Thursday, March 08, 2012

Generals and Bridge

by Anne Butler

Audubon Bridge
John J. Auduburn Bridge
The historic little towns of St. Francisville and New Roads have been separated over the years by many factors: cultural and linguistic differences, landscape and crop differences, and even by the mighty Mississippi River. New Roads was French, flat, sugarcane fields. St. Francisville was traditionally Anglo, hilly, with cotton the main cash crop of the 19th century.
And yet, over the years, the two communities have been inextricably bound together as well, beginning in the late 1800s when Capuchin monks from flood-prone Catholic Pointe Coupee had to cross the river to the high bluffs of St. Francisville to bury their dead. Now a beautiful new bridge, the country’s longest cable-stayed structure, connects the two communities across the waters of the Mississippi, and the bridge approach avenues have been named in commemoration of something else the two towns have in common---native sons who valiantly served their country in the wars of different generations and rose to the highest rank of their chosen branch of service as Commandants of the US Marine Corps.
The west approach to the bridge has been named by the state Department of Transportation and Development the General John A. LeJeune Memorial Approach. Born in 1867 in Pointe Coupee, LeJeune graduated from LSU and the US Naval Academy. During the Spanish-American War he commanded the Marine Guard on the USS Cincinnati and USS Massachusetts. As he rose through the ranks, he served all over the world, from Norfolk to Panama, from Washington DC to the Philippines, from Guantanamo Bay to Vera Cruz in Mexico.
 Gen. LeJeune
 General John A. LeJeune
By the outbreak of World War I, LeJeune was a brigadier general, in command of Marine divisions overseas. He would be the first Marine officer to hold an army divisional command when he led the famous Second Division (Army); after the armistice, he led his division in the march into Germany. In 1919 he was appointed commanding general of the Marine barracks in Quantico, Virginia, and became the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1920. After two terms he retired to serve as superintendent of Virginia Military Institute. General LeJeune, an active-duty Marine for more than forty years, was called “the greatest of all Leathernecks,” and when he died in 1942, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He was the recipient of many military honors recognizing his distinguished service to his country, and Camp LeJeune in North Carolina bears his name.
The bridge approach on the St. Francisville (east) side of the river salutes native son General Robert Hilliard Barrow, 27th Commandant of the Marine Corps, who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. When General Barrow died at age 86 in 2008, the New York Times said he “combined Southern courtliness, fierce devotion to Marine tradition and courage reflected in dozens of wars.” During the course of his military career, he received the Navy Cross for service in Korea and the Army Distinguished Service Cross in Vietnam, both second only to the Medal of Honor.
Born in 1922, Barrow was raised on his family plantation, historic Rosale, in West Feliciana Parish, and attended LSU, enlisting in the Marine Corps in March 1942. After attending OCS and being commissioned a second lieutenant in 1943, he was deployed to China and led an American team fighting with Chinese guerrillas operating extensively in enemy-occupied territory behind Japanese lines. As a rifle company commander in the Korean War he was called the most outstanding company commander of the war, and during Vietnam he commanded the Ninth Marine Regiment, Third Marine Division, again being recognized as the war’s finest regimental commander.
Gen. Robert H. Barrow
General Robert H. Barrow
After seven tours of duty in the Far East, in 1979 General Barrow became Commandant of the Marine Corps, and he was instrumental in implementing much-needed reforms in recruiting and training. He also expanded the Marine role in the military’s new rapid response strategy. When he retired from the service in 1983, Barrow returned to his beloved home near St. Francisville, and when he died, he opted for burial not in Arlington National Cemetery but in the peaceful oak-shaded cemetery surrounding historic Grace Episcopal Church, which his family had attended for some five generations.
And today as the new Audubon Bridge links the two historic communities on either side of the Mississippi River, so the bridge approach avenues mark yet another commonality between the two towns in recognizing the tradition of distinguished military service in the careers of two native sons, one from the east side of the river and one from the west, who rose to the same high rank and post in serving their country across the generations.
Having taken the place of a longtime ferry that was becoming increasingly unreliable, the bridge expedites traffic flow across the river and provides faster access to popular special events like the Angola Prison Rodeo, an annual event that always draws big crowds of visitors to the St. Francisville area in April; this year’s spring edition is April 21 and 22nd. From the time the mounted black-clad Angola Rough Riders race at break-neck speed into the arena, flags streaming and hooves flying, visitors are on the edges of their seats through events pitting inmates against pro-stock Brahma bulls and wild-eyed bucking broncos. Ladies’ barrel racing is the only non-inmate event in what is called the longest running prison rodeo, begin in the 1960s.
Bridge cable
On top of Audubon Bridge
Crowd favorites are the events unique to Angola, including the crowd-pleasing "Guts and Glory", an arena full of inmates on foot trying to remove a $100 chit tied between the horns of the meanest Brahma bull around. Rodeo events begin at 2 p.m., but the grounds open at 9 a.m. for a huge arts and crafts sale showcasing inmate talent in hobbycraft like jewelry, hand-tooled leather, paintings and woodwork both large and small. Inmate bands perform throughout the day, and a large number of concession stands offer a variety of food and drink, with the stands providing shaded seating for more than 10,000 cheering spectators. Tickets should be purchased in advance (online at
Visitors should allow time to tour the fascinating prison museum just outside the front entrance gates to learn more about the history of this enormous maximum-security penitentiary. It should be noted that there are specific regulations with which visitors must comply when entering prison grounds; no food, drink, cell phones or cameras are allowed through the rodeo entrance gate, and on prison property no weapons, ammunition, alcohol or drugs are permitted; purses and bags will be searched and all vehicles must be locked when unoccupied.
St. Francisville is a year-round tourist destination featuring a number of splendidly restored plantation homes open for tours daily: The Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation. Afton Villa Gardens is open seasonally; Imahara’s Botanical Garden offers spring tours weekends March through May. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, offering periodic fascinating living-history demonstrations so visitors can experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.
Audubon Bridge left side
Audubon Bridge Tower
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some fine little restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from Chinese and Mexican cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-635-4224; online visit (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities) or