Madisonville, Louisiana might not be as familiar as the nearby destinations of Covington and Mandeville, but the town has a familiar feel to it even if it’s your first visit. Like other places in our watery neck of the woods, it’s historic and hospitable and gets its energy and character from the body of water it is built on. Madisonville is handy, too, at just an hour’s drive from either New Orleans or Bay St. Louis.
At 199 years old, Madisonville is surprisingly small for its age. Steven Marcus, president of the local chamber of commerce, estimates the town proper has less than 800 residents.
There are shops, restaurants, and beautiful homes — old and new — in the heart of town, overlooking the river, with pleasure boats moored out front. “The majority of residents are retired, and a lot their families grew up there in family homes,” Marcus said.
Along Water Street, there are restaurants including Morton’s Seafood, Abita Roasting Co., and the River Food Mart — owned by Marcus, who is also an insurance agent in town. Parking at many places is across Water Street, facing the river.
During lunch at the sprawling Friends Coastal Restaurant (407 St. Tammany Street), the second story dining room made the most of the sweeping views of the river below and more boats of all sizes.
It seems there are equal numbers of cars and boats in Madisonville, and looking in almost any direction you see boats moored in marinas and docked in front of homes. With access to the Tchefuncte and Lake Pontchartrain two miles south, boating is a natural part of life here. “We are a boating community,” Marcus noted.
Madisonville has a long history of shipbuilding and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum pays tribute to the town’s iconic lighthouse and its seafood, timber, and shipbuilding traditions. The museum’s ship models include the white-winged Biloxi Schooners.
It’s clear visiting Madisonville and talking to residents that history and heritage are important.This is a place where there are celebrations year round (it is south Louisiana, after all) including a Mardi Gras boat parade and boat races. But the biggest community event of all is the annual Wooden Boat Festival, set this year for Oct. 8-9. “We have other events but it is our biggest one,” said Marcus. “It’s what the town is known for.”
The Wooden Boat Festival, in its 27th year, pays tribute to the Gulf Coast’s handcrafted wooden boats and is the major fundraiser for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum. The weekend is filled with boats of all kinds, food, art, music, and fun activities for kids and adults.
The wooden boats, about 100 in all, are the stars of the show, and they’re all on display for visitors to see and admire up close. Some of the boats are open to the public by appointment. “The owners love to show off their boats and they love to talk about them,” Haase said.
The lineup includes cruisers, work boats, luggers, runabouts, trawlers, sailboats and other types of wooden boats. Biloxi’s own Glenn L. Swetman schooner, named last year’s Best in Show entry, will be back this year representing the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum.
The festival also has a kid’s boat shop, a classic car and motorcycle cruise-in, a beer garden, carnival rides, and bands performing each evening.
In addition to the festival's website, the event makes full use of social media. Follow announcements on Twitter (#WoodenBoatFest) and Facebook (WoodenBoatFestival).
Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and free for kids under 12 and active duty military. Parking is available nearby and shuttle service is provided.
For more information, contact the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum at (985) 845-9200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.