Newellton is a town in northern Tensas Parish in the northeastern part of the U.S. state of Louisiana. The population was 1,482 at the 2000 census. Newellton is 65 percent African American. It is just west of the Mississippi River on Lake St. Joseph, an ox-bow lake. Further south toward St. Joseph is Lake Bruin, another ox-bow lake, a part of which is the popular Lake Bruin State Park.
The African American trombonist Leon "Pee Wee" Whittaker was born near Newellton. Whittaker is among the honorees of the Delta Music Museum in Ferriday in Concordia Parish. His career took him as far as Canada and Great Britain as well as all along the Mississippi River delta country.
The French explorer La Salle passed through the Newellton area in 1682 as he followed the Mississippi River to its mouth near the future New Orleans. Newellton itself was founded in the early 19th century by the Routh family, for whom the former Routhwood Elementary School was named. John David Stokes Newell, Sr. (1837-1899), a planter and lawyer in St. Joseph, the seat of Tensas Parish, named the settlement for his father, Edward D. Newell (1810-1888), a native of North Carolina who relocated to Tensas Parish in 1834.
John Newell was a Confederate veteran who joined the Tensas Cavalry and fought in 1862 in both Shiloh, Tennessee, and Corinth, Mississippi. In 1864, he married Nannie Newell, a first cousin, and they had four sons. After the Civil War, he returned to cotton planting on the Cypress Plantation and resumed his legal practice. He promoted public education and was named president of the Tensas Parish School Board in 1866 and again in 1892. He died in St. Joseph and is interred in Vicksburg.
Near Newellton is the restored Winter Quarters State Historic Site plantation home, where troops under Union General U.S. Grant spent the winter of 1862-1863, prior to embarking on the blockade of Vicksburg the following spring and summer.
In 1904, Newellton was designated a village. On April 4, 1951, under the Lawrason Act, it was upgraded to a town. It has a mayor, Democrat Alex Davis, five aldermen, and a police chief, Johnny Gales, also a Democrat. Davis, an African American, unseated long-term former Mayor Edwin G. Preis, Sr. in the primary held on October 7, 2000. Davis received 366 votes (56.8 percent) to Preis' 184 (28.6 percent), and F.A. "Coonie" McVay's 94 votes (14.6 percent). The clerk in 2008 is Rhonda King. There are three police officers who share one patrol car and eighteen volunteer firefighters.
Prior to 1968, each parish regardless of population had at least one member in the Louisiana House of Representatives. The last member to represent only Tensas Parish was then Democrat S. S. DeWitt (1914-1998) of Newellton and later St. Joseph. DeWitt represented Tensas Parish from 1964-1968, and then from 1968-1972, he and Lantz Womack of Winnsboro, the seat of Franklin Parish, together represented Franklin, Tensas, and Madison parishes. Womack defeated DeWitt in single-member District 20 in the 1971 party primary. DeWitt later switched to Republican affiliation.
In 1995, a Newellton pharmacist, Democrat Phil Preis, son of then Mayor Edwin G. Preis, was among sixteen gubernatorial candidates who sought to succeed Edwin Washington Edwards. He polled 133,271 (9 percent) of the votes statewide. In Tensas Parish, he received a plurality of the ballots, 1,233 votes (36.9 percent). The eventual winner of the election, Republican Murphy J. "Mike" Foster, Jr., polled only 232 votes (6.9 percent) in Tensas Parish in the primary. When Preis ran again for governor in 1999, he polled only 144 votes (4.2 percent) in his own Tensas Parish.
Newellton High School, which served grades pre-kindergarten-12, had only seventy-four students at the close of the 2005-2006 academic year. The Tensas Parish School Board first voted on May 18, 2006, by a four-to-three margin to keep Newellton High functioning for at least an additional year. Superintendent Carol Johnson had proposed that the school be closed and that all the Newellton students be bused to St. Joseph, the parish seat. Under Mrs. Johnson's proposal, high schools students would have attended John Davidson High School, which serves only grades 9-12 and also had a low enrollment.
Ultimately, it was decided to consolidate Newellton and Davidson schools into "Tensas High School" at the Davidson campus in St. Joseph. Violence broke out at the consolidated school on November 2, 2006, when fourteen male students were arrested by the office of Tensas Parish Sheriff Rickey Jones.
Newellton High lost a popular English teacher in the spring of 2006, when William R. "Randy" Achey (born 1952), a native of Virginia, died of heart failure. His memorial service was held in the school gymnasium. In addition, two science teachers announced their retirements. Mrs. Johnson said that she believes the closing of Newellton High School would improve educational quality so that the small parish could concentrate on a single high school.
Newellton High had a relatively new facility, and the board was reluctant to abandon a structure still in good condition even though the enrollment numbers could not sustain continuation. The elementary grades continued to operate on the Newellton campus.
Citing low enrollments, the school board had already closed Waterproof High School and Lisbon Elementary School, both in the economically-depressed town of Waterproof in the southern part of the parish.
There is a private school, Tensas Academy, located in St. Joseph, which has drawn from the white population of Newellton as well as other areas of the majority black parish.
Newellton High School was desegregated under federal court orders in August 1970. William E. "Bill" Vosburg (born October 13, 1940), a native of New Roads, the seat of Pointe Coupee Parish, served as principal during the early years of transition. He was only thirty years of age. He later entered business in Ruston, the seat of Lincoln Parish in north Louisiana. The superintendent at the time was Charles Ed Thompson (1932-1993), a Tensas Parish native who later accepted a position with the Louisiana Department of Education in Baton Rouge under Superintendent Louis J. Michot.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 0.9 square miles (2.3 km²), of which, 0.8 square miles (2.0 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km²) of it (12.64%) is water.
There were 536 households out of which 37.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.5% were married couples living together, 30.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.7% were non-families. 26.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.63 and the average family size was 3.19.
In the town the population was spread out with 32.0% under the age of 18, 7.8% from 18 to 24, 23.8% from 25 to 44, 19.6% from 45 to 64, and 16.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 80.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 72.0 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $17,457, and the median income for a family was $21,029. Males had a median income of $23,333 versus $14,519 for females. The per capita income for the town was $9,365. About 33.8% of families and 38.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 48.9% of those under age 18 and 31.9% of those age 65 or over.