In the early 1950s several businessmen from the Union Parish area sat together to discuss how to develop a project that at the time would have been considered to be an impossibility. Politicians were involved as well as other well established and well-respected businessmen. It was a small group but it represented much of the influence in the parish.
The subject of discussion was building one of the largest man-made lakes in the deep south and building this lake in a very rural area of North Louisiana; a place that many elected officials in Baton Rouge had not heard of.
There was no individual desire for personal gain. Instead there was a vision of what could be for a rural community. One aspect of leadership is the ability to look over the horizon and see the positive attributes of a decision or project. There was a lot of leadership among this group as they saw what could be.
A lawyer that had the plans for a federally-funded lake that was to never come to fruition was instrumental in the project. A local businessman whose father had large land holdings that would fall below the surface of the lake was among the group, as was a local politician who would lose money when his local plant would have to be relocated.
Others were dedicated to the project. It would take all the efforts of this small band of men to make the new lake take form and come to completion.
Following much effort and some unique brinksmanship in the Louisiana Legislature, the project was funded. The contract was let and a local contractor, well known for his heavy construction ability, built the spillway. Finally, the dam was ready and Governor Jimmy Davis was present at the dedication. The gates were then closed and magically Lake D’Arbonne came into existence.
As a child I recall hearing discussion of how the lake was going to bring prosperity to the area. Opportunities for small businesses based on the lake would take off. I even recall talk of using the lake for Farmerville’s water source.
Camps appeared and in some areas residential subdivisions came into existence. Three full service marinas appeared; something unique for the region. Folly Beach sprang into life and the feeling of a tropical island could be found on Lake D’Arbonne. Then the euphoria waned. Inadequate tourist traffic and sport participation ultimately spelled the end of the marinas. Gas was no longer available on the lake. Though people slowly built homes on the lake, the primary real estate interest was in camps. The economy of Union Parish was slow to feel the effects of our new lake; but this would eventually change.
Last weekend I went to a political rally on the lake. It was being hosted at a new outdoor restaurant, complete with kayak rental, live music and good food. This had the feeling of a family fun Florida vacation spot circa 1960s. What a fun place to spend a summer afternoon. Many camps are disappearing and beautiful homes are appearing. A new RV park has been built and stays full. Restaurants continue to appear on the streets of Farmerville and the National Crappie Tournament has been held and will once again be held on the lake. Some say that Lake D’Arbonne is the best crappie lake in the United States. Opportunities continue to present themselves that will ensure that the lake and the Union Parish community will continue to mature and grow.
While standing on the banks of the lake, enjoying a beautiful breeze as boats sporting flags cruised past I couldn’t help but think of that spillway dedication day so long ago. It has been almost 60 years ago. As I surveyed the sight I said to myself, Lake D’Arbonne had finally come of age.
I’m sure that those founding fathers, all ghosts today, are looking down, pleased at what they see.
Tuffy Fields may be reached by emailing thelouisianaexplorer@ yahoo.com.