Local angle adds to appeal of history guidebooks

LANDMARKS & MONUMENTS
OF BATON ROUGE

By Hilda S. Krousel

The History Press, $19.99 paperback, 128 pp.

IMAGES OF AMERICA, ASSUMPTION PARISH

By Vivian Achee Solar

Arcadian Publishing, $21.99 paperback, 128 pp.

Although they are published by two different companies, these two small books are remarkably similar in scope and format. Each makes extensive use of black-and-white photographs. Each provides a brief yet concise history of its subject. Each can be used as a supplemental tour guide.

Krousel, a historian who lives in Baton Rouge, offers the kind of historical tidbits that even locals may not know. She locates EtennĂ© de BorĂ©’s sugar kettle on the LSU campus — in 1795 this humble cast iron vessel was the vessel in which sugar was first granulated in kettles in Louisiana. Not only does Krousel explain where the kettle is, she gives an entertaining backstory of where it was before, and it is well-traveled. Other historical landmarks in Krousel’s book include the brass figurehead from the USS Louisiana which now marks an entrance to City Park and the Fort Sumter Saloon’s Third Street Cannon which is enigmatically sunken muzzle-first in the cement of a sidewalk downtown. The cannon is familiar to downtown pedestrians, but most don’t know its cloudy history or the more recent controversy that erupted when it was removed in 1969. The public was enraged and forced the return of the quirky landmark.

Krousel documents statues (Hebe, Huey and more), historical monuments, military monuments and more. She gives some often offbeat history of each. She even writes about a vanished monument, the 8-foot statue of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto that once graced the LSU campus. Where did it go? No one is sure, but Krousel offers the most popular theories.

Krousel’s book is entertaining, and her writing is clear and restrained. This book might have been improved with small maps to locate the landmarks, plaques and statues, since not everyone who might read it knows where the River Center is or the Pentagon Barracks.

Solar is a librarian, and she has searched near and far for vintage photographs of Assumption Parish and its residents. She has collected scores of delightful images in her book. There are photos of a crowd gathered around a steam locomotive at Cancienne Plantation Train Station. Horses and wagon and buggies and a big crowd outside a Labadieville church in the 1890s. In another, the Singer family proudly poses outside the Central Rail Depot. There are horseback riders, a cowboy and some turn-of-the-century Halloween trick-or-treaters.

Many photos of plantation houses appear, of course, and some of them are gone now. It’s rare, however to have a photograph of one of those legendary structures being destroyed. Yet there is a photo in the book of Glenwood aflame in 1955. The photographer was also a volunteer fireman.

There are priests at Mass, many farmers in their fields, especially sugar cane fields, and musicians, merchants, students and teachers, law officers, officials and lots of ordinary folks many of whose countenances are echoed in the visages of contemporary residents of the parish. It’s the history of a people and a place all in pictures.

Either of these books would make a nice stocking stuffer for the history buff on your list.