Heart of Louisiana: Garyville Jam

Heart of Louisiana: Garyville Jam
Published: Mar. 16, 2016 at 1:52 AM CDT
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(WVUE) - The town of Garyville got its start in 1903 with the opening of the Lyon Lumber Company, an Illinois firm that set up a mill in the giant cypress forests of Louisiana's river parishes.

"You had trees in the forest here that were 54 feet in circumference, 90 feet to 120 feet tall, that would cut 13,000 to 14,000 board feet of lumber from one tree," said Murphy Painter.

Painter's grandparents were in the lumber business. He's collects old photos that include a railroad line built by Lyon Lumber that ran from Garyville to the town of Livingston north of Lake Pontchartrain.

"Which pretty much was the first transportation between what you would call the piney woods across the lake and the swamps," Painter said.

Trains still pass through Garyville's historic district, which includes company-built homes, and the businesses of immigrants who moved to the area.  The original lumber company headquarters stands near the tracks, and still has some of its original furnishings and office equipment and some of the hand tools used to cut down the massive cypress trees.

Carl Monica is involved in an effort to restore the building and turn it into a timbermill museum. The state was going to spend nearly $2 million to do the work, but that fell through, and the building was given back to the locals.

"But this is the only building in town that the Lyon Lumber Company built that kind of resembles the plantation houses. It has the widow walk on top, it has a porch all the way around," Monica said.

The town has come up with an entertaining way to raise money.  It's developing a reputation as a place to hear and perform music. It happens every Thursday night in a community jam session, held inside the old 1909 Gary State Bank building.

The weekly musicals were organized by Peyton Falgoust, whose grandmother's family lived in the building after the bank closed in the Great Depression.

"And it's just been growing, growing and growing," Falgoust said. "We've been getting more and more people to come and just bring their instruments no matter what it is, we plug them up and we just have a huge jam session."

The Thursday night music is a reminder of the annual timbermill museum fundraiser, the Sings and Strings Festival. Once a year, this weekly jam session turns into a community-wide event. And you'll hear musicians playing on porches throughout this historic district.

But Thursday nights are just for fun, and the old bank is packed with those who like to play, and others who like to listen and sing along. And that includes Peyton's 93-year-old grandmother Frances Falgoust.

This jam session has the feel of an old-fashioned sing-a-long, as the residents of this town try to restore and save their history.

You can hear up to 100 musicians playing on front porches during Sings and Strings Festival scheduled for Sunday, April 10.

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