While in the Alexandria/Pineville area, be sure to check out some of the local museums that are recording and preserving the history of Central Louisiana. The Southern Forest Heritage Museum, in Long Leaf, tells the story of the sawmill and lumber industries, crucial to the fortunes of this part of Louisiana. The museum boasts the sole intact steam-powered sawmill remaining in the South, which director Claudia Troll called a “time machine” to the history of this area. Wood from this sawmill helped rebuild the South after the Civil War and was used to make the Higgins boats during WWII, light crafts used in amphibious landings and praised by Eisenhower himself as crucial to the American victory.
The Southern Forest Heritage Museum also tells the other side of the story: its materials on New Deal-era efforts to address deforestation in the area have led to recognition as one of the finest Civilian Conservation Corps museums in the South. Instead of static displays, the SFHM has built interactive, hands-on exhibits that help patrons physicalize and understand the history recorded there. The museum is currently working on an exhibit on the area’s role in World War II, made possible by a generous bequest by local collectors; so there will soon be even more to see!
Military history buffs will enjoy the Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum, located on the grounds of the National Guard’s Camp Beauregard. The museum honors the military history of Louisiana from colonial days until the present; but its special focus is on the Louisiana Maneuvers, a U.S. armed forces military readiness exercise that saw two “foreign” armies (both, in actuality, made up of U.S. troops) fighting over Central Louisiana. The Louisiana Maneuvers took place in 1940 and 1941, when World War II had begun but the United States was not yet directly involved; and lessons learned from this fictional campaign helped figures like Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and George Patton assess American readiness on the eve of war.
Get more information on the Southern Forest Heritage Museum, open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 4pm and Sunday from 1 pm to 4 pm at forestheritagemuseum.org. The Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. More information at geauxguardmuseums.com.