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The Farmers Tale... The Spanish Lake Route


Yesterday, I found the missing link in my history hunt for the old railroads that ran up and down the Teche Valley of South Louisiana. I sat there on my motorcycle as a farmer, sitting on his backhoe, slowly gave up what he knew about the old Southern Pacific branch that ran from Cade to St.Martinville.

I had seen him crossing Lady of the Lake Road. I heed and hawed about approaching him. I'd approached a number of people and was, frankly, getting tired of the "stare".

Nevertheless, I'd give it one more try. I rode the bike up his driveway, killing the motor while still moving. I find that a good entrance overture. I asked him, hesitantly, "Do you know anything about an old railroad that ran from Cade to St.Martinville". I again, was either over zealous or figured that he was a dead end and why bother with all the formal introductions. That was a mistake and I probably paid for my lack of manners.

He replied, "It didn't go to Cade".

You know the reaction that you have when you've finally found something you've lost for a while? Yea, that one. I responded, "I figured that", trying to contain myself, knowing I'd hit pay dirt. I continued, "So, it met the main line south of Cade"?

He nodded. More silence. He was trying to figure me out. Forgetting to state my business had created suspicion. This was not going well and I couldn't figure out why. I've been told that I have a charismatic personality, was it not working? I asked him where the rails had run.

He said, "There", pointing to the road I had just left.

"So, the road was the railroad"?

"That's right".

"Do you know how it went into St.Martinville"?

"No, but they found a bunch of pilings down there".

I hadn't picked up on the importance of the pilings and I think he sensed it.
He finally got around to asking me, "May I ask why your are interested in all this".

I made some self demeaning comment about my mental health as a hunter of old rail routes and that this stretch was the last in my hunt for the Cade to Port Barre branch. He seemed to find some humor in that. For some reason his containment gates opened a bit. He went on to tell me that this, waving his hand toward the south, use to be all water. He emphasized that there was water everywhere "down there". He further told me that his mother, when she was trying to get her property deed straight, had to get the former railroad property reverted to her name. His concerns might have been linked to that, who knows.

I replied, "So Spanish Lake reached up this far"?

He smiled, I guess in the realization that I was familiar with the neighborhood and was probably local or near local since I knew the lake's name. I now realize I never did identify myself. He continued talking more about the pilings, I guess in hopes that I'd catch on. He said, "They found them while they were building the road. The pilings started where the road goes down (in elevation) toward St.Martinville".

A light went on. "Oh, there was a trestle across the shallows of Spanish Lake".
He nodded, giving me that "you finally got it" look, smiling like a teacher that had reached a resistant student.

I beamed, thanking him profusely for his time and effort. We parted cheerfully, each with a sense of accomplishment.

So, you think this history hunting thing is easy, do you? Show up at someone's house and start asking off the wall questions.

Now, for more than you've ever want to know about the Cade to St.Martinville Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad. It must have been an awing ride. Cade sits atop the Coteau Ridge which is basically the west boundary of the Mississippi's historical meanderings. The Coteau is a dizzying 15 to 20 foot escarpment or bluff at Cade. The train would have to get up and down that treacherous ridge. Figuring how that was done has occupied a lot of time and thought. Further, I have seen that question repeated in our local newspaper. Being aware of that interest, I can only surmise that this article might be an epiphany for the community at large, not just those intently interested in ancient railroad history, numbering six.

Featured on the map above (Click it to enlarge) is a red line. That is what I guess, with some credence, is the route the train took. It had to travel south from Cade to the branch switch which turned it down what is now Lady of the Lake Road. You can see "33" written on the route. That is the approximate elevation of the Coteau Ridge. From that point the train had to descend to about 16 feet at Delacroix, not only getting down, but crossing over the shallows of Spanish Lake and Bayou Tortue. The trestle had to be built as a very gentle decline, coming from the west. That part of the ride must have been quite scenic, the train being suspended above the water with the escarpment to the west and north and the swamp, bayou, and eventual farm lands to the east.



Now that the fluff of the introduction page is history, it's time to get down to the nuts and bolts of this history hunt. I left rubber on this road and now it's your turn to look at what I found.

I just took a closer look at Google Earth. It seems that there was another possibility concerning the actual route to the main line toward La.182. I don't think Lady of the Lake Road, in red, on it's last stretch west after the chicane, was the route. I believe B.Beyt Road was the route, marked in green.

This makes a lot more sense.

Past the houses you can see the tilt of the land.

After the chicane I came to a side road that went down the edge of the escarpment that faced to the south and Spanish Lake. The rise is easily seen here. Possibly there has been a slide along a fault.

Next is on top, where you see the power lines is where the rails were, you can bet on that. This was past the chicane where Lady of the Lake was the rails.

These two old places were before the drop off into what was the old Mississippi River.

This is one my favorite old places. It sits on the edge. The barn and small building were near the rails.

I went down the bluff into the bottom land, and stopped where Delcroix was, seen in the top right corner.

Here's looking up the "hill".

The farm highlands are cut off from the Coteau Ridge by Bayou Tortue.

The following pictures were taken from Granger Road looking back west toward the escapement and the farm. This field below was traversed by the rails to go on into St.Martinville.

The gas pipeline is a good candidate for the possible route. It lines up perfectly.

And here's how it went on into town hooking up with Railroad Street. The green line shows the amendments which I've added because of elevation lines and looking closer at Railroad Street, the southern entrance for the Railroad. Click map to enlarge.

Of course the epiphany of this evening means a visit to the green line is in order for tomorrow. That's it for tonight. Click Here for Page Three

Due to timing, weather conditions, and an opportunity to escape responsibility, I've decided to carry on with the ride up the Teche Valley on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Next will be a series of GE maps that review the ride from Cade into St.Martinville. I'm using this format with the sense that you believe, as I do, that you can't have too many maps, and you can't look at the same map too often. Plus they are great filler when you have nothing to say. There will be some real live pictures at the bottom of the page. You know how to scroll if you are not a "Mappie".

Here, we see B.Beyt Road, which I feel sure is the actual rail route, leaving the main line south of Cade, the true origin of this branch to St.Martinville. BTW, a reader described a link with B.Beyt Road which I found hilarious. Be careful out there, it is a small world and what you did 20 years ago can come back to bite you.

Next, we see B.Beyt intersecting with Lady of the Lake as the rails head east. Where the crook straightens is the approximate location of the beginning of the trestle that gently lowered the train over the shallows of Spanish Lake and Bayou Tortue until a point close to where you see "L" above in, "U of L Farm".

After leaving Delacroix, I believe the train continued to follow where L of the L is today, continuing along the gentle northerly bend and then leaving the road cutting across the corner of the field. This is pure speculation. It could have been anywhere between Delecroix and the Smede Hwy, La. 92. The next two pictures show the range I feel is correct.

I bent this one down a bit because of what I saw as a curve between "1" and "2". But, I see a stream which would have been avoided with the route above. Remember, we are talking about a 1920's route. The landscape could have easily changed.


Avery Island's Railroad with Dr. Shane Bernard

Avery Island's Railroad with Dr. Shane Bernard

First a technical note. Dr. Bernard's text was cut from a Word
Document which caused so many problems, some of which
are not corrected yet. Internet Explorer users may notice
a size difference in the fonts. To correct this, change the zoom
setting under "View" on your browser if it is bothersome. S.

Let me say a few things before we get into Dr. Bernard's guided
tour of Avery Island's abandoned railroad. On a lark I headed
down to Avery Island Highway (La.329) one afternoon trying
to understand the rail layout south of New Iberia and westward
to Delcambre. I saw where the rails headed off to Delcambre at
I&V Junction. I had no way of knowing what a personal discovery
this was. I'd been to Avery Island when, as a child, my parents
had taken me there when some uncle from California showed up.
I sat around and was pretty bored while they ooh'd about the
plants and flowers. The Japanese or Chinese pagoda was pretty
cool and that was it. No, I also remember the nesting area for the
birds over the water. If this place was a salt mine, the owner definitely
had another, non business, side. I know there was talk of the pepper
factory, but we didn't fool with that.

Fast forward a million years. Being that long since my last visit,
I'd at least go to the gate and peer in. I'd follow the active rails
down the highway. Could they still be active to the mine and
pepper factory?

No. They are cut off short of the marsh.

Oh, well, I'd still check out the gate area.

That was it. I took a few shots of the trestle and knew I'd never
know the rest of the story unless I happened upon an article in
Train Magazine or something similar on line, end of quest.

Then I got a note in my quest book from a guy named Shane. It simply
stated the origins of the place name , "Bob Acres", which is just east of
the Delcambre bridge. I should have responded but didn't. Later, a
visitor named Rufus also signed the guest book mentioning that Shane
had signed it earlier.

I reflected that I'd been caught with my manners down not responding
to a visitor who actually communicated and now there was another one.

Rufus said that he was a amateur writer doing a history of Vermillion
Parish and he wanted to use my picture of I&V Junction. I was floored
that someone actually asked. I know this story is spell binding and
thankfully for you, it gets a little blurry at this point. The end result is
that Dr. Shane Bernard has stepped off Avery Island and presented me with
40 pictures of his walkabout synced to commentary. All I had to do was
match the numbers and bingo, I have the lusted for article I hoped
to find in Train Magazine or online. Not a chance.

One other result, I got to peer into the world of true adventure historians,
the real Indiana Jones types. These guys pickax history.

In the following you will see {sm:......} from time to time. That's me making a comment.
After each explanation is the picture to which it refers.
If there is a second or third picture after that, I added it.

As promised, here's Dr. Bernard:

My name is Shane K. Bernard, Ph.D., and I'm the historian and curator for McIlhenny Company and Avery Island, Inc., located on Avery Island, Louisiana.

[Image 1] Avery Island is a salt dome in lower Iberia Parish, Louisiana. It's not an island in the traditional sense; that is, it's not surrounded by an open body of water. In fact, it's located about 3 miles inland from the nearest open body of water. But it is surrounded on all sides by wetlands -- either grassy salt marsh, wooded cypress swamp, or slow-moving, muddy bayous.

{sm: I supplemented this map because it was in color. The blue

horizontal lines signify marsh and it gives a little geologic explanation.

Thanks to Everett Lueck of the Southern Forest Heritage Museum

for it}{He gives me 50c each time I mention the museum.}

{Notice the rails coming down on La.329 and onto the island. That

is Dr.Bernard's walk. Missing is the gravel pit spur. His map is at

the end of the walk when he mentions the pit.}

{This is the face of Avery as you approach the island.}

[Image 2] The railroad came to Avery Island in 1883, primarily to reach the Island's salt mine. The railroad also serviced the factory that produced the world-famous Tabasco brand pepper sauce. It, too, was located on Avery Island.

[Image #3] I took most of the photographs in this series on restricted private property with the permission of the landowners, McIlhenny Company & Avery Island, Inc. (my employers).

{sm....This is the old historical marker. It has been replaced}

[Image #4] The railroad reached Avery Island by crossing this trestle bridge over Bayou Petite Anse (actually the confluence of Bayou Leleu and Stumpy Bayou, which in turn flows into the nearby Petite Anse). I took this photo around 2000.

[Image #5] This is what the trestle bridge looks like today (May 2010). Hurricane Rita washed away the top part of the trestle in 2005. Because the railroad no longer serviced the Island by that time (the rails having been ripped up in 2002), no effort was made to repair the bridge. (By 2000 the salt mine used eighteen-wheelers and barges to transport salt; McIlhenny Company likewise used eighteen-wheelers.)

[Image #6] Here is Engine 455 crossing the same trestle bridge. This photo was taken in the early to mid-1950s; a diesel engine replaced Engine 455 around 1955.

{sm.....Rufus had this to add about the road that parallels the tracks:

Something else that your map reminded me about. That real straight stretch of 329 right before Avery Island was constructed in the 1850's by Irish immigrant labor. They made the roadbed from the dirt from the drainage ditch they had to dig. The road was built so that salt could be transported off the island across the marsh and join the dirt road leading to New Iberia.

During the Civil War, they put planks over the road so that they could transport cannons onto the island for defense. Also they were transporting big loads of salt to New Iberia where the Confederate Army had a large factory where they produced salt cured beef for the forces. Shane said that the locals still refer to this section of 329 as Plank Road.}

[Image #7] Although Engine 455 ended up in a Houston scrapyard, someone at Avery Island salvaged its headlamp, which now sits in the McIlhenny Company & Avery Island, Inc., Archives.

[Image #8] Here is a circa 1955 photo of the diesel engine that replaced Engine 455. As you can see, the diesel engine is crossing the trestle bridge that leads onto the Island. (The boy in the photo is reminding the railroad workers that they are entering private property; I have been told that this ceremony occurred annually for legal reasons.)

[Image #9] A few hundred yards down Stumpy Bayou are the trestle bridge parts washed away by Hurricane Rita.

[Image #10] Note the marine life that had grown on the trestle. (My foot is in the image for scale.)

[Image #11] Here is the rail bed -- the elevated whitish hump running between and parallel to the grass and bamboo -- as it looks today, heading south on Avery Island toward the salt mine.

[Image #12] I took this photograph looking south on the same section of rail bed.

[Image #13] Moving south, I found a small section of track still in place at the entrance to the McIlhenny Company corporate office.

[Image #14] Right past the corporate office stands the McIlhenny station sign. There was never an actual station here, however, because the Tabasco factory itself was the "station.” (The older part of our corporate office served as the Tabasco sauce factory from 1905 until around 1980.) Incidentally, the station sign that appears in this photo is a new replica. The original sign shows up in the next image below; it is now preserved in the Archives.

[Image #15] In this circa 2000 image of the same spot, you can make out the spur (see arrow) leading from the main line toward the Tabasco factory.

[Image #16] This is looking at the station sign from the opposite direction. The yellow lines on this present-day photo show where the main line and spur (at right) would have been located.

[Image #17] Following the spur toward the old Tabasco factory leads to some kind of device on the ground (which I assume is related to the railroad). The yellow line shows where the side track would have continued. As you can see, it would have gone right between the two buildings (where an enclosed walkway now stands). There the spur ended.

[Image #18] This photo, taken around 1980, shows a diesel engine on the track between the two buildings. Tabasco-related material would have been loaded/unloaded from the train at this location.

[Image #19] A close-up image of the device that I assume to be railroad-related.

[Image #20] Heading south again on the Island, the rail bed passes this old sign with the number "9.”

[Image #21] Moving farther south the two rails became six rails. (Note the third set of rails below the arrow.) I was told that the extra set was a siding. This picture was taken in 2000.

[Image #22] Here is the same spot, more or less, during the railroad’s demolition in 2002.

[Image #23] Here's another photo from the same area, showing the excavator and bulldozer that tore up the track; note the scrap in the large dumpster.

[Image #24] This is the section of track, but looking in the opposite direction (north).

[Image #25] This is what that same area looks like today.

[Image #26] A close inspection of that spot reveals signs of its previous purpose -- in this case, a railroad spike stuck in a rail plate.

[Image #27] A few feet away is a rotting railroad tie that the demolition crew evidently forgot to pick up

[Image #28] This switch, photographed in 2002 on the same stretch of railroad, is no longer to be found.

[Image #29] We're now getting close to the Avery Island salt mine, which I doubt was ever so crowded with trains as depicted in this circa 1940 advertisement.

"We are pleased to announce the completion of our new Evaporated
Salt Refinery at Avery Island, Louisiana. It is a modern place in every
respect and will produce Evaporated Salt of the highest quality. This
facility makes it possible for the buyers of salt to be supplied with mixed
carloads of both Evaporated and Rock Salt, thereby meeting all requirements
of their trade and at the same time carry reduced floor stocks. The facsimiles
shown herein will convey some idea of the new variety of grades and packages
we are prepared to furnish".
{sm. I think I have that copied correctly}

[Image #30] The rail bed reaches the salt mine and runs into this fence; note the salt mine structure in the background.

[Image #31] Looking back northward from the same spot reveals this presumably railroad-related sign reading "D.”

[Image #32] Here is a 1899 photo of the salt mine with box cars present.

[Image #33] This circa 1930 aerial photo shows the salt mine; I've added yellow lines next to the railroad tracks. Note a spur leading off the main line.

[Image #34] This circa 2000 photo shows the railroad as it continued onto the salt mine property. I don't know if these rails still exist today because I did not go onto the salt mine lease. (Perhaps another day and, of course, only with permission of the salt mine lessee.)

{sm: Since the writing of this piece, Dr. Bernard has sought to clarify
which spur rails went to the OLD SALT MINE and which went to the
GRAVEL PIT. Right here and now, instead of trying to tweak his
original theory and having to correct my corrections, I'm going to
quote his note to me, these are his confirmed findings. If there is
an update, this will be amended.}

"OK, here is what what the elder member of the McIlhenny family told
me today by e-mail:

"You are quite right about the spurs. The one that takes off [just outside
the salt mine lease] went to the old mine . . . and the other [on the salt
mine lease] went to the Gravel Pit. . . ."

Dr. Bernard continues, "Well, I was not quite right, as I had the spurs
backwards: So you can change my text on your blog to state that the
"un-rusted" set of spur rails led to the old salt mine, which collapsed
in the early 1890s. And that the really rusty, decrepit set of spur rails
led to the sand/gravel pit".

{sm: I had led him to believe thatthe rusted ones went to the salt mine
since my name is Spock, the logical Enterprise crew member.}

[Image #35] A close-up circa 2000 image of the rails on the salt mine lease. These could be rails from the 19th century or early 20th century, given their decrepit condition. Most of the rails ripped up in 2002 appeared in good condition -- nothing at all like these rails.

[Image #36] Backing up a little, I found the rails that made

up the spur shown in the circa 1930 aerial photo {33}.

[Image #37] A close-up image of the spur rail as it appears today -- almost buried beneath the topsoil.

[Image #38] The spur rails lead into thick woods.

[Image #39] This is where the spur rails once led: A gravel and sand pit on Avery Island. It shut down in 1917.

Thanks to Steve for permitting me to share these photos on his blog!

Shane K. Bernard, Ph.D.

May 13, 2010

Avery Island, Louisiana

{sm: click the map to enlarge to see the rail and island layout}

Added Info:
[Image #40] Update of 19 May 2010: With help from others it's been determined for sure that spur #1 on this aerial photo is the spur that led to the old salt mine (dismantled after the mine caved-in at that location in the 1890s) and spur #2 is the spur that led to the sand/gravel pit. This photo is interesting because it shows both spurs in the same image. Again, the rails that make up spur #1 remain in good condition as of last week; while the rails that make up spur #2 were in terrible shape when I last saw them several years ago.