W. L. Griffin
October 5, 1939
Fifty years ago Ouachita City was a busy, growing little town located in the trading center of North Louisiana, with all the possibilities of becoming a great and flourishing town.
Situated on the west bank of the Ouachita River in Union Parish, where Bayou Bartholomew empties into the Ouachita River, three parishes, Ouachita, Union and Morehouse, joining here. Ouachita City furnished most all three parishes. Farmers from Bernice, the farmers’ needs and supplies in the Farmerville, Spearsville, Marion and Haile communities of Union Parish bought their provisions and sold their cotton here. This was the most convenient point for all the farmers of Morehouse Parish. In Ouachita Parish a small place by the name of Monroe, La. was beginning to get some of Ouachita City’s trade. But most customers of long standing still traveled to Ouachita City to make their purchases.
Ouachita City’s storing facilities were the best this side of New Orleans. Three large warehouses were located here. Steamboats and river packets made their town an ideal shipping point.
Ten large stores, where anything from a pair of shoe strings to a yoke of oxen could be purchased, did a flourishing business. In five of the stores carried a general line of merchandise of superior quality catering to the farmers who were considered “well off”.
Lumber needs were furnished by a sawmill that operated at full capacity. Two of the latest model cotton gins, of those days, had been erected for the convenience of the farmer.
A ferry that operated between the three parishes offered 24-hour service.
For the benefit of the traveling salesmen, who generally traveled throughout the country in a two-horse surrey, a hotel accommodating 20 persons (provided they slept double) had been established. Stables for the horses and storage for the buggy were free. Oats were extra.
This was the only place for miles around were horses were shod and plows sharpened. A horse and mule trading lot did a rushing business. Gamblers won and lost small fortunes betting on rooster fights.
Mail was delivered by overland stage from Monroe. A post office had been established and a postmaster appointed.
The civic-minded and peace-loving citizens built a calaboose and elected a marshal. For the benefit of the feudist who was slow on the draw a cemetery was staked out. Regular church services were held and the parson lived in the midst.
A doctor quick to realize the possibilities of building up a thriving practice moved in and hung his shingle.
On Saturdays and “boat days” the wagon yard and hitching post were overflowed with people who had come to this town to do their shopping.
Everything that indicated progress was apparent in this little town. The prospect of Ouachita City “becoming the leading metropolis” of North Louisiana was almost certain.
Then came the turn of the century and the railroad.
It is an old saying among the pioneers that if a right-of-way had been granted to the railroad free the railroad bridge would have been built through Ouachita City instead of Sterlington and the growing town of Ouachita City would have continued to go forward instead of backward.
Business that had centered at Ouachita City began to decentralize. Merchants with a good foresight moved to other places. Many of the citizens moved to the railroad and established themselves as farmers.
Steamboats, unable to give the rapid delivery system of the railroad, had to cease operating. The warehouses that had been in good use for many years were left empty and soon began to fall down. Vacant houses were plentiful. What had been a thriving little town took on the appearance of a deserted ghost-city.
The only thing that kept Ouachita City from dying was the fact that the ferry was located there. All the traffic between the three parishes had to flow through her artery. Ouachita City was still a well know but dull place.
Then came the fatal blow. The state highway department surveyed and built a highway that crossed the river three miles south, later building a traffic bridge at Sterlington.
Though gas well drilling has been active around Ouachita City, it has never caught the glamorous hustle-bustle of 50 years ago.
All the houses except eight have, been torn down or rotted to the ground. Where fields were cultivated 50 years ago, today grow pine trees large enough for saw logs. The locality is marked by stately oaks, cedars and crepe myrtle that were former house seats. Old water wells have about filled up.
The post office was discontinued years ago. The school was consolidated with another school so long ago that none of the youngsters going to school from there ever remember a session of school being taught there.
The ferry ceased operation in 1932 after the free traffic bridge opened at Sterlington.
The little cemetery on the hill there claims many of the old settlers who helped build Ouachita City, saw its destiny, moved away and requested at death that their remains be brought back where it is quiet and peaceful to repose until judgment.
What has been Ouachita City’s loss has been the world’s gain.
Thus a forgotten town that was old and growing long before many of the young towns of today were ever settled up has come to the last chapter of its colorful book. Drama, tragedy, happiness and grief have been recorded between its covers. For the older pioneers its pages are pages of history. To the younger generation its pages are pages of mystery.
The memories of the days that are gone will be lost to the world with the passing of a few of the remaining forefathers, who have in their lifetime resided here.