SPECIAL REPORT: Rivercrest residents describe the lost paradise - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

SPECIAL REPORT: Rivercrest residents describe the lost paradise

By Jena Johnson - email

RIVERCREST, TX (KTRE) - Tucked away, down a long, winding road, a history of violence and drug abuse live where a dream deteriorated.

This is Rivercrest.

"In the beginning, they had a grocery store," said Edward McFarland, the original developer of Rivercrest. "They had a catfish café and it was well attended. Used to be 50, 75 drive out there on the weekends."

As that vision faded, reality settled in. Original developer Edward McFarland says the core of engineers miscalculated. More than 30 years later, McFarland and Rivercrest resident E.R. Brooks stand where the lake would have been.

"Since the lake never got up this far they went down to other places for their weekend homes and then a population grew at one time," McFarland said. "I think there was over 500 families living out here."

"Now, it's a lot smaller and it keeps on getting smaller," said Timothy Armstrong, a Rivercrest resident. "Sooner or later there ain't going to be nobody here."

Crime records from the Angelina County Sheriff's Office indicate troubled spots in this small community. Last year, sheriff's deputies responded to nearly 150 calls to Rivercrest ranging from domestic disturbances and sexual assault to a triple murder.

Twenty-seven of those phone calls came from inside a home where three people were gunned down.

"You're going to have a certain population that is going to go into violence, going to go into alcohol, go into drugs," Lt. Bryan Holley said. "It's unfortunate when that is a factor in their life. We're going to have some bad issues that's going to be a final outcome."

"There's a considerable bit of dope sold out there," said Glennis Linton, a Rivercrest resident. "That's one bad thing about it and the sheriff's department stays out there a considerable bit. But of course that's just routine."

"You take the crime rate out here, you got a bunch of old country people that drink, some of them smoke dope, some of them get high," Armstrong said. "I'm not scared to say it, I used to do it."

"You can't get all the community together because once you get them all together, all they want to do is drink or fight," Armstrong said.

Amid the drugs and alcohol, there are also allegations of child molestation and incest.

"There is a bunch of it here," Armstrong said. "For a small neighborhood, there is a bunch of it here."

There are only seven miles separating Lufkin from Rivercrest. Armstrong says outsiders view Rivercrest like it's a world apart.

"We're no different than they are you know," Armstrong said. "That's kind of like making me -some like white people look at black people, that's kind of like what it feels like."

On a cold, bright morning Brooks travels down streets named after Texas rivers.

"I just want to see if anything is out of the ordinary," Brooks said.

Sixteen years ago Brooks moved to Rivercrest with aspirations to mold his new neighborhood. In 1995, he helped build a sewage system and volunteer fire station. His ideas haven't gone over well with some.

"Just because my place isn't clean doesn't mean I'm a bad person," Armstrong said, yelling at Brooks.

Abandoned, dilapidated, what some would call makeshift homes line parts of the street. Overgrown brush covers a boat that never made it to the water.

"What you see that's the first thing that stick in your mind, you know that," Brooks said. "If you see something that's the picture in your mind. So we need to get out here and people need to clean up around their places so that if someone drives out here, they can say, 'well that's a pretty nice neighborhood. They keep their place clean you know.'"

But this is home. What appears to be mangled machinery and scattered trash is history to Armstrong.

"This is my father's stuff and her father's stuff," he said.

On a fixed income, hopes of new things are unreachable. And the scraps, a kind of defeatism left on the lawn. It's a reality Armstrong has come to grips with since his accident at an oil field.

"It's not as clean as I'd like it to be," Armstrong said. "I wish I had a new trailer sitting here, nice house."

But here's the thing: Rivercrest residents like Armstrong don't have to clean up their property.

"There were no deed restrictions, there was nothing," McFarland said. "In other words people bought the property and they belonged to it and they could do anything they wanted with it."

That freedom comes with a heavy price.

"The whole town thinks it's a bad place, you tell somebody in Lufkin you're from Rivercrest it's hard to get a job in Lufkin, plain and simple," Armstrong said.

"When we have a cycle like this in Rivercrest, yeah, there's always change that needs to come, but where does that change come from?" Armstrong said. "How do we get to that change? Where are the resources for such?"

"If you don't have any will power, if you'd rather lay in filth so to speak, so be it," Brooks said. "That's where you'll lay. You've got want to get up and better yourself for your children or your family or your neighbor."

"A lot of people down here want to change, but they're stuck in a rut," Armstrong said. "You know and they can't change because they're in a place where they can't change because you still got the same thing around you."

It's been more than thirty years. To the outside world it's a far cry from the original plan, but to the people who live in the river bottom this is their reality.

©2010 KTRE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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