History of Bernice & Farmerville, Louisiana

Written by Edna Liggin

1939

 

In the 1790s when Union Parish grew wild and was roamed by Indians (there is found today an Indian burial mound on the old Scott Hamilton place), John Honeycutt, trader and trapper, did business with the Indians from the present site of Camden, Arkansas, to Biloxi, Mississippi, and assisted the Spanish government in many ways.  In return for his services to that government, he was given extensive grants of land in Union and Ouachita parishes.  He settled in Union and there his descendants live today.

The pioneer spirit of Honeycutt induced others.  There followed the Dawkins, Carrs, Taylors, Scarboroughs, Graftons and many others from Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.  In 1839, in the region that is now Union Parish, there lived about twelve hundred free whites, planters, traders and a few professional men.

The growing population demanded action.  In 1839 Union parish was organized by Act 12 of the legislature of 1839 with not over two thousand whites, blacks and Indians in the pine-covered hills through which flowed D’Arbonne, L’Outre, Bachelor, Pierre, Cornie and Ouachita rivers. Out of the mother parish, Ouachita, had come a daughter, Union Parish.

The new parish could not exist without some form of government.  On May 16, 1839 in the house of William Wilkerson at the mouth of Bayou Cornie the first police jury met.  Mathew Wood was elected to serve as president and delegated to enter a quarter section of land for a ‘seat of justice’.

This meant organizing a parish seat, and the town site was selected near the center of the parish.  It was named Farmerville for W.W. Farmer, who became lieutenant governor of Louisiana in 1850.  Farmer died in 1853 of yellow fever at New Orleans, but the legislature removed his body to Farmerville and erected in memory the shaft that now stands over his grave at Farmerville cemetery.

The town was incorporated in 1842, three years after its founding but records of the exact dates and names of the officials have been lost.  Today the population of the town is 1,500 [1939] more than the entire population of the parish a hundred years ago.

There are four institutions in Farmerville that occupy their original building sites.  The cemetery is located on the same plot the 1839 police jury set aside as a burying-ground; the Farmerville High School stands on the site of the ‘Union Male and Female Academy’; and the courthouse and Methodist church occupy their original sites.

In 1840 the courthouse was built, a substantial brick building with a wooden jail, escape-proof by a notably ingenious device.  The walls of the jail were nearly 3 feet thick of foot-square timbers with nearly a foot between the walls. This space between the walls was filled with heavy round timbers, stood on one end, and one story higher than the jail proper. The theory being should the prisoner cut his way through the horizontal timbers, the vertical timbers would automatically slide down and close the opening.

PARISH PROGRESSES:

From 2,000 to 22,000 population in one hundred years; from stage coaches and steamboats to two different railroad lines and paved roads; from log cabins to owners of modern small homes on farms; from trading post to modern community stores; from ill-attended country schools to five high schools and numerous grammar schools with 64 school buses. All these mark Union Parish’s century of progress.

It boasts several old communities. Ouachita City, on the Ouachita River, was among the first settlements in the southwestern part of the parish.  A trading post with just a few houses grouped around it, it was along the ‘metropolis’ for settlers of that area.  In 1840 Sam Taylor and a man named Livingston operated a store in what is now the town of Marion.  In 1842 Mr. Spears and his son started a settlement now known as Spearsville.  Many claim Shiloh, once the home of Concord Baptist Institute, and 12 miles west of Farmerville, to be the oldest community in the parish and one of the oldest in North Louisiana.

BERNICE CELEBRATES:

Long after Farmerville was settled, where Bernice now stands was only a place known as the ‘Big Woods.’  The fact it was a big wood, a railroad man deciding to bring his railroad further south, a fire at Shiloh forcing business people there to rebuild – all these gave birth to Bernice in 1899.

Capt. C.C. Henderson, pioneer railroad man and lumberman, purchased the site for his new town from Alen Lowery and Dave Cole and named the town for Lowery’s infant daughter, Bernice. He then completed his railroad, plotted off the property in lots and sold them at public auction. The town was incorporated in 1899 with Jake Cruze as first mayor.

A new town was born…the first business establishment was operated in a tent…the first purchase was a box of matches…the first store was in a box car.  Shiloh merchants came to town, Heards, Robinsons and Fullers; there followed a hardware, drugstore, bank, churches, a mill – still in operation, schools…civic clubs, doctors, post office, telephone system.

The town has over 1,200 [1939] population and is in the center of a large farm and trucking section.

PARISH OUTSTANDING:

Union Parish has furnished four governors; two to the state of Louisiana, Ruffin G. Pleasant, 1916-1920, and William Wright Heard, 1900-1904; two to the state of Arkansas, George W. Donaghey, 1908-1912, and Tom J. Terral, 1924-1926.  All four men were born and reared in Union Parish and held many public offices before being elected to serve as chief executives.

The song, “In the Gloaming” was composed at Marion, Union Parish, by Anna Portesque Harrison in 1850, living in what is now known as the Mrs. Alice Hopkins’ home.  Miss Harrison had come to Marion as a musical instructor, only 18 at the time, and midst the prewar romantic South, fell in love with a young man named Miles Goldsby.  The love affair was tragic and Miss Harrison went back to New Orleans where she soon published the now famous song.

Union Parish, once a part of Ouachita Parish, named for the Ouachita Indians, was settled by immigrants from Alabama and Georgia.  John Honeycutt, who settled here in 1790, was the first known settler.  In May, 1839, the first police jury was formed and the town of Farmerville was named.

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