Heart of Louisiana: Columbia, Louisiana

Published: Jun. 10, 2015 at 12:06 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 10, 2015 at 1:39 AM CDT
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COLUMBIA, LA (WVUE) - This river starts in the foothills of Arkansas' Ouachita Mountains and after nearly 600 miles, the Ouachita River flows past Columbia, Louisiana. The town was a cotton port, where steamboats could connect to the Mississippi River.

Among the early settlers were several families of Italian immigrants who build stores on Main Street.

"But they left us with a legacy with beautiful buildings and a nice little downtown area," said Greg Richardson with the Watermark Saloon.

Richardson operates the Watermark, the oldest saloon on the Ouachita River.

He cooks for his patrons two or three nights a week.

"It sort of keeps everybody on an even keel when you serve them food while you are serving alcohol as well," Richardson said.

The Schepis Building next door is topped with life-sized statues of George Washington and Christopher Columbus.

"The only paired George Washington and Christopher Columbus in the United States," said Beth Hefner with the Schepis Museum. "They took sand from the Ouachita River and created the blocks."

Hefner manages a small museum and gallery inside the former mercantile store. When it was built in 1916, John Schepis and his wife lived upstairs.

"She had a big piano up there and she would pick a certain time of the day and she would go up and play and sing," Hefner said. "She would open the balcony doors so everybody could hear down the street."

Two blocks away, the century old Methodist church is a national historic landmark. This meditation chapel is a recent addition to Columbia. It contains religious works of art dating back to the 15th century, but Columbia's connection to the river led to catastrophe in 1927.

"My great grandparents, they told me that they had horse riders running, riding before the flood," Richardson said. "And they had about an hour and a half to a three-hour notice that the flood was coming."

Back in 1927, there were no levees along the Ouachita River and Main Street, and Columbia was inundated by the great flood. Old photographs show the high water and a Corps of Engineers' survey led to this painted line inside the Watermark Saloon.

"It's a little over knee-deep based on how tall you are, but this was the mark for it and that's where they go the name for it," Richardson said. "The entire town of Columbia is less than a square mile in size and has a population of just under 400."

But there is a lot of history packed into this tiny community, that's now tucked behind a levee on the Ouachita River.

The Town of Columbia has a bed and breakfast and several restaurants on its historic Main Street.

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