Saturday, September 30, 2017

Old Spanish Trail Renaissance Conference

The three-day Old Spanish Trail Renaissance Conference was held in Pass Christian, Miss., on September 28, 29 and 30, with a wide range of speakers telling about the building of the Old Spanish Trail and its impact on the communities it passes through. The purpose of the conference was to bring together representatives from across the Gulf Coast to rejuvenate interest in promoting tourism along the Old Spanish Trail, which in many parts coincides with U.S.Hwy 90.

Speakers from Louisiana and Mississippi, and as far away as Kansas and Florida, addressed the various issues that characterized the massive highway construction project that started in 1915 and ended in 1929, with 2743 miles of paved highways and bridges, all part of the "good roads" initiative active in America at that time. 

Dan Ellis, Conference organizer, speaking to the assembly.

The Old Spanish Trail starts at St. Augustine, FL, and stretches all the way to San Diego, CA, with one of the most scenic parts winding through the marshes and swamplands of Louisiana, including the most southeastern part of St. Tammany Parish. New car owners were anxious to hop in their motorized chariots and explore America, and the Old Spanish Trail (and its various side roads) invited them to visit the towns along the southernmost stretch of the United States.

Speakers at the conference included several that spoke of the challenges of running the Old Spanish Trail from Bay St. Louis, MS, to New Orleans, which was a key attraction on the entire stretch of highway. It opened up access to New Orleans for travelers and also gave New Orleans residents easy access to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. That segment included the part from Pearlington to the Rigolets, which featured four bridges and the famous White Kitchen Restaurant (and neighboring Snake Farm tourist attaction.)

The conference was organized by Dan Ellis of Pass Christian, and among the speakers were Charles Sullivan, Jim Miller, Allison Anderson, James Stege, Keli Rylance, Kevin Miller and Ron Barthet. The event took place at the Pass Christian Municipal Center, with exhibits set up in the conference room of the Pass Christian library. Plenary sessions took place in the City Courtroom. 

Ron Barthet talking about the Pearl River swamp highway crossing

Famed Spanish Trail Crosses St. Tammany Parish
St. Tammany Farmer Newspaper - Sept. 4, 1926

Original Route Ran Along North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain

The original Old Spanish Trail traverses the southern border of St. Tammany Parish. As this famous old trail is now modernly laid out, it diverges from Slidell southeasterly and crosses the Rigolets and Chef Menteur and thence into New Orleans, where it crosses the Mississippi River and goes on westward through Houma and Morgan City.

This route, however, is not the original route of the early pioneers through this section. Indeed, at the time the old trail was made it would have been impossible to have gone through the swamps just south of Slidell and below Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans.

Instead, the route of the original trail lay just along the first high ground north of Lake Pontchartrain. It entered St. Tammany, as near as can be ascertained, at Pearl River at a point where Indian Village now stands.

It ran westward from there crossing Bayou Lacombe at a point near where Lacombe is now located, thence to Mandeville, through the Indian village of Chinchuba and across to Madisonville, thence west to Springfield, through the territory where Ponchatoula is now located, and from Springfield, southwesterly to Donaldsonville, where it crossed the Mississippi River.

Meandering along Bayou Lafourche to a point about Thibodeaux, it struck westerly thru the swamps and crossed the Atchafalaya at Morgan City.

In the early days, travelers over land from the east who desired to get to New Orleans took this trail to Mandeville or Madisonville and then went by sail boat across Lake Pontchartrain or continued to the Mississippi River and took passage by flat boat down the Mississippi. The route across Lake Pontchartrain was the most favored.

If the present day tourist desires to go over the original Spanish Trail in this section as nearly as possible, he should enter the present trail over the Pearl River and continue same to Slidell, thence take the present modern highway through Bonfouca, Hygeia, Lacombe, Mandeville, Chinchuba, thence the hard surfaced road directly to Madisonville, and then straight to Pontchatoula, Springfield, and then over the road to Hope Villa, and then along the Jefferson Highway to Darrow and cross the Mississippi River at that point to Donaldsonville. 
End of 1926 article 

Dan Ellis

Mayor Chipper McDermott, second from left, welcomed the group to Pass Christian at a Thursday night reception at Bacchus on the Beach restaurant. 


See also:

Town of Pearl River, Gateway To Gulf Coast

The Old Spanish Trail