Lake Charles, Louisiana

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Downtown Lake Charles from a beach on the opposite side of Lake Charles (the lake). A casino riverboat, Harrah's Pride of Lake Charles, appears to the left.
Downtown Lake Charles from a beach on the opposite side of Lake Charles (the lake). A casino riverboat, Harrah's Pride of Lake Charles, appears to the left.

The city of Lake Charles is the parish seat of Calcasieu Parish, in the US state of Louisiana. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 71,757.

The city is a major petrochemical refining center, gaming center with five riverboat casinos, and home to McNeese State University.



While several Indian tribes are known to have lived in the area of modern Lake Charles, the first European people, of French, Spanish, English, and Dutch descent, arrived in the 1760s. At the time, the area was covered with dense pine and baldcypress forests. Oral tradition holds that Jean Lafitte frequented Contraband Bayou and the lake before and after the War of 1812.

M. and Mme. LeBleu of Bordeaux, France were the first recorded Europeans to settle the area around 1781. The area they settled is now known as the LeBleu Settlement. Charles Sallier married LeBleu's daughter, Catherine. The Salliers built their home on the shell beach where Lake Charles now stands. Afterwards, the lake became known as "Charlie's lake". By 1860 this area was being called "Charles Town". Many of Charles Sallier's descendants are buied in Sallier Cemetery, near St. Patrick's Hospital.

The Rio Hondo, which flowed through Lake Charles, was later called Quelqueshue, an Indian term meaning "Crying Eagle", and still later, Calcasieu. On March 7, 1861, Lake Charles was incorporated as the town of Charleston, Louisiana.

The growth of the city was fairly slow until Captain Daniel Goos, a Frisian by birth, came in 1855. Goos established a lumber mill and schooner dock, now called Goosport, and promoted a profitable trade with Texas and Mexican ports by sending his schooner down-river into the Gulf of Mexico. Until the arrival of Goos, a man named Jacob Ryan dominated the lumber industry. Between 1817 and 1855, the timber provided by Longleaf Pines and Baldcypress remained the primary industry.

Jacob Ryan convinced the state government to move the parish seat to Lake Charles from its former location at Marion, which was about 8 miles upriver. Later that year, Ryan and Samuel Kirby transferred the parish courthouse and jail by barge to Lake Charles, which was at that time still called Charleston. Six years after the city was incorporated, dissatisfaction over the name Charleston arose. On March 16, 1867, Charleston, Louisiana, was incorporated into the town of Lake Charles.

By the time of the U.S. Civil War, many English and northeastern Americans, along with a large influx of continental Europeans and Jewish people, had come to settle the area. Attitudes toward slavery in Lake Charles were mixed, and was secondary to business interests. Less than 5% of the population were slaves. The citizenry did finally become involved in the war, and young men of local families went to serve the Confederacy.

After the Civil War, Lake Charles had become a major lumber town. The mills of the area were swamped with orders. The 1880's saw what was a small sawmill village develop into a boom town. This was largely due to the innovative advertising methods of a man named J.B. Watkins. With his astounding $200,000 advertising campaign, the town grew 400% in the 80's.

By the 1890's, finer homes were being built. Carpenters struggled to outbuild each other with their use of elaborate fretwork and Victorian era decoration. Fancy spindles, newel posts, soldiers and paneled doors - all native of native pine - filled the houses.

The courthouse donated by Ryan and Kirby was replaced many times, a cypress wood two-story one in 1872, then a brick one in 1890. The 1890 courthouse was destroyed in the "Great Fire of 1910". The historic Calcasieu Courthouse was completed in 1912, two months after the Louisiana legislature divided old "Imperial Calcasieu" parish into the current parishes of Allen, Beauregard, Cameron, Jefferson Davis and Calcasieu.

In March 1904, the Carnegie Memorial Library, the modern Calcasieu Parish Library, opened, having been partly financed by Andrew Carnegie and built on land donated by W. S. B. McLaren, President of the North American Land and Timber Company of London, England.


Location of Lake Charles, Louisiana

The city is located on the banks of the Calcasieu River in southwestern Louisiana, and borders both Lake Charles and Prien Lake. It is a port on a deepwater channel to the Gulf of Mexico, and was first settled in 1852.

Lake Charles is located at 30°12'53" North, 93°12'31" West (30.214656, -93.208537)1.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 110.2 km² (42.5 mi²). 104.0 km² (40.2 mi²) of it is land and 6.1 km² (2.4 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 5.57% water.


The following is a list of Lake Area suburbs:


As of the census2 of 2000, there are 71,757 people, 27,974 households, and 18,015 families residing in the city. The population density is 689.7/km² (1,786.6/mi²). There are 31,429 housing units at an average density of 302.1/km² (782.5/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 50.23% White, 46.82% African American, 0.23% Native American, 1.07% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.47% from other races, and 1.15% from two or more races. 1.40% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 27,974 households out of which 30.5% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.6% are married couples living together, 18.7% have a female householder with no husband present, and 35.6% are non-families. 30.0% of all households are made up of individuals and 11.1% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.44 and the average family size is 3.06.

In the city the population is spread out with 25.5% under the age of 18, 11.5% from 18 to 24, 26.9% from 25 to 44, 21.4% from 45 to 64, and 14.7% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 35 years. For every 100 females there are 90.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 87.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $30,774, and the median income for a family is $37,774. Males have a median income of $33,005 versus $21,041 for females. The per capita income for the city is $17,922. 19.6% of the population and 16.3% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 26.6% of those under the age of 18 and 13.6% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.


The city is located on Interstate 10, with Interstate 210 serving most of the city. Interstate 210 is a loop that provides interstate highway access throughout the city. U.S. Highway 90 and U.S. Highway 171 are other major roads connecting Lake Charles to nearby cities.

Airport service is provided by the Lake Charles Regional Airport. Chennault International Airport, while a fully operational airport, is an industrial center and provides no commercial air services. This latter airport is named for Maj. Gen. Claire Chennault, the aviator famous for commanding the Flying Tigers fighter group during World War II.

The Port of Lake Charles is the sixteenth largest seaport in the United States, with the Calcasieu Ship Channel providing direct access to the Gulf of Mexico, 34 miles downstream from the city docks. The ship channel intersects the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway just north of Calcasieu Lake.

Current events

Rideau retrial

Lake Charles was the locale of the January 2005 retrial of Wilbert Rideau. Rideau, an African-American described by Life magazine in March 1993 as "the most rehabilitated prisoner in America", was three times convicted by all-white, all-male juries for a 1961 murder of a bank teller during a botched bank robbery. All three convictions were later overturned, but, to the surprise of many, Calcasieu Parish decided to try Rideau for a fourth time, despite the fact that most surviving convicted murderers from that long ago have long since been released from Louisiana prisons. A jury picked from Monroe, Louisiana convicted him on January 15, 2005, of manslaughter, which, by 1961's standards, only carried a 21-year sentence, and Rideau was freed on time served.

Hurricane Rita

The Destructive force of Hurricane Rita. Looking down the remains of the lakefront boardwalk toward the damaged Harrah's Lake Charles Casino property.
The Destructive force of Hurricane Rita. Looking down the remains of the lakefront boardwalk toward the damaged Harrah's Lake Charles Casino property.

Lake Charles suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Rita, which struck the town early September 24, 2005. On September 22, Mayor Randy Roach ordered a mandatory evacuation of Lake Charles, and approximately 90% of the residents evacuated prior to the storm. Evacuees were asked not to return for 48 hours, due to the wind damage and flooding. Yet, residents did return, and in a true pioneer spirit, have vowed to rebuild the area as soon as possible.


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