Downtown Ruston: Preserving the Past

In Victoria Arnold, Wesley Harris by Lola Magazine

Written by Victoria Arnold

Photos by Wesley Harris

Historical photos provided by The Wesley Harris Collection

When you think of the downtown region of small American cities, there are a few words that come to mind. For many that call Ruston home, they often describe downtown as cute, quirky, charming, and everything in between. Residents who have grown attached to the area often choose to make it their home due to the welcoming atmosphere and strong local community.

Ruston is not only enjoyed by the current population but also past populations as well. Established in 1885, Ruston grew as an area of community pride, educational opportunity, and economic growth throughout the aftermath of the American Civil War and during the expansion of western-bound railroad systems.

As a result, Ruston’s downtown area became solidified over time as the main center of commerce and community and has also played a vital role in developing the culture of one of northern Louisiana’s most important cities.

“It really is the heartbeat of where we live, and it’s important to remember how our city has grown over time,” said Amy Stegall, the Main Street Director for the City of Ruston.

Calling Ruston home for several years now, Stegall currently works to preserve the downtown area of Ruston by assisting local business owners, maintaining the welcoming atmosphere of the area, and fueling the overall community-centered mindset–all through the national program known as The Main Street Program.

Though the downtown area is Ruston’s greatest community hub, many residents may not know the historical significance of downtown. That’s where Main Street comes in.

Tony Hiss, author of The Experience Place describes the Main Street Program as “a highly successful citizen-led movement you may never have heard of” that has “quietly regenerated 1,600 U.S. communities over the last 45 years, reviving historic downtowns, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and $85 billion in new investments, while keeping the hearts of the nation’s small towns and cities beating.”

Ruston became nationally accredited as a part of Main Street in 2017 with a 4-prong approach to organize, design, promote downtown life, and increase the local economy. Not only does it provide funding and grant opportunities to the businesses in Ruston’s downtown center, but it also aids in preserving some of Ruston’s oldest buildings. Today, buildings like the Ruston State Bank, the Dixie Theater, and more, have been well-preserved, but many buildings have been repurposed that originally stood in the downtown area. Many of these buildings make up the businesses that Ruston residents are familiar with, though the unique history behind them may be unknown to many.

However, some traces of these antique monuments still remain, and can be found in specific buildings through the character and architecture of the buildings. Looking at old photographs, the areas like churches, hotels, the Railroad Park area, and others, you can still identify the bones of these historic places.

Not only are the buildings themselves important, but many parts of downtown have often been passed down within historic Ruston families for generations. In fact, our very own Bevin Hicks has ancestral ties to the Harris Hotel, located where Champs Sports Bar and Restaurant is located today.

Stegall explained: “it’s exciting to know our city’s history, because discovering who lived here and passed through our little city may surprise you.” For the future, Stegall hopes that Main Street will continue to nurture Ruston’s downtown Ruston as a “live, work, and play” place. And the best way to encourage city growth is through its citizens investing in its culture, history, and community–starting with the heart of the city’s center for community: Downtown Ruston.

PHOTO CAPTIONS

  • The Methodist Church downtown was located on what is now Hwy 167 going southbound.
  • Today, two of the windows from the church remain on the side of the business where The Visual Difference LLC is located today.
  • A street view of what is now Hwy 167 Ruston the early 1900s. On the left side of the frame is the Harris Hotel, where Champ’s Sports Bar and Restaurant and The Collective are located today. You can see the Methodist Church in the background
  • A modern day street view of the old Ruston State Bank, a famous historic landmark that was constructed in 1910.
  • The Lincoln Parish Museum is located in the Kidd-Davis House which dates to 1885, one year after the founding of Ruston. In that year, Leroy Madison Kidd, a merchant from the neighboring town of Vernon in Jackson Parish, moved his business to the recently established railroad town of Ruston. He bought an entire block from Robert E. Russ, city founder and namesake of Ruston. Kidd then sold the property to Charles H. Harris, who started construction of a house in 1886. Either during construction or soon after, Harris sold the property and the new house to Captain Milton B. Kidd, brother and business partner of the original owner of the lot. The Kidd family occupied the house until 1921 when it was sold to the Robert Wesley Davis family. The museum interior has been restored to its turn of the 20th century appearance. Exhibits featuring local history occupy the upper floor.
  • The Y.A Harris Building
  • The Harris family was engaged in operating hotels in downtown Ruston in the first decades of the 1900s. The building was constructed as an annex for a larger hotel a block to the south. The upstairs, which included a doctor’s office and rooms for boarders, is essentially unchanged from those days. Note the doctor’s name painted on the last upstairs window. The balcony outside the second story door has been removed. The ground floor has always been occupied by offices and retail shops, including a Jitney Jungle grocery store in the 1940s-50s. The building owners have plans to fully restore the structure, including upstairs living areas.
  • A wider angle of the Harris Hotel, located today at the corner of West Park Avenue and North Trenton Street.
  • Beall’s was one of the largest department stores in Ruston for many years. This location experienced a major fire in 1966, one of several that has ravaged the downtown district in the last 100 years. With buildings adjoining one another, fire easily spreads from one to another. The 1966 fire led to significant changes to the Ruston Fire Department. At the time, the department did not have any ladder trucks or aerial trucks and had to rely on a utility company’s bucket trucks to fight the fire. The enhancement of equipment in the years after vastly improved Ruston’s firefighting capabilities. This site was renovated and several businesses have occupied it since the fire. Beall’s moved to a new location in Village Plaza, Ruston’s first strip mall which has since been demolished.
  • The old Lincoln Parish Courthouse, the early 1900s. Unfortunately, the building no longer stands.
  • A view of Marbury Drug Company, where The Fabric Shop is located off of Park Avenue today
  • Brick Row
  • This block of Park Avenue was originally called “Brick Row” because it was the only block where the first buildings were all constructed of brick. When the first lots were sold to businesses moving to the new town of Ruston, buyers were informed their businesses had to be of brick to create a positive impression on those passing through on the Vicksburg, Shreveport & Pacific Railroad. It continues to be the showcase of the Historic District.
  • A wide angle view of Railroad park, circa early 1900s.
  • A view of Park Avenue today in front of Railroad Park, where Marbury Drug Company used to be.