Also see: Zwolle Loggers Festival and Zwolle Tamale Festival
A Look At Zwolle’s Early History
The first inhabitants of the bowl shaped area of land upon which the town of Zwolle is situated were the Mound Builders. Lured here for protection from storms, the “bowl” offered them protection. Prehistoric people built the dome-shaped mounds that line the banks of Bayou Scie and Bayou San Miguel, which form a hollow circle around the town site. Like all other Mound Builders they are believed to be ancestors of North American Indians found occupying the territory when the Europeans arrived.
The Indians occupying the “bowl” and the surrounding country were very friendly with the French and Spanish and many of them intermarried with these early adventurers and settlers. Thus among the people living within the vicinity of Zwolle today may be found those who are either of French and Indian or Spanish and Indian descent.
The first English speaking settlers arrived in Sabine Parish in 1824 coming by way of Natchitoches. These pioneer home seekers came chiefly from Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas. The first of these to reach the Zwolle area settled at Bayou Scie where as early as 1795 Spanish missionaries had established a Roman Catholic church. After 1871 many more of these settlers moved in and acquired land under the homestead act.
In the early days freighting was done in this area chiefly by ox wagons which joined the trains that moved along the East Hamilton road from Hamilton’s ferry on Sabine River to Natchitoches and Grand Ecore. Loaded with cotton, the wagons traveled to the river landing at Grand Ecore on the Red River and returned loaded with merchandise and supplies. In 1881 when the Texas and Pacific railroad was built through Sabine Parish Robeline became the chief trading post.
In 1881 William Martin Webb and his bride rode the first passenger train over the Texas and Pacific railroad from Texarkana to Pleasant Hill. They came from Pleasant Hill by buggy to Clyde and opened a trading post. Later when Clyde was made a U.S. post office Mr. Webb was appointed the first post master. The first mail service opened here when a letter carrier on horseback arrived from the East one day, rode on West to Hamilton’s Ferry to the Sabine River and returned the next day with mail from Texas. The establishment of an East West mail route was so momentous that the popularity and influence of Mr. and Mrs. Webb and their trading post grew rapidly.
In 1895 the Kansas City Southern railroad was completed to Shreveport. Soon a committee of Dutch stockholders arrived in America for first hand information on the project. After the committee reported favorably, it was learned that the railroad was to be extended to a point 12 miles north of Beaumont, to connect the Line between Kansas City and the Gulf.
With this exciting news came the discussion of vantage points along the proposed railroad for KCS depots. In the beginning Clyde was the tentative site selected for this area. However, it was at this time that William Potts, one time engineer and one of the largest landowners in Zwolle and T. Laroux, another landowner made plans for getting the depot built here. They were successful and each of these landowners donated to the Kansas Terminal Construction Co. 20 acres of land that formed a 40 acre square around the present site of the Kansas City Southern depot in Zwolle. The acreage was in turn acquired by the Arkansas Townsite Co. for the purpose of developing the town site. Since the original area was too small for a town, the company soon enlarged its acreage by the land donations of the following men; Laroux, Tyler, Pearson, Skull and Davis.
By Sept. 19, 1896 the railroad was built to Zwolle. On Sept. 11, 1897, the last spike was driven and the road was completed to the given point twelve miles north of Beaumont, Texas, connecting the line from Kansas City to the Gulf.
Zwolle was named in 1896 by Jan De Goeijen, a stockholder of the railroad. It was said that upon his first visit to the town site of Zwolle, Mr. De Goeijen was impressed by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, a product of the early Spanish missionaries, that stood silhouetted against the pines on a hill overlooking the town site and the peaceful valley below.
Being a Catholic, he named the town Zwolle for his birthplace, Zwolle, Holland, a seaport in the Netherlands. Upon his numerous trips to America in the years that followed, Mr. De Goeijen visited Zwolle. Arriving by special train from Kansas City he took pictures of the town and mailed letters from there to his friends in Zwolle, Holland. In the course of time he met Sen. R.L. Gay. As each of these men held a warm place in his heart for Zwolle and its devoted citizens, they became friends.
Thereafter on New Years Day and Christmas time, Mr. De Goeijen sent greetings to Zwolle by way of cablegrams, cards and letters to Mr. Gay. In this manner the people of Zwolle grew to love the kindly Dutchman knowing that he had not only named their town but had used his influence and the gold from the banks of Holland to help create the Kansas City Southern railway and make the founding of the town of Zwolle possible. Thus it was that Mayor Joe B. Parrot and the citizens of Zwolle were saddened by a letter with the news that Jan De Goeijen, passed away on March 4, 1944.
This letter was written by his son. Up until 1940 his father still had in his room the original map of his Amsterdam office on which were marked in his own handwriting the names at the moment of their christening… the Huns destroyed it.
“But your place is still on the globe’s map and shall remain there forever. No matter what may happen to Zwolle, Holland or in whoever’s hand it may someday be.
Zwolle, Louisiana shall carry on the tradition of freedom and peace. May thus it be”. This was the last paragraph in the letter: “In the meantime I beg you Mr. Mayor to accept the expression of my very best feelings. Good luck to you and good luck to Zwolle.”
John A. De Goeijen
The charter for the town of Zwolle was granted June 12, 1898. The municipal officers who signed it were Mayor Charles R. Stockford, Councilmen L.B. Gay, W.M. Webb, J.A. Franks and J.W. Allen. Witnesses were E. Massie and J.P. Darby. The limits of the said town of Zwolle shall be one mile square, and the storehouse of William Webb as now located shall be the center point and the lines of said limits run north and south.
Louis B. Gay, agent for the Arkansas Townsite Co. built the first house in Zwolle. William Martin Webb of the trading post at Clyde built the first store. Charles R. Stockford was the first postmaster of Zwolle and his son Louis Gay Stockford, was the first child born in Zwolle.
NOTE: This from Lucille Stockford Ferguson: My father was the first white baby born in Zwolle, the son of the postmaster Charles R. Stockford. My father was named after my grandfather’s good friend Louis B. Gay.
The first churches in Zwolle built; St. Joseph’s 1831, First Methodist 1897, First Baptist 1900.
A.S. Keelan founded the Pelican Drug Store in Zwolle in 1902 where he was the proprietor and druggist for 21 years. He died in 1923. He left the business to immediate family which has continued in operation under the management of his son Festus A. Keelen.
In 1905 the bank building on Main Street was built. In 1901 a group of business men interested in development of the timber industry in Louisiana purchased the Allen Lumber Company in Zwolle and formed a manufacturing unit called Sabine Lumber Co. The president of this organization was Joseph Ferguson. He continued in this capacity until his death in 1933, when he was succeeded in office by his nephew, Paul T. Sanderson. At Mr. Sanderson’s death, his office went to Joseph Clark Ferguson, son of the original founder. Sabine Lumber Co. several years ago was sold to Boise Southern Co. The later closed the mill. The site today is occupied by Zwolle Rail Car Co.
Among the famous preachers that came to Zwolle were the Culpeppers, Hoffowins, and a priest Rev. Father Van Huver.
Millis and Jennings was the road show that played in Zwolle then. Norris and Rowe Circus was the first railroad show to come to Zwolle. Clark Brothers Circus was the first horse and wagon circus in town.
From Dirk van Coevorden of the Netherlands, we have received the following footnote regarding the information derived from local newspaper sources: Hello, A very informative site, but you’re not right about the town of Zwolle in the Netherlands when you state :’Being a Catholic, he named the town Zwolle for his birthplace, Zwolle, Holland, a seaport in the Netherlands’. Zwolle is by no means a Seaport ! Yes, it has a (small) harbour but nowhere near the sea. There used to be a small sea nearby ( the Zuiderzee) but that sea was dammed in the 1930’s and is now a lake. But Zwolle was never a seaport. I should know, I was born there and I still live there. The nearby city of Kampen was a seaport….. But nonetheless a very nice site.
Source: Sabine Parish Library; author: Sabine Index 9/6/79 and 7/1/76