Louisiana 80
(Bygone Byways(TM) since 2001)

 
From the eastern flat lands of the Mississippi floodplain through low-lying bayous and on into the rolling pine country of central and western Louisiana, old 80 ties together this diverse country with a common thread of friendliness and hospitality.  Indeed, wherever I went, folks always said hello, asked me what I was doing, and seemed genuinely pleased that somebody was trying to document their corner of the world.  So in the spirit of sharing my Highway 80 experiences with you, here are a few goodies from a trip made in June of '05.  I hope I can convey to you some of the spirit of Highway 80 in Louisiana.  From east to west... 

Don't get lost, don't get mad, check out my Louisiana 80 driving directions! 

You can't start a journey into Louisiana without crossing the spectacular old Highway 80 Vicksburg Mississippi bridge to get there!  80-MS-Vicksburg-1930 Mississippi bridge 2.JPG (378883 bytes)I couldn't just start my explorations in Delta without taking the extra 45 minutes to take a quick look at this this classic!  Reminding me of the Route 66 Chain of Rocks bridge in St. Louis, the Vicksburg bridge was built in 1930, replacing, believe it or not, a ferry operation.  Closed since 1998 to vehicular traffic, this shot of the old bridge at dawn shows the rugged beauty of the old structure.  I understand that plans are being considered to turn the bridge into a pedestrian & bike park again similar to the old Route 66 Chain of Rocks bridge.  I hope they succeed.  BTW, that water tower across the Ol' Muddy is Delta, our first true Louisiana stop along the old highway...

 

Our Louisiana tour begins at the west end of the aforementioned Mississippi bridge coming across from Vicksburg where the old bridge used to dump folks off at the aptly named sleepy little town of Delta.  With battlements and river excavations going back to80-LA-Delta-LA3218 Lkg West 1.JPG (299035 bytes) the Civil War, Delta is a fine stop for a bit of history and a glimpse of some truly vintage segments of old roadbed curving away off to the south side of the last 80 incarnation.  These old roadbeds would have rejoined just west of Delta, and we strike off across the flat, fertile fields of thousands of years of Mississippi mud (see pic-just west of Delta on Highway 3218 looking west).  

 

This was such different country than my current home of Tucson, AZ...I loved the proliferation of green!  Bird and plant life were 80-LA-Thomastown-Walnut Bayou Train Bridge 1.JPG (417645 bytes)everywhere (as was insect life towards dusk!).  A low-lying area, virtually every ditch and creek was an eco-system unto itself.  This train trestle near Thomastown is typical.  Egrets and other long-legged birds constantly prowl such areas looking for frogs and other delicacies.  They seemed oblivious to my presence and I could have watched for much longer but the old road called me back.  I was anxious to explore a known  90 degree 3-mile cut-off curve over between Barnes & 80-LA-Lums-Byson Rd 1.JPG (304173 bytes)Lums now known as Byson Road.  Though I slowly cruised back and forth in the Barnes area where I knew the old route should have connected with the newer, I found nothing so I despondently headed on up towards Lums.  Luckily, my morning was soon to be on an up tick because just as the newer road veered a little more west, I knew the the other end of the road should be approaching, and there she was!  Accessible and in great condition, I was able to follow original 80 back east for 1.5 miles before it curved south and was fenced off.  If you're in the area, be sure to check out this rare piece of Highway 80 history.   

 

From Lums, it's a short hop to the first major town along the old road: Tallulah.  I arrived early on a Saturday morning, so I had80-LA-Tallulah-Roundaway Bayou Bridge 1.JPG (287524 bytes) the town to myself.  I would have liked to stop and ask some questions about the stately old courthouse or the Hotel Watson downtown, but no one was around so I meandered on west.  Here I came upon a80-LA-Tallulah-Roundaway Bayou Bridge 2.JPG (296188 bytes) pleasant surprise that I found was typical of late 1930's and on bridge construction in Louisiana: the identification of the old bridges with a U.S. 80 and bayou/river imprint (see pic).  These markings are a big help in maintaining your bearings and to ensure that you are indeed on the old road!

 

Continuing west, we drive on through Tendal & Waverly where we are in rural countryside that apparently can grow just about80-LA-Tendal-Rice Fields 1.JPG (363694 bytes) anything.  I saw rice (see pic), corn, sorghum and something a little out of the ordinary to this Tucson kid-crawfish.  Again, darn it, no one was around so I couldn't see the little critters in action.  I've worked in Lake Charles, Louisiana before, so I know that the locals eat these things by the platter.  80-LA-Waverly-Foster Crawfish Farm.JPG (397061 bytes)  Further up the road near Altoona, the newer road veered slightly off, but I could see the old roadbed closely following the RR tracks.  As soon as I could, I took a left turn onto an unmarked road and was rewarded with obvious old 80 roadbed on both 80-LA-Altoona-Original 80 2.JPG (574266 bytes)sides.  Now completely overgrown, the reason for this road's complete abandonment was made immediately clear as I reached the Parish line and Delhi.  A view south towards the RR bridge from the newer Highway 80 bridge at the Parish line will show the remains of the early 30's-era bridge broken and lying in the water.

 

West we go through the little bumps in the road of Dunn, Sacksonia, Holly Ridge; Bee Bayou and on into Rayville.  Rayville 80-LA-Rayville-Light & Power 1.JPG (442675 bytes)appears to be one of those unfortunate towns whose old downtown area has been hard hit by the coming of I-20 just a couple of miles to the south.  Full of vintage architecture along the main strip, be sure to also check out the huge, creepy old Rayville Light & Water Plant a block north of Highway 80 downtown.  Looking like something out of Gotham City and a Batman movie,  this abandoned structure looks like it could be used as a horror flick movie set.  Leaving Rayville, be sure to stop & admire the great old J-Cal motel sign at the west end of town.

 

Leaving Rayville on the west side, those 1930 Parish maps seem to allude to the fact that Pilgrim Road on the south side of the tracks and the LA133 to Tupelo Drive loop at Girard sure seem to be segments of original 80.  Indeed, west of Girard towards 80-LA-Start-Possible 80 1-Old Bridge.JPG (504107 bytes)Start, the road south of the tracks is known as Parish Road 3312 and also as Overland Stage Road!  Therefore, I'm laying a bet that this old bridge (see pic) on Parish Road 3312 was once a part of the Dixie Overland Highway (DOH) and 80-LA-Girard-80 West of Town 2.JPG (469268 bytes)original 80 until the newer 1929-30 raised roadbeds were built from Rayville on past the low-lying 80-LA-Crew Lake-Old Concrete 1.JPG (381727 bytes)areas of Girard (see pic) and Crew Lake.  This newer 80 version just past Crew Lake is still in great shape today and it was fun to hear the constant thunka-thunka-thunka of old concrete expansion joints (see pic) as you turn north and leave the bayou country behind and enter the wooded and hillier area of Central Louisiana.

 

Outside of Shreveport, Monroe is the second largest city that ol' 80 passed through on its jaunt across Louisiana and I've got to tell ya, for its size, there was a surprising lack of 80-LA-Spanish Lake-Rays PeGe 1.JPG (151926 bytes) remaining vintage roadside goodies for the Highway 80 enthusiast.  Indeed, original 80 along Desiard St. was a ghost town with no remaining motels, diners and only one or two 60's era stations.  Even the old Ouachita River bridge had been replaced by a modern, purely functional drawbridge.  1930's era 80 a few blocks to the north fared little better.  Ray's PeGe (see pic) store out in Spanish City (just over the tall 1935 RR bridge coming into town) is an apparently 60's era store I've never heard of before.  According to local Jerod Smith, Ray's PeGe was originally known for its Po-Boys, and is still quite popular for a good breakfast as the empty Waffle House lot next door often attests to!).  Also according to Jerod, as of 2009, downtown Monroe is beginning to see a little life once again - a good sign for ol' 80.  Perhaps some of the vintage buildings and history can be incorporated into some of the new ventures.  Let's hope so and thanks, Jerod, for the updates!

Once across the newer 80 bridge still in use by Highway 80 (by newer, I mean 1935!), there are a couple of vintage motels still in existence over in80-LA-Monroe-Canary Motel 5.JPG (365947 bytes) West Monroe: the Grotto (looks abandoned) and the cute Canary Motel.  Though the Canary now caters to long-term residents, the manager informed me that to the best of his knowledge, the Canary was built sometime in the Forties.  It's sign is still a photo op not to be missed.

 

Heading westward, we travel through rolling hills covered with pines.  Though a nice drive, not much vintage architecture remains 80-LA-Calhoun-1940 Culvert 3.JPG (371100 bytes)until you get out to the Calhoun area.  In this area, a number of 1940 culverts such as the one in this photo (at the road's low-point) attest to the last time old 80 was reconstructed in the area.  We continue on past Choudrant (was80-LA-Rustin-Bus Stop Diner 5.JPG (216998 bytes) Depot St. down by the RR ever the DOH/original 80?) and on towards Ruston and its nice downtown area full of vintage buildings.  Though I don't believe a vintage sign, the Bus Stop Diner's fine sign is made in a vintage style that I just had to capture.  Again, though not proven, my 1926 & 1928 state maps clearly show old 80 south of the RR coming into Ruston and the 1931 Lincoln Parish map clearly shows 80 to the north.  Was Beacon Light Road east out of Ruson ever Highway 80 (albeit for just 2-3 years)?  Perhaps a local historian can fill me in...

 

Through Simsboro (just a flashing light at a 4-way) and on into Arcadia & Gibsland, old 80 continues its trek through the rolling  pine 80-LA-Arcadia-John's Barber Shop 1.JPG (360820 bytes)country indicative of the area.  Arcadia has a fine downtown section and is worth a stop and a stroll for there are many vintage stations, a nice old Main St. and reminders of yesteryear such as John's Barber Shop.  Gibsland also 80-LA-Gibsland-Black Lake Church 3.JPG (364770 bytes)seems to be a nice example of small town Louisiana and the terrific Black lake Church structure (see pic) may actually pre-date the highway through these parts!  BTW, Gibsland is also home to a macabre piece of American History.  Exactly 8 miles south of town on LA 154, an old graffiti-covered stone marker identifies the spot where notorious outlaws Bonnie & Clyde met their bitter end.

 

It was dark by the time I got to Minden, but not so dark that I could see that once again, not much remained of any Highway 80 80-LA-Dixie Inn-Old Shreveport Rd Bridge 1.JPG (395630 bytes)era vintage architecture.  So I crashed for the night, excited to get back to the road the next morning.  Rising bright & early, I quickly headed west of town to explore a section of road cut-off in the mid-forties.  The Old Shreveport Rd. bridge over Bayou Dorcheat out in the small burg of Dixie Inn is still intact and can be reached from the parking lot of the Bayou Inn (looked like a very nice place).  I wandered over the bridge deck to the east shore and was quickly enveloped by the weedy undergrowth 60 years of neglect can bring.  I hope the Parish turns this into a hiking or bike path someday.

 

From here , I unfortunately had to skedaddle to get back to Dallas to catch a flight back home.  I made it (with only 20 minutes to spare, and yes, I was worried!) by taking old 80 on a whirlwind tour through the Fillmore/Haughton area on into Red Chute/Bossier City.  From there, it was I-20 the rest of the way.  Don't worry, I'm sure I'll be back to cover Louisiana in more detail as I research and find out more information (and inevitably, more areas I missed and have to explore).  Until then, if you like, you can keep on Highway 80 truckin' on into the eastern part of the Republic of Texas!

or hop to any Highway 80 state of your choice by clicking on that state below!

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