After a great week in the city of New Orleans, it was time to head home. Of course, a straight shot to Tulsa just wasn’t going to cut it; there’s plenty to see on the way! The first stop of the day wasn’t far from the hotel, actually…in fact, I’d stood a few feet from it the day before and not seen it.
The Jefferson Highway was built in the 1910s as part of the National Auto Trail system, before they were all numbered. The “Palm to Pine Highway” stretched north-to-south from Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. A stone marker sits at the corner of Common Street and St. Charles Avenue in NOLA to mark the end of the road. Many thanks to Susan Yates for sending me a message just before I left that alerted me to its existence! I would’ve been heartbroken if I’d missed out.
Another stop we made before leaving the city was Lafayette Cemetery #1. I’ve long been fascinated by the above-ground graveyards in Bayou Country and I was pleased to have the opportunity to explore one. Due to the high water table, it’s how most people are laid to rest down there. It was appropriately cold and grey on the morning we walked among the somber chambers. Some of the graves still bore damage from hurricanes past; old recessed brick betrayed the missing name plates. Some of them were on the ground, leaning against their tombs.
We headed west out of the city with a choice to make. We’d looked up a few historic plantations to visit but only had time to stop at one. We decided on the Whitney Plantation, which included a museum dedicated to the practice of slavery in America. The museum portion was really well done; it gave me a perspective and understanding of slavery that I hadn’t fully appreciated. You get a real sense of the commodity that slaves were before the Civil War. You also get a good understanding at how laws and circumstances were controlled after the war to continue a system of oppression.
We walked the grounds for a bit, which were very beautiful, but got in trouble because we weren’t in a tour group. Although the lady at the front desk had said it was fine when we bought our tickets, I guess they don’t allow people to wander on their own. We’d just missed a tour group departing from the main office, so we just got back on the road.
The next place we put the car in park was at the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) in Natchitoches. I became aware of this division of the National Park Service last year when I started communicating with them about a springtime symposium they are bringing to Tulsa this year, focused on Roadside Architecture. We’d just corresponded via email and telephone, so it was great to meet these folks in person.
Samantha and I got a tour of their office on the campus of Northwestern State University, which itself was converted from an old Women’s Gymnasium. In addition to their many labs used to help preserve and protect historic sites, their second floor has a big gym floor with scaffolding for a roller rink around the edge of the auditorium! It was really cool.
The ladies at the NCPTT told us about the Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile downtown, which is the oldest general store in the state. Of course we had to go! It still felt and looked like an old-school general store, complete with ancient cash register and skylights once used to highlight product. We could’ve spent all day in there, poking around the various nooks and crannies, but alas…we still had some miles to turn.
Just as the sun was setting, we made it to the rural community of Mooringsport, LA. The Historic Caddo Lake Drawbridge there was built in 1914 using a unique vertical lift design from a company in Chicago. The US Army used it for maneuvers in the 1940s, performing mock captures of the bridge and “bombing” it with sacks of flour. It later fell out of use and was nearly destroyed in the 80s, but it was saved and added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Originally, I was disappointed we’d arrived there with so little light left in the sky. I took a few half-hearted photos before I heard a rumble in the distance that captured my attention. I looked and saw the light of a train breaking through the treeline in the distance. I ran to take a place on the modern bridge alongside the historic crossing. My mood improved tenfold as the train crossed the lake, just where I could capture it with the sunset. The bridge itself is really interesting and totally unlike any other I’ve photographed.
We made it up to Texarkana before stopping for the night. One more day of travel stood between us and our own bed.