JENNINGS, is a small town of approximately 11,400 located on Interstate 10 about halfway between two major cities in Louisiana, Lafayette and Lake Charles. It is also halfway between Houston Texas and New Orleans Louisiana. Jennings is the seat of Jefferson Davis Parish (Louisiana has parishes rather than counties).
JENNINGS celebrated its first century in 1988. The town was named for a railroad contractor, Jennings McComb. When the railroad came through this section in 1880, McComb erected most of the depots, so railroad officials honored him by giving his first name to the unpopulated area around one of the depots. The blank spot on the prairie began to attract settlers, mostly from the Midwest. They planted crops they had raised in their home states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. They also began to experiment with rice-farming techniques. By 1894 more than a thousand acres of rice grew on the Cajun prairie surrounding Jennings.
JENNINGS is known as the ” Cradle of Louisiana Oil”. Oil history in Louisiana began on September 21, 1901, when the state’s first oil well, located in the Jennings Field was brought in. Gas seepages in the area had been observed since the early days. A quintet of men from Jennings, after securing enough leases and free sale of simple tracts of land to justify development, presented the proposition to W. Scott Heywood, who was then on his way to fame as an oil operator. Heywood organized the Jennings Oil Company and started the first well. When drilling for his first well, a depth of 1,000 feet was reached without discovery. The situation looked discouraging, but the men had faith in the project and drilling was continued. Oilsand was encountered at 1,700 feet. After the drillers penetrated 110 feet of very prolific oilsand, the well came in pumping at a rate of 7,000 barrels per day.
Jeff Davis Parish boasts over 356,328 acres of developed farmland. These lands bring in an annual crop valued at $55,330,000 including $20,160,00 in soybeans and $29,342,00 in rice. Other commodities include high quality cattle, oats, milo (grain sorghum), corn and wheat. Hundreds of wells, in addition to numerous streams and a network of canals supply the fresh water, which assures an unfailing crop of rice. Many farmers enlist the facilities of the Jennings Airport to plant and fertilize their rice by air.
The diversity of the people and the communities that surround Jennings combine to form something for everyone. The area offers excellent Cajun cuisine, local music, a world-renowned fine arts museum, a turn-of-the-century general store museum and a museum dedicated to the history of the telephone. Also, a wide range of antique and gift shops, historic homes and buildings, scenic wetland and byways, parks, majestic live oak and cypress groves, outdoor recreation including boating, hunting and fishing.
From the native American Indians to the Cajun and Creole French, African American and the mid-western settlers brought in by the railroad industry, Jennings and the surrounding area has a taste of everything. Aspects of all of these influences are evident in today’s communities across the area and the blend has resulted in a pride and hospitality uniquely ours.