Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Madisonville Museum

On a recent Sunday afternoon I stopped in for a visit to the Madisonville museum. It offers a  remarkable collection of artifacts, exhibits, and documents testifying to the rich historical heritage of Madisonville, the oldest community in St. Tammany Parish and certainly one of the most accomplished.

The museum is located in the square two-story brick structure at the corner of Cedar and Rampart Streets (CLICK HERE for a Google maps location). This building used to be the town hall and jail and for a time served as the police department. The building itself belongs in a museum, since it dates back to 1911.  The Madisonville Museum building therefore has been a key part of community life for years. 

The upstairs houses the main museum, with several interesting exhibits on a variety of local topics, including the Tchefuncte River lighthouse, the town doctor, and Jahncke Shipyards. Madisonville for many years was well-known for its ship-building activities, a key naval resource.

In 1972, when I first became a newspaper reporter working for the Covington Daily News,  I would attend town council meetings in this building when Eddie Badeaux was mayor. It was a short walk from where I lived, across the street at Evansen's Yacht Basin. I didn't live there long, but it was a great location from which to jump in my pirogue and paddle out to the river for a weekly excursion to see what was going on.

Here are a few pictures of the upstairs portion of the Madisonville museum. Click on the images to make them larger. 

The museum offers a great deal of information about area Madisonville families, with a filing cabinet full of papers, documents and other items of interest to particular families trying to fill in the genealogical blank spots. 

Iris Lulu-Simoneaux Vacante oversees that treasure trove of information and also hosts visitors to the museum on Saturday and Sunday afternoons noon to 4 p.m. She is a school teacher during the week, and prior to that was a reporter for an area newspaper.  She also maintains the Madisonville historic/vintage photograph Facebook page, which has brought joy and illumination to many over the past several years. 

The museum has a good stock of books about Madisonville. The St. Tammany Parish Historical Society published a number of books about the area, and some of those are available for purchase, as well as other books, both hardback and paperback, that feature photos and text about St. Tammany Parish. 

Several copies of my pictorial map from the early 1990's showing Madisonville are also there. (The latest one is available for viewing at THIS LINK). 

Downstairs, in the jail area of the old building, several exhibits have been placed in the old jail cells. One of those tells about the mysterious "Silk Lady," another covers the town's famous rooster controversy, and there are various other displays. Here are some pictures of the downstairs jail cell exhibits.

It really is an interesting museum experience for those seeking a weekend afternoon full of fascinating facts and figures, mystery and intrigue, and a little bit of fun as well. The visit reminded me of the tremendous legacy of the Madisonville area, its beginnings as the most southern terminus of the Natchez Trace, its shipbuilding past, the gateway of the Tchefuncte River from New Orleans to the brickyards and commerce ports upriver, and the pleasure boat mecca it has become. 

The Madisonville Museum has a big job ahead of it, spotlighting the history of the town and the area it serves. Be sure to stop by, say hello, and enjoy a step back in time.

Out in front of the historic building is the oak tree pictured below. It is a member of the Live Oak Society and measures out at a girth of 19 feet.

It was named after the town's recent mayor Peter L. Gitz.
The Madisonville Museum in 1973