By Heather Raulerson
(Text in blue is from our August 2023 issue) It’s almost time for college kids to return to campus. Whether dropping your child at the dorm, visiting for a college tour, or returning for the alum reunion, taking time to explore the town makes for a memorable campus visit.
One college town embodies it all with a small-town feel and many activities to enjoy while visiting—the University of Louisiana Monroe. The stunning University of Louisiana Monroe campus is situated in the eastern part of Monroe on the banks of Bayou DeSiard, covering 238 beautiful acres. My recent trip to Monroe, Louisiana, showed me how much there is to do in this college town.
Explore the Stunning Campus
Monroe is the largest city in Northeast Louisiana. With year-round outdoor recreation activities, a small-town feel, and high-quality accredited programs, the University of Louisiana Monroe is one of the top affordable universities in Louisiana. The programs range from Psychology, Nursing, and Liberal Arts, to the #1 Pharmacy program in the state and the only university to offer Meteorology degrees in Louisiana. The campus buildings are nestled among the trees and have lovely views of the Bayou DeSiard. Drive around the campus to see the gorgeous Library, the stadium, and the more recent addition of the medical school building. On sunny days, you can even watch the water skit team practice on the bayou.
Touring the Coke Museum, Biedenharn Museum & Gardens
The Biedenharn Coke Museum is a must-see for any Coca-Cola enthusiast, where you can learn how Joseph Biedenharn was the first person to bottle Coca-Cola in 1894 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Starting with the vintage Old-Fashioned Soda Fountain, you can follow the bottling beginnings with the process of mixing the syrup and carbonated water and pouring the drink into Coke glasses, to the manual bottling process that could bottle 50-100 glass bottles an hour, and to how Coca-Cola plastic bottles are made today. The museum has many coke memorabilia and photo opportunities, especially by the 1924 Model T delivery truck. Don’t forget to grab a refreshing bottle of Coca-Cola from an original soda vending machine for a nickel.
Trivia: Did you know Coca-Cola sold the right to bottle Coca-Cola throughout the United States for $1.00?
After touring the museum, walk a short distance to the Biedenharn Home, where you can get a guided tour through Joseph Biedenharn’s home and view the rooms exactly how they lived in them in 1914. When you enter the conservatory, a huge fountain is in the corner. Mrs. Biedenharn held parties in this room, and she would have the bottom of the fountain filled with ice and bottles of Coke for her guests. Walking through the home, you notice the little details, like the floor-to-ceiling library, crystal chandeliers, and gold-leaf wallpaper.
Emy-Lou Biedenharn lived here after her parents and displayed all her impressive travel souvenirs, including photos of her life as a famous opera singer. If there were a lady to envy for being well-traveled, it would be Emy-Lou. You can see it clearly through her photos of her on a camel in Egypt in front of the pyramids and going to Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation.
The Elsong Garden is a lovely walled English Garden with fountains, sitting areas, and grottos separated into four sections. The Ballet Lawn has the stunning Wagnerian Fountain as the centerpiece; the Four Seasons Garden is a greenhouse with plants such as the Ponytail Palm, Rabbit-Tracks, and Elephant’s Ear Plants; the Oriental Garden; and the Musical Grotto with little cherubs hiding among the rocks. While touring the gardens, you can get a Coke out of the vintage soda vending machine for a nickel.
Then head to the next portion of the museum: the Bible Museum. Emy-Lou Biedenharn collected rare and unique Bibles, which are on display. You will see an original 1611 King James Bible, a page from the 1454-55 Gutenberg Bible, and numerous other Bibles. I was fascinated with the section detailing how art was created in Bibles, especially a Jerusalem Bible with illustrations by Salvador Dali.
Chennault Aviation & Military Museum
Nothing makes you more grateful for the military than walking through a military museum. I have been to several, and each one, including the Chennault Aviation & Military Museum, focuses on the lives and, unfortunately, some of the deaths of the local heroes defending the United States. This museum is divided into military branches and moves you through the world conflicts from World War I to current military campaigns. Each display case shows the story of Northeast Louisiana’s finest, and some are quite moving. The museum also details the history of this building, being one of the last standing buildings from WWII Selman Army Airfield Navigation School that had 15,000 navigators trained here, the birth of Delta Airlines from a crop-dusting service, and a room devoted to the leader of the Flying Tigers, Louisiana native General Claire Chennault. Don’t forget to check out the restored fighter planes in the park next to the museum.
Cross the Ouachita River and Explore West Monroe
If you have more time, browse the shops in Antique Alley, take in the vintage Coca-Cola street murals, and pick up a few trinkets along the way. Grab a drink at Two Warriors Meadery and chat with Curtis and Cameron. These Army vets are making one heck of an award-winning honey wine. If you haven’t tried honey wine before, you are missing out. Afterward, head to Trapp’s for a scenic view of the river and a huge plate of seafood nachos. Unready to call it quits? Walk to the Flying Heart for the “Flying Waffle” dessert. The perfect way to end your evening.
Duck Commander Warehouse
Another fun activity is to tour the Duck Commander Warehouse. If you have watched Duck Dynasty videos or shows, a self-guided tour takes you through the entire Robertson story, from creating their first duck call to their multi-faceted business adventure. Plan to spend some time here going through the 15 galleries of memorabilia, pictures, videos, and even a swamp setting for your own duck hunt with your newly put-together duck call. Practicing your duck calls is one of the highlights of the tour.
Exploring Monroe and West Monroe is a wonderful way to complete your visit to the University of Louisiana Monroe.
And while you are driving around, make sure to keep an eye out for the Heron Hunt of Northeast Louisiana. There are over 100 Herons decoratively painted all over these two towns, which is quite the scavenger hunt.