Written by Tuffy Fields
Farmerville is steeped in rich history. The town was first chartered in 1842. To celebrate its birthday celebrations were held at its centennial, followed up with a massive four-day celebration for its 125th anniversary and again there was a celebration for the 150th birthday.
A booklet was produced for the 125th birthday that gave a broad history of the town and surrounding area. While Farmerville has produced robust growth and development, some of the early remnants of the community remain. Other man-made structures disappeared through nature’s acts of returning man-made objects to the soil or through man’s desire to build and rebuild.
If one turns west off Main Street onto Franklin Street, the James Fenton house is sitting on the corner at 301 Academy. The Fenton’s are no longer with us and it is unknown if the plum granite trees remain to be robbed by local children in the middle of the night. What is remaining is a very well kept house that once was the residence of former Louisiana Governor W. W. Heard. During the Civil War, it was a headquarters of the local Confederate forces. Uniforms and caps for Confederate soldiers were made there.
Two houses north of the Fenton house on Academy Street is the former Preaus home. This is one of the elaborately built homes steeped with balustrades and columns that were constructed in the early 1900’s. This home was built about 1905 by deceased resident Fred Preaus’ grandfather. Fred Preaus’ mother was the first woman to register to vote in Union Parish in 1920 following ratification of the 15th Amendment of the Constitution that allowed women the right to vote. Preaus was selected by Governor Robert Kennon to be the state highway commission director in 1952. This house has been very well maintained and is a testament of building skill and a desire to maintain a beautiful structure.
If one returns to Main Street and goes north to Louisiana 2 and then turns west, the traveler will see the Paul Read house on the north side of the road. This home was built by Paul Read in 1928 and displays how the town was growing out of the town’s center.
Continuing west for about a mile, the traveler will suddenly see Edgewood Plantation. This lovely plantation home was built in 1902 by Jeff and Nan Baughman. The house was surrounded by 3,000 acres of timberland. Cypress lumber harvested from the plantation was used in the construction. The front curved porch was constructed to resemble the deck of the early steam boats that plied the waters of the southern rivers. Material was hauled from Monroe by wagon. During the 1980’s, the plantation was abandoned. Nature and vandals began to take their toll on the building. A tree fell through the roof and rain poured in. The plantation was about to end in a pile of rubble and serve as an eye sore to the community. Enter Pat and Kay Carroll. They purchased the structure that probably had less than two years to live, revived it with loving attention to detail and once again the Baughman Plantation home has been elevated to the grandeur of the early 1900’s.
Following a tour of the plantation the traveler can return to Farmerville and take Bernice Street that turns into Anthony Street. Look out the driver’s window and observe what is now the Union Parish High School Gymnasium. This structure seats 3,000 people and was a magnificently large building when constructed in 1930. This is a tribute to not only the architects but also the foresight of the town’s leadership to build such a large building in such a rural setting. At the time the gym would hold far more that the entire population of Farmerville.
Many activities have taken place there outside of the normal basketball game. When I lived in Arabia the vice president of the exploration department of ARAMCO told me about going to Farmerville and boxing Golden Gloves in the Farmerville gym. The early days of the Watermelon Festival witnessed the Watemelon pageant as spectators melted in the July heat with no air conditioning available. Many of Farmerville graduate walked across the stage to receive their diplomas and the once-a-year all inclusive pep rally would bear witness to twelve grades of cheering students as the Farmerville Farmer football team sat on the stage. Alas, all good things come to an end. Farmerville High School will soon be rebuilt as a new and modern Union Parish High School. It is hoped that something innovative is being reviewed and considered that will save both the gym and high school from the wrecking ball.
Many other structures are no longer with us. Fire, progress, nature and lack of money have removed much of our early legacy from our streets. In the future these will make for an interesting topic when news is slow, if that ever truly happens
Wishing everyone a happy 2015.