Depot Groundbreaking

Breaking ground for the Depot are, from left, Randy LaCaze, City of Natchitoches; Bob Kempkes, Taylor-Kempkes Architect; Edward Ward Jr., Natchitoches Black Heritage Committee; Claire Prymus, Ben D. Johnson Educational Center; Carrie Mardorf, Cane River Creole National Historical Park; Rebecca Blankenbaker, Cane River National Heritage Area; Rosemary Washington-Elie, City of Natchitoches Councilwoman; Betty Sawyer-Smith, Councilwoman at Large; Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr.; Chris Petite, Councilman; David Mains, DSW Construction; Dale Nielsen, Councilman; George Gaharan, DSW Construction COO; and Edd Lee, City of Natchitoches. Photo by Chris Reich

Depot Rehabilitation Project breaks ground
Juanice Gray contributed to this report
The Texas and Pacific Railway Depot was constructed in 1927 and closed its doors to passenger rail transportation in the 1960s, encapsulating its segregated entrances and waiting rooms. Today, the structure remains one of the last segregated train stations within Louisiana and has a deep connection to the City’s African American community.
The City of Natchitoches, Cane River National Heritage Area (CRNHA), Cane River Creole National Historical Park (CRNHP) and DSW Construction hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the Depot Rehabilitation Project Thursday, Jan. 13.

This article published in the Jan. 15, 2022 print edition

“For nearly four decades the community of Natchitoches has tried to preserve and rehabilitate the Depot into a museum that depicts the stories of African Americans in Natchitoches,” remarked Rebecca Blankenbaker, Executive Director of CRNHA. “Today is a celebration of all those individuals and partner organizations who shared their energy and passion to see this project through.”
This view is from the back of the main entrance in the two story section of the Depot. The massive overhead beams are original to the structure.
Photo by Juanice Gray

Early efforts by the CRNHA in 2001, 2007 and 2015 stabilized the structure until a future use could be determined.
Randy LaCaze with the City of Natchitoches Office of Community Development, said Ben D. Johnson invested $10,000 of his own money toward upkeep of the Depot and in 2004 LaDOTD funded stabilization efforts. In 2005, LaCaze said $800,000 were to be awarded for the Depot, however after Hurricane Katrina struck, those funds were granted to locations in the southern part of the state. In 2017-18, $400,000 was awarded, resulting in a new roof to the building that is listed on the Historic Registry.
Rebecca Blankenbaker with the Cane River National Heritage Area and Carrie Mardorf, Cane River Creole National Historical Park Superintendent participated in the Depot groundbreaking, which will soon house Park Service offices. Photo by Chris Reich

The Depot will house new park offices, a visitor center and a community lecture hall/theater for the CRNHP. “We are honored to be able to tell the difficult story of slavery to segregation to Civil Rights with the walls of the Depot, where we can tell all the stories of all people of Natchitoches,” said Carrie Mardorf, CRNHP Superintendent. “Since the Depot’s construction in 1927, 95 years ago, the building withstood decades of use, followed by long periods of neglect, and limited repairs. We are incredibly grateful to be a partner in this project and are excited to be the building’s new stewards and tenants for the next 95 years.”
This is the ticket room, with ticket windows in the center, as it appears today. They will soon look out over a museum that depicts the stories of African Americans in Natchitoches. Photo by Juanice Gray

In 2019, the City of Natchitoches, who owns the Texas and Pacific Railway Depot, signed a lease with the National Park Service, CRNHP, granting the park use of the building as a visitor center and headquarters. “On behalf of the City of Natchitoches, we are excited to embark on this project with the National Park Service, DSW Construction and Cane River National Heritage Area” said Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr. “Not only will this rehabilitation project serve to spark more community revitalization efforts in the surrounding area, but also encourage economic development in West Natchitoches.”
Additional speakers included Claire Prymus with the Ben D. Johnson Educational Center, Edward Ward Jr. with the Natchitoches Black Heritage Committee, and David Mains, Owner of DSW Construction who said the renovations should be completed in seven-eight months. George Geheren with DSW said their contract is for 210 calendar days once the Notice to Proceed is issued.
The offices for the Park Service will the on the south end of the building, to the left when facing the front, with the visitor center and lecture hall/theater in the center portion.