Vetville: Tech’s housing for returning vets

Photo caption:  1950 aerial view shows Reese Hall, Tech’s main agriculture and forestry building, surrounded by Vetville living quarters. [Inset] R. G. Russell, Jr., Vetville’s student mayor.

By Wesley Harris  

When World War II ended in 1945, millions of American troops were released from service. Some returned to previous jobs or the family farm. Others pursued dreams of going to college. Even in those days, affording college could be a challenge, especially to a returning serviceman with a new bride, maybe a child, no job, and little savings.

The G.I. Bill provided money for veterans to go to college, giving rise to a sharp increase in admissions all over the country. Due to the substantial increase in enrollment after World War II, Louisiana Tech experienced a building boom from 1945 to 1955 to accommodate new students.

Married students could not live in the dorms, and Ruston rental homes or apartments were often unavailable or too expensive. Tech built “Vetville”—emergency housing for veterans—on the southern campus so student vets and their families would have a place to live. 

Vetville for married GIs began in March 1946 with 25 housing units constructed by Ruston’s T. L. James & Company. Single veterans were housed in what became known as South Hall on the main campus, the current home of the Tech Police Department. South Hall started as a military-like barrack in 1947 with metal siding and hinged flaps over what eventually became glass windows. Another barrack now houses the Engineering Annex across from Bogard Hall. 

In 1947, wives established a nursery at Vetville and rotated duties—an early version of “Mother’s Day Out.” Ruston’s American Legion post, a service organization composed of veterans, contributed funds to equip the nursery.

While under regulations governing all students, Vetville also possessed its own student government structure and rules. Lee Brown of Shreveport served as the first “student mayor.” Each of Vetville’s seven districts was represented by a member on the Vetville student council. 

The need for housing continued to grow and the Defense Department provided 138 additional apartments. After declared surplus on regional military bases, the buildings were transported to Ruston and re-erected at Tech.

In 1950, Vetville residents elected as their mayor R. G. (Bo) Russell, Jr. of Winnsboro. Russell had served three years in the Coast Guard. That early leadership role as Vetville’s mayor was important enough for his family to include it in Russell’s obituary when he died in 2004. 

By 1950, with a decrease in the enrollment of ex-service men at the college, some non-veteran families moved into Vetville to keep the area’s population at capacity. A few faculty members lived in Vetville temporarily, especially those needing an immediate place to stay until roomier accommodations could be found.

Reg Cassibry has fond memories of living at Vetville as a child.

“We moved to Ruston in about 1949 or 50 when my dad joined the Physical Education Department at Tech and as an assistant to the football team,” Cassibry recalls. “Vetville had a section for Tech faculty members that had larger rooms than the other apartments; nevertheless, the rooms of our apartment were very small.”  

The lull in veteran enrollments was temporary as men coming home from the Korean Conflict and large bases in Germany increased demand for veteran housing.

Vetville’s 162 apartments were full in the fall of 1951. By that time Vetville consisted of 25 huts, 24 duplex buildings, four two-story buildings and 65 two-bedroom apartments. Rent ranged from $20 to $23 per month. At that time, the residents included new veterans still eligible for college training under the G.I. Bill, old veterans returning from summer vacations, recently married veterans, six faculty members and their families, and a small group of non-veterans who had received permission to occupy an apartment. 

Vetville residents made use of a store selling Tech Farm products. Cassibry recalls, “My mother sent me to that store to buy things such as eggs and milk. On one occasion, leaving the store, I broke all the eggs trying to stop my dog from fighting with another dog. I worried about having to go home and tell my mother I broke all the eggs after she had cautioned me to be careful. The guy running the store saw what happened, and he replaced the eggs. I have always remembered his kindness, and I wish I could remember his name…”

To obtain mail delivery at Vetville, Tech named the streets around Reese Hall and the housing complex to provide addresses to the post office in 1955. The names include Agriculture Drive, Peach Street. Forestry Drive. Reese Circle, Village Circle, Ben Smith Road, and Park Street. Delivery of mail to the 132 residents of Vetville alleviated crowding at Tech Station, the post office on the main campus.

Vetville’s playground encompassed the vastness of Tech Farm. “My memories of life at Vetville are good as there were lots of other kids to play with and a large area where we could roam and play,” Cassibry says. “Our neighborhood baseball field was just across the road from our apartment.”   

Parents worried about nearby hazards, especially U. S. Highway 80 bordering the north side of Vetville. When Cassibry lived there in the early 1950s, Interstate 20 did not exist, so U.S. 80 served as the major thoroughfare across the southern United States. At the time, at least 15 service stations lined U.S. 80 through downtown Ruston to accommodate the traffic.

“The busy highway was a source of concern for parents who thought their children might wander in that direction,” Cassibry says. The Tech Forestry program’s sawmill behind Reese Hall was another danger zone that drew Cassibry’s attention. “There was a sawmill at the north edge which was supposed to be out of bounds for kids, but I found it so fascinating that I found myself in trouble several times for getting too close.”

After three or four years at Vetville, the Cassibrys built a house near campus on Cooktown Road. “I was sorry to leave Vetville and my friends there,” Cassibry remembers.

In the 1960s, five more duplex buildings for married students were constructed at Vetville facing U. S. Highway 80.

In 1966 Lincoln Builders built new apartments for married students along Tech Farm Road to replace some of the World War II surplus buildings. Six buildings each housed seven two-bedroom apartments. Each apartment consisted of combination kitchen, living and dining rooms, two bedrooms, and a bath. The one-story buildings were constructed two abreast and three deep with brick veneer and central heating. An eight-inch brick wall extending to the roofs separated the apartments in each building. 

Over time, more Vetville housing was demolished as their need diminished. Even the last buildings erected on Tech Farm Road were demolished about 2010. The duplexes along U.S. 80 next to the Tech Farm Store are the only Vetville buildings remaining. Today they are used as science labs and for storage.

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