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Mile Branch Settlement
If you want to see how the first pioneers lived in Louisiana, you can immerse yourself a village of log cabins in Washington Parish known as Mile Branch Settlement. Mile Branch Settlement is open only twice each year during the Washington Parish Fair in the third week of October and during the Pioneer Christmas celebration, held the first weekend of December.
About 150 years ago, a small community in Washington Parish would have looked a lot like this. These log cabin homes were built by real Louisiana pioneers.
The historical Mile Branch Settlement is located on the Washington Parish Fairgrounds in Franklinton, LA. When a visitor steps through the unpainted picket fence and walks past the Richardson Gatehouse, it is like entering another time period. A time where life coursed much slower like the bordering creek for which the settlement was named. You will find 19th century attired volunteers serving sassafras tea with gingerbread, grinding corn into meal or grits, cutting huge hoop-cheese slices, and the extracting and cooking of cane syrup.
Thee activities just mentioned are performed on original period equipment. Other ongoing events include school teaching, singing of hymns, sheep shearing, quilting and weaving as well as the fiddling-strumming & plucking of instruments just to name a few. The simmering of lye soap, roasting peanuts, frying pork rinds, and corn grilling permeates the country air. Other special events include the Senior Ladies Promenade, various genealogy exhibits, square dancing, Houma Indian demonstrations, wood carving, as well as many handcrafts made by local artisans. Live music provided by talented volunteer musicians can be heard daily during the fair from the front porches of many of the cabins.
Many of the volunteers are direct descendants to the Mile Branch Settlement and, when asked, readily share stories passed down through the generations about times gone by. Eyebrows raise at the taste of sassafras, while others nibble on huge molasses sugar cookies or chew on sugar cane stalks just to name a few of the tangible experiences available at Mile Branch Settlement.
History of Mile Branch Settlement
The Mile Branch Settlement began as a tribute to the pioneering spirit of Washington Parish residents. For the most part, these pioneers were Scotch-Irish, Presbyterian by faith, from the lowlands of Scotland who immigrated to Northern Ireland in the early seventeenth century. Known as Ulster Scots, these hearty pioneers emigrated from Ireland to the British Colonies of North America between 1725 and 1775 with many settling in Pennsylvania. During this time, cultural geographers believe that the Scotch-Irish and German settlers shared a building technique known today as Appalachian Upland Folk Architecture.
Around 1830, the Appalachian Scotch-Irish had populated the Florida parishes of Louisiana. These pioneers were to obtain and carry passports issued by the governor of Georgia to pass through Creek Indian territory. They came from the Carolinas, Virginia, through Georgia to the Mississippi plateau.
The descendants and volunteers of the Mile Branch Settlement, hope that you will experience through sight, smell, or memory a glimpse of these determined pioneers. The remoteness of this area surely contributed to the preservation of these quaint but very durable dwellings. During the 1870’s, the population was only 3,000-3,400 residents.
The effort to save these original pioneer homes began back in the 1970s. Since then, some 25 log structures that have been moved from their original locations, including six family cabins, a smoke house, gristmill, general store, two barns, a school, church, outhouse and corn crib. The oldest of the homes is the 1830s Grandpa King’s cabin. In some of the structures, descendants provide original furnishings and pictures that bring the homes to life. They also volunteer to tell their family stories, like the one Martha Ann Davis heard from her grandmother about building this cabin.
The grounds of Mile Branch Settlement are very typical of the property on which many of the cabins were originally located. A lovely stream runs quietly around the southern boundary and there are numerous mature trees that provide a very picturesque setting for the Mile Branch Settlement. Dry Creek traverses through the settlement providing a rolling backdrop for the Grandpa King Cabin and the Kemp split-rail fence. Flaming spider lilies line the full length of the fence. Many native flowers, plants, and trees fill the landscape adding to the quaintness of this museum village.
There are old-time flowerbeds consisting of cocks-comb, confederate roses, mums, blue violets, cardinal flowers, daisies, gardenias, brown & white cotton and many herbs. Some of the trees found in the settlement include pine, sycamore, chinky-pens, bay, and oak. On the bluff above Mile Branch creek, two oak trees are joined together approximately 25 feet above the ground through a common limb.