Monroe, Louisiana – Southern Hospitality

Resting along the Ouachita River an hour drive West of Vicksburg. MS and two hours East of Shreveport, Louisiana, the twin cities of Monroe and West Monroe, Louisiana offer historical, cultural, and natural interests for all people. Historically, just South of the city are the remains of one of the first earthworks in North America at Watson Break, dating back more than 2,000 B.C. In more modern times Joseph Biedenharn, the first bottler of Coke moved his family here in the 1890s. Culturally the residents of Monroe enjoy the music of the Monroe Symphony, the visual beauty of the Masur Museum of Art, and short term concerts and other attractions at the Monroe Civic Center. Naturally, Chennault Park, Kiroli Park, and Forsythe Park offer numerous recreational activities in a bucolic atmosphere. Just North of the city the National Wildlife Refuge operates Black Bayou Lake.

Joseph Biedenharn operated a candy factory and soda bottling company in Vicksburg in the late 1800s. He arranged to bottle the new syrup in small bottles for commercial consumption. Until then the founder of soda in Atlanta, GA only sold the syrup in bulk. Biedenharn’s smaller bottles became popular. He moved his family to Monroe, La, where most of his brothers had taken up residence, and built a modest two bedroom home in the Garden District adjacent to the river. His daughter, Emilou, returned home after a successful singing career in Europe and sought permission to revamp the backyard into a garden typical of the ones she had seen in Europe. Her vision resulted in a sensually delightful experience every season of the year: Spring being the most lavish with almost ten thousand tulips making the garden an artist’s palette. Today the Biedenharn Foundation gives tours of the house. Eight ounce Cokes, the best ever bottled, are available for a nickel.

Another sparkling gem in Monroe is the Aviation and Military Museum of Louisiana located at Selman Field, near the Monroe Municipal Airport. Selman Field was started in the early 1920s and was the original home of Delta Airlines, founded by C.E. Woolman and the Biedenharn brothers. For about ten dollars, a passenger could fly to Jackson, MS. Monroe was also the birthplace of Claire Chennault of the Flying Tigers fame during WWII. An extensive exhibit depicts his life and accomplishments. Jim Halsell, another Louisiana native, has donated his NASA memoriabilia

Just South of Monroe is Watson Break, one of the oldest mound roofers monroe la  communities in the New World. Unfortunately, the mounds are on private land and not open to the public. What is open is Poverty Point State Historical Park, located near Epps, LA, about forty-five miles North East of Monroe. Begun circa 1700 B.C. by hunter gatherers, the community comprised of three to five hundred wattle constructed houses placed on six rows of concentrically raised five foot high earthworks formed in a semicircle, facing an open plaza three to four hundred yards in diameter. The earthworks, if laid end to end would stretch over seven and a half miles. Besides the living quarters are mounds of various sizes from ten feet in height to one over seventy feet (previously one hundred). The latter is in the form of a flying bird, with a wingspan of over seven hundred feet.

Millions of fifty pound baskets of dirt were used to make this mound and was believed to have been completed in about nine months. Only one percent of the site has been uncovered. Thousands of artifacts have been found and are on display in the museum. Some in include copper jewelry from the Upper Peninsula, MI, soap stone vessels from Appalachia, stones and flints from other parts of the country. The natives formed their own stones by compressing dirt with water into different forms. They were then fired and used for heating. They had a plentiful food supply, being situated on a large shallow lake teeming with various fish and other wildlife. Poverty Point was abandoned about 1100 B.C. for unrecorded reasons. The people dispersed to parts unknown. Today tram tours are given five times daily of the site. A museum houses the artifacts and features a movie telling the story of Poverty Point. This is definitely worth a side trip to see this amazing archeological site.

Just North of Monroe lies the Black Bayou Wild Life Refuge. The Refuge features a visitor’s center with interactive exhibits about the flaura and fauna of the area. A one mile self-guided nature trail meanders through wetlands and hardwood forests with a side path to the wildlife pier and boat launch. Roads also take you to a observation tower and a blind for photographing wildlife. As usual, the best time to see the different forms of wildlife is at dawn and dusk along with the very hospitable mosquitoes.


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