As the Era of Reconstruction took hold following the Civil War, a new parish was carved from existing ones in 1873 and named after recently slain president Abraham Lincoln. Word soon reached the young parish that the Vicksburg, Shreveport and Pacific Railroad would begin to run across north Louisiana, linking the Deep South with the Wild Wild West.
For one individual, this brought to fruition a lifelong dream of having people living nearby whom he could call neighbors. Little did Robert E. Russ know that his dream for a new town to be located near his plantation would eventually become known as Ruston (shorthand for Russ town). By 1884, Ruston was incorporated. Russ had donated roughly 640 acres for the town's location, and former Union Army surveyors working for the railroad had laid out unusually wide, spacious avenues among the towering oaks and pines. Commercial and residential lots were created and soon the sawing of lumber and clacking of hammers could be heard throughout the area.
As the town began to take shape, new churches, businesses, civic organizations and schools were being established. The vast stands of virgin timber and the availability of fertile lands for cotton farming fueled the booming economy. In 1900, a second railroad, running north and south, was built through Ruston. This brought even more business and industry to the area, and the population continued to provide a foundation for the local economy. By the outbreak of World War I in 1917, Ruston was well established as a center for learning, a place of civic pride and an area of economic prosperity throughout the region.
Ruston continued to grow steadily during the post-war prosperity of the 1950s. The GI Bill, which sent war veterans to college, helped fuel the local economy, causing tremendous growth at the local universities and bringing many new families to Ruston. By the late 1950s, news reached Ruston that would have significant impact -- a new interstate highway was to be built that would run through the northern fringe of the city. Completed by the early 1970s this coast-to-coast highway made Ruston more easily accessible, much as the railroad had done a century before. This, too, brought new opportunities for growth and development.
In the 1980s, the state's economy lagged after the oil industry went "belly-up." Ruston, however, continued growing steadily, fueled primarily by the cornerstones of the local economy, Louisiana Tech and Grambling State, which continued to expand programs and increase enrollment. The city also had its centennial celebration during this decade, and emphasis was put on revitalizing the historic downtown district. A joint effort between the city, the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, the Louisiana Main Street Program, the Louisiana Department of Historic Preservation and beautification projects restored Ruston's historic downtown to the hustling and bustling center of the community. More than 15 historic buildings have been placed on the National Register. Storefronts are again filled, as are most parking spaces. The restoration has been a "shot in the arm" for the local economy and has helped draw the community closer to its roots.
Ruston experienced unprecedented growth during the 1990s. In 1993 alone, there was more than $60 million worth of new construction within the city. New subdivisions popped up everywhere, and the city quickly developed into a regional medical and retirement center.
The city has a new airport to serve existing business and industry, and the timber, poultry and cattle industries continue to expand.
The Office of Family Support provides supportive services that assist residents to move toward independence and self-sufficiency by meeting basic needs through the provision of financial assistance, education and training, Food Stamps, child care assistance, child support enforcement and the determination of eligibility for disability benefits.
The Office of Community Services strengthens the safety, permanency and well-being of our state's children and families by providing child abuse prevention services, child welfare services, community based services and administrative and executive supports.
The Lincoln Parish HELP Agency is involved in information and referral; skill training; GED; Pencils to Pens; household counseling; LIHEAP; heat relief; FEMA utilities and rent/mortgage assistance; prescription drug programs; and surplus food programs.
The universities have achieved unparalleled success in many fields, and downtown Ruston also continues to offer people a variety of retail shops and fine eateries. The school system continues to lead the state in test scores and student achievement, both academically and athletically. The area's unemployment rate remains constant, hovering between 2.5 percent and 3 percent. The city now stands poised for further growth and prosperity. As Robert E. Russ envisioned, it is a place for friends and neighbors. True to his dream, the city continues to open its doors to those looking for a healthy business environment, an opportunity to receive a quality education and a great place to raise a family.
Permission for use by: Scott Terry