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Lake Charles is the fifth largest incorporated city in the US state of Louisianamarker.

It is a major cultural and educational center in the southwest region of the state and one of the most important in Acadiana. As of the 2000 census, Lake Charles' population was 71,757. The city serves as the parish seat of Calcasieu Parishmarker.

Lake Charles is the principal city of the Lake Charles Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes the parishes of Calcasieu and Cameronmarker, having a population of 193,568. It is also part of the larger Lake Charles-Jennings Combined Statistical Area with a population of 225,003.

The city is considered a major center of petrochemical refining, gaming, and education being home to McNeese State Universitymarker and SOWELA Technical Community College.

With over 75 festivals held annually, Lake Charles is referred to as the Festival Capital of Louisiana. Its Central School Arts and Humanities Center is a site featured on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.


18th and 19th centuries

Early historical events, settlement and incorporation

While several American Indian tribes are known to have lived in the area occupied by present-day Lake Charles, the first European settlers arrived in the 1760s.

In 1781 Martin LeBleu and his wife, Dela Marion, of Bordeaux, Francemarker were the first recorded Europeans to settle in the area now known as the LeBleu Settlement. Charles Sallier married LeBleu's daughter, Catherine LeBleu; the Salliers built their home on the beach in what is current-day Lake Charles. The infamous pirate, Jean Lafitte, once delivered stolen slaves to James Bowie and other plantation owners here. By 1860 the area become known as Charles Town in Sallier's honor.

The Rio Hondo, which flowed through Lake Charlesmarker, was later called Quelqueshue, a Native American term meaning "Crying Eagle". Transliterated through French, this became the name of Calcasieu Parish. On March 7, 1861, Lake Charles was officially incorporated as the town of Charleston, Louisiana.

Industrial growth and the Civil War

The city's growth was fairly slow until Captain Daniel Goos, a Frisian by birth, came to the city in 1855. Goos established a lumber mill and schooner dock, now called Goosport. He promoted a profitable trade with Texanmarker and Mexicanmarker ports by sending his schooner downriver into the Gulf of Mexicomarker. Until the arrival of Goos, a man named Jacob Ryan dominated the lumber industry. Between 1817 and 1855, timber sales from longleaf pine and bald cypress remained the city's primary source of economic revenue.

Jacob Ryan convinced the state government to move the parish seat to Lake Charles from its former location at Marionmarker, a settlement about eight miles upriver. Later that year, Ryan and Samuel Kirby transferred the parish courthouse and jail by barge to the then-named Charleston. Six years after the city was incorporated, dissatisfaction over the name Charleston arose; on March 16, 1867, Charleston, Louisiana, was renamed and incorporated as the town of Lake Charles.

By the time of the U.S. Civil War, many Americans from the North, along with a large influx of continental Europeans and Jews, had come to settle the area. Attitudes toward slavery in Lake Charles were mixed, as slavery was secondary to business interests. In fact, fewer than five percent of the population were slaves.

Many citizens became involved in the war. Young men from some local families served in the Confederate Army. It is also known that some local families supported the cause of the Union.

After the Civil War

In the years following the Civil War, Lake Charles regained its status as a lumbering center. Especially in the 1880s, the city saw an increase in population and economic demand largely due to an innovative advertising campaign by J.B. Watkins; thanks to this campaign, the city's population grew four-hundred percent during this decade.

Using the pine wood from the city's mills, construction of large Victorian mansions transformed Lake Charles during the 1890s. Carpenters competed with verve to outbuild each other with their use of elaborate fretwork and decoration. The area of present-day Lake Charles located just east of downtown is known as the Charpentier District from the French word for carpenter and features houses from this era.

Twentieth century

The courthouse donated by Ryan and Kirby was replaced numerous times; such historical courthouses include a two-story cypress structure in 1872 and a brick structure in 1890. The 1890 courthouse, along with most of downtown Lake Charles, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1910. Two months after the Louisiana legislature divided the former Imperial Calcasieu parish into the current parishes of Allen, Beauregard, Cameron, Jefferson Davis and Calcasieu, the presently-used, historic Calcasieu Courthouse was completed in 1912.

After World War II, Lake Charles experienced industrial growth with the onset of the petrochemical refining industries. The city grew to a high of some 80,000 people in the early 1980s, but with local economic recession, the population declined. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 71,757.

Present day

The destructive force of Hurricane Rita.
Looking down the remains of the lakefront boardwalk toward the damaged Harrah's Lake Charles Casino property.

Lake Charles suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Rita, which struck the city as a Category 3 storm early September 24, 2005. On September 22, Mayor Randy Roach ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city, and approximately ninety percent of the residents left. Evacuees were asked to not return for 48 hours, due to wind and flood damage. There was extensive damage to the city's electrical grid, and many areas did not have power restored for up to three weeks.

As part of the city's recovery from Hurricane Rita, elected officials proposed a plan to renovate the downtown area to make it more attractive and pedestrian-friendly. A primary concern for the downtown revitalization was to include quality and affordable housing. To fund this proposal, officials proposed a parish-wide ballot initiative to increase sales and property taxes for 20 years. This was voted on and rejected by residents on July 15, 2006.

On June 20, 2006, a Citgo petroleum plant located in Sulphur, Louisianamarker released between 15,000 and 18,000 barrels of oil into the Calcasieu Ship Channel. The United States Coast Guard was called in to contain the spilled oil, which had by this time flowed down the Calcasieu River. Because of the disaster, the Coast Guard had to close many waterways, including the Calcasieu River Channel and a one-mile stretch of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. The Port of Lake Charles remained closed for some time after the accident due to contamination.

Oil prices surged to over $74 per barrel in part due to the Citgo spillage. The Calcasieu Refining Co., which normally processes 76,500 barrels of oil a day, was working at low levels for weeks after the incident.

Geography and climate

The city is located on the banks of the Calcasieu River in southwestern Louisiana, and borders both Lake Charles and Prien Lakemarker. It is a port on a deep-water channel to the Gulf of Mexicomarker, and was first settled in 1852.

Lake Charles is located at (30.214656, -93.208537) and has an elevation of .

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 42.5 square miles (110.2 km²), of which, 40.2 square miles (104.0 km²) of it is land and 2.4 square miles (6.1 km²) of it (5.57%) is water.

Primarily the city is located on a plain about 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Many pine trees used to grow around the waterways, and some still do. Few hills are to be seen, except when one is near the water, or in Moss Bluff.

Monthly Normal and Record High and Low Temperatures
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Rec High °F 87 87 94 95 100 106 103 107 105 103 93 89
Norm High °F 60.6 64.5 71.3 77.4 84.1 88.9 91.0 91.3 87.7 80.5 70.6 63.3
Norm Low °F 41.2 44.3 50.8 57.2 65.7 72.1 74.3 73.6 69.1 58.6 49.7 43.3
Rec Low °F 12 3 21 30 40 51 60 59 45 30 20 11
Precip (in) 5.52 3.28 3.54 3.64 6.06 6.07 5.13 4.85 5.95 3.94 4.61 4.60
Source: National Weather Service Lake Charles Office [17711]

Monthly Normal and Record High and Low Temperatures
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Rec High °C 30.5 30.5 34.4 35 37.7 41 39.4 41.6 40.5 39.4 33.8 31.6
Norm High °C 15.8 18 21.8 25.2 28.9 31.6 32.7 32.9 30.9 26.9 21.4 17.4
Norm Low °C 5.1 6.8 10.4 14 18.7 22.3 23.5 23.1 20.6 14.7 9.8 6.3
Rec Low °C -11.1 -16.1 -6.1 -1.1 4.4 10.5 15.5 15 7.2 -1.1 -6.6 -11.6
Precip (cm) 14 8.3 9 9.2 15.4 15.4 13 12.3 15.1 10 11.7 11.7

Nearby cities


As of the census of 2000, there were 71,757 people, 27,974 households, and 18,015 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,786.6 people per square mile (689.7/km²). There were 31,429 housing units at an average density of 302.1/km² (782.5/sq mi). The racial makeup of the city was:

There were 27,974 households, out of which 30.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.6% were married couples living together, 18.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.6% were non-families. 30.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 3.06.

In the city of Lake Charles, the population was spread out with 25.5% under the age of 18, 11.5% from 18 to 24, 26.9% from 25 to 44, 21.4% from 45 to 64, and 14.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 90.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $30,774, and the median income for a family was $37,774. Males had a median income of $33,005 versus $21,041 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,922. About 16.3% of families and 19.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 26.6% of those under age 18 and 13.6% of those age 65 or over.


Lake Charles' public schools are operated by the Calcasieu Parish Public School System, although there are a number of private schools located in the city.

Colleges and universities

Lake Charles is home to McNeese State Universitymarker, a four-year public university in the Louisiana School System. McNeese offers a variety of majors, including well-respected colleges of Biology, Education, Engineering, English, and Nursing. It offers several graduate degrees as well. Over 8,000 students attend the university.

Also located within the city is Sowela Technical Community College [17712] which offers associate degrees, technical diplomas, and certificate programs, as well as general education courses that can transfer to four year universities. Finally, Delta School of Business and Technology [17713] specializes in vocational courses.


In March 1904 the Carnegie Memorial Library [17714], the present-day Calcasieu Parish Library, opened, having been partly financed by Andrew Carnegie and built on land donated by W. S. B. McLaren, President of the North American Land and Timber Company of Londonmarker, Englandmarker.

The Calcasieu Parish Public Library [17715] has several locations throughout Calcasieu Parish.


Downtown park in Lake Charles

Lake Charles has several small museums and other cultural facilities, such as the Central School Arts and Humanities Center, whose Black Heritage Art Gallery is one of the sites featured on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail recently created by the state.

Also attracting visitors are the Children's Museum of Lake Charles, and the Imperial Calcasieu Museum. The Old City Hall has been renovated into exhibition space and many moving art exhibits are displayed at the locale throughout the year.

McNeese State Universitymarker produces The Banners Series, a series of various musical and theatrical performances, throughout the year. The Series also hosts lectures from notable persons and academics each year. In addition, The Lake Charles Little Theatre, The Artists Civic Theatre Studios (ACTS) Theatre and The Children's Theatre Company provide excellent theater with local talent.

The city has its own symphony orchestra, the Lake Charles Symphony, which has concerts in the Rosa Hart Theatre.


Christianity is the predominant religion in the Lake Area. Roman Catholicism is the largest individual denomination, claiming a diocese of 82,414 parishioners, or about 33% of the population of the five parishes it comprises, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Lake Charles is also home to various Protestant Christian denominations, which when combined, comprise the majority of the population. In addition, the city boasts a significant Jewish population who worship at Sinai Temple. Lake Charles is also home to other faiths, as well as a non-religious community.


Interstate 10 passes through Lake Charles, connecting the city with Houstonmarker to the west and New Orleansmarker to the east. Interstate 210 loops through the southern half of the city. Other major throughways include U.S. Highway 90, which runs parallel with Interstate 10, and U.S. Highway 171, which connects the city to the north with De Riddermarker. The city's main and historic street is Ryan Street, running north-south connecting downtown to the south of the city.

Lake Charles Regional Airportmarker, located south of the city, is the Lake Charles's only airport which provides commercial airline service. Chennault International Airportmarker, while a fully operational airport, is strictly an industrial and maintenance center. The latter airport, a former Strategic Air Command US Air Force base during the Cold War, is named for Maj. Gen. Claire Chennault, the aviator famous for commanding the Flying Tigers fighter group during World War II.

The Port of Lake Charles is the eleventh-largest seaport in the United States, the fourth-largest liner service seaport in the U.S. Gulf, and a major West Gulf container load center. The Calcasieu Ship Channel provides direct access to the Gulf of Mexico 34-miles downstream. The ship channel, which has a projected depth of 40 feet and a bottom width of 400 feet, intersects the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway just north of Calcasieu Lake.

The City of Lake Charles has an operating bus system throughout the city and surrounding suburbs. On July 7, 2006, The U.S. Dept. of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awarded a $290,142 grant to the Lake Charles Bus Terminal and Support Facilities Transit System. The City will use these funds towards their bus terminal and support facility, which adds more federal funds for engineering and design, as well as rehabilitation and renovation of the bus terminal and support facility.

Lake Charles also has its own Greyhound bus and Amtrak station.


Many area residents are employed by the petro-chemical refineries in nearby Sulphurmarker and Westlakemarker; some of the corporations with facilities in or around the city include PPG Industries, ConocoPhillips, and Citgo Petroleum Corporation.

The Trunkline LNG terminal, immediately southwest of Lake Charles, is one of the United States' few LNG terminals. It has facilities for LNG receipt, storage and regassification.

Lake Charles Cogeneration, a subsidiary of Leucadia National, is scheduled to begin construction of a $1.6 billion petroleum coke gasification plant in early 2009.

Manufacturing has been periodically struggling to achieve economic success in the area in order to diversify the economic base of the city. Chennault International Airportmarker hosts Aeroframe (formerly EADS Aeroframe Services), which services airplanes, and a Northrop Grumman facility.

Holidays and festivals

Lake Charles plays host to over one-hundred festivals and carnivals, giving the city its nickname, "The Festival Capital of Louisiana."

Contraband Days

Contraband Days is a twelve-day annual festival held during the first two weeks of May. The celebrations are filled with savory Cajun food, family fun and live entertainment. The festival is attended by more than 200,000 people making it one of the largest celebrations in Louisiana.In a reference to the history of Lake Charles, the festival begins when an actor representing the pirate Jean Lafitte captures the port and throws the mayor of the city into the lake.

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras in Southwest Louisiana has a colorful history dating back to 1882, when Momus, King of Mardi Gras, landed his royal yacht at the foot of Pujo Street in downtown Lake Charles.

Throughout the two World Wars, Mardi Gras was downsized which led to a lack of participation by the area's youth. However, an interest to redevelop the festivities arose, and the first Mardi Gras Ball in the Lake Charles area was staged in 1964.

The full revival of Mardi Gras in Lake Charles was not realized until 1979, when several Krewe captains formed the "Krewe of Krewes", with the prime purpose of parading and promoting Mardi Gras for local residents. In 1985, Mardi Gras of Imperial Calcasieu, Inc. was formed by a group of civic-minded volunteers to further aid in the preservation of this festival.

Other festivals



Lake Charles has many publications in circulation. The most widely distributed, daily newspaper is The American Press. Other popular periodicals include Lagniappe Magazine, The Times of Southwest Louisiana, The Jambalaya News, Gumbeaux Magazine, and Thrive magazine; however, the latter four are non-daily.


Major television network affiliates serving the area include:


Call Letters Frequency City of License Format
KYLC 90.3 Lake Charles Religious
KTSR 92.1 DeQuincy Mainstream Top-40
KHLA 92.9 Jennings Classic Hits
KYKZ 96.1 Lake Charles Country
KQLK 97.9 Deridder Rhythmic Top-40
KNGT 99.5 Lake Charles Country
KELB (LP) 100.5 Lake Charles Religious
KKGB 101.3 Sulphur Rock
KAJN 102.9 Crowley Contemporary Christian
KBIU 103.3 Lake Charles JACK-FM
KZWA 104.9 Moss Bluff Urban Contemporary
KJMH 107.5 Lake Arthur Urban
KEZM 1310 AM Sulphur Sports
KAOK 1400 AM Lake Charles News & Sports Talk
KXZZ 1580 AM Lake Charles Soul

Notable natives and residents

  • Lynn Anderson: famous for the song " Rose Garden," was married to oilman Harold "Spook" Stream of Lake Charles; they lived on Shell Beach Drive in the city until their divorce.
  • Terry Burrows: MLB player for the Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, and the San Diego Padres.
  • James David Cain: (b. 1938) is a former state senator and former state representative from Beauregard Parish whose district includes a part of Calcasieu Parish.
  • A.C. Clemons: (1921-1992) was a trucking executive in Jefferson Davis Parish who was the first Republican member of the Louisiana State Senate since Reconstruction.
  • Alvin Dark: was a 1948 alumnus of the Boston Braves, a legend at LSU, and a former major league baseball player & manager.
  • Christopher F. Davis, dancer in several Broadway shows, movies and TV. Attended McNeese State University and was university's first All-American Cheerleading recipient. Trained at Glenda Moss Academy of Dance. Currently producer with Broadway Cares.
  • Michael E. DeBakey: world-renowned heart surgeon, was the first person to successfully implant an artificial heart (in 1963), was born in Lake Charles. He's a member of Health Care Hall of Fame, a recipient of The United Nations Lifetime Achievement Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, and The National Medal of Science. Additionally, he was the originator of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, or M.A.S.H. unit, concept.
  • Andre Dubus: well-known author and essayist, was born in Lake Charles and was educated at McNeese State University.
  • Joe Dumars: former player and current General Manager for the Detroit Pistons, played for McNeese State University before going on to have a successful NBA career including being named the MVP of the 1989 NBA Finals. More recently, he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Famemarker in 2006.
  • David Filo: now a billionaire, was born and raised in Moss Bluffmarker. He created the Internet portal YAHOO along with several partners.
  • Sean Patrick Flanery: who starred in The Boondock Saints and The Dead Zone television series, was born in Lake Charles in 1965.
  • Matt Forte: Starting Running Back and 2nd Round-pick of the Chicago Bears. MVP of the 2008 Senior Bowl.
  • Lether Frazar: McNeese university president and lieutenant governor of Louisiana under Earl Kemp Long from 1956-1960; McNeese library bears his name.
  • Dud Faulk: son of "Patin" Faulk, was the world goose calling champion for 1961, 1962 and the 1954 international duck calling champion.
  • Dominic Gorie: astronaut
  • Ida Lewis "Queen Ida" Guillory: Zydeco-musician. Queen Ida was born in Lake Charles in 1929. She was the first Cajun or Zydeco-musician to win a Grammy Award, which she did in 1982.
  • Allen "Puddler" Harris: musician with Ricky Nelson, Conway Twitty, and Jimmie Davis; former director of the Lake Charles Civic Center.
  • Mike Heinen: American professional golfer who has played on the PGA Tour and the Nationwide Tour. Former winner of the PGA Shell Houston Open.
  • Bob Hilton: was the host of the game show Truth or Consequences and numerous other game shows of the past. He appeared briefly as the announcer for The Price is Right. He began his career at KPLC TV.
  • Sam Houston Jones: was born in Merryville, Louisianamarker in 1897. He served as Assistant Parish Prosecutor in Lake Charles for nine years before defeating the Long dynasty, becoming Governor of Louisiana in 1940. Jones died on February 8, 1978, in Lake Charles, where he is buried at Prien Pines Cemetery.
  • Claude Kirkpatrick (1917-1997): grew up in Lake Charles and graduated from Lake Charles High School; he was later a state representative from Jefferson Davis Parish (1952-1960) and director of the Louisiana Department of Public Works, through which capacity he worked to establish Toledo Bend Reservoirmarker.
  • Jesse Knowles: was a businessman, civic leader, state legislator representing Calcasieu Parishmarker, and survivor of the World War II Bataan Death March.
  • Tony Kushner: Pulitzer prize winning playwright.
  • Zachary Levi: actor, best known as the title character in the NBC series Chuck born September 29, 1980 in Lake Charles.
  • Nellie Lutcher: was a jazz singer who gained some national popularity in the late 1940s and 1950s. At one point she recorded for Capital Records.
  • Robert Marciano: a weather anchor for CNN, was the morning and chief meteorologist at KPLC TV in Lake Charles during the mid 1990's.
  • Charles "Cotton" Nash: was the first Kentuckymarker basketball player to average twenty points in three straight seasons. In 1967 and 1968 he was in the pros.
  • Van Dyke Parks: Mississippi-born composer, singer, musician, and actor, reared in Lake Charles
  • Isaac Ryan: lost his life as one of the defenders of the Alamo.
  • Eddie Shuler: was the founder of Goldband Records and a legend in the South for recording swamp pop, cajun, and other genres of music. Dolly Parton at the age of 13, recorded her first single at Goldband Studios. Rockin' Sidney, Jo-El Sonnier, Freddy Fender, Phil Phillips and many others have passed through the doors of the little studio on Church Street.
  • Victor T. "Vic" Stelly (born 1941), former state representative and author of the Stelly Plan
  • James E. Sudduth (1917-1995), former mayor of Lake Charles (1965-1973; 1989-1993); Sudduth was one of the most successful mayors the city ever had. He was responsible for building the Civic Center on what was the lake, by building it on landfill. He also was primarily responsible for planning and building I-210, the "Lake Charles Loop". Sudduth Coliseum is named for him.
  • Joe Gray Taylor: was a distinguished historian of Louisiana and the American South and a professor and graduate school dean at McNeese State University.
  • David William Thomas: (1876-1961) was a teacher and school principal in Lake Charles late in the 19th Century. He was later an attorney and the mayor of Mindenmarker, the seat of Webster Parish.
  • Justin Vincent: alumnus of Alfred M. Barbe High School, plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers
  • George H. Wells: (1833-1905) was a Northern-born Confederate States of America officer who practiced law in Lake Charles and served in the Louisiana State Senate from 1878 to 1880.
  • Singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams: was born in Lake Charles and recorded the song "Lake Charles" about Clyde Woodward, a boyfriend of hers born in Nacogdoches, Texasmarker, who nevertheless told everybody that he was from Lake Charles.
  • Ted Williams: a Fox News contributor and a criminal defense attorney, was born in Lake Charles.
  • Henry L. Yelverton: (1928-2009) was from 1971-2003 a district and appellate judge based in Lake Charles.
  • "Mighty" Mike White (born 1976), bull rider who currently rides for the PBR (he was the 1999 PBR Rookie of the Year, as well as the 1999 PRCA World Champion bull rider), was born and raised in Lake Charles; White currently resides in De Kalb, Texasmarker.
  • Ron Miller, a Maryland conservative political activist and former Bush Administration official, was born in Lake Charles on August 11, 1959.

Cultural references

  • Setting and title of a song by Lucinda Williams about a fatal car crash.
  • Mentioned in the lyrics of the song Continental Trailways Blues by Steve Earle.
  • Mentioned in the lyrics of the song Up on Cripple Creek by The Band:

Sister cities

Lake Charles is a sister city of:


  • 2002 - Blue Vinyl (dir. Daniel B. Gold and Judith Helfand)
  • 2006 - Mercy Directed by Patrick Roddy. Ex con John Mercy finds the transition from prison life is not easy. As John begins to settle into his new life on the outside, a mysterious woman starts to follow him and finds her way into his dreams, creating nightmares with devastating consequences that threatens his parole, sanity and dream for a new start.
  • 2009 - Good Boy Directed by Patrick Roddy, written by Ken Henderson of Moss Bluff, LA. Good Boy is about a young man in a dead end job, who steals from his employer and hits the road for a new life. His journey to freedom is derailed by a mysterious, sadistic killer and his human pets

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