Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A TOWN ON THE TCHEFUNCTA


Last week-end, I was catapulted “back in time” on a visit to Madisonville, Louisiana where my grandson Martin Romero works as a landscape architect. When I was a teen-ager, we sometimes visited this small community on the Tchefuncta River, and during the 50’s, it was just one short street that had a cluster of bars, restaurants, and a landing where we launched a boat for a ride on the river to view the mansions lining this waterway. Most of the homes were owned by New Orleanians who spent week-ends there during the summer months.

We also enjoyed discovering wildlife in the old marshes nearby where we could watch an abundance of ospreys and other water birds. One of the highlights of the boat ride was sighting the venerable Tchefuncta River Lighthouse built in 1838 and destroyed during the Civil War, then rebuilt, to be destroyed partially again by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The lighthouse, an icon of the area and now an educational center, has again been restored and is managed by the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum.

At one time, the famous Jahncke Shipyard, site of shipbuilding during WWII, occupied what is now part of the town. Today, Madisonville has become a bedroom community of New Orleans, Slidell, and other towns on the North Shore, with a burgeoning population, despite flooding of most of the town during Hurricane Katrina. New subdivisions showcasing handsome stucco and brick homes have sprung up within the few miles surrounding the town’s center, and my grandson and his wife, Kristin, are excited about becoming owners of one of them.

My daughter, Stephanie, and I were fascinated with the old homes facing the river in the center of town, including several Greek Revival homes and two raised cottages. From their front porches, residents can view sailboats anchored at riverside, while gulls dip and swoop overhead, knowing that the swells of Lake Pontchartrain aren’t far away. However, Martin informed us that because of their close proximity to Lake Pontchartrain, these homes were hurricane targets as evidenced by the “For Sale” signs in their front yards, not to mention the astronomical prices posted for these disaster-prone residences. Madisonville’s biggest attractions are the restored Madisonville Lighthouse and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum, and its biggest event is the Wooden Boat Festival held in September.

I was born, 30 miles north of this town in Franklinton, Louisiana, which is inland redneck country, and the week-ends we spent at barbecues and picnics in Fountainbleau and Mandeville Parks near Madisonville were part of the good life in the fifties. I am now writing about water because I will travel to land-locked terrain at Sewanee, TN this week for a six-month stay and realize how much I missed the sight of rippling waves last summer when I’d exclaim at the sight of the smallest creek that I came upon while out hiking the hills around Sewanee.

Tip to the Tourist Who Looks for Good Food in Madisonville: Seafood dishes abound in restaurants in and around Madisonville and are superb... but you may be disappointed with other fare.
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