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Heart of Louisiana: The rebirth of the Town of St. Joseph

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 9:50 PM CDT
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ST. JOSEPH, La. (WVUE) - The Town of St. Joseph had fallen on hard times. Located in the state’s smallest parish, and one of the poorest parishes, a few local entrepreneurs are turning around the town’s fortunes.

When the Town of St. Joseph was settled in Northeastern Louisiana, it sat along the country’s major thoroughfare, the Mississippi River.

But as steamboats were replaced by trains and interstate highways, St. Joseph found itself tucked away nearly out of sight to modern travelers.

“It was dead. It was absolutely dead,” says Donna Ratcliff.

Ratcliff is the tax assessor of Tensas Parish. She also owns and is redeveloping a century old building in downtown St. Joseph trying to give her town new life.

“Everybody wants to do something to save our little town but now it’s just so happy and things are changing.”

Ratcliff’s building was once her father’s western auto store. Now, her daughter-in-law Leslie Ratcliff has a second floor art studio that overlooks Plank Road, St. Joseph’s main street.

A few doors down, Natalie Schauf has expanded her women’s clothing boutique bringing the newest styles to this small town.

“It’s a domino effect. People are seeing the energy and great things are happening and people want to support and people want to get on board,” says Schauf. “So I think in a few years, Plank Rd. is going to be the place to be.”

“It thought I’d made it in the big city. And next thing I knew I was back here because my father talked my husband into coming back to help with the family business,” says Rebecca Vizard.

Vizard runs a home decorating business that she started in uptown New Orleans. She crafts high end pillows from antique fabrics, some costing thousands of dollars. And she ships them to customers worldwide.

Reporter: When I see the sign on the front of the building, it says global headquarters. That has to be a first for St. Joseph.

“Well, yes. That was a little bit of a joke because before I was sending pillows all over the world from my little garage studio. And, so when I’d decided to finally open something here, I couldn’t help it. I had to put global headquarters,” says Vizard.

Next door, you find Paul Connelly of Baton Rouge. As a frequent visitor to St. Joseph, he and his wife decided to open a little pop-up art gallery with an apartment for visiting artists.

“Every time we’ve come here, it’s gotten better over the years. It’s just, you know, a little energy, a little energy. And we like being part of the energy,” says Connelly.

Nestled between fashion shops, antique and gift stores and galleries, the Tensas Parish Library has a museum full of history from the plantation farming and steamboat days in the his part of the Louisiana delta.

“I think every building will be full of something. People are wanting the smallest areas. They want to come where, you know, it’s not so hectic. And they just like the lifestyle here,” says Ratcliff.

It’s rebirth in this once dying town where people realize they have something worth saving.

To learn about more attractions in that area, visit HeartofLouisiana.com.

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