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Pass Manchac: crossroads of space and time

The Ponchatoula Times of Ponchatoula, Louisiana

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When you are flying across the bridge over Pass Manchac, glance up the winding pass to the eastern or to the western horizon on the other side of Lake Maurepas think of all the history that has passed under this bridge..

The road you travel on goes through the wilderness swamps to link two Louisiana worlds: the River Parishes, settled by Germans, Frenchmen and Africans who tilled the soil, fed New Orleans, and partook of the mighty plantation economy on the Mississippi River, and the Florida Parishes, with its disparate population getting by in the Piney Woods.

Last week we learned about the formation of the pass now on to it's people.

The folks encountered by the first French in the area, the Tangipahoa "Corncob People," Acolapissa, Bayougoula, Houma and others followed, countless generations who, no doubt knew about the shortcut or "manchac route" from the Mississippi River below Baton Rouge to the Gulf Coast.

This allowed paddling travelers to forsake the challenge of navigating the powerful, unruly river and circumvent the vast, soggy delta downstream.

For over two centuries the Europeans had been concentrating their attentions in other parts of the Western Hemisphere, until 1699 when Pierre Lemoyne d'I berville, during his first exploration up the Mississippi River, took the native's Manchac Pass on his journey to establish his people on the northern Gulf Coast.

His dream was to see his countrymen joined with Canada to create a great New France dominating the Mississippi River Valley and keep the hated English isolated in their east coast colonies.

Things did not quite work out that way as the other avaricious European powers, the Spanish, English and their offspring, the Americans, moved into the area and used the Pass as an international boundary separating their holdings and as a way to get to their settlements on streams flowing into Lake Maurepas; places like Ft. Butte on Bayou Manchac at the Mississippi, and Spanish Governor Galvez's Galvez Town at Bayou Manchac and the Amite, on Grand Point up the Blind River in St. James Parish and in towns like Port Vincent, Wadesboro and Springfield on North Shore rivers.

These were, in turn, linked through the Pass to Bayou St. John in New Orleans, St. Tammany communities like Madisonville and Bonfouca and Gulf Coast ports like Biloxi, Mobile, Pensacola and others.

For more than a century this waterborne travel was almost entirely under the ponderous unpredictability and glamour of sail. It wasn't until steamboat travel became common in the mid 1800s did small steam packets develop regular schedules that people could rely upon.

Commerce up and down the Pass grew, destination communities grew, and a lighthouse was needed to guide all the traffic to the Pass.

Alas, during this time a web of railroads and roads also grew in the region and the necessity of transporting people and commerce by boat was diminished, bypassing the Pass and eventually closing down the Manchac Lighthouse.

Yet, as the Pass became less vital to the business of day-today life, its use by people for modern recreation has probably grown well beyond historic levels, creating a new kind of history.

Worm Buckets anyone?

Copyright 2015 The Ponchatoula Times, Ponchatoula, Louisiana. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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