See Rock City

See Rock City

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lake Charles, LA

The downtown from the west side of Lake Charles

Charles is the fifth largest incorporated city in the US state of Louisiana. It is the major cultural and educational center in the southwest region of the state and one of the most important in Acadiana. As of the 2000 census, Lake Charles' population was 71,757. The city serves as the parish seat of Calcasieu Parish.

The Calcasieu River as seen from the Conventions Bureau office in Lake Charles

Lake Charles is the principal city of the Lake Charles Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes the parishes of Calcasieu and Cameron. It is also part of the larger Lake Charles-Jennings Combined Statistical Area.

The city is considered a major petrochemical refining center, gaming center, and home to McNeese State University and the emerging SOWELA Technical Community College.

With over 75 festivals held annually, Lake Charles is referred to as the Festival Capital of Louisiana. Its Central School Arts and Humanities Center is a site featured on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.


18th and 19th centuries

Settlement and incorporation

While several American Indian tribes are known to have lived in the area occupied by present-day Lake Charles, the first European settlers arrived in the 1760s.

In 1781 Martin LeBleu and his wife, Dela Marion, of Bordeaux, France were the first recorded Europeans to settle in the area now known as the LeBleu Settlement. Charles Sallier married LeBleu's daughter, Catherine LeBleu; the Salliers built their home on the beach in what is current-day Lake Charles. By 1860 the area become known as Charles Town in Sallier's honor.

The Rio Hondo, which flowed through Lake Charles, was later called Quelqueshue, a Native American term meaning "Crying Eagle". Transliterated through French, this became the name of Calcasieu Parish. On March 7, 1861, Lake Charles was officially incorporated as the town of Charleston, Louisiana.

Industrial growth and the Civil War

The city's growth was fairly slow until Captain Daniel Goos, a Frisian by birth, came to the city in 1855. Goos established a lumber mill and schooner dock, now called Goosport. He promoted a profitable trade with Texan and Mexican ports by sending his schooner downriver into the Gulf of Mexico. Until the arrival of Goos, a man named Jacob Ryan dominated the lumber industry. Between 1817 and 1855, timber sales from longleaf pine and bald cypress remained the city's primary source of economic revenue.

Jacob Ryan convinced the state government to move the parish seat to Lake Charles from its former location at Marion, a settlement about eight miles upriver. Later that year, Ryan and Samuel Kirby transferred the parish courthouse and jail by barge to the then-named Charleston. Six years after the city was incorporated, dissatisfaction over the name Charleston arose; on March 16, 1867, Charleston, Louisiana, was renamed and incorporated as the town of Lake Charles.

By the time of the U.S. Civil War, many Americans from the North, along with a large influx of continental Europeans and Jews, had come to settle the area. Attitudes toward slavery in Lake Charles were mixed, as slavery was secondary to business interests. In fact, fewer than five percent of the population were slaves.

Many citizens became involved in the war. Young men from some local families served in the Confederate Army. It is also known that some local families supported the cause of the Union.

After the Civil War

In the years following the Civil War, Lake Charles regained its status as a lumbering center. Especially in the 1880s, the city saw an increase in population and economic demand largely due to an innovative advertising campaign by J.B. Watkins; thanks to this campaign, the city's population grew four-hundred percent during this decade.

Using the pine wood from the city's mills, construction of large Victorian mansions transformed Lake Charles during the 1890s. Carpenters competed with verve to outbuild each other with their use of elaborate fretwork and decoration. The area of present-day Lake Charles located just east of downtown is known as the Charpentier District from the French word for carpenter and features houses from this era.

Twentieth century

The courthouse donated by Ryan and Kirby was replaced numerous times; such historical courthouses include a two-story cypress structure in 1872 and a brick structure in 1890. The 1890 courthouse, along with most of downtown Lake Charles, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1910. Two months after the Louisiana legislature divided the former Imperial Calcasieu parish into the current parishes of Allen, Beauregard, Cameron, Jefferson Davis and Calcasieu, the presently-used, historic Calcasieu Courthouse was completed in 1912.

After World War II, Lake Charles experienced industrial growth with the onset of the petrochemical refining industries. The city grew to a high of some 80,000 people in the early 1980s, but with local economic recession, the population declined. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 71,757.

Present day

Lake Charles suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Rita, which struck the city as a Category 3 storm early September 24, 2005. On September 22, Mayor Randy Roach ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city, and approximately ninety percent of the residents left. Evacuees were asked to not return for 48 hours, due to wind and flood damage. There was extensive damage to the city's electrical grid, and many areas did not have power restored for up to three weeks.

The destructive force of Hurricane Rita. Looking down the remains of the lakefront boardwalk toward the damaged Harrah's Lake Charles Casino property.

As part of the city's recovery from Hurricane Rita, elected officials proposed a plan to renovate the downtown area to make it more attractive and pedestrian-friendly. A primary concern for the downtown revitalization was to include quality and affordable housing. To fund this proposal, officials proposed a parish-wide ballot initiative to increase sales and property taxes for 20 years. This was voted on and rejected by residents on July 15, 2006.

Capital One Tower in downtown Lake Charles after Hurricane Rita

On June 20, 2006, a Citgo petroleum plant located in Sulphur, Louisiana released between 15,000 and 18,000 barrels of oil into the Calcasieu Ship Channel. The United States Coast Guard was called in to contain the spilled oil, which had by this time flowed down the Calcasieu River. Because of the disaster, the Coast Guard had to close many waterways, including the Calcasieu River Channel and a one-mile stretch of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. The Port of Lake Charles remained closed for some time after the accident due to contamination.

Oil prices surged to over $74 per barrel in part due to the Citgo spillage. The Calcasieu Refining Co., which normally processes 76,500 barrels of oil a day, was working at low levels for weeks after the incident.

Nearby cities

Carlyss is a town of 4,049 located between Sulphur and Hackberry.

Iowa is a town of 2,663 east of the city.

LeBleu Settlement is extensive area spanning over Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis parishes, adjacent to Moss Bluff and Iowa.

Moss Bluff is a suburb of 10,535 north of the city via U.S. Highway 171.
Starks, Louisiana

Grand Lake, Louisiana is a town of 2,320 located south of Lake Charles just south of the Calcasieu-Cameron Parish line. The area is primarily connected to Lake Charles via Louisiana Highway 385.

Sulphur is a city of 22,512 located to the west of the city via Interstate 10 and U.S. Highway 90.

Welsh, Louisiana

Westlake is a suburb of 4,668 located directly west of the Calcasieu River and Lake Charles from the city.

Vinton, Louisiana

Colleges and universities

Lake Charles is home to McNeese State University, a public university in the Louisiana School System. McNeese offers a variety of courses, including well-respected schools of education, engineering, nursing, and biology. Over 8,000 students attend the university.

Also located in within the city are Delta School of Business and Technology and Sowela Technical Community College which specialize in vocational courses.


Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau in Lake Charles promotes tourism and conventions in Calcasieu Parish

Lake Charles has several small museums and other cultural facilities, such as the Central School Arts and Humanities Center, whose Black Heritage Art Gallery is one of the sites featured on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail recently created by the state.

Downtown park in Lake Charles

Also attracting visitors are the Children's Museum of Lake Charles, and the Imperial Calcasieu Museum. The Old City Hall has been renovated into exhibition space and many moving art exhibits are displayed at the locale throughout the year.

McNeese State University produces The Banners Series, a series of various musical and theatrical performances, throughout the year. In addition, The Lake Charles Little Theatre, The Artists Civic Theatre Studios (ACTS) Theatre and The Children's Theatre Company provide excellent theater with local talent.

The city has its own symphony orchestra, the Lake Charles Symphony.


Interstate 10 passes through Lake Charles, connecting the city with Houston to the west and New Orleans to the east. Interstate 210 loops through the southern half of the city. Other major throughways include U.S. Highway 90, which runs parallel with Interstate 10, and U.S. Highway 171, which connects the city to the north with De Ridder. The city's main street is Ryan Street, running north-south connecting downtown to the south of the city.

Lake Charles Regional Airport, located south of the city, is the Lake Charles's only airport which provides commercial airline service. Chennault International Airport, while a fully operational airport, is strictly an industrial and maintenance center. The latter airport, a former Strategic Air Command US Air Force base during the Cold War, is named for Maj. Gen. Claire Chennault, the aviator famous for commanding the Flying Tigers fighter group during World War II.

The Port of Lake Charles is the eleventh-largest seaport in the United States, the fourth-largest liner service seaport in the U.S. Gulf, and a major West Gulf container load center. The Calcasieu Ship Channel provides direct access to the Gulf of Mexico 34-miles downstream. The ship channel, which has a projected depth of 40 feet and a bottom width of 400 feet, intersects the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway just north of Calcasieu Lake.

The City of Lake Charles has an operating bus system throughout the city and surrounding suburbs. On July 7, 2006, The U.S. Dept. of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awarded a $290,142 grant to the Lake Charles Bus Terminal and Support Facilities Transit System. The City will use these funds towards their bus terminal and support facility, which adds more federal funds for engineering and design, as well as rehabilitation and renovation of the bus terminal and support facility.

Lake Charles also has its own Greyhound bus and Amtrak station.


Many area residents are employed by the petro-chemical refineries in nearby Westlake; some of the corporations with facilities in or around the city include PPG Industries, ConocoPhillips, and Citgo Petroleum Corporation.

The Trunkline LNG terminal, immediately southwest of Lake Charles, is one of the United States' few LNG terminals. It has facilities for LNG receipt, storage and regassification.

Lake Charles Cogeneration, a subsidiary of Leucadia National, is scheduled to begin construction of a $1.6 billion petroleum coke gasification plant in early 2009.

Manufacturing has been periodically struggling to achieve economic success in the area in order to diversify the economic base of the city. Chennault International Airport hosts Aeroframe (formerly EADS Aeroframe Services), which services airplanes, and a Northrop Grumman facility.

Holidays and festivals

Lake Charles plays host to over one-hundred festivals and carnivals, giving the city its nickname, "The Festival Capital of Louisiana."

Contraband Days

Contraband Days is a twelve-day annual festival held during the first two weeks of May. The celebrations are filled with savory Cajun food, family fun and live entertainment. The festival is attended by more than 200,000 people making it one of the largest celebrations in Louisiana. The festival begins when pirate Jean Lafitte captures the port and throws the mayor of the city into the lake.

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras in Southwest Louisiana has a colorful history dating back to 1882, when Momus, King of Mardi Gras, landed his royal yacht at the foot of Pujo Street in downtown Lake Charles.

Throughout the two World Wars, Mardi Gras was downsized which led to a lack of participation by the area's youth. However, an interest to redevelop the festivities arose, and the first Mardi Gras Ball in the Lake Charles area was staged in 1964.

The full revival of Mardi Gras in Lake Charles was not realized until 1979, when several Krewe captains formed the "Krewe of Krewes", with the prime purpose of parading and promoting Mardi Gras for local residents. In 1985, Mardi Gras of Imperial Calcasieu, Inc. was formed by a group of civic-minded volunteers to further aid in the preservation of this festival.

Other festivals

Cajun Music and Food Festival

CAL-CA-CHEW (Calcasieu) Festival

Celtic Nations Heritage Festival

Gallery Promenade Arts Showcase

International Food and Music Festival

Marshland Festival

Pony Fest: A Celebration of Arts and Music

Red, White, Blue and You July 4 Celebration

Southwest Louisiana Christmas Lighting Festival

Veteran's Day Parade



Lake Charles has many publications in circulation. The most widely distributed, daily newspaper is The American Press. Other popular periodicals include Lagniappe Magazine, The Times of Southwest Louisiana, Gumbeaux Magazine, and Thrive magazine; however, the latter three are non-daily.


Major television network affiliates serving the area include:


Notable natives and residents

Lynn Anderson: famous for the song "(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden," was married to oilman Harold "Spook" Stream of Lake Charles; they lived on Shell Beach Drive in the city until their divorce.

James David Cain: (b. 1938) is a former state senator and former state representative from Beauregard Parish whose district includes a part of Calcasieu Parish.

A.C. Clemons: (1921-1992) was a trucking executive in Jefferson Davis Parish who was the first Republican member of the Louisiana State Senate since Reconstruction.

Alvin Dark: was a 1948 alumnus of the Boston Braves, a legend at LSU, and a former major league baseball player & manager.

Michael E. DeBakey: world-renowned heart surgeon, was the first person to successfully implant an artificial heart (in 1963), was born in Lake Charles. He's a member of Health Care Hall of Fame, a recipient of The United Nations Lifetime Achievement Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, and The National Medal of Science. Additionally, he was the originator of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, or M.A.S.H. unit, concept.

Andre Dubus: well-known author and essayist, was born in Lake Charles and was educated at McNeese State University.

Joe Dumars: former player and current General Manager for the Detroit Pistons, played for McNeese State University before going on to have a successful NBA career including being named the MVP of the 1989 NBA Finals. More recently, he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

David Filo: now a billionaire, was born and raised in Moss Bluff. He created the Internet portal YAHOO along with several partners.

Sean Patrick Flanery: who starred in The Boondock Saints and The Dead Zone television series, was born in Lake Charles in 1965.

Matt Forte: Starting Running Back and 2nd Round-pick of the Chicago Bears. MVP of the 2008 Senior Bowl.

Lether Frazar: McNeese university president and lieutenant governor of Louisiana under Earl Kemp Long from 1956-1960; McNeese library bears his name.

Dud Faulk: son of "Patin" Faulk, was the world goose calling champion for 1961, 1962 and the 1954 international duck calling champion.

Dominic Gorie: astronaut

Ida Lewis "Queen Ida" Guillory: Zydeco-musician. Queen Ida was born in Lake Charles in 1929. She was the first Cajun or Zydeco-musician to win a Grammy Award, which she did in 1982.

Allen "Puddler" Harris: musician with Ricky Nelson, Conway Twitty, and Jimmie Davis; former director of the Lake Charles Civic Center.

Mike Heinen: American professional golfer who has played on the PGA Tour and the Nationwide Tour. Former winner of the PGA Shell Houston Open.

Bob Hilton: was the host of the game show Truth or Consequences and numerous other game shows of the past. He appeared briefly as the announcer for The Price is Right. He began his career at KPLC TV.

Sam Houston Jones: was born in Merryville, Louisiana in 1897. He served as Assistant Parish Prosecutor in Lake Charles for nine years before defeating the Long dynasty, becoming Governor of Louisiana in 1940. Jones died on February 8, 1978, in Lake Charles, where he is buried at Prien Pines Cemetery.

Claude Kirkpatrick (1917-1997): grew up in Lake Charles and graduated from Lake Charles High School; he was later a state representative from Jefferson Davis Parish (1952-1960) and director of the Louisiana Department of Public Works, through which capacity he worked to establish Toledo Bend Reservoir.

Jesse Knowles: was a businessman, civic leader, state legislator representing Calcasieu Parish, and survivor of the World War II Bataan Death March.

Tony Kushner: Pulitzer prize winning playright.

Zachary Levi: actor, best known as the title character in the NBC series Chuck born September 29, 1980 in Lake Charles.

Nellie Lutcher: was a jazz singer who gained some national popularity in the late 1940s and 1950s. At one point she recorded for Capital Records.

Robert Marciano: a weather anchor for CNN, was the morning and chief meteorologist at KPLC TV in Lake Charles during the mid 1990's.

Charles "Cotton" Nash: was the first Kentucky basketball player to average twenty points in three straight seasons. In 1967 and 1968 he was in the pros.

Van Dyke Parks: Mississippi-born composer, singer, musician, and actor, reared in Lake Charles

Isaac Ryan: lost his life as one of the defenders of the Alamo.

Eddie Shuler: was the founder of Goldband Records and a legend in the South for recording swamp pop, cajun, and other genres of music. Dolly Parton at the age of 13, recorded her first single at Goldband Studios. Rockin' Sidney, Jo-El Sonnier, Freddy Fender, Phil Phillips and many others have passed through the doors of the little studio on Church Street.

James E. Sudduth (1917-1995), former mayor of Lake Charles (1965-1973; 1989-1993); Sudduth Coliseum is named for him.

Joe Gray Taylor: was a distinguished historian of Louisiana and the American South and a professor and graduate school dean at McNeese State University.

David William Thomas: (1876-1961) was a teacher and school principal in Lake Charles late in the 19th Century. He was later an attorney and the mayor of Minden, the seat of Webster Parish.

Justin Vincent: alumnus of Alfred M. Barbe High School, plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers

George H. Wells: (1833-1905) was a Northern-born Confederate States of America officer who practiced law in Lake Charles and served in the Louisiana State Senate from 1878 to 1880.

Singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams: was born in Lake Charles and recorded the song "Lake Charles" about Clyde Woodward, a boyfriend of hers born in Nacogdoches, Texas, who nevertheless told everybody that he was from Lake Charles.

Ted Williams: a Fox News contributor and a criminal defense attorney, was born in Lake Charles.

"Mighty" Mike White (born 1976), bull rider who currently rides for the PBR (he was the 1999 PBR Rookie of the Year, as well as the 1999 PRCA World Champion bull rider), was born and raised in Lake Charles; White currently resides in De Kalb, Texas.

Cultural references


Setting and title of a song by Lucinda Williams about a fatal car crash.

Mentioned in the lyrics of the song Continental Trailways Blues by Steve Earle.

Mentioned in the lyrics of the song Up on Cripple Creek by The Band:
“ When I get off of this mountain, you know where I want to go? /
Straight down the Mississippi river, to the Gulf of Mexico. / To Lake Charles, Louisiana / little Bessie, girl that I once knew.

Mentioned in Jack Kerouac's On The Road - After leaving Sal Paradise in Mexico, the Dean Moriarty's car breaks down in Lake Charles.

Lake Charles is mentioned in the movie Catch Me If You Can, staring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Angels in America parents moved to Lake Charles shortly after his birth. His father William is the recently retired conductor of the Lake Charles symphony orchestra.

The musical Caroline, or Change by Tony Kushner, which was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2004, is set in Lake Charles.