And Now You Know: The road across the marsh

Published 9:44 am Monday, September 10, 2018

By Mike Louviere

For the first four or five decades that Orange existed, if a traveler wanted to cross into Louisiana, they had to make a nearly 10-mile trip north of Orange and pay to use Ballew’s Ferry.

Once on the ferry, there was about a four-mile trip around the tip of Sabine Island to the high land at Niblett’s Bluff. It is not much of a stretch to say that going “across the river” in those days was an all-day trip.

By the turn of the 20th Century, the governments of Orange County and Calcasieu Parish were seriously discussing a road across the marsh east of Orange. By 1912, the road was a reality and a report on the project was filed by the Department of Agriculture, Office of Public Roads. George D. Marshall, U.S. Superintendent of Road Construction wrote the report.

The document was titled, “Report of Observation on Three and One-Half Miles of Road Opposite the City of Orange.”

It reported that 65,000 cubic yards of natural sand-clay mix had been dredged from the riverbank, barged in and spread on the low sections. Five thousand bundles of hard wood brush had been laid on peat or marsh muck to provide the foundation.

A recent high water period had caused water to flow over the new embankment for several weeks. The grade had stayed intact and the full 18-foot width had survived. The embankment had been built to a height four feet above the mean low water level. It was 18 feet wide at the top and 30 feet wide at the bottom.

Marshall recommended placing five culverts with 12-foot spans at the washout points.

The report stated that the weeks of high water had served the double purpose of compacting the road material and determining the needed culvert capacity to relieve high water conditions.

“Spreading sand-clay mix from the river bank eight to 12 inches would make a sufficient depth to sustain traffic and open the road at once. If in the future a shell surface is contemplated it would be advisable to raise the grade about 12 inches over the entire section and thoroughly compact the sub grade with a roller.

I believe that a year’s traffic will expose all depressions likely to occur and act as a compacting force,” wrote Marshall.

The cost of the project was $10,350 ($268,893 today) and was paid for by Orange County and Calcasieu Parish jointly. The road was completed and a new ferry crossed the river at the foot of Elm Street.

In 1927, the steel bridge was built across the river at the east end of Green Avenue.

The first roadbed was the sand-clay mix, later shell was used and still later the roadbed was improved and concrete was laid. The road became U.S. Highway 90 and served as part of the highway between New Orleans and Houston.

When Interstate 10 opened in the mid 1950s, the steel bridge was removed and the old highway abandoned, except by those wanting to fish or duck hunt in the marsh.

After years of being ignored, Calcasieu Parish has resurfaced the road with asphalt and built a boat launch at the location of the “Burned Bridge.” The old road is seeing use again and is a nice drive. The road is lined with oak trees filled with moss making a sort of tunnel where the road crosses the marsh.

“And now you know”