The city and community of DeRidder owe everything to Arthur Stilwell.
Stilwell was born in Rochester, New York on October 21, 1859. Had it not been for his vision of a railway system connecting Kansas City, Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico, DeRidder, Louisiana would not exist as it is today. Stilwell was aggressive, intelligent, and a clear thinker. Let's visit his energy and vision for a few minutes-- Stilwell began his adulthood by entering into the world of insurance. Travelers Insurance hired the young man as a traveling agent for insurance as well as real estate endeavors. Stilwell had an entrepreneur's desire to construct a major railway. In his youth, railroading was growing as a modern means of travel across the United States. Stilwell also envisioned the financial profit of such means. In the years to come, this New York native demonstrated his innovative thinking. Traveling to England first, the rail dreamer could not find financing available for his railroad plans. Next Stilwell travelled to Amsterdam, Netherlands. While there he remembered the name Jan DeGoeijan, a coffee merchant he had met previously. While sitting in DeGoeijan's coffee shop, Stilwell met his "bag man." Jan was able to help raise $3 million for a future railroad in America. To show his appreciation, Stilwell allowed his Amsterdam friend to name many of the new towns along the railway route. It is reported that DeGoeijan named somewhere around 40 locations. A few of the towns include-- DeQueen and Mena, Arkansas; DeQuincy, Louisiana; Port Arthur, Texas; and Stilwell, Oklahoma. The naming of DeRidder makes this writer think of an old country saying that means "to take a long meandering route-- Stilwell and DeGoeijan "went around Laura's house" before the City of DeRidder received its moniker. DeGoeijan had married a lady named Mena Janssen. Mena had a brother, August Janssen, who married a beautiful young lady, Ella DeRidder. Ella's last name DeRidder was derived from a Dutch word, meaning "the knight." Thus, the town fifty miles north of Lake Charles was named DeRidder. "A knight on the railroad" between Kansas City and the Gulf. Now you know why I state, "no Stilwell - no DeRidder." I personally advocate that the City of DeRidder has not done enough to honor the native of New York. Contrary to his seeming trajectory toward success, Stilwell ended up living in poverty. Most of his finances dried up and his wife later committed suicide. Yet, his brilliant plans served as footprints for many miles on the Kansas City Southern (KCS) Railway, creating a chain reaction of results which would affect many communities to come, including DeRidder. The towns surrounding DeRidder produced sawmills where nearby timber was cut and processed via the Hudson River Lumber Company. The lumber was sold and shipped, on the KCS (Stilwell's dream), ironically, to places like New York, coming full circle to his home state. Some of these New York buildings constructed of "DeRidder" lumber, are still standing today. Stilwell eventually died at age 69 in 1928.