Northup Trail added to state byways system


    The Northup Trail became the latest addition to the Louisiana Trails and Byways system during ceremonies last Thursday in Bunkie. An estimated 50-60 people attended a 90-minute presentation on Solomon Northup and slavery at Haas Auditorium at 10 a.m. At 1 p.m., new signs for the Northup Trail were unveiled at the Bunkie Depot.
    There are 22 new signs that have been placed at stops along the 91-mile Northup Trail. The Trail starts in Alexandria and then goes to LSUA, Cheneyville, Bunkie, Evergreen and Mansura before ending in Marksville.
   More stops have been added to the original 12 sites designated for the 1980s Trail. Additional sites include the Red River landings where Northup entered Rapides Parish and left Avoyelles Parish, as well as sites in Mansura and Cottonport. There will be four locations along the way where people can obtain information concerning the trail -- at the Epps House, now located on the LSUA campus in Alexandria, at the Bunkie Depot, the Avoyelles Commission of Tourism in Mansura and the Rapides Tourism Commission.
    Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne was scheduled to attend the ceremonies in Bunkie, but Governor-elect John Bel Edwards asked him to remain in Baton Rouge to help with the transition in administrations. Dardenne will become the state Commissioner of Administration when Edwards takes office in January.
    Doug Bourgeois, director of Louisiana Trails and Byways, came in Dardenne’s place. Bourgeois praised everyone for the efforts made to get the once dormant trail active again.
   “We want people to get off the interstate and see the special stories that Louisiana has to offer,” Bourgeois said. “The Northup Trail is one of those special stories that will attract people worldwide to this area.”
   The interest in revitalizing the Northup Trail came about due to the 2013 release of the movie 12 Years a Slave, based on the book of the same name written by  Solomon Northup. 
    Northup was a freeborn black man in New York who was kidnapped while in Washington, D.C., and sold into slavery in Louisiana.
   Northup was sent to Central Louisiana where he served as a slave for 12 years on plantations near present-day Bunkie and in Rapides Parish. He regained his freedom due to the efforts of carpenter Sam Bass.
  Two of Solomon’s great-great-great granddaughters, Cynthia Jackson and Eileen Jackson, were present for the activities during the day last Thursday.
   Speaking at Haas Auditorium, an emotional Eileen Jackson said she has made several trips to Bunkie and the area since the movie was released and is always welcomed each time.
   “I just wonder what Solomon Northup would think if he could see the world today,” Jackson said. “I had to come today after speaking to Carlos Mayeux about the events scheduled for today.” 
   She continued that she first came to Bunkie to walk in Northup’s footsteps. Eileen Jackson added she wants to continue to come back and bring more family members.
   Cynthia Jackson added that she wants her own children and grandchildren to become a part of the Northup Trail.
Mayeux, chairman of the La Commission des Avoyelles, hopes the Trail will become a national scenic byway. He also praised the work of former Bunkie Record publisher Sue Eakin, who revived the book in 1968 with Jimmy Logsdon.
  Mayeux talked about the Epps House, which Solomon helped to build, and efforts by Ward Nash, Dick Lemoine, Tucker Melancon and others to have the house moved to Main Street in Bunkie and restored. 
   The house was severely damaged in a storm in the 1990’s. It was then moved to LSUA and was restored a second time.
   Sherry Ellington, of the Rapides Parish Tourism Commission, said the movie has generated worldwide interest in Solomon Northup.
Her office has seen an increase in travelers from across the globe coming to Central Louisiana seeking information on the Northup Trail.
   The two main speakers at last Thursday morning’s forum were Dr. Jerry Sanson and Dr. Chris Stacey.  Sanson spoke on how the movie was perceived across the world, while Stacey discussed the beginnings of slavery in the world and how it came to central Louisiana.
   The event was hosted by the Avoyelles Commission of Tourism, the Alexandria/Pineville Convention and Visitors Bureau, Rapides Parish Tourism Commission, Bunkie Chamber of Commerce, Marksville Chamber of Commerce, La Commission des Avoyelles, City of Bunkie, Bunkie Service League, Avoyelles Parish Police Jury, City of Marksville and City of Alexandria.


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