The Pass Manchac Lighthouse.

PASS MANCHAC, CROSSROADS of SPACE and TIME

When you’re flying across the bridge over Pass Manchac, imagine what the view looked like in prehistory. Instead of a glittering waterway and lake, all you would have seen was empty primeval swamp all the way to the horizon, for the Geologists tell us this is what likely sprouted from the Mississippi mud after sediments from the big river had invaded the area. Then, as the ground began to slump and fill-in with water, Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas began to expand to the size they are today. The Amite and Tickfaw Rivers were cut off by the shifting shore and became the two tidal Manchac Passes.

Native peoples who came here included the Acolapissa, Bayougoula, Houma, Tangipahoa “Corncob People,” Choctaw and many others. They advised French explorers about a shortcut or “manchac route” from the Mississippi River, through Bayou Manchac, the Amite River, Lake Maurepas and Pass Manchac and on to the Gulf Coast. This allowed the paddling traveler to forsake the challenge of navigating the rest of the powerful, unruly river and circumvent its immense, soggy delta some 100 more miles out to sea.

The avaricious European powers, the Spanish and English and their offspring the Americans who followed settled here and used Pass Manchac as an international boundary for their holdings and as a way to get to and from their settlements. For more than a century this travel was almost entirely under the unpredictability of sail, then steamboat travel became common and commerce up and down the Pass grew as did the destination communities. A lighthouse was needed to guide all the boat traffic until railroads and roads made it redundant. As the necessity of transporting people and goods by boat diminished, the lighthouse was extinguished and yet, as the Pass became less vital to the business of day-to-day life, the volume of its use for recreation today far surpasses its historic uses.

Now the Manchac Greenway crossing Pass Manchac helps link Louisiana’s unique coastal world to the rest of the continent and also joins two cultural and historic worlds - the River Parishes, settled by Germans, Frenchmen and Africans who tilled the soil, fed New Orleans and partook of the Mississippi River’s mighty plantation economy to the Florida Parishes, with its disparate population getting by in the Piney Woods.