TimManBlog

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Archive for the tag “Spanish moss”

St. Martinville: Louisiana’s Acadian Capital

March 31, 2020

I learned in grade school that Baton Rouge is the capital of Louisiana and that New Orleans is its largest city. But that’s not the whole story. West of New Orleans lies Acadiana. Visit the Cajun homeland, and you’ll see that it’s sort of a separate country.

Bayou Teche in St. Martinville Parish, Louisiana
Saint Martin Parish in the state of Louisiana

I had thought that Lafayette was the capital of Acadiana; it’s not, it’s just “the city.” St. Martinville is the Acadian capital and spiritual home. At the center of St. Martinville is St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church, a grand yet simple church.

St. Martinville, Louisiana
St. Martin of Tours, St. Martinville, Louisiana

I caught a work crew cleaning the church grounds, and a little girl was raking the shrubs around the statues. She was maybe 10 or 11 and had the French Acadian features — brown hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.

More background on the Acadians, or “Cajuns,” is available from Wikipedia here. The Expulsion is the Acadian’s national origin narrative, and “Evangeline” is their epic poem. St. Martinville is the home of this remembrance.

Evangeline, outside St. Martin of Tours church
The Evangeline Oak, St. Martinville, Louisiana

The Evangeline Oak (and the church) lie along the banks of Bayou Teche which runs through town. It was a warm, calm spring day and I took some photos along the bayou, where cypress trees stand along the banks with half their roots out of the water. It was so peaceful and quiet, and not a single mosquito.

Bayou Teche

I’ve been told that Louisiana bayous are actually slow-moving rivers and not standing water or swamps. Someday I’ll test that. I’ll set up a bayou-side lawn chair on some warm, mosquito-less winter day. Then I’ll toss a leaf in the water and spend the day with a book, some tunes, some snacks, and see how the leaf travels downstream in an afternoon. It will be an “experiment.”

There are some nice little places along the bayou complete with tall, wide oaks covered with Spanish moss, and this hotel.

Spanish Moss. St. Martinville, Louisiana
Old Castillo Bed & Breakfast. St. Martinville, Louisiana

The old hotel lies along the bayou, near the Evangeline site and St. Martin’s Church. Their website is here.

I walked around town. Things are quaint, well-run, well-kept, and busy. These aren’t rich folk, but they prosper.

Typical street scene. St. Martinville, Louisiana

The local shops carry an obvious French influence.

Le Petit Paris Cafe

Street signs in the center of town are written in both English and French.

St. Martinville is the seat of St. Martin Parish, Louisiana (counties are called “parishes” here). I found the courthouse a few blocks south of the church along Rue Principal Sud (Main Street South). It’s a two-story wooden building that looks like a southern plantation house. Unfortunately, the place was being renovated at the time and I couldn’t go inside.

St. Martin Parish courthouse. St. Martinville, Louisiana

I hope you have a chance to visit St. Martinville. The town is a real treat. And by the way, Acadian gumbo is a national treasure! Despite the humid climate, I could see myself living here for a while.


All photos were taken by the author in March, 2011.

A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.

Donations are happily accepted if you’d like to help defer my costs.
Thanks,
Tim

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February in Walterboro, South Carolina

February 26, 2016

This week the political media frenzy swirls through South Carolina like a transient storm.  Last Saturday the GOP held its presidential primary here and this Saturday the Democrats hold theirs.  As pundits dissect this state, wielding the scalpels of scientific polling and demographics, I thought it fitting and proper to provide a glimpse beneath the hullabaloo.

Colleton County in the state of South Carolina

Along Washington Street in the small Palmetto State town of Walterboro, banners on the streetlamps proclaim it “The Front Porch of the Low Country.” Walterboro is 40 miles from the ocean, 50 miles from Charleston, and far, far away from northern climes shivering through February squalls.  It seems peaceful here, very quiet, quiet enough to catch the slow creaking of an old red wood rocking chair.

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Sidewalks in town are paved with a conglomerate made of white seashells over which I would not want to walk barefoot. (This may be purposeful — I doubt the local merchants want you to enter their shops in bare feet.)

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Of course, you must smile and say hello to each and every one you pass by; they will certainly offer it to you expecting the same in return.

Even though some old storefronts have changed hands over the years, the general atmosphere feels familiar, and so the former Farmers and Merchants Bank is now the Old Bank Christmas and Gifts shop. The fixture clock was almost certainly the town meeting place back in the day.

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Old Bank Christmas and Gift Shop

I had lunch at the counter of Hiott’s Pharmacy down the street. The Coca-Cola dispenser on the counter is a classic and probably worth some money as an antique but they don’t seem to know that — or perhaps they don’t care.

A few old-timers sat with me at the counter, and I enjoyed listening to them — accents uncorrupted by the standardized pronunciations one hears today on national newscasts.  The Southern accent is strong here, but the formality of their manners is even stronger. Tags of “Yes Sir, No Sir, Yes Ma’am, and No Ma’am” punctuated their conversations like dance steps and created a kind of rhythm, a cadence, reminiscent of a high school marching band or a cheerleader squad’s holler-back routine.

Just a peek around the corner leads to the First Baptist Church and its tall white steeple. Each rural South Carolina town must have one of these. If you’ve only seen such churches in photos, then you’ve missed the best effect — the majestic old oak tree covered in Spanish moss. Blue sky, white steeple, and green leaves are standard fare in these parts even in February, but wonderful to one visiting from the snowy Rocky Mountains.

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The Colleton County Courthouse complements the rest. This is a two-story whitewashed building with two half-spiral staircases at the main entrance. As with most Southern courthouses, a granite Confederate statue dominates the grounds. Live oak trees spread their wide branches on either side of the building.

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Colleton County Courthouse. Walterboro, South Carolina
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Colleton County Courthouse

Beneath the small-town quiet, Colleton County has a combative history commensurate with its South Carolina heritage — the Nullification Crisis of 1832, and a hotbed of secession.

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I chatted briefly with a few folks as I took photos of the courthouse. Around here, although people won’t ignore you, they’re not mistrustful.  They do understand humor. Carrying my camera and cell phone in one hand, I asked the guard at the courthouse entrance if these items were allowed inside. He answered me with perfunctory precision:

“Prohibited items are knives and pistols and rifles.  Do you have these?”

“Well…not all three,” I deadpanned.

He let out a belly laugh and let me pass through the metal detector as I held my camera and phone to one side for him to see.  We’re all just folks.

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East Washington Street business district, Walterboro, South Carolina

A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.

I’m trying to travel to all of America’s county courthouses, and each month a post about my visit to the most interesting county seats. It’s only a hobby — but donations are greatly appreciated to help defer my costs.
Thanks,
Tim

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