Civil War sites, fantastic cuisine, 12 Years a Slave house, museums, a safari park, the birthplaces of famous leaders – a short drive from Baton Rouge. Riverside Limousines can plan a tour just for you. And, it’s especially nice to have someone else to drive you home at the end of a long day. Are friends and family from out of state in town for a wedding or holiday? Call Riverside to take them on a tour of fascinating attractions in Avoyelles and Rapides.
Avoyelles is a rich gumbo of culture and history. Leaving Baton Rouge we’ll cross the Mississippi on the new bridge south of St. Francisville and take Highway 1 through beautiful Pointe Coupee (cut point) Parish the cross the Atchafalaya River at Simmesport
While Avoyelles is considered part of Acadiana, the parish is more appropriately Creole than Cajun. Settlers directly from France and Spain settled in the area long before the “Acadianes” were forced from Nova Scotia and began their trek to south Louisiana. The parish was named for the friendly inhabitants present when settlers arrived.
In 1864 the Union Army’s Red River Campaign took General Nathaniel Banks through Avoyelles as an attempt was made to capture Shreveport – which was considered key to controlling Texas. Gen. Banks commanded the ground forces. Rear Admiral Porter commanded a fleet of steamboats with 210 guns that attempted to navigate the Red River.
Turning off Hwy 1 on to Hwy 451 we’ll enter Big Bend near Moreauville – a community of historic attractions: the Adam Ponthieu Store, Big Bend Post Office Museum, Sarto Old Iron Bridge and Lake Juneau Safari Resort. It’s like going back in time to the 1920′s. The store displays historical memorabilia and the curator, Jimmy Bernard is on hand to tell the story of the community and explain the use of various tools.
There are numerous historical sites and homes throughout the area. We can sleep with the animals at the Safari Park or there are several bed and breakfast homes in the area. The Honeysuckle is the home of nationally known Cajun dancers Deanna and Paul Beach. Located in downtown Marksville near the Red River Grill is Maisonnette Dupuy home.
Former Gov. Edwin Edwards and Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame athlete Al Moreau grew up and attended high school in Marksville. In Marksville we can visit the Pre-historic Indian Site, the Tunica Biloxi Cultural and Educational Resources Center and the Marksville State Historic Site. Once we have completed this part of our parish tour we’ll check in to our lodgings, freshen up and head to the Red River Grill for supper. With appetizers like Chicken and Andouille Gumbo this restaurant stands out as a memory maker.
The next morning we’ll get back on the road and head for Bunkie. In 1853, Solomon Northrup published his memoirs, “12 Years a Slave” documenting his experiences as a kidnapped and enslaved “free man.” For 10 of those years he was owned by Edwin Epps at a plantation on Bayou Beouf near Bunkie. The house that Northrup helped build was moved to LSU Alexandria and rebuilt for display as a museum. Due to the condition of the house the project was more of a reproduction than a restoration. The original site has been reclaimed as farm land.
This region of the state is known as the “piney woods.” Long Leaf is the home of the Southern Forest Heritage Museum. The timber industry was and is an essential component of Louisiana’s economy. This museum was developed from the site of the oldest complete sawmill complex in the south. This 67 acre site is the display for mills, equipment, trains, pictures and tools used this industry.
Another name for Louisiana is the Sportsmen’s Paradise. Fishing is an important part of that paradise. The Booker Fowler Fish Hatchery in Forest Hill is key to managing and maintaining freshwater fish populations in state waters. The hatchery also is instrumental in supporting a threatened species – the paddlefish. At Booker Fowler we can see the hatchery in action and visit an information center about maintaining fish populations.
On the way to Alexandria we’ll have lunch at the Lea’s Lunchroom in Lecompte on US Hwy 71. I wanted to say original location but that was in Chenyville. Since 1928, Lea Johnson’s family has been serving their special ham sandwiches and pies. They have kept the menu simple, been named the “Pie Capital” of Louisiana and are still a family business.
When we reach LSU-Alexandria campus we’ll stop to see the Epps House. This is the reconstructed house Solomon Northrup during his 12 year enslavement in Louisiana. All that remains from the original home are the central dividing wall and exposed beams. While working on the house Northrup became friends with the carpenter who eventually passed on Northrup’s letters and led to his freedom.
In Alexandria we’ll visit the home of Cajun Pawn Stars, “Silver Dollar Pawn & Jewelry. We can browse 20,000 sq ft of famous memorabilia like Japanese Tanker uniforms, Paladin Lunchboxes and much, much more.
Another must see site is the Kent Plantation House. The tours of this classic French Colonial style home highlight both unique features and local history. The home is one of the oldest homes in the state. Before leaving Alexandria to return to Marksville and our bed and breakfast we’ll go by the Hotel Bentley to see if it is being remodeled. Supposedly it was in process and scheduled to open in late 2013.
Alexandria is close enough to be a convenient return drive to Baton Rouge. Worn out from the adventures of two days – you can relax without the hassle of driving. Enjoy refreshments, tell stories and decide where to go next time.
Remember, “we drive … you have fun!”