History of Union Parish

From the D’Arbonne Cookbook

A lone pioneer, pushing westward across Alabama and Mississippi, came into the wilderness that was North Louisiana in the late 1780’s. According to the records, that man was John Honeycutt, who in 1790 was granted a tract of land in what is now Union Parish by the Spanish government, under whose dominion the state of Louisiana was at that time. Following close behind Honeycutt came a group of settlers, mainly trappers and hunters from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Tennessee. They sought out river areas and bayou lands and located their early home sites along the Bayou D’Arbonne, Corney, and De Loutre in Union Parish.

The territory of Orleans, as it was then called, was divided in 1807 into 19 parishes, with Ouachita being the most northerly. In 1839 Union Parish was created out of the northern part of Ouachita Parish. With an area of 910 square miles, Union Parish is situated in the northeastern part of the state, bounded on the north by the sate of Arkansas, on the east by the Ouachita River, on the south by Ouachita and Lincoln Parishes, and on the west by Claiborne Parish. At the time it became a parish, the population of this section was estimated at 1,800.

An act of the Louisiana Legislature on March 13, 1839, approved the creation of Union Parish, and Governor A. B. Roman appointed John Taylor as judge and William C. Carr as sheriff. The area was divided into seven wards, each of which elected a representative to form the first police jury, composed of J. N. Farmer, Jeptha Colvin, Phillip Feazel, Matthew Wood, Needham Bryan, Bridges Howard, and D.P.A. Cook. On May 16 they met at the home of William Wilkerson on Bayou Corney to lay out some form of government for the parish and elected Matthew Wood as president and Thomas Van Hook as clerk. The next day, May 17, they met again to decide the location and name of the parish seat. Some controversy arose about selecting a name for the townsite. Some wanted to name it in honor of Wood, but as he declined the honor, they named it Farmerville after a family of that name, probably Miles Farmer, local planter and elder in the Baptist Church, who had helped organize the Concord Baptist Association in 1832. He was the father of J. N. Farmer, a surveyor, justice of the peace, lawyer, and later Lieutenant-Governor of the state.

The group set about to make an organized government of what had, up to that time, been nothing but a wilderness. In one of their early meetings they appointed a committee to lay out a road from Farmerville to some point on the Ouachita River and enacted other  road measures. At their fourth meeting on June 14 they met on the site selected for the parish seat and laid out the town site, with the courthouse square plotted in the center of the town, 300 feet square. On July 16, as had been advertised in the “Ouachita Standard,” 82 lots were sold to citizens of the parish.

On September 21, the jury passed a measure providing for the erection of Union Parish’s first courthouse. Plans called for a two-storied frame structure 34 feet long by 26 feet wide, with the first floor 10 feet high and the second 7 feet, but plans were altered to make it become a brick one, somewhat larger.

First Courthouse

As no picture was available, this is an artist’s conception of the first parish courthouse, which was completed in 1842. It is described as being “36 feet by 28 feet, two stories with a third story in the attic under the cypress shingled ‘square roof’. There were four doors, one on each side of the building, thirteen windows with ‘Venetian Blinds’ or shutters…a steeple which added a touch of dignity to the structure.” The first floor was used for a courtroom and the other floors as offices.

The first police force was known as the “patrol”. Primary duties were to see that none of the Negro slaves left the plantations to which they belonged without proper passes, also that they observed curfew, which was to be at these plantations at appointed times.

The streams in Union Parish played an important part in the pioneer days, as they provided the principal means of transporting supplies, food stuffs, as well as passengers. About the first steamboat on the Bayou D’Arbonne was the “Pioneer”. This and other boats traveled between Monroe and Stein’s Bluff, a distance of 80 miles, twice a week. Large quantities of cotton were shipped, as Union Parish was primarily agricultural. With the coming of the railroad in 1904 the steamboat faded from the scene, but the memories of the accounts and legends of these boats and the men who had a part in the exciting and colorful riverboat history still lingers on. Among the last of the steamboat captains who helped retire the boats was the late Captain Oscar Baughman of Farmerville.

In the field of journalism J. M. Rabun established the first newspaper in Farmerville in 1870 entitled “Union Record”. Some have said that there was one earlier, “The Inquirer” founded in 1855, but no definite evidence can be shown. Eight years later Reverend S. C. Lee, prominent Baptist minster in Union Parish, published “The Baptist Messenger”. During that same year the “Union Record” was sold to J. E. Trimble, who changed its name to “The Gazette”. That title is still retained today. Editors for many years were the late Emmett J. Lee and Ben M. Lee, who sold the paper in 1963 to Fred and Carlton White, present editors.

The task of education was one of the important considerations for the first police jury. Soon after the parish government was set up, John H. Feazel, W. C. Carr, J. N. Farmer, and Wiley Underwood were appointed education commissioners. The Male and Female Academy was granted land not to exceed five acres in 1840 and established a school, which supposedly stood where the Farmerville High School is located. Faced with financial difficulties, this school was foreclosed in 1850, to be succeeded by the Farmerville Institute in 1859. Although the Civil War shortly caused it to close its door for the duration, it reopened after hostilities ceased. A number of academies and religious schools, sponsored mostly by the Baptists sprang up. One that was very influential in the lives of many people of that day was the Concord Institute at Shiloh, founded in 1876. One of its founders and first president of the board of trustees was Rev. John P. Everett. Most of these schools charged tuition, about five dollars a month. Besides public schools many families had private tutors for their children. The Farmerville High School was organized in 1908 and a new building was erected on the same site as the Farmerville Institute in 1909.

Wherever the early pioneers stopped, they usually established a church. Most of them were Baptists and Wesleyan Methodists. Although they had no church buildings at first, they held services out doors, in homes, at the courthouse, and in lodge halls. The Baptist were very active in organizing churches, many of which are over a hundred years old. Among them are Liberty Hill, which dates to 1820, Sardis, Concord, Shiloh and Zion Hill. Some of the earliest Baptist preachers were Samuel J. Larkin, W. B. Larkin, Sampson B. Thomas, Asa Lee, Elias George, Jesse Tubb, George Everett, W. J. Larkin, and W. Milburn. These men exerted a great influence in the lives of the early settlers.

The Methodists held services in Baptist buildings at first or in the courthouse. but in the late 1880’s built their own church. In 1875 many preachers from the Church of Christ came into Union Parish and established churches, the first ones being at Spearsville, Ward’s Chapel, and Rocky Branch. In 1954 one was organized in Farmerville. The Assembly of God Church was organized in Farmerville in 1945, to be followed by the Church of the Latter Day Saints in 1956 and by the Catholics in 1957.

Civic and fraternal organizations include the Union Fraternal Lodge No. 53, F and A Masons, organized in 1845; Evangeline Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star in 1895, succeeded by Farmerville Chapter No. 207 in 1941; the Lions Club in 1929; the Owens-Tubbs Post No. 149 of the American Legion in 1932; the  Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1955; and the Jaycee Jaynes in 1956.

From 1790 to 1966 Farmerville and Union Parish have come a long way, from a lone trapper to a population of 17,624 for the parish and 2,717 for Farmerville (1960 census). The school system is exceptionally good with each of the six high schools fully accredited. The school plants have been rebuilt in the past several years with modern improvements added each year. Diversified farming, practice of the rules of good forestry, cattle raising, the broiler industry, peach orchards, watermelons have all added to the economic progress of the area. The Monroe gas field, the Commercial Solvents plant at Sterlington, the Ora oil field have also contributed, although there is little oil activity at present. One major asset was the creation of the Union Parish Game Reserve, which offers to the sportsman 12,000 acres of controlled hunting. The reserve abounds with deer, turkey, squirrels, and almost every other type of game. Probably the greatest single factor which will promote progress unparalleled in the history of Farmerville is the completion of Lake D’Arbonne in 1963. The outlook for the future growth and development of Farmerville and Union Parish has never been brighter. Today we reap the benefits from the work and foresight of those hardy pioneers who blazed the trails and those who have continued to work for the progress and development.

Tell Us What You Think About It

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.