The Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics has taken students to the last five Presidential Inaugurations. Given recent events in the capital and to travel safely within numerous COVID precautions, this year’s LEAP Center-led trip will focus instead on sites outside of Washington, DC that are politically, artistically, educationally, historically rewarding–especially with regard to civil rights.
Day One: January 12, 2021
Texas’s Downtown Treasures
To start our Inaugural Trip, we visited three small towns on our way through Texas. We focused mainly on the historical and cultural contexts of the downtown areas of Nacogdoches, Marshall, and Jefferson.
Nacogdoches is known as the oldest town in Texas and tourists are drawn to the town because of its unique history. One example we learned about was the story of the Marx Brothers, a comedy team from the early-20th century. Apparently, their comedy career began at the Old Opera House (now the Cole Art Center) in Nacogdoches, when a runaway mule upstaged them, causing the audience to leave mid-performance. When the audience returned, the Marx Brothers spent the remainder of the show insulting the crowd, which resulted in laughter. Thus, their trajectory toward stardom had begun.
The red brick roads in Nacogdoches beautify the city’s downtown area…
…and were a regular sight in the other towns we visited today, including Marshall, Texas. Marshall has a historical legacy as well, being one of the key cites in intellectual property cases in the US. In fact, out of the 93 US Federal Judicial districts, it leads the country in such cases! For a group of five pre-law students, this kind of thing is interesting!
Lastly, we stopped for lunch in Jefferson, at Joseph’s Riverport Barbecue. After lunch, we explored downtown and a general store, which had all sorts of goods including a gift shop, a cafe, and an ice cream parlor. What stuck out to me was their huge variety of flavors of candy and soda fountain drinks.
After visiting all three downtown areas, we noticed how each downtown storefront had its own unique style, which makes that area of a city special and personal. Most towns, for example, have numerous strip malls that dot their interior, with chain stores offering the only shopping to the community. These towns, however, offered various shopping options–none of which were chains, at least in the downtown–and they also stamped the area with their own unique architectural and cultural styles.
The Starr Home
For one of our first historical stops, we visited the Starr Family Home State Historic Site, a state-owned and -operated historic site, where we received a great tour by Joe. The main structure of the site, Maplecroft, was home to Frank and Clara Starr, a wealthy couple living in Texas in the 19th century.
The house was built for the couple by Clara’s parents, and the inside décor – much of it consisting of the original furniture and art – is just as elegant as the architecture itself. This family home was built in the 1870s, and is filled with many portraits, tools, and household items that illuminate the life that once occupied the home.
My favorite part of the home was the east wing where Clara Starr’s mother moved into. In this part of the house, we gained a closer look into the lives of the Starr family and the lifestyle of the time period they lived in.
The European-styled hanging portraits on the walls told stories of the lives of the Starr family, and some, like the ones hanging in the east wing, shed light on the hardships that the family endured, such as losing a child.
The next room we ventured into (which I also greatly enjoyed) was the parlor, where any guests that came to visit would gather. The color scheme in the room consisted of yellows and golds, which seemed to mimic the cheerfulness that would likely take place in that room. I found it intriguing how unique each room was decorated and how they all were painted different colors depending on what was in style at that time.
Another one of the aspects that I found interesting about the Starr Home was that the home was divided, meaning that the workers/staff of the home were kept out of sight from the family and guests as much as possible, which was a common practice during this time. This meant that the staff’s rooms and corridors were separated and unseen in the back portion of the home. The staff even had a separate staircase to use that was less elegant and narrower than the main one.
In a strange way, each room in the Starr Home was calming and inviting, and it was nice to put ourselves into that time period and imagine what it would be like living there. Although this was only one of many exciting stops, I know this home is going to make my “Top 5” list.
Caddo Lake Tour
After leaving Jefferson, we made our way to Uncertain, to tour Caddo Lake., which is a lake and bayou located on the Texas-Louisiana border. The origin of the lake’s name is derived from the Native American Tribe, Caddo, the first inhabitants of the area. We had a great tour guide who was brimming with historical facts about the lake and area. (Many thanks for a great tour, Mr. McFarland!)
(Editor/Professor’s note: Prior to leaving for the trip, the students watched the documentary “Uncertain,” a fine film about the lake and some of its inhabitants. The locals are, at times, presented a bit unfairly, but the story is compelling and the film succeeds in prompting people to learn more about Caddo Lake. Educationally, such pre-trip activities prime the students to learn, a process reinforced by the direct experience, and further reinforced and crystallized upon reflection, as in this blog.)
Caddo Lake is credited with being the only naturally developed lake in Texas, formed as a result of the New Madrid Earthquakes from 1811-1812. Although Caddo Lake is a naturally made body of water, it has been altered to make the transportation of goods more efficient. For instance, Government Ditch was a canal that was created to ship cotton by steamboat from New Orleans, Louisiana to Jefferson, Texas.
Caddo Lake is filled with interesting vegetation. The swamp-like water is home to Bald Cypresses, which are tall canopying trees with wide trunks and branches.
And all are covered in Spanish moss. Their roots, called “knees,” are found extending like spears just above the swampy water to supply the trees with oxygen.
Salvinia is another variety of vegetation that is found at Caddo Lake; however, this plant should really be classified as a pest. Salvinia is an invasive species that doubles in size every seven days. If it is not properly controlled, Salvinia can overtake native vegetation.
Interestingly, Caddo Lake is a hot spot for filming movies, manyof which are horror films!
Some of the movies include The Long Hot Summer, The Legend of Boggy Creek, The Ghost of Cypress Pass and many more!
Not only does Caddo Lake offer amazing scenery, but it is also filled with beautiful wildlife that we were lucky to capture.
We may have traveled to Uncertain, Texas, but we are certain that this tour was breathtaking!
After traveling through Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi just in day one – some of us visiting these states for the very first time – we are eager and excited to see what the rest of our journey has in store!
Postscript: The students also take any targets of opportunity they can. So, in passing by Gibsland, LA, we stopped to see what Google maps calls “the death site of Bonnie and Clyde.” (That’s actually what you type in to get directions). By this time in our travels, it was nighttime, but we did get to see the site and the two markers that commemorate the occasion.