Mention Eric J. Brock’s name in Shreveport and almost anyone can identify him as “the history guy.” Local history has been his passion since he was a child, so compiling this book of photographs, Shreveport, La, detailing the history of Shreveport for the Images of America was a work of love.
“Shreveport was born about the same time as photography,” is the first sentence, but Brock laments the lack of early photographs. The ones that make up this book come largely from his own collection, which began with several early photos shot by Bill Grabill of Grabill Studios, founded by his father in 1918.
History has a way of beginning auspiciously. Capt. Henry Miller Shreve, one of the most influential navigators of the 19th century, invented what he called a snagboat which broke up logjams. The Red River in the 1830’s was beset by a 180-mile logjam. Once this jam was opened, the area now known as Shreveport was right on a crosshairs path for prosperity: located where the area meets the old Texas Trail (roughly Interstate 20 today) and Red River, then as now open to river traffic to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.
Capt. Shreve and his company established the westernmost city in the United States in 1836 with Shreve Town, later renamed Shreveport. Shreve himself never lived here, choosing St. Louis instead.
As Brock points out, Shreveport has always been a city of contradictions, e.g., a city of many religious structures, but home to the largest (and legal) redlight district in the nation in its time.
In addition to a number of photographs of the logjam, an early photograph shows the first mayor, John Octavius Sewall in 1839, oddly enough, a native of Maine.
Exemplifying Shreveport’s early religious diversity is a photo showing parts of St. Mary’s Convent, B’nai Zion Temple, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and First Methodist Church. Only the convent is no longer in existence; all others extant.
If you ever go through one of the museums in New Orleans depicting the cotton and paddleboat industry, you will see something similar to this photo of men standing over their cotton bales (c1880), waiting for their transfer to steamboats to New Orleans. Caddo Parish was the largest producer of cotton in Louisiana during the 19th century.
An early engraving shows tar being burned to fight the yellow fever plague of 1873, during which time the city’s population was reduced by 25 percent.
A photograph marks the grave of Mary Doal Cilley Cane, “the Mother of Shreveport,” the first white woman who set foot in Shreveport. She founded Cane City, later renamed Bossier City, just across Red River from Shreveport, and was married to two of Shreveport’s founders, William Smith Bennett and James Huntington Cane.
Brock includes an impressive array of old, most now demolished, a few still standing, imposing residences built in downtown Shreveport. One which caught my eye is the E.B. Herndon house located at 947 Jordan St., site of of my school, St. John Berchmans Catholic School. The original Herndon House was built in 1875, remodeled in 1897 with a second story addition, then demolished and St. John’s built.
Truman Capote’s father, Arch Persons, lived in Shreveport, and is shown with little Truman Persons on his lap. The writer later took his stepfather’s name. Another person of note is Van Cliburn, one of the nation’s–and world’s– premiere pianists, shown in concert with adoring female fans hugging the stage-top.
A very historic photograph is this one: the roof garden of the Washington-Youree Hotel in 1924. Perry Como made his radio debut from here. In its heyday the hotel took up three-fourths of a city block, had seven restaurants and a multitude of other shops and amenities. The hotel was imploded in 1980.
The final two photos show Brock’s vision of Shreveport. One is a 1920s view of Betty Virginia Park, typifying “the natural beauty” of Shreveport, its “beautiful, lush foliage and tranquil scenery.” The other is modern–angles and verticals of buildings downtown, which Brock calls, “the heart of Shreveport both spiritually and economically.”