The 19 members of the fourth class of the Chamber of Commerce’s “Leadership Natchitoches” program to develop community leaders visited the Texas and Pacific Train Depot in Natchitoches to learn about the history of the station, the importance of the depot to our area’s history and the progress made on its restoration,
Ms. Carrie Mardorf of the National Park Service and Ms. Rebecca Blankenbaker of the Cane River National Heritage area updated the group on the extensive progress being made in the station’s renovation. The depot will serve as the headquarters of the National Park Service in our area and as a museum and community gathering place. The renovations are expected to be complete in late 2023.
The main speaker for the event was Natchitoches civic leader and figure in the local Civil Rights struggle, Mr. Ed Ward. Mr. Ward spoke of the central importance of the train station in the lives of African-Americans in days past. As African-Americans left the area to seek fairness and opportunity elsewhere, Mr. Ward said they would often have their bodies shipped home for burial after they passed away. From the station’s opening in 1927 through its closing in the 1960’s, hundreds of men and women who left for a chance at a better life made their final journey home through the Natchitoches Train Depot.
The train depot was also a cool place with its high ceiling and cement floor. Mr. Ward spoke of how when he was a child, he and his friends would stop and get cool in the Colored waiting room before they went on to the city pool. The train station also served as a vital communications link in the fight for Civil Rights. As the African-American community could not always trust the local postal authorities during the Jim Crow era, mail would often be taken directly to a mailbox at the back of the station to be placed directly on a departing train.
The Texas and Pacific Railway Depot is an integral part of our community’s history, particularly of our area’s African-American history. Its restoration and conversion into a museum will help more fully tell the story of Natchitoches Parish.