Old Spanish Trail and Shell Beach Drive
The beautiful lake edge street connecting the five houses on this year’s Tour is Shell Beach Drive. It has a long history of use with evidence of having been an ancient American Indian trail long before European settlement. But the heyday of its history was probably that time when Shell Beach Drive formed part of the fabled transcontinental route, the Old Spanish Trail.
The Trail was conceived in 1915 as the shortest roadway between the American South and the Pacific Ocean, routed over what would become US Highway 90 and Highway 80. Connecting San Augustine, Florida and San Diego, California, the Old Spanish Trail would pass through some of the South’s and West’s most beautiful, and most treacherous terrain including swamps, massive rivers, and in the West, canyons and deserts.
Here in Lake Charles, the route from the east passed over the broad Calcasieu prairie from Jennings. The OST aligned with the southerly transcontinental rail line and curved south and west to form Broad Street, a favored residential street for Michigan Men and other lumber barons. The route took a 90-degree left turn onto Front Street (now Lakeshore Drive), crossed the Pithon Coulee Bridge into Margaret Place (then just being developed) and skirted the lake to what was called “the Shell Beach at Walnut Grove,” where the Port of Lake Charles City Docks are now located.
The Old Spanish Trail took a right hand turn to cross the Calcasieu at the “Old Bridge”, the first vehicular bridge to connect west and east. Before the Trail, connections to Sulphur and points west had been by ferry. (The most famous being the “Hazel” which crossed from the foot of Pujo Street to Westlake several
times daily.) The Trail traveled on through Westlake, and on to Texas and the Pacific.
The Old Spanish Trail route was heavily used until mid-century Highway 90 improvements and relocation, and the Old Bridge itself was partly demolished sometime after the “new, crossed-pistol bridge” was opened in 1951. (You can still see some of the western shore arches at the end of Shell Beach Road.)
For nearly a half century, this roadway was the primary routing for commerce and transportation cross-continent along the Gulf coast and southern United States. That busy highway is now near forgotten, but the rare beauty of Shell Beach Drive remains.
Barbe Pier, located near to the intersection of Lake Street and Shell Beach Road, was a popular entertainment and recreation venue in early Lake Charles. It was located at the very end of the South Ryan streetcar line. The Pleasure Pier extended about 200 feet into the Lake and had a large pavilion-assembly building over water which allowed for dances, concerts, lectures, and vaudeville-style entertainments. Being built over the water allowed for natural cooling breezes long before air-conditioning.