News Release

New edition of Pass Manchac region history book now available

Contact: Christina Chapple


     HAMMOND A second edition of Backdoor to the Gulf: An American Paradise Lost, the Pass Manchac Region, 1699-2008, a socioeconomic history by two Southeastern Louisiana University professors, is now available to the public.

     Written by veteran Southeastern historians Al Dranguet and Roman Heleniak, the book was published in 2006 for limited distribution to policy makers and libraries through a grant from Southeastern’s Lake Pontchartrain Basin Research Program. The 200 copies “were gone in two months,” said Dranguet, who also directs Southeastern’s International Initiatives Office.

     Because of popular demand, he and Heleniak, retired head of the Department of History and Political Science, have updated the edition and will donate proceeds to the department for scholarships and other academic needs.

     The $25 book is available through the Department of History and Political Science in Fayard Hall, Southeastern’s Follet Campus Bookstore and Bayou Booksellers in downtown Hammond.

     The book’s major emphasis is the demise of the great cypress forest which once covered the 129,000 acres of the narrow strip of land separating lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain and the areas west and south of Lake Maurepas.

     The 135-page book now includes an index and additional photographs, such as pictures of the devastating 1915 hurricane. The authors have also added an epilogue “looking at the future” that details restoration initiatives such as Southeastern professors’ and students’ research into combating saltwater intrusion and the City of Hammond’s sewage treatment system that discharges treated wastewater into the region to encourage marsh-building plant growth.

     The book’s four chapters examine facets of the region’s history from the pre-historic period and early European settlement, including the first recorded exploration of Bayou Manchac in 1699; the shipping heyday of the 1830-50s; the coming of the railroad and the skirmishes around its rails during the Civil War; the lost communities of Frenier, Ruddock and LaBranche; and the ultimately disastrous operations of the cypress industry that denuded the swamp from the 1870s to the 1920s.

     Dranguet and Heleniak also look at the “new hunters and gatherers” -- the “campers” who spend leisure time on the swamp’s waters and banks and the “swampers” who, like the earliest Native American inhabitants, “eke out a living from whatever nature provided.”

     Their research is supplemented by oral history accounts from former residents of the communities swept away by early 20th century hurricanes, such as the late Helen Burg, who recalled life in Ruddock and Frenier and families, such as the Renos, who have lived and worked in the swamp for generations.

     “If the younger generation does not appreciate the sacrifices that their parents and grandparents had to make, they will lose a lot of the history and culture that their ancestors have tried to pass along,” Dranguet said.

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