Dig Baton Rouge

Under the railroad tracks

When the Frenchtown Road Conservation Area opened to the public in October 2013, it brought back a flood of memories about the area and the tales this place spawned. Many locals, myself included, visited Frenchtown Road to provoke scares and thrills from their friends, and we still love to reminisce about the wild accounts of Satanists, ghosts and maniacs.

South Louisiana provides the perfect ambiance for creepy tales. From haunted houses to urban legends rife with voodoo and mystery, there is a history here that sets the ideal stage for a good scare. And we Louisianians love to tell stories. One such tale is the Frenchtown Road legend, and if you have lived around Baton Rouge long enough, you may have heard a version or two.

They always said you must go at night, of course. That was when the ghosts, occultists and other creepy figures really came out. If you drove down Frenchtown Road far enough, you would begin to notice there was not much around – only the narrow road covered by a canopy of trees. The further you went, the more the forest seemed to close in on you, swallowing you up in darkness.

Quite suddenly, the road would open up a bit and there, ahead of you, loomed the foreboding structure of an old railroad trestle, crossing over the road. As you approached the bridge, you would see that this ancient, rusty structure was covered in graffiti. Pentagrams, and other assorted menacing symbols depicting just about any kind of sin you can think of, stood out starkly in bright paint on the weathered beams.

Don’t go any further, they would say.

They’d say if you crossed beneath this bridge, “they” would come. They’d kidnap you. They would drag you back to their satanic lair.

The forest beyond the trestle was where satanic rituals were said to have taken place. People have claimed they caught glimpses of what were deemed “watchers” on either side of the road.

Jason, a Baton Rouge native who lives near Hooper Road in Central, asked that his last name to be withheld because he did not want his parents to know he used to go back there. He filled us in on some of the stories.

“The legend was that there were people that would be at the bridge when you drove back there. I’ve heard another one where they hung someone there, or that it was haunted by some people who were hung under the bridge,” he said.

Not exactly a welcoming spot, though there were quite a few visitors to this mysterious location. Whether you believed some version of the legend or not, the location was the perfect setting for a good scare. And since scaring people has always held a special place in my morbid heart, while in high school I decided to bring some friends on an adventure down Frenchtown Road.

At that time, the road just stopped a few miles down, which was quite disconcerting. Drivers had to stop, back up and maneuver their cars so they were facing the exit again. I knew this, yet took the opportunity to yell, “They’re coming!” causing my male friend to shriek with horror. We got stuck in the mud, making the memory of that escapade even funnier.

After talking to a few people who grew up in the area, I learned the legend could have stemmed from Frenchtown Road residents. It was said they dressed up as witches to scare off teenagers who would park under the bridge. And beyond the spooky stories, there is some history here. In the 1800s, Robert Benton ran a ferry which crossed the Amite River. Benton’s Ferry cost a nickel. Several Civil War skirmishes were also fought in this vicinity.

Thanks to the Recreation and Park Commission for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, Frenchtown Road is now a conservation area, boasting a serene setting for hikers and a retreat from city life. I recently visited with some friends and I can assure you that this place, devoid of any haunts to be seen, has been developed into a lovely maze of trails and lookouts. I must admit I did have my guard up, but the only strange thing we encountered was a foam deer head decoy impaled on a tree branch.

Nerves aside, we did enjoy our visit. The park is situated so hikers can experience the unique convergence of the Amite and Comite Rivers in a colorful splendor of pine, cypress and even bamboo trees, and it makes for a pleasant day trip outside the city. After my visit, I had the chance to speak to representatives at BREC about the park and its development.

The Frenchtown Road Conservation Area is currently the largest conservation area operated by BREC. So far, the existing trails are well developed and signage is clear. However, visitors should be aware that the park is still in development.

“There are not a whole lot of facilities out there,” cautioned Amanda Nichols, naturalist for BREC. As the park’s Master Plan is created, more trails and amenities will follow. “It’s still good for kids,” she said.

The park currently has short walks and over three miles of trails. Expect to see access to the Amite River’s beach as well as several overlooks with benches.

In concurrence with the opening of Frenchtown Road Conservation Area, BREC has also announced a new way for hikers to learn more about the ecology of the park. BREC plans to offer self-guided hikes that can be accessed via smart phones. The tours feature audio about the park’s history as well as photos, videos and identification guides.

BREC also plans to hold events at the Frenchtown Road Conservation Area every other month. BREC will also be asking residents what they would like to see in their parks in an initiative titled “Imagine Your Parks.”

The park is located near the south end of Frenchtown Road. It is safe to drive under the railroad tracks; you will see BREC’s Parking Lot located immediately on the left. Visitors are advised to park only in BREC’s parking lot and not at the end of the road. BREC also asks visitors to respect the privacy of local residents. Fishing is allowed as long as Louisiana State Regulations are followed. Due to the fast current and other hazards, swimming in the Amite River is not advised.

This land is open to the public and awaits your visit. You may cross under the bridge without any hassle from haunts, ghouls or cultists.


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