Ever heard of Batture dwellings?

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JeffLineBatureDwellerPots.jpg (by: Infrogmation)

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JeffLineBatureDwellerPots.jpg (by: Infrogmation)

Or batture dwellers?

I came across this unique living situation when I was researching 1930’s homes for a previous post.

Batture was the name given to the area BETWEEN the banks of the Mississippi River and the levees in the southern state of Louisiana.  ‘Batture Dwellers’ refers to the brave people who built homes in that space.

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JeffLineBatureDwellers5.jpg (by: Infrogmation)

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JeffLineBatureDwellers5.jpg (by: Infrogmation)

Land between the levee and the river is called the “Batture”. Considered part of the river (which it is in high water), the land is Federal rather than city, and poor long squatted here at their own risk, building shacks on stilts. Such became numerous during the Great Depression; people living on the batture were known as “Batture dwellers”.

– from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JeffLineBatureDwellerPots.jpg

As you might imagine, it is a rather precarious existence.

image from: http://www.nola.com/homegarden/index.ssf/2010/02/homes_on_mississippi_river_bat.html

image from: http://www.nola.com/homegarden/index.ssf/2010/02/

According to University of New Orleans professor Michael Mizell-Nelson, a colony of more than 100 batture dwellings once existed in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. By the mid-1950’s, levee expansion projects forced most of the batture dwellers to relocate.

There are only a few pockets of batture dwellers left at present day. (source)

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JeffLineBatureDwellers3.jpg (by: Infrogmation)

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JeffLineBatureDwellers3.jpg (by: Infrogmation)

The shacks, cottages and camps were largely built from driftwood and salvaged materials in the 1930’s and were also known as “Depression Colonies”. All of the structures were built on stilts and were thought to be safe except during the highest flood stages.

This excerpt below is from the 1938 Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration report on the Batture Dwellers:

During low water the batture is laid out in little gardens with chicken coops and pig pens. When the water rises, the livestock is taken up on the little galleries that run at least part way around each house and the occupants remain at home until ‘Ole Man River’ becomes too dangerous. Driftwood in the river supplies ample fuel; the river plenty of fish; and the near-by willows, material out of which wicker furniture can be made and sold from house to house in the city. There is no rent to pay, as the batture is part of the river and the property of the United States, and consequently beyond the reach of local ownership or taxation.” [p. 280]

– source: southeasternarcihtecture.blogspot.com 

image from: http://southeasternarchitecture.blogspot.com/2008/08/lexicon-batture-dwellers.html

image from: http://southeasternarchitecture.blogspot.com/2008/08/lexicon-batture-dwellers.html

How do residents of the batture land feel about their perilous living situation?

“It’s a great place to live, we love it. It’s unique. Even with the high water, we wouldn’t change it.” one resident told a local newspaper.

Another batture resident was quoted in the article as saying: “People who live there are used to water. Nobody moves up there unless they understand the way the river works. Just like you don’t move to the desert unless you expect it to be dry. No worries. It is what it is.” (source)

image from:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JeffLineBatureDwellers1.jpg (by: Infrogmation)

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JeffLineBatureDwellers1.jpg (by: Infrogmation)

I suppose you would have to be a special breed of human to live as a batture dweller: hardy but laid-back, not afraid of water, and, willing to flee (and potentially lose your home and everything in it) on a moment’s notice.

The ‘no rent’ and ‘no property taxes’ is appealing, but I don’t know that I could handle the uncertainties of the river.

 

How about you? Would you live in an imminent flood zone if the land/rent was free?

 

~~~

Sources:

http://southeasternarchitecture.blogspot.com/2008/08/lexicon-batture-dwellers.html

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JeffLineBatureDwellers3.jpg

http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2011/05/mississippi_river_just_a_fact

http://www.nola.com/homegarden/index.ssf/2010/02/homes_on_mississippi_river_bat

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Sarah Felix Burns

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