Sunday, July 7, 2013

Washington, A Small Historic Town

A drive through the parishes surrounding Lafayette Parish will take you through small towns, such as Rayne, Eunice, Grand Coteau, and St. Martinville as well as the lesser known towns of Sunset, Melville, Butte LaRose, and Loreauville.

Oftentimes these towns—and the thousands of other like-size points on state maps—are by-passed by travelers on their way to the more well-known destinations. With limited time, travelers miss the unique features of these “off-the-beaten-path” treasures.

On a recent drive to St. Landry Parish, I visited one such town, Washington, the third oldest settlement in Louisiana.

The first stop was the Washington Museum and Tourist Information office.
My walk around the one-room collection of items relating to the town’s history took me past displays of arrowheads and sharpening tools and a 1920 price list for groceries and other items from the Klaus dry goods store.
In one part of the room were some early household items and
in the corner was some farm equipment.
Another display contained an ebony-handled French gambler’s dirk (a short dagger), a $100 poker chip, and pre-Civil War Pharo cards (a widely-played gambling game in England; its name is derived from the picture of an Egyptian Pharaoh on one of the cards).
The medicine case of Dr. H.C. Milburn from the late 1800s seemed to serve as a portable pharmacy.
An article from the Lafayette Morning Advocate from June 23, 2008, caught my eye because it referred to the historic Eagle Hotel (c. 1825, with the brick hotel portion added in 1852). The former Eagle Hotel would be our next stop.

As I left the Tourist Information center, we found the town’s marker in an alley “waiting” to be restored and returned to its position at the city limits.
Across the street from the center, I saw a small version of a farmers’ market.
Nearby was the former Eagle Hotel. I think this historic structure, which is set back from the street, is now owned by a West Coast movie producer.
As is often the case with small towns, there is history, a story, a person, or a place that is missed when travelers pass through or pass around on the interstate. I (Chuck) grew up in a small town with some interesting bits of history unknown to all who missed our exit when former Route 66 travelers were re-routed around town by I-55. But for those who missed these bits:

“Reuben Flagg is attributed with delivering the first pork shipment to Chicago, in 1831, to a group of Methodists.

“The first frame home in Chicago was possible because Flagg hauled the walnut timbers to build it. Plainfield thus earned the nickname ‘Mother of Chicago’.

“Plainfield is also claimed to be the home of the very first ice cream sundae. Story says that a Plainfield druggist created the novelty after the urgings of patrons to serve something different. Topping some ice cream with syrup, he named it the ‘Sonntag’ after his surname. ‘Sonntag’ means ‘Sunday’ in German, thus the ice cream sundae was born” (

But, back to Washington, Louisiana.

To learn a bit about the town, I searched out a local resource. I met a police officer (whose name I did not learn). After a conversation about my walking around town taking photos, our travels, and sights to see in Washington, he recommended seeing Magnolia Ridge. This 60-acre plantation had over three miles of trails with gardens.

It had been open to the public, but was now closed.
Even getting photos from the street would have been worth the drive to see it, but as we talked, the officer saw the caretaker of the property and flagged her down. When Miss Donna drove up and I had been introduced to her, she said I could drive to the entrance, park near there, and walk the trails.
However, the parking lot was clearly closed and the entrance to the area where I was told I could park was gated. I appreciated Miss Donna’s invitation and probably could have opened the gate, but I thought that would not be a good idea.
But I enjoyed the view of Magnolia Ridge from the street.
I returned to the main part of town to continue my walking tour of the downtown.
(Unfortunately, the trolley is only available on a rental basis.)

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