July 28, 2008

Leesville, Louisiana

looking down 3rd street in leesville  
Looking north down 3rd Street
I've been doing these small town posts for nearly three years now, and because I've focused almost exclusively on Texas, I've pretty much run out of unexplored territory (worth visiting) within a three hour drive radius. So, I've been focusing on our neighbor to the east, Louisiana. I must admit, I find myself missing those Texas Historical Commission medallions and plaques! I often feel as if I'm "flying blind" due to the absence of them in Louisiana.
the leesville leader
That is, until I walked the streets (in spite of the 100° plus heat index) of Leesville. The entire downtown is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, so there are several "significant" buildings, each marked with a plaque. That makes it a lot easier to identify them! Leesville dates back to 1871 and was, in fact, named for General Robert E. Lee. It's impossible for "the South" to forget about the Civil War with things like that. But that's another story. Irregardless, most of this was constructed well within the lifetimes of many "eyewitnesses" to that event.
view down 3rd street
I'll start with the courthouse, which obviously is the building to the right, in the picture above. 

the vernon parish courthouse side view of vernon county courthouse
The Vernon Parish Courthouse was the third courthouse built, in 1907. It's Classical Revival style. 
former vernon parish sheriff's office door
This was the door to the parish sheriff's courthouse office until 1974. The plaque provides this information: This deeply worn step resulted from the tread of many thousands of feet by Vernon Parish citizens as they entered what was the Sheriff's office until 1974 when the new annex was constructed at the east side of the building.
vernon county courthouse walkway
first national bank building 
The First National Bank Building, c. 1907
the national hotel (lee and syril eissman building)
The National Hotel (The Lee and Syril Eissman building), c. 1907. I doubt it's always been that color. 

the vernon bank
The first bank in Vernon Parish was built on this site in 1899. The Vernon Bank was constructed in 1907 (must have been quite a year in Leesville!). It did not fail during the Depression of '29. It was the first brick commercial structure on 3rd Street. And, oh yeah, it also has a pretty cool neon sign:

vernon bank neon sign
merchants & farmers bank building 
The Merchants & Farmers Bank Building, c. 1928
the leesville hotel 
The Leesville Hotel, c. 1907
? bldg. (next to the dreamland theatre) 
The plaque on this building was for the Dreamland Theatre:
the dreamland theatre 
The Dreamland Theatre, c. 1915
benson h. lyons house
This Queen Anne/Eastlake style home, the Benson H. Lyons House, was right at the end of 3rd St., on Union St. It was constructed in 1900.

leesville gas station
Finally, leaving Leesville on US-171, there was this lovely old service station, currently providing someone an office. I'm going to go out on a limb here (because I'm not 100% certain), and say this is an example of Streamline Moderne, or Art Deco.

leesville gas station's double canopies close-up of leesville gas station canopy


Michael Suzich said...

Hello Chris,

Seeing these photos, I imagine that I'd feel quite at ease walking down the main street in a seersucker suit, smoking a cigar. Perhaps even wearing somes shades and a fedora a la John Candy as New Orleans attorney Dean Andrews in JFK. My kind of place.

Michael Suzich said...

p.s. Thanks for the great photos!

Chris said...

You're welcome, Michael! And, thank you. I know what you mean, but Leesville is nothing like New Orleans. I can see how maybe my framing of the buildings and streets give that impression. Maybe, someday, I'll make it to the Big Easy. And wasn't Candy's character sort of a sleazebag??

Michael Suzich said...

Yes, indeed, a sleazebag he was…but still my favorite character in the film. Candy’s use of authentic 60’s Daddy-O lingo really helped to bring alive the shady, yet colorful Dean Andrews. I read an interview with Andrews where he explained why he began to fabricate his story about Clay Bertrand while meeting with Garrison (the restaurant scene in JFK). As Andrews explained, Garrison "wanted to pluck me like a chicken, shuck me like corn, stew me like an oyster. I wanted to see if the cat was kosher."

1907. You know, I missed this major detail the first time I read this post. Going back, I now understand what you meant by “must have been quite a year”! It’s as if the “parting of the Red Sea” took place that year in Leesville, with just about every major building erected. I wonder if Howard Johnson's name was on each of these! :)

Bembh said...

1907 was indeed "quite a year" for Leesville. Nearly all of the downtown was destroyed by fire in 1906, the exception being the First National Bank Bldg., which survived. But in 1907, virtually all of the downtown area was being rebuilt.

Paula Wolfe said...

Thanks for the Leesville Bldg. History. I have been a resident since May 1993 and will not be back living in California ever.
I "borrowed" two of your pics too, thanks!

mj said...

The photos are great.. I was born in Leesville, know that old Courthouse like the back of my hand, the railroad station, went to the Movie theater as a child, and the old service station, my Mother ran in 1957, my sister and I played out in the back, and If you look inside, it was setup to live in.

Stacey said...

The old gas station is now a burger joint called Fat boy and Skinnys I hear it is pretty good!

Anonymous said...

My dad was stationed here in 1940 , he met my mom a welch then

Anonymous said...

I lived in Leesville in 1957 and 1958. The filling station on the left side of the highway heading to Hornbeck, I believe was a Sigmor. Walter, the owner, another friend, and I, used to sit in the office some evenings and jam on a couple of old guitars, trying to pick out some Chet Atkins tunes. I worked for a used-car dealer at the other end of the main highway.
Had some great times there before I went back to my home state of Texas.

Loved all the people of Louisiana.


George said...

The filing station was a Sigmor, and was run by Walter McElveen and his dad in 1958.