By Kimberly Wallis

Abita Springs, Louisiana has a little something for everyone. If outdoor adventure is your thing, you’ll love hiking or biking the Tammany Trace. You can also tour and taste at the Abita Brewery. You’ll also find my favorite hidden gem, the Abita Mystery House, in Abita Springs!

I don’t really remember exactly how it happened, but I came across something promoting the Abita Mystery House just before heading out to Florida with my son once. On a whim, we decided to take a short detour to find out what this place was all about, and I am so glad we did!

As we meandered our way slowly through this fun roadside attraction, with actual artistic leanings, I remember thinking how quirky cool this place had turned out to be. I remember being barraged by a constant stream of good vibes from seeing the different types of exhibits along with the various settings they were displayed in. The thing I remember most though was the slow dawning of awe as realization spread through me that this guy loves what he does and truly is living out his creative dreams.

The outer wall of the House of Shards shows a marker near the entrance.

One exhibit that I found simple, yet quite lovely, was the “House of Shards,” an old concrete stucco house decorated with over 15,000 ceramic and glass fragments. I didn’t know there were that many when I first saw it, but I might be even more impressed now that I do. As pretty as it is, the idea not only had to be envisioned, but can you imagine how daunting a task it must have been to bring it to life?

John Preble describes his museum as being decorated with tens of thousands of bottles, bottle caps, license plates, springs, motors, and found objects. It contains a homemade miniature Southern town and even has some animated exhibits. That description is technically accurate, but what it doesn’t tell you is how much fun this off the wall stuff can be! Something for everyone -junk, memorabilia, collections, art – all with a certain style yet all mishmash.

John Preble, creator of the Abita Mystery House, smiles while holding an accordion from his family’s museum.

John Preble started on the Abita Mystery House in 1995. He renovated a vintage gas service station, built a new exhibit hall and ancillary buildings, constructed several aquarium ponds containing native fish, and moved an original 90-year Old Creole cottage onto the museum grounds. After renovations, this cottage became the Northshore Art Academy where established artists teach classes for adults. This is part of the serious side to Preble’s venture, along with renting the Mystery House out for parties and stocking the museum’s gift shop with local handcrafted items. He was able to do this in part through contacts his wife made through her art jewelry business, Ann O’Brien Jewelry. Of course, the gift shop also has typical roadside attraction gifts. Whoopee cushion anyone?!

The Abita Mystery House, aka The UCM (pronounced you see um) Museum receives no government grants. It is not a non-profit nor tax-exempt. This museum is a family enterprise fueled by hard work, independence, persistence and dreams. Their museum doesn’t actually turn a profit yet, so Preble still paints traditional art to supplement his family’s income. Works from his Camille series are in numerous collections exhibited at various galleries and museums including the New Orleans Museum of Art

The Abita Mystery House has been on television with American Pickers, written about twice in the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, in Baton Rouge’s Morning Advocate newspaper, in New Orleans’ Gambit weekly, and in American Profile Magazine.

A Mardi Gras exhibit being displayed at the Abita Mystery House in Abita Springs, LA.

If the UCM Museum sounds like something you think you’d like to see (and believe me, it is!) you’ll find it in the historic district of Abita Springs. Open daily, from 10 am – 5 pm, a modest $5 gains admission to this interesting self-guided walking tour. For more information, call (985) 892-2624; or, if you’re like me, just map it and go! 22275 Hwy 36, Abita Springs, Louisiana 70420.