LASALLE PARISH, LA (WVUE) - You've been hearing a lot about White Sulphur Springs for the past three weeks as the Saints get ready for football at the West Virginia resort, but Louisiana once had its own White Sulphur Springs resort. But that Lasalle Parish landmark is all but lost to time. FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us on a trip back in time in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.
In the mid-1800s, the discovery of a spring of sulfur water could spawn a resort filled with people seeking the relaxation and healing power of its foul-smelling water. A simple sign along Louisiana Highway 8, about 10 miles south of the town of Jena, marks the spot of an almost-forgotten resort.
"We think of it as a romantic time," said Lasalle Parish library genealogist Bobbie Ducote. "The ladies in the white dresses dipping their cup into the sulfur water and blinking their eyes at the man next door, and a lot of our grandparents met there - they dated, went to parties there.
Ducote said once every couple of months, someone comes into the library and asks about it.
It was Joseph Ward, who moved to Louisiana from George in the 1840s, who decided to cash in on the popularity of Louisiana's sulfur spring.
"Right before the Civil War, it was a fancier place with fine wines and live music and dancing and gambling," Ducote said.
There were a couple of hotels for overnight guests, a post office and some other buildings. After the war, the gambling was replaced by more family-friendly activities
"In 1877, Mr. Bethard bought it and he didn't hold with drinking much, so they didn't sell alcohol, didn't do the gambling, but he turned it into a fishing and hunting resort," Ducote said.
It's hard to imagine that this was once the site of a significant health resort. Today, every single building that was here is gone. All that remains is the spring, covered by a wooden gazebo aside a roadside park with a few picnic tables. You can still detect the rotten-egg smell of sulfur near the water. It was the sulfur spring that drew vacationers this resort. And it was the same spring that caused its failure in 1912.
"The government sent an inspector, and they said that the water was contaminated, it had bacteria in it," Ducote said. "And if the water wasn't any good, then there wasn't much use for it as a health spa."
Today, Louisiana's White Sulphur Springs is a fading memory for most, but it's an important piece of history for Ducote.
"We love it," he said. "I know that sounds strange, it's just a little hole in the ground with a gazebo over it, but we all love it."
The once-popular spring is only a trickle today, shaded and surrounded by a brick bench - a simple monument to an exciting past.