Garyville Dreaming: Community works to rekindle magic

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, May 10, 2017

GARYVILLE — There are those who remember when the riverside community of Garyville was a hub of activity in the River Parishes.

Most of it centered around the Lyon Cypress Lumber Company mill, which opened in 1903 to harvest Louisiana’s then-bountiful cypress forests, drawing residents and immigrants to the area like bees to honey and spurring the growth of the town.

“We had everything,” said Carl Monica, who grew up there. “We had the bank, the store that was just like a Walmart, the bakery. We had a movie theater, a pharmacy. There was no need to go anywhere else.”

By the end of the 1930s when there was no more cypress to be cut and the mill shut down, though, the town of Garyville began to fade.

Carl Monica holds a rendering of the old Lyon Cypress Lumber Company mill while standing in the Garyville location where it used to operate.

Today it’s a relic of a time gone by, with several nice, well-built buildings in the downtown historical district.

Monica and a handful of others are trying to preserve Garville’s historic treasures and put some of the luster back on the town — this time as a tourist destination.

“I think we have a lot to offer here,” Monica said. “We’re right in between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and we have the plantations all around.”

There are only about 2,500 residents of the town, but there are a lot of historic relics scattered about.

The largest concentration is in historic downtown. While the movie theater, pharmacy and bakery are long gone, the Gary State Bank has been gloriously restored and is now a music venue, where various amateur musicians gather on Thursday nights for jam sessions.

The Lyon Cypress Lumber Company was attracted to the forest of cypress trees and bought Glencoe Plantation, giving birth to a thriving lumber business and the town of Garyville.

The Garyville General Store still offers assorted grocery items, fresh cut meat and homemade sausage.

The old church rectory has been lovingly restored and converted into a sprawling bed and breakfast that has lured tourists from around the world to plantation country.  The trip also can include a boat ride on the old mill pond, where the cut cypress trees were stored before going to the mill.

The Old Rectory House sits beside a memorial garden and rosary walk. There’s also a new trail walk and bicycle path.

Shuttered but not forgotten is the old Garyville Timbermill office, located on the edge of the historic district.

Once filled with artifacts from the mill and the founding of the town, it was taken over by the state museum system in the late 1990s with promises of millions of dollars to restore the building.

When that didn’t pan out, the locals took it back and have been raising funds and doing the renovations themselves.

In 2014, they began the annual Sings and Strings music festival, which has been extraordinarily successful.

The funds from past years allowed the museum group to repair the widow’s walk and front porch, replace the roof and restore the small annex building.

This year the event raised more than $15,000, which the group will use to repair the front façade and paint the building.

“We did very well,” Monica said. “We should be able to get a lot of work done with that.”

The group also has its eye on the old Garyville Grammar School, located a few short blocks away. Last month Monica made a pitch to the school board, asking to take it over.

“They’re just using it for storage,” said Mike Coburn, the current president of the museum group. “It has a big stage in there we could use for musical events. We hate to see that go to waste.”

Monica said the group will continue to rely on localized fundraisers but also is beginning to look into the grant process for help.

“We’ve lost a lot,” Monica said. “But there’s a lot left to save here, too. It’s a very slow process, but we’re moving along.”