Cedar Walk.
Bob took my picture here but it is blurred because he did not realize that he had to hold the camera really still because of the shade on the Cedar Walk.
So I was anxious to see whether Shadows on the Teche would be a more authentic experience. We drove out main street towards New Iberia, and along the Old Spanish Road with all the mansions on the bayou side.
East Main Street between Phillip and Center Streets which is a three-quarter-mile long district that more or less follows the course of Bayou Teche as it meanders downstream from the center of town. There are 71 buildings within the district that date between c. 1890 and c.1930. It is on the walking tour of the city. Eventually we got to Shadows on the Teche and all the signs said to go to the visitor's center across the street first. But there didn't seem to be anything that looked like a visitor's center there - it looked like a bank.
Eventually after going around the block about 3 times (because the street was one way),
we turned into the bank parking lot (it was Saturday afternoon so we didn't think we'd get into trouble) and saw the sign on the side of the building that said it was the visitor's center. It was on the side away from the traffic, so you'd have to look back at to see it.
We paid our money ($6.25 each for over 62) and took the tour.
At the visitor's center, I found out that the reason that I did not tour Shadows when we were here before because it did not open to the public until 1961 which was the year after we left. It had been in the original family that built it until the last member died in 1958, one day after signing a contract to give it to the United States as a National Historic Landmark. It has almost all of the original furnishings (unlike Oak Alley) and extensive documentation.
There is a gift shop at the Shadows visitor's center.
This was another place that wouldn't let me take pictures inside because of 'security'. Personally if I were going to steal something, I wouldn't need a camera for that - I could use my Mark I eyeball. But at least they told us up front. If the British Museum with far more valuable stuff will allow photographs, I don't see any excuse for these other places not to allow them.
The docent who was walking with us gave us to understand that it had formerly been the home of one of the Shadows supervisory employees. It isn't mentioned on the Inn website, although I know that the Shadows land once extended from the river out to the Burger King near US 90, so it would seem entirely probable that this home was inside that zone. The main house dates from 1870.
After we finished the house tour, we wandered around the gardens and then took the bayou-front boardwalk.
The boardwalk runs along Bayou Teche beginning at the end of Weeks Street, behind Shadows-on-the-Teche, and continuing to Duperier Street Bridge. This short boardwalk has informational signs along its length that talk about the use of the Teche to float logs to market,
and about the steamship history of New Iberia
The Lafayette paper had and article which said:"...the mallards swimming along the bank of the Bayou Teche. The ducks followed the bank along the wooden boardwalk without an audience. "An alligator painted onto a sign identifying the “Bayou Teche Boardwalk” appears to walk along the planked path that edges the bayou just a block off Main Street, next door to the historic antebellum home, Shadows-on-the-Teche. The boardwalk is lined with old-fashioned street lamps. "The walk follows the bayou to Duperier Street where the signals flash and the arms go down to warn the traffic that the bridge is about to open at Duperier Street. The bridge splits in half, raising on each side. "But the ducks are the only traffic in the water..."
The time line pictured shows the nomadic Paleo Indians crossing the Bering straits in 15,000 BC, LaSalle claiming the land for France in 1682, the Indians along the Teche in 1735, the first Africans 1750, and the Arcadians in 1765.
The regular history of European occupation started in 1779 when a group of Spaniards from Malaga founded the town of "Nueva Iberia" on the third great bend of the river. The French referred to the town as "Nouvelle Ibérie" and the English called it "New Town". The legislature resolved the situation in 1847 with the compromise name of New Iberia.
It is the only town in present day Louisiana to be founded by Spaniards during the colonial era. But the site was too small for the number of settlers, and many moved into the area which became called Spanish Lake where they became planters and ranchers. The town area was still confined because most of the land along the river belonged to large plantations such as "Shadows on the Teche". All that remains of what used to extend out to the present day highway I-49/US 90 along Louisiana route 14 is the house, which is now a property of the National Historic Trust.
The time line continues after the founding of New Iberia by the Spanish in 1779 with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and Louisiana becoming a state (the first one from the Louisiana Purchase) in 1812.
Progress in New Iberia has not been smooth sailing. In 1839 there was a yellow fever epidemic. Then the Civil War laid waste to the agricultural progress of the region. In 1865 and 1866, Mississippi River floods destroyed much of the cotton, corn, and sugarcane of the region, followed by freezing temperatures and infestation of insects. Again in July 1867 there was another yellow fever epidemic which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.
According to "The History of New Iberia" by Glenn Conrad ".. in June 1870, fire broke out in a store on New Iberia's Main Street, resulting in the destruction of approximately one-half of the town's commercial district."
The recovery of the town from these disasters began in late 1879, when the railroad (planned before the Civil War) was built and the first passenger train pulled into New Iberia from New Orleans. Later lines were established to Avery Island and to Houston. A new industry was introduced in the 1880s—lumbering of the great virgin cypress forests
Mr. Conrad continues: "It is said that New Iberia produced trainload after trainload of cypress shingles to roof homes in Kansas and Nebraska and supplied homeowners of the Midwest with cypress cisterns."
During the 1880 and 1890s were also established brick manufactuing, founderies, food processing plants, a wagon works (for transporting the cane, and for sale to Hollywood for western movies) and sugar mills. Although Main Street was still unpaved, an interurban trolley line was built to Jeanerette.
On the night of October 10, 1899 at 6 pm, during a great drought, a fire laid waste to nearly one half of the central business district of the town which had been built of wood. Heroic bucket brigades kept the destruction confined to one square block
A last excerpt from The History of New Iberia "The rebuilt stores were constructed of brick with metal roofs and decorative metal facades. Today many of the buildings built in 1900 still stand, albeit with updated facades. One building, which served as a firebreak because it was constructed of brick and had a metal roof, the Gouguenheim Building, has been recently restored to its original turn-of-the-century appearance."
We walked down to the bascule bridge.
It is interesting to note that there are no traffic arms to go down over the road if the bridge is opened.
There is an interesting town walking tour listed on the New Iberia website. I found some photos (but not all) to match up with the tour. It includes:
1-The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany (303 West Main Street) constructed in 1858,and used as a field hospital during the Civil War
2- First United Methodist Church (108 Jefferson Street) erected in 189l in Gothic Revival style.
3- Old Mt. Carmel Academy (109 Bridge Street) built around 1826 as the home of Henry F. Duperier, it later became a girls’ school operated by the Sisters of Mt. Carmel and today is known as Place Eugenie.
4- The Railroad Depot (Railroad Avenue) built as a passenger depot for the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1912.
5- (300 East Main St) The pictured old post office builting, constructed in 1903 and used as a post office until 1965.
6- Shadows on the Teche (317 East Main Street) Built in 1834 by David Weeks, sugarcane planter
7- The Evangeline Theatre (29 East Main Street) First opened as a movie theatre in 1930 now is known as "The Sliman Theatre for the Performing Arts."
The walking tour website says: "First opened as a movie theatre in 1930 by the Sliman family, the theatre closed in 1960 and stayed dormant and unoccupied until 1994, when a total restoration began following its donation to the City by the Sliman family.": "State Representative Bo Ackal initiated efforts to acquire funding to preserve this "Art Deco" gem and restore it to its useful purpose for the community.
8- Statue of Hadrian (Weeks and St. Peters Streets) Hadrian, Roman Emporer 117 A.D. - 138 A. D. was noted as a builder and financier. This one-ton antiquity sculpted from life in 127 A.D. came to New Iberia in 1961 from Rome via London and New Orleans.
9- The Gebert Oak (541 East Main Street) planted in 1834 was large enough for a child to climb in to watch the Yankee troops march into New Iberia during the Civil War.
10- East Main Residental District (East Main Street between Phillip and Center Streets) with 71 buildings that date between c. 1890 and c.1930.
Then we walked back to the car
When it came time to go out for dinner, we went to Ryan's Steakhouse, Seafood and Bakery.
I was unaware of this chain (I thought it was a local place) until after we ate at this one in New Iberia. It is apparently like the Golden Coral, the difference being that you can get the meat on the buffet in addition to at the counter. The restaurants are from PA to GA and from Iowa to the eastern part of TX but the only one in MD is in Hagerstown (which I don't get to very often), although there is one in Summerville where my son lives. They have different menus for the different days of the week, and this is about what they had when we were there on Saturday - Carved Turkey w/ Gravy, Cornbread Dressing, Baked Chicken (seasoning may vary), Mahvelous Meatloaf, Baked Salmon or Whitefish, Sliced Ham, Grilled Chicken Breasts, Homestyle Chuck Roast w/ Vegetables, Fried Chicken, Chicken Pot Pie, Pizza, Smoked Rope Sausage
Dinner was $25.01 including the tip.