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Leesville, seven miles northwest of Fort Polk, is the seat of government of Vernon Parish (parishes equate to counties in other states).
The 61,000 area residents are proud of their rich history, recreational and ecological features, and close association with the people of Fort Polk.
Long before the parish was formed, in the days following the Louisiana Purchase, renegades and outlaws from Mexico and the United States found sanctuary in the nearby Sabine River swamps and thick pine forests of the Neutral Territory, or "No Man's Land."
The history of the area offers a true "Who's Who of Americana." Among the legendary characters who passed through are Zebulon Pike, Jean Lafitte, Jim and Resin Bowie, Sam Houston, James Audubon, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis, George Custer, Leonidas Polk, Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and George Patton.
The parish's western boundary, along the Sabine River, was the site of military action during the Civil War. Confederate soldiers erected an artillery site to guard against Union movements along the Nolan Trace. These earthworks, known as the Burr Ferry Breastworks, are among the best preserved in the South.
Many local residents have vivid recollections of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who participated in the Louisiana Maneuvers that preceded U.S. involvement in World War II. The famous exercises paved the way for the establishment of Fort Polk.
"The Heart of Sportsman's Paradise," the slogan of the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce, aptly describes the area now. Fishermen can explore Anacoco and Vernon lakes or the 65-mile-long Toledo Bend Reservoir while catching their limits of bass, white perch, bream or catfish.
Deer, squirrels, rabbits and other game give avid hunters reason to roam the woodlands. Families can enjoy hiking and camping year-around in the facilities that abound throughout the area.
Golf enthusiasts will find challenges on the nine-hole Leesville Municipal Course and the demanding fairways of nearby Toro Hills.
In addition to the best of the outdoors, there are also activities for the mind and spirit.
Vernon Parish has almost 100 churches, representing virtually every faith and denomination.
The Museum of West Louisiana in Leesville welcomes you to its displays of archaeological artifacts, logging implements, railroad memorabilia and other items unique to the area. The Vernon Arts Council sponsors performances from opera, ballet and stage plays to the New Orleans Symphony and the U.S. Marine Corps Band. The council also sponsors the West Louisiana Folk Arts and Crafts Festival each spring.
For further information, contact the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce, Hwy. 171 North, Leesville, La. 71446, telephone 238-0349.
DeRidder, located 18 miles south of Fort Polk in Beauregard Parish, has been recognized by the Louisiana Municipal Association as the most progressive city of its size in the state.
A movement to create Beauregard Parish was started in 1908 by a group of businessmen from DeRidder, Sugartown and Merryville. In 1912, after two attempts, a new parish was established from part of Calcasieu Parish. It was named after the illustrious Pierre Gustave Toutau Beauregard, a famous Confederate general from Louisiana.
Part of the parish territory was acquired by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Permanent settlers did not come to the region until shortly before the Civil War. They were largely descendants of the Scotch-Irish and some English who had originally settled in the Carolinas.
The City of DeRidder was established in 1897, incorporated in 1903, and named the parish seat in 1912, when Beauregard Parish was established. DeRidder was named after a beautiful German girl, Ella DeRidder, by her brother-in-law, Jan DeGoijen. This gentleman played an important role in the early construction of the Kansas City Southern Railroad.
The current population of DeRidder is 10,400. The population of Beauregard Parish is about 30,000. Within the city limits of DeRidder are three elementary schools serving kindergarten through fifth grades, one junior high for sixth, seventh and eighth grades and one senior high school for ninth through 12th grades.
College preparatory, vocational, and general curricula are offered at the high school level. All schools are equipped to educate and train mentally and physically handicapped children.
More than 50 churches serve the DeRidder area. Many are very active in community functions and youth programs.
A wide variety of recreational facilities are conveniently located throughout the city. There are two public swimming pools and five parks. Other public recreational facilities include tennis courts, basketball courts, ball fields, playgrounds and recreational areas with picnic tables and barbecue pits. A public library is conveniently located within the city and the Beauregard Parish Museum is located in downtown DeRidder.
Other points of interest include several shopping areas, a community theater, the DeRidder Civic Center (which was the first U.S.O. built in the nation), the historic Beauregard Parish Jail, and a downtown shopping area that has been designated a Historical District.
Nearby Bundick and Longville lakes offer good fishing, and a canoe trip down the scenic Ouiska (pronounced Whiskey) Chitto Creek is a pleasant outing.
For more information about DeRidder, write the Greater DeRidder Area Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 309, DeRidder, LA 70634, or call (318) 463-5533.
Fort Polk has a unique relationship with the "Crossroads" of Louisiana - an area encompassing the twin cities of Alexandria and Pineville.
Alexandria's England Industrial Airpark and Community is the site of the Joint Readiness Training Center Intermediate Staging Base, the first stop for most units arriving for training rotations.
The Crossroads is the geographic center of the state, just as it is the center of the many unique cultures of Louisiana. It is also the cultural, educational, recreational and entertainment heart of the area - and it's just 50 miles, about an hour's drive, from Fort Polk.
The city of Alexandria has a first-class zoo as well as extensive recreational facilities. You'll find places to enjoy tennis, baseball, swimming and golf. Kees Park and Buhlow Lake in Pineville are favorite recreation spots as well.
You can shop 'til you drop at the Alexandria Mall, a major regional shopping center with major retail chains and specialty stores. Other shops are located throughout the cities. Buses to the mall leave Fort Polk's La Louisiane Recreation Center every Saturday afternoon. The Alexandria community operates a mall Welcome Center for the soldiers and families of Fort Polk on Saturdays as well.
The Rapides Coliseum, Alexandria Museum of Art, Rapides Symphony Orchestra, Central Louisiana Theater, Ballet Alexandria and River Oaks Square are but a few of the cultural offerings of the Crossroads area.
Kent House, a commemorative area with an antebellum home and outbuildings is open throughout the year. Craftsmen are frequently on site demonstrating the crafts and wares of that bygone era.
Outdoor activities abound in the Crossroads.
Kisatchie National Forest offers wildflower trails, camping, and lakes for fishing and boating. The area's many other lakes also make water activities readily accessible.
Two major hospitals serve the area and offer all medical specialties. The Veterans Administration Medical Center operates a 470-bed hospital and nursing home in a picturesque setting in Pineville.
Louisiana College, a four-year Baptist school, is located in Pineville, while Louisiana State University offers a two-year program at its Alexandria campus. Several vocational-technical schools also serve the area.
For more information about the Crossroads area, write the Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 992, Alexandria, La. 71309-0992, or call (318) 442-6671.
Lake Charles, 60 miles south of Fort Polk, is home to two major festivals: Mardi Gras and Contraband Days, both held at the Lake Charles Civic Center.
The Mardi Gras season begins with the Twelfth Night Revel on Epiphany, and concludes on the four days prior to Ash Wednesday with parades, street performers, a carnival, a talent contest, and a battle of the bands. The Krewe of Krewes Parade concludes the festival on Fat Tuesday.
Contraband Days, the second largest festival in the state, attracts over 200,000 visitors each year to celebrate the legendary Jean Lafitte who is thought to have buried his treasure along Contraband Bayou.
The two-week event, held the last week of April and the first week of May, features such activities as carnivals, a parade, fireworks shows, power and sailboat races, and bathtub and bed races.
The largest concentration of American alligators can be found in the marsh along the Creole Nature Trail. This unique driving adventure begins on Highway 27 in Sulphur. It winds through the lower half of Calcasieu Parish and Cameron Parish, passes Gulf Coast beaches and then loops back to Lake Charles.
On the way, visitors can stop at the Sabine Wildlife Refuge for close-up views of nature and wildlife.
Lake Charles' romantic history can be enjoyed with a leisurely drive through the Charpentier District, the historic downtown area. The homes' unique structural features came to be called "Lake Charles Style Architecture."
The Sallier Oak, estimated to be over 300 years old, is a landmark in Lake Charles history. It is located at the site where the area's first French settler and the lake and city's namesake, Charles Sallier, built his first home in 1803. Legend holds that the notorious pirate
Jean Lafitte used to meet Charles and his wife Catherine under this very oak.
Nearby is the Imperial Calcasieu Museum with records and exhibits depicting the history of Lake Charles.
North Beach, on the shore of Lake Charles, is the only inland beach on the Interstate 10 system between Jacksonville, Fla., and Los Angeles, Calif.
Lake Charles restaurants offer a treasure trove of culinary delights - shrimp creole, crab gumbo, crawfish bisque, jambalaya and other ethnic foods.
Contact the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information: Call 1-800-456-SWLA or write 1211 N. Lakeshore Drive, Lake Charles, LA 70601.
Natchitoches, about 50 miles northeast of Fort Polk, may be Louisiana's best-kept secret.
The city began as a military trading outpost on the Red River 280 years ago, making it the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase - even older than New Orleans! The people of Natchitoches (pronounced Nak-a-tosh) have capitalized on their historic roots to create a bustling tourist delight.
The original outpost, Fort St. Jean Baptiste, has been reconstructed as a state commemorative area. Visitors get a look into the lifestyle of the first French settlers there.
The 33-block downtown area, with more than 50 centuries-old structures, is a National Historic Landmark. The buildings and houses, with their cast-iron grillwork galleries overlooking Cane River Lake, are reminiscent of the days of the Cotton Kingdom and the city's river port days. Beautifully landscaped townhouses were once second homes for the down-river planters when they visited Natchitoches.
A plantation tour of Cane River Country is a glimpse into the sophisticated society of the French colonies. The French Creole style of architecture found in the region's plantation houses and their outbuildings is the only pure vestige of this unique society remaining today.
The gem of the Cane River collection is Melrose, a nine-building complex built in the 1700s by a free woman of color, Marie Therese Coincoin. Melrose and other plantations are open daily for tours.
Natchitoches hosts a variety of events throughout the year. The annual fall pilgrimage (second full weekend of October) features tours of homes and plantations. The Folk Festival, sponsored by the city and Northwestern State University on the third weekend in July, showcases unique folk musicians, storytellers, dancers, cooks and craftsmen. Highlighting the year is the Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights (first Saturday of December). Parades, fireworks, food, entertainment and crafts draw more than 150,000 visitors to this fairyland of seasonal lighting.
For more information about the Natchitoches area, call 1-800-259-1714, or write the Natchitoches Parish Tourist Commission, P.O. Box 411, Natchitoches, La. 71458-0411.
History: The New Llano Colony, a cooperative colony that experimented with socialism, was formed in 1917 by a group of professional and highly skilled craftsmen. The colony had no churches, police or judicial system. The economic depression of the 1930's brought an end to the cooperative. However, some of the original buildings are still in evidence.
New Llano today: New Llano, located between Fort Polk and Leesville, has a population of approximately 2,500 with a mayor, chief of police, and aldermen elected every four years. Current community projects include the construction of a wastewater treatment facility and a community park. The town is extremely family oriented and boasts an annual free-to-the-public Halloween Haunted House. Attendance averages 2,000.
History: As with most of the smaller communities in the pine forests surrounding Fort Polk, Rosepine began as a sawmill village in 1902. Various mills located their operations in the area and one of the largest operations was the Arbuthinot and McCain Sawmill.
Rosepine today: Although the mills have all but vanished, Rosepine, located between Fort Polk and DeRidder, has experienced a considerable amount of growth in recent years, mainly in housing and the retail and wholesale trade areas. The current population of Rosepine is 1,500 with a mayor, five alderman and a police chief elected every four years.