But Cliff also sent a long letter detailing how he came to be in possession of the map and, in so doing, enlarging the name and history of one of those places in south Louisiana that today is little more than a map dot and a memory.
The map belonged to Cecile Barras, who was kin to Cliff by marriage, and apparently was once used in the school at Isle Labbe, which was a place where the railroad met the road just east of St. Martinville.
“The Isle Labbe School,” Cliff wrote, “was located on La. 96, which begins near the former location of the old Billeaud Sugar Mill just south of Broussard [and runs] easterly through St. Martinville, turning northerly, passing … Pine and Oak Alley, then turning through the community of Isle Labbe, and ending at the Catahoula community on the Atchafalaya Basin levee. A … single track railroad line running through Franklin, New Iberia, St. Martinville, Broussard, [and] Lafayette … crossed La. 96 at Isle Labbe, heading for Breaux Bridge, Opelousas, Washington, Alexandria, etc.”
He thinks Southern Pacific probably operated the rail line, but it could have been some other outfit.
“Cecile Barras probably went to the Isle Labbe school in 1911, entering the first grade about the age of 6,” Cliff continues. “It was a two-room wood-frame school and had high brick pillars. … The school had one or two teachers who probably boarded with one of the area families during the week.”
An old photograph shows that Highway 96 was nothing but a dirt road in the days when that two-room school was in operation. It also shows a large live oak tree with its trunk lying on the ground, probably blown down by a storm. It was still green and growing in that old photograph and still marked the site of the school when Cliff wrote to me.
“The tree probably served as the children’s gym set,” he wrote. “I imagine they would climb all over it during recess and swing around on the branches.”
A Durand cousin lived on the Grand Bois Plantation near Coteau Holmes and told Cliff that she attended the Isle Labbe school with several of her brothers and sisters. They would walk three miles to and from the school each day, walking on the railroad track rather than the road because the distance was shorter. They were chaperoned by an adult who was paid to make the walk each day.
The Isle Labbe School, like so many other little community schools, faded away after consolidation of the schools began. The untended building deteriorated and eventually just fell apart. The community itself pretty much faded from sight once the railroad track through it was torn up.
There are hundreds of places with the same kind of history, but they will never be completely forgotten. Their names are all recorded on the wonderful old maps that once ornamented little schoolhouses like the one at Isle Labbe.
But it takes a big magnifying glass and a long memory to stir again the image of kids walking each day down a railroad track, maybe dashing off into the woods and fields every now and then – much to the chagrin of their adult – chaperone-as they trod their way to and from those little schools.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.