Heart of Louisiana: Centenary Story

Updated: Aug. 29, 2017 at 8:50 PM CDT
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(WVUE) - This town in East Feliciana Parish got its name from the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson, Louisiana, was founded in the early 1800s, and there are a surprising number of historic buildings that date from that time period.

When you drive down the main street of Jackson, you see plenty of signs that this small town is loaded with history. From the century-old town hall - formerly the Bank of Jackson - to businesses, homes and churches that have stood here since the mid-1800s.

"We are lucky because we have about 124 structures on the register," said Allen Saltus with the West Florida Museum.

Saltus is an archaeologist who volunteers at the local museum. He explains that Jackson was created by the Legislature in 1815.

"They got it to be declared the center of the Felicianas, and the county seat was constructed about two blocks away from the museum," he said.

The original courthouse is still here, but Jackson's most impressive structure is a 180-year-old dormitory that was part of Centenary College.

There were two dormitories just like this on the campus. In its heyday, Centenary College was one of the largest campuses in the South. You can still see the remains of the columns from the second dormitory. And the larger administration building was demolished in the 1930s.

"That building contained all of their classrooms," said Daniel Goyer with the Centenary historic site. "They had the large auditorium which sat about 1,500 people, and they had a chapel, a 3,000-volume library and meeting halls for the clubs and fraternities."

The school first opened in 1825 as the College of Louisiana, just 13 years after Louisiana became a state. It only accepted male students.

"There were a lot of wealthy plantation owners that they wanted to be able to provide quality education for the sons of those rich plantation owners," Goyer said.

The college closed for several years during the Civil War. Its students joined local regiments and the campus was used as a Confederate hospital.

"So they sent the soldiers who had infectious diseases or were malnourished to this hospital here," Goyer said.

In its heyday, Centenary College had about 300 students in Jackson. The campus closed in 1908 when Centenary moved to Shreveport. A block away at the museum, there is more history – a complete cotton gin, a grist mill, a collection of early automobiles, remnants of the railroad and riverboats, ancient mastadons and Native Americans.

"We are hoping to be able to tell an original story about the changes in the environment - social, economic goings-on and how one affected the other," said Saltus.

Jackson is a place where you can step back in time, see how people lived and get an idea of how we got to where we are today.

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