Cheré Dastugue Coen
The Louisiana town that moved to Arizona
Excerpted from "Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History" by Cheré Coen
William M. Cady and his Cady Lumber Company established two mills at McNary, Louisiana, a town 25 miles southwest of Alexandria that was chartered in 1913. In the mills’ heyday, McNary had a population of nearly 3,000 residents with a church, school, post office, fully-staffed hospital, swimming pool, depot and a large theater.
In 1923, however, Cady decided to move his operation to Cooley, Arizona, a small Native American village about 150 miles from Flagstaff named for Colonel Corridon Cooley, head of the Apache scouts. The Cady Lumber Company — comprised of William M. Cady, Alfred Smith and James McNary — purchased the Apache Lumber Company, its Ponderosa Pine timber leases, the accompanying Apache Railway and sawmill.
But Cady didn’t just take the business to Arizona, he took the whole town of McNary with him. In January 1924, Cady loaded up trains with Cady employees and all their possessions, plus the logging and sawmill machinery, and moved the entire operation to Cooley, Arizona.
“The tragedy of the timberland was symbolized Monday when the last of McNary, Louisiana, moved away in a twenty-one coach train bound for the new village of McNary, Arizona,” wrote Clare D’Artois Leper in “Louisiana Place Names: Popular, Unusual, and Forgotten Stories of Towns, Cities, Plantations, Bayous and Even Some Cemeteries,” quoting a story from the October 1924 American Forests and Forest Life magazine. “As the forests became denuded of pines, the employers of the village began looking about for a new site. They found it in Arizona.”
Because Cady had built a name for himself at McNary, Louisiana, the town of Cooley was later changed to McNary, Arizona.
“Most of the Central Louisianans who went to Arizona with the Cady Lumber Company stayed in their newfound McNary for at least seven years,” said Mrs. N.H. Goff of Alexandria who was raised in McNary and traveled to Arizona with most of her family. She was quoted in Jim Hammock’s Alexandria Town Talk newspaper column of July 16, 1967. “They then began drifting to other points in the West, and many returned to Central Louisiana.” Goff added that the cold weather may have contributed to their return.
Local Native Americans were hired as well, Goff said, but preferred their native housing and moved out.
NOTE: A reader offered a link from Blackpast.org that states that McNary incorporated many African Americans in his new venture. Reposted here from Blackpast.org:
“In his memoirs, James McNary wrote that 'Cady could not visualize a lumber operation without the employment of black labor, and he decided to import about 500 of experienced and faithful [black Louisiana] employees to Arizona.' By 1924, the 'promise of steady work, good living conditions, and great weather' lured seven hundred hopeful black migrants to McNary, Arizona from Louisiana. McNary quickly emerged with a 'Negro' quarter and a Spanish-American quarter, each of which had its own elementary school, church, and café. Black families lived in an area referred to as 'The Hill.' There was also a small Navajo community in McNary, and an Apache community just west of the city. McNary became known for its diversity and relatively composed race relations. A fire destroyed the lumber mill in 1979. Many of the city’s black residents relocated, and by 1990 there were about twelve black families living on 'The Hill.' "
The abandonment of its industry and people failed to make McNary, Louisiana, a ghost town but it struggled to survive. In 1929, its charter became inactive. The community of several hundred residents petitioned the state to have its charter revived and the town was reestablished in 1965. Today, several of the original mill townhouses remain and remnants of the drying kilns used at both mills can be spotted in the countryside on the outskirts of town.
Not too long after McNary moved to Arizona, John D. Clark and Charles Linze McNary — no relation to the town — authored the Clarke-McNary Act of 1924 to authorize the government to buy “cut-over” timberland, or land stripped of its trees. Since an enabling act in Louisiana prevented such acquisitions within the state, Alexandria naturalist Caroline Dorman wrote legislation that was passed in Baton Rouge with lumberman Henry Hardtner’s assistance to preserve forests in central Louisiana. In 1928 the Kisatchie, Catahoula and Vernon units of the Kisatchie National Forest were established with more acreage bought at later dates.