2:04 AM / Sunday March 26, 2023

1 May 2015

“C” Louisiana: Cajuns, Catholics, Celebrations, Creoles, Cuisine and Culture (Part Three)

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May 1, 2015 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Louisiana Sport Hall of Fame

By Renée S. Gordon

The Caddo Indians who inhabited the area now known as Shreveport told of a legendary creature that grew, sucked the life out of the river and made the land uninhabitable for animal and human life. Early documents from 1722 came to recognize the creature as a mammoth Spain controlled Louisiana after 1763 and initially allowed American settlers. As their settlements grew the Spanish feared they would seize the land and in 1795 they closed their borders to foreigners. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and Louisiana’s statehood nine years later, Americans quickly moved to what was the new frontier because Texas was Spanish territory. Settlers moved into the lower Red River Valley because the Great Raft was an impediment and the Upper region was regarded as Native American Territory.

When supplying the Upper Red River became too difficult, Congress granted $25,000 to remove the raft in 1828. In 1833, Capt. Henry Miller Shreve was given $21,663 to accomplish the feat. Shreve invented a snag boat and cleared much of the blockage by March 1838, but the raft was not completely cleared until late 1873. The initial clearance opened the Red River to trade with New Orleans and by the mid-1800s nearly 10 percent of the country’s cotton traveled on the Red.

In 1835 the Caddo Indians sold their land to the United States and gifted a portion of it to Larkin Edwards who, in turn, sold it to Angus McNeill. McNeill and five other men started the Shreve Town Company in 1836 and founded the eight square block Shreve’s Town. The name was changed to Shreveport in 1839.

Louisiana State University Shreveport’s Pioneer Heritage Museum is a seven plantation structure complex that interprets the lifestyle and culture of northwest Louisiana settlers between 1830 and 1930. Two of the homes, the 1850 dogtrot Thrasher House and the 1856 Caspiana Plantation “Big House,” are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Established in 1977, the museum exhibits artifacts, offers guided tours and presents educational programs. The structures in the complex were relocated here from no further than 60-miles.

Oakland Cemetery’s earliest burial dates from 1842 and it remains active today. Thousands of burials have taken place including that of freedmen, slaves, yellow fever victims, the inventor of the Bowie knife and Jefferson Davis’ nephews. The Jewish section of the cemetery now consists of headstones only. The remains were reinterred in a newer Jewish cemetery. An 11-site self-guided tour is available online.

Shreveport’s Municipal Memorial Auditorium holds an exalted and lasting place in music iconography. Architect Samuel Weiner was contracted in 1928 to design a civic auditorium dedicated to “those who served in the World War”. The auditorium opened on Veteran’s Day 1929 at a cost of $750,000 and the five story, 129,000-sq. ft., structure is considered the finest Art Deco building in the state. The brickwork exterior is embellished with a mixture of terra cotta, limestone and marble. Two life-sized bronze sculptures are placed near the entrance, famed guitarist James Burton and Elvis Presley. Both are inductees into the Hall of Fame.

The interior design was heavily influenced by Weiner’s trips to Venice and the then recent discovery of the Mayan Ruins and the tomb of King Tut. Elements of particular note are the original flooring, the wagon wheel skylights and the model of the Statue of Liberty, with hand grenades to represent our war victory, over the stage. The acoustics are perfect and the building features one of three original lighting boards from the era. The one displayed here is the only working model.


Louis Armstrong Statue in Airport

The first performer was Roland Hayes, the first internationally acclaimed African American male concert artist. Ironically, because of segregation laws his mother, an ex-slave, could not have been seated on the main floor to watch the concert. On April 3, 1948 Louisiana Hayride was first broadcast. This weekly radio show was aired on KWAH and CBS Radio twice on Saturday nights. The show was a steppingstone to Nashville and 70 percent of those who performed there are now in the Hall of Fame. It is referred to as the “Cradle to the Stars” because so many artists began their careers there. Featured artists include Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter, Kitty Wells and Hank Williams. Elvis debuted on October 16, 1954 and was contracted to play there every Saturday evening for $18. per performance. It was at the Municipal Auditorium that he perfected his performance and a little over a year later he was “discovered” by Col. Tom.

A guided tour of the Municipal Auditorium is one of Shreveport’s stellar attractions. Visitors tour the dressing rooms, backstage and get to stand on the spot where Elvis performed. The tour also includes newly released information on covert operations that took place in the basement during WWII. Fifty women were selected for their proficiency in mathematics. Seven days a week they were locked in the basement where they were responsible for drawing all the maps of enemy territory, by hand, to scale, for use by soldiers. They were legally not allowed to divulge their role in the war until recently. Only 18 women remain. The auditorium is a certified haunted site and has been featured on Sci Fi Channel’s “Ghost Hunters” and Discovery Channel’s “Ghost Lab.”

Chef Panderina Soumas is the rock star Creole culinary artisan who graces the cover of the 2015 Shreveport-Bossier Guide. She is an expert on the art and history of the dishes she prepares and her Soumas Heritage Creole Cookbook makes a wonderful addition to any cook’s library. Her prepackaged specialty ingredients are available online and in stores.

Shreveport cuisine is a mix of Creole and Texas dishes. Some of the staples are barbeque, okra brought from Africa by the enslaved and Cajun Boudin sausage. Pick up a Cajun Boudin Trail brochure and experience some of the best.

Bergerons’ Boudin and Cajun Meats is one of the latest additions to the trail. All of the products are made on-site, fresh daily. Bergeron’s will be featured on the Cooking Channel in the coming months.

Marilynn’s Place is ground zero for the best Creole cuisine. The restaurant, originally a garage, was named in honor of the chef’s mother. Everything is delicious but don’t miss the Pepperjack Mac and Cheese, Shrimp Rémoulade Salad, Boudin Balls and Shrimp Creole. On Sunday’s this is the place to be for

Fertitta’s Deli, family owned and operated since 1927, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. It was the first imported food store in the city and is home of the “Muffy,” a deli sandwich created in 1960 with a special, secret olive spread. This is comfort food in a comfortable setting.

The Shreveport Downtown Hilton is located in the heart of the downtown area and offers a complimentary shuttle bus that travels within a two-mile radius of the hotel and a complimentary airport shuttle. The hotel provides all the amenities and a heated outdoor pool, indoor whirlpool and restaurants.

Lafayette, the fourth largest city in the state, is considered the unofficial Cajun Capitol. The 1760s settlement, Petit Manchac, was named after the Marquis de Lafayette in 1844. USA Today named modern Lafayette the Happiest Town.

The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist home parish was established in 1821 and it is a significant structure in the history of Louisiana’s religious architecture. The church was begun in 1912 and completed four years later. The interior soars 53-ft., is 68-ft. wide and is decorated with mosaic Stations of the Cross. Sixteen stained-glass windows relate important events in the life of St. John, identified by a red cloak. In 1979 it was placed on the NRHP.

The Cathedral Oak on the lawn of the church is believed to be 500-years old and is one of the largest oaks in the country. It weighs 72-tons, is 9.2-ft. tall and 28.9-ft. in circumference.

Borden’s Ice Cream Shoppe is completely unique in the US. It opened in 1940 and is the last remaining Borden’s in the nation. Have a nostalgic experience in an authentic ice cream shoppe.

Kent Plantation House in Alexandria is one of Louisiana’s oldest existing structures. It was built on a Spanish Land Grant issued to Pierre Baillio. The 1800 plantation house and the dependencies, interpret the experiences of a French Creole cotton plantation from 1795-1855. The original six room main house was raised on pillars to prevent flooding and constructed with four inch thick bousillage walls and cypress beams. In 1842, a new owner made alterations including Greek revival additions of two wings. Baillio owned 50 slaves, the second owner up to 150.

One hour guided tours of the furnished interior reveal glimpses into the lives of the occupants. Of particular note is a bed in one of the main bedrooms that once belonged to a free family of color. Alexandria was burned during the Civil War and legend has it that the Kent Plantation was unharmed because of the owner’s connection to Sherman.

Solomon Northrup’s story was unflinchingly related in 12 Years a Slave and many of the events occurred in Central Louisiana. The defining moment takes place when Northrup shares his plight with Samuel Bass a carpenter who then contacts Northrup’s family. Bass was working on the Epps House that is currently located in Alexandria on the LSU campus. A 15-site Solomon Northrup Trail, starting at the Epps House, has been created.

We have arrived in the oldest city in the Louisiana Territory, Natchitoches. The derivation of the name is unclear but we do know that French Canadian Louis Juchereau de St. Denis erected a trading post and living quarters on the Red River in 1714 within a Natchitoches Indian village. In 1716 Sieur Charles Claude Dutisné arrived to build Fort St. John Baptiste as protection against Spanish incursion. St. Denis was fort commander from 1722 until his death in 1744. French, Spanish and Africans inhabited the fort. When the Americans took ownership in 1803 they built a new fort nearby.

The current Fort St. John Baptiste is a replica situated near the original site. Construction was based on original documents and used 18th-century materials and techniques. Visitors can tour a small indoor museum and view an orientation film before taking the trail to the fort.

Downtown Natchitoches has been designated a 33-block National Landmark Historic District. Wrought iron benches line the Cane River and art galleries, boutiques and restaurants are situated inside buildings that represent more than 300-years of architecture. The Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile was founded in 1863 and moved to the current location on Front Street in 1892.

Maglieaux’s on the Cane is a wonderful place to dine and soak up the ambiance. The food is excellent and the views of the river are soothing after a day of touring.

The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum share the same modern, two story, 27,500-sq. ft. structure. The building’s earth-tone exterior pleated copper panels are designed to complement the surrounding historic architecture while making a unique statement. Interior corridors meander in replication of the Cane River.

The Hall of Fame defines the importance of sports in the culture of Louisiana and honors the athletes who left their mark on the various sports. The legacy is interpreted through artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, documents and multimedia. A highlight of the collection is a football from the Super Bowl XLIV autographed by all 53 New Orleans Saints.

The Northwest Louisiana History Museum interprets 3,000-years of regional history and culture through seven major themes. Displayed artifacts date from pre-colonial times and are inclusive of cultures beginning with the Caddo Indians.

African American folk artist Clementine Hunter (1886-1988) is featured. The internationally famous painter did not begin to paint until she was in her 50s in 1939. She worked at Melrose Plantation from 1900 on as a field hand and cook. Her paintings documented everyday activities and the people she lived among including brides, preachers, workers and former slaves like Uncle Israel the last of Melrose’s ex-slaves who died in 1924. Her most famous work is a series of nine plywood panels filled with scenes painted in oil in the Africa House on Melrose Plantation. The murals were painted in 1955. After being restored and exhibited they will return to Melrose in May of 2015. The Natchitoches Northwest Louisiana History Museum displays 12 of her original artworks. Oprah Winfrey is a collector of her artworks and she has been exhibited at the Louvre.

It is possible to fly nonstop from Philadelphia to New Orleans. That means you can take the 3-hour morning flight, stop for a photo op with a lifelike sculpture of Louis Armstrong in the airport and head out to “C” Louisiana by noon. Planning tools are available online.

I wish you smooth travels!


Holiday World, in Santa Claus Indiana, recently became home to the $22-million Thunderbird, America’s first wing coaster. This phenomenal roller coaster can attain a spend of 60 mph in 3.5-seconds and the ensuing ride features a 14-story Immelmann loop, zero-g roll as it flies as high as 125-ft. aloft. The world’s first theme park, the 69-year old Holiday World opened for the season on April 25th and Splashin’ Safari Water Park opens on May 13th. Details on all the park has to offer can be accessed online at

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