In 1843 Tensas Parish is created with St. Joseph as the parish seat. Rare example, for deep south, of a town planned and constructed around New England style village green. Historic district is listed on National Register of Historic Places.
Settlements began to take hold during the late 18th century. The towns of Newellton, St. Joseph and Waterproof grew up as centers of the large plantation system. Many pioneers who came down the river or ferried across from Mississippi decided they liked the fertile land in the area, rather than the promise of Texas. The area became a parish when it was carved from the northern half of Concordia Parish on April 6, 1843. The parish became prime agricultural land, but because of the capricious nature of the river, many planters lived on the higher ground across the river . Those who did live on the Louisiana side buried their dead in Mississippi. To this day there are no community cemeteries in St. Joseph and Waterproof. Periodically the river overflowed its banks, broke through the levees, and devastated the countryside. The planters also learned how to benefit from the annual disaster. Each flood deposited on the land a new layer of fertile topsoil. Levee breaks usually happened in the spring and as a rule the flood waters ran off and the ground dried up before planting time, allowing the farmer to get his seeds down in the softened earth in time to make a crop. Also, cypress logs could be snagged from the river and floated into Lake St. Joseph to the sawmills along its shores. The cut lumber went into the construction of plantation homes, slave cabins and farm buildings.
Because many of the landowners lived across the river in Mississippi, Tensas is not noted for palatial plantation mansions. Those who did live on their Tensas land constructed sturdy homes in the raised cottage style, houses designed to withstand the fury of the rivers at flood- time. Even so, some of Tensas's antebellum homes fit the picture of the fabled mansions of the South: they were two or three stories high, were filled with fine furniture and fine art, and were surrounded by well-tended gardens of flowers, shrubbery, and trees.
Many of the parish's plantation homes were burned by Union soldiers during the Civil War. The few that survive are treasured relics of the past, giving testimony of the days when Tensas was indeed king of LouisianaĖs cotton kingdom.
In the 20th century the economy of Tensas parish, though still principally agricultural, has diversified. Oil was discovered in the 1940s, lumber has been discovered to be a valuable and renewable natural resource, and livestock has thrived as the amount of pasture land has increased.