Nov 28, 2011

Visiting Lake Charles' Imperial Calcasieu Museum

The Sallier Oak is majestic and one of the oldest and largest trees in Louisiana. It is estimated to be about 400 years old, which means it has witnessed much of the area’s history. It is a live oak, which does not grow in northern climes. The tree’s impressive limbs stretch out with some resting on the ground for support. The tree is covered with a topcoat of Resurrection Fern. The fern, which does not damage the tree, uses the oak as a host and springs to life after a little rainfall.

The Sallier Oak is located behind the Imperial Calcasieu Museum that was the home of Charles Anselm Sallier, the namesake founder of the city. The tree is a testament to the desire to survive. After the Hurricane of 1918, the tree began to split down the middle and was chained back together with heavy iron chains. These have now grown into the tree and can still be seen hanging out of the bark of the tree. The north side of the tree was damaged by lightning in the 1930’s and caught fire. Many of the branches on the north side were lost which gave the oak the leaning appearance it has today but the tree still survives and is given tender loving care to make sure it continues to survive.

One of the things that make museums so wonderful is that there is always something of interest to everyone. John was most interested in the Sallier Oak while I always enjoy the displays and artifacts from an earlier time. They had an Edison “talking machine” which still works. While we were there a Chinese-American visitor was excited to see memorabilia from General Claire Lee Chennault, an American World War II member of the U.S. Army Air Corps and once a resident of Lake Charles. John and I had never heard of Chennault but the other visitor knew all about Chennault and mentioned, “Chennault is famous in China. All the school children know who he is because he commanded the “Flying Tigers.” The Flying Tigers were a volunteer group that helped to defend China from Japanese invasion.

John and I always enjoy driving around historic neighborhoods looking at houses. The Charpentier District, on the National Register of Historic Places, covers 40 blocks with hundreds of turn-of-the-century buildings of mixed styles. Even though each building has its own unique charm from wrap-around porches to gambles to towers to gingerbread there is one distinct Lake Charles feature – the Lake Charles Column. It is unique in that the paneled, slightly tapered square column developed in Lake Charles around 1905 and can be found on a variety of buildings. The Margaret Place section of the historic district has a wonderful collection of Victorian architecture from the 1800s. A family who must have been preparing for a Halloween celebration came out on their porch to wave to us – true Southern Hospitality.

During the 1800s, experienced lumbermen known locally as "Michigan Men" arrived in Lake Charles. They introduced the Victorian architectural style popular in America at the time. However, the 1911 City Hall is Spanish Baroque. The architecture of the area is an eclectic mix; or, as they say “making gumbo out of anything including architecture.” Visitors can take a walking or driving tour of the historic district, or enjoy a carriage ride. Carriage rides leave from the newly completed Lakefront Promenade. For more information check