Charlie Duhe pulls a red hot piece of iron from the fire and hammers it against an anvil. As Duhe demonstrates in this working blacksmith shop, life on the plantation wasn't all mint juleps and lazy days. There was a lot of work to do. And from the toil came history and heritage which the St. James Historical Society has lovingly preserved in this museum in Lutcher.
"We decided that too much of the history of the area was being lost," says Historical Society president Joe Samrow, "so one day my wife and I were talking, and I asked her what could be done about the stuff that's being lost. She said, 'Start a museum.'"
The St. James Culture And Heritage Center offers exhibits on making mattresses from Spanish moss, pressing and curing perique tobacco, grown nowhere else in the world, an 850-year-old sinker cypress log, a locomotive from 1900; and the highlight of any visit to the museum is a ride on the century-old handcar. Workers in the sawmill used to use the old handcar to go to their jobs in the swamp.
Charlie Duhe and I climb aboard the restored piece of railroad equipment, pump the handles and proceed down a short length of track. At least, it seemed short before we pumped and labored our way to the far end. It was hard work, let me tell you! On this thing just getting to the job is hard work. Joe Samrow agreed: "I would say that it was probably harder sometimes to get to the job."
"You can work up a sweat on that thing!" I say.
"Absolutely!" says Joe. "The kids just love it."
Speaking of kids, church and school groups are welcome. The museum is open 8:00-4:00 Monday through Friday and by appointment on weekends.