Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Living On The Bayou in Southern Louisiana

Blogger's Note: For many years, Cajun families would stay along the bayou in wood cottages, raised a few inches above the water level.  Often overlooked, these hidden gems stand testament to time-honored craftsmanship and the ability of early Louisianians to carve out a niche in this, at the time, impenetrably hot and hostile environment.


Cajun 'bayou' cottages like the one (Above) showcase an authentic charm, and a rich history in Louisiana solid wood architecture.  

With 'hide-away' second homes becoming all the rage, home buyers are looking with fresh eyes at water-adjacent properties that boast original solid wood homes from half a century ago or older.  But these are no shacks, far from it.  The creative designers are adding character through custom interiors highlighting color and flair.  And they are bringing with them the creature comforts of home.

Just think about it.  What has more authentic value than these or a better view for days of relaxation.

A conventional take on these types of homes is the durability and natural character of the woods use to build them.  In Cajun culture, a man would be handy in all of the traditional ways of furniture and wood building.  Their homes and the household items were built in what what available in close proximity to the build site.

The first being Louisiana Bald Cypress, the original forests of which Albany Woodworks sources to create beautiful and long-lasting Antique Cypress building materials, idea for remodeling homes from this era.  The second source of lumber for early Louisianians was Heart Pine from the Louisiana Longleaf Pine.

Also being a durable wood beyond compare, this wood was used primarily for flooring and support beams due to its strength and load-integrity.  Albany Woodworks also sources this ancient timber for it's high value in matching the existing wood materials in your home.

From the USA Today article Facts About Louisiana Bayous:

"Located primarily in the southern reaches of Louisiana, the bayou is a defining feature of this unique part of America. The bayou is home to many people living in the Pelican State as well as to an abundance of wildlife. Unlike the rest of Louisiana, bayou life has its own pace and culture. The swamps and the gators might not be for everyone, but the people of the bayou feel right at home. This often-misunderstood area remains a mystery to many Americans.

The Bayou Name
The name 'bayou' is even native to Louisiana. According to the Famous Wonders website, the term "bayou" is believed to have originated from "bayuk," a word meaning "small stream" in a local Native American tongue. The word was first used in Louisiana and has come to mean the braided streams that are fed by the Mississippi River in the low-lying areas of Southern Louisiana. These marshes or wetland areas move very slowly and make ideal homes for creatures like alligators, crawfish and catfish -- all of which are popular bayou foods.

Bayou Culture
The bayou culture is actually more diverse than many may think. There is no doubt that the most closely associated culture to the bayou is the Cajun culture. The Cajuns were French-speaking settlers relocated from Nova Scotia. They were actually known as 'Acadians,' but the local dialect eventually led to the word becoming "Cajun." In South Louisiana's bayous the culture is as diverse as the ingredients found in the local gumbo. In addition to the French Canadians that were the foundation of much of the bayou culture, there are also significant influences from Spanish, German, African and Irish settlers as well as Native Americans."

Louisiana Brown Pelican

Blogger's Note: More than just our state bird, the Louisiana Brown Pelican is a symbol of the renewing force of the wetlands.  Months after the BP Oil spill, flocks of pelicans returned home to nesting grounds to begin anew. 

Above: A hungry pelican chick waits for his mother to return to the nest.

From the State Symbols USA article Louisiana State Bird - Brown Pelican:

"The state bird of Louisiana is unique among the world's seven species of pelicans. The brown pelican is found along the ocean shores and not on inland lakes. It is the only dark pelican, and also the only one that plunges from the air into the water to catch its food.  Louisiana's official nickname is 'The Pelican State' and the brown pelican appears on Louisiana's state flag, state seal, the official state painting. 

Pesticide use caused Pelicans to stop nesting along the Louisiana coast in 1961, and they completely disappeared by 1966. Louisiana began attempting to re-populate its coastline by transporting Florida fledglings into the state. The US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Brown Pelican as an endangered species in 1970, but the Federal Government declared the Brown Pelican 'recovered' in Louisiana in 1995 . About 40,000 Brown Pelicans call "The Pelican State" their home today.

Above: A mother pelican attends to her brood of young chicks.

The brown pelican was designated the state bird of Louisiana in 1966. Early European settlers were impressed with the pelican's generous and nurturing attitude toward their young, and the brown pelican has been a symbol of Louisiana since that time."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Historic Oak on Loyola Campus Given New Life, 2014

Above:  This historic Live Oak tree was scheduled for removal, but thanks to a co-operative effort with Albany Woodworks, Loyola University is making sure it's legacy will live on for years to come.  Photo courtesy of

In an on-going project to preserve the history of a Live Oak tree said to be as old as the Uptown New Orleans Campus.  It's removal raised some eyebrows, but it is a rule of thumb that space is limited.  With a new building project underway, the massive oak near Monroe Hall was removed.

The tree is one of many up and down St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, including a last stand of ancient Live Oak trees across the street in Audubon Park, known for it's Spanish Moss-lined giants.

Above: The Live Oak tree-lined view from Audubon Park.

But that is not where the story ends.  Albany Woodworks and Loyola University are working together to have a symbol of the great old tree on campus.  Once the tree was sized into manageable pieces, it was brought to the Albany Woodworks facility across the lake in Albany, Louisiana.

Cut into planks and stacked on sticks, Albany Woodworks CEO Richard Woods found that natural air drying would be the best step in preserving this well-aged wood stock.  In business for over 39 years, Albany Woodworks is known as the Antique Lumber specialists for a reason. 

Above: This step of  slow-drying the plank lumber is essential in adding durability to the finished product and reduces any chance of cracking or peeling in the process.

After pioneering the use of antique lumber, reclaimed from demo'd buildings, CEO Richard Woods has mastered the art of bringing out an old piece of lumber's inner beauty.  Needless to say, this collaborative effort on the parts of both Loyola University and Albany Woodworks show that trees are of historic significance and part of our city's history.

Above: After air-drying for a few weeks, a gentle sanding makes visible the natural beauty and character that only age can acheive.

The Live Oak tree-lined streets of Uptown New Orleans are a beautiful example of how lush city life can be in the south.  More information to come on this project, check back soon for updates!

Marston Welcome Center Offers Compelling Look into Lumber History, 2014

Blogger's Note:  Along historic I-55, there is a welcome center, that bears tribute to the impact of the southern lumber industry.

Above: The Marston Welcome Center, near Marston, Missouri.

Just west of the Mississippi River, and just north of the point where the corners of  Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri meet.  Near Marston, MO sits a testament to the extent of the southern lumber industry up and down the Mississippi. 

Above: Caption reads: "Steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi River."

With the onset of the industrial revolution, the demand for quality timber grew.  Louisiana, an unheard of and untapped resource for lumber at the time, became the epicenter for the lumber that built industrial America during the 1880s-1940s.

Above: Caption reads: "Logs on barge to unload at mill."

This welcome center has treated cypress tree stumps with weather-proof signage showing the process of harvesting southern lumber in the 19th and 20th century.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Cypress Lake And University of Louisiana Share 114-Year History, Lafayette, Louisiana

Blogger's Note: Two stories converge to explain this off-shoot of the Atchafalaya Basin, in the heart of a 1900s southern college campus.  Cypress Grove is uniquely tied to the history of  University of Louisiana and to the area.

From The Vermilion, April 2002 article History of Cypress Lake Branches In Two Different Directions:

"LOUISIANA La. - Cypress Lake has reinvented itself many times over the University of Louisiana's 104-year history but has kept its identity, remaining the nucleus of student activities ranging from graduations prior to World War II to today's canoe races.

The two-acre swamp is a vibrant ecosystem teeming with turtles, fish, birds and 5-foot long alligators. The wildlife mingles with the lake's Spanish moss-draped cypress trees, purple and yellow irises and other indigenous plants.

Although the cypress trees are hundreds of years old, the swamp itself was created during the 1940s. Before the university was founded, the area was home to a different type of wildlife.

'Geographically, it was originally a buffalo wallow, going back to ancient times,' said Bruce Turner, a history professor and head of the special collections at Dupr Library.

Once the university opened its doors in 1900, the area, called Cypress Grove, served as a pigpen for the university farm in the 1910s and as an outdoor theater for Shakespearean productions, marching band practice and graduation during the '20s and '30s.

Two different opinions of how the grove became a lake are prevalent, but both could be correct. Some said the university created the lake as a precautionary measure taken during World War II; others said it was just to save the trees, which badly needed water.

Two women who devoted their lives to the university, Maria Mario Mamalakis and Vesta Bourgeois, participated in the oral history project and recorded in the mid-'80s their memories of Cypress Lake.

'People didn't realize that we were so near the gulf and had a lot of German submarines in the gulf area,' said Mamalakis, explaining why the university decided to create the lake. 'It was a worry that we could even be bombed. It was Cypress Grove for many years, but they were afraid that we might need extra water in case of fire if a bomb had been dropped on campus.' Bourgeois concurred, adding that female students filled the swamp and conducted fire drills.

The other theory of why the swamp was created was that the trees were dying and needed water. Turner said this is likely because the university president had a background in agriculture."