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    « USA Road Trip: Grand Canyon (North Rim) | Main | Road Trip USA: Five Days Camping in the Buttermilk Country »

    Road Trip USA: Leesville, Louisiana - A Childhood Home

    I lived in Leesville, Louisiana from 1958 to 1960, three years in all, from the age of 8, 9, and 10.  The house I lived in is now gone, but I noticed this house and it fit my memory of the kind of house we live in . . . a two story wooden duplex.

     

    This house sits at the actual address of our old home -  Vernon Terrace.  It is now across the street from a modern hospital and medical offices.  I played for hours and hours and had innumerable adventures in that forest behind this house. At that time the forest and wetlands within it went on for miles and miles and were teeming with snakes, wild boar, fish, salamanders, frogs, and bugs of all kinds.  Yes, I was a little disappointed that our old house was not there any more. I was also disappointed that the area behind the houses were not accessible . . . I wanted to go back there and look around.   

     

    I had the family chore of riding my bicycle the 1/2 mile from our house to this very burger stand and fetch the family order . . . and ride like the wind to get the burgers and fries back home before they were cold. I remember these burgers as the best I have ever eaten. I am amazed it is still there . . . and that I remembered it.

     

    There are still houses around the old neighborhood that have survived from the older times.

     

    I was very curious about the downtown of my childhood memories.  We used to ride our bicycles the 7-8 blocks to the movie house there for the double features.  Downtown Leesville showed all the signs of the consequences of a Walmart somewhere on the road leading out of town.  The businesses had mostly died a silent death, but it looked like the city fathers had, and might still be, fixing it us.

     

    Halloween was only a week away . . . and I was racing to Delaware to trick-or-treat with my two grandchildren.  These decorations reminded me of that. Everything here seems to be named 'Vernon', after the name of the Parish.  All the fire hydrants in town are painted this red, white and blue.

     

    The old Dreamland Theatre is now an event venue.  This is the movie house I remember so well as a child . . . watching cowboy movies, cartoons, and news reels.  Also, I have a memory of the entire balcony collapsing during the middle of a movie . . . fortunately we were sitting up near the screen, and there weren't other people in the movie house at the time!  Leesville High School had just held its Homecoming Dance there!

     

    I distinctly remember this ticket booth . . . and buying my tickets with such eager anticipation.  I also remember the Milk Duds and Necco Wafers I bought inside before the movies.

     

    It's nice to see that someone other than me remembers this wonderful small town movie theatre.  There is (was?) a large military base nearby, Fort Polk, where my father was stationed while we lived there.  There were always a few soldiers sitting alone in the dark theatre, quietly sobbing.  Homesick.

     

    There is a charm to these old 'dead' small town commercial districts that have been brought back to life.

     

    The task of bring the Leesville Historic District back to life is not complete.  This building has an asking price of US$37,000.

     

    There is very little real business going on in downtown Leesville.  Still, this key shop caught my eye. I went in.

     

    This man, and his son, have been running this key shop. for 36 years, since they bought it from the old man who had it for 55 years.  Yes, this shop would have been here when I was 9 years old . . . more or less exactly as it looks now.

     

    These keys gave me an idea of what kinds of doors are in the area . . . still some old skeleton key doors.

     

    Assuming Hundai changes their car key masters every few years, there were either very few Hundai's sold in Leesville, or the local Hundai owners were very responsible.  Dusty Keys . . . potential income locked up in blanks.

     

    This mural of the New York City skyline with the World Trade Towers intact really caught my eye.  Leesville is in the deepest of the Deep South, so one would not expect to find anything about New York City, but the impact of the 911 bombings had a profound effect on Americans everywhere.  The sense of having our country 'invaded' meant something in small town Louisiana.

     

    The old Vernon Parish Courthouse . . . decorated for Halloween.

     

    A public 'book nook' in old Leesville.

     

    A walk up 3rd Street, the old 'main drag', brought us to the Museum of West Louisiana.  In addition to these old historical buildings that had been reassembled on their grounds, there was also a restored historic train station.

     

    The old rail station, now the Museum of West Louisiana.  A lot of young soldiers passed through here on their way to and from Fort Polk . . . especially during the Vietnam War era.  "In 1962, Fort Polk began converting to an advanced infantry training (AIT) center. A small portion of Fort Polk is filled with dense, jungle-like vegetation, so this, along with Louisiana's heat, humidity and precipitation (similar to Southeast Asia) helped commanders acclimatize new infantry soldiers in preparation for combat in Vietnam. This training area became known as Tigerland. For the next 12 years, more soldiers were shipped to Vietnam from Fort Polk than from any other American training base. For many, Fort Polk was the only stateside Army post they saw before assignment overseas." (Wikipedia, Fort Polk). And a lot of those young soldiers never came back from Vietnam . . . the rail station is full of their ghosts.

     

    The rail station doors.  Imagine the emotional send-offs from this platform.  The station was closed in 1968 when regular passenger service ended.

     

    I assumed this to be the old station safe sitting outside rusting away.

     

    This coin operated kiddie car still sits outside the rail station waiting room. This relic is actually too new to have been there when I was a kid in Vernon Parish.

     

    The Museum of West Louisiana placed a few old farm implements around the rail station.  This old horse drawn tiller was fascinating.

     

    Old tiller seat.

     

    The old rail workers' bunkhouse had fabulous color and texture.

     

    The weathered old bunkhouse door.

     

    An old bunkhouse window, darkened from the light rain that was falling.

     

    Whenever I see these old, weathered windows and doors I am made aware of the man or woman who made and installed it.  What kind of day was it?  What did they have for lunch?

     

    Among the old buildings the museum transported to Leesville was this broken well.

     

    There was no shortage of artistic still life arrangements around Leesville.

     

    The Museum of West Louisiana spared no effort in obtaining authenticity!

     

    The view back up 3rd Street.  That tea house looks promising.

     

    Hazel's Tea Parlor . . . and its open!

     

    Hazel's Tea Parlor is somewhat new to Leesville.  A retired military man and his wife, originally from Philadelphia, came back to Leesville after being posted to Fort Polk many years ago.  It was their lifelong dream to open a tea house.

     

    A very cozy place . . . and the scones and tea were excellent.

     

    This is what I expected to find of my childhood memories of Leesville.  An old wall with the grocery store sign fading . . . and it was actually there!

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