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The Secret in Mossy Swamp

by Rita Monette

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The History of Morgan City, Louisiana

Today I'm featuring the city where I spent most of my childhood and teen years, which is also the setting for my middle grade novel, The Legend of Ghost Dog Island.

History of Morgan City, La.
(From the City of Morgan City web page)
     
lrftcenter_historyThe Attakapas Indians called it Atchafalaya or "long river". Stretching over 135 miles, the Atchafalaya river has been the life line affecting the history and tradition of Morgan City. From its first Attakapas residents to the present day shrimping and oil trade, the river has provided prosperity and opportunity coupled with difficult challenges to many generations. As the tide ebbs and flows along the river, so does Morgan City. The city is a "gumbo" of French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Native and African American heritages blended into a strong belief in faith, tradition and family that define the strength of the city today.

Originally known as Tigre Island because of the spotting of an unknown cat there by a group of U.S. surveyors, the area attracted the attention of Kentucky planter and surgeon Walter Brashear. Brashear's subsequent subdividing of his sugar cane plantation was the beginning of the first permanent settlement known as the town of Brashear.

Because of Morgan City's strategic marine location, the town of Brashear played a prominent role in the war between the states. Brashear was occupied by Federal troops for over three years. It was in Morgan City that the Union troops planned the destruction of the Avery Island salt mines, the cutting off of Rebel supply lines from Texas, the capture of Texas to restore her to the Union, and the annihilation of all Confederate resistance in southwest Louisiana. The remains of Fort Starr, a Union fort, are still visible.

Following the war, Charles Morgan, a steamship and railroad entrepreneur, successfully dredged the Atchafalaya Bay Channel and made Brashear his base of operations. As a result, Brashear became a bustling trade center for animal fur, cypress timber, and seafood. In 1876, the town was renamed Morgan City in his honor.

rightcenter_historyThe late 1800s and early 1900s was an era of growth and development. Many of the historic buildings such as Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Trinity Episcopal Church, and Pharr Chapel Methodist as well as distinctive homes including Cotton Top, the Norman-Schreier House, and the Turn-of-the-Century House were constructed. Boat building, moss picking, and a shell crushing plant broadened Morgan City's economic base.

Substituting the jungles of Africa with the swamps of Morgan City, Hollywood made its mark in 1917 with the filming of the first Tarzan movie starring Elmo Lincoln. This would be the first of several films highlighting Morgan City's diverse landscape.

In 1937, Morgan City became known as the "jumbo" shrimp capitol of the world. A community strongly rooted in Catholicism and tradition, a "blessing of the fleet" was held to insure a safe return and a bountiful harvest. Following the blessing, the celebration traveled to Egle's Place for a fais-do-do, a Cajun dance. This was the inception of the Louisiana Shrimp Festival, the state's oldest chartered harvest festival.

A decade later, Morgan City made national headlines when Kerr-McGee Industries drilled the first successful offshore oil well out of sight of land. According to The Times Picayune, it was the most significant discovery to date. The "black gold rush" marked a new era in the city's prosperity. Because of its considerable importance to the economy, "petroleum" was added to the Louisiana Shrimp Festival. The present day Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival is held every Labor Day weekend in the historic district.

Morgan City's Main Street Program designation was officially recognized in 1997, and combined with the nine-block historic district, it now encompasses a 19- block area.

Just as the Atchafalaya River continually flows, so does Morgan City. Its ebbs have defined its character and have made us a stronger people. A relentless spirit of the people and a strong belief in family, faith, and tradition make Morgan City the place we call home.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyDJZNq6Mh4&feature=player_embedded

30 comments:

Lizzie said...

Interesting! Thanks for all the info, Rita

Sloane Taylor said...

I love your blog, Rita. You always interesting posts.

Vonnie said...

Keep reading about the Atchafalaya - what a fabulous name. Was amused at the jumbo shrimps - we call 'em king prawns down here. You live in such an interesting place - the HISTORY, I'm envious. (We live in a newly minted ex-seaside resort town/city with no sense of yesterday).

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Thanks for stopping by, ladies. Vonnie, I guess you'll have to create your own history. Get creative! LOL

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Love the fact that the first Tarzan movie was made there in the swamps. We used to play out there as kids. We swung on the vines and everything. Tee hee. AheAaaaaaaeeeaaaaa!

Sharon Ledwith said...

You'd make a great 'Jane', Rita. Such an interesting post, love all your backgroud research! Ever thought of doing a time travel read? Wink.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

I'm too lazy, Sharon. I just write about places I know! *snork* I'll leave the time traveling to you my Canadian friend.

Anonymous said...

This town is still a shit hole

Anonymous said...

Oh my anonymous!!!! Such animosity. But, I must say "one man's s---hole is another's Garden of Eden". If you are a current resident and so disgruntled maybe you should seek another location that is more conducive to your style. I wish you all the best and God's blessings.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Hey Anonymous #1, In case you haven't noticed, there are bridges to get out. You are not trapped there. If you don't have a car, you can walk across the river to Berwick. That might be a little better for you. While you are on the bridge, look out across the Atchafalaya and gaze at the beautiful shrimp boats. What a blessing...oh that's a great subject for another post (The blessing of the fleet.

Alana said...

If Anonymous is who I think he is, he made the same comment on Facebook. He made the comment under the "You know you are from Morgan City if". Check him out. I don't know why he posted anonymously on here. I no longer live in Morgan City but I didn't move very far away. It is still home to me.

Billy said...

Sure there are other places to live, But I like MC

Rita Monette, Writer said...

I didn't like MC when I was a kid. I called it a mud hole, because we always lived on the water side of the levee (which is where you had to live if you were in a houseboat). But it's come a long way...and so have I. :-)

Eleni Konstantine said...

Fascinating bit of history. Thanks for sharing, Rita.

Rollo said...

Would anyone have any history on Bateman Island? I've done searches and found little to none.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Rollo, the best information I could find on the history of Bateman Island is here. http://www.lat-long.com/Latitude-Longitude-559827-Louisiana-Bateman_Island.html

sixshooter said...

The information was very interesting . I have lived in Louisiana all of my life and there is so much I don't know.

Mike Doucet said...

Great history .we also lived in a camp boat on the other side of the Levee. We move to a little house on Levee road when I was 4.

Steven Paul said...

Thanks so much for an even better understanding of Morgan City. I have been here 29 years and Love this area, culture and its many people of different heritages. I would not consider living anywhere else.

Whitney Rogers said...

Where is fort starr located. I grew up in the tri-city area and have never heard of it.

Becky Breaux said...

Fort Starr is located across the railroad tracks on 4th street at the site of Atkinson Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Thanks for visiting my blog, Mike Doucet. Maybe we attended the same school? You might love my first book, the Legend of Ghost Dog Island. It's set in 1956, and talks about the Cajun lifestyle.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Thanks for stopping by Steven Paul. I haven't lived there since the 60's, but it will always be home to me.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Becky thanks for answering Whitney's question. I have never heard of Fort Starr. I'll have to check it out next time I'm down there.

Move to the future said...

This town needs more businesses and create more jobs move up to the future nothing here for our kids to enjoy

Jerrilynn B. Thomas said...

Morgan City was the best place ever to grow up.

Anonymous said...

Shithole indeed. Obama ruined morgan city with the moratorium. No money. No entertainment. No nothing. Major oil companies and companies in general have left. The city is now full of drug crimes and fastfood restaurants. I have seen so many companies settle in morgan city, just to leave months later. This city has a rich history, but nothing in present day to even write about.

Sheila said...

My town......from Amelia, but had to everything but grade there

Anonymous said...

When did you live in Morgan City and where did you attend school?
Is Monette your pen name or your maiden/married name?

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Replying to Anonymous comment. I lived in Morgan City off and on from about 1950 through 1963. I went to elementary school at Shannon, and M.E. Norman in jr. high, then Morgan City HS. My maiden name was Florence Rita Smith. Monette is my married name. I don't remember going to school with anyone named Anonymous though. Is that a family name?