This report on the project was written By Orea Bennett and Max Hill -for Richland Journal, Rayville, LA – April 16, 1982. The “New Deal” arrived in Louisiana in the spring of 1933 on the heels of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s electoral victory over Herbert Hoover the previous fall. With it, came programs such as the Farm Securities Administration of Crew Lake, LA.
To the federal agencies involved, the now famous Crew Lake Project of the Farm Securities Administration provided a unique situation, under almost laboratory conditions, to test the effectiveness of New Deal policies on the American farmer. To the people who settled there it provided a new chance to owning land and earning a livelihood.
After completion of the forty-five year cycle of the project, it can certainly be deemed a success. Former FHA Director for Richland Parish, C.O. Hopkins says that the project began the groundwork for many later government programs. The FMHA which was still in its infancy has capitalized on the success of such projects to expand its help to rural Americans.
Forty families took the initial risk of staking their claim to the tone of the government farms. As resident Ed Stringfellow says, “There wasn’t that much to risk, we didn’t have anything to begin with.”
Original resettlement farmers numbered 40 with the following being the select group: Jim Hughes from Bayou Bartholomew; Bunny Watson from Jones; Bonita area; Mumford Tabb; Cleveland Adams who lived in the former plantation overseer’s house which is still standing on the banks of Crew Lake; Wilbur Simpson from Holly Ridge;Ray Watts; Harry Gable of Mangham; Tommy Bassett, Holly Ridge; Garrett Sullivan and Lannie Sullivan formerly of Ouachita Parish; John Sapp of Jones-Bonita area; Luney Hands; H.F. Kirkley; Jimmy Clay; Harvey Watson, Ed Stringfellow of Asbury Vestal; Vinson Adams, Troy Adams, and Amos Coughran of Franklin Parish; Sam Nobles of Rocky Branch; Barney Futch; Shelby S. Dark of Gaar’s Mill; Jessie Malone; Harold Willoughby, Winnsboro area; Mr. Long (stayed only a short time and J.T. Welch bought land) Will Hogan, C.A. “Tooke” Hogan, Jackson Bennett, W.E. Chambers, and Gorie Wooden of Jones-Bonita area; Hudson Garland; Elmer Pahal, Jim Hill, Walter Fuller, Clayton Hand, Willie Telano of Bosco, Mr. Richards, and Vernie Hillis.
These original settlers provided the nucleus around which a thriving portion of Richland Parish has grown. Their children and grandchildren have become productive citizens and have benefited from their parents’ decisions to “take the risk.”
Of the original settlers, many are still residents of the community. Their experiences are unique in this nation.
Coming from Union Parish were Archie Fuller, The Walter Fullers, Garrett Sullivan
and Lannie Sullivan
families all living near Crew Lake. Mrs. Walter Fullers’ (now Mrs. Ardella Kee) story of their move is now comical, but it wasn’t at the time. She reminisces about how Hudson Garland, Walter and Archie’s brother-in-law, came to Wilhite to move them to Richland Parish. She says she was moving to a “foreign country”and in labor, not knowing what was going to happen at any moment or who would be there.”Hudson Garland knew everybody in Monroe, and he stopped to see every single one of them. . . that day I was in labor.
“Those who knew the affable Hudson can appreciate it when they read, “Hudson Garland knew everybody in Monroe, and he stopped to see every single one of them, I know, on the way back from Wilhite that day I was in labor. I was so miserable, and I thought we’d never get to Richland Parish.”But get here they did, spent the night with Hudson and Connie, and the next morning the bed was put up in the Fuller’s home not long before Mary Joyce (now Mrs. Billy Whitten) was born. Dr. Hinton and Mrs. Garrett Sullivan attended. Miss Ardella said Mrs. Sullivan had lived across a creek from them in Ouachita Parish, but she’d only seen her a time or two. Apprehension was rampant with an unfamiliar doctor and an “almost stranger” in the birthday room. The rest of the household was set up with Connie directing others after the baby came.
Mrs. Ray Watts relates, “I could write a book on things that we did when we first came here. You know Prince Atkins that had the dairy here on our place was married to one of the Milsaps girls. There was a lane or an old road behind the dairy (toward I-20 now). Seven old houses were on that road, and we had to tear all of them down and have the old lumber, bricks and tin off. We couldn’t work that part of our place for three years. There was a lot of wire because each tenant must have had hogs around.
“There was a community pasture also near the community center. Everybody that moved here to the Project put his cows and mules and horses in that one big pasture until the individual pastures could be built at the new homes.
“The LSU Extension Service sent people up here to help us with everything. I mean everything We had landscaping help, food preservation help, sewing classes – just everything. There were sewing machines brought up and set up for use in the Community Center. They taught us to make just everything.” She reminisced about making a “coat suit” out of the old striped pillow ticking. Some of the “Leche tokens” were covered with red crochet. The suit was done quite well evidently, for it was sent to Little Rock to be shown.
Mr. Watts also got into the act by making a miniature replica of their house. It, too, was sent to the big show in Arkansas for demonstration of work being done by the artisans of Crew Lake Resettlement Project.
Mrs. Jackson Bennett, Mrs. Cora Hogan, and Mrs. Watts took advantage of a loom in the activity center.
Mrs. Watts also recalls when two bales of cotton were placed in the center, and they were taught to make mattresses. On another occasion they were brought tan burlap and shown how to make drapes for their new homes. She says she and her daughter Lavern (Sullivan now) canned 600 quarts of food the first year. The supervisors encouraged them not to can too many preserves, jellies, or corn but to can lots of tomatoes, “for tomatoes are the poor man’s friend.” They were taught about preserving beans and many other foods and saving the vitamins.
Ms. Watts says she had her own 10 qt. cooker and still has it.
All types of services were provided through the FSA. She laughed about furniture being set up in the Center for demonstration and purchases. The Watts bought an oak bedroom suite, a dining table with six chairs, and a desk and a mirror for the sum total of $79. FSA let them have the money and gave them five years to pay it back. They still have their furniture which they paid for in one year.
Laverne graduated from High School the second year they lived on the project. When the year’s loan was made the FSA encouraged them to include $9 for the class ring, an unforgotten amount for invitations, and enough money for graduation clothes and necessities. “That’s how thoughtful they were about our welfare.”
When the Millsaps owned the plantation and the Watts family moved on it as tenants, there were very people living there – the Art Nolans, the Williams’, and Ben Eppinette’s family. Sam Nolan, his widowed mother and her other children came in ’29. Mrs. Watts said, “Ray used to go with Sam to the big barn (an enclosure for every animal used on the place), and he’d help Sam harness up his mule. They loved us, and we loved them. Neighbors were neighbors in those good ole’days.”
When work began on the project, Ray Watts went to work for seventy-five cents an hour, helping Mr. Edwards put down foundations for the residences.”When Ray finished the foundations” Mrs. Watts related, he would put on flooring. It took a day for them to floor a house. Ray’s experience helped us out a lot.
When nobody made a crop in 1940 because of so much rain, Ray and a lot of the men got their tools and went off to Leesville and the Alexandria area to do defense work. He make enough money to pay our loan off and to make a crop the next year. We didn’t have to borrow ever again to make a crop.”
Mrs. Watts and her daughter Laverne can laugh now about how much money they made cooking noon meals for Mr. Blaine, the personnel director, a Mr. Hayes, Mr. Edwards ( all regulars) and several others in addition to Lucille Ashley, secretary, who boarded with the Watts’. Hot meals were served for $.25 per person, but the books didn’t lose money. “Every morning they’d send word from the office about who was going to eat. We’d throw some extra vegetables in the pot if others besides the regulars were coming,” she said. We picked up sausage if we went to town and cooked them. We put out some good meals.”
“The Lord has sure been good to us. He let us move here, and we’ve made progress ever since,” is the summary of Ray and Maggie Watts about their decision to join the select forty of the Crew Lake Project.
Edd Stringfellow and Mr. and Mrs. Watts well remember the construction of the project buildings. The government had lumber and materials shipped by rail to the Crew Lake siding. The site of the former Prince Atkins dairy was chosen for unloading and stacking of “acres of materials.” as Mrs. Watts recalls. Her family already lived on the Millsaps plantation and had lived in Wynn Island and the area since 1928, after coming from Arkansas.
The superintendent of construction and many foreman and workers lived in Monroe and drove out each day to carry on the massive construction during the summer of 1937. WPA laborers were used for much of the work Edd Stringfellow hired out to work for the good $.26 per hour job hauling the lumber by truck to each home site on the “model project in the nation.” Those interviewed said the lumber was sawed in proper lengths at the unloading area so that when the carpenters began a house, they did not have to saw – just nail. Nathan LaGrone says he helped put floors in every house.
Three types of houses were built including A3 and B2 – some with three bedrooms but most with two. A single sink with the brass pump’s mouth extending over the fixture was a great convenience in each house. Every one recalls that it was really something special to have an indoor water facility and not to have to go outside or on a porch for drinking, cooking, or bathing water.
A fireplace was also a part of each house. Small living rooms adjoined kitchens.
The bedrooms were finished on the inside with the same smooth stained flooring and carsiding walls and plywood stripped ceiling. There was no sheet rock, nor floor coverings. No bath room, nor large roomy closets as in today’s houses could be found. However, for the time, the structures were quite adequate and attractive with their white exteriors. All ship lap lumber looked almost identical as they dotted the roadsides over the three thousand acres.
Nathan LaGrone says, “I worked on all the homesteads in some way except Jim Hill‘s and Ray Watts’. I helped build barns as well as worked on the main house, particularly the roofs.”The superintendent Bill Carville and I figured out how the blocked tin roofs went together,” LaGrone states. “We’d never seen such metal roofing. I was a journeyman “We’d never seen such metal roofing. . ” Nathan LaGrone was a carpenter and had worked previously with Ed Lanier of Bastrop, who was a foreman. Luther Jones was shop foreman at a site near the Mabel Davis Rockett house. Luther and his helpers built cabinets, window casings, etc.”
LaGrone laughed about orders getting confused one day, and he worked all alone on the Troy Adams house. The semi-skilled men on the job were WPA workers. He thought an interesting bit of information was that the chief foreman and many workers were World War I vets.
Hudson Garland served as timekeeper. When asked if anyone was injured during the entire half year job, he said, “None that I recall – not one. We had two safety inspectors that really kept a close eye on everything.” A Mr. Burks inspected each house as it went up to make sure that all specifications were met.
The Crew Lake job was a beginning for LaGrone. He moved on with crews at Riverton to build three such houses and on to another location before going to help do a massive group again at Sondheimer and along the Mississippi.
The Tenancy Act which created Crew Lake Project stated that applicants had to be honest, industrious, healthy and stable. From the success of the project, it appears that the criteria was met by all involved.
The Community Center was the center of social life on the Crew Lake Project. Cultural events, demonstrations and even furniture shows were held in the center. Heavy snows collapsed the roof of the building in the 1940’s.
Bennett, Orea (1982, April 16). The Crew Lake Project of the Farm Securities Administration, from The Richland Journal.