Iberville and Bienville passed through the area.
A settlement of approximately 60 pioneers led by an Irish gentleman is believed to have been established in the area. Other settlements followed, but by 1729 most of these early pioneers had moved out of the area after the Natchez massacre by hostile Indians. The hysteria following the reprisal also drove away friendly Indians and much of the trade in the area.
Resettlement of the area did not occur until long after the Spanish took possession of the territory. By then Fort Miro had been built near Monroe, La. and traffic along the Ouachita River increased.
When the territory of Orleans was divided, present day Caldwell Parish was part of Ouachita Parish.
The majority of settlers in the area were French speaking with land grants secured from the French, then the Spanish governments. Soon, however, a group of Scandinavians, believed to be Danish, established the village of Copenhagen eight miles south of Columbia. Americans also began to move into the area, anticipating Louisiana's statehood.
Columbia, La. achieved its greatest importance during the period marked by the steamboat era. It became a shipping point rivaled only by Monroe and Old Trenton to the north. Most of its business was drawn from farmers in the hill sections west of the river, where there were few slaves and no landed aristocracy. They brought their cotton, timber and other products for shipment to New Orleans and other markets.
As talk of civil war began, Caldwell Parish did not agree with the growing sentiment of secession from the Union. The war was disastrous for Caldwell Parish's agricultural trade. The embargo on cotton and its sale prohibited by the Confederate government made a vast change in the prosperous conditions of the parish. Caldwell's participation in the war was limited to the soldiers being transported up and down the river by steamboat. Only one serious blow was struck at Columbia, when two federal gunboats on the way up river to Monroe stopped and confiscated two steamers laden with cotton. The ferry, the only means of crossing the river, was destroyed. The aftermath of the war meant impoverishment for Caldwell.
Cotton was being grown again in quantity and river trade was reaching its zenith. The timber resources of the region began to be developed and the industry became a rival of cotton. Also during this time, serious efforts were made to bring new blood into the parish. In 1882, a member of the Louisiana Legislature sought to interest a wealthy Irish landlord in transferring his 200 tenant families from Ireland to Caldwell Parish. The proposal involved the purchase of 20,000 acres of land, but was never completed.
The Ouachita River was the main source of transportation from the time of the Indians until the building of the Missouri Pacific Railway in 1888. Columbia, having been a trading post since 1823, had extended its trade territory into Jackson, Winn, Grant, LaSalle and Catahoula parishes during the ox-hauling of cotton period when shipments were being made to New Orleans. The river packet lines did a good business despite the railroad until gravel roads reached the community in 1918. Since that time, paved highways have almost eliminated boat shipments.
Caldwell Parish was established on March 6, 1838, by a bill in the Louisiana Legislature signed by Governor E. D. White. The land was taken from parts of the old Ouachita and Catahoula territories and named for a prominent family living in the area. After also considering Copenhagen, Columbia was selected as the parish seat and land was donated to establish a courthouse and streets along the Ouachita River. The parish is divided into seven wards, with one elected police jury member representing each ward. The police jury, the governing body for the parish, held its first meeting at the home of Noble Fleming in 1838. The first post office was established in Copenhagen on August 2, 1834. Three years later, on August 9, the Columbia post office was established. In 1839, Judge Henry Boyce presided over the first district court to be held in the parish.
Some of the early settlements in the parish included a trading post and settlement of Scandinavians located in Copenhagen, a settlement established by Scotch, English and Irish immigrants in the western section of the parish on Bayou Castor and a settlement east of the Ouachita where a number of French immigrants lived in the parish.
The parish is 529 square miles, with the Ouachita River flowing north to south, dividing the alluvial farmlands on the east from the hill country to the west, with both sections heavily timbered. Pine forests dominate the hills and ridges west of the river; the east bank forests feature gum, oak, hickory and cypress trees. Caldwell Parish is home for a population of about 10,000 residents, many living in the communities of Grayson, Kelly, Clarks, Columbia, Holum, Hebert, Corey, Copenhagen, Mount Pleasant, Vixen and Banks Springs.
Farming and forestry have for generations been cornerstones of the economy. Although cotton is still grown in the parish, other row crops including corn, soybeans and rice have moved to the forefront in recent decades as diversified farming practices improve. Beef cattle production and horse breeding operations also contribute to the parish economy. More than 60,000 acres are in either row crops or improved pasture. Approximately 250,000 acres are used for commercial forestry.
In addition to its geographic impact, the Ouachita River has contributed to Caldwell's transportation, recreation and scenic beauty. It is one of the few remaining unspoiled streams and is among the most beautiful rivers in our nation. Some of the best hunting and fishing in the state can be found in Caldwell Parish. Public wildlife management areas and thousands of acres of other lands open to the public offer large and small game hunting. Game includes deer, fox, rabbit, quail, dove, ducks, geese and squirrels. The Bouef Wildlife Management Area contains 40,000 acres that are easily accessible to hunters and fishermen. The clear, deep lakes throughout the parish combine with its major streams to entice boating and water enthusiasts to their shores and provide excellent fishing for bass, crappie, catfish, white perch, gaspergou, barfish, gar and buffalo. Fishing, water skiing and swimming on Lafourche, Long, Davis and Horseshoe lakes as well as Boeuf River are only minutes away from any point in the parish.
Caldwell Parish residents are quite satisfied with their location 30 miles south of Monroe on Highway 165. It is the center of an area with beautiful scenery, fish-filled lakes, productive farming land and towering forests. Although one of the smaller parishes in area and population, Caldwell Parish makes up in friendliness and hospitality for what it lacks in size. In July 1995, Columbia became an official Main Street Community as recognized by the Division of Historic Preservation and many of its landmarks were restored. Included in this restoration were the Schepis Building, c.1916, built by an Italian immigrant and modeled after a European opera palace, and the Watermark Saloon, the oldest saloon on the Ouachita River. The Schepis is now an art museum. The First United Methodist Church, another landmark, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Columbia's "little green church" was built in 1911 and patterned after a Scandinavian house of worship.
Other points of interest in the parish include:
The Martin Homeplace, built circa1878, is an authentic living history museum where you can enjoy sights and sounds of the "good old days." Just north of Columbia, the farm was the home of George and Ann Martin, their children and grandchildren for more than a century. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places because of its architectural significance.
Copenhagen Prairie, once covered by a pre-historic Eocene sea, is a popular spot for geological and botanical explorations. It is a rare site for 38 million-year-old fossils of whales, sharks, reptiles and birds. It is also a botanical preserve with many rare species of plants, some found only on this site.
Dr. Harry Winter's Nature Preserve is a picturesque series of nature trails with labeled trees, vines and shrubs. Nearly 150 species of birds have been recorded in sightings in these nature trails along the Ouachita River south of Columbia. The terrain varies from bottom land hardwood forest to the Ouachita River bluffs.
Old Bethel Church and Cemetery, established in 1831, is the second oldest Baptist church organized in Louisiana.
First Methodist Church in Grayson was organized in 1901 and is noted for its stained glass windows.
Columbia Hill Cemetery, the burial site for many pioneer families and early settlers of Caldwell Parish, is on a high bluff overlooking the town of Columbia. It offers a peaceful and picturesque walk or ride along its winding path.
Columbia's Riverwalk provides a scenic stroll along the bank of the Ouachita River.
The Oasis in Clarks was built in 1907 as a barbershop, post office, drugstore, cafe and Masonic Lodge Hall. The Oasis is now the Clarks town hall and post office, as well as a community center, library and Masonic Lodge Hall.
Our Lady of Peace Meditation Chapel in Columbia is a nondenominational chapel with European antiques and religious artifacts.
Festivals are enjoyed throughout the year in Caldwell Parish. The Louisiana Art and Folk Festival, one of Louisiana's largest and oldest art, craft and entertainment festivals, attracts more than 10,000 people each year on the second weekend in October and boasts some of the South's top artisans and craftsmen. The Annual Lions Club Championship Rodeo is held at the Marcus Thornhill Arena during the second weekend of June. The Marengo Swamp Suicide Ride, held in the spring in Hebert, is a highly anticipated fundraiser for the Wish I Could Foundation of Northeast Louisiana. The Riverboat Festival and Trade Days, held on the third Saturday in May, celebrates the Ouachita River and offers fun for everyone. Caldwell Riders Playdays held at the rodeo arena bring together horse enthusiasts. Mardi Gras on Main Street is celebrated on Fat Tuesday with a kiddie parade and selection of a King and Queen. Witch Way to Main Street scares up Halloween fun for kids of all ages. A Caldwell Country Christmas, held on the first Saturday in December, includes a night parade with beautifully decorated floats and a fireworks display on the Ouachita River.