by Bob Holeman
It’s a beautiful day for a Trade Day: a warm, blue sky over booths where local vendors hope to sell everything from jellies and candles to boots, guns and items from the barn. The smell of barbecue floats in the air. There’s an anticipation of a political presentation. The sign on the convenience store reads, “It’s not just a store, it’s Home.”
That’s the Wattsville Center. It is, in fact, more than a convenience store because owner Ken Bates continues to work to make it a gathering place for the community and a museum and archives of Old Ward 8 history. He carries the familiar corner store products but declares, “You can’t make a living on cold drinks and Honey Buns.”
It’s not that he needs to make a living from this venture. After graduating from Calvin High School in 1966, Bates matriculated to NSU for his BA in history (later a Master’s in education). He then went on to a 21-year career in the U.S. Army, followed by a second career of 20 years teaching history at Natchitoches Central High School. So why build a store with a 45-minute commute from home?
“Mainly for my love of community,” he replies. “I want to have a place where folks can feel absolutely at home so they can get together today to hash things out, solve the world’s problems then come back tomorrow and solve them all over again. I was raised right here, went to this church (Bethlehem Baptist),” as he points towards the road.
In the past there was such a community gathering place where “everybody went” in (Gertrude) Garrett’s Store but Bates explained that when she was unable to run it anymore, it closed. Bates’ action was not immediate, for it was six years after his NCHS retirement that he began this project. “I got this property from my great uncle Aura Bates. It was his place. So I had this hill and thought it would be a good place for a store. It took a year to build, completed mid-2020.”
“I’m a military and history guy,” Bates explains in reference to his archives in the corner. “I focus on everything Ward 8.” This includes military uniforms and memorabilia from locals and military binders and photos of locals. “I’m trying to keep a record of all vets from this area from the Civil War to present.” He also has materials related to Calvin High School and a collection about people, happenings and obituaries from Ward 8.
But mostly Bates sees Wattsville Center, a few miles north of Calvin on Hwy 501 at the intersection of Hwy 1232, as a gathering spot. David Hailey, sitting at a table at the front, looks up from his coffee long enough to smile and agree, “Yeah, a place where the Wattsville gang can hang out and talk.”