Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a series about local projects spearheaded by local groups or individuals which improved or added to the quality of life in Franklin Parish. If you have a suggestion or idea on a future story e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
More than 20 years ago community leaders and volunteers banded together to create one of the most iconic sites in Franklin Parish and the region: Patriot Square and its immense 140-foot flag pole towering above Winnsboro’s skyline.
On Oct. 4, 1997, Winnsboro would take steps to eventually being named the “Stars and Stripes Capital of Louisiana” by raising a 40 foot by 75 foot American flag, the largest flag at the time in Louisiana.
La Hwy 15, passing only feet from the site, was designated Veteran’s Memorial Highway from Archibald to the foot of the Mississippi River Bridge in Vidalia.
The American flag still waves majestically over Winnsboro, a testament to the local men and women that made a dream into a reality through tireless dedication and hard work.
Patriot Square became a reality because of a vision by then Winnsboro Mayor Billy Cobb and his administration which was picked up by a swelling of community support.
“The project is symbolic of the freedom we enjoy and of the sacrifices of the veterans who fought to preserve that freedom,” Cobb said in a 1997 Sun interview. “This project is also symbolic of the cooperative effort which exists among the various civic groups, especially the DAR. People have worked really hard to make this possible and it is really satisfying to see.”
Oakley Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) was the leading civic group in the Patriot Square efforts.
Marian Johnson was chairman of the DAR “Salute to Old Glory Project.” Through largely her group’s efforts, $25,000 was raised in support of the project.
“In the five months since we started raising money for ‘Salute to Old Glory,’ we’ve raised $24,000,” Johnson told Winnsboro-Franklin Chamber of Commerce members in 1997. “It makes you realize more and more that working separately, we are very, very small, but working together in unity, we can do great things.”
Relating how the fund raising effort had developed, Johnson noted that the first money-making project was done with the help of Wal-mart Supercenter and the Winnsboro Lions Club. More than $2,000 was raised through a drawing in which a lawnmower donated by the store was given away.
“Immediately, the three banks, Franklin, Progressive and Winnsboro State, came on board with a donation of $2,500 each and the ‘Salute of Old Glory Project’ was on its way,” Johnson said. “Even Ogden Elementary School brought a plastic jar filled with pennies, nickels and dimes.”
Patriot Square’s original American flag
Dettra Flag Co., Inc. in Oaks, Penn. sewed the original flag.
Made of 200 denier nylon manufactured by DuPont under the trade name Solar Max Nylon, the flag, one of two commissioned for the project, required about four weeks of completion, involving approximately 25 hours of sewing alone.
When it was seen from the pole 150 feet above ground, the field of blue on the flag seemed to appear to be in one piece. But, Matt Conway, director of sales for Dettra Flag, said such was not the case.
“The field is pieced together,” Conway said. “We actually make that in sections. And the stripes are sewn together two at a time until 13 are in place.”
Conway, with a company that specialized in flag making, was impressed with Patriot Square’s flag.
“It’s one of the biggest we’ve ever made,” Conway said.
He told the Sun in 1997, the company had produced one which was 45 feet by 90 feet, but that one is flown by a national flag truck and raised at various ceremonies.
Winnsboro crews did much of the work for Patriot Square that people still enjoy today.
“Their pride certainly was shown in their efforts to get it done,” Cobb said in an August 1997 Winnsboro Town Council meeting.
Two hundred fifty tons of concrete were poured into a 25-foot deep hole which was centered with a pipe into which the pole will be placed.
The pole was delivered in three sections and was welded together before being stood up in one piece by a 60-ton crane.
The pole’s bottom section alone weighs eight tons. Topping the pole is a gold ball measuring 24 inches in diameter.
The crane was provided by Scott Equipment. D&H Construction hauled the crane and Havco Construction sent operators and riggers to lift the pole.
The dedication ceremony
More than 2,500 people came to the dedication ceremony including then Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster and his wife, Alice, U.S. Congressman John Cooksey and State Sen. Noble Ellington.
“I think that our governor and our congressman being here sent a message to the residents that they appreciate the sacrifices of our veterans,” Cobb said.
Along with state and national representatives, Mrs. Charles K. Kemper, then president of the National Society DAR from Washington, D.C., then LSDAR Regent Mrs. J. Pollard Sealy and DAR members from across Louisiana were in attendance.
Also attending were representatives from American Legion Posts 84 and 559, and VFW Post 3155.
Along with civic groups, University of Louisiana at Monroe band provided music and 1997 Miss Louisiana Mette Boving entertained the crowd with her rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Local soloists Debbie Finley and Tanya Riser Cobb performed “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.”
Johnson remembers the moment before the flag was unfurled.
She prayed, “God, on this calm, cool morning, please send the wind to unfurl ‘Old Glory’ and make her fly!”
Future Franklin Parish Sheriff Kevin Cobb, Kelly Martin, Donnie Johnson, past Winnsboro Superintendent Skipper Stinson and veterans hoisted “Old Glory” on the windless morning.
“Just at the right time, the whispered prayers were answered, and a breeze began to blow,” Johnson remembered. “The men who were turning the hand-crank which worked the riggings had difficulty keeping their balance and staying on the ground as “Old Glory” unfurled and billowed to the top of the 150-foot flag pole.”
For their efforts, Oakley Chapter DAR was honored with two national awards for co-sponsoring the Old Glory project: “Most Outstanding Display of Americanism” and “Most Creative Activity Honoring Our Nation’s Veterans.”
Later that year, Johnson flew to Washington D.C. to attend the 107th Continental Congress, National DAR and was presented the “Golden Key Award” by Mrs. Gloria Kemper.