Saturday, January 24, 2009
Alexandria is a city in and the parish seat of Rapides Parish, Louisiana, United States. It lies on the south bank of the Red River in almost the exact geographic center of the state. It is the principal city of the Alexandria metropolitan area (population 147,000) which encompasses all of Rapides and Grant parishes. The population was 46,342 at the 2000 census. Its neighboring city is Pineville.
The area of Alexandria, located along the Red River, was originally home to a community supporting activities of the adjacent Spanish outpost of Post du Rapides. The area developed as a vibrant, yet sometimes debaucherous, assemblage of traders and merchants in the agricultural lands bordering the mostly unsettled areas to the north, and providing a link from the south to the El Camino Real and then larger settlement of Natchitoches. Alexander Fulton, a Pennsylvania businessman, received a land grant from Spain in 1785, and the first organized settlement was made at that time. In 1805, Fulton and business partner Thomas Harris Maddox laid out the town plan and named the town after Fulton's infant daughter who died around that time. It was first incorporated as a town in 1818 and received a city charter in 1882.
Bennett Plantation House
The present site of Alexandria was a natural one for settlement because of its location on the Red River. The river was not navigable above this point for many months each year due to the rapids. For practically half of the year (from July to January), Alexandria was at the head of navigation on Red River. During this time, boats could not ascend above this point due to the rapids in the river. All cargoes had to be transported by land around this impediment and re-shipped. In some seasons of the year, the upper river was so shallow that boats could not make the trip. As a result of this condition, a number of warehouses were built to store goods moving from South Louisiana to Western Louisiana and Texas. The merchants who owned these warehouses purchased the products that were brought overland to this point and supplied the planter and trader with the necessary goods.
Alexandria Garden District
The Red River And Our Economy.
Alexandria Garden District
The Red River and its tributaries were the main arteries of transportation for the area. In 1769, the section of what is now Rapides Parish was deeded by France to Spain. The Alexandria site developed rapidly as a trading post, serving as a center of traffic between the French, Spanish, English, Americans and Native Americans.
Alexandria Garden District
Each year the Mississippi, an Ojibwa Indian word meaning "big river" carries 400,000,000 tons of sediment into the Gulf of Mexico and discharges more water than all European rivers combined.
Alexandria Garden District
The growth of the lumber industry in the latter years of the 19th century and the opening of the area by the railroads allowed Alexandria to prosper immensely. The golden age of the “sawmill capital of the world” was dawning, with 75 mills operating within 40 miles of the town.
Alexandria Garden District
Through much of its early history Louisiana was a trading and financial center, and the fertility of its land made it one of the richest regions in America as first indigo then sugar and cotton rose to prominence in world markets. Many Louisiana planters were among the wealthiest men in America.
Arna Wendell Bontemps House
The Alexandria economy was greatly boosted during the First and Second World Wars when two large military installations were constructed nearby, Camp Beauregard and England Air Force Base.
Arna Wendell Bontemps House
How We Got Our Name?
Arna Wendell Bontemps House
On October 1, 1800, Spain signed a treaty returning the land, that we now call Alexandria, back to France, and in 1803 it was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. It was then platted to Alexander Fulton, who obtained it as a land grant from Spain in 1785. Fulton, a Pennsylvania trader, purchased additional land from the Choctaw, Tensas, Appalachee and Pascagoula Native Americans through his store. Fulton and another trader William Miller set up a business across the river from the outpost and were given exclusive rights with the Indians. They were authorized to extend liberal credit, and when the Indians ran up bills, which they could not pay with their exchange of furs, they signed over lands to cancel the debts. Fulton and Miller thus acquired thousands of acres that they resold to people who flocked to the rich lands developed along Bayou Rapides, Robert and Beouf.
Arna Wendell Bontemps House
It was Fulton who laid out the plan for Alexandria in 1805, and the settlement grew rapidly. Because of its location, which still holds true today, it was the center of transportation, trading and agriculture.
Bennett Plantation House
How the town was named 'Alexandria' is still something historians debate. Some say it was named after Fulton himself. Still others insist that Fulton named the town after his infant daughter who died about the time the town was platted.
The Red River Campaign.
Bennett Plantation House
In the spring of 1863, General Nathaniel P. Banks, who had over 40,000 soldiers in his Department of the Gulf, invaded the Red River Valley. Troops left Opelousas and marched up Bayou Boeuf to Alexandria, which was surrendered May 9th. Meanwhile, with an agreement between Admiral Farragut and General Banks to destroy public works and machinery at Alexandria. The Red River Campaign was the Union's attempt to establish firm control in Louisiana through occupying the temporary state Capital at Shreveport and to begin occupation of Texas. Objectives for this campaign included freeing slaves, preventing a Confederate alliance with the French in Mexico; denying southern supplies to Confederate forces; and securing vast quantities of Louisiana and Texas cotton for northern mills. Delays and unforeseen difficulties turned it into a two-month long movement that backfired on the Union strategists.
Bennett Plantation House
Henry Robertson is a history professor at Louisiana State University at Alexandria. He is also coordinator of the Red River Civil War Symposium for 2004. He says, "Confederate General Richard Taylor, a son of President Zachary Taylor, commanded a much smaller force that put up resistance as Union Forces made their way up the River."
Bennett Plantation House
"Confederates made a bold attack at Mansfield and another at Pleasant Hill, where more troops were engaged than in any Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River."
Bennett Plantation House
"Taylor drove Banks back and the campaign turned into a dismal route," Robertson says. "Fighting took place on the way to Alexandria where the whole Union fleet was nearly captured had it not been for the ingenuity of Bailey's Dam which raised the Red River's ebbing current."
Bennett Plantation House
"Alexandria was burned during the retreat and civilians along the way would suffer the ravages of war. Yet for thousands of African-Americans that spring would be one of liberation as Union forces marched into one of the untouched plantation regions of the South," Robertson says
Bennett Plantation House
About nine-tenths of Alexandria was burned between the hours of 8 and 9 o'clock, A.M. on May 13, 1864. This burning was called the Red River Campaign. During the Civil War, the town twice suffered the ravages of Federal occupation and was virtually burned to the ground by Federal troops during their retreat in May 1864. The first building fired was a store on Front Street. The Court House was the only building on the square that did not burn. It remained uninjured. It was then fired from the inside and was consumed with every record of the Parish. The Episcopal and Methodist churches were also burned, and every building upon twenty-two blocks. Many libraries, plantations, businesses and residences were also destroyed during the campaign. The only church that was left standing was the Catholic church that is downtown at present.
Since every public record had been destroyed, Louisiana granted the town a new Charter in an Act dated September 29, 1868.
In 1769, the section of what is now Rapides Parish was deeded by France to Spain. The Alexandria site developed rapidly as a trading post, serving as a center of traffic between the French, Spanish, English, Americans and Native Americans. On October 1, 1800, Spain signed a treaty returning the land to France, and in 1803 it was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. It was then platted to Alexander Fulton, who obtained it as a land grant from Spain in 1785.
As I journey to Alexandria, I'm reminded of Alan Jackson visiting his home in Georgia making "The Little Man" video. The emotions he saw on resident's faces as he drove Main Street were poignant. He sensed the impact of the national chains as they displaced local "mom and pop" businesses existing "before the big money shut 'em down". I feel some of the same emotions when I visit Alexandria...a different state, a different home town, but many of the same emotions. Let's visit Alexandria again...
Crops in Alexandria
Downtown: once the center of town, the central business district. Where you went for shoes, or to ride the elevator in Ward's. There was Kress, Schnacks, Wellans, Weiss & Goldring and lots more. It was where you did your banking. Where you had a soda at Walgreen's, and got your hair cut at Mr. Dore's. Where you purchased 45rpm records. And viewed the Christmas decorations at the City Hall. The streets were busy, and the sidewalks crowded with lots of people...neighbors seeing neighbors.
The Bentley Hotel, once the center of much downtown activity, both social and business, has been preserved. It remains an anchor downtown, much as it did early in the 20th century. The elegance of the past remains today, as do the thoughts of more prosperous times, for the historic Bentley Hotel, and downtown.
Alexandria became the hub of a rich farming and trading area as well as a cultural center, and many large plantations flourished. The Louisiana plantation culture first came into being along the state's rivers and bayous in the 18th century. Planters initially used the fertile soil for indigo and tobacco, but these crops were soon replaced by cotton in north Louisiana and sugar cane in the more tropical southern part of the state. Cotton was king in Louisiana and most of the Deep South during the antebellum period. Between 1840 and 1860 Louisiana's annual cotton crop rose from about 375,000 bales to nearly 800,000 bales. In 1860 Louisiana produced about one-sixth of all cotton grown in the United States and almost one-third of all cotton exported from the United States, most of which went to Britain and France. Almost all of the sugar grown in the United States during the antebellum period came from Louisiana. Louisiana produced from one-quarter to one-half of all sugar consumed in the United States. In any given year the combined crop of other sugar-producing states in the South was less than five percent of that of Louisiana. Louisiana's sugar harvest rose from 5,000 hogsheads (a large barrel that held an average of 1,000 pounds of sugar) in 1802 to a high of 449,000 hogsheads in 1853, peaking at an average price of $69 each in 1858, bringing the total value of Louisiana's sugar crop to $25 million.
Sugar and cotton made the great mansions possible, but the designs of the homes came from as many directions as did the planters themselves. The first house type was the Creole Raised Cottage, whose core design came from the West Indies. Its great umbrella-like hipped roof came from Canada and its wide galleries and turned colonettes (slender wooden columns) were developed in Louisiana.
The earliest furnishings of the homes were made of oak or cypress by slaves on the plantations. Later, in prosperous years, European craftsmen came to Louisiana. European furnishings and art were imported through New Orleans and other ports. The plantation mansions of Louisiana still bear signs of efforts to make life in the new world as genteel and pleasant as possible. Many are surrounded by extensive formal gardens, and the approaches to some of the homes are lined with avenues of live oaks that are now huge in their old age. The Southern culture by nature is slow and relaxed and filled with prospertiy through hard work. The women were considered Southern Belles and the men were deemed to be fine Southern Gentlemen.
Louisiana's planters, both white and free black, were among the wealthiest in the South. Many planters were good businessmen, buying and selling crops and slaves at the best price. Slaves made up slightly less than half of Louisiana's total population. Nine out of ten slaves in Louisiana worked on rural farms and plantations.Slaves performed most of the manual, skilled, and domestic tasks on Louisiana plantations. Men and women labored in the fields and houses, the men specializing in skilled work and women assuming primary care of children. Most slaves worked from sunrise to sundown and beyond, although slaves often worked around the clock during the grinding season on sugar plantations.
Through perseverance, many slaves maintained stable families, although reluctantly permitted to take on partners at other plantations and rarely allowed to marry in formal church ceremonies. Familial ties were subjected to the whims and fortunes of the plantation master, who often broke up families by selling off unneeded members. Most planters, however, encouraged family formation, both to increase their holdings and to discourage adult slaves from running away from children and spouses. Slaves reinforced thier community ties by gathering together to eat, dance, sing, and tell stories. Through folklore and song, slaves passed down their collective historical memory from one generation to the next. Few masters allowed slaves to learn to read and write, and legislation passed in Louisiana in 1830 made teaching slaves to do so a crime. Slaves thus conveyed knowledge orally, just as their ancestors did in Africa and colonial Louisiana.
Central Louisiana has become known as "The Crossroads," a place where all of Louisiana comes together - from culture to food and music. With a population of over 46,342, Alexandria continues to grow in every sector of our society.
Today, the city and the area have changed. Cleco, Procter and Gamble, International Paper, Dresser Valve Works are just a few of the large corporations that have chosen to call Central Louisiana home. The Red River is now navigable thanks to the Red River Waterway Project. The $1.9 billion Red River Waterway Project, authorized by Congress in 1968 added a series of five lock and dam complexes to the river. These structures perform a stair step effect on the river, creating controllable pools and passageways for river traffic.
England Air Force Base closed in 1994, but was successfully converted to England Industrial Airpark and is now home to many manufacturing and technology companies.
Central Louisianas work in several industrial sectors, with the largest being education, health and social services, followed by retail. Closely trailing behind retail are construction, manufacturing, public adminstration and the arts, entertainment, recreation and hospitality sector. Timber and Forestry products remain the #1 crop for this area. Cotton, Sugar Cane, Sweet Potatoes, Corn, and Soy Beans are also being farmed.
Evidence remains of the once bustling commerce in downtown Alexandria. There was Hemingway's Furniture, Standard Office Supply, Woolworth's, Koblem's Jewelry, and so many more. The streets are quieter, but the sturdy buildings, and water tower over Weiss and Goldrings, stand much as they did 60 years ago, preserved in time, and retaining usefulness, even today.
Progress, streamline modern style, came to Alexandria in the 1950s and 1960s. This motor bank offered drive-up service, and multi-level parking for its patrons. Southern Chevrolet was just to the west of the bank...remember the thrill of seeing that first 1954 Belair there?
Everyone lived downtown...where else was there in those early days? Today, few residences remain, but those that do, like this one on Main Street struggling to survive, remind us of grander times.
Just down the street from that old home, on the southern end of downtown, was the passenger terminal of the Kansas City Southern railroad. In the 1950s, we experienced the KCS Southern Belle, nightly at eight, when my family went riding. The thundering shiny, black engines pounded the earth and thrilled our hearts as they made their way north to Shreveport and Kansas City. I envied those patrons in the club car, and wondered where this magnificent train was taking them, for their next stop in life!
Lovingly restored in the 1990s, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Cathedral continues as a dominant landmark on the Alexandria skyline. It holds special prominence in our family also. My mother was baptized and received her First Communion here, and married my father here in September of 1934.
The United States Post Office remains a Murray Street institution. My uncle worked here as a postal clerk most of his life, and I remember riding my bicycle downtown to buy new 4¢ commemorative stamps to feed my stamp collecting hobby in 1960. And when I worked the swing-shift for Rapides Bank in 1968, I would sometimes come here at midnight to mail that night's processing results.
We all had to eat, and buy groceries. We did business at A&P on Bolton Avenue. It seemed large at the time, and the pleasant smell from the coffee grinder sticks with me today. There were no scanners, only friendly people operating those huge cash registers with the big colorful keys. In 1955, we usually parked on the side, at an angle, just as patrons of Super Saver do today.
Those that didn't shop at A&P probably did so at this modern marvel, Piggly Wiggly, "the expensive alternative down the street." It even featured a conveyor belt to take your groceries to your waiting car under the covered portico. How convenient! But it was an idea that never caught on...maybe Albertson's will give this a try next!
And while at Piggly Wiggly, you might walk across the street to check out the Trailways place, transformed from its original life as Holsum Bakery. Not to witness the business in the sleek building, but the busses parked in the lot in the back. It was like a who's-who in transportation...why you might even see one of those articulated double-jointed Golden Eagles in town for maintenance!
I guess there never was a noahspotatochip.com - but everyone knew where they made those fantastic chips on Lee Street, and how great they always tasted. There were lots of mom and pop operations in Alexandria in the 1950s, small businesses scattered around town. Many survived, but unfortunately many did not. We remember those that are gone, and are proud of those that remain in 2000!
Located downtown, the building that housed the Red River Candy Company remains today, behind the Rapides Parish Courthouse. My father used to buy Hershey Bars and Mr. Goodbars here, by the box. What a treat it was to "enjoy some every day" as the ad on the side of the building proclaimed, and have a candy bar every day for dessert!
A long-term successful business venture in Alexandria, John Ward Hardware remains a place where customer service is an everyday occurrence, not some slick advertising scheme. John Ward was joined by Owl Fine Foods, Herbie-K's, the Double-V Cafe, Lazarone's Drive-In, Ellington Transfer, Damico Shoe Service, Cicardo Grocery, Lawhon & Baker, Medica's Cities Service, Cumello's Produce, Pete's TV Repair, and so many more "mom and pops" in Alexandria.
There was other competiton to Weiss & Goldring besides Wellan's, such as Schwartzberg's. There's not much left to remind us of it today, only a vacant lot. But those of us that remember shopping there remember the footprints, carefully orchestrated and painted to lead us into another of Alexandria's retail marvels. Not far away, on Second Street, was The Fair Department Store.
Far from the bounds of downtown Alexandria, in the suburbs on Jackson Street, you will still find Suburban Garden, a Giamanco family tradition for decades. Those families fortunate enough to "eat out" enjoyed some of the town's finest Italian cuisine here dating back to the 1950s. We ate there recently, for the first time, about the time this picture was taken in 1999. Thanks to mom and pop for a great evening!
MacArthur Drive remains a hot spot for eateries, and the Family Restaurant hangs on, at the intersection of Highway 28, near Mat Matherne's old ESSO ServiceCenter. It was originally a Reed & Bell Drive-In, run by brothers Steve and Spiro Talambas. Its simple, clean lines minimized overhead and typified many Alexandria establishments in existence before the invasion of national chains and their boringly similar designs and menus. Still standing in 1999...a testament to the family business!
As Alexandria grew, so did the number of automobiles. Businesses opened to serve the automotive needs around town. This Gulf Oil Station on Bolton Avenue was typical of many built in the late 1940s and early 1950s. My father managed an earlier Gulf station here before World War II, one that was neater, and had more architectural personality, and personally manicured flower beds!
And while you're on Bolton Avenue, be sure to get your car serviced at the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company store. Abandoned when this picture was taken in 1999, it has since been demolished, its 1950 style architecture now a faded memory. And they sold more than tires there...one could even purchase a beautiful black and chrome bicycle there, with turn signals and suspension springs!
And if they were too busy at Firestone to service your auto, you could always head up the street, to North Bolton Avenue, and stop by Bert's Garage. You could still buy this building in 1999 when this photo was taken, if you weren't too concerned about Y2K and how to prepare for the coming demise of the world!
On the south end of Bolton Avenue was another service station, which had become Rapid Tune in 1999when this photo was taken. Modern in 1950 design terms, it may have even featured a clock for its customers and passing motorists.
On Lee Street, just past City Park, is another automotive-related business. This one is interesting in that much of it is of frame construction. Still standing after all these years!
A showcase of not only jewelry but also significant architectural style, the C. A. Schnack Jewlery Company building remains today. Built in 1931, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 30, 2000. It features a combination of Classical Revival, Italian Renaissance, and Art Deco design. The stylish interior and bright showcases brought amazement to the young couple buying wedding rings there in 1969!
Once you had finished your jewelry shopping at Schnack's, you probably walked a couple of blocks south and ended up at S.H. Kress and Company. This beautiful, well constructed building was the leading "five and dime" in Alexandria, with some competition nearby from the W. T. Grant and F. W. Woolworth stores. It featured candy counters, the smell of hot peanuts, a soda fountain, and even two entrances!
Another downtown retail establishment that has sadly disappeared before becoming an historic landmark was Wellan's Department Store. All that remained in 1999 was dirt and a few remnants stacked at random...and lots of memories. Point your mouse towards the debris and bring back some old memories, of the Christmas windows and the bright city lights and the creaking stairs...
The old Turpin Pontiac dealership is also closed, but not forgotten. Our family has ties to this establishment, from the 1930s when my father worked there, and became a Notary Public. In later years, in 1967, my first used car was purchased off this lot, for the astounding sum of $1,200!
Once the shiny new Pontiacs were sold by the salesmen up front, the cars had to be serviced. The service building does not possess outstanding architectural value, but represents another vanishing breed of automotive design that is no longer seen on the Alexandria landscape. The mechanics that worked here worked hard, and honestly, for meager salaries to support their young families.
Rapides was indeed one of the twelve original counties created when the Territory of Orleans was divided in 1805. Without signs, we often forget the details. There are signs in Alexandria that point to, and remind us of, the past. Sometimes we pass the signs without seeing them, and without thinking. In Alexandria, the center of town was the old City Hall, not the courthouse. As Alan Jackson sings, "I remember walkin' 'round the court square sidewalks, looking in windows at things I could not want..."
You knew where you were going...did you really need a sign to announce these businesses? And the Weiss & Goldring sign even took it one step further, by announcing their location on their sign: corner of DeSoto and Third Streets. And the simplicity of the Don sign...what more needs to be said...we all knew what it was anyway! And shopping at Caplan's on Third Street was always a great experience, as was a clean haircut at Dore's Barber Shop next door.
The past, and the present...the old and the new...often they blur together, and coexist around us. As the past starts to fade away, and I am confronted by the stark reality of modern life, I like to pause, and look for signs, to show me the way. I see these signs in Alexandria, and everywhere else I travel today. As we pass this sign, Alan says "I go back now and the stores are empty, except an old Coke sign dated 1950, boarded up like they never existed, or renovated and called historic districts...."
It's now 2003, and an opportunity for another trip back home, to Alexandria. Some things have changed since our last visit, and some have sadly vanished. It was a beautiful day to reminisce, and document some places that we didn't cover in previous trips...like the Commercial Building downtown, built circa 1915, listed on the National Register and in use on a daily basis. There was also good news seen in the renewal of the Kress Building across the street for the art community.
Currently housing part of the well-respected Alexandria Museum of Art, this building was formerly the Rapides Bank and Trust Company, built in1898. I worked here at 933 Main Street as a computer operator on the swing shift during 1968 after graduation from college, while waiting to enter the U.S. Navy. The building, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been handsomely preserved, and reused.
This building at 503 Washington Street housed the Alexandria Public Library until its move one block east to the new library in 1965. I remember going to this building, and its creeky wooden steps, with my mother on a regular basis. The building, constructed in 1907 in the Beaux Arts style, has been carefully restored and today houses the Alexandria Historical & Genealogical Museum.
A Fourth Street landmark, the Masonic Building lives on, struggling to survive in the new century. Built in 1927, this neoclassical structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
The Garden District, roughly bounded by Marye Street, Bolton Avenue, White Street, and Bayou Hynson, contains numerous architectural gems. This scene shows the red brick-based Albert Street looking towards St. James Episcopal Church.
In 2002, representatives of local government, businesses, organizations, and community formed the nonprofit organization River Cities Cultural Alliance, Inc. to promote tourism and the arts through a celebration of Central Louisiana’s diverse cultural heritage. The nonprofit served to organize and put on RiverFest: Heritage and Arts on the Red. It was a great success with more than 10,000 festival-goers attending the day and a half event.
A fine example of elegance on Jackson Street, this home between Bolton and Chester remains a grand memory of Alexandria of long ago.
RiverFest is held in downtown Alexandria and on the Alexandria and Pineville levees. The festival features the work of visual artists from across the South, food booths exemplifying southern cuisine, a variety of children’s activities, three outdoor stages with a wide range of music, dance, and theatrical performances, and a literary component with readings and panel discussions by Louisiana authors and scholars.
A low-rise gem in downtown Alexandria, the former Texada Miller Masterson Clinic on DeSoto Street remains a monument to the decades of healthcare provided here.
Starting in 2007, RiverFest was cancelled due to a competing festival (Quein' on the Red) that began in late March 2006. Quein’ on the Red received many of the same cooperate sponsors that RiverFest received which ended RiverFest's run.
This Neo-Classical building on Vance Avenue was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Home of the "Bears," the school continues a long tradition of education to the Alexandria community.
Alexandria History Museum
Alexandria Museum of Art on Main Street adjacent to Red River
The Alexandria Museum of Art was founded in 1977 and occupies the historic Rapides Bank Building on the banks of the Red River. The building was built circa 1898 and is listed on the National Historic Register. It opened to the public in March 1998.
The Louisiana History Museum is also located downtown. It showcases the history of all Louisiana, with emphasis on the central portion of the state, Rapides Parish, and Alexandria. Major exhibit areas deal with Native Americans, Louisiana geography, politics, health care, farming, and the impact of war.
The Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center is located on Third Street across from the Alexandria Daily Town Talk building
A local music festival, Jazz on the River, sponsored by the Arna Bontemps African American Museum, is held each April and features a live jazz concert on the banks of the Red River. The Rapides Symphony's annual fall concert Pops in the Park. The spring and fall seasons are also welcomed with Downtown Rocks, a free outdoor concert series.
The Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center on Third Street serves as the home of the Rapides Symphony Orchestra, which has been performing in Alexandria for nearly forty years. Alexandria is also home to the Red River Chorale, an auditioned community chorus. This group is relatively new, but has already gained a reputation of fine music. The RRC regularly performs with the Rapides Symphony Orchestra.
Circuses and other traveling performers also stage productions at the Arts Center.
Alexandria Museum of Art on Main Street adjacent to Red River
The Entrance to Bringhurst Field
Alexandria is home to the Alexandria Aces a minor league baseball team which is currently a member of the Continental Baseball League. The Aces have been champions in various leagues in 1997, 1998, 2006, and 2007. They play their home games at Bringhurst Field.
Nearby is Bringhurst Golf Course, popularly known as "the nation's oldest par three course." A full-scale renovation has been planned for the near-future. In addition to Bringhurst, named for the late industrialist R.W. Bringhurst, Alexandria is home to four other golf courses: Oak Wing, The Links on the Bayou, at LSUA, and Alexandria Golf and Country Club.
Alexandria once had a minor league ice hockey team, the Alexandria Warthogs. They played their home games at the Rapides Parish Coliseum.
There was also a semi-pro football team, the Louisiana Rapides Rangers, who played their home games at the Rapides Parish Coliseum. They played in the Central District of the Southern American Football League, and the Southern Conference of the National Indoor Football League (NIFL). The team was owned by a Lafayette business group before moving to Beaumont, Texas in 2003.
Kent House is a classic example of French colonial architecture. Standing on the original land grant from the King of Spain to Pierre Baillio II, it offers a glimpse of the French, Spanish and American cultures that have influenced Louisiana. All three flags fly over the entrance.
The plantation house is one of the oldest standing structures in the state of Louisiana. Together with its outbuildings, it preserves the homestead of a successful Creole family typical of a Louisiana colonial era working plantation.
Kent Plantation House preserves, interprets, and promotes its historic site to educate the public about the history and culture of central Louisiana between 1795 and 1855.
Located in the center of Louisiana, Kent Plantation House is a wonderful experience in touring, with plenty to see and do. Tour the big house and the dependencies. Spend some time learning about herbs and early gardens. Visit the blacksmith's shop to find out why nails were so precious. Come to the Sugar House in the fall to make Louisiana Cane syrup.
Kent Plantation House is located at 3601 Bayou Rapides Road, Alexandria, LA 71303
The Kent Plantation House outbuildings are extensive, and appropriately furnished. They contain many quality antiques dating prior to 1855. All of the outbuildings interpret rural Louisiana life from 1796 to 1855. Click on a picture to enlarge.
Circa 1820-1830. This building was used for the preparation and storage of dairy products. Displays include a creamer which allowed the cream to be skimmed from the surface of the milk and churns in which milk or cream is agitated to separate out the butter. A cistern similar to the one located next to the milk house was used to keep the dairy products cool.
Open Hearth Kitchen
Circa 1840-1860. This building is an example of Louisiana construction that uses the hand- molded, sun-dried, brick-between-post structure. It is complete with a wood burning, open-hearth fireplace and bread oven. Kitchens were separate from the main house due to frequent damaging fires. All meals would be prepared in this building and quickly carried into the main house. Weekly cooking demonstrations are held annually from October to April.
There are two examples of the hand-molded, sun-dried, brick-between- post slave cabins located on the grounds. The oldest, circa 1820 - 40, contains two ceilingless rooms flanking a center fireplace. More than one slave family would have lived in this sparsely furnished building. The exterior of the doors and windows are painted brownish-red. Among slave beliefs was one that evil spirits could be kept at bay by painting the windows, doors and porch timbers this color.
Circa 1830. The structure is a rare example of a mortised and pegged building. Its actual purpose is unknown, but it is though to have been a building used to store grain. Presently it is used to house the spinning wheel and loom displays.
Circa 1820-1830. The carriage house construction is of large hand hewn logs, notched and held together at the corners. One of the very few surviving log buildings in the state, it possesses most of its original hand-forged hardware. Also displayed are antique horse-drawn carriages and related equine rigging, harnesses and equipment.
Circa 1815-1830. The barn would have been used to store corn in the two cribs and hay might have been stored above the crib with the window. Located inside the barn are a tool display, tool drawings, a turpentine exhibit, and a farm equipment exhibit.
The blacksmith shop is a reproduction building utilizing salvaged timbers from a cabin, circa 1815 - 1830, that was located on Wemple Plantation. A working blower-forge sits surrounded by sledges, hammers, chisels, an anvil, a wooden water bucket and other smithing tools.
The sugar house is the only known operating structure of its kind in existence. It is an accurate reproduction depicting the sugar making process circa 1840. The sugar house contains a series of four kettles of varying sizes. Each kettle has a specific purpose and name. Also on display are two metal, wheeled, sugar hot room cars (called sugar babies). These heavy metal carts were used to store and move the brown sugar used in the seeding process from the warehouses to the sugar house. Sugar making is demonstrated in early November after the cane is harvested
Capital One, formerly the Guaranty Bank and Trust Company, occupies the tallest building in Alexandria across Third Street from City Hall.
Port of Alexandria
In the early 1800s, the Port of Alexandria brought goods to the area and shipped cotton and other local products to the rest of the country. A ferry connected the cities of Alexandria and Pineville until a bridge was built across the Red in 1900.
Today, Port facilities include: a 40-ton crane for off-loading, a 15,000-square-foot (1,400 m2) warehouse, 13,600-ton bulk fertilizer warehouse, a 3,400-ton bulk fertilizer dome structure and a 5,000-ton dome which was added in January 2005.
The petroleum off-loading facility includes two 55,000 bbl (8,700 m3) tanks, one-15,000 BBL tank capable of handling two barges and five truck off-loading simultaneously. There is also a general cargo dock with access to rail and a hopper barge unloading dock with conveyor system.
Today's modern facilities and the Port's central location with its connection to the Mississippi River provide excellent opportunities for importers and exporters.
Alexandria International Airport
New terminal at AEX
Alexandria International Airport (AEX) is one of only two international airports in Louisiana (the other is at New Orleans). In 2006 a new-state-of-the-art passenger terminal was dedicated. Alexandria is served by American, Continental, Delta and Northwest Airlines. Additionally, numerous international charter airlines use the airport in the transport of military personnel attached to the United States Army base at Fort Polk. A new military personnel terminal opened in 2007.
Downtown Alexandria is currently in the process of revitalization. During the past five years, several bars, cafes, and restaurants have opened their doors, including the casual fine dining restaurant Diamond Grill, located in the renovated Schnack's Building; Finnegan's Wake, an Irish pub with nin imports/microbrews on tap; and Alex 1805, a jazz lounge featuring local art and live music. Across the street is the Hotel Bentley, built in 1908 by lumberman and local eccentric Joseph A. Bentley. The Bentley enjoyed its heyday during the 1940s and 50s, when top brass military officials like General Dwight D. Eisenhower enjoyed their accommodations for extended periods. The Bentley, which was closed on December 12, 2004, was once one of only two four-star hotels in Louisiana. Although the hotel was set to reopen in August 2007, in time for the 100th anniversary of its construction, funding issues have made the date of reopening uncertain.
Central Alexandria is bounded by MacArthur Drive, Masonic Drove, Mason Street, the Alexandria-Pineville Expressway, and the Red River.
Garden District - contains many large historical homes and brick roads. Many of the homes in this neighborhood have been renovated and come in many architectural styles. Houses range from modest bungalows to mansions. *Poplar Grove
City Park area - location of Bringhurst Field and Alexandria Zoo
Northwestern Alexandria comprises the area north of Louisiana Highway 28 West and MacArthur Drive and south of the Red River.
Wooddale Park - large public housing development
North Park Village
Rue Left Bank
Grundy Cooper - older middle class subdivision behind the Rapides Parish Coliseum
St. Andrew's Links Estates - a subdivision being developed around the golf course Links on the Bayou
Western Alexandria is the area south of Highway 28 West, west of MacArthur Drive, and north of Versailles Boulevard and Metro Drive
The Lakes District - subdivision under development that contains small lakes and long walking trails and is bounded by a nature preserve
L. E. Deselle
Charles Park - large development of upscale homes primarily built from the late 1960s to the early 1980s
The Centre - commercial development between Jackson Street and MacArthur that contains numerous businesses. A five story office building was built in the late 1970s which now houses Red River Bank. An 87.5-foot (30 m) tall high-rise is under construction that will contain Regions Bank.
Southwestern Alexandria comprises the area west of Masonic Drive and south of Versailles Boulevard and Metro Drive.
Good Earth - large middle class development built in late 1970s and early 1980s
Cherokee Village - tree-shaded neighborhood of large older homes
Four Leaf Village
West Pointe on the Bayou - large upper-middle class neighborhood under development since the early 1990s, adjacent to Bayou Roberts
Crossgates - gated community of patio homes
Landmark - one of Alexandria's most affluent subdivisions
Tennyson Oaks - an upper class neighborhood being developed next to Landmark adjacent to Bayou Roberts
Southern Alexandria is located east of Masonic Drive and south of MacArthur Drive
Bayou Robert - affluent cul-de-sac bordered by Bayou Robert
Deerfield - middle class development built in 1970's
Martin Park - combination of middle to upper-class houses built from the 1960s to 1970's
Southeastern Alexandria contains the area northeast of MacArthur Drive, south of Masonic Drive, Mason Street, and Alexandria-Pineville Expressway, and bordered by the Red River.
Alexandria Mall area - retail center of Alexandria
Sonia Quarters - large working class neighborhood containing many shotgun-style homes
Samtown - largely African-American impoverished neighborhood that was annexed by former Mayor John K. Snyder in the early 1970s
Alexandria's historic Hotel Bentley, constructed 1907
History of the Hotel Bentley and its Builder,
Joseph A. Bentley
Compiled and written by N.B. Carl Laurent
Construction of the Hotel Bentley
The Hotel Bentley, built in 1908, was the namesake of Joseph A. Bentley. Bentley was a local lumber mogul who had moved from Pennsylvania, by way of Texas, to Rapides Parish in 1892. James F. Litton was the first hotel manager.
At the time the Hotel Bentley was completed, Joseph Bentley was a corporate officer of the Zimmermann Lumber Company of Zimmermann, Louisiana, and the Enterprise Lumber Company of Alexandria.
Bently Hotel Lobby
The Hotel Bentley was built by the F. B. Hull Construction Company of Jackson, Mississippi; the construction superintendent was D. H. Shenk.i The company had moved temporarily to Alexandria in 1907 to construct several major buildings. The Town Talk had heralded the hotel’s coming as follows:
The Bentley has 175 rooms, 125 of which are equipped with private bath. The hotel itself is not only a model structure, built without regard to cost, “just make it the best.” That’s the instruction, but it is to be furnished in the same manner, and when, about June 15th, the doors are thrown open to the public, the public will have the pleasure of seeing the finest hotel, with the finest furnishing in the entire South.
Panorama, July 4 parade, 1909, at the Hotel Bentley, Alexandria, Louisiana
The War Years
As the “flagship” hotel of central Louisiana, the Hotel Bentley was to experience visits during the 1941-1942 Louisiana maneuvers by several military notables. These included Major General George Patton, Lieutenant Colonel Omar Bradley, and then not-so-well-known Colonel Dwight David Eisenhower. Generals George C. Marshall and Matthew Ridgeway are said to have visited the Bentley also, as well as then-little-known Second Lieutenant Henry Kissinger. Entertainers also stayed at the Bentley, many of whom performed for the troops.
The Bentley's role in the Louisiana Maneuvers of World War II
The Bentley was to experience continued success for its first fifty-nine years, and in December of 1948, J.W. Beasley Sr., (who had taken over the presidency of the Guaranty Bank in 1933), announced that the stock holdings and interests of Hotel Bentley heirs had been acquired by himself, Miss Minnie Behl, Florence Behl, A.V. Zimmermann of Alexandria, and Floyd G. Zimmermann of Largo, Florida. Stock holdings were also acquired from 22 out-of-state Bentley heirs. Mr. Beasley remained president of the Hotel Bentley Incorporated, and it was locally owned and operated.
Closings and Openings
Local successes at operating the hotel, however, were not to last, and on December 13, 1967, National Western Life Insurance Co. of Austin, Texas, bought the hotel at sheriff’s sale for $400,000. At that time, the appraised value of the hotel was $600,000. The new owners announced plans to continue operating the hotel. Apparently, this venture was unsuccessful, and the hotel closed in 1968. It was reopened again in 1972 after extensive renovations, but only stayed open until 1976.
Bently Hotel Lobby
This reopening was announced August 30, 1972. However, the renovated hotel only made 150 rooms available to the public, along with the dinning room, bar, and other public meeting and dinning rooms. The hotel was 64 years old at the time, and was owned by Joe Fryer, an architect. The 140 stockholders in Hotel Bentley, Incorporated, had invested $140,000 in the renovations; they leased the facility from Mr. Hardin. Corporate officers included Harry Silver, president, Tom Hardin, treasurer, and Henry E. Blake, secretary.
Hotel Bentley lobby, 1965
In 1984, Buddy Tudor of Tudor Construction company, began to realize his vision that the Bentley of old would live again. Along with his father, he interested other men in forming a limited partnership. Then, Buddy bought the hotel from Fryer for $850,859, and became involved in its restoration. He completed this work successfully, and in 1985, the hotel was reopened to the public.
Bently Hotel Lobby
Soon it was designated a four star hotel; this made it the only four-star hotel in the state outside of New Orleans. For his role in restoring the old hotel, he received the prestigious Historic Preservation Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
In 1997, after twelve years of successful operation, the hotel was sold. As the managing partner of the Hotel Bentley partnership, he was instrumental in the sale in this to Richard Hartley and David Vey of Baton Rouge. These men planned to spend $2 million on remodeling the property.
With the 1998 purchase of the hotel by Bob Dean, also of Baton Rouge, a $3 million remodeling program was announced.
Hotel Bentley during the 1960s
Simultaneously, the hotel was affiliated with the Radisson chain, and briefly, it became the Radisson Hotel Bentley.
In 2002, Mr. Dean was ordered by a state judge in Baton Rouge to pay $222,000 to an interior finishing firm for work done on the Bentley; Dean put it up for sale in 2003and closed its doors in 2004.
In 2005, the city had to block Mr. Dean from demolishing the hotel, and in 2006, rumors circulated that a buyer had been found. Then closings were put off several times and the city eventually was told it would have to partner with a buyer for the deal to work. At this time, the old building remains vacant, and at any time could it could suffer dreadful consequences.
Joe Bentley's Place in the Rapides' Lumber Industry
Unfortunately, there are those who have branded Joe Bentley as the “Paul Bunyan” of the south, and the man who built his hotel because another, lesser hotel, refused him when he applied for service. This type of aggrandizement detracts from a creditable legend. While local tradition puts some faith in the second claim, where he was probably looking too much like Paul Bunyon, the first is based primarily on someone’s fantasy. Further, to say that Joseph Bentley and E.W. Zimmermann introduced Rapides Parish to the lumber industry is a gross misstatement, but their place in the history of the local lumber industry is well established. Actually, they came on the scene late in the 19th century, around 1892. It was William Waters, and Levi Wilson, on the other hand, who first cut in the pine forests, formed logs into rafts, and pushed those rafts down the Red and Mississippi Rivers to build a major part of 19th century New Orleans. This was around 1815.
Joseph Bentley with his driver, 1910-15
In post Civil War Rapides, the man to first enter the lumber business in a big way was Julius Levin. He had moved directly from Prussia to Alexandria in 1853. After several years as a merchant, Mr. Levin studied and became interested in the lumber and building materials businesses. He manufactured and/or dealt with brick, cypress shingles, doors, lumber, and pine cisterns. One of the earliest Levin ads in the Louisiana Democrat about his large lumber business appeared in 1879, about 15 years before Bentley and Zimmermann arrived. By 1887, his Alexandria Mills had produced so much lumber, that 800,000 feet of the stuff was stocked on his large loading dock. It was stocked there because available railroad cars couldn’t transport sufficient product to fill the demand. Levin was shipping lumber all over the country and into Mexico. Unlike Bentley and Zimmermann, however, Levin’s material came mostly from independent sawmills, four Pineville-side mills in particular. His own timber holdings were relatively modest. His plant not only included a large sawmill, but the largest of the early planning mills in Rapides Parish, and he had transportation facilities by either rail or river that couldn’t be matched.
Joe Bentley and E.W. Zimmermann, originally from Pennsylvania, arrived in Rapides Parish around 1892, directly from the saw mills of east Texas. They had purchased a sawmill from Frank and Don Peak of Orange, Texas, in 1892. Presumably, they left this mill.in operating condition. Henry Wilson came with them; he was the negotiator in the purchase of standing timber and timber land in Rapides Parish, as well as the surveyor. Although he was offered a partnership he refused.
The first large plant was the J.A. Bentley Sawmill north of Boyce. A company town was established named after E.W., and eventually the plant was widely known as the Zimmermann sawmill. At its peak, the Zimmermann community included 118 houses and a population of 500 or 600 persons, half black, half white. The community had its own fire department, utility system, post office, and railway express agency; household goods and clothing could be purchased from the company commissary. Also available was candy for the children and soda pop bottled by Joseph Baker's company in Boyce. About fifteen miles from the mill and the mill pond was Zimmermann Camp, home to the loggers and their families.ii The company amassed 90,000 acres of virgin pine, (including the holdings of Frank and Don Petty near Cotile), stretching from Rapides into Vernon Parish. It built a private thirty-mile tram railway for transporting the timber into the mill, originally on a narrow gauge 52” track. However, the railway became inefficient by 1949, and it was replaced with trucks.
The acreage was stripped bare by 1962. It is approximated that over a billion board feet of timber went through the mill during its seventy years of operation. At its production peak it was processing twenty-two million board feet annually, but over the years it averaged 15 million. This annual production was sufficient to build 1,000 to 1,500 three-bedroom houses. Upon the death of Bentley in 1933 and Zimmermann in 1938, the property was inherited by relatives. Operation of the mill continued into the 1960's when the supply of timber was exhausted. E. C. Johnson who joined the company in 1947, became general manager, an he was the man to close it down in 1962. The T.L. James Company leased and reforested the entire 90,000 acres.iii
By July of 1903, J.A. Bentley, Paul Lisso, and D.F. Clark had selected the site for the Enterprise Lumber Company to locate its huge $300,000 sawmill in Alexandria. It was located on Experiment Plantation, in the Enterprise addition, where Bayou Rapides was crossed by both the T & P and Iron Mountain railways. It included a 20-acre tract of land that was used as a millpond. In the previous month, the company had purchased 21,000 acres of prime pine timber land from Carpenter and Company of Michigan for $500,000. Enterprise had an annual cutting capacity of 30,000,000 feet, or 82,000 feet per day. It estimated its timber holdings sufficient to supply its demands for another twenty years. Bentley was president of the company, and his partner at the Zimmerman sawmill, E.W. Zimmerman, was vice-president. Paul Lisso served as secretary/treasurer; S.F. Sharpe was general sales agent; E. Beuhler was general superintendent; H.H. Turby was cashier, and R.A. Waitz was the stenographer. It was projected that operations would begin December 15, 1903, with 125 employees.iv
The First National Bank of Alexandria
Following Paul Lisso’s death in 1911, Joseph A. Bentley was elected president of the First National Bank. At that time the banks resources were $1,228,944. Expansion plans were being formed in 1918 for a ten story office building and the ground breaking was held on February 28, 1919. The architect was Emile Weil, and T.S. Moudy and Company of Chattanooga, Tennessee was the contractor. Other officers of the new bank included W.D. Hill, executive vice president; L.J. Hakenyos and Gus Gehr, vice presidents; T.P. Wheadon, cashier; and J.T. Powers Jr. and G.W. Crockett, assistant cashiers.
The $750,000 structure provided 6,000 square feet of space for banking functions. By 1920, bank resources had reached over $5,000,000. Early in 1921, stockholders voted to change from a national bank charter to a state bank charter; this obviously called for a name change and Guaranty Bank and Trust Company was the name selected. The “City Savings Bank and Trust Company,” originally a sister institution to the “First National Bank,” was absorbed into the Guaranty Bank at the time the latter facility was reorganized under a state charter. Shortly thereafter, the new Guaranty Bank Building was completed.
In January of 1929, J.W. Beasley was elected to the board of directors. In September of 1930, he was elected vice president and assumed the responsibilities of the head of the institution. When Joe Bentley died, J.W. Beasley was elected the fourth president (including those of the old First National Bank) of the Guaranty Bank and Trust Company. Under Beasley’s leadership, the bank began to grow faster than the population, and by 1940, resources reached $15,481,910.
Former Missouri Pacific Railroad depot in downtown Alexandria historic district
Life Growing Up In Alexandria
January 22, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Comments: Some say that I am a bit of a character because of the family I come from. But, I maintain that if I am slightly eccentric it is because I come from Alexandria, Louisiana, a most peculiar town. On the road most of my life, I have compared childhood memories with people and find that my remembering of life in the late-50s through early 70s in Alexandria are very close to people from the 40s and 50s in the Midwest. Strange, too, I have met others from Alexandria everywhere I go and am constantly reminded in a myriad ways of my childhood.
I walked from my home on City Park Boulevard (across from the golf course) to L.S.Rugg and later Alexandria Junior High. I come from the time of clinking milk bottles delivered by Borden and Walker Farms dairies to wire carriers on our front stoop. As children, we hung out at the Thornton Branch library, explored and imagined endlessly at the zoo or in the "rock garden", running through the cane forests that clung to the sides of Bayou Roberts. Later, we would ride our bicycles throughout the town often visiting Noah's Potato Chips on Lee Street or stopping with Dad at Panzica's Hardware or Chicola Supprette for various supplies. I took the bus many times with my Granny to the downtown area to look over the bins at Kress Five and Dime, occasionally buying a Disneykin (many of which I still have), and to have a hamburger at one of the lunch counters. Granny set-up the bridal and gift departments at Hill Harris, and later Koblen's and Schnack's. My brother, Joel, recently helped remodel Schnack's into the Diamond Grill and last fall my band, Smithfield Fair, performed at the Hearn Theatre in the old Kress Building. I remember the delight of Christmas decorations in the Wellans and Weiss & Goldring windows and Laverne Perry's Little Wranglers show at KALB-TV. My doctor's office was right next to KDBS radio where there were always posters for coming events hanging in the window.
In the shadows of the Guaranty Bank Building, the tallest building in town, we rode over brick streets to our family home just a block-and-a-half from Bolton High School. We played with neighborhood kids in the swing park until called home at dark and swam in the City Park Swimming Pool. An annual event was the Shrine Circus every year at Bringhurst field, but we saved our money for a soda from Mr. Grey's drug store behind his home on Harvard Street and later Parkland Drugs on Masonic when we were old enough to cross. We also saved our money for the occasional Saturday matinee and featurette at the Don Theatre on Bolton Avenue, or possibly a family outing to the Paramount Theatre downtown. As Dad had been a swing musician, he had recorded down there with the Hermann Scallan and Chet Steadman orchestras when the radio station was upstairs. It seemed there were memories everywhere, even then.
Now, I remember mother collecting S&H Green Stamps, my brothers and I singing on the Ethma Odum Show on KALB or just tuning in to watch Ms. Field's latest arts & craft project. I remember Steve's Gulf and later Skelly service station by Dad owned on Masonic just down from the Dr. Pepper bottling plant. As a child in a musical family and later an active musician in the area, I remember hours spent trying out instruments at Al Whitney's Alexandria Music on Bolton and later Charlie Humphries' Professional Music on Monroe Street. There were bands playing at dances at the CYO when I was younger and later my own band, Charmer, playing at the Cotton Gin. So many memories!
So many things remind me of my first 18 years in Alexandria and then three years at LSUA after returning from the Navy. Some memories are good, some not so good, but all part of the fiber of who I have become. It was an interesting existence and a remarkable time and place in which to grow, and like I said, I meet Alexandria's scattered seeds everywhere I go. We always have a laugh at how far-flung we've become. Yes, there are many memories there and when I return to visit, there are always echoes and new memories being formed beside them.
England Air Force Base - We Remember
Through its history as Alexandria Army Air Base, then Alexandria Air Force Base, and finally England Air Force Base (EAFB), our business was airplanes, and defense of the nation. We flew Old Glory proudly, and took our job seriously.
Shown above is the static display just inside the main gate area as seen in 2003, and to the right an aerial view.
Our hardware was the best of its time: the B-17 Flying Fortress, F-86 Sabre, F-100 Super Sabre, the KB-29 Superfortress, the KB-50, the A-10 Warthog, and the rest of the arsenal...whatever our mission, we met the challenge. We flew the planes, maintained them and supported the entire effort. And we were proud of the job we did at Alexandria Air Force Base, or England AFB!
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