Friday, July 31, 2009

Louisiana in Slices

In the spring and summer of 1860, J. W. Dorr, an editorial correspondent for the New Orleans Crescent, made a horse-and-buggy tour of a considerable part of Louisiana. The tour was an effort to acquire new subscribers to the paper and to secure advertisements from merchants in the country towns that he visited. Dorr recorded information about crops, weather, scenery, towns and villages, planters and merchants, hotel accommodations, politics, schools, churches, newspapers and much, much more. His observations were published in a series of twenty-seven letters in the Crescent under the heading “Louisiana in Slices” between April 30 and September 10, 1860. Each letter dealt with a particular parish or part of a parish. They were labeled “From Our Special Traveling Correspondent” and were signed “Tourist.”

Dorr was in Bossier Parish on July 14, 1860. From Bellevue, then the parish seat of Bossier, he wrote of Bellevue’s mayor, its one store, two bar-rooms and a church. He described the town as a “scrougin little corporation of about a hundred fifteen or sixteen inhabitants.”

His description went on to say “Those who visit the capital of Bossier should come prepared to ‘camp out’, for while this correspondent was partaking of his bacon and bread in the [dining room] of the ‘hotel’, he had to keep his feet in continual motion to defend himself against the pigs under the dining table. These cleanly and agreeable household pets run round the house more sociably than cats and dogs, and, conjointly with the bipeds, make a rush for the victualing apartment whenever the bell announces meal time. The fare at the hotel is bacon and bread for breakfast, bread and bacon for dinner, and some bacon and bread for supper. We have bacon on the table and bacon under the table—the latter very much alive and uncured, the former very salty and rusty.”

Dorr was critical in his remarks that “It is a great pity that the rural Anglo-American of Louisiana does not understand the mere rudiments of the science of living. In this climate and with this soil he might live in luxury. At few country stopping-places do I find milk, eggs, butter, fresh meat or vegetables. Occasionally one of the above articles may be had, seldom more than one at the same place, and ordinarily not any of them. The Creole population in their part of the State, invariably live well. Our Americans, generally, had rather raise fifty dollars’ worth of cotton than five hundred dollars’ worth of anything else.”

Less critical were Dorr’s observations that Bossier Parish is extensive, having many acres of fine cotton and corn lands. He pointed out that while some of the uplands did make good crops, the bottomlands were much richer. “Bossier is the most broken and uneven country I have yet visited in Louisiana, and some of the highlands look barren enough, but in the bottoms may be found bodies of lands of unsurpassed fertility.”

Dorr’s Bossier letter ends with his remarks about the weather, a scorching drought which had rendered the corn crop almost a total failure and the cotton crop badly injured.

The weather was “unprecedentedly hot and dry.” That certainly sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New Photo Display!

We have just installed a new photo display, "Summertime in Bossier Parish," at the History Center. The display features images of picnics, swimming holes, summer camps, and family vacations. We have also located several wonderful photos of men and women in stylish bathing suits and dresses, like the one seen here on Fannie Swindle Gatlin. Even though she's covered from head to toe, Fannie is ready for a swim during her honeymoon in this image from 1916.
So as you sweat through another Bossier summer, stop by and see how your ancestors enjoyed summers past.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Images from our Archives

Following the gardening theme, here is a photo from 1954 of Joe Knowles with Terry Joe Skaggs working hard in their backyard garden.

Old Gardens and Gardening

The rich soils of Bossier Parish have always produced memorable abundances of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Many letters archived at the Historical Center contain references to foods and flowers grown in local gardens.

In September of 1900 a letter from Mary Peabody to friends in this area related the following:

"The wind blew cool this morning, but it is hot now. It is so very dusty. We have some sweet potatoes in the garden but it is so dry that it is hard work to get any. We had a nice garden this year, more vegetables than we could use. Mamma gave some away nearly everyday. She put up some kraut and made some chili sauce and chow-chow. We put up some peaches and pears. We haven't had any turnip greens yet, nor I haven't seen any. Yes, I will give you some violets. Will send them when I have a chance ... We had some very pretty morning glories and some roses."

A wide variety of flowers grew in Bossier gardens. In a May 1934 issue of The Bossier Banner, a local poet known as "Ladye Bird" recalled an old-fashioned garden containing boxwood hedges, beautiful pure-white lilies, violets, bridal wreath, yellow jasmine, heartsease, pansies, and thyme.

In Bossier's early days, as now, gardens were a great source of pride. Gardener's efforts might be rewarded at the Bossier Parish Fair with prizes for the best pecans, peanuts, pears, apples, pomegranates, figs, pumpkins, cushaws, beets, or radishes. Prizes in the floral division might be awarded to those who grew the finest chrysanthemums, roses, cacti, or ferns.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Amazing Travels of Archival Boxes

We have recently embarked on a full inventory of our archives. This is the first inventory of the Historical Center’s collections since our opening ten years ago.

So what is an inventory and why is it important?

Every item in our collection has its own unique number that is tied to our records and our database. This number corresponds to the year in which we received the item and groups items from a particular collection together. Initially, each box and folder was assigned to a specific location in our archives, but things have traveled over the past decade.

Some boxes have made intrepid building-wide journeys, while others have seemingly leapt across aisles, and a few simply shuffled over to the next shelf. Finding a photo or letter in our collection can be a challenge. This is why we need to complete a thorough inventory. We need to pinpoint where everything is right now, so we can find items quickly when patrons request them or when we are creating a new exhibit.

During our inventory process, we are basically going through every photo, map, and document in our collection and checking its number and location. Moving shelf by shelf, we open every box and record the items that we find. Then this list is compared to our collections database and we note changes in location and fix any discrepancies. When we finish the inventory process, our archives will be well-organized and we will be able to locate individual items with ease.