Bastrop High School, Bastrop Louisiana
The parish seat of Bastrop was founded when Morehouse Parish was created in 1844. It retained village status until 1909, when there was sufficient population to be designated a town, although still less than one thousand. This was to change, however, in the 1920s when the population exploded, due largely to the arrival of two huge paper mills (Bastrop Pulp and Paper in 1920 and Louisiana Pulp and Paper in 1925, both by 1927 part of International Paper and expanded). A small farming community rather suddenly became an industrial center, as the population more than quadrupled (from 1,216 in 1920 to 5,121 in 1930). Population continued to increase, although not as dramatically, in the 1930s. The figure for 1940 is 6,626.
All this, of course, literally changed the face of the town, and all to the good boasted the Morehouse Enterprise in issue after issue. Pressure on the housing stock and infrastructure meant a veritable construction boom. The Enterprise was already reporting a housing shortage in September 1923, and that was before the town's second paper company, Louisiana Pulp and Paper, arrived on the scene. A survey of progress for 1923 included a million dollar addition to the Bastrop Pulp and Paper Company, the arrival of Southern Glass Company and two large carbon plants, as well as numerous continuing concerns and new fairly small employers. (The carbon plants were a byproduct of the discovery of a major gas field in the area in 1916.) The year 1925 saw particular growth when Louisiana Pulp and Paper was built and began operations. The June 1925 issue of the Enterprise referenced building permits for 100 residences, noting that the demand would only increase with the arrival in the fall of families for Louisiana Paper.
Along with all the new houses, new companies, street paving, etc. came a dramatic growth in the school physical plant. Bastrop began the decade with one school (for whites), a medium size, two story brick facility built in 1916. As was typical, it housed all grades. Between 1926 and 1930, three new schools were built (for a total of 4 in service), and two of these were enlarged.
With the opening of each school term in the mid to late 1920s the Enterprise reported upon increasing enrollment and strains on the physical plant. The High School was already in the discussion stages in 1924 when a building committee was appointed. In September 1924, the Enterprise noted a "large increase" in attendance (projected total of 600) and that the employment of two or three additional teachers was "imperative." "Furthermore, the present overcrowded condition of the building [1916 school] and the continued growth of the town renders necessary the early construction of a new high school building."
The situation only grew worse with the arrival of Louisiana Pulp and Paper in the fall of 1925. In reference to the 1925-26 school year, the Enterprise reported a total attendance of nearly 700, and "if the same rate of increase is maintained as for the past two years, it will probably reach eight or nine hundred next year." The roughly 700 enrollment was already enough to cause the school board in September 1925 to institute a policy of half-day instruction for the primary grades (one half taught in the morning/the other half in the afternoon).
The much needed new school did not materialize as quickly as hoped for. Preliminary plans had been completed by May 1925. The architectural firm was J. W. Smith Architects of nearby Monroe. The Enterprise reported that a drawing of the proposed school was "prominently displayed in a show window at Snyder's store, where it is attracting much attention." On May 12, a "mass meeting" of citizens was called to present the proposal, and in July a bond issue was passed for $225,000. Seven acres adjoining the existing school were to be purchased, and the existing school was to be converted to a grammar school, with high school grades in the new building. A contract was awarded in October 1925; it fell though; and in January 1926, the contract was awarded again, this time to P. Oliver and Sons of Lake Charles.
Students even weighed in on the need for a new school. A "High School Notes" column in the December 10, 1926 Enterprise, written by students, reads: "The new building is near completion. It is very pretty. The rooms are quite large, especially the library. All students are anxious to move into it. We hope to be in it by the first of the year or at least by midterm. The crowded condition in the old building makes it impossible for us to do our best work."
High school students found in their new "pretty" building nineteen quite spacious classrooms, a library, laboratories, home economics rooms, and a gymnasium. The auditorium in the adjacent older school served both.
But before very long enrollment increases rendered these two large buildings inadequate. An enrollment of roughly 700 in 1925 had increased to more than 1,000 in September 1927. We must have two new primary schools, urged the Enterprise. Voters responded by passing a bond issue in October, and the two new grammar schools opened in September 1928. At the same time the paper reported an enrollment "larger than expected" in Bastrop schools (now 4 in number), which caused a shortage of textbooks. Some 1200 students enrolled the first day, with the number expected to reach 1400 by mid-term. Once again voters were asked to pass a bond issue - this time for expansion of the two-year-old high school and one of the brand new elementary schools. The Enterprise reported that temporary buildings were being used for the overflow.
The bond issue passed in June 1929 by an overwhelming majority, resulting in the already large high school being doubled in size in 1930-31 (using the same architect). The March 19, 1931 issue of the Enterprise carried a front page picture and article, bragging that the completion of the new unit "makes the Bastrop High School as modern and complete a plant as any in this section of the south." The building now has 34 rooms, continued the reporter, including four modern laboratories, a large cafeteria, a gymnasium capable of seating more than 1,000, and "every modern convenience." The four labs (two in the old part, two in the new) made available a separate laboratory for each of the four sciences taught at the school. Other amenities reported in the paper were built-in lockers ("a new feature"), three large rooms for the manual training department, two rooms for the commerce department (with the "latest equipment"), and two study halls. The new library garnered a whole paragraph of description, but it was the public address system that seemed to be of the greatest interest. ("One of the outstanding features of the Bastrop High School is what is called a public address system." Then the reporter went on to explain how it all worked and the communication wonders it made possible.)
In short, there is no question that Bastrop had "arrived," so-to-speak. Not only could its citizens boast the latest technological marvels in their schools, but the physical plant finally could meet the demand. And with all manner of classrooms, labs, and the like, students could now "do their best work." If anything, the roughly 84,000 square foot high school was over-built for the immediate need. But education leaders had planned for the future, which is fortunate because Bastrop's industrial base expanded in the 1940s (new paper related plants), and the population almost doubled in that decade (12,769 in 1950).
A school doubled in size in 1930 was able to educate high school students, without further expansion, until the middle of the 1955-56 school year. At that time students moved into a new school, and the high school became a junior high. It served in this capacity until the late 1980s, then was used for various educational purposes for about another ten years.