(submitted by and photos by Gerald & Tammy Westmoreland)
Shreveport, Louisiana, was founded in 1836 by the Shreve Town Company, a development corporation established to start a town at the meeting point of the Red River and the Texas Trail. In this period, a 180-mile long natural logjam, the Great Raft, had obstructed passage to shipping. The Red River was cleared and made newly navigable by Captain Henry Miller Shreve of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Shreve used a specially modified riverboat, the Heliopolis, to remove the logjam. The company and the village of Shreve Town were named in Shreve's honor.
Shreve Town was originally contained within the boundaries of a section of land sold to the company by the indigenous Caddo Indians in the year of 1835, during the period of Indian Removal. In 1838, Caddo Parish was created from the large Natchitoches Parish and Shreve Town was designated as the parish seat. Shreveport remains the parish seat of Caddo Parish today. On March 20, 1839, the town was incorporated as "Shreveport". Originally, the town consisted of 64 city blocks, created by eight streets running west from the Red River and eight streets running south from Cross Bayou, one of its tributaries.
Shreveport soon became a center of steamboat commerce, which carried mostly cotton and agricultural crops to downriver markets and goods to this trading center. Some of the cotton was shipped overland from Texas to Shreveport. The city also had a slave market in the antebellum years, although slave trading was not as important here as in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Both slaves and free blacks worked on the river steamboats which plied the Red River, and as stevedores loading and unloading cargo. By 1860, Shreveport had a free population of 2,200 and 1,300 slaves within the city limits.
During the Civil War, Shreveport was a Confederate stronghold and the headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederate States Army. Isolated from events in the east, the civil war continued in the Trans-Mississippi theater for several months after Robert E. Lee's surrender in April 1865, and Shreveport briefly became the Confederate capital. Confederate President Jefferson Davis attempted to flee to Shreveport when he left Richmond.
The Red River remained navigable until 1914. By that time disuse had resulted in silt deposits, as railroad had become the preferred means of transporting goods and people. Railroads and highways became the preferred means of moving people and freight.
Shreveport's most famous musician, blues guitarist and singer Huddie William Leadbetter, aka 'Lead Belly', was born January 15, 1888, on the Jeter Plantation near Shreveport. Leadbelly frequently performed in Shreveport's red light district, St. Paul's Bottoms. After his death in 1949 while on tour in Europe, he was buried in the community of Mooringsport, just north of Shreveport.
Missouri-born banker Peter Youree, became one of the city's most prominent businessmen. He financed the ten-story Commercial National Bank Building in 1910 and the Washington Youree Hotel. Youree's bank building was the city's first skyscraper. Youree Drive in Shreveport was named for him.
Barksdale Air Force Base, which opened in 1933 as Barksdale Army Air Field, is in Bossier City. It has supported US military efforts. It was part of the defense investment in this area, which accelerated during World War II.
Shreveport was home to the Louisiana Hayride, a radio broadcast from the city's Municipal Auditorium. During its heyday from 1948 to 1960, it featured musicians who became famous nationally, such as Hank Williams Sr., and Elvis Presley, who got his start at this venue.
The federal government authorized and funded a major project in the late 20th century to improve navigation on the Red River. This included construction of locks and dams, completed in the 1990s, making navigation of the river once again possible to Shreveport. Today the port of Shreveport-Bossier City is being redeveloped as a shipping center.
In the mid-1990s, in an effort to generate tourism revenues, the state authorized riverboat gambling. Development of several riverboat casinos on the Red River in Shreveport stimulated revitalization of the downtown and riverfront areas. In addition, the city conducted the "Streetscape" project, to give downtown streets a facelift through the installation of traditional brick sidewalks and crosswalks, as well as adding public art such as statues and mosaics. The Texas Street Bridge received a new lighting schemed designed in neon, which provoked a variety of opinions. This was originally accompanied by a green laser beam, which the city eventually abandoned.
Shreveport is located in the northwest corner of the state about 95 miles due west of Monroe. GPS:
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