Traveling West on The Old Spanish Trail Highway

Louisiana:  From New Orleans to Texas

 

It is pretty much impossible to drive out of New Orleans, hop a ferry and drive west on the Old Spanish Trail.  The ferry routes are long gone and the Huey P. Long Bridge of the 1930s, the U.S. 90 bridge is elevated for a few miles pass the Mississippi River.  You do not on, so much as above, the original OST highway.   You can double back and take the land road to the levee, but it is is still not the original road. 

Well into the mid-30s travelers could either detour north of New Orleans or take a ferry similar to this one to reach Mississippi's coastal highway or to enter New Orleans.  Almost all of OST is buried under the newer U.S. 90 and will soon vanish almost totally beneath the concrete of IH-49 which already has the IH System shields up as coming to Louisiana, but there are sections of the priginal highway all along the way.  U.S. 90, when it separates from OST tends to take a slightly more southern route while OST turns directly through the cities that make up the Cajun heartland.

The map below is a section of the 1926 Rand McNally Auto Road Atlas of the United States, the "collector's grail" atlas for collectors of road maps.  It shows where the ferry crossing at Gretna was located and shows the turn to the south the OST takes towards Boutte, Paradis, and Raceland, Louisiana.  The broken red line marking the OST is an indicator that in 1926, although the road was graded, it was not yet paved.  Although the federal numbering system for the highway was not yet in full effect, the Rand McNally does include those numbers.  This atlas became famous for its assumption that a highway running from Lake Michigan out to California would be called U.S. 60; instead, since it did not connect two oceans, which was the requirement in the U.S. Highway interstate system for highways ending in a zero, the government called it Rte. 66.

OST winds slowly from Gretna through Boutte to Des Allemande and and Raceland.  The 1926 Rand McNally marks the route without U.S. 90 shields and with the lettering of "Old Spanish Trail," so it's fairly clear on the map above where the actual route was built.  The graded roadway in 1926 meant that it was a fairly smooth road made with a combination of sand, rocks and shells and not with asphalt.  Two years later, OST/U.S. 90 would be paved with asphalt all the way through Louisiana.

The section of the Rand McNally map below shows the progress of the road through New Iberia, Lafayette, Lake Charles and on to the Texas border.  Drivers wanting to take the original OST need to be careful through this whole route.  Just remember that OST follows the railroad.  The original highway through this stage is usually in pretty good shape and is located a mile or two north of U.S. 90.  As with crossing the Mississippi, as late as 1926, travelers had to take ferries across the Atchafalya River at Morgan City and across the Sabine River approaching Orange, Texas, from Louisiana.  Notice, on the map below, how much of that route was not yet paved.

Sometimes, OST remains and is often called Main Street through Cajun Country.  U.S. 90 is largely rural while OST is Main Street in New Iberia, Louisiana.  The late 19th century home below, with azaleas in a blaze of glory, is on OST, Main Street (one-way headed west), in New Iberia along Bayou Teche. 

Not as large as Beauvoir, where Jefferson Davis made his home on Water Street along the Mississippi coastal area that would become OST, this stately home is one of many on the Old Spanish Trail Highway that runs through New Iberia as Main Street and connected their owners to New Orleans in the East.

As the driver approaches the Texas border at Lake Charles, he or she needs to pay particular attention to the roadway.  The broken red line on the map above curves upwards towzards Mauriceville, but OST crosses the Sabine River and enters Orange, Texas.  Little of the original highway remains, but there are traces in the streets of Lake Charles.  Now, the traveler has to cross the river on IH-10 although the OST Association did manage to get a bridge across the river as early as 1928.