New driving adventure offers myths, legends and folklore

There’s a new driving adventure for residents and visitors alike in Southwest Louisiana.

The Myths and Legends Byway is a 150-mile-long route steeped in the myths, legends and folklore of Allen, Beauregard and Vernon parishes.

The route begins near the Texas state line in Southwest Louisiana and travels through what was historically known as “no man’s land,” or the “neutral strip” — an area associated with stories of buried treasures, money trees, outlaws, Indians, river pirates, military maneuvers and booming sawmill towns.

“We will be utilizing our parishes’ assets and bringing them all together to form a story of our people and its history,” Beauregard Parish Tourist Commission Director Lori Darbonne said.

The byway ties together a network of scenic and historic hidden treasures, combining rural roads with state highways along U.S. 165, La. 26, La. 112, La. 113, La. 10, U.S. 171, U.S. 190 and La. 111.

“We want to get the people off the beaten path and encourage them to explore the history of our area,” Allen Parish Tourist Commission Director Adagria Haddock said.

Attractions along the route will include old cemeteries, historic buildings, Civil War sites, sawmill towns, a jail, forests, farmers markets and wildlife viewing.

State lawmakers officially designated the route in 2010. It was revised this year to include more routes.

The designation followed a nearly eight-year effort by communities and tourist commissions along the route to develop a marketing plan to target and promote rural tourism in the area.

The Myths and Legends Byways will officially open Sept. 5 during a ceremony at 11 a.m. in DeRidder, which, along with Merryville, will play a major role in Beauregard Parish’s portion of the byway.

“We have history, unique one-of-a-kind shopping, nature and birding areas and a variety of Louisiana-based restaurants that are a sure stop for people looking to experience Louisiana and its culture,” Darbonne said.

An increase in sales ranging from gas, retail shopping, and food and beverage establishments can be expected with increased advertising, she said.

“Beauregard Parish is located at the center of the byway,” Darbonne said. “This gives the potential for increased revenue from travelers spending while in the area.”

Vernon Parish Tourist Commission Executive Director John Crook said most of the areas included on the route were part of a neutral strip known for its lawlessness in the 1800s. The region, along the Sabine River, was also the site of boundary dispute between Spain and the U.S. after the Louisiana Purchase, he said.

“Vernon Parish is right in the center of that no-man’s neutral strip, which is what really helped this area develop,” Crook said. “This was the western extension of the Natchez Trace, and there were highwaymen and outlaws as all the people headed West to help develop and settle Texas, so this is an important area in the history of the U.S. and we want to take our place in history.”

Motorists will be directed to historic, scenic and recreational sites in Pitkin, Fullerton, Fort Polk, Burr Ferry and surrounding areas in Vernon Parish, Crook said.

The route will soon be identified by more than 160 roadside signs, which began going up this week. Kiosks and literature will be placed at museums, tourist commission offices and other locations along the route to inform people of the historic role of the area.

“The scenic byway will direct visitors off the main highways into the rural areas where they can eat, shop and enjoy a slower-paced trip,” Haddock said.

Every municipality in Allen Parish will be included in the byway.

Myths and Legends Byway Highlights

Allen Parish

Elizabeth City Hall was built in 1924 to serve as a hospital for the Industrial Lumber Co. Some say it is haunted by former patients. It’s open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday; 230 Poplar St., Elizabeth, 318-634-5100.

Leatherwood House Museum, built in the late 1800s, is used as a welcome center and museum. It has a World War II exhibit and features mill store items, a doll room and a 1930s dentist chair. It’s open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 202 E. Seventh Ave., Oakdale, 318-335-0062 or 888-639-4868.

Jenkins Hardware Store features items from the “good ol’ days” — cast iron pots and cookers, hand-cranked grain mills and meat grinders and just about every type of nut and bolt you need. It’s open 8-11:30 a.m. and 1-4 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8-11 a.m. Saturday; 231 W. Sixth Ave., Oberlin, 337-639-4915.

Fausto’s Restaurant serves up burgers, locally sourced seafood, and potatoes stuffed with crawfish, shrimp, or beef.  It also has a taxidermy showroom that displays deer, buffalo, a bear and cats. It’s open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; U.S. 165 and La. 383, Kinder, 337-738-5676.

Beauregard Parish

Hanging Jail and Beauregard Parish Courthouse were built to symbolize the community’s wealth as a booming sawmill town. The Gothic revival jail was built in 1914. The courthouse remains operational. 201 W. First St., DeRidder, 337-463-5534.

Old Campground Cemetery and Nature Walk is a 10-acre wildlife refuge and is the native home of the endangered red-headed woodpecker. The refuge features a nature walk, a creek and primitive campsites. It was once called the Jayhawkers campsite as a result of pro-Union Civil War rebel combatants and is now known as the meeting grounds. It’s open 24 hours, with no sign-in or registration required; 18 miles east of DeRidder, 8586 La. 112.

Treasure City Market has been listed as one of Louisiana’s top 10 flea markets. The two-story building was once the office of the Long Bell Lumber Co. It’s open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 121 S. Washington Ave., DeRidder, 337-460-6004.

Cecil’s Cajun Kitchen serves a variety of fresh seafood, burgers and hand-cut steaks, along with bona-fide Louisiana cuisine. There is also live music every Friday and Saturday night. It’s open 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 120 W. First St., DeRidder, 337-460-2002.

Curious Cargo Gift Shop has a slogan that says it all: “We sell everything but motor oil!” It sells gourmet coffees, candles, Louisiana souvenirs and other one-of-a-kind gifts. Be sure to check out the Louisiana and Mardi Gras section. It’s open 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; 1118 N. Pine St., DeRidder, 337-462-2751.

Vernon Parish

Burr Ferry Confederate Breastworks, Vernon Parish’s lone Civil War site, dates from 1864. It is the location of the only known surviving example of “tête de pont,” or bridgehead, a design element at the end of a bridge that provides cover against the enemy at a river crossing. La. 8 at the Sabine River, Leesville.

Kisatchie National Forest is a haven for nature lovers. The tranquility found at the Little Cypress Recreation Complex and Fullerton Lake Recreation Complex is ideal for hiking and biking. Anglers find fishing spots like Blue Hole to be supreme. The Enduro Trail was designed for ATV, motorized bike and horseback riders. Kisatchie National Forest, Kisatchie Work Center, 1992 La. 10, Leesville, 337-537-2113.

Talbert-Pierson Cemetery in Cravens is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has 13 surviving wooden grave houses, a tradition that is upheld by the families today. Victor Martin Road, La. 399, Cravens.

Pitkin Community Pavilion and  Farmers’ Market is behind the Pitkin Community Center. The market is where local truck farmers sell fresh produce directly to consumers. The pavilion serves as the entertainment hub during the annual Christmas in the Country parade, and tag sales are also held here throughout the year. Pitkin Community Center, 12863 La. 10, Pitkin.