Memories of a Growing Bernice

Written by Edna Liggin

Published November 24, 1988

Bernice Bank before 1913

Although it had been quite a few years since the famous shoot-out near the depot as the train pulled in, Louise Jarmon had this on her mind as she rode the train to Bernice in 1926 to begin teaching in the Home Economics Department of Bernice High School. She found a place to board with the Grover Hicks family.

About the same time Guy McDonald came from Jonesboro to work in the Bank of Bernice. He was to continue to be employed as a banker until he retired in 1980. He remembers bank presidents as Y. S. Fuller, a Mr. Pollock, then Dr. M. W. Laurence, Sr., Dr. C. C. Colvin and Lawton Pratt.

What does Louise McDonald remember of these years? Once at a board meeting decisions were made to require all teachers to go to church, nor could they play cards. With pride she remembers that her Home Economics Department was the first in Union Parish to receive the George Dean Funds. Another thing she recalls is Bernice High School was the first outside of Ruston to receive student teachers.

Guy McDonald avers that he was first and foremost a banker all these years, but his interest in music led him to organize the first band for Bernice High School (this is 1927). Often, he helped students buy instruments. His reward came later when a young man told him that he made it though Louisiana Tech on a band scholarship because Mr. McDonald had helped him play in the Bernice High School Band. Mr. McDonald also organized a troop of Boy Scouts.

The train continued to be used by Bernice residents. Brother M. V. Burns once rode in the train to Rayville to hold a revival. However, not one penny of offering did he receive, so his wife, Bertha Burns, had to send him train fare to come home.

Clare Cole Henderson, born in 1907, was brought to the depot to ride the train to Junction City. Now a resident at Pinecrest, Mrs. Henderson remembers that instead of being frightened, she ran eagerly to board the train.

The late Ross Ferguson once remembered to us that he rode the train to Shreveport, Little Rock and Monroe. For 15 years, Mr. Ferguson directed the choir at the First Baptist Church of Bernice.

The train jumping the track between Bernice and Pine Grove once frightened very badly Malta Grafton Farrar. She and friends often walked the railroad track into Bernice. She remembers clearly the freight train jumping the track.

Palmer Moore, Jr. remembers that his grandfather, Charlie Moore, had mules brought in on the train from St. Louis, Missouri. He kept a mule lot in Bernice, selling the mules to area farmers. Charlie Moore’s wife, who died in 1904, was a Lowery relative of Bernice Lowery. His first Bernice home, near the one still standing, built by Bob Cook, burned.

Charlie Moore and George Lindsey were contemporary Bernice business men, and both failed to recover from the depression and the changes that came following this era.

What kind of entertainment was in old Bernice? Caroline Green Henry, who came to Bernice at age 8, remembers that if it rained after you were in the open air movie house, you had your money returned. Malta Farrar remembers a circus once where later was the Bernice Department Store. All rides and shows were ten cents.

Many memories testify to the part that John and Maude Caldwell provided in entertainment in Bernice. It is remembered that the first effort was an open air theater, across from the depot, with Grover Black giving assistance. At one time the Caldwells had a grocery store and movie house next to the site of the present bank building. The theater was also used for social occasions. By the 1930’s it was a real movie theater where is now the Harlow drug store.

The Caldwells had forty years of movie houses, coming from a hotel in Texas, they had the Royal Theater in Ruston, Arcadia, Junction City, Dubach, Farmerville, and Bernice. John and Maude Gresham Caldwell were both graduates of Bernice High and married in 1920.

People aver from memory that the Caldwell home, lived in today by Christine Caldwell, is the oldest home in Bernice. It has cypress pillars and was put together with square nails, said to have been built by Larkin Dendy.

In 1939, a man named T. K. Phillips comes into our memory. He had a unique seed store next to the present bank building, and in that year was 80 years of age. He was an active businessman in old age. As he sold seeds he imparted the philosophy that a man needs the same bed every night. His days were filled with reading books, and studying history. For him, no tobacco, or liquor, and a good stomach made for a long life.

What did Bernice mean to women living nearby who wanted to earn a pin-money? Frances Matthews remembers that as she grew up, she and her mother, Era Booles, living north of Bernice, had a milk, butter and cream dairy business, delivering door to door in Bernice. Often, recalls Mrs. Matthews, it was hard to make it up iced-over steps of homes.

Malta Farrar remembers her mother, Mrs. Gid Grafton, did embroidery work for ladies in Bernice, while Clara Henderson remembers her mother, Nancy Cole, sold eggs, butter, chickens and milk. An old article on the life of Willie Belle Bowen McGee, states her mother sold the first pound of butter in Bernice.

Echoes of memories filter in from these early times in Bernice. What happened to Cherry Street? Minnie Baldwin recalls it was a pretty street, with trees overlapping and sandy surface. Now it is Hwy. 167, full of traffic. The trees that once beautified main street at Bernice, were set out by Palmer Moore, Sr. who went to nearby woods to get these, remembers his son Palmer, Jr.

In time the Bernice Civic Clubhouse replaced the pavilion and May Dance Pole, this in Oakhurst Park. Carlton Booles remembers that he and Wash Lowery put up the wagon wheel with its light bulbs, this is 1937.

Bertha Tabor Fomby remembers that one of the highlights of riding the train to Junction City with her father, John B. Tabor, was the fruit vendor. She also chose a banana.

Many remember that in the mid thirties the good entertainment of Warren’s Comedians, the tent pitched where now is the post office, and also the boxing matches on the second floor of the old grammar school building.

(to be continued)

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