DENHAM SPRINGS — Bobby Frierson’s honey exhibit was a popular stop Saturday during the city’s Pioneer Day celebration.
Frierson, who manages between 450 to 500 hives in Livingston Parish, said the demand for his honey, Louisiana Gold, sometimes outstrips his supply.
Perched on the steps of Old City Hall was exhibitor Charles Crowder, of Denham Springs, who keeps the craft of caning chair bottoms alive. Crowder said his cane, which is derived from bamboo, has to be ordered from St. Louis where the best cane is available. He said that caning is not hard but that it requires much time and patience.
Visitors to the daylong event also watched as Jesse Scott Eaves, of Denham Springs, demonstrated a craft that is rarely seen: knot tying. He said he became interested in knots during the six years he spent in the Navy. He does fancy marlinspike creations, picture frames, and knots tied around pieces of wood preserved from antique wooden vessels.
Planners and sponsors of the city’s Pioneer Day celebration said the day’s mission was to provide demonstrations of the manner in which tasks and crafts were accomplished and created by residents of a bygone era when the multitude of power tools and store-bought goods were not available as they are now.
Sprinkles and gray skies on a chilly, blustery Saturday didn’t deter patrons at the eighth annual edition of Pioneer Day from visiting and interacting with a number of craftsmen who were eager to display their creations and share their stories with the curious who strolled down Mattie Street in front of the Old City Hall Museum.
Elvin Watts, one of the Pioneer Day organizers, said the event is designed to give people, especially youngsters, a chance to see how some things were done in the old days.
“We have quilters, a bee keeper, a man who makes filé by hand, painters who use lumber and logs as their canvases, a knot tier and ladies who show their homemade jams and jellies,” he said. “It’s just a fun experience for everyone.”
An enthusiastic supporter of preserving and sharing things from the past, Patty Pearis, who frequently mans the desk at the city’s museum, said that most people call her “Patty Old City Hall” because that is where she spends most of her time. “This building was made into a museum five years ago and has evolved to the point it is today because people want to know about the old days and they are especially interested in how some things were done and how food was prepared by their ancestors. It’s a treat to give the public the opportunity to learn how their grandparents and great-grandparents got things done.”
Al Bye, another organizer of Pioneer Day and the proprietor of an extensive antique shop and promoter of Denham Spring’s Antique Village, said he is constantly surprised at how much interest today’s residents have in the past.
“People shop for antiques because it reminds them of their mamas, papas and grandparents,” Bye said. “There’s still a lot of folks who like to look back on what we call ‘the good old days’ and that’s why they love antiques and come to our Pioneer Day and other events.”
Denham Springs Main Street Organization Executive Director Donna Jennings said it was perhaps fitting that she had learned only on the morning of the Pioneer Day celebration that her city had achieved national accreditation status from the National Main Street Center. Denham Springs was one of only 10 communities in Louisiana that were so honored.
She said that Denham Springs has been successful in seeing its main street thrive because of cooperation from the city’s Arts Council, Merchants’ Association, the Main Street Committee, the Livingston Parish Tourism Office and the mayor and city council.
“It’s events such as Pioneer Day and our Fall and Spring Festivals and Christmas in the Village that keep people coming back downtown to our main street. It’s a team effort and any success we realize is because of all the good people who work all year to promote our city and especially its main street,” she said.
Pearis said the museum, which is at the heart of Pioneer Day, is a popular spot for locals and out-of-state visitors alike. She said that in the past week she has welcomed visitors from London, England, Minnesota, Ohio, Florida, Texas and many parts of Louisiana.
Saturday’s lineup also included the Jazzy Jams & Jellies booth, which attracted tasters of 16 different kinds of preserved sweet goodness prepared by Charlotte Delatorre of Zachary and Gloria Rogers of Slaughter.
The jams, jellies and salsas are made year-round and the artisans use only locally grown produce.
“There are no additives, no preservatives or anything extra added to our jams and jellies. It’s all natural,” Delatorre explained.
Children seemed especially interested in Lionel Key Jr.’s mortar and pestle where he was grinding filé from sassafras leaves that he personally gathers. Key, of Baton Rouge, said that he has been making filé for more than 30 years and that he inherited the 110-year-old mortar from his great-grandfather.
“This equipment has been making filé for more than 100 years,” Key said. “It was made out of a cypress log and it will last many more years,” he said. He took time to patiently explain to several curious young visitors how to grind the leaves for the filé that will eventually accompany a steaming bowl of gumbo.
Jules Lambert, of Watson, displayed two small pirogues that he had made from old sinker cypress. Lambert said that there are no exact patterns in existence for a pirogue because the early boat makers created their designs “out of their heads.” He said that he tracks down pirogues built by craftsmen from a generation ago and builds his boats based on their designs.