A Historic Tour of Lake Charles, Louisiana #Travel12:19 PM
I was hosted by the Lake Charles CVB, but all opinions are my own.
If you take the time to walk or even drive down the streets of Lake Charles, the history is plain to see on the storefronts of shops in the downtown square, the towering clock tower of the City Hall building, and the fine wood worked details of the homes in the Charpentier District. With roots dating back to the 1760's when the French first came to settle here, it wasn't until the 1800's that Lake Charles truly started to boom with the rise of the lumber industry, and come into its own as the fine cultural and dining center it is today. Taking a tour though this city's streets is really the only way to appreciate the history found here.
The Charpentier District
French for "carpenter," the Charpentier District is perhaps the easiest way to explore Lake Charles' history and diversity. There were no trained architects in the Lake Charles area until the early 1900's, so when the big lumber book hit in the early 1800's the homes turned out to be an eclectic mix of each individual person's own skills and cultural influence.
Included on the National Historic Register, you will find all manner of styles in the homes of this 20 block area. In fact, the unique architectural style of the homes here has come to be known as "Lake Charles Style Architecture." You have influence from the skilled lumbermen from the North who were known as "Michigan Men," who brought with them a Victorian style influence, mixed with the cottage style that was so popular with German immigrants and a strong presence of the Colonial Revival Style of architecture as well. All of this today provides a beautiful display of wonderfully preserved home with some of the finest woodwork in the country.
Some homes in the Charpentier District even come with interesting stories of their histories, like the white board home pictured above, which was home to a long line of county sheriffs and law men. When the jail burned down, the housed the prisoners in the attic. The story is that one tried to escape, but never made it out, and now his ghost is said to haunt the house today. Or, this interesting brick home that stands out amongst its wooden counterparts, and is home to one of the areas most prominently known voodoo women.
The Imperial Calcasieu Museum
After a tour of the Charpentier District, stop by the Imperial Calcasieu Museum for an immersion in the history of the area, including period displays that portray what life was like here in the later half of the 1800's. Also housed in the museum is a wonderful collection of Audubon prints, and the original "Letter of Mark" written by King Louis XVI for the notorius pirate Jean Lafitte.
Take the time to step outside here and view the Sallier Oak Tree as well. Estimated to be at least 375 years old, the Sallier Oak was struck by lightening 150 year ago. Residents wrapped a heavy chain around the trunk to help hold it together then, and the remnants of that chain can still be seen embedded in the tree today. The tree gets its name from Charles Sallier, one of the earliest settlers in the area, and the man for whom the city of Lake Charles is named.
Lake Charles City Hall and Art Gallery
Officially incorporated as a town in 1861, Lake Charles suffered a devastating fire in the downtown area in 1910, destroying nearly all of the original wooden building structures. Because of this, the city was forced to rebuild, and in 1911, the beautiful Renaissance style City Hall with its Italian style bell tower was constructed.
Now, the 1911 City Hall building serves as an art gallery with rotating exhibits. During my recent visit, there was a great stroke of luck when I found that the artist being featured on the top floor was also a Tallahassee native, Mark Messersmith. Displays are always changing and some of great local art is featured here to, so be sure to stop by when you visit.
Mixed with the frivolity of its more than 75 festivals and events per year, the flashing lights of the casinos and scenic lakefront views, lies a wealth if history that runs thick through the streets of Lake Charles. Take the time to explore this rich history when you visit, and I promise you won't be disappointed. For more information on planning a stay in Lake Charles, you can go to the Visit Lake Charles website.