Skip navigation

w1

After visiting Arcadia, next on the list of places to visit was Waterproof, Louisiana. Though I never actually lived in Arcadia, I lived the first fifteen years of my life in Waterproof on Lake St. John. I couldn’t have more than a few hundred zillion great memories of the place. In fact, I don’t have even one bad memory of it and couldn’t wait to visit again.

We got up and on the road by around eight last Sunday. We had a quick breakfast in Monroe, Louisiana before continuing East on Interstate 20. Jumped off of I-10 at the US 65 exit and headed south towards Waterproof.

In May of 1965, after the completion of my Freshmen year at Waterproof High School, my family and I moved from Lake St. John (six miles south of Waterproof) to Leeville, Louisiana, down on the coast. While writing this blog post I was thinking of just how many times I’d been back to the Waterproof/Lake St. John area since we’d moved almost fifty years ago. As near as I can remember I think just six times, maybe seven. The last time was about 20 years or so ago for my nephew’s wedding. If Waterproof proper was dying in the 90s it is a ghost town today.

DSC_0120

We turned at Goldman’s Equipment and headed for the levee before making a sharp right turn onto what passes for Main Street in Waterproof. The initial objective was to check out what are now the ruins of Waterproof High School.

DSC_0114 DSC_0117 DSC_0118 DSC_0119

Tensas Parish is composed of just three towns: Waterproof, Newellton, and St. Joseph. It is the least populated parish in the state and was the last parish in Louisiana to integrate in the Fall of 1970. By the time integration was fully implemented, the white folk of the parish had established an all white private school, Tensas Academy. So, the white kids went to the private school, the black kids stayed in the public ones. White flight commenced. By the very early 80s Waterproof High School was abandoned and consolidated with Davidson High School in St. Joseph…in 2006, Newellton High School was added to the consolidation.

Keep in mind when viewing these photos that in 2002 the Waterproof High School building were placed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The last time I’d visited Waterproof, like the few times before that I’d visited, I’d just driven slowly by the school, never really stopped. The building were not in great repair even twenty years ago. But, on this trip, barring getting arrested for trespassing or something, I was determined to walk the grounds where my first nine years of education took place.

And, I did. It was an eye opener.

DSC_0093

First, there was total access to the school grounds. There were no fences nor signs warning people away. We drove right up to the entrance to the gym and parked. But, most surprising was that there was also total access to the school buildings themselves. The front entrance to the gym was locked, but the door on the side was wide open. The same went for the main school building as well…the front doors were locked but the side doors under the fire escape were open. The doors to the music building and industrial arts area were wide open.

DSC_0094 DSC_0097 DSC_0098 DSC_0099

I went into the gymnasium and was instantly transported back in time…just a flood of good memories. I poked by head in, as far as I dared, all of the buildings with the exception of the old cafeteria. One could have explored as much as they wanted, but definitely at their own peril for the building were literally falling in on themselves. The roofs had huge holes in them…windows had been knocked out even though there’d been a half ass attempt to board them up. There was site after site in and around the building where bon fires had been lit, complete with empty beer bottles broken in the ashes. The entire area seemed to be one big exercise in vandalism.

DSC_0100 DSC_0101 DSC_0102 DSC_0103 DSC_0104

The most amazing thing was that there was more than a few things that were left behind. Many of the shelves still had books on them. There were tables and such. It looked like one day the occupants of these building just got up and walked away. It was creepy in a way.  I kind of felt Anasazi and all.  OK.  Not really, but I did flash on them.  That’s what it looked like.

DSC_0105 DSC_0106 DSC_0107 DSC_0108

We walked out the back between the industrial arts building and the main school to the football stadium. Looked like the same old score board and press box…the bleachers were gone, but the goal posts were still there. One could almost hear Pomp and Circumstance playing over the loud speakers, complete with Mr. Owen flitting around nervously.  Waterproof when I was growing up there was definitely Miss American Pie.

It was a pretty amazing experience to really take the time to check this out.

DSC_0109 DSC_0110 DSC_0111 DSC_0113

Back in the car, we cruised through what used to be downtown…parked right in front of the picture show. The place was deserted…I don’t think there was even one business open; with the exception of two pitbull curs there wasn’t another living thing.  One could have played cards in the middle of main street…that deserted. The picture show (movie theatre) was still there but the insides were gutted…snowball stand next to it was gone. The theater, old bank building, Kullman Brothers, and post office were the only building I really recognized.

Continuing to ride around was equally shocking. The grand old homes that once occupied the back streets were gone, replaced with new smaller homes or trailers. The Methodist church where my nephew got married appeared to be in the process of being torn down. With the exception of the Henry Lanius home and the old baseball diamond site, I really didn’t recognize any other place in the town.

It was good seeing Waterproof, in spite of it collapsing upon itself. But, where I really wanted to visit was Lake St. John, where I lived until I was fifteen.

Every other time I’d visited Waterproof I’d gone from there to the lake via the levee road. I decided I’d take the old highway that paralleled US 65, LA568. After going down this road about a mile…it just ended…no longer in service. We backtracked, got on US 65 to Azucena and then on to the lake.

Minutes later, we turned into what used to be the South entrance to the camp. For those not in the know, there once was a time long ago when the major oil companies furnished housing to their first line management. In our case, that was the California Company Camp, later Chevron…located on the North end of Lake St. John, almost straddling the Tensas/Concordia parish line.

DSC_0121 DSC_0122 DSC_0123 DSC_0124

Ignoring the No Trespassing sign, we stepped over the short pipe that served as a gate and walked toward the only two standing standing structures that still remained on the property.

Though my memory may have failed me some, the camp consisted of three garages for the people, one garage for work trucks, a welding shop, a mechanics shop, two small office buildings, a water works complete with water tower, a playground, a guest house, a school bus stop, a huge functional pier, a boat ramp, and, originally, sixteen homes. All of the people who lived in the camp were Chevron employees and either worked in the natural gas recycling plant directly adjacent, or supported in one way or the other Chevron’s efforts in the gas field that was the area.

DSC_0125 DSC_0129 DSC_0130 DSC_0131

As I mentioned, I’d only been back a handful of times to this place, the last time probably twenty years or so ago. It was barely recognizable. Aside from the bus stop and one of the three long garages (which happened to be the garage we were assigned) none of the structures I just mentioned were still standing.

It appeared that whoever owned the property, in their efforts to abandon the rather extensive facilities that were once there, removed the building and homes, made a half baked effort to sort of level the land out, and then just kept the place bushhogged. The only way to ascertain where places once were was by the sidewalks…all of them were still there.

Following the sidewalks, I slowly identified where our home once was…and then the playground, and the Wimberly, Griffin, Doty, Ladner, Peters, Roberds, Wiggins, and Gloyd homes…I couldn’t remember the other folks who used to live there. The pier was completely gone, but the boat ramp was identifiable. We took our time and walked the grounds unhurried. I’d hope to see some kind of writing or something in the garage and, particularly, the bus stop. There was none.

IMG_1095

Back in the car, we drove South on our way all around the lake. Many of the old lake camps had been replaced with extremely nice homes. Stopped and took a pix of my nephews camp. The West side of the lake was more or less the same, while the East side, the “other side” of the lake, as we used to say, was considerably more developed. Lake St. John was, and IS, a drop dead gorgeous lake…always has been.

IMG_1097 IMG_1101

We made the drive through Ferriday, Ridgecrest, and Vidalia before crossing the bridge at Natchez in Mississippi. We decided to check out the riverboat casino and did, leaving two hours later a little less wealthy. We checked into the Ramada Inn Hilltop overlooking the river, before heading back down to Natchez Under the Hill to have dinner at the Magnolia Grill.  I had the duck, hubby had the seafood pasta. It was a super meal.

It was a great day, unlike the previous one. It was just a lot of fun to hang out in the area for the day, see the old sites. Nothing but great memories.

IMG_1098[1] IMG_1104 w5

The next day we headed home. It was an easy trip of about five and a half hours or so. We only stopped in Lafayette to fill up on meat from Don’s Meat Market.  We loaded up with boudin, fresh pork sausage, stuffed quail, stuffed jalapenos, stuffed pork chops and stuffed chicken. The place has the best specialty meats at a fair price in the nation. I’ve shopped there for years and years…several decades, actually.

One home, we cooked stuffed pork chops and talked about the trip. It was a good one. I’m glad we went.

Advertisements

16 Comments

  1. I lived in Waterproof from 1955 – 1959. I remember a fantastic little town, cut from the fabric of small town America. I moved to Brookhaven, MS in July 1959, after completing the third grade at Waterproof. Often,I have wondered what happened to the people in our classes: Bolton James, Al Firmen, Kenny Fife, Chris Mills, Richard Wampold, Norma Lou Rogers, Ellen Goldman and others.

    • Hi, Mike, glad you stopped by. There is a recently formed Facebook page called “Waterproof Memories” that you might want to join that gives an update of many of the people you might know. As far as I know, Bolton is still in the area and farming his family’s land…his brother Oren is a vet in Natchez. Not sure where Al Firmen is, his brother Ronnie is still in the area…Kenny Fife married a Mize girl and is farming in the area. Chris Mills is on the FB page but not sure where he lives. Tal Lanius and Richard Wampold are both dentist, Tal in the Shreveport area and Richard is in Baton Rouge. Elinor Goldman is still with us but not sure where she lives. Corinne Hays passed a year or so back…she and Larry Talbert married. About the best I can do.

  2. What great photos of the old California Company facilities. Thank you for saving the photographic history.

    • Thank you, Mary. Did you ever live there? What connection might you have had with the camp?

        • Mary Barrett
        • Posted August 25, 2016 at 2:11 AM
        • Permalink

        I have worked on the history of the California Company/Chevron and Lake St. John Field, including the gas plant. It was a pretty famous field in its time, much new technology, etc. I am a geologist and oilfield historian, use to be a geology professor at Centenary College, also worked for a major oil company in other parts of the country.

        • Mary Barrett
        • Posted August 25, 2016 at 2:16 AM
        • Permalink

        I actually ran into Mr. Wiggins’ son, James Wiggins, about a year ago at a meeting. I did not think much about his name, then he started talking about where he grew up, that his dad had worked for Chevron. I looked at the name tag and then told him what I knew about Mr. Wiggins who was the supervisor of the field. Imagine his shock!

  3. How interesting. I was born in Ferriday and lived in the Camp until I was 15, at which time my father was transferred to the Bay Marchand Field (Leeville, La.) in 1965 (the Chevron facilities at LSJ were quickly dismantled starting about that time)…and we lived in the Leeville Chevron camp until I graduated high school and went off to college at USL. Not to impose, but do you happen to have any of the Lake St. John information/history/photos you could email to me?

    • yes, I will look for what public documents I might have that would be of interest. I know so much because I represented an oil industry client in litigation concerning old oilfield pits. One went to trial, and those things generate even general interest public stuff

        • SA-ET
        • Posted August 26, 2016 at 10:40 PM
        • Permalink

        I will e-mail you at the address you left when first commenting…if that is alright with you?

  4. Mary, When did you start school at Waterproof. I was in Mrs. Watson’s first grade, starting in 1956. Mrs. Watson for first grade, then the principal’s wife (can’t remember her name) for second grade and Ms. Geddings for third grade. We left Waterproof after the third grade. (1959) My dad didn’t work for the California company, but he was a tool pusher on a rig that drilled a lot of wells at Lake St. John and north of Waterproof, between the Levee and the River. As I said earlier, the little town was a perfect photo of “small town America” back then.

    • Her name was Ms. Crosby, the principal’s wife.

        • Mike windham
        • Posted August 28, 2016 at 3:45 AM
        • Permalink

        That is correct, now I remember. Thanks.

        • SA-ET
        • Posted August 28, 2016 at 3:51 AM
        • Permalink

        Welcome

  5. Yes, it will be fine to write me at my email. I have been slow to look for things…

      • Matthew T. Mostes
      • Posted February 27, 2017 at 4:16 AM
      • Permalink
      • Reply

      Hello Mary Barrett. I am wondering whether I can contact you as I work for Chevron’s litigation department and am interested in some things referenced, especially years of operation of the SJL Gas (Re)Cycling Plant. We are always trying to establish facts of historical significance related to former facilities. It helps sidestep frivolous claims while enabling the continued construction of a linear account. Anything you can tell me will be greatly appreciated.

        • Mary Barrett
        • Posted May 7, 2017 at 3:00 AM
        • Permalink

        Hi Matthew
        Thanks for writing. In the past I did help Chevron with Lake St. John’s history but do not work with them anymore. I recommend Carol Wood’s team at King + Spalding, Houston. There is a public abstract and also a slideshare presentation In 2016 at LSU that you can Google for. At the end I discuss the plant’s pits. Regards


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: