Wednesday, July 29, 2020

1950s Watershed Project Revives Plain Dealing

Signage for Upper West Fork Cypress Bayou watershed. Plain Dealing Library Collection: 1997.031.043.

On Jul. 25, 1888, S. J. Zeigler, founder of Plain Dealing, auctioned off the lots that now comprise the town. For decades this flourishing little town endured an average of four floods per year, costing residents and business owners an average of $41,884 in damages annually. The town suffered nearly $16,000 worth of damages to streets, bridges, and other property each year.

Damages to farmland were approximately $4,000 annually, and with the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act passed by Congress in 1954, farmers on the upper west fork of Cypress Bayou became interested in the agricultural benefits of a watershed project for Plain Dealing. After many meetings, applications and votes concerning the Upper West Fork of Cypress Bayou watershed were approved by the Soil Conservation Service of the USDA, Mar. 1958.

Demoss livery stable, during a flood in Plain Dealing, c. 1910s. (located at Palmetto Road)
Bryce Turnley Collection: 1997.062.172.

It was estimated that the project would cost $505,000, with Federal contributions of $333,800 and local costs of $172,000. Local contributions also included the land, easements, and rights of way, as well as operation and maintenance of the project after completion. The Louisiana State Department of Public Works provided engineering services and funds for construction. In 1956 the citizens of Plain Dealing unanimously approved a bond issue for $52,000 to fund the cost of paving roads to the lakes.

The project included the damming of three lakes: one for flood storage, one for a water reserve, and the third for recreational purposes. Once completed, the 5,500-acre watershed would provide flood protection, municipal water supply, as well as fish and wildlife development. The benefits of investing in this massive project also ushered in a growth spurt for Plain Dealing.

According to an article appearing in the Shreveport Times on May 4, 1969, Gene Warren quoted Mayor Leon Sanders exclaiming that the “three watershed dams helped save his town.” That since the completion of the project in 1961, the value of those dams to Plain Dealing was “close to half a million dollars,” according to Sanders. Not only did the town realize the previously mentioned benefits, but it also made the town more appealing.

Sanders told Warren “that since the structures were built, over a dozen new businesses have opened up in town,” including a new bank, a new hospital, a new clinic, a library, and a plywood mill that employed over 200 local people. A new subdivision was developed on the outskirts of town with 15 to 20 new homes. New roads were constructed and new churches formed.

While one of the three lakes were not named, because its sole purpose was to provide flood control, the other two were named Lake Dogwood and Lake Plain Dealing. Sanders stated, “The city bought 64 acres around the edges of the lakes and developed facilities for swimming, picnicking, and camping.” He also reported that “close to 3,000 people per day from all over north Louisiana have used the lakes.” Thanks to the Louisiana Wild Life and Fisheries Commission, the lakes were stocked with fish, making the lakes ideal for fishing.

With the new recreational areas to offer and with the fear of annual floods gone, Plain Dealing became revived for the first time since the 1930s. Businesses and people saw Plain Dealing as a town with potential rising, moving there to live the American dream.

To learn more about Plain Dealing, visit the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center at 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City. Be sure to follow us @BPLHistoryCenter on FB.

By: Amy Robertson

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