CLAIBORNE PARISH, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — Driving across north Louisiana on U. S. 80 in 1930, tourists using the official state highway map saw a spot marked the “highest point” in the state.
If they were tempted to check it out, they wouldn’t have turned south at Arcadia toward Driskill Mountain. Instead, they would have followed the map and ended up in Claiborne Parish, in a little place called Athens.
While Driskill Mountain in Bienville Parish is now the undisputed highest point in Louisiana, well up into the 20th century that honor was claimed by various sites across the northern reaches of the state.
The old state highway map seemed to provide official recognition of the Claiborne Parish site as the highest. A Shreveport Times article of the same year supported the position, too, declaring: “Old Athens, two miles west of the present location, is said to be the highest point in Louisiana.” The map listed the point near Athens at 469 feet, but a number of websites on America’s high points refer to a 505-foot “mountain” on Fire Tower Road north of the original site of Athens.
An 1887 article in the New Orleans Times-Democrat noted the center of Claiborne Parish was the “highest land in Louisiana, averaging over 250 feet above the Gulf, and rising in some places over 600 feet.” While “600 feet” was a bit of an exaggeration, the terrain across the center of Claiborne Parish is among the most uneven in the state.
In 1904, the Times-Democrat answered a reader’s question about the matter and tried to settle the debate by printing Mansfield’s 321 feet as the highest.
Mansfield promoted itself in a 1923 Shreveport Journal, touting its schools, churches, railroads and overall location on the Jefferson Highway were upon the “highest point in elevation in Louisiana.”
Peddling elevation as a selling point found its way into newspaper advertisements. In 1921, the Alexandria Town Talk ran an ad for St. Vincent’s College in Shreveport. The ad for St. Vincent’s made claim to the elevated title, too, stating, “Situated on the highest point of Louisiana amidst stately trees, its location is, undoubtedly, the finest in the state.”
When the Hotel Elgin reopened in Haynesville in 1922, its ad in the Shreveport Times began, “By survey, located on the highest point in the State of Louisiana.”
By the late 1930s, Driskill Mountain was mentioned more often but not named exclusively as the highest point. A note in the Abbeville newspaper in 1937 erred in giving Driskill’s elevation as 369 feet.
In the 1920s, Tandy Giddens, a powerful Shreveport businessman, built a massive home on a high hill on U.S. 80 in Fillmore. Giddens Castle, its odd configuration of a cross between a medieval castle and an army barracks, included a museum of art, antiques, and historical objects.
The castle burned in 1936 and later Hilltop Raceway was built on the knoll, and even later, a motel and Hilltop Catfish Restaurant. Ads for the restaurant claimed patrons could “enjoy Ark-La-Tex’s finest catfish from the highest point in Louisiana.”
Apparently, the official highest point can move—the 1945 state highway map places it west of Haynesville at 400 feet, and the 1960 official map has it at Driskill Mountain. The height of mighty Driskill is lower than the lowest point in Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, and nine other states.
By the mid-1970s, the status of 535-foot Driskill Mountain as Louisiana’s highest point had been firmly established. At least that’s what the official state highway map says.
And it can’t possibly be wrong, can it?
Wesley Harris works as the parish historian for the Claiborne Parish Library in Homer, Louisiana. He researches, writes, and speaks on North Louisiana history. His specialties are Reconstruction Era crime and World War II in north Louisiana.
An author of several books and hundreds of historical articles over the past 40 years, his work has appeared in national publications such as America’s Civil War, Wild West, and others. He has spoken at numerous history conferences on a variety of topics.
Harris was the 2022 recipient of the Max Bradbury Award for the best article published annually in North Louisiana History, the journal of the North Louisiana Historical Association.
After retiring from a 43-year career in law enforcement, Harris joined the Claiborne Parish Library staff in 2020. Since then, he has written or edited five books on north Louisiana history.