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Sep/Oct 2010 Issue
Heart of the Arts

Search for antiques, interesting architecture
and Southern charms in Washington, La.
By Mary Fonseca

Thousands of items fill two floors in the Old Schoolhouse Antique Mall in Washington, La. Demitasse cups, Victorian accessories and intricately carved plantation beds are just a few of the antiques and collectibles proffered by more than 100 dealers. An overflow of their curios and collectibles spills into a huge gym and several anterooms in back of the schoolhouse. Every weekend, browsers from far and near explore this bonanza of heirlooms and bibelots, hoping to find a special gift, an exceptional item to add to their collection or attractive accents for a home or business.

antique fair

Above: The Old Schoolhouse Antique Mall will host an antique fair this fall. St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission photo

Below: Magnolia Ridge Plantation has a three-mile path around its grounds to explore. Louisiana Office of Tourism photo

plantation

Just as antique enthusiasts are likely to find treasure at the Old Schoolhouse, travelers exploring Washington in southwest Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish can find a trove of historical buildings–many housing interesting shops and restaurants–pleasant inns, an intriguing local history museum and an 18th-century plantation home.

Fall Antique fair The schoolhouse setting for the old-fashioned goods brings back pleasant childhood memories for many of the mall’s patrons. They enthusiastically share school days memories enkindled by the sight of old cloakroom fixtures, transoms above the classroom doors and photographs of former students decorating the walls.

Antique fairs draw crowds to the Old Schoolhouse Antique Mall, 210 Church St., because more than 100 additional merchants sell their offerings on tables in the schoolyard. The next fair will be Oct. 8–10, with another in April 2011.

“Car clubs also use our grounds to show their antique cars,” says Timmy Bordelon. He and his wife Michelle are proprietors of the Old Schoolhouse Antique Mall. “One club came from 600 miles away. I love meeting the collectors of these vintage vehicles and shoppers from other states and countries.”

Patrons who need a break from antiquing can pause for a snack at an old-fashioned candy counter in the gym. The indoor/outdoor Old School Café serves specialty sandwiches, salads and ice cream.

Additional Washington attractions

Washington, 25 miles north of Lafayette, provides a compatible environment for the Old Schoolhouse Antique Mall. Most of the streets are lined with quaint churches and historical residences wreathed in lush Southern greenery. Seven of the charming homes offer bed-and-breakfast accommodations.

The community was established in 1720 and is the third-oldest settlement in Louisiana. Warehouses, shops and homes were built to accommodate steamboat crews and cargos that landed in Washington. The first steamboat docked in 1830. Busy Washington became the second-largest port in Louisiana; only New Orleans had more steamboat traffic.

“Among goods carried by the steamboats were fine china and bolts of cotton cloth from England,” says Jason Huguet, owner and chef at the Steamboat Warehouse Restaurant. “Boots, silk, garden seed, champagne, ball gowns and guns were shipped from France. New Orleans supplied essential foods plus wine, whiskey, cognac and coffee beans.”

Learn more about the town’s steamboating heritage and view relics of its past at the Washington Museum and Tourist Information Center on Main Street. Docent Deborah Joubert will point out exhibits of time-worn clothing, Indian artifacts and white oak baskets made for generations by members of the local Harris family. The baskets are available for purchase at Kirt’s Auto and Farm Supplies on Main Street.

Several well-kept historical buildings on Main Street are home to tidy antique and specialty shops. It’s pleasant to walk or drive through Washington’s historical district with a brochure from the museum in hand, directing you to businesses and National Register homes. Admirers of Louisiana architecture will savor the wealth of Victorian, board-and-batten and frame construction.

Historical atmosphere

The most prominent dwelling in Washington is Magnolia Ridge Plantation on state Highway 103 at the edge of the historical district. The plantation home that dates to 1790 is not open for tours, but a three-mile paved walking path on the grounds is open to everyone at no charge.

The footpath winds around the white-pillared home, several outbuildings and a mini cypress swamp formed in the hole where clay was dug for bricks to build the home. Azaleas bloom in March, and April offers a spectacular show of thousands of yellow irises along the swamp’s boardwalk.

On the footpath, catch a glimpse of Bayou Courtableau, which once was plowed by the turning wheels of stately steamboats.

For a better view of the bayou, relax on the wharf behind Huguet’s award-winning Steamboat Warehouse Restaurant, 513 N. Main St. It is housed in a renovated steamboat warehouse on the banks of the bayou, the only one left of a row of buildings used to store goods that arrived at the port.

Just downstream from the restaurant, steamboats loaded with cargo turned around to travel through a labyrinth of bayous and rivers to other ports. If the night is still, it’s easy to imagine hearing a whistle, a stevedore’s shout and an apparitional paddlewheel starting to turn.

Mary Fonseca is a contributor from Metairie, La.

Events

St. Landry Parish is comprised of a dozen small towns, many offering events during the year for residents and visitors to enjoy. This fall, check out the:

  • 28th Annual Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Festival in Plaisance on Sept. 4;
  • 65th Annual Louisiana Yambilee Festival in Opelousas from Oct. 20–24. There will be sweet potato contests, music, carnvial rides, a parade and other activities to celebrate the golden yams grown in the region.
  • 25th Annual Cracklin Festival in Port Barre from Nov. 11–14. A fundraiser for the Port Barre Lions Club, the festival offers carnival rides, musical entertainment from local and regional artists, great food and drinks, and of course, the Cracklin Cook-Off. Cracklins are deep-fried pork rinds.
BEFORE YOU GO

For details, contact the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission at (877) 948-8004 or www.cajuntravel.com.

To visit Washington, first stop by your nearest AAA service officef for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Louisiana through the Reader Service Card, ffound online at http://southern.ai-dsg.com.


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