Driving north through Central Louisiana into the Piney Woods it’s easy to think this is how it’s always been. Passing through small towns now famous only for their speed traps there is a deceptive feel of backwards. But, when I begin to peel back the layers of time it’s eye opening. Just thinking about visiting these parishes evokes an eerie sense of walking on history – like visiting a Civil War Battleground where 1000’s fought and many died; their blood soaking the ground.
Traveling with our group in Riverside Limousine’s Sprinter, Turtle Top, Limo Coach or Mini Bus allows us to watch documentaries, listen to related music or even hook up a laptop to review historical documents. In the Mini Bus we can even get a “step on guide” to share the local history over the PA system.
Most Louisianians know very little about their own state history. If asked where Atlanta is or what Urania is named for they would simply shrug their shoulders. A staycation to Caldwell, LaSalle and Winn parishes will be a road trip of discovery. To begin we’ll drive to Columbia on the banks of the Ouachita River.
Like other places in the area, in the past this town was very important. Described as beautifully preserved and aggressively maintained by louisianatravel.com, Columbia is the home of the Louisiana Art and Folk Festival. Columbia was the home of Gov. John McKeithen and Sec of State Fox McKeithen. Governor McKeithen was a decorated WWII veteran.
While in town we’ll enjoy the Riverside Park, Martin Homeplace, Schepis Museum and spend the night at the Captain’s Quarters. We’ll check out the entertainment at the Watermark Saloon which is the oldest saloon on the Ouachita dating back to steamboat days.
La Salle Parish
If we time it right we can enjoy bluegrass in Urania. Named after the Greek mythical muse of astronomy by visionary forester Henry Hardtner and industrialist William Edenborn this community was on the forefront of 20th century southern forest reforestation. Hardtner; a lumberman, police jury commissioner, state representative, state senator became well known for his reforestation efforts. Years have changed the community but traces of former resorts like White Sulphur Springs, a WWII POW camp at Whitehall and forest related industries can still be found.
Those not involved in forestry have little appreciation for how important the timber industry is in our state’s history. The early timber industry literally changed the face of Louisiana with virgin forests clear cut. Edenborn with Henry Hartner led the way in renewable resources. During the 1930’s and early 1940’s a summer camp for Yale Forestry students was held here. In the early 1900s Teddy Roosevelt hunted in the area. Several leaders from the area attended Roosevelt’s Conservation Conference.
Winnfield is the birthplace of Huey P. Long and Earl Long; OK Allen was born in Winn Parish. Several other governors were born in neighboring parishes. It’s not surprising that the Louisiana Political Museum would be located there too. As the City of Winnfield’s website says, “In some ways visiting the city of Winnfield, La is like taking a step back in time.”
German Immigrant Industrialist William Edenborn owned over 1,000,000 acres in the state. He lived on a farm south of Winnfield he named Emden. We’ll search for the farm and other locations mentioned in histories of Winn Parish.
The shift in attitude experienced when learning about amazing past events is to the change in attitude when you meet an old man – then learn he was a medal of honor winner in WWII. Uncovering buried history is like finding buried treasure. Louisiana has lots of buried treasures.
When we are done treasure hunting pack up and head back to Baton Rouge in one of Riverside’s professionally chauffeured vehicles. Remember, “we drive … you have fun!