Calcasieu Parish (cal-ca-shoo) was created March 24, 1840, from the Parish of Saint Landry, one of the original nineteen civil parishes established by the Legislature in 1807.
The early history of the parish dates back to the time of the Spanish occupation of Louisiana when Jose M. Mora (1797) was granted a large tract of land between the Rio Hondo and the Sabine River, known for years as the "Neutral Strip". After the grant to Mora, this area became a refuge for "desperadoes from the eastern states" and for outlaws and "filibusters from Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi".
This strip of land, long in dispute between Spain and the United States after France had ceded Louisiana to the American government in 1803, was finally acquired by the latter by treaty in 1819. Originally, Spanish grants were recognized when proof was established, but most grants in Calcasieu were made to actual settlers. By an act of Congress approved on March 3, 1923, this strip of land was attached to the district south of the Red River.
Some time elapsed before settlers took up permanent claims. Among these early families we find the names of Ryan, Perkins, LeBleu, Deviers, and Henderson. Acadians from the eastern parishes of Louisiana also emigrated to this area so that today the population is mixed, consisting of Creoles, Acadians, Americans, and Indians.
When Calcasieu Parish was created in 1840 from the Parish of Saint Landry, it actually comprised an area of what is now five parishes. On August 24, 1840, a half-dozen men met to organize as representatives for six wards that later became five parishes. Since there was no courthouse or public buildings, the meeting had to be held in a private dwelling, and the one chosen was the large, rough-hewed home of Arsene LeBleu near present-day Chloe. The first jury men who assembled that day were David Simmons, Alexander Hebert, Michel Pithon, Henry Moss, Rees Perkins, and Thomas M. Williams. They first elected officers and a parish clerk and decided upon a set of simple parliamentary rules which would give their president authority to keep their meetings orderly and progressive.
When it came time to pick a "parish town" (seat), the jury had to do its first real deliberating. Locations nominated were Lisbon (west of the Calcasieu River), Comasaque Bluff (east of the river, later called Marsh Bayou Bluff), Centre (in the center of the parish), and Faulk's Bluff (a point of land above Joseph Faulk's place). In the voting that followed, Comasaque Bluff emerged the winner after the president voted to break a tie between it and Lisbon.
In other proceedings at that historic meeting, the jury men took the easy route in coming up with a slate of parish laws...it simply adopted all of the laws then in force in Saint Landry Parish. Appointments were also made that day of a parish constable, a parish treasurer, two parish assessors, and an operator of the ferry at Buchanan's crossing. The assessors were allowed two months to assess all of the property in the parish and given a salary of $90.
The second meeting of the jury men was held on September 14, 1840, at which time a survey was authorized of land known then as Marsh Bayou Bluff for the purpose of establishing a seat of justice and for the erection of a courthouse and jail there.
The next meeting was on December 8, 1840. It was resolved at this meeting that the seat of justice be given the name of Marion. In 1843, the Legislature authorized the people to vote on the question of moving the parish seat, but apparently no change was made at that time. In 1852, however, Jacob Ryan secured the removal of the seat of justice from Marion to the east bank of Lake Charles. This parish seat was incorporated as a town in 1857 as Charleston and was reincorporated in 1868 as Lake Charles. It is located about six miles from the original parish seat of Marion, which is now known as Old Town. The name, Lake Charles, perpetuates the memory of one of the first settlers, Charles Sallier, an Italian who took up land in this area at the beginning of the 19th century.
The parish boundary was reduced in 1870 when Cameron Parish was cut off from the south portion of Calcasieu. These limits remained until 1912, at which time it comprised an area of over 3,600 square miles and was the largest parish in the state, and for this reason is sometimes called "Imperial Calcasieu". In 1912, the three parishes of Allen, Beauregard, and Jefferson Davis, with a total area of approximately 2,548 square miles, were cut off from the Parish of Calcasieu. These were the last parishes created in Louisiana.
It is interesting to note that the river from which the parish derives its name is shown on some older maps as "Bayou Quelqueshue" and sometimes as Calcasieu. Calcasieu, which means "crying eagle" in English, is said to have been the name of an Attakapas Indian chief who gave a peculiar cry like an eagle as he went into battle.
The first courthouse erected at Marion, a crudely built log cabin, was completed in August of 1841. When the seat of justice was changed to Lake Charles in 1852, Sheriff Jacob Ryan with the help of his slave, Uncle George, and the aid of his good friend and fellow landowner, Samuel Adams Kirby, loaded the log cabin courthouse on an ox and took the small building through the piney woods to Lake Charles. A new wooden courthouse was then completed within a year. This courthouse was replaced in 1891 by a colonial brick building erected at a cost of $20,000, and in 1902 an annex was added to this building. This building was destroyed by a disastrous fire on April 23, 1910, as well as most of downtown Lake Charles, and many of the records of the parish were burned or damaged. On April 4, 1911, the Police Jury decided to build a new courthouse on the old site.
The courthouse is officially listed in the Federal Register of Historic Buildings. It is a magnificent brick and terracotta structure completed in 1912 at a cost of $200,000 and is a replica of the famous Villa Copra, known as the Rotunda in Vicenza, which was designed by a noted Italian architect, Andrea Palladio, whose work became known in the 17th and 18th centuries. Calcasieu Parish's replica was designed by Favrot and Livaudais of New Orleans. The dome atop the courthouse is of solid copper.
An annex containing two additional court rooms and additional space for the Clerk of Court and the Police Jury was added in the year 1958, and another annex for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals of the State of Louisiana was completed in 1960.
In 1967, a Parish Government Building was completed to house the various offices of the Police Jury. This building was expanded in 2003. Police Jury and Planning and Zoning Board meetings take place here.
In 1987, a new building was constructed to house the District Attorney's Office. A new state-of-the-art correctional center was completed in 1990 to replace the old jail which was constructed in 1956, and a separate building was completed in 1991 for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. A newly constructed Judicial Center to house the Fourteenth Judicial District was completed in March, 1994, and sits on the site of the old jail.
Between 1993 and 1998 an extensive interior and exterior restoration and renovation was performed on the Parish Courthouse originally built in 1912. The Courthouse houses several offices including the Clerk of Court, Juvenile and Family Court, Registrar of Voters, Sheriff's Civil Division, Veterans Affairs Office and others.
Calcasieu Parish is governed by an elected body known as the Police Jury. There are 15 single-member Police Jury districts with a population of approximately 12,800 persons per district (based on the 2010 Census), and each district has one Juror elected for representation. This is in line with the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court of the "one man, one vote" theory. The U.S. Department of Justice requires reapportionment (or redistricting) of the parish following each official census, which can change the boundaries of the single member districts, to insure that each Juror represents approximately the same number in population.
According to the 2010 Census, the population in Calcasieu Parish is approximately 192,768, and there are approximately 120,450 registered voters in the Parish. Calcasieu Parish comprises an area of 1,086 square miles, and the total assessed valuation of property is now $1,478,624,782.
For several decades the chemical and refining industries and the jobs they support have remained the "bread and butter" of the Parish's and region's economy. These industries continue to expand and modernize their operations, thereby sustaining a strong economic presence in the Parish. With the creation in the mid- 1980's of the Chennault Industrial Airpark in Lake Charles, aircraft refurbishment and maintenance has become an important component of the local economy, and continues to grow. This area, the former Chennault Air Force Base, comprises 960 acres of land with buildings and aircraft hangars served by paved streets and utilities. With the approval of gaming in Louisiana, Calcasieu Parish has witnessed the development of a new industry within its borders since the mid-1990's. Multiple riverboat casinos exist in the Parish, and have significantly impacted the local economy in terms of employment and revenues for local government.
A four-lane bridge 1-1/4 miles long and 165 feet high, with a 135 foot vertical clearance above high water, links downtown Lake Charles and the West Calcasieu portion of the community. One and one-half miles south of Lake Charles a magnificent curving bridge structure spans the Calcasieu Ship Channel. Unique in design, the bridge itself is an object of engineering beauty and provides a vital link between Lake Charles and the area's industrial complex.
The Port of Lake Charles is accessible to ocean-going vessels and is only 34 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, the shortest distance of any deep water port in Louisiana.
Lake Charles is the home of McNeese State University, a four-year, fully-accredited institution which offers courses in liberal arts, commerce, science, agriculture, and engineering. Sowela Technical Community College, also located in Lake Charles, is one of Louisiana's largest vocational schools and is nationally recognized for its fine training program.
Miles of rivers, streams, and lakes offer excellent fishing, boating and swimming facilities. Two inland sandy beaches, one located on Lake Charles and the other located on Prien Lake, provide leisure opportunities for families. Duck, goose, dove, snipe, quail, rabbit, and squirrel are hunted in season. Sam Houston Jones State Park with an area of 1,220 acres is located on the West Fork of the Calcasieu River in the northern area of the parish, and offers boating, fishing, and camping.