Heart of Louisiana: Mile Branch Settlement

Log cabin at the settlement (FOX 8 photo)
Log cabin at the settlement (FOX 8 photo)

FRANKLINTON, LA (WVUE) - If you want to see how the first pioneers lived in Louisiana, you can immerse yourself a village of log cabins in Washington Parish.  FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us to Mile Branch Settlement in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

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.

"When these people came to this area, it was nothing but virgin timber," said Burlon Bateman. "There was no cleared land. There were no saw mills. So they came in. They cut down the old-growth trees and they built a house and they were proud of it, and they continued to instill that pride through now five generations."

Bateman's great-great-grandfather built this log cabin a few years before the Civil War.  And when he returned after the war, a new sawmill made it easier to enlarge the family home.  It's a big piece of family history that is now part of Mile Branch Settlement - a collection of original pioneer cabins.

"Not many people get to go in and actually walk on the same floors and everything that their ancestors did," Bateman said.

The effort to save these original pioneer homes began back in the 1970s. Since then, 13 cabins have been donated and moved here to the settlement. 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.

"It was just the one room, but it had the hole for the fireplace but it was not there," Davis said. "The wolves would come at night and try to come in the hole to get to the children, and between grandma sitting there with the shotgun and the dogs, they kept them out."

"I think it's neat that they had the talent that they could cut the logs and lift them," said Dee Ann Polkey. "That's a long way to lift logs."

Beryl Jo Sharp is quilting on the front porch of her grandfather's 1880s log cabin.

"Sometimes children will come through, and one little girl said 'I would have been so bored.' I said, 'Oh no, honey, you would not have been bored, you would not have had time to be bored,'" Sharp said.

Sharp and her sister, Charlotte Ginn, have a copy of the original act of sale. Their grandfather bought 490 acres of land for just $850.

"First of all, we tell them the price," Ginn said. "And that usually shocks everybody, and then to tell them that we still live on part of that land."

From family heirlooms and musical instruments to kitchenware and original clothing, everything adds to the authenticity of Mile Branch Settlement. It's a unique way that families have found to preserve their own past and share it with the rest of us.

You can visit the settlement next week during the Washington Parish Fair.  The Pioneer Village is located on the fairgrounds in Franklinton.  The fair runs Wednesday through Saturday, Oct. 15-18.

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