John Berton Gremillion
(transcribed by Leora White, 2008)
Prepared in 1963 as an unpublished manuscript, using
secondary sources for the history and background
with statistical information brought up to date.
This copy Xeroxed from the original carbon copy
in the Louisiana State Library
A. EARLY HISTORY
In the early days of America, when the Spaniards were settling Louisiana and Mexico a strip of country forming the western boundary of the Providence of Louisiana lay obscure and little known. The early maps list it loosely “Attakapa Country” - giving it the name of a wandering Indian tribe frequently found there camping along the river and bayous. In 1818 maps appeared listing the territory as the “Calcasieu country,” or, "Calcasieu Valley” from the name of the river flowing through it. It is not always spelled thus; at times it appears as “Caleashue." Orthography and geography do not seem to have given any worry to our pioneers. In spelling a word they merely accepted the law of least resistance.
On some of the older maps, and on some of the old Spanish land grants on lining boundaries, the Calcasieu River is many times noted as “Bayou Quelqueshue”, and some times as “Culcashue” - never “Quelgue Chose" as some think was the original name. The country was roamed over by Indians and not always by the same tribe, but there is well-founded authority for the statement that “Calcasieu” is derived from the name of an Attakapa Indian chief, “Crying Eagle,” who was given this name for the peculiar cry similar to that of an eagle - and as he went into battle. In Attakapa language the name was “Katkosh Yok,” and word coming from Katkosh (Eagle) and yok, (to cry). Spanish adventurers coming through this country in the middle 1700’s adopted the name given the river by the Indians, spelling the name as they willed, until it finally come down to us in the present form.
When France ceded Louisiana to Spain (1762), and when Spain restored Louisiana to France (1803) and, finally, when France sold Louisiana to the United States little was known or cared about the geography of the country they were peddling. This ignorance, or carelessness, was the cause of much contention and many bloody battles. Spain claimed ground nearly to the middle of what now is the state of Louisiana, while France claimed it as far west as the Brazos River.
When the United States acquired Louisiana prompt action was taken to safeguard her interests. Forts were established along the Sabine River which the United States accepted as the boundary of Louisiana and emigration to this section was encouraged. Border troubles kept up for a long time and in 1830 a fort was erected at Niblett's Bluff, near the present town of Vinton, then a thriving settlement on the Old Spanish Trail where cattle drovers stopped to rest on their trek to the New Orleans markets with their great herds of long-horn cattle from Texas. Another fort of crude logs was built on the bank of “Charles Lake” and given the name of “Cantonment Atkinson” in honor of Brigadier General Henry Atkinson who was in command of the western division of the United States Army. The fort was located at what would now be the foot of Lawrence Street in Lake Charles, commanding a superb view of the lake and river and giving passage through the woods in the rear to the Old Spanish Trail.
In 1832 the post was abandoned and the log building with its fifteen rooms was sold to James Barnett who, in turn, sold it in the late ‘30’s to Thomas Bilbo, a French Canadian, who became the first surveyor of Calcasieu Parish, laying out the boundaries of much of the land acquired in the early 40’s. Tradition has it that Santa Anna, the Mexican general, once was a guest at the fort and later - in the days of Bilbo - the man who defeated Santa Anna in the battle for Texas, Sam Houston, was also entertained here. This building, once serving as Fort Atkinson during border troubles, was torn down at the turn of the century, and today a granite marker stands on the City Hall square in Lake Charles, place there by the Daughters of the American Revolution to remind the townspeople of this historic episode in American History.
The Calcasieu country was inhabited by white people before the American Revolution. They were attracted to the banks of the lake from which the city receives its name by its great natural beauty and healthy location, by the broad prairies rolling away to the east and south, providing pasturage for their herds, and by the facilities it possessed, and still possesses, for the transportation of goods and products.
Probably the first to arrive was Martin LeBleu who came about 1770 and settled on English Bayou. Originally from Bordeaux, France, LeBleu lived for a time in Virginia before he set out for the west upon making his home wherever his vagrant fancy prompted. In a two-wheeled bullock cart, LeBleu and his young wife set out with their pitifully few wares, traveling mile after mile until they reached the rich Calcasieu land. His wife, we are told, took a fancy to the drooping cypresses and the majestic moss-hung oaks and persuaded her husband to stop and camp. This he did. And here he built their home - a 20 x 20 foot house of unhewn logs - the first house erected on east side of the Calcasieu River.
On the west side of the river, Lois Reon was building himself a home on Bayou D’Inde, settling there while Louisiana was yet under Spanish domination. Here, too, a little later came Henry Moss, Jacob Ryan, Sr., Pierre Vincent and Thomas Rigmaiden. Because of the uncertainty of the boundary line and because they had been given Spanish land grants, these settlers paid taxes to the Spanish governor at Nacogdoches and late as 1819. The Vincent home, over a century old, remains today serene and peaceful, withdrawn from the noise and tension of modern life, but the other pioneer homes on Bayou D’Inde are gone and in their places rise the towering steel structures of the Cities Service and Firestone plants turning out vast supplies for the prosecution of a world at war.
About 1800, upon the shores of what is now Lake Charles, Charles Sallier, a native of Savoy, France, built his home - the first in Lake Charles. Here, in 1802, he brought his wife, Catherine, daughter of Martin Lebleu, the first white female child born east of the Calcasieu.
The site of the house is at the head of the river on the Barbe homestead. The Barbe house is built over and around the old house, the center four rooms of which constitute the original Sallier home. The land on which it stands was a Rio Hondo claim (Spanish land grant) and finally came to the United States through the Louisiana Purchase.
Sallier’s name is preserved in Sallier Street, running east and west across his old farm, about a mile from the lake shore.
The origin of the name Lake Charles is a pretty illustration of the way geographical names are fixed, not by deliberation or by design, but by popular usage. In the early days of Southwest Louisiana it was a common custom among the natives to ignore a man’s surname and call him by his christened name only, or perhaps a nickname given him because of some trait, or the country he came from. Sallier was known among his neighbors as “Mr. Charles” and the lake near his home was “Charles’ Lake”. In time the lake and the town became Lake Charles.
During the border dispute a new class of pioneers arrived. Heretofore the settlers had been largely French, with a sprinkling of Spanish and other nationalities. To secure homesteads which the United States was offering to settle the country and hold it against Spanish claims, families come from the southern states east of the Mississippi and bore such name at David Choate, Dempsey Iles, Joshua Johnson, John Henderson, among many others. The little settlement began to grow until it spread over a large section of the country and the people began to think of being organized into a parish themselves. They had for years been going to Opelousas to attend court and vote, if they voted at all. This required a trip of two weeks on horse back, camping at night by the roadside, on their way back and forth.
At this time the district was a part of St. Landry with the seat of Justice at Opelousas.
About 1824 came more settlers, among them John Bryan (Father of J. W. Bryan, Lake Charles’ first mayor); William Praither; Richard West; Thomas Bilbo; James Hodges, James Barnett; Michel Pithon: Alexander Herbert. The influx thus started continued until 1840 when Calcasieu was created a parish out of the western part of St. Landry.
The parish thus created was a princely domain although it had few inhabitants - there were 2,000 inhabitants in 6,000 sq. miles of territory, or, practically one soul to every 2,000 acres. It comprised an area larger than the Kingdom of Belgium, or the state of Delaware, and was long referred to an “Imperial Calcasieu”. It extended from the mouth of the Mermentau River to the dividing line between the parishes of St. Landry and Rapides, thence along this line to the Sabine River, then along the sea coast “to the place of beginning”.
A site six miles from the present Lake Charles was selected at the parish seat, largely because it was in the path of the Trail from Texas to New Orleans, and was named “Marion”. A log court house and jail were constructed and for 12 years the business of the parish was transacted here. Business was not very brisk, judging from the old records. The parish assessor was paid $100 a year, half to be paid by this parish, half by the state.
Then, at the instance of Jacob Ryan, Jr., the matter of moving the seat of justice to Lake Charles was agitated. Ryan had left his father’s home on Bayou D’Inde and had established his own home and tiny sawmill on the lake, between what is now Broad and Pujo Streets, and he saw the possibilities of the growing settlement there. In 1852, with the approval of the state authorities who said “they didn’t care where the seat of justice was placed if it did not involve any expense to the state” - the court building and jail were loaded on ox-wagons and brought through the woods and placed on the square of ground where today stands the imposing court house of Calcasieu Parish.
The land on which it stands was donated jointly by Jacob Ryan, who with his partner, James Hodges, conducted a trading post nearby, and by Samuel Adams Kirby, who was the town’s first lawyer. Both of these men were instrumental in developing the settlement that was one day to be an important town. Jacob Ryan, often called “The father of Lake Charles”, later sold property along what is now Ryan Street by the rope-length. Business men in the early days when they wished to buy property on Ryan Street found in the abstracts that “Uncle Jake" had first sold the property, sitting leisurely in his mill on the lake front, to people who measured it off themselves with a length of rope furnished by Uncle Jake.
His mill was a primitive affair. After rolling logs out of the water, they were scalped and laid across a ditch deep enough to permit a man to manipulate one end of the cross-cut saw. By means of a string and a gourd of soot from the family chimney, a fairly straight line was drawn of the log and followed by sawyers, one on top of the log and one underneath. In favorable weather they could cut 500 feet a day.
Captain Daniel Goos came to Lake Charles in 1855 and established a mill at what in now called Goosport, brought improved methods, using the first engine to cut lumber. Soon a considerable trade sprang up between Galveston and Mexican ports. Schooners were the means of transportation, carrying away lumber and bringing back goods to be retailed by local merchants. Capt. Goos extended his activities to schooner building and closed his mill. His fleet of schooners soon became large and important, and he built the first steamboat to go down the river to Lake Charles. Goos shortly became one of the most important men in the community. He had unbounded energy and interest in the town and was responsible for a large German emigration to this section from his native country.
The Civil War halted the lumber business and ship building for some years. After the war came the first influx of Northern and Middle Western settlers and it was their coming which differentiated Lake Charles from the rest of southern Louisiana. It became predominantly middle-western instead of Louisiana French.
By 1876 there were 12 sawmills and many logging companies. Communication with the outside world was still by schooner, and at times there would be as many as fifteen of the big, white-sailed windjammers waiting on the lake to carry the products of the mills to Galveston, Point Isabel, Corpus Christie, Tampico and Tux pan.
Life was very simple and in some ways, hard in those pioneer days. Travel was by boat, horse-back, buggy or wagon. What traveling done was usually by the male members of the settlement and then they went in groups for protection against bandits who frequented the old Trail to Opelousas and St. Martinville. Mail came by pony rider from Vermillionville, as Lafayette was then called, once a week of the weather was favorable. Roads were of the best quality dirt and were kept up by groups from each ward with an Overseer of the Road appointed by the Police Jury. Failure to do work brought a heavy fine.
Up until 1880 money was scarce. What the people were unable to provide for themselves they secured by barter. Farming was carried on in a crude manner. Rice was ground with a mortar and pestle. While food was simple it was plentiful. Each settler raised a crop of sweet potatoes, corn, rice, squash, pumpkin, beans and fruit. There was a row of tobacco and a small crop of cotton and flanking his field usually was a strip of timber providing him with fuel and lumber. The corn was pounded in a mortar for meal, the sweet potatoes were stored in a bin for winter, beef and venison - dried in a manner taught by the Indians and put away for winter use in corn shucks. The rivers and lakes supplied fish, and the woods and marshes were a sportsman’s paradise, filled with deer, wild turkey, quail, ducks and geese. The cotton the farmer grew was picked and ginned by his wife, seeding it with her fingers. She would then spin it and weave it into cloth, which she dyed with peach tree leaves and indigo, and of this she made clothing for her family, blankets for her beds, curtains for her windows and covering for her floor.
The patch of cane came gave the family sugar and molasses. From his stock of Creole ponies, the farmer cut hair from their manes and tails and wove it into ropes, horse collars and harness. Beds were made of moss gathered in the swamps. The pioneer milked her cows (if there were any gentle cattle belonging to the family) and made an occasional pat of butter by shaking the cream in a bottle or gourd. The men cured his own tobacco and the only money he spent during the year was for coffee, but oftener than not he paid for this indispensable in moss or eggs.
In religious history the old records show that the first church was on the Calcasieu River in the Big Woods Settlement and was built in 1828. This church was given the name of Antioch, which it still bears in the Baptist Association. In 1830 it was moved to its present location, about 10 miles from the original site and is now called the Big Woods church. Here the followers practiced the act of humility in washing the feet of their brethren.
Looking at this old church in its setting of magnificent oaks and at the burying ground nearby where sleep the pioneers in their last resting place with headstones dating back to the late 18th century, the suggestion of romance and story might conjure up happenings there since the era of Valley Forge and King’s Mountain, and all the marvelous changes in the history of America since that time.
Although there were many Catholics in the parish, they were served by Missionary Priests from Opelousas, and they did not have a church until 1867 when a small building was erected on what is now Ryan and Kirby Streets in Lake Charles. There was no resident priest until 1870 when Fathers Badoil and Magniny came to the village. They were succeeded by Father Kelly who built a handsome church in 1880 which was destroyed in the fire of 1910, and in 1916 the present church and rectory were erected.
The protestant churches in Lake Charles had their beginning in meetings in the Masonic Hall on Hodges Street in the 70’s and 80’s, then as conditions permitted, buildings of their own were constructed.
The coming of the railroad in 1880, Morgan’s Louisiana Western, which later became the Southern Pacific, spelled the doom of schooner trade. The railroad also brought a new era to the town. There began a great interest in land and about this time a Mr. J. B. Watkins, representing the English company of investors known as the North American Land and Timber Company, purchased some 960,000 acres of land in Southwest Louisiana and then secured immigration to the parish of thousands of farmers and mechanics from the middle west. He founded the American a newspaper that was first published in New York City and later had offices in Lake Charles - a paper that finally merged with the Press to become the present day American-Press. Through his paper, thousands of copies of which went all over the United States and parts of Europe, he attracted large numbers of settlers to Lake Charles and Calcasieu. There is a story that in 1886 Mr. Watkins expended $2,000 in one-cent stamps sending advertising literature through the mails. On one occasion he sent his office boy to the local postmistress in Lake Charles for $1,000 worth of one-cent stamps. The postmistress, overcome, was sure that Mr. Watkins meant 1,000 stamps. Mr. Watkins had finally to go to the post office himself and assure the good lady he really meant $1,000 worth of stamps. But the tiny post office could not help him. He had to get them from New Orleans.
Mr. Watkins was instrumental in building the Watkins railroad, the first train running north and south in this section, in the early 90’s. This road later became the Missouri Pacific with its terminal in Lake Charles. Watkins also built the first bank in Lake Charles in 1885, known as the Watkins Bank. It was largely financed by out of town people and was used by Mr. Watkins in promoting his land immigration scheme of the 80’s. It ceased to function in the 90’s, but until 1941 the building stood on the corner of Broad and Hodges Streets, when it was sold to private individuals and torn down.
Dr. Seamen A. Knapp, of Ames, Iowa, came with Watkins to have part in the huge land development enterprise undertaken by the North American Land and Timber Company. He, too, was responsible for many settlers from the Middle West coming to this section, and encouraged rice growing on a large scale. He is accredited with being the “father of the rice industry in Louisiana” and it is due to his efforts that the rice industry of Louisiana has achieved a larger place in American agriculture then it would have other wise. In 1891 he was instrumental in establishing a rice mill in Lake Charles, having interested New York capitalists in the venture. This mill, owned by local capital, the largest in the world now, outside of New Orleans, to establish the cash system for selling rice. Up to that time rice was “toll milled”. Dr. Knapp also originated the “Boys corn club” that developed into the present 4-H clubs, now established all over the United States. It was in the course of developing land in Southwest Louisiana that Dr. Knapp surveyed and platted the town of Vinton in 1888. The name ‘Vinton’ was selected by Dr. Knapp because he and his family previously had resided in Vinton, Iowa. Many of the streets of Vinton were named after friends of Dr. Knapp from Vinton, Iowa. He also plated the town of Iowa, now a busy oil center, twelve miles east of Lake Charles, naming it after his former home state. In 1892, Dr. Knapp helped his friends from Iowa to establish the Calcasieu Bank, now the Calcasieu-Marine Bank, of which he became the first president, being succeeded by H. C. Drew, J. A. Bel, and then Frank Roberts, formerly of Vinton, Iowa, who was cashier from the bank’s organization. A son of Dr. Knapp, Major S. Arthur Knapp, has for many years been an officer in the institution.
Calcasieu Parish was divided in 1866 to form the parish of Cameron. In 1912 it was again divided, this time forming the parishes of Allen, Beauregard and Jefferson Davis. Before this division it was 65 miles from east to west and 57 miles from north to south. Even after the 1912 division Calcasieu was still the largest parish in the Louisiana with an area of 1086 square miles forming an oblong figure of 50 miles in width and 30 miles in length.
The area is famous for its yield of long-leaf yellow pine timber. Fortunes were made between 1880 and 1920 out of the vast forests of Calcasieu Parish, but in 1925 the big sawmills had finished their cutting.
Railroads have played an important part in the development of the parish. In the 90’s the Watkins road was built. It later became the Missouri Pacific, not only serving this area but extending through the Middle West. In 1896 the Kansas City Southern was completed, and these lines of transportation coupled with the Southern Pacific formed three great trunk lines, affecting the local area by encouraging the building of towns throughout the parish.
The people of Iowa played a big part in the building of Southwest Louisiana. It was men from that state who laid out and built the town of Vinton with considerable help from local settlers. Cattle and rice were then the chief industries. Vinton has always been an important cow country and will probably remain so for years although oil in great quantities has been discovered in nearby sections.
The wagon trail west to Vinton leads to Niblett's Bluff - a historic spot in Calcasieu. That road was the original Old Spanish Trail, famous for the cattle driving route from southeastern Texas across the prairies and bayous to New Orleans. Niblett's was named for a pioneer who built his cabin there by the river, now known as Old River. Some of the military history of this village can be learned from old records in the war department office at Washington. It was strategically important for the northern troops during the Civil War who were attempting to invade the upper Sabine. It was the steamboat traffic lane. This place has been recommended for a national park.
The town of Sulphur, originally known as "Sulphur City" because of the vast deposits of sulphur once found there, was given the name when the postal authorities in Washington dropped the “city” part. Mr. Thomas Kleinpeter, a civil engineer, laid out the town in 1878. The first families were Acadians. Later, settlers from Mississippi and Alabama came here, among them the Perkins and Henning families. The discovery of Sulphur here added materially in the development of the entire parish, the first sulphur being produced for commercial purposes in 1894. The investors, a group of New York men, reaped an enormous profit from the mines before the sulphur supply was exhausted. It has been said that no other investment, with the exception of the Ford Motor Company, ever brought such great returns as that of the Union Sulphur Company, from the middle 90’s until the 1920’s. The company has new ceased operations but is developing nearby one of the largest oil fields in the south.
DeQuincy, at the northern end of the parish, was incorporated in 1913, being named for a Belgian emigrant who settled in this section in the early 90’s. The first mayor was H. W. Ford; the first town clerk was D. D. Herford, who was also the first school teacher and the second mayor.
At one time the town had a population of 200 people with eight wide-open saloons. Every Saturday night was ‘big night’ when cowboys and others came into the village for a big time - a time when the law-abiding element remained at home with closed doors. It was for many years a “frontier” settlement. In those early days a restless stream of odds and ends of humanity, as well as good pioneer stock, flowed through this section. Today, DeQuincy is a modern little town with some 4,000 inhabitants. Carved out of the pine forest, the town has long been the center of turpentine, pine oil and rosin industries. Of recent years much interest has been shown in the growing of tung oil trees. The territory around this section is considered ideally suited for the culture of these trees whose product, tung oil, is so important to industry.
Iowa, east of Lake Charles on Highway 90, is an energetic little town in the center of much oil activity.
“Maplewood” is the newest town in Calcasieu. In one short year where once stood a forest of pine trees, just south of U. S. 90 between Lake Charles and Sulphur, rose a little village that now houses about many families. Here, in 1944, as an adjunct to nearby defense plants of the Cities Service and Firestone Corporation, the village was laid out in planned arrangement to provide for workers in these plants whose purpose is the manufacture of gasoline, synthetic rubber and chemicals.
The city of Lake Charles fronts on the lake of the same name. The lake is nearly circular in shape and is about two miles wide. The Calcasieu River runs along the western side of this lake so that the people of Westlake, facing Lake Charles, are really on the river front.
Along the shores of Lake Charles winds the beautiful Shell Beach Drive, now a part of the cross-continent highway, the Old Spanish Trail - that trail made famous first by the Indians, then the Spanish conquistadores, later the French adventurers, and finally, under American domination, the cattle drovers on their way to and from Texas and New Orleans with their vast herds of cattle. Old-timers can yet recall seeing herds of 1,000 to 5,000 cattle swimming across the Calcasieu River and being driven by their shouting cowboys down this trail, sometimes called the Beef Trail, and again the Old Opelousas Road. A part of this road is in use in Lake Charles today in the Goosport section under the name of Opelousas Street.
The outstanding achievement of Lake Charles occurred in 1926, the development of a deep-water way to the Gulf and the establishment of Lake Charles as a seaport. In 1938 the citizens succeeded in getting an appropriation from the government for a direct-to-the Gulf channel, bringing the city within 38 miles of the Gulf of Mexico, and providing a speedy outlet for the grain and cattle sections around Lake Charles.
The modern docks on the river below Lake Charles are on a site once heavily wooded with giant walnut trees. Tradition says that this grove once guarded the secrets of pirates and concealed their buried gold; the slaves were landed here in the dead of night to be moved later to the slave blocks in New Orleans. Actually these trees, know as Walnut Grove, looked down upon the pleasant scenes of courting couples, church picnics and other happy gatherings of a later era. When the docks were being constructed, Elmer Shutts, engineer, whose father, Frank Shutts had long been associated with early Lake Charles and her famous forests, saw to it that a number of these trees were left untouched, as a small park, to memorialize this beautiful and historic spot.
Now to this same spot comes and immense volume of rice, salt, cotton, lumber, paper, etc., on its way to the big docks to be shipped all over the world. It is interesting to know more rice clears through the Port of Lake Charles than through any port in America.
Educational activities have kept pace with the industrial growth of the parish. It is a far cry today from the one-room school where in 1830 Calcasieu’s first teacher, Thomas Rigmaiden, taught the children of Henry Moss, Pierre Vincent and Jacob Ryan, in the frontier settlement on Bayou D’Inde’ or to Lake Charles where James W. Bryan, the town’s first teacher, met in 1868 a handful of pioneer children in a wooden building with a dirt floor.
As early as March 7, 1848, the Police Jury of Calcasieu made provision for some sort of educational system. On that date, Samuel Adams Kirby was appointed Superintendent of Public Schools, and the parish was laid off in 9 school districts. An appropriation was made from the School Fund, in the Parish Treasurer’s hands, of $50 to each ward to cover tuition for the year. This meant if a teacher could secure enough subscriptions from a settlement; the parish would pay the generous sum of $50 for the term, which usually meant three months.
In 1855, the
Police Jury appointed Charles Hardy, William Haskell and Samuel Nolley as a
board to examine teachers of public schools, for one year on the following
Reading (McGuffie’s series)
English Grammar (Dirkham’s)
Mr. Nolley made the examination in English, while Mr. Hardy examined the candidates in French.
There were numerous private and semi-public schools throughout the parish from that date on. John McNeese, one of these early teachers became well-known as an instructor of youth, coming to Lake Charles about 1880 to teach in the old Masonic Lodge. So important a part did this man play later in the educational life of the parish as Superintendent of Schools, building and developing schools throughout the section, that he is today memorialized in the name of a college located in Lake Charles.
In 1882 the Sisters Marianites of the Holy Cross came to Lake Charles from New Orleans and established a convent school for girls. This school was destroyed in the fire of 1910 and when the new convent was built in 1915, the site was changed from the corner of Ryan and Kirby Streets, to that opposite Lock Park.
The first public school in Lake Charles - where Central School is now - was erected on land purchased from J.B. Watkins for $600 for the entire square of ground. In the fall of 1890 the school opened its doors with O. S. Dolby, father of State Senator James Dolby, as the first principal, teaching the higher grades. Miss Marilla Crossman, a graduate of Ames College, Iowa, taught the second department. A Mr. Vincent had charge of the third department, and the fourth department was provided over by Miss Mollie Jenkins, a graduate of the New Orleans Girl’s High School. The primary department was under the care of Miss Louise Leveque, a graduate of the Convent in Lake Charles. John McNeese was the parish superintendent. The first year there were 203 students enrolled.
In 1889 a group of men realized that a national bank was needed in the community. Accordingly, a meeting was held and application for a charter was drawn up for the First National Bank of Lake Charles. Its capital was to be $50,000. Those who signed the document were: A. W. Thomas; Allen Perkins: Capt. A. W. Wehrt; H. C. Drew; A. R. Mitchell; Wm. Ramsey; L. Kaufman and Charles Turney. On November 13, 1889, the bank began business in a wooden building on the site now occupied by the Kress store. The first deposit was made by the Bradley-Ramsey Lumber Company, owners of the largest mill in this section for many years and as a memento of that occasion the original deposit slip now hangs in a frame in the lobby of the bank. The first year $94,000 was deposited. Fifty years later, when the bank was celebrating its golden anniversary, the deposits were $2,500,000.
In 1940, the government established an army training unit for flyers just east of Lake Charles, later this was made into an Army Air Base. Near here, on June 15, 1944, air mail service was begun for Lake Charles, placing the town not more than 36 hours from any point in the nation. This service was part of the Eastern Airlines which had established a passenger and express route as well. On June 23, 1944, the first stop was made for passengers. The first passenger to arrive by plane was Robert Rader, former president of the Lake Charles Association of Commerce, and the first to leave on the “San Antonio Flyer” was Fred Shutts, parish engineer.
No history of the parish would be complete without mention of the Association of Commerce. Organized largely by the old lumber kings in 1891 as the Board of Trade, in 1915 it became the Chamber of Commerce, and in 1917 became the present Association of Commerce. The business and professional men who form this organization have played an important part in the up building of the city and parish.
The commercial and industrial history of Lake Charles might well be separated into three eras. First, there was the era of cattle raising from it first settlement to the late 70’s. Not only did the settlers profit from the sale of their cattle but the pocketed many a dollar renting their fields for the Texas cattle as they rested on their way to New Orleans; owners of ferries profited when the great herds of cattle came down the trail to swim across the Calcasieu at 5 cents a head. Profits were made from feeding and drinking - those Texas trail drivers at the ‘beef stands’ along the trail.
With the advent of the lumber industry of the 80’s the city took on growth and became a power in this line of business in the second era. Foreign capital was invested and the lumber products went to all parts of the nation and to foreign countries. But virgin pine could not last forever and when the last sawmill “cut out” in 1925, the city had to turn its attention to some other resource. Almost immediately the deep-water system was opened, oil was discovered and developed with such rapidity that the city is receiving recognition nationally as an oil producing center. Today the city is surrounded by producing fields, all of which have been discovered recently. The city is now entering upon the third era of oil. Leading terminals have been built for crude oil in water borne commerce. Pipelines are being laid from the fields to the terminals and storage tanks are built. Many of the larger oil companies have district offices in Lake Charles, and the leasing and brokerage in oil royalties has added to the prosperity of the section.
B. GENERAL POPULATION CHARACTERISTICS
Let us take a closer look at the residents of Calcasieu Parish. In 1950 the total population of the parish was 89,635. In 1960 total population figures for the parish were 145,475.
In addition, Calcasieu Parish has experienced a very slight change in its urban status. For example, in 1950 the resident population of the parish residing in urban areas represented 72.2 percent of the population. Latest figures available for 1960 indicated more urban residents in the parish than at any other time with 73.8 percent reported. However, Calcasieu Parish has approximately 26 percent of the population classified as rural farm and non-farm.
Furthermore, Calcasieu Parish is, population wise, comparatively young. The average age per person in 1960 was 23.2 years as compared with the state average of 25.3 years. There were approximately 21,658 children under 5 years of age in Calcasieu Parish in 1960 and 61,035 of the total population of 145,475 were under 18 years of age.
Farming is a significant occupation in Calcasieu Parish. Diversified farming has met with increasing popularity; and today, rice, sweet potatoes, corn, and other crops as well as livestock, contribute to the agricultural income.
According to latest census figures, there are approximately 771 farms in Calcasieu Parish. The average size of these farms is approximately 608 acres as compared with 383 acres in 1954. The approximate land area of the parish is 706,560 acres of which 466,330 acres, or 66 percent, are in farms. Most recent figures available indicate that 71,027 acres were planted in rice with a production of 1,083,653 barrels, 228 acres were planted in corn with a yield of 7,700 bushels, and 4 acres of sweet potatoes with a yield of 435 bushels. In addition, sale of dairy products proved to be a source of income for many Calcasieu Parish farmers. Farm income derived from dairy products amounted to $207,040. Too, poultry and poultry products sold increased to $279,672 in 1959. For example, 611,593 dozens of eggs, 60,787 chickens were sold in 1959. The value of sales of livestock and livestock products has increased from $1,220,594 in 1954 to $2,731,690 in 1959.
Tree fruits, nuts, and grapes are found in a limited and abundant scale in Calcasieu Parish. For example, peaches, pears, strawberries, plums, figs, oranges, and pecans are harvested throughout the area.
The total value of all farm products sold in 1959 by farmers in Calcasieu Parish amounted to $10,850,255, or an average of $14,564 per farm. This average was considerably higher than the parish average of $7,131 in 1954 and higher than the state average of $4,503 in 1959.
In the decade 1952-62, the school age population in Calcasieu Parish has risen from 24,064 to 40,419. This represents an increase of 68 percent. The state average for the same period was up to 36 percent. Meanwhile the number of high school graduates increased approximately 113 percent having risen from 604 to 1,288 in the same period.
The enrollment of more children in school plus the enrichment of the instructional program in various subject matter areas have necessitated the edition of numerous public school teachers. In 1952, a total of 631 teachers were employed. Today the number is 1,343. Ten years ago only 84 percent of the teaching staff had earned four or more years of college as compared with 95 percent of the staff with four or more years of college preparation at the present time.
An excellent measure of the importance of education and the support provided the program is the amount of money expended for the education of each public school child. In 1952 Calcasieu Parish was spending about $325. Today, the amount is $356. The increase of 10 percent is lower than the state average. In addition, the bonded debt per school age child has risen from $286 in 1952 to $474 in 1962 - up 66 percent.
Investments in school facilities - that in buildings, sites, and equipment have increased 200 percent since 1952. Today, investments in facilities exceed $29,735,928 as compared with $9,907,336 in 1952. The people of Calcasieu Parish are to be commended for their outstanding support and interest in the public school program.
E. TAX EXEMPTIONS AND INDUSTRIAL EXPANSION
Louisiana has a ten year tax exemption law for the benefit of industrial expansion. An important index of the extent of industrialization which has occurred in a parish is best exemplified by the approved values of manufacturing plants under active ten-year contracts as of December 31, 1961. As of this date, the approved values in Calcasieu Parish amounted to $282,728,140. Since 1956 total tax exemptions have amounted to $242,715,619, and a total of 2,175 new and permanent jobs have been created. These investments represent a significant contribution in the economy of the area, and continued growth and expansion will add considerably to the future of Calcasieu Parish.
In 1956, a total of 27,207 residents in Calcasieu Parish were employed. Of this total 31.1 percent were engaged in manufacturing, 26.2 percent were employed in trade, and 17.0 percent were in construction work. Service occupations accounted for 6.7 percent of the work force in the parish.
In 1961, manufacturing was the leading occupation of 35.2 percent of the working force. Trade and construction were also very active and leading occupations of Calcasieu Parish.
Average weekly earnings increased from $82.87 in 1956 to $98.35 in 1961. This increase represented a rise of 18.7 percent. The rate for the state for the same period was 13.1 percent.
Retail sales in Calcasieu Parish decreased .2 percent from 1956 to 1961. In comparison the state average for the same period increased 12.8 percent.
Assessments in Calcasieu Parish have increased from approximately $146,060,000 to about $202,686,000 or up 38.7 percent. These data reflect the growth and progress made in Calcasieu Parish.
F. MINERAL PRODUCTION
In 1962 the leading minerals and produce severed from the soil in Calcasieu Parish were gas, petroleum, and sulphur. Other minor products were distillate gas and timber. As a result the value of mineral production increased from $34,505,921 to $39,310, 348 in the period 1957-1962.
This source has provided Calcasieu Parish with additional revenue.
1. Population percentage increase 62.3 %
2. Notable gain of 18.7% in average weekly earnings.
3. Assessment value up over one third, 38.7%.
4. Tax exemptions close to a quarter of a million and over 2,000 new jobs added.
5. Average size of farm up 187%.
6. Average income per farm up 335%.
7. School age population up 68%.
8. High school graduates up 113%.
9. Professional training up 15 %.
10. Expenditure per pupil up 10%.
Materials in Archives and Special Collections Department do not circulate.
Library Home Page | Archives Home Page | Archives Collection Page
Copyright 2004 McNeese State University