Heart of Louisiana: Ponthieu's store

Avoyelles Parish -- The old bridge shown in a 1945 photo was nearly 40 years old when the picture was taken. It was built in 1916 by the Avoyelles Parish police jury in the town of Big Bend. It was an escape across Bayou des Glaises from the frequent flooding along the Mississippi, Atchafalaya and Red Rivers.

The steel framed bridge, with its heavy concrete supports, is the first Louisiana bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It operated at a time when steamboats could travel Bayou des Glaises.

The bridge barely stayed above the water during the record flood of 1927. The surrounding towns and homes were destroyed. Some of the buildings here today grew out of the ruins of the great flood.

Across the highway from the swing bridge is another historic landmark. It's the old grocery store that's 84 years old. And inside there's the old Big Bend post office that dates back more than 160 years.

"The Big Bend post office was established in 1847," says Jimmie Bernard, "and we have a list of the postmasters in there. And this was an old grocery store -- the hub of the community, I guess you would say."

Bernard takes care of the old store, which now operates as a parish museum. He can show you an ancient curling iron.

"Be careful not to touch your ear, because you would burn your ear," Bernard warns us.

The original scale used to weight produce is still here, along with the pots and pans, the hardware, even a gasoline engine-powered washing machine.

"Just think, the little old lady, she was kickstarting her washing machine back then," says Bernard.

Ponthieu's store is still the local voting precinct, although they don't use the old ballot boxes anymore.

"The store belonged to my uncle Adam," Myrna Ponthieu Tullier tells us.

Ponthieu Tullier grew up in Big Bend. She remembers when her uncle began showing movies on the white outside wall of the building. "And in the winter time, there was an old pot belly stove you'll see in there, that a lot of the guys sit around in the winter time and chat."

You get a real feel for the days when the Ponthieu store had to provide most of the needs for this small community.

But on April 30, 1994, Adam Ponthieu postmarked the last letter here. The post office closed. Zip code 71318 was gone. So was the town's name "Big Bend" which no longer appears on many maps.

When visitors stop by, Jimmie Bernard personally gives the tour.

"Whether it be from the old grocery store or the history of this area, you know, I hope they've learned something," says Bernard.

This town knows it has saved something that's special -- a piece of history they gladly share with any who has the time to stop and listen.