Monday, May 2, 2011

Unexpected, Uncomfortable

"Named in the top 100 small towns in America by Norman Crampton."

"Over 400 historical properties in downtown historic district."

Thus read the web page for Franklin, LA.

"Well," we thought, "this sounds like an ideal destination for a day trip."

Continuing, "Main Street... runs parallel to Bayou Teche and consists of two roads separated by a neutral ground.... Ornamental lighting still stands along East Main Street's boulevard and serves as an ever present reminder of the charm and grace which characterized life in Franklin during the early decades of the twentieth century.

"Main Street was the site of the town's earliest development.... Despite the fact that this stretch contains some smaller more recent houses, the older structures dominate because of their size and sweeping lawns. The area offers a quality of spacious-ness charac-teristic of the town's pre-Civil War era.

The pretentious grand village effect is enhanced by the 2 rows of live oaks which flank Main Street."

As we walked along Main Street, we experienced the grandeur created by the live oaks, the street lamps, and the homes, some of which seemed qualified to wear the term of "manor."

The town's web page also contains a 2009 letter from the mayor. The letter states, in part, "...Today, the City of Franklin has a romantic character and a rich history and culture emblematic of our multi-ethnic heritage. It is recognized for its picturesque Historic District of antebellum homes and Victorian properties with stately oak trees. Spanish moss and period lampposts are the epitome of a relaxed and friendly southern Louisiana town showcasing its diverse cultural heritage, arts, and bayou recreation. Franklin's historic fabric is not only a link to the past, but a key to its future."

Walking along Main Street, we thought the town's self-description was an accurate one. The street was beautiful, welcoming, and quiet.

A walker greeted me with, "Getting any good photos of the rain?"

"Well--," I began.

"It's a rare occurrence around here these days," he concluded, and with a wave, he rushed on.

The mayor's letter continued: "Franklin is engaging in an ambitious plan to revitalize our downtown historic district. The first item on our agenda is to...focus on city center redevelop-ment. The idea is create a hub of public activity by facilitating community space and instill a sense of local quality of life and pride. The second item, and no less important one, is to create a tourist destination attraction by accen-tuating our unique historic district and natural geography."

We continued our stroll along the street, separated by about half a block, photo-graphing street scenes and homes (the Alfred Gates House, right and the Saint House, below). We were following the "Walking Tour of Franklin," featuring the... antebellum houses that are all within easy walking distance of each other" (Franklin web page).

A police car approached us slowly and passed. We continued our walk.

At the next intersection, the officer turned around. I noticed the car in the lane across the grassy divide. When he turned and headed back toward us, I stopped. Yes, he stopped right next to us.

"How are you folks doing?" he began. After learning that we were not visiting anyone in town, he asked what we were planning on doing that day.

"We plan to spend the morning in Franklin and then stop in Baldwin and Jeanerette," I answered.

"Have you thought about visiting Morgan City. It's a fine city with a lot of history," was his suggestion (or directive?).

"We'll keep that in mind. This a beautiful part of town here," I noted, attempting to call on his civic pride.

"Just a couple of blocks over, there is a big drug problem. We had a shooting a couple of days ago," was his last comment.

OK, message received. "Well, maybe we'll change our plans for lunch," I added as we parted company with no further suggestions.

"Franklin's Main Street Program aims to make downtown viable and fun, and is critical to the future of downtown revitalization efforts. Our Main Street program has the vision of building on downtown's inherent assets such as its rich architecture, personal service, traditional values, and most of all, its great sense of place.... One approach to achieving this goal is to promote the district's unique charac-teristics to shoppers, investors, new businesses and visitors."

We left the residential area and, intending to take some photos of the downtown area, we pulled into a parking spot on Main Street. Although there were few people on the street, eyes were upon us. This uncomfortable feeling was unique to this town in our 34 months of traveling.

The photos of the downtown area were taken within five feet of the truck. In one of the briefest "photo shoots" of an area, we left the beautiful town named for Benjamin Franklin.

Incorporated in 1820, Franklin's early settlers included French, Acadian, German, Danish and Irish. However, the town's culture and architecture is heavily influenced by the unusually large numbers of English that chose to settle there after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Numerous large sugar plantations arose in the area, and with the development of steamboating, Franklin became an interior sugar port.

An unexpected, uncomfortable experience.

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