Columbia Riverboat tour shows historic sites

On a rainy Saturday in late May, the newly active Caldwell Parish Tourist Commission sponsored a guided media tour of historic places, mostly along the Ouachita River, as an extra feature of the 20th annual Columbia Riverboat Festival.

In an earlier period, when the North Louisiana hill country was mostly settled by small landholding farmers, Columbia, located then and mostly now on the south side of the Ouachita, was a river port on the waterway which separates the hill country from the flat-land delta which extends eastward to the Mississippi River. South and west of the Ouachita lies the mostly forested hill country, where the early hill farmers took down the trees to create "new ground" and build cabins and "dog trot" houses for subsistence farming. North and east is the delta country, where the storied plantations manses and large-scale "agribusiness" still thrive.

During the era before mechanized travel was available, the hill country farmers made semi-annual trips by horse and mule-drawn wagons to Columbia on the river, meet the riverboats, sell their cotton and other crops, and buy provisions for the coming season. The trek took up to two or three weeks, depending on the distance and travel conditions.

As subsistence farming in the hill country began to be unprofitable--or when farmers had accumulated enough resources, some began leaving the hill country to acquire land "Over in the Swamp," as the land between the rivers was called, and to farm on the flat land watered by the Ouachita, the Boeuf, the Macon, and other streams. Those farms continue, while the hill country has become almost exclusively devoted to timber and its related industry.\par }{\plain On the recent media tour, a small group of us--we from the hill country side--were introduced to the unique flavor of plantation life and other sites on the flat-land side of the river.

Two plantation homes, Synope, from circa 1848, and Martin Homeplace, circa 1878, are just like you've always imagined--large, graceful, lovely in every respect, and furnished with genuine "period" furnishings down to the chamber pot in just the right places. Both are open for tours and special events, and the Martin home caters meals on-site that are to die for.

(We are told that the name Synope--pron. Sigh'-nope--is a place in Turkey. You can chase that one down yourself.)

Other stops were at the Riverton Locks and Dam, operated on the Ouachita by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and features a hiking trail; the Columbia tree nursery, where millions of pine and hardwood seedlings are produced for replanting by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture; The Oasis, a former adjunct to the Louisiana Central Lumber Company at Clarks, now serving as a museum and town hall; Schepis Museum on Columbia Main Street; Our Lady of Peace Meditation Chapel, with religious artifacts dating back to the 17th century; and the Columbia Hill Cemetery, which is about as high and breathtaking as one would want east of the Grand Canyon.

The tour ended with a walk-about at the downtown exhibits at the Riverboat Festival.

For information and reservations to the special places, contact the Caldwell Parish Tourism Commission at 318-649-9065. Tell them we sent you.