Unnamed during the colonial period, Alexandria's beginnings as the major city in central Louisiana are traced to ca. 1797, when the "seat of justice" for Rapides Post was transferred from the north to the south bank of Red River. By 1799, the greater percentage of the population was located here. Growth was rapid, spurred by the introduction of the cotton gin in 1800, by Alexander Fulton. within two years, Fulton had begun clearing land, opening roads and, in 1805, Frederick Walther, Fulton's surveyor, laid out the "Town of Alexandria". The plat contained eighty square blocks between present-day Jackson Street, Tenth Street, Overton Street and the river, surrounding a public square. Tradition holds that the town's name honored a young Fulton daughter. following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, Alexandria became the seat of justice when an act creating Rapides County became law on April 10, 1805. Trade, business and agriculture gained greatly with the advent of steamboat service. In late December, 1814, the first steamboat, Enterprise, captained by Henry Miller Shreve, docked at Alexandria.
In 1818, the State Legislature granted Alexandria a charter. Because of the rapids immediately to the north, the town was the head of navigation for Red River from July to January. This created growth as a shipping point, with such institutions as newspapers (1810), semi-public schools (1818), banks (1823) and libraries (1824), being founded. (See other side)
(Continued from other side)
During the decades preceding the Civil War, Alexandria became the most important trade and social center for the plantation system in Central Louisiana. As a result of agricultural activity, the first railroad west of the Mississippi was constructed in 1837, by Ralph Smith-Smith with the depot located at Courthouse Square.
Alexandria was the focus of military activity in Louisiana during the last two years of the Civil War. The town was designated Headquarters for the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department by orders of Lieutenant General E. Kirby Smith on March 7, 1863. Two months later, Alexandria was briefly occupied by a raiding Union force under the command of General Nathaniel P. Banks supported by naval forces under Admiral David D. Porter.
A second invasion of the Red River valley in April, 1864, by the Union under the same officers was repelled by Confederate forces under the command of General Richard Taylor. In their retreat, Union troops burned Alexandria, destroying all courthouse and municipal records; the date was Friday, May 13, 1864.