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Traveler: Colonial Trail Discoveries

Crisscrossing Central Louisiana

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Philip Nolan was a smuggler of mustangs from Spanish Texas to Natchez and New Orleans, making four major expeditions between 1791 and 1801. On his final foray, after traveling through Leesville to cross the Sabine, he was captured and executed near the Brazos River by Spanish troops. Of the many used by Nolan, the trail roughly followed by La. 28 from Alexandria to Leesville and La. 8 to the Sabine is the one most associated with that adventurer, thanks to its direct connection to the Catahoula Lake Road and Natchez. The two trails link at Main Street in Pineville, which passes five historic cemeteries.

“All roads lead to Alexandria,” as that localized saying goes, making it a logical headquartering spot for Colonial Trail travelers, and one of its departure routes for the Nolan Trace is the Bayou Rapides Road (La. 496), which passes 1790s Kent House with its vintage outbuildings and furnishings of the era (open Mon.-Sat.); 1842 Tyrone Plantation (“birthplace of LSU,” a B&B at 6576 Rapides Road, (318) 442-8528); and several private but well-marked antebellum homes. The road then connects via La. 121 to La. 28 at Gardner – entry point to Kincade and Valentine Recreation Areas – as Nolan’s hilly trail heads west through the Evangeline Unit of Kisatchie Forest to Leesville. A good first stop there is the newly enlarged Ft. Polk Museum at 7881 Mississippi Ave.  

Thanks to history-minded activists like Mayor Robert Rose and tourism director John Crook, the lore and landmarks of Leesville are being preserved and promoted, and the past blends nicely, here, with a forward-looking and cosmopolitan citizenry – a mix of generations-old families that never leave and many military families from across the country who come and stay.

If you stay overnight in the 1905 Queen Anne-style Booker-Lewis House (1 (800) 726-7090), centerpiece of a B&B/restaurant/lounge complex at 102 E. North St. in the Historic District, you’ll awake within walking distance of the picturesque Old Courthouse at 201 S. 3rd. There, along with the city’s Welcome Center, you’ll find paintings of the Louisiana Maneuvers, military scenes of WWII-era Leesville and an incredible display of “Louisiana opals” unique to this area. The Post Office at 303 S. 3rd boasts a WPA bas relief by Duncan Ferguson of a farm couple receiving “The Letter,” and nearby the town founder’s 1850 Smart House is being restored at 301 S. Smart. Gallery One Eleven at 111 3rd St. hosts art walks, two major annual competitions and changing exhibits by local and guest artists; and the collections of the Museum of Western Louisiana fill the old KCS depot and other railside structures at 803 S. 3rd (Tues.-Sun. afternoons).

A highway marker honoring Nolan’s Trace and the Louisiana Colonial Trails network will be unveiled Nov. 3 at the Vernon Library, 1401 Nolan Trace, from which La.8 heads west, passes between Vernon and Anacoco lakes and skirts Clear Creek WMA on its way to the community of Burr Ferry. Just short of the Sabine is a park filled with breastworks where CSA artillery once guarded the river, and the original trace crosses the property a few yards off today’s highway. The village, 1937 iron bridge, former ferry and a remote family cemetery all derive their names from Dr. Timothy Burr, second cousin of vice president and infamous conspirator Aaron Burr.  

For Colonial Trails maps and information, visit lacolonialtrails.com or call the Kisatchie Delta Agency at (318) 487-5454. Happy trails.

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