- Written by Victor Block Victor Block
Our room was spacious and comfortable. The food was delicious. The list of activities in our temporary home-away-from-home covered a diversity of interests.
There also were opportunities to explore inviting towns that provide deep dives into Civil War and other history and visit magnificent antebellum plantations.
Adding to the allure of our Lower Mississippi River Cruise was the chance to explore museums that bring to life prehistoric times, Native American and African American stories, and numerous aspects of life in that corner of the country.
My wife, Fyllis, and I were sailing along the Lower Mississippi River with American Cruise Lines. Even if we had been confined to the ship, we could have found diversions enough to fill many an hour. Speakers led enlightening discussions, and there was nightly entertainment, among other offerings.
After spending time on our stateroom deck watching the river and towboats moving long lines of barges, we were enthralled by opportunities to set our feet on land and explore the historic and other gems at towns along our route.
The brick streets of Vicksburg, Mississippi, lead to a Civil War Museum, Vicksburg Military Park, and other highlights.
We were equally enthralled by a home that served as hospital during the Civil War, with Union and Confederate soldiers separated on different floors. Large wall murals along the waterfront depict various stories from the town’s past.
The next stop in Mississippi was Natchez, which was established by French colonists in 1716 and became part of the United States in 1783. Planters used slave labor to grow cotton and sugarcane and built expansive mansions to demonstrate their wealth.
Many of these stately homes survive to relate part of this story, while the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture tells another side.
Baton Rouge has a number of interesting stories to relate, beginning with the derivation of its name. In 1698, French explorers sailing up the Mississippi River spotted a red pole along the shoreline. After learning that it marked the boundary between hunting grounds of two Native American tribes, they called it le baton rouge (the red stick) — and the name stuck.
The town was ruled by seven different governments before becoming the second largest city in Louisiana and, in 1846, being designated the state capital to replace “sinful” New Orleans. Not surprisingly, it has its share of history-rich sites.
The Capitol Park Museum traces contributions of Native Americans, early European colonists, enslaved people, and others to the area’s development and accomplishments.
Exhibits at the LSU Rural Life Museum, housed in a complex of 32 historic buildings, focus on the way of life of 18th- and 19th-century Louisianans.
Our voyage ended in New Orleans, where passengers had an opportunity for one last guided excursion. This tour leads to a number of highlights in the self-proclaimed “City that Care Forgot.”
They include the famous French Quarter, lovely Garden District, and imposing mansions. While some of these homes equal the most beautiful plantation houses encountered during the cruise, not all of those farmstead properties are so grand. Many are relatively modest, far from the idealized portrayals in movies and Southern lore.
On the other hand, my personal favorite lived up to the romanticized image of plantations and then some. That’s why Houmas (pronounced “hummus”) House, located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, has appeared in a variety of motion pictures and TV series.
The plantation was established in the late 1700s on land inhabited by Houma Native Americans. The French Colonial-style house, built about 1775, served as the focal point of what became a very successful sugar cane operation.
An oak tree alley leads the eye to the front of the graceful house, and resident geese and ducks act as noisy sentries.
The tour of the lovingly restored antebellum mansion recalls those heady days, and rare period furnishings, art, and artifacts reflect the home’s former opulence.
Then there are the gardens. The 38 acres of colorful native and exotic plantings serve as backdrop to a museum-quality collection of sculptures.
This treasure is but one gem among many that await discovery, and enjoyment, during a Mississippi River voyage.
After gallivanting around the world, Victor Block still retains the travel bug. He believes that travel is the best possible education. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Victor loves to explore new destinations and cultures, and his stories about them have won a number of writing awards.