By Jerry Wilson
On Thursday, February 28 through Saturday, March 2, 2013, the Illini and Ohio River Chapters hosted a regional gathering in New Orleans as well as in parts of northwestern Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi. The evening before, an informational meeting was held at the New Orleans Hilton Riverside Hotel. The attendees were welcomed and were provided with an agenda of activities for the next three days. The attendees were also given needed materials such as streetcar passes, boat tickets, etc. It was then recommended that everyone get a good night's rest as the next three days were going to be very busy.
The activities on Thursday started with a brisk morning walk to Cafe Du Mond for breakfast passing along the way the sites of Dr. George Hunter's mill and distillery (Hunter-Dunbar Expedition of 1805) and Dr. Joseph Barrabino's home and pharmacy (Karl Bodmer visited him in 1833). Upon returning to the hotel, we boarded a bus for the trip to Chalmette to visit the site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. Group pictures were taken first, then an outstanding presentation was given by a park ranger with a brief history of the War of 1815 and how the Battle of New Orleans played such an important part. The attendees then viewed the rebuilt earthworks, the monument and the visitor's center.
The bus then returned the group to the hotel, and we immediately walked to a river dock to board the NATCHEZ Riverboat. As we moved down the Mississippi we were served a fine New Orleans sit-down meal. The riverboat made the turn in site of the Chalmette battlefield, then traveled back to the downtown area. Visits to two New Orleans headquarters were next.
First, the Historic New Orleans Collection (a museum) provided several historic documents for us to view. One document in particular made some Ohio River Chapters members very excited. The museum had exhibited a historical survey document of the area made by Jonathan Clark. Could this be new, unfamiliar information to Clarkies”? Well, no. After some searching, the tour guide said, “probably not.” Jim Holmberg concluded the same. On to the Williams Research Center (library) where again many historic documents were displayed and another fine presentation was made. We were then allowed to view the documents. My favorite was a letter written by Blaise Cenas.
Part of the Williams Research Center is a refurbished hotel/boarding house that is located at 535-537 Conti (corner of Conti and Chartres). This was the location of William Clark's 1798 stay in New Orleans. This hotel was once called The Rising Sun Hotel, and several attendees were convinced this was the inspiration for the song “The House of the Rising Sun” (you know, “There was a house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun. It's been the ruin of many a poor boy...). Well, that made Lorna Hainesworth and Dan Sturdevant break out in song right on the streets of the French Quarter. We then made our way to the hotel to rest and recover for the evening activities. That evening we strolled to the nearby Mulattes restaurant for a very filling Cajun dinner with a Cajun band playing in the background.
The activities on Friday again started with a brisk walk to another fine New Orleans French Quarter breakfast shop, Croissant d’Or Patisserie. We then walked through parts of the French Quarter with the Basin Street Visitors Center and St. Louis Cemetery #1 as destinations. One site in particular was noted, that being the residence of John James Audubon’s stay in New Orleans. The group strolled through St. Louis #1 (which is the oldest above ground cemetery in New Orleans dating to the late 1700's) noting several tombs. The tomb that generated the most excitement was that of Blaise Cenas.After the cemetery visit the group walked to the Cabildo (Louisiana State Museum) where again we were allowed to view many of their excellent displays. The next stop was one of the streetcar lines, which took us out to the City Park area. Lunch stops were provided at several local restaurants (attendees choice). Then time was provided to visit the park, art museum, etc. The remainder of the evening was free time with advice given for a restful sleep.
The Saturday activities were to mainly take place in the St. Francisville, Louisiana, and Woodville, Mississippi, area. That meant a long bus ride with several presentations along the way. In particular, we were happy to have Tulane professor Richard Campanella along. He provided us with much valuable information about the history and geography of the area. One of the historical events that took place in an area that we traveled through was a slave uprising that occurred in 1811. Again Blaise Cenas was involved.
The first official stop was at a small plantation cemetery (Locust Grove Cemetery) where a presentation was given that included Lewis and Clark connections. We then stopped at the Audubon Historic Site for lunch, plantation tour and museum visit. Both the cemetery and plantation are near St. Francisville. We then made a short bus tour of the town including a pass by of the Myrtles Plantation. The Myrtles was built by Whiskey Rebellion notable David Bradford. Another St. Francisville stop was a bed and breakfast plantation tour which had in it's library an important Lewis and Clark book. What a find! We then bused on to the Woodville, Mississippi area where at the first stop we were given a presentation by a Moses Hooke descendant (you know, the expedition could have been named the Lewis and Hooke Expedition). We then divided into three groups depending on interest.