Plantations and rich history beckon
Louisiana is a land of romance and legend, and nowhere is this more obvious than along the sinuous route of the Bayou Teche in southern Louisiana. Visitors driving the Bayou Teche Scenic Byway can get glimpses of an era long gone but not forgotten.
A good portion of the area’s history is found at Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site just north of St. Martinsville. Two features in the park show how early Acadians (expelled from eastern Canada in the 1700s) and Creoles lived. One structure is a rough Cajun cabin with original Louisiana cypress furniture. And nearby is an early 19th-century Acadian farmstead complete with outbuildings.
The main attraction in the park is the Maison Olivier, an early 1800s Creole home. The house, built in 1815, was enlarged over the years as sugar replaced indigo as the area’s sustaining crop. The house and small museum give good insight into area history.
Few travelers come to St. Martinville without making a pilgrimage to the Evangeline Oak. We got a treetop view from our room in the Old Castillo Bed and Breakfast (220 Evangeline Blvd.). Over a home-cooked breakfast of fresh country eggs, bacon, French toast, and beignets with cane syrup and homemade fig preserves, owner Peggy Melancon Hulin told us the history of the 1827 home that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Previously owned by one of her ancestors, the ideally located inn is clean and comfortable.
This Sweet Life
My husband and I drove only a portion of the 125-mile Bayou Teche Scenic Byway, which winds through three parishes: St. Mary, Iberia, and St. Martin. The road from St. Martinville to Franklin meanders like a slow stream through green fields. This is the heart of sugarcane country.
In New Iberia, Shadows-on-the-Teche remains a monument to the wealth sugarcane brought into the area. The home, completed in 1834, tells a story of family resilience through four generations with a collection of portraits, furnishings, clothes, and approximately 17,000 documents.
Five of Louisiana’s 11 raw sugar mills are located along the Bayou Teche. Two of the mills are in Jeanerette where we stopped at a local icon, Yellow Bowl Restaurant (19466 state Highway 182). A favorite since 1927, you’ll get your fill of shrimp, crab, crawfish, and catfish.
Our next stop on the byway was the Chitimacha Museum (3289 Chitimacha Trail) in Charenton. Although its tribal lands have been severely reduced over the years, this is the only Louisiana tribe to inhabit a portion of its aboriginal territory.
Panels in the museum relate many of the tribal legends, including the story of how the Bayou Teche came to be. According to legend, a giant snake’s body stretched over a hundred miles. Chitimacha warriors attacked the serpent and, as it struggled, its body dug a deep furrow in the mud that became the bayou. The word “teche” means “snake” in the Chitimacha–People of the Many Waters–language.
Our night’s stop was in Franklin at Fairfax House (99 Main St.). First called Shady Retreat, it was built in 1852 by John Barrett Murphy for his daughter. With a view of Bayou Teche, it stood in the middle of a sugarcane field. Surrounded by live oaks today, it is a lovely bed and breakfast with six beautifully decorated rooms. Its classic elegance and spacious grounds make it a favorite venue for weddings and romantic getaways.
In the Neighborhood
Founded in 1808, Franklin boasts fine old homes and an interesting historical district with many nationally registered structures.
One example is the Greek Revival Grevemberg House Museum (407 Sterling Road) that was built in 1851. Although the cypress floors and some mantels are original, the house has been restored and redecorated to reflect the 1860s. During the Civil War, paper was so scarce that newspapers often were printed on pieces of wallpaper. Restoration experts used these historical documents to choose patterns that would have been found in Southern homes of the era. Open year-round, the home is particularly popular from mid-November through January when decorated for a Victorian Christmas.
Oaklawn Manor (3296 Oaklawn Drive) is the real eye-popper in Franklin. This 1837 home now is the residence of former Gov. Murphy “Mike” Foster and is open for tours. Eclectic furnishings, from antique to modern, include a desk from one of Napolean Bonaparte’s palaces, Aubusson tapestries, and George Rodrigue’s Blue Dog paintings. Holiday décor is lavish.
Our drive, though less than 50 miles, took us two days, and we still didn’t see everything. The Bayou Teche flows slowly, and your trip along its byway should mimic that pace.
Elaine Warner is a contributor from Edmond, Okla.
November/December 2014 Issue
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