By Jessica Gorman
In September 1910, a new building opened for Minden High School. It replaced the buildings that had been constructed for the Minden Female College and had been in use ever since. In the years following, the population growth of Minden exceeded expectations. By February 1922, Superintendent E.S. Richardson, in response to crowded conditions, called for construction of a new building to house the high school students and the 1910 building to be used for the grade school.
In April, a bond issue was passed to provide funds for construction of the new building. The next order of business was to choose a suitable location. In June, the school board announced plans to purchase the “Watkins block on College Street…including back territory and residence of Mr. S.W. Brown, adjoining the former home and grounds of Judge J.T. Watkins.” This plan also included converting Academy Park into an athletic field for use by the school. The board felt the purchase of the Watkins property “would afford one of the most beautiful sites in North Louisiana.” An alternate plan was to build the new school on the existing campus.
Following this announcement, residents of Minden expressed opinions in support of improving and utilizing the existing campus. A letter written by Mr. Joe Miller appeared in the Webster Signal. Among other things, he shared that one advantage was the central location of the campus. Property could be bought to increase the size of the campus and it could be done without the closing of any roads. Use of the Watkins property would have required closures. He also felt that, regardless the location of the new building, the existing campus needed improvements to make it more sanitary and this could be achieved in conjunction with construction of the new building. He referred to several financial benefits of the school buildings sharing the same site ranging from money that would be saved by the school board to increasing property values in the vicinity of the school. The Webster Signal expressed support of Mr. Miller adding that “the reclaiming of this large area in the center of town will do away with the unsightly branch, which has been a source of great inconvenience.” The branch referred to is the creek that runs through the area occupied by the football stadium and track field. This branch, or creek, not only created a wet, swampy area behind the school, but was also considered a divider between Minden and what was called West Minden. During rainy weather, the area would become impassable.
Another Minden resident, J.A. Looney, also shared his thoughts on the benefits of utilizing the existing campus. While Mr. Miller’s opinions were more practical and from the perspective of a businessman, Mr. Looney was more concerned with what he considered sectionalism within Minden. Looney tells of how when he came to Minden in 1901 as a telegraph operator for the L&A Railway, he “was informed that my business address was known as ‘Dirty Six’.” For those not familiar with the location, the Dirty Six neighborhood was the area near the railroad tracks. He said that he soon learned that different sections of town were referred to by different names, “Crichton Hill, Warsaw, Shiney, West Minden, and Minden.” Looney felt that the town seemed to be divided by its neighborhoods. He also related a story about a resident of the “West side” who was afraid that the sale of his house may fall through because a resident of the “East side” had presented a negative view of West Minden and claimed that it would be too difficult for the children to get to school from that part of town because of the creek. Looney felt that improvements to the campus could help bring a sense of unity to Minden. He stated, “if a little old branch is all that is stirring up strife between ‘East’ and ‘West’ Minden…in my humble opinion, they have the best kind of a panacea, in the shape of plans to erect a new High School building on the ‘East’ side of the creek, pull down the ‘West’ bank and hide the little old stream in oblivion…eliminating the little old sore spots as they bob up, and be known at home and abroad as JUST MINDEN!”
On 1 August, the school board met and came to a decision to construct the new high school building to the west of the 1910 building. Seven acres of land was purchased, enlarging the campus to a total of twenty-two acres. Work was set to begin immediately. The Webster Signal described “the splendid plan for the building” and for improvements to the “twenty-two acres of wasteland, mosquito-infested swamp.” The description of the area goes on to identify it as “an unsurpassable barrier in times of wet weather to the many school children living on the other side of the branch, in what has been called ‘West Minden’” and, to echo Mr. Looney, “the barrier that has helped to divide the city.” It goes on to include the details of the improvements that were underway. “The old branch bed is being filled in, and the water bed being moved over to the very edge of the school property at the foot of the hill sloping up to West Minden.” Drains were added to ensure that the “low, marshy ground will be as dry and firm as any ground in the highest and best residence portions of the city.” Behind and to the side of the school, the property was to be terraced with plans for “the section all the way to the limit of the land” to “make one of the best athletic fields in the South.” Later, “the broad tract just back of where the new building will be placed, will be made into an athletic field for the High School alone.” The city was to improve the roads around the school and a bridge was to be constructed to connect the hill behind the school to the school property making it “easily accessible from all directions.”
Hope for these improvements to bring unity to the city were again expressed. “By means of this link, it will be only a short distance and easy traveling from College Hill to the streets of ‘used-to-be’ West Minden. Then there will be no necessity of calling it West Minden any longer. Minden will be united into one real city without division.”
(Jessica Gorman is the Executive Director for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum, Webster Parish Historian, and an avid genealogist.)