In a recent article, the writer asked - was the Calcasieu River, when compared to the Sabine River, the unwanted, orphaned stepchild of the Federal Government? When so compared, every aspect of the Calcasieu's development, ie: its lighthouse, channel deepening and rerouting, its jetties, lingered 20 to 30 years behind the same activity on Sabine River.
It could perhaps be said that the arrival of sawmiller Daniel Goos at Goosport, who built the steamer Dan and a small fleet of schooners on the river in 1857, was the earliest commercial activity on that stream. Even so, a few New Orleans schooners, hauling cotton, shingles, and hides, as well as the Jacob Ryan sawmill, preceded Goos. By 1860, Goos' fleet, including the Dan, Cassie, Lehmann, Lake Charles and Winnebago, as well as the Ryan lumber schooner, Ann Ryan, were hauling cargoes lumber, cotton and shingles to Galveston.
Between 1870-1880, it was estimated that the Lake Charles-Galveston lumber fleet numbered between 60 and 80 vessels. C. F. Henry once pointed out that at the moment of Calcasieu River high tide, as many as 25 schooners might be waiting to cross the Calcasieu bar.
In 1898 deep water arrived at Port Arthur via a privately-owned canal, that skirted the edge of Sabine Lake. And immediately Port Arthur began loading 3,000-ton deep sea freighters. In 1890 the Union Sulphur Company west of Lake Charles began producing mountains of sulphur via the Frasch process, and from then until 1926, the company shipped a daily train load of bulk, dry sulphur to Sabine Pass to be loaded onto the company ships. And following the crude oil eruptions at Spindletop and Sour Lake, three oil refineries were soon being built in Jefferson County, Texas.
However, between 1901 and 1920, there were suddenly a dozen or more producing Louisiana oil fields, such as Hackberry, Jennings, Bosco, that needed an outlet to the sea. And a lack of deep water at Lake Charles was hindering greatly the economic development of that city. Sadly, however, the first deep water to Lake Charles had to travel a circuitous route "the long way around," meaning a 73-mile trip through Sabine Pass and the Sabine-Calcasieu intercoastal canal in order to reach the city. About 1923 the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a $300,000 bond issue to widen and deepen the 23-mile-long intercoastal canal between the Sabine and Calcasieu rivers. The tortuous journey to the gulf included 17 miles on the Calcasieu River; 23-miles through the canal to Sabine River; 18 miles through the Sabine River and Neches-Sabine ship channel to Port Arthur; and 16 more miles from Port Arthur to the Sabine River jetties.
In Feb., 1926 the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal District began building an 800-foot long docks, which were due to be completed in 6 months. On Apr. 3, 1926 the 6,000-ton freighter Sewalls Point docked at Westlake, to the joyous hand-clapping of a thousand onlookers. Its cargo contained 8,000 tons of fertilizer (the type not specified) and 15,000 cases of canned corn and tomatoes for the Kelley-Weber Company. It did not seem to matter that the fertilizer was odorous and pungent; like the coastal menhaden plants, its foul scent in the nose meant dollar bills in the Lake Charles pockets. And deep water was exactly what Conoco, Citgo and the other industrial complex needed for shipping their products aboard. However, the long-awaited dream of the Port of Lake Charles was deep water through the mouth of the river. Bar pilots would then need to know only the intricacies of the river alone. After years of wrangling, the Corp of Engineers finally completed surveys and hearings, and dredging to reroute the Calcasieu River and eliminate the Cameron horseshoe bend soon began. In the same year Congress voted a million dollar appropriation to begin work on the project.
Finally all dredging and construction had ended by June, 1941, and about July 1, the 7,000 ton freighter Margaret Lykes arrive at Lake Charles from Galveston, having entered the river at its mouth, and shortened the earlier route by more than 30 miles. On July 12, 1941, Gov. Sam Jones , Col. C. Littrell of the Corp of Engineers, and many other dignitaries rode the 40 miles to the mouth of the "new and improved" Calcasieu River to formally dedicate the finished project.
Truly, the Calcasieu River, formerly that unwanted, orphaned stepchild of Uncle Sam, had come of age, had blossomed and flowered; and the Port of Lake Charles no longer needed to take a backseat to anyone.
(The generous help of Kathie Bordelon of Frazar Library is gratefully acknowledged by the writer.)