denham downtown

The National Historic District designation for the Antique District in Denham Springs is expected to draw more tourists interested in seeing the many buildings dating to the 1930's.

It’s interesting how things can come full circle.   

Take Denham Springs, for instance – founded in the 1800s, the town grew up around the springs (get it?) on the western side of town, near the Amite River. The springs have since been covered over by soil, but efforts are underway to uncover them.

During those times and, leading up into the 1950s, Denham Springs had its own bustling economy. A theater, shops, river access, and plenty of local stores dotted the landscape on U.S. 190 and what is now the Downtown Antique District.

Growth was never quick, but it was steady for a time leading up until after the oil bust in the late 1980s. Afterward, Baton Rouge began to grow, Livingston Parish began paying teachers more than East Baton Rouge Parish, and law enforcement agencies – including the sheriff, who earned his first deputies in the 1950s – grew to a level that deemed the parish safe.

But the money was in Baton Rouge and soon a massive shift began to occur from an isolated, destination town to a suburb of the Red Stick. The reasons were two-fold – the capital simply grew in landscape, and the job market expanded to match.

With improving schools and affordable real estate, Livingston Parish and Denham Springs became the place to live and send your kids to school, but not necessarily the place to work or spend time.

Indeed, most ventured into Baton Rouge to shop and spend money – a complaint heralded by local businesses until the mid-2000s, when Bass Pro was announced and, after a lengthy battle, built. The outdoor shop changed the idea that large businesses couldn’t work in Livingston Parish, and along with a few industrial outfits, jobs began to appear in the land across the Amite.

However, population came quickly but the jobs didn’t. Anyone who had to commute to Baton Rouge anytime since the late 1990s knows all too well how difficult that drive is in the morning, and the expansion – including the wall – to Interstate 12 didn’t help.

That wall is the focal point of a lawsuit against the state Department of Transportation and Development and the engineers, contractors, and builders hired to widen Interstate 12 and install the barrier itself. The argument is the barrier held back water, which caused places that normally should not have taken water to flood.

Considering certain pictorial evidence, it’s an easy argument to make but it will take time, patience, and a little luck for a solution to come to fruition.

In the meantime, a group by the name of Denham Strong has emerged to run with a FEMA-outlined plan of long-term city development.

After getting feedback from residents, the group formed under the direction of Community Recovery Coordinator Jeanette Clark, whose job is to interpret local ideas and wish lists, develop a plan, then find the money to make plans a reality.

Recently, the group has focused on a bike-pedestrian path and boat launch inside the city limits of Denham Springs. That’s on top of a partnership with LSU to – you guessed it – rediscover the springs. Alongside a plan to invest dollars into the new City Hall and downtown area, perhaps Denham Springs soon will be able to recapture some of that old community feel?

Yes, people visit Denham Springs all the time to shop in the Antique Village and visit Bass Pro Shops. These new measures, however, are intent on keeping those who live here, right here. It’s a great start for the parish, as well, because it starts as a springboard for similar projects that could be instituted in other central locations such as Walker, Livingston, and Watson.

So keep an eye on ole’ Dinky Springs – these moves to return to the old community feel could pay dividends.

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