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History of Denham Springs, Louisiana

From the book entitled "The Free State - A History and Place-Names Study of Livingston Parish" by the members of the Livingston Parish American Revolution Bicentennial Committee in cooperation with the Livingston Parish Police Jury and the Louisiana American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, 1976. Reprinted by permission. Dedicated to the memory of Reuben Cooper and Raymond Riggs. DENHAM SPRINGS is the largest area of commercial and residential devel- opment in Livingston Parish, and the only parish municipality classed as a city at this writing. The city is situated at the intersections of the east-west highways, US 190 and Interstate 12, with La. Hwy. 16, the major north-south artery in western Livingston Parish. Denham Springs is also located on the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, a line which played a large role in the city's early development. The Amite River also forms a portion of the municipality's boundary, but the river is not navigable at this point. Ground-water springs which some to the surface at the base of the low- lying ridge which runs through the center of the city have figured in the city's name since at least the 1850's. The area has been known as Amite Springs, Hill's Springs, and Denham Springs. (1) The original land claims of John Noblet and Alexander Hogue form what is now the older section of Denham Springs, including the first residential and business districts. In 1828, William Denham, a Wilkinson County, Miss. native, married Mercy Hogue, the daughter of Alexander Hogue, and three months later purchased the 640 acres originally claimed by his father-in-law. (2) A popular belief, supported by previously published histories, is that William Denham discovered the mineral springs on his property and that a health resort quickly grew up there. This belief defies logic, however, con- sidering the number of springs which may be found in this area even today, and the length of time that elapsed before Denham arrived on the scene. No doubt Hogue and other early residents of the area depended on the springs for drinking water. Denham evidently was not a resort hotel owner either, because the 1850 census lists his occupation as "farmer." On May 1, 1855, Denham sold the Hogue tract to Stamaty Covas of New Orleans for $3,050, and he eventually moved to Baton Rouge and to Texas. (3) Apparently during the time Covas owned the Hogue-Denham tract, and before the Civil War, a health resort did flourish at Amite Springs as the hamlet was known at that time. Several newspaper articles and advertisements survive to this day to describe the hotel and the facilities which it offered. (4) It is assumed that the hotel was burned during the Civil War, although no evidence to support this assumption has been found to this date. Following the Civil War, Covas, the New Orleans businessman, lost possession of the Hogue-Denham tract when George L. Minton bought it for delinquent taxes. (5) According to the 1882 act of sale, the land was bounded "east by Chambers, south by Noblet, west by the Amite River, north by Allen, and known as the Denham Springs tract." This points to the fact that although William Denham had moved away nearly 30 years before, his name was still associated with the mineral spring area. Minton, the first mayor of Denham Springs (1903) and founder of the Denham Springs News, thus received title to much of what is now the downtown section of Denham Springs. Conveyance records at the parish courthouse show that he then began subdividing the tract and selling the lots for residences and businesses. By this time, the large Noblet holdings were also being subdivided and sold to newcomers, and the village that became Danham Springs began to grow. In October, 1879 Joh Sullivan made an application for the establishment of a post office north of the present city limits. The location of the office was given as one mile south of Beaver Creek and one mile east of the Amite River on what is now La. Hwy. 1028 or the Old River Road. (6) Three names were considered for the post office - Pine Bluff, Allen and Hill's Springs - with the Post Office Department settling on the latter when it was finally established on Jan. 12, 1880. By at least 1890, John R. Allen had become the postmaster and the office was moved inside the present city limits. In 1894 it was situated in the northeast quarter of Section 25, the section just north of the Hogue-Denham tract. On May 9, 1898, the name of the post office was changed to Denham Springs. (7) Popular belief has it that this was only done to honor William Denham, but a local resident remembers that the Post Office Department ordered the name changed because of confusion with similar post office names in Louisiana. (8) Two week before the local name change, the Webster parish post office of Springhill was established and it is possible this name was confused with Hill's Springs. The other "confusing" names in 1898 were Springfield, Spring Ridge, and Springville (two of these were in Livingston Parish.) and perhaps they had some influence in the change. Two reasons were given for the development of Hill's Springs and Denham Springs in the 1890's and early 1900's prior to the completion of a Baton Rouge to Hammond railroad line. One was the development of the springs by hotel owners. A New Orleans publication entitled Men and Matters described the so-called health-restoring properties of the spring water in a 1902 article on Denham Springs. Ivy Cockerham and J.B. Easterly built hotels in the area near the present public park on Tabernacle Street, and evidently there were some who believed the springs to be beneficial to sickly person, because a letter now owned by the Lamar Cockerham family, addressed to Charles H. Thomas in Hill Springs by his employer, W.J. Knox, president of the Bank of Baton Rouge, states, "by the advice of your physician, you have gone to the springs...." Another reason given for the development of the community is the fact that a fine school, the Denham Springs Collegiate Institute, was founded by a group or residents in 1895. According to a graduate of the institute, the school was a good one, attracting boarders from miles around. The boarding students may have created more demand for hotels than did invalids visiting the springs, al- though the hotels did have many guests in the summer. The Collegiate Institute was located on the site of the present Pres- byterian Church, on property sold to the private school by George L. Minton. The first buildings included a large meeting hall and a smaller frame structure. The four-year institution was financed by tuition paid by students from Denham Springs and neighboring communities, and the board of directors was able to attract teachers from as far away as Virginia. (9) About 1908, the board of directors deeded the property to the public school system, which was coming of age with the construction of consol- idated schools, and shortly thereafter, a two-story brick building was erected on the same site. This was the beginning of Denham Springs High School, now the parish's largest senior high school. On May 8, 1903, Gov. William W. Heard issued a proclamation incorporating the village of Denham Springs to include Sections 25, 30, 44, 45, 58 and 59 in T6S-R2E and T6S-R3E. Governor Huey Long designated Denham Springs as a town on Feb. 5, 1929 and lt. Gov. Lethar Frazar, standing in for the Kingfish's brother Earl, proclaimed Denham Springs to be a city on Sept. 5, 1957. Several factors influenced the growth of Denham Springs after 1900, notably the construction of the railroad line, the growth of Baton Rouge as an industrial center, and the corresponding improvement of roads which made Denham Springs a desirable place for Baton Rouge workers to live. The railroad prompted the gradual movement of businesses toward the present Range Avenue area, and later made Denham Springs the shipping hub of a large truck crop region. The Baton Rouge-Hammond line was completed by the Illinois Central railroad during the first part of February, 1908 and the first train ran on Feb. 26. Denham Springs almost missed being included on the route, however, as the Baton Rouge, Hammond and Eastern Railroad Co., which was later purchased by the IC, at one time considered bypassing the village, perhaps to force some concessions on the local residents' part. A Dec. 20, 1905 article in the New Orleans Daily Picayune stated, "The announcement was also made that it had been prectically decided to deflect the road from its original course and pass through Denham Springs. The engineers are now surveying the route in Livingston Parish with the view of making this change." While many residents found work in the Baton Rouge plants and businesses, Denham Springs nevertheless became the commercial and banking center of the parish.