Karol Osborne | 3/10/2010 11:01:31 PM
Madison Parish is a rural agricultural community with a rich history and cultural heritage. Considered a “row crop” parish, Madison consistently leads the state in corn production. Cotton, soybeans and rice are also important crops for the parish economy.
Featuring many historical sites, the parish is dotted with Civil War markers of landmarks and Grant’s march through Louisiana. Grant’s Canal, a failed effort by Union General’s Grant and Sherman to divert the Mississippi River during the siege of Vicksburg, is located in the eastern most part of the parish.
The Madison Parish courthouse, built in 1887, is one of the most photographed courthouses in the state. Tourists frequently stop to capture on film the white columned entrance and picturesque oaks, magnolias and dogwoods on the grounds. The gazebo is frequently host to impromptu weddings by citizens and visitors alike.
Widely believed to be the site of the early beginnings of Delta Air Lines, Madison Parish is the home of the agricultural experiment station which first used airplanes to control cotton pests. The building that housed the Experiment Station was built in the late 1920’s by Standard Oil Company. Here pilots began flying mail for the US Post Office and soon launched the flying service which evolved into Delta Air Lines. The original airport building, Scott’s Field, is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings and still stands in its original location off Highway 80 East.
Madison parish actually became a pioneer in developing the Ag Aviation industry as we know it today. In the early 1920’s, when the boll weevil spread through the Mississippi Valley, the U.S. Bureau of Entomology reacted to this serious economic threat by setting up a laboratory in Tallulah as the base for large scale cotton insect research. Needing a faster way to apply the dry powder insecticide, application by air seemed most practical. Dr. B.R. Coad, Director of the Delta Laboratory in Tallulah, obtained a government grant to further this research. With Army-loaned Curtiss Jennies and De Havilland DH- 4’s, Army pilots began dusting the Louisiana cotton fields from 1922 to1924. A frequent and interested observer of the experiments was C.E. Woolman, a young District Agent with the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, aviation enthusiast and future principal founder of Delta Air Lines. The work of Coad and his team of entomologists and pilots resulted in improved insecticides, aircraft dispensing equipment (insecticide hoppers and agitators) and new application procedures. Crop-dusting soon became a viable commercial possibility – the first serious development in agricultural aviation.
The parish seat, Tallulah, was named in a most unusual way. As the story is told, during the period of railroad expansion, a local railroad contractor became friendly with a widowed owner of a large plantation in the area. She persuaded the railroad man to change the route of the railroad so it would run through her plantation. After the railroad was built, the widow jilted her suitor. Feeling rejected, he named the railway water stop for an old girlfriend named Tallulah, instead of the plantation owner.
Another little known fact of interest is that Tallulah has the distinction of being the first city in the United States to have a “covered” shopping mall. Known as Bloom’s Arcade, the mall housed only one hall with stores on either side and opened into the street on both ends. This historic landmark was built around 1925 and is currently being restored but is no longer in use.
Showcasing period pieces and exhibits depicting the history of the parish, including artifacts from the Civil War and from the ancient Indian civilizations that once populated the area, the Hermione House Museum now serves as the headquarters for the Madison Historical Society. This antebellum home was built in 1855, and was completely restored as a museum and donated to the Historical Society in 1997. The museum also houses an exhibit dedicated to Madison Parish native, Madame C.J. Walker, the daughter of former slaves who created a line of hair products and became the nation’s first female millionaire.
Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center is located in west Madison Parish. The Refuge holds the largest privately owned tracks of bottomland hardwoods remaining in the Mississippi Delta. The Visitor’s Center features life-size exhibits, a Boardwalk Wildlife Trail, brochures, information, regulations, and refuge maps. The Refuge boasts a diversity of plant and animal species with over 400 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, including rare birds, turkeys, ducks, geese, deer, and armadillo. In addition, the state's largest population of the Louisiana black bear is found here. Interestingly, the last recorded citing of the ivory-billed woodpecker, thought to be extinct by most scientists, occurred in the 1940's adjacent to the Refuge. With over 70,000 acres, the Refuge is host to seasonal hunting, fishing and hiking, wildlife viewing, canoeing, and interpreted trails. The LSU AgCenter’s 4-H Wild Woods Wanderings environmental camp for teens is held here during two weeks in July each year.
Madison Parish also hosts the annual Teddy Bear Festival held each October. The festival was founded in 2007 to celebrate the centennial of President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt’s famous 1907 bear hunt in Madison Parish along west Bear Lake to the Tensas River. LSU AgCenter’s Reading to the Heart literacy enrichment project participated in the festival last year by having 4-H teen volunteers read bear-themed books to children. Each child received a teddy bear and book to take home.
Madison Parish public schools include Wright Elementary, Tallulah Elementary, Madison Middle School and Madison High School. Madison High and Madison Middle schools recently moved to a new mega-complex campus which is located along I-20. Tallulah Academy/Delta Christian is a privately funded Pre-K – 12 school located in the Village of Richmond, a township adjacent to the city of Tallulah.
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