Ouachita Parish was established March 31, 1807 when the Territory of Orleans was divided. The original Ouachita Parish was later divided into the nine parishes that currently makeup Northeast Louisiana (Morehouse, Union, Caldwell, Franklin, Tensas, Madison, and East and West Carroll). The name Ouachita originated from the Indian tribe who inhabited the area at the time of settlement. The city of Monroe is the parish seat for Ouachita. The twin cities of Monroe-West Monroe began when Don Juan Filhiol was hired to establish Fort Miro as a Spanish presence on the north Ouachita River. Fort Miro became Monroe in May of 1819 to honor President James Monroe and the first steamboat to travel up the Ouachita to North Louisiana. West Monroe received its name in 1880 from railroad workers who needed to name a new city just west of Monroe. In 1914, Joseph Biedenharn, the first bottler of Coca-Cola, built his home in Monroe and was actively involved in the city’s development until his death in 1952. His daughter, Emy-Lou established the Emy-Lou Biedenharn foundation in 1971 to support the cultural and artistic life of Northeast Louisiana.
Monroe got its first zoo in 1924, at what is now Forsythe Park. The small zoo originally housed fifteen animals. Since the 1935 move to an 80 acre facility in southern Monroe, the zoo has grown to hold over 500 animals in naturalistic habitats and features the only boat ride in the United States that takes visitors on a tour of naturalistic island habitats.
Historically, the twin cities and the surrounding parish have been known as small farming communities; in 1925, the world’s first aerial crop dusting organization, Huff Daland Dusters was formed in Monroe. That company later became Delta Airlines.
One little known fact about Monroe is the role it played in World War II. During the war, Monroe’s Selman Field served as the largest flight navigator school in the nation. Monroe was also home to General Claire Chennault, founder of the Flying Tigers, which played an integral part in the war. You can view memorabilia of Selman Field, General Chennault, and aviation history at the Aviation & Military Museum of Louisiana.
In 1978, Monroe became home to one of Louisiana’s seven nationally registered castles, Layton Castle or Mulberry Grove. Although it was remodeled in the early 1900s, much of the original 19th century décor remains.