March 15, 2015

Sicily Island in 1869 - A Geographical and Topographical Description

Catahoula News Booster - November 25, 1976
Although the photographs above and below were taken in 1976, my purpose for posting them is to give readers an idea of how parts of the area looked as far back as 1869.

The following is a geographical and topographical description of Sicily Island in 1869 as written by Col. Samuel Henry Lockett in his book, Louisiana As It Is:
Above Harrisonburg and on the opposite side of the Ouachita lies the fairest portion of Catahoula Parish, namely, Sicily Island.  This island, which is about twenty-five miles in length and half as much in average breadth, is peculiar in several respects.  In the first place it contains the only Pine Hills of any considerable height lying east of the Ouachita within the boundaries of this state.  These hills are nearly mountainous in elevation, reaching a height of at least one hundred fifty feet; they are steep, rugged, rock strewn and evidently a continuation of a chain on the western side of the river.  Through this chain the Ouachita must have forced its way.  The area covered by these hills is five miles in length and about two miles in width at their maximum breadth.
Catahoula News Booster - November 25, 1976
The timber left on the uncultivated parts of the Bluff region is certainly the finest I ever saw. The forest is dense beyond conception, not from an undergrowth of brush and shrubbery, but from a crowding together of trees, extremely tall, large, and well proportioned.  Magnificent poplars, beeches and magnolia, gigantic oaks of at least ten different varieties and several species of gum trees are mingled together in splendid confusion, while the muscadine and other native grapevines that interlace themselves amongst the lofty branches give to the whole scene an appearance of teeming life and luxuriance not often witnessed, even in the South.  In some of the lower and damper spots, a rank undergrowth of cane adds its share to the already bewildering effect of so wondrous an abundance of vegetation.
The bluff land contains the plantations of some twenty-five well-to-do planters whose average crops, I understand, are a bale of cotton to the acre and from thirty to forty bushels of corn. These lands cover about half of the surface of the island; the rest of it being low swamp lands liable to overflow and not susceptible of cultivation.  Among the many other pleasing features of the area which may be mentioned are the excellence of its roads, which present a grateful contrast to the rough, gullied and unworked roads of the hill county; also the neatness and beauty of the plantations and the planters' houses. And if Dr. Lovelace may be taken as an example, the intelligence, refinement and hospitality of these planters deserves a special mention.

Lockett, Samuel H., Louisiana As It Is, L.S.U. Pr., 1969, p. 73.
Catahoula News Booster, 1976

About the author:
Samuel Henry Lockett was an engineer, educator, and soldier. He graduated from Howard College in Alabama and in 1854 was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in 1859 as a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. Lockett joined the Confederate Army and became colonel and chief engineer for the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. He was a professor of engineering and commander of cadets at Louisiana State Seminary, Alexandria, 1868-1873. During the summers of 1869, 1870, and 1872 he traveled throughout Louisiana gathering data for a topographical survey of the state. Lockett is the author of Louisiana as it is, a geological and topographical and description state and The coast of Louisiana.

Special Collections at Tulane University

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