|Published Jul/Aug 2006
From shrimp to swamp tours, museums to Mardi Gras, Louisiana’s Cajun Coast offers a smorgasbord for the senses
By Barbara Baird
|organ City’s blending of different cultures, attractions and festivals is as tasty as any gumbo. Located 90 miles southwest of New Orleans, Morgan Cityalong with the towns of Berwick, Patterson and Franklinmakes a worthy tank trip along the Cajun Coast.
French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Native American and African-American heritages put the spice in this getaway. Louisiana traditionslike Mardi Grasalso are highlighted.
Mardi Gras and more
Morgan City honors its Mardi Gras contributions with a significant collection of memorabilia and costumes displayed in Cypress Manor and Mardi Gras Museum (715 Second St.). The manor, built in 1906, has costumes dating from 1928 to the present. It is closed on Mondays and holidays.
Cypress Manor sits in the historic district, a 12-block area that includes Front Street, a menagerie of working shrimp boats, docks and shops. Admire lovely hand-blown glass beads at Shannon Design (618 Front St.). Artist Colleen Shannon creates jewelry by combining her beads, which are made from imported Italian glass, with freshwater pearls, sterling silver and semi-precious stones. She recently added relief art tiles, a blend of Italian and Southern influences.
Across the street from Shannon’s studio stands the 21-foot Great Wall that parallels the Atchafalaya River. Visitors stroll atop the concrete walkway and enjoy a bird’s-eye view of life on the river.
Festivals and food
Morgan City knows how to keep the fun going after Mardi Gras and holds two large festivals each year. The Shrimp and Petroleum Festival, held Aug. 31Sept. 4, is one of Louisiana’s oldest and largest harvest festivals. More than 70 years ago, the port received its first load of jumbo shrimp, and to remember the event, a small street parade was held on Labor Day.
In 1937 Morgan City held its first Blessing of the Fleet on Berwick Bay. But fishing isn’t the only industry that’s important to Morgan City. Its petroleum business was launched in the late 1940s when Kerr McGee Industries drilled the first offshore oil rig. The International Petroleum Museum & Exposition (111 First St.) tells the story of the offshore petroleum industry, and it is the only place where visitors can walk on a real offshore drilling rig called “Mr. Charlie,” which operated from 1954 to 1986.
The marriage of shrimp and oil came together in 1967 and the festival’s name was changed to the Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival. Today, food, crafts, music, children’s events and more make up one of the South’s biggest free festivals.
Other events throughout the year include Christmas on the Cajun Coast (Dec. 225) and the Cypress Sawmill Festival that runs during the last weekend of March and includes a cypress sawmill display, music, tournaments, contests, arts and crafts and a Cajun cook-off.
Morgan City has a mix of eating establishments, enough to satiate any taste bud. Susie’s Seafood on Highway 182 boils fresh crawfish in season and liberally adds Susie’s own special spice mixture. In fact, owner Susie Reed will come out of the kitchen to see if her patrons are enjoying their fare.
In the historic district, diners admire hand-painted wall murals while enjoying Cuban and Spanish-inspired cuisine at the Latin Corner, 201 Railroad Ave.
Beyond Morgan City
After exploring Morgan City, drive west on state Highway 182, a portion of the Bayou Teche Scenic Byway. This 125-mile road parallels the Bayou Teche, rich with cypress trees and knees, which are cone-shaped structures that grow vertically from the lateral roots of the cypress tree. More than 100 historic properties are on this route, including the Arlington Plantation (11532 Main St.) and Oaklawn Manor (3296 Oaklawn Drive, off Irish Bend), both in Franklin.
The Grevemberg House Museum (407 Sterling Road), an 1851 Greek Revival-style townhouse that also is in Franklin, takes you back in time to an opulent, civilized era. From the wallpaper to the furniture to the artwork to the carpets, the St. Mary Landmarks organization restored this showcase of a Southern home. Innovative inventions can be found in several of the rooms, such as the little liqueur decanter that completely folds in on itself, and the state-of-the-art flushable porcelain chamber pot chair in the master’s bedroom. Many antebellum portraits line the walls of this site. It also includes Civil War artifacts, including the remains of the flag of the St. Mary Cannoneers.
For a tour of the Atchafalaya Basin, consider Cajun Jack Swamp Tours in Patterson. The tourpeppered with anecdoteslasts about 2.5 hours.
Back in Morgan City, bird lovers will enjoy Brownell Memorial Park and Carillon Tower (3359 Highway 70), a 9.5-acre designated bird sanctuary next to Lake Palourde. A 106-foot tall carillon tower plays music every 30 minutes.
For overnight accommodations, consider the Holiday Inn (520 Roderick St.), a AAA three diamond property, and Best Western (1011 Brashear), with AAA two diamonds. Both are in Morgan City and offer AAA rates for members.
Barbara Baird is a contributor from Rolla, Mo.
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