|La Réunion, Texas|
|Founded by||Belgian, French, Swiss Colonists|
|Elevation||429 ft (131 m)|
|Time zone||CST (UTC-6)|
|GNIS feature ID||2034083|
La Réunion was a utopian socialist community formed in 1855 by French, Belgian, and Swiss colonists on the south bank of the Trinity River in central Dallas County, Texas (US). The colony site is a short distance north of Interstate 30 near downtown Dallas. The founder of the community, Victor Prosper Considerant, was a French democratic socialist who directed an international movement based on Fourierism, a set of economic, political, and social beliefs advocated by French philosopher François Marie Charles Fourier. Fourierism subsequently became known as a form of utopian socialism.
Initially, plans for the colony were loosely structured by design as it was Considerant's intent to make it a "communal experiment administered by a system of direct democracy." The crux of the plan was to allow participants to share in profits derived from capital investments and the amount and quality of labor performed. La Réunion existed for only eighteen months with its demise attributable to financial insolvency, a shortage of skilled participants, inclement weather, inability to succeed at farming, and rising costs. On January 28, 1857, Allyre Bureau, one of the society leaders, gave formal notice of the colony's dissolution. By 1860, what remained was incorporated into the expanding city of Dallas.
The founders of La Réunion intended it to become a socialist utopian colony; they were inspired by the writings of the French philosopher Charles Fourier, who advocated communal production and distribution for communal profit. Unlike other early communist systems, both men and women could vote and individuals could own private property.
La Réunion was founded in Texas by Victor Prosper Considerant, a member of the Fourier movement in Lyon, France. He had been forced into exile after staging protests against Napoléon III's military expedition to Rome. After personally inspecting an area near the three forks of the Trinity River in Texas, he returned to Europe where he formed a group of future settlers. (The site of the community was in the present-day Reunion District of Dallas, about three miles west of the Reunion Tower.)
Advance agent François Cantagrel was sent ahead to buy 2 acres (8,100 m2) at $700 per acre to establish the location of the colony. As the land was not good for farming, the property was a poor choice for the intended colony, although most of the would-be colonists were not farmers. Approximately 200 colonists arrived by ship near present-day Houston. They walked overland to the site of their new colony approximately 250 miles (400 km) northward, with their possessions hauled by ox carts, and arrived on April 22, 1855.
The general area surrounding the three forks of the Trinity River had about 400 inhabitants at the time. The addition of the French colonists nearly doubled the population. The new arrivals spoke a different language from the settlers, believed in a different system of government and Catholic faith, and brought with them skills that the existing farmers did not possess. The watchmaking, weaving, brewing and storekeeping skills of the new colonists were ill-suited to the establishment of a colony, because they lacked the ability to produce food for themselves.
Although the colonists cultivated wheat and vegetables, they did not produce enough for their needs or in time; their biggest handicap was the uncooperative weather of Texas. A blizzard in May 1856 destroyed the colony's crops and turned the Trinity River into a sheet of ice. That summer the Texas heat created drought conditions, and what was left of the crops became a feast for an invasion of grasshoppers.
Although more than 350 European colonists eventually made La Réunion their home, the experiment was already beginning to fail as the population began to leave. Some returned to Europe while others moved out of the area. In 1860 the nearby emerging town of Dallas incorporated La Réunion into its land area; the remaining skilled colonists were absorbed into its specialized workers.[clarification needed]
Eventually what had been cultivated as farmland at La Réunion was discovered to be covering large deposits of limestone; it was gradually quarried and transported to build the growing state of Texas.
The cemetery on the old colony site still serves as the final resting place for some of the colonists. It is maintained by the City of Dallas and is located just off Fish Trap Road between Singleton Blvd and the Trinity River in west Dallas. The La Réunion Cemetery received a historic marker in 1974.
The last La Réunion house collapsed in the 1930s, and its ruins are now obscured by thick vegetation. Reunion Tower, a Dallas landmark, was named after the colony and is located a few miles east of where La Réunion once existed.
Shortly before the demise of La Réunion, botanist and pharmacist Jacob Boll arrived and taught Julien Reverchon. The latter man became celebrated in his own right as a professor of botany at Baylor University College of Medicine and Pharmacy in Dallas. The first brewery and butcher shops in Dallas were established by former colonists from La Réunion; Maxime Guillot opened a carriage factory that operated for 50 years.