Tuesday, March 19, 2013

St. Bernard: From Old Arabi to Shell Beach

A feathered resident of Shell Beach

Nearly two years ago, we drove the San Bernardo Scenic Byway through St. Bernard Parish, headed for the Chalmette Battlefield and the Los Islenos Fiesta. This weekend we returned to hit a few spots we had missed on our initial journey, starting with Old Arabi and finishing in Shell Beach where another Louisiana roadway abruptly ends at a large body of water.

Old courthouse and jail in Arabi
As soon as you cross into St. Bernard Parish, you reach the Old Arabi Historic District. A quick drive up and down the roads leads past a number of historic sites, such as the "Andy Griffith-style" jail built in 1911. The beautifully designed Maumus Center, St. Bernard's first high school that later served as a community center, was gutted and undergoing a massive overhaul that would undoubtedly return this building to its previous splendor. 

LeBeau Plantation
One of the most fascinating landmarks in Old Arabi is LeBeau Plantation, an 1854 mansion boarded up and presiding over a large open field. The very sight of it conjures up ideas of ghost stories and tales untold. Down the street, however, the Greek Revival Cavaroc House appears in pristine condition at the end of a row of majestic palm trees. The two homes can't be more different, though. While one stands in near ruin yet proudly displayed for photographs, the other is a bright gem next to the industrialized Domino Sugar Refinery yet tightly guarded against any would-be sightseers. In fact, try to take a picture of this mansion, and you'll be tracked down, instructed to delete all your photos and have your license plate number recorded. I'm talking hyper-security.

So we carried on, following the scenic byway past the Chalmette National Historic Park and National Cemetery and under a lane of live oaks known as the Dockville Oaks. When the main road split and headed east, we turned right and continued alongside the Mississippi River to St. Bernard State Park. Letting the kids run out some energy, we started with a short nature trail linking the picnic area to the swimming pool, a top attraction during the hot summer months. Luckily, they were in the mood to run because one pause and the mosquitoes attacked. We escaped quickly and found safety in the open picnic area, where we ate our PB&J sandwiches next to a very curious lizard. Halfway through the gourmet meal, the kids spotted the playground and went off to climb, jump and make sand castles--in between sneaking around poles to "spy" on the girls celebrating a birthday party.

The Old Courthouse near the Los Islenos Fiesta
It was a nice break before climbing back in the car and backtracking our way to the byway again. We soon approached the Old Courthouse, an impressive building for any city, but even more so being located in the largely rural section of the parish. Just past the courthouse, a long line of people and the flickering lights of carnival rides alerted us that we had once again visited during the Los Islenos Fiesta. We were tempted to stop but chose to continue on to our destination of Shell Beach, the tiny fishing community we had not reached previously because the road was closed. Alas, a few minutes later and we discovered that the road was still closed two years later. This time, however, we were not so easily thwarted, and instead turned the car around and returned west until we found a crossover to Highway 46, a parallel route to the byway. 
Katrina Memorial

The highway bypassed the small towns and provided a quicker route to Florissant Highway, the far-reaching road to Shell Beach and Hopedale. Ruins of homes, vehicles and bare, dead trees stood as hurricane casualties, leaving the eerie impression that we were approaching nothing more than an abandoned village. And then the scenery changed and a waterway stacked with colorful boats led to a thriving, vibrant community. Pelicans guided the last few miles of our drive until we parked in front a memorial dedicated to those who died during Hurricane Katrina. A large cross bearing the face of Jesus was rooted in the waters before us, and a plaque listed the names of the St. Bernard residents who passed.

Climbing out of the car, I mistakenly thought ash was falling from the sky around me. It only took a moment to realize it was a flurry of biting gnats. A family, with every inch of their bodies covered with clothing, was fishing and crabbing here, and the birds sat patiently awaiting their next catch. In the distance, the remains of a large fort was oddly out of place floating above a sea of marsh grass. While I swatted the bugs, the kids seemed oblivious, instead chasing birds and collecting oyster shells before we gave up and retreated to the car.

Crabber protected from the gnats
Our final stop was Sebastopol Plantation, a place we had fond memories of from our previous visit. We passed through the gate thinking we would soon see owner Alberta Lewis, who would gladly let the boys marvel at the chicken coop. Instead, we found her son, who broke the news that his mother had passed away. However, he was just as eager to let us roam the property. Since our last visit, and before Alberta had died, she had acquired a set of turkeys to add to her collection of chickens, roosters and peacocks. Much larger than I expected, the male turkey strutted and shimmied all around us, preparing for a showdown with our four-year-old, who was only slightly taller than the bird. It was the perfect ending to our day's adventures and left us with much to talk about later.

Sebastopol's turkey


14 comments:

  1. Boy...you sure get around....hitting all the not-so-tourist spots...thank you!

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  2. WOW.....good story! You're a good story teller!

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  3. Hi Kristy! I just found you somehow. We are kindred spirits! I also live and write about the good life down in New Orleans. Your travel tips are wonderful, in fact, I'm taking your advise and doing this St.Bernard to Shell beach ride very soon. Why don't we know each other???? A mystery. I've joined your groupies and will wait with bated breath for each and every installemnt of your getting LOST in this wonderful state! Happy Trails!!!!

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    1. Cheryl, you are too funny! I loved Anne of Green Gables growing up...kindred spirits indeed! Hope you were able to make the trip down to Shell Beach.

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    2. We did just that this past weekend! Made it all the way to the Katrina cross- amazing! Now, I'll take your next trip- you're my travel guru!

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    3. Fantastic! This weekend we made it to New Roads and Pointe Coupee Parish. That was a great trip as well. Hope to get the blog up tonight.

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  4. Love your writings. After Katrina everything changed along the coast. Sad. That is an interesting trip. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for reading along! Glad you enjoyed it.

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  5. Hello again!
    I'd like to nominate you (award you) with a Liebster Award as an up and coming blogger that I lovelovelove! If you accept- you'll need to do a bit of blog luv-work.
    1- write a post stating that I've nominated you.
    2- write 5 random things about yourself
    3- nominate 5 other up-n-coming blogs that you love with a note about them.

    * when you get nominated -you are actually being bestowed an award and can paste the Leibster emblem on your site.
    * you are not supposed to have more then 200 embedded followers on your blog (other social media doesn't count like FB and Twitter)

    If this is something you're not interested in just let me know.

    Congrats! I love your blog!!!

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    1. Hello again to you! I'm honored that you would bestow an award on me and intrigued by what this award truly is. Sorry, I've been sidetracked from my blog lately--dealing with little ones and life in general :)--but I'm going to start thinking about this Liebster Award and what I should write about it (and you!) in turn. Thanks again!

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  6. Hi, found you through Cheryl Nicholl. I really enjoyed this post and it's a great window for me to see since I have never been to your area. I especially liked the old mansion, the Katrina cross in the water, and your final stop at a plantation.

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    1. Thanks, Sue. Glad you enjoyed it!

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  7. Found you totally by accident as I looked for something else. I have traveled all of Louisiana's parishes and shot 1000s of photos so I can use them in my classroom as I teach my 8th graders. - LaTraveler

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