By Herb Sparrow
In the 1830s, a massive logjam clogged the Red River for more than 165 miles in northwestern Louisiana. Henry Miller Shreve, a boat captain, cleared the jam and opened the river to trade and traffic. Shreveport, the town that formed along the banks of the river and became a major commercial center for the area’s agriculture, lumber, manufacturing and oil industries, was named for him.
Across the river, Bossier City began as a small trading post in the 1840s and became a major military player in the 1930s with the location there of Barksdale Air Force Base, one of the world’s largest airfields at the time.
Today, the Red River is still a key player for the two neighboring cities and has been a focal point for development over the past decade and a half.
Five riverboat casinos are major tourism draws; entertainment, shopping and dining complexes along the river — the Red River District in Shreveport and the Louisiana Boardwalk in Bossier City —anchor both downtowns.
“Louisiana Boardwalk is literally like walking through a little village of shops,” said Sarah McKinney, communications coordinator for the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau. “It’s right on the riverfront, nestled in between the Texas Street Bridge and the interstate bridge over the Red River.”
The Red River District, which has several restaurants and clubs, has become a center of bustling nightlife and festivals such as the Red River Revel Art Festival in October.
Also along the river in Shreveport are the Barnwell Garden and Art Center, the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway Regional Visitor Center and Sci-Port Discovery Center.
The Texas Street Bridge, which connects the two entertainment districts, has become a city icon with its neon lights and fiber-optic cables.
However, there is much more to do in the twin cities, which bill themselves as the “other side of Louisiana.”
“People are always surprised that there are so many things to do here,” said Jan Pettiet, a step-on guide who has been narrating group tours in Shreveport for more than 10 years.
One of the most iconic places and one of the most popular group stops is Municipal Auditorium, the 1920s Art Deco theater that is famous for being where Elvis Presley got his start on the radio program “Louisiana Hayride” in 1954.
“It’s where the term ‘Elvis has left the building’ was coined,” said McKinney. “Walking in that place is an experience in and of itself. The architecture is incredible, and then you stand on the spot where Elvis got his start and see the dressing room where he sat.”
“You also get to hear an audio of Elvis the first night he performed on the ‘Louisiana Hayride,’” said Teresa Micheels of the Friends of the Municipal, which gives tours of the auditorium.