Morgan City Day Two.

I’m feeling guilty, as in fact this will be our second night in Sulphur (Lake Charles)… sorry. But I’ll be sitting in Houston Airport for over 6 hours on Tuesday, so I expect I’ll catch up then.

Yesterday evening we looked at the map, counted days, and decided to book another night here, giving us a second full day. But what to do? As Navigator it was my responsibility to devise the itinerary: I opted for a drive up Hwy 182 to St. Martinville. This is one of the first settlements of the Acadians, French-speaking settlers in what is now the Canadian Maritime provinces who were deported by the British for actively aiding the French. Many died, some returned to France. Some took advantage of the Governor’s offer of land here; Louisiana was then a Spanish territory, the Acadians were Roman Catholic, and Spain wanted more RC settlers. St. Martinville has successfully claimed to be the location of the events described in Longfellow’s poem Evangeline, although historians now agree it never happened (much to St. Martinville’s annoyance).

We pootled slowly on back roads to Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, which is in fact a museum providing information about the Acadian – now Cajun – settlement. It is centred on the Maison Olivier, built c. 1815 by a wealthy Creole landowner. 

 
Our interpreter gave a fascinating explanation of ‘creole’, which now means many different things to different people, but in this particular context means a man of French origin born in Louisiana.

The cottage is open to the public, and allowed us to see – and feel – how this classic cottage functioned. Not only is it raised off the ground to preserve its timbers and allow air to cool the floor, it has no enclosed internal spaces other than cupboards. No hall, no staircase. All the rooms open into each other and onto the balcony or porch: to reach the upper floor you climb the external porch stairs. Every opening – door or window – is in line with others so that air moves freely through the house.   

The rooms are furnished with period furniture, including a ‘rolling pin’ bed which incorporated a large rolling pin used to flatten uncomfortable lumps in the feather mattress into the headboard. 

The man’s shirt on the chest at the foot of the bed demanded  close examination, although I didn’t touch it. An intriguing fabric!  

The diamond-patterned fabric is used for collar and cuffs; the dark-striped side is the front and the patterned stripe the reverse.

The museum displayed items from various aspects of life at the time. At first the settlers raised cattle, but cotton and sugar soon followed. The cotton press (to flatten the bales) was particularly impressive, 

Two looms, one modern and one older, were clearly used to demonstrate weaving a fabric from loosely spun cotton singles (spun on an Ashford Traditional) that resembled one labelled as a blanket in the display. I don’t think it will wear well, though, but then they might not often need blankets here.

 

We noticed that few, if any of the houses we drove past have flower beds visible from the road. Every one is surrounded by a vast expanse of close-mown lawn, and we’ve only seen one garden centre selling herbaceous plants. I asked the person tending flowers outside the museum whether people grew flowers that we missed; she shook her head sadly, saying ‘no’. She didn’t know why, as many flowers grow well here. Perhaps it’s the heat; people prefer to stay indoors in the ‘air’, as I heard several call the AC.

We meandered on little roads to another tourist destination, the Rip van Winkle gardens in Lake Peigneur. I promise this is much more interesting than it sounds! First, the gardens are not as twee as the name suggests; they’ve been created in the grounds of the house built by in 1870 actor Joseph Jefferson, and named for the play with which he made the money to build it.

The gardens are very pleasant and, better than that, there are many plants I’ve never seen growing outside before. Including this, which I initially thought was banana, but is probably plantain. Counts as banana as far as I’m concerned.

 
The house tour was informative. Fire regulations mean it no longer includes the upper floor because the access up a single cramped staircase; there is no dramatic stairway, perhaps because Jefferson did not feel the need for such things after spending much of his life in poverty.

But we came to see Lake Peigneur, site of an amazing disaster. Jefferson chose this site for his house because a low hill caught the breeze and offered good views of a small natural freshwater lake. The hill is a salt dome, created when the weight of 40,000′ of Mississippi River sediment forced some of the deeply buried Jurassic Louann Salt to the surface. There are several salt some hills in southern Louisiana and Some of the cleanest, clearest rock salt in the U.S. came from the Diamond Crystal salt mine near Lake Peigneur. In 1980 a Texaco oil rig accidentally drilled into the mine; why and what happened next will never be known in detail, but the small Lake Peigneur flooded the mine, which collapsed dramatically. Some of the collapse was caught on film, including the reversed flow of the Delcambre Canal, which filled the hole with seawater from Vermilion Bay via what was briefly the tallest waterfall in Louisiana. Needless to say, there were lawsuits. Peigneur now looks so ordinary that I forgot to take any pictures, too busy thinking ‘it doesn’t LOOK as though it’s 1000′ deep…’

And then we went back to Morgan City.

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About sarahw

A zoologist who draws, a spinner who weaves, a person who thinks.
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