Explore Lake Charles’s Past and Present
Lake Charles, once the wild west of Louisiana, is located in the Southwest part of state. It’s storied past includes the notorious pirate Jean Lafitte. With no bounty on his head he was free to run black marketed goods needed by the early settlers, mostly from plundered Spanish galleons. Think Amazon or UPS guy who could bring you anything for a price. Lafitte’s pirate ship ran the flag of Cartagena – and he was untouchable. At the time this was no mans land – settlers were completely on their own and depended on men like Lafitte. There was no one else to supply or protect them.
Lafitte was pardoned by Andrew Jackson after the battle of New Orleans (December 1814–January 1815).
Lake Charles is named after Colonial pioneer Charles Sallier, a friend of Jean Lafitte. According to Adley Cormier, a local historian, it was on this site that Charles Sallier once had his winter home. It was built under the shade of ‘The Sallier Oak’ which now towers over the grounds of the Imperial Calcasieu Museum.
Sallier shot his wife (Catherine LeBleu) as Lafitte was pinning a large Amethyst brooch on her; It’s rumoured that Pirate Lafitte allegedly had an affair with Catherine LeBleu. The Sallier Oak is said to be between 325 and 400 years old and has limbs so long that they touch the ground. It was struck by lightning 150 years ago which split the trunk. Locals wrapped the live oak with chain, holding it together. Therein saving one of the oldest and largest trees in Louisiana.
African American History in Lake Charles
In 1947, an African American entrepreneur, Reginald Ball Sr., one of the “visionary black pioneers” of 20th century Lake Charles, opened Ball’s Industrial Institute, which became Balls Auditorium in 1950, Ball’s Cafe, the original Ball’s Fried Chicken, and Ball’s Hotel, a 20-unit apartment complex. The Institute was a trade school for returning WWII African American veterans. The Auditorium was a venue for African American entertainers, part of the “Chitlin Circuit” during segregation. The auditorium hosted community activities and performers like Otis Redding, Fats Domino, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke. Reginald McWilliams Ball Sr. had ambition, a strong work ethic and dreams which helped him exceed during a time when the odds were stacked against him and the black community.
Notable Places To Visit
Visit The Mardi Gras Museum
You can’t even think about Louisiana without visions of Mardi Gras dancing in your head.
Lake Charles has a Mardi Gras Museum with the largest colourful costume display in the world. It’s located in the Central School Arts & Humanities Center and features of a myriad of costume designs.
This museum is a unique treasure with six rooms devoted to the traditions, artifacts and cultural heritage of Louisiana’s second largest Mardi Gras. The first room is all about the origins of Mardi Gras. The second room is the Captain’s Den, the third costume design; the fourth is dedicated to the history of king cakes and the marvel of 12th Night; the fifth features beautiful ballroom costumes. The sixth room is all about the amazing Mardi Gras parades, including an authentic parade float.
Tour the Charpentier Historic District
The Charpentier (French for carpenter) Historic District depicts the romantic style and history of Lake Charles, all wrapped up in 40 blocks. These grand old homes contrast with the state’s popular galleried cottages. In these turn-of-the-century buildings you’ll see turrets, towers and gables, shingling, leaded glass and gingerbread accents on porches and railings. It’s a mixture of the Victorian, tall angular construction style, so popular at that time and a variation on a Colonial Revival style mirroring the classic Southern plantation.
This blending of architectural features has been named “Lake Charles Style Architecture” and began with the original French settlers in the 1760s and the lumber boom of those early years allowed for extensive use of pine and cypress construction.
Slip back in history by taking a self-guided walking or driving tour to view these majestic homes which date from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.
Another area to drive through with large antebellum family estates it off Shell Beach Drive, on the southeast side of the lake. The homes to see are in the neighborhoods of Margaret Place and Drew Park Addition and can be accessed through an entrance off Shell Beach.
Most of these homes are historic landmarks dating back to the early 19th Century and many have been occupied by generations of the same family. The styles of architecture vary, each one being unique, Georgian Manors, Louisiana Acadian, Floridian Stucco and English Tudor interspaced with a few recently constructed homes.
Shop for Unique Gifts Made by Local Artisans
Flock of Five Gift and Art Emporium, LLC is filled with hand-crafted wares by local artisans who produce hand-cast jewelry, shell and driftwood art, paintings, custom glass etching, handmade soaps, pottery and candles as well as jams, jellies and much more.
This is truly a unique one-of-a-kind shopping experience. A large market (7000 sq. Ft) with a 9-ft tall, chainsaw-carved Pelican patiently waiting to greet you. A colourful place to explore the work of artisans, you shop around and pay for what you’ve picked out at one central location at the door.
Visit Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point
Before embarking on your tour of the Creole Nature Trail stop at the visitor’s center. They have hands-on displays, a lot designed specifically for children. The helpful staff will guide you to the best places to spot alligators and migrating songbirds. You can see wildlife found in the bayous and marshes or play along with a Cajun or Zydeco band; peek into the cooking pot while smelling the mouth-watering aromas of Cajun/Creole cooking.
There are so many photo ops at this center – boats, gators, dolphin and of course the zydeco band. The imaginative interactive displays tell the history and explain the nature and habitats of the area.
You can drive the whole length of the Creole Nature Trail (Highway 27) from I-10 to Holly Beach, then get out of the car and hike the Blue Goose Trail and Wetland Walkway. Be sure to grab the maps to guide your Creole Nature Trail adventures.
Where to Stay
Tru By Hilton Lake Charles
In need of a place to stay while in the area. Tru By Hilton is just seven miles from Lake Charles Regional Airport and l.5 miles from L’Auberge and Golden Nugget Casino & Resorts. There’s a shuttle service, complimentary, running between the hotel and casinos, last pick-up at 1:30 am and Lyft, rideshare app is also available.
The hotel is conveniently located with views of the Contraband Bayou and offers Free WiFi, flat screen TV, a mini-fridge and air conditioning. There is a complimentary hot breakfast with eggs and bacon/sausage each day with sweet, savory, and healthy items to choose from.
It’s a quiet hotel with extremely friendly staff; the lobby is bright with lots of seating areas and cozy chairs, where you can relax and enjoy your breakfast.
The rooms are modern, clean and comfortable and designed in a minimalist style. There are no closets or drawers in room but the price of the room more than makes up for that.
Planning a visit to Lake Charles? Here are a few resources to check out.
- Visit the Lake Charles Tourism site for Things to do from outdoor activities to music festivals and of course Creole and Cajun food adventures.
- If you plan on attending the Lake Charles Mardi Gras 2020 mark these dates in your calendar January 3 – February 25, 2020.
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Note: I was a guest of Visit Lake Charles tourism but all opinions expressed in this article are my own.