Edward Wisner (1861-1915) is described in The Wisners in America as the “father of reclamation” due to his success in draining swampland in Louisiana.
For a number of years Edward Wisner was an editor and banker at Athens, Mich. Because of ill health he was compelled to give up those activities. So he travelled extensively in the South, locating finally in North Louisiana, where for many years he carried on land colonization and lumber selling. He also edited a newspaper at Monroe, La. In 1900 he moved to New Orleans, and he and his associates acquired more than a million acres of swamp lands in the delta of the Mississippi, largely lands west of that city.The book quotes from “his close friend and associate, Judge R.E. Milling,” who spoke in 1917 at the unveiling of a fountain in honor of Edward Wisner:
“About twenty years ago a passenger on one of the Southern Pacific trains was standing on the platform of the rear car observing the country, and after having passed through miles of the low-lying prairie of St. Charles and Lefourche Parishes, inquired of someone standing near why such lands were not in cultivation. The person addressed happened to be a native — yes, not only a native, but one of that knowing kind who especially knew all about those lands, and he proceeded to enlighten the stranger to the effect that what appeared to be land was not real, but what was known as trembling prairie, formed by decayed vegetable matter, upon lakes that existed in the country, that what he saw was a mere coating and underneath was water of great depth. The passenger then asked, If such was the case, how did the railroad bed stand. He was answered that the railroad company had hauled in vast quantities of dirt and stone and built the road-bed. He remarked: ‘That is possible, but, if your statement is correct, what holds up the telephone poles? Why don’t they sink down into the great lake of which you speak?’ “Such was the introduction of Edward Wisner to the low-lying marsh or prairie lands of Southwest Louisiana. He did not accept the statement made by the native as such statements had been accepted by hundreds of other persons making such inquiries, but he returned and investigated, and upon investigation he found that what was presumed to be water underneath was blue clay which was rendered almost liquid by the amount of water it contained. Making this discovery, he at once saw the possibilities of the development of these lands.”