1943 History of Maplewood - Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana
BY:NOLA MAE WITTLER ROSS American Press Writer
Publication:American Press Publication Date:06/03/1990 Page and Section: 1 4
Submittedby Kathy Tell
Copyright. All rights reserved.
It was called a ''War Baby'' and Maplewood was indeed born to help meet America'sneeds during World War II, housing workers for the Cities Service Refinery,which produced fuel for military vehicles. Maplewood was created in the middle of a vast lowland, completelydifferent from anything most of its northern residents had ever seen. The area was muddy, with pools of standing water breeding grounds for snakes and swarmsof mosquitoes. ''There was mud up to our ankles,'' recalls Mrs. Garf Macdonald.''There were no streets, just lots of mules, cows and hogs roaming freelyaround, when we first came here in 1943.''Buteven so,'' she adds wistfully, ''those years we spent in Maplewood furnishedsome of the greatest experiences of our lives.'' ''Maplewood was a social experiment,''wrote Thomas R. Ford in a 1948 sociology thesis for LSU, ''although it was notprimarily intended as such.'' In 1934,Mathieson Alkali had erected a plant west of the Calcasieu River, andContinental Oil later announced its intention to build a 15,000-barrel-per-dayrefinery near Westlake. Then, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked PearlHarbor and America was plunged into World War II. The most massive industrialeffort in American's history was mounted to provide vital materials for our military forces. In 1942, Cities Service Oil Co. announced its decision tobuild a refining facility costing $76 million at Rose Bluff, southeast ofSulphur. The federalOffice of Rubber Reserve announced plans for a butadiene plant to be operatedby Cities Service. The plant would supply synthetic rubber to Firestone Tireand Rubber Co. Mathieson Alkali plant built a nitric acid plant. In all, over$200 million was invested in heavy industry in an area between Lake Charles andSulphur during World War II. The huge influx of construction and plant workersmany of them from other states created an immediate need for more housing. ''In1940,'' wrote Thomas Ford, ''there were less than 14,000 dwelling units in theentire parish, of which more than 3,000 were in need of major repairs. Thegovernment tried to alleviate this shortage by setting up temporary buildings and trailer camps.'' About this time, John W. Harris Associates, a constructionfirm, approached Cities Service with a planned housing project. Cities Service,knowing the critical housing needs of the many employees they were bringingsouth, advanced $1 million to help launch the enterprise. Cities Service also sold to Harris, for a nominal fee, 295 acres of land, which they had purchased when they built the refinery. The property was 8 miles west of LakeCharles and 3 miles east of Sulphur, just south of U.S. 90.This became the sitefor the community of Maplewood. Maplewood was carefully laid out, and thebuilders left as many tall pine trees as possible. Streets were set in curved patterns, with the central section of the town in the form of a semi-circle fora business area and schools. ''Iremember the first store in Maplewood,'' says Mrs. Carl Groom. ''It was in along, one-story warehouse, one-story, and was a general grocery store. Grissettand LeBleu had a hardware store nearby, and the post office was in a house.''The Grooms came to Maplewood in 1943 from Arkansas. ''We lived there over 12years,'' said Mrs. Groom. ''In the early years, we walked a lot, and did without a lot, because of rationing. Also, nearly everyone spent a lot of time workingin their yards, trying to plant the prettiest flowers and trees. In spite ofall our problems, everyone seemed to enjoy living there and got along well.''Mrs. Jack (Margie) Freis, who came south with her husband, an engineer with M.W. Kellogg Co., says, ''we lived in Maplewood for four years, then bought ahouse in Lake Charles, where we stayed for a while before moving back to theMaplewood area. ''When we first came here, there were pigs rooting under houses, and cows wandering through yards eating flowers. But I wouldn't trade that time of my life for anything. I liked Maplewood.'' John W. HarrisAssociates built 402 three-bedroomhomes, 180 two-bedroom homes, 38 two-bedroom duplex structures, and 8 one-bedroom duplexes. The other housing structures were apartments. In all, there were 790 dwellings in Maplewood. The rent was $66.50 a month for a 3-bedroom house, $59.50 for a 2-bedroom home, and $48 a month for a 1-bedroomhouse. The first winter of construction in Maplewood totally frustrated the builders, most of whom were from New York and had never dealt with building houses in six inches of mud while swatting mosquitoes and keeping mules atarm's length.Even the Louisiana cows continuously crossed over the cattle guards the NewYork engineers built. Mr. and Mrs. Charles Banzhof were the first residents of Maplewood, moving in on Oct. 22, 1943, from their native New Jersey. Banzhofwas a plant supervisor, and they lived in Maplewood until 1949, when theybought a home in nearby Hollywood. Of their three children, Charles Banzhof lives in Moss Bluff, Dolores (Mrs.Creasy) is in Houston and Patricia (Mrs. Waldimier) is deceased.
Another of the first Maplewood residents, Ella Calvert, described her first few months like this: ''Men splashed about in high rubber boots. Horseback riders galloped up and hitched their horses to nearby trees. Mud-spattered cars wove in and out bearing license plates of many different states. It reminded me of the '49ers and the gold rush.'' Jean Lancaster came to Maplewood with herlate husband, J.W.C. Wilson, in 1943 from Trinidad, Colo. ''Maplewood had no roads and mud was everywhere,'' she says. ''There were so many mules because there was a mule barn right by the school. The mules drew flies like mad and there were no screens on the school windows. We really got a dose of pioneering in those first years, but that was the best time of my life.'' Mr. and Mrs.Willie (Vera) Davidson also came to Maplewood in 1943. Davidson was a shiftsupervisor. ''It was a real adventure,'' recalls Mrs. Davidson. ''The first winter, it rained the whole month of November and our floor furnace stayed flooded. But the neighbors were all in like circumstances, and we were a longway from home, so we got together and helped each other. When new people moved in, we'd take them a complete breakfast or other meal, because there was no close place to shop.'' There were so many people moving into Maplewood that I remember one time a neighbor took her beautiful silver service out on her frontporch and served coffee for all the newcomers as well as the movers. ''The arrival of the first baby born in Maplewood was a cause for celebration. The baby was Leland Albright, now a prominent neurosurgeon in the east. He was born on Dec. 2, 1943. His father is deceased, and his mother lives in North Louisiana with a daughter.
Another important event in Maplewood was the beginning of its first newspaper, The Maplewood Star. It came to life in June 1944. The editor and owner was Mrs. Beatrice North, who had come from Illinois with her husband, Robert, a supervisor at Cities Service. The first seven issues of The Maplewood Star were mimeographed. It was not just a society notebook, although it had its share of news about parties, graduates and birth announcements. But it was also a voice where the people could express both sentiment and criticism. The first Cities Service Refinery superintendent was E.H. Roy, and the first manager ofthe Maplewood Housing Company office, which had been set up by the builders to manage the community, was John Work. Work was the man everyone headed for when problems developed. If a mule walked through a yard, dogs became offensive or a window was broken, Work was the first to be blamed. It finally got the best of him, and Work left in1944. Some say that Work was responsible for naming the community Maplewood, after his hometown of Maplewood, N.Y. Others say that the name came from a little creek which runs through the property among the many maple trees, and has the name of Maple Creek. Bob Mitchell was the second manager of Maplewood Housing Co. His assistant was a very capable young lady named Rhoda Faulk. Gloria Thomasine of Lake Charles also worked in the office. Rhoda Faulk turned out to be Maplewood's real mysterious person. She disappeared one day and was never seen or heard from again. In 1944, the Civic Council of Maplewood a group selected by residents to help coordinate affairs of the community tried to elect a mayor, not realizing it was illegal since Maplewood was not an incorporated municipality. But they voted, anyway, and picked a Cities Service employee named Carpenter who had recently come from Arkansas. Almost immediately, friction developed between Carpenter and the Civic Council. Carpenter wanted to launch a massive campaign, even going so far as to strikeCities Service, unless Maplewood rents were reduced. Rents in Maplewood were already lower than Office of Price Administration ceilings, and most of the men in the Civic Council did not want to strike. But Carpenter finally got enough people on his side and they sent a message to Cities Service, saying, ''If the rent in Maplewood is not reduced by 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 20, 1945, it will be necessary for enough employees of Cities Service Refining Corporation to go insearch of a place to live, that it will be impossible to satisfactorily operate the refinery.'' Cities Service replied: ''you are advised that Cities Service has no connection with ownership or operation of Maplewood and has no control over rents charged there.'' With the threat of a shutdown looming, Gov. Jimmy Davis asked for federal intervention. President Harry Truman entered the fracas, sent a representative of the Petroleum Administration, Fred Vinson, south to mediate, and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes issued an appeal for refinery workers to stay on the job. But the strikers left their jobs, tension increased, and finally, on the night of April 11, 1945, a contingent of 150 fully armed military police from the U.S. Army's Eighth Service Command were moved into Cities Service. Six days later, a secret ballot was taken by the men of Maplewood and itshowed a two-to-one majority favoring a return to work. Russell Davidson came to Maplewood with his wife, Evelyn, in 1943 as a supervisor in the butadiene plant. Later, he moved into personnel. He recalls the strike as ''something that shouldn't have happened. It just wasn't necessary.'' The average length of stay for families in Maplewood was not too great, since many people moved out to buy homes of their own. But other renters took their places, and Maplewood was kept alive for quite a few years after the war ended.In 1954, E.W. White, his wife, Louise, and their children came to Maplewood, where he managed the Maplewood Housing Company. When Chennault Air Base in Lake Charles was closed, there was suddenly a surplus of homes on the market. The Maplewood Housing Company gave up, and forfeited the entire property to the Federal Housing Administration. Over the next few years, the FHA handled the demise of Maplewood. Many houses were sold. Some were floateddownriver on barges to the Morgan City area. Others were moved to lakes for camps, and still others remained in place and were renovated and repaired. Today, Maplewood is a quiet, pretty areawith quite a few new homes being built, even though most of the originalsettlers are no longer there. It may never be determined whether Maplewood wasa success as a ''social experiment.'' But most of its early residents wistfully look back on it, and laugh about the mud, mules, cows, snakes and croaking frogs and remember it as the most exciting, adventuresome time of their lives.