Historical Articles by W. T. Block

(click here for W. T. Block web page)

Oakdale, that sparkle in Allen Parish's halo, is a relative newcomer to Southwest Louisiana history, having been founded as Dunnville in 1890. In 1893, when the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad came to town, its name was changed to Oakdale.

By 1905 Oakdale could boast of 500 inhabitants; its school had an enrollment of 150 scholars under Supt. T. J. Hargrove. There were also 3 religious congregations in town - Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist. And there were also 10 stores in town, 2 hotels, a livery stable, a physician and dentist, 4 fraternal orders, telegraph and telephone facilities, but no saloons.

In 1925 none of Oakdale's 5 sawmills could be seen from the downtown area, but their smoke was visible above the treetops. The Calcasieu River Lumber Co., located a mile northwest of town, was built in 1896, soon to be on the Santa Fe Railroad to Pitkin, and its mill cut 85,000 feet of lumber daily on its 66" double circular saw. In 1904, the mill shipped 30,000,000 feet of lumber. It employed 175 mill hands and loggers who lived in 80 tenant houses. In 1905 Charles Lee was the sawmill foreman and R. H. Harang was the planer foreman.

The Oakdale Lumber Co. mill was built in 1900, 1 mile north of town on the St. Louis Railroad, and the plant shipped 26,000,000 feet of lumber in 1904. It also employed 175 mill hands and loggers, cutting 85,000 feet daily on its double circular saws. H. T. Miller was the sawmill foreman at Oakdale, and William Tempner was the planer foreman.

In 1925 the sawmill of Forest Lumber Co. was located northeast of the city, and it cut 70,000 feet of lumber daily. The Bowman-Hicks sawmill was located southeast of town, and it was the newest and most modern of the pine mills. West of the city, the plant of Hillyer, Deutsch, Edwards Inc. cut 150,000 feet daily of hardwood, making it, with its 2 bandsaws, the largest hardwood mill in Louisiana.

Sawmilling had become the principal industry in Oakdale, employing about 1,000 persons with a weekly payroll of $60,000. Oakdale's five mills shipped 750 box cars of lumber every month, and the town had become the largest lumber shipping center in the south.

As more timber was cut out, and large acreages were cleared for agriculture, the parish farmers organized the Oakdale Fruit and Vegetable Growers Cooperative to buy and market their products. Already 100 acres of cabbage had been planted, along with 100 acres of Irish potatoes, and 200 acres of sweet potatoes. One company operated a yam curing plant in Oakdale, as the growing of yams became a major crop throughout Southwest Louisiana. Another success of the parish cooperative was to locate a large creamery in Oakdale, where many Allen Parish dairymen sold their milk; and an all-out effort was made to upgrade the parish's cattle, sheep, hogs and chickens.

By 1925, the live-wire Oakdale Chamber of Commerce, with its 125 business house members, had located a branch of the Calcasieu Marine bank in Oakdale; they also organized a parish fair to exhibit their produce and livestock in October. Although lumber was still the mainstay of the city's economy, its citizens were already preparing for the day when the marketable timber would be cut out.

Oakdale is still a vibrant and bustling city approaching 10,000 persons, still surrounded by countless acres of timber and meadowlands, and proud to be one of the key communities in the parish. And no one can predict that its future is anything other than bright and promising.