On old Highway 80, heading west from Rayville toward Monroe, one comes to a community with a most unusual name—Start, Louisiana. It’s not an incorporated town, but it has gained a degree of notice for being the hometown of country star Tim McGraw. The town got its unusual name when their request to establish a post office with the name of Charleston, Louisiana was denied by the postal authorities, as apparently there was another Charleston in Louisiana at the time. Stymied by the decision, the local store owner and some others debated what other name to try. Legend has it that a teenaged girl contributed the name by saying “Now we will have to start all over.” There’s not a whole lot to Start, just a volunteer fire department, some apartments, a couple of stores, a school, a water tower and a few houses. But it has managed to spawn a suburb, or perhaps, more correctly, a twin city.
Just to the west of Start is Crew Lake, a shaded community strung out along the banks of a bayou of the same name. Both Start and Crew Lake seem to have begun around the early twentieth century as flag stops on what was then the Vicksburg, Shreveport and Pacific Railroad, but the latter community seems to have been little more than a name until 1937. That was the year that the Farm Security Administration (formerly the Resettlement Administration) acquired the Melrose Plantation and divided it into what they called “farmsteads,” small acreages with modern, electrified homes. A number of poor farmers from Northern Louisiana took advantage of the opportunity to move into these new houses and try their hand at co-operative farming. The FSA formed the Crew Lake Co-operative Association, to provide for supplies, cotton ginning and other necessaries for the success of the experiment. And, indeed, for those who moved to Crew Lake, the experiment proved to be a success. On the other hand, conservative Southern congressmen were not so pleased. They saw the whole scheme, and other FSA projects like it, as socialistic or even communistic, and their objections succeeded in abolishing the Farm Security Administration by 1942. The replacement agency, the Farmers’ Home Administration, was more geared to making low-interest loans available to farmers, but it did nothing to build new farm communities or to convert tenant farmers into landowners.
Today, the quiet community of Crew Lake would almost seem like a resort. There are no businesses in it, and no sign of the co-operative association, and if the houses were once all remarkably similar, government-designed structures, they have now been either replaced or altered in such a way that no discernible pattern remains. But Crew Lake remains a vibrant community.
One Reply to “A Delta Journey: How People Got A New Start in Crew Lake”
Enjoy reading about your travels! I grew up in Start, as did my parents and grandparents. I had family members on both sides of the equation you reference. My maternal great-grandparents moved from Calhoun, Louisiana around 1936 as part of the FSA project. You are correct in noting that many of the families who resettled did benefit. There was also however some resentment early on from the families who already lived in the area. The cooperative did have some left-leaning tendencies for sure. At the start of WWII, the new settlers and the old had joined together and merged into what I believe was a pretty successful community. Here’s a blog post that cites a local journalist (now deceased) who gave a great description of the Crew Lake Settlement. https://richlandroots.com/2011/01/31/the-crew-lake-project-of-the-farm-securities-administration/
The plantation that was used was actually named the Millsap plantation. My great-grandparents family was believed to be the largest of the families that made the move (12 children) and because of this, they were eventually placed in the old Millsap plantation house, which they called “The Big House.” Prior to that however, they lived in the smaller FSA home. There aren’t many signs of the original buildings, but there are still one or two barns standing that were constructed as part of the project. If my memory serves correct, the Congressman representing the area at the time, Newt P. Mills, was not opposed to the project.
In terms of history — the name “Crew Lake” actually predates Start by several years. There’s a mysterious event that took place in Crew Lake dating back to 1885, which received considerable press in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It was covered much less however in local papers. https://richlandroots.com/2017/02/07/the-crew-lake-horror/
Crew Lake Station which was the first rail stop in the community can be cited back as early as 1870 (in the Vicksburg Herald.)
Start became a named place sometime around 1920. There was a bit of a rivalry between where the Post Office would be located, which would ultimately determine which place had a mail pickup on the rail line. Start essentially won out, but Crew Lake later had a post office as well at the same time.
Today this part of Richland Parish is still a sleepy bedroom community for families who work in both Monroe and Rayville. It has seen a boom as of late however and is currently the fastest growing area in the Parish. In 2010, it became designated as a “Census Designated Place.”
Ironically, I consider myself a resident of Start, but I live on Crew Lake (north of the original settlement), and my zip code is Oak Ridge, which is a town in Morehouse Parish. Go figure!