Southern Hospitality

March 2022 Own Gini McKain

Huge, elegant, bald cypress trees jutting out of slow, shifting waters, and massive arrays of 100-year-old live oak trees that offer a canopy of shade and solitude line the beautiful Lake Arthur in Louisiana for the enjoyment of visitors and residents alike. The area is steeped in history dating back to the Atakapa Indians and then the early Acadians, exiled from Nova Scotia. The region flourished from the large expanse of these trees into a burgeoning lumber industry, and then rice with the help of the first of its kind in Louisiana irrigation pumping plant, with water obtained from the Mermentau River.

But it was the natural resources for hunting and fishing and other wildlife that brought tourists from Lake Charles and Lafayette, and further afield, to put this nine-mile-long lake on the map for the future. Today, the little over a mile wide lake harbors large catfish, bass and other recreational fish, along with a plethora of waterfowl gliding across its waters.  

Not far from the main part of the lake at the Mermentaw River campground is Jeff LeBlanc who enjoys relaxing on his 45-foot Destination Yacht Cajun Condeaux while he thumbs through the latest Houseboat magazine for the second time, or even third time. As soon as he gets the publication, he looks for the hidden anchor. Different issues have given him more frustration than others, depending upon the amount of time it takes him to find it. That effort has continued since he started getting it when he switched from a pontoon boat to his enjoyment on houseboats.

Catamaran Cruiser To Cajun Condeaux

The first boat was a 40- by 12-foot Catamaran Cruiser houseboat he bought east of the Mississippi River. The trip to homeport of Lake Arthur was a three-day, two-night journey and it took him through four different locks until he headed up the Mermentau River from the Intracoastal Waterway. He still talks of that exciting trip, even if his wife Cheryl won’t forget telling him that he neglected taking the ham luncheon meat for sandwiches. Cheese, check; bread, check; but sliced deli ham? No check.

The retired school teacher and oilfield worker then took the bigger step and bought another larger houseboat that they have since remodeled and refurbished. The 45- by 15-foot, one bedroom getaway was the home to his daughter and son-in-law, Jill and Darren Ortego (both school teachers), for a very short time until they moved into their permanent home upon relocating from Baton Rouge, La. Because of her allergy problems in the floating home, they decided to redo the interior with a nautical look, including reupholstering chairs, benches, bed furnishings and blinds. The reupholstering was done by Jill and Darren themselves, along with the boat decorations. 

Jeff added a salon ceiling Friedrich, mini-split 12,000 BTU air conditioner unit, and a Magic Chef 9.5-cubic-foot refrigerator that fit perfectly where an older camper fridge was. Since so much time was spent by the dock and the boat plugged into a 50-amp outlet, and having several generators, one of which is a new Onan 5500 RT, the unit served their purpose fine when the houseboat cruised on the lake with friends and family or for parties by the sandbar.

A Popular Hangout

The sandbar is a shallow area on the east side of the lake where even a DJ will provide music during the summer months while locals enjoy waterskiing, partying, or just entertaining with great food shared with one another. Other parts of the lake, especially where the Mermentau channel runs, can be 50 feet deep or more. Typical refreshments in hot Louisiana weather are shared, but in this unique area of Cajun Country, the special rum locally distilled is sometimes added to Sprite or lemonade.

The Bayou Rum Distillery, located just a few miles from Lake Arthur, is the largest private rum distillery in the United States, utilizing traditional methods with state-of-the-art technology. It’s made from local unrefined cane sugar and molasses, a central ingredient to rum. Their Bayou Satsuma Rum also includes favorite Louisiana Satsuma oranges to give an added citrus flavor to any tropical drink.

A Local Gem

A cruise down the lake may be a stop at the on-water Regatta La Seafood & Steakhouse in the town of Lake Arthur where the town has built a beautiful 11-acre facility with beach area for sunning, swimming, picnicking in a large pavilion or by grills next to a playground. The long railed concrete and wood boardwalk for houseboat tie-ups or fishing make it easy to reach the restaurant that serves great local cane syrup glazed crispy duck, traditional Cajun crawfish, shrimp or oyster dishes, and of course great steaks.

The signature duck dish is not so unusual when you realize the lake is so close to the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge that protects one of the nation’s major wintering grounds for waterfowl. During peak populations, there are over 300,000 ducks and 80,000 geese traveling through or staying among this 35,000-acre haven. There is a large population of American alligators, white-tailed deer, rabbits and other smaller wildlife to observe if taking a side trip just a few miles from the lake. You can also reach it by houseboat, since it skirts the Intracoastal Waterway, a few miles southwest of Lake Arthur along the Mermentau River that makes up the lake.

Family & Moonshine

The LeBlanc family members, including their Boston terrier Kaiann, are perfect guides while expressing their love of the area. Everyone seems to be “family,” particularly when visiting the Myers Landing RV Park where Jeff gets his fuel (the only fuel station on the lake) and additional supplies when needed.

The landing has been in the family for three generations, starting with Bill and Amy Myers. The original Myerses had the building as a bar with weekend cookouts and entertainment, from music, to card playing and reported, a little gambling. Amy always was smoking a cigar even while her husband served 30 days in jail for making spirits (moonshine) during prohibition, since they weren’t willing to pay the $100 fine in the early ‘30’s. Now that was a lot of money!

It was reported by current owner Geralyn Myers that the “Green House” (national historic landmark) a short distance away and where the early Myers lived, housed much of the moonshine, along with the still, as well as more barrels tied under the nearby wharf. The residence was built about 1836 for cattleman Alexander Hebert, and is one of the oldest remaining buildings in Southwest Louisiana. It is of French Creole design with a large steep gable room, braced frame construction and walls filled with then typical bousillage. (A wall filler of mud, Spanish moss, and lime which dried like concrete for insulation.)

Cajun Hospitality

Coming back up to Lake Arthur from the Landing, the LeBlanc family decides to take a detour to the L’Banca Albergo (“the Bank Hotel”), just a couple of blocks from their dockage in the city park. A previous bank restored into a boutique hotel with eight guest suites still has the original bank vault that has been re-purposed as the hotel’s wine vault. The hotel is in the old New Orleans architecture, while maintaining a feel of the bank upon entering the lobby, but especially the guest room that still has the bank drive-through window with drawers for the money, and an over 100-year-old safe that Roberta’s (owners Bobby and Roberta Palermo) grandfather received from the circus in town as payment for a monkey.

A trip to Lake Arthur and the LeBlanc’s would not be complete without a taste of true Cajun hospitality. In this case, it was Jeff’s shrimp tortillas and bacon-wrapped grilled shrimp. And one tortilla wrapped with shrimp is just not enough. He makes it seem effortless while talking about his enjoyment reading Houseboat.

“I like to read the articles to see what the new products might be. The trouble shooting articles are very informative and might come in handy for me also. I enjoy seeing the pretty scenery with the houseboats, and that reminds me of our trip several years ago to the On-Water Houseboat Expo. We stayed at the lodge on Cumberland Lake, and it was like Christmas. I have never seen so many beautiful houseboats before and really enjoyed it! I took so many pictures of so many great looking boats! And the people were so nice!” he exclaimed.

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