Water created prosperity in the
village of Krotz Springs, and water almost wiped it from the map.
C.W. Krotz, of Defiance, Ohio, bought land on the Atchafalaya River in 1899. He immediately began to harvest lumber and drill the first oil well in St. Landry Parish. The well did not hit oil, but neither did it come up dry. Krotz discovered an artesian spring well some 2,400 feet down. Being an entrepreneur who recognized opportunity, he decided to bottle and sell the water. Thus, Krotz became Louisiana's first bottled water manufacturer.
Krotz Springs was born and Krotz Famous Mineral Water was shipped all over the world. An April 12, 1909, advertisement for the water claimed it "will cure all kinds of stomach, kidney and bowel trouble and indigestion. It will cure rheumatism, will dissolve and remove gall stones and gravel from the bladder and is a sure cure for malaria." The same advertisement attempts to sell lots in "Krotz Springs, The Coming Health Resort of the South," which has "the finest bathing water in the world." The lots sold for $100 each.
By the time Krotz died in 1925, the village was established and the springs were an international hit.
In 1920, according to current Krotz Springs Mayor Gary Soileau, there were 227 people in Krotz Springs.
"Most of them worked in the lumber industry," Soileau said, "or were fishermen. By the time of the flood in 1927, there were about 300 people living in Krotz Springs."
Soileau said that nothing is left from the time before the flood, due to the Atchafalaya River's broadening over the years, the devastation of the flood and normal progress.
"The river has taken over the site of the old well," said Soileau, who also is the director of the Port of Krotz Springs, "and even a cemetery. It's swollen so big since the town was established. We are not a very old town. We incorporated as a village in 1917. No structures still stand."
The only man-made structure that physically links Krotz Springs to the village before 1927 is the railroad bridge, according to Soileau. Built in 1909 for the Gulf Coast Lines, the track and bridge have been upgraded over the years to service the Mississippi Pacific Railroad and the Texas and Pacific railroads. The Union Pacific Railroad now uses the line, which stands with the levee as the highest points in Krotz Springs.
"We have stories about people getting stuck on the levee in the 1927 flood," Soileau said. "They had to camp there for weeks as they waited for the flood waters to recede."
"That was the year I was born," said Hazel Freeman of Krotz Springs. "I was born in January and the flood came in May. We lived on a farm between Krotz Springs and Port Barre. My daddy told me he took momma and us four kids to Opelousas to stay with friends. He and my uncle went back and loaded all of our furniture in a barge and tied it to a tree. But the rain kept coming and the barge filled with water and sunk, and we lost all of the furniture. Daddy and my uncle did manage to save the cattle and the house."
Soileau, who just finished reading about the big flood in John M. Barry's book Rising Tide, said that the flood stage of the Atchafalaya River in Krotz Springs was 38.5 feet above sea level, the highest ever recorded.
The river has an average depth of 100 feet, Soileau said. Its above-sea-level measurements range from two to 31 feet on average throughout the year, he said. At present, 30 percent of the Mississippi River is channeled through the Atchafalaya River.
"The Mississippi River has shifted many times over the centuries," Soileau said. "Every 1,500 years or so, it changes its course. It used to run by Lafayette. It's held its present course for about 1,000 years, and it's about time for a change."
The Corps of Engineers was mandated by emergency legislation in 1954, according to Soileau, to keep the Muddy Miss in her old channel. But the 1927 flood dredged a deep and wide channel through the Atchafalaya River, he said, and the Mississippi may just decide it likes the deeper, steeper path.
"If it does," Soileau said, "it would be devastating for us. It would also be devastating for New Orleans. They won't have a glass of water to drink.
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