Dig Baton Rouge

Historic Waterways

By Chase Berenson

On a beautifully sunny spring day, sometimes the best course of action is to have a slow and relaxing morning riding the ferry across the Mississippi and exploring the outdoors history in Plaquemine on the other side of the river.  The Plaquemine Lock Historic Site is a great spot to soak in the sunshine, take a stroll, and gain an understanding of early-1900s river travel in Louisiana.

The Plaquemine Lock was constructed in 1909, and served as the gateway from the Mississippi River to Louisiana’s interior waterways; through the maze of Louisiana’s rivers, a boat could make it down Bayou Plaquemine and end up all the way in Shreveport or beyond.

The lock was a big project, and had the largest freshwater draft of any lock in the world at the time that it was built. The man who designed the Plaquemine Lock was also the chief engineer in charge of designing and constructing the Panama Canal, which shows that lessons learned in Plaquemine went on to make a large impact on the world.

The historic site is filled with unexpected visual surprises, the main one being that a rusting industrial hulk can be surrounded by such beauty. The lock structure itself has rolling green hills on all sides, as well as historic structures such as the lockhouse and an old doctor’s office.

It has clearly seen better days, but the sheer size is still impressive.

There is a catwalk spanning the lock, allowing visitors to look down from the dead center of the structure to the turtles lazily swimming in the water far below. The site is also directly on the riverfront, and there are great river views from the levee.  Oddly enough, when the levee was built in 1974, it cut off the bayou so that the water dead-ends inside the lock, which makes the rusting hulk look even more incongruous in this beautiful green space.

The historic site has a gate connecting to Bayou Plaquemine Waterfront Park, which is a great place to continue your waterfront exploration. After checking out the lock from the top, the park lets you look up from the water level to really gain a different perspective.

The waterfront park has a boardwalk over the bayou, and is a prime in-town fishing spot.  In addition to pavilions along the water, the park also features docks with slips to tie up a small boat right in the heart of town.  While it might not be a great idea to approach the park in a yacht, it could be an excellent destination for someone on a kayak or jet-ski.

The historic site and the waterfront park are both on LA1. Take a right when you get off the ferry, drive about a mile, and they’ll be on the right side of the road.

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