History and eclectic attractions are found along the
Bayou Teche Scenic Byway.
By Mary Fonseca
Autumn’s gift to southern Louisiana isn’t wrapped in leaves of crimson and gold. But, in late October, the season offers cool, crisp days that make motoring along this portion of the 125-mile Bayou Teche Scenic Byway especially delightful.
Above: The beautiful Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation home. Iberia Parish CVB
Below: A canoeist quietly explores the bayou’s natural treasures. Cajun Coast Visitor & Convention Bureau photo
Off to a good start
Two extraordinary museums are near the beginning of the route. At the International Petroleum Museum & Exposition, 111 First St. in Morgan City, you can visit “Mr. Charlie,” a decommissioned oil rig now used to interpret the history of offshore drilling and to train applicants for offshore work. A short walk along the flood wall separating Morgan City’s harbor from its historical downtown offers a glimpse of boats engaged in the community’s second major industry, shrimping. The pairing is celebrated over Labor Day weekend at Morgan City’s annual Shrimp & Petroleum Festival.
Eight miles west of Morgan City, the Wedell-Williams Memorial Aviation Museum in Patterson displays treasured relics of Louisiana’s aviation heritage. As part of the Louisiana State Museum, the exhibits highlight aircraft flown by pioneer aviators Jimmie Wedell and Harry Williams alongside memorabilia associated with their record-breaking flights.
Patterson also had a flourishing cypress lumber industry, and a collection of saws, gigantic cypress logs and other mementos fill another room in this spacious facility.
Museums do not tell the complete story of area industries, however. With great humor, Cajun Jack introduces his swamp tour clients to traditional pursuits of Acadian families who harvested furs, crawfish, moss, turtles, fish and alligators from surrounding waterways. It’s best to book in advance for his popular Atchafalaya Basin tour, accessed from state Route 182, almost directly across U.S. Highway 90 from the state museum. Stop by the Cajun Coast Tourist Information Center, adjacent to Jack’s landing, for brochures that point out more natural habitats along the byway.
Franklin’s fine homes
Bayou Teche Scenic Byway follows U.S. Highway 90 and Route 182 northwest to Franklin, a town with more than 400 homes and businesses in its National Register Historic District. Among them are the elegant Fairfax House bed-and-breakfast inn, one of the stately 19th-century homes framing Franklin’s charming Main Street, and Oaklawn Manor, the antebellum home of former Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster. Visitors to Oaklawn delight in the home’s exquisite antiques, delicate chandeliers and priceless collection of Audubon folios.
Join locals at Iberia Cash Grocery on the corner of Third and Iberia streets for a hearty sandwich and a cup of coffee, or sip a refreshing soft drink at Medric Martin’s plantation grocery store on Irish Bend Road near Oaklawn Manor.
Jeanerette, New Iberia
The Yellow Bowl Restaurant in Jeanerette has been a landmark on Route 182 for 55 years. It’s a great place to taste authentic Cajun food. Jeanerette Museum interprets the sugar cane industry’s development over the last 200 years by using exhibits, video and an outdoor sugar cane patch. The Swamp Room, Country Kitchen and other exhibits also are on display.
Main Street leads into New Iberia where plantation days are interpreted at Shadows-on-the-Teche, designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a home that “preserves a significant part of our national heritage.” AAA members receive a discount on admission.
Several of New Iberia’s other historic homes are inviting bed-and-breakfast inns. They are convenient bases for touring the town’s other attractions, including the Conrad Rice Mill/Konriko® Company Store. Don’t miss the McIlhenny Company’s Tabasco® factory tour and Jungle Gardens on Avery Island, and the Joseph Jefferson Home/Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island. Enhance your stay by making a reservation at Antique Roseville for lunch or tea, and stop by Olivier Plantation Store and Legnon’s Boucherie for some take-home goodies.
Three bells call the faithful to Mass at St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church in St. Martinville, about nine miles north of New Iberia. This historical church is the centerpiece of the community’s well-preserved town square. Take a short walk from the chapel to the banks of the Teche to see the Evangeline Oak made famous in the epic poem “Evangeline,” written in 1847 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poem describes the Acadians’ forced exile from Nova Scotia in 1755 by the British.
In Evangeline Oak Park, the St. Martinville Cultural Heritage Center houses two museums–the Museum of the Acadian Memorial and the African American Museum. After enjoying St. Martinville’s sights, end your Bayou Teche tour with a fine dinner at Possum’s Restaurant and comfortable lodging at Old Castillio Bed-and-Breakfast next to the Evangeline Oak.
Mary Fonseca is a contributor from Metairie, La.