BY IVETTE ARDOIN | NOLA.com
Three regional tourist groups are marketing a new "Soul of South Louisiana" tour with an itinerary that begins on the north shore, moves through the River Parishes and ends in Jefferson Parish.
It is a joint initiative of the St. Tammany Parish Tourist Commission, the River Parishes Tourist Commission and Jefferson CVB that will highlight the Native, Creole and African American people, heritage, culture and way of life in the triparish region.
The tour is ideal for groups of 10-25, though 50 or more can be accommodated, and can be scheduled through each of the destination marketing organizations. The five-day tour is customizable, and certified tour guide Martha Martinez of YAYA Louisiana Tours and Travel is available as a step-on guide to accompany and lead the groups.
According to Tanya Leader, of the St. Tammany Parish Tourist Commission, tours are updated regularly to exhibit different parts of history and culture.
The River Parishes offered a tour last fall that educated participants on the 1811 slave revolt. Leader said that collaboration allowed the three areas to share stories that aren’t as well-known so that guests get the area's history and better understand how the three areas have been connected historically and culturally over the years.
One point of interest on the new tour is the Madisonville Historical Museum, which focuses on the history of the town and its part in the Civil War. According to Iris Vacante, historian for Madisonville, most people walk away from the tour learning something new about the area and “wowed” by everything that has taken place there.
Vacante became increasingly curious about her surroundings and found it fascinating “for such a small town to have so much history.” She points to the diverse population of the late to early 1800s, many of them exiled New Orleans residents who did not agree with the Union, as well as its role in building war ships in the early 1900s as examples. The museum is also home to the first wooden vessel that was used in 1881 to travel the entire Mississippi River, starting in Michigan. She hopes to instill this same curiosity and knowledge to others, and said visitors range from locals to tourists from various countries.
The Louisiana north shore leg of the tour also spotlights the Bayou Lacombe Museum, where groups can learn history of Native people and visit a Three Sisters and Medicine Wheel Garden. Other sites of interest include the Madisonville Historic Museum, Jean Baptiste Lang Creole House, the Dew Drop Jazz and Benevolent Hall, and the nine Native and African American markers on the Historic Mandeville Marker Tour.
Fontainebleau State Park presents historical markers honoring the 153 enslaved people who worked at Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville’s sugar plantation, as well as Native people who called this land home before it was settled by Europeans.
Louisiana River Parishes offers a tour of Whitney Plantation, presenting exhibits throughout depicting the harsh labor the enslaved endured on sugar cane plantations and a memorial dedicated to the 1811 Slave Revolt. Louisiana River Parishes also presents a musical journey with the exhibits of famous Creole trombonist Edward “Kid” Ory at the 1811 Kid Ory History House and the Historic Riverlands Soul River Musical Journey that represents life after slavery. Tour sites also include Destrehan Plantation with an exhibit featuring the 1811 Slave Revolt procession and the Rost Home Colony exhibit, which explains how the plantation transformed into a facility that transitioned newly freed enslaved persons into wage earners.
Jefferson Parish visits include the Marsalis Mansion Motel Marker, Camp Parapet, a safe haven for escaped slaves during the Union’s occupation where they were housed, fed, and trained during the remaining years of the Civil War, and gospel artist Mahalia Jackson’s grave site. Also featured is True Vine Baptist Church, the oldest and longest running African American Church on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. The Barataria Preserve of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, formerly part of the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte’s smuggling route for the illegal slave trade, now offers serene walking and birding trails.