Bernice Was a Prosperous Town Before World War II

Written by Edna Liggin

Published February 16, 1989

Bernice Depot

What motivated Laurence Carroll to estimate he picked two bales of cotton one fall for which picking he never received a penny as a cotton-picker? Laurence Carroll was selling cars for the Ford Agency at Bernice! He would stop his car, go out into the cotton field, and pick alongside the farmer, and give a sales pitch on the need for a new Ford car.

The brick building of the Feazell Motor Company or Feazell Ford place has weathered over fifty years of business in Bernice. Robert Driggers was a salesman in the early days. The names of Fred Preaus and George Lindsey have figured in its history. Today it is managed by Drew Rockett as a tractor place.

The thirties were the good years when the town of Bernice had many good places of business. Almost anything a resident needed could be bought from the many stores, from a new car to a red umbrella.

Irma Evans, now residing at Pinecrest Manor remembers that she wanted very badly a red umbrella when she went to the Lindsey Store as a child. She voiced so loudly her need of this umbrella, and lamented for so long, Mr. Lindsey finally gave her the umbrella!

Madalyn Reeves remembers her son, Billy Kneipp, as a little boy followed his grandmother, Clarisse Thaxton into the Post Office. Several patrons did not have their boxes locked. Little Billy collected all the mail he could, and said, “Here, Grandma, is you some mail.” An embarrassed grandmother had to confront the postmaster.

Billy Grafton of Shiloh remembers that Daisy Garland was his first Sunday School teacher. He comments she was a good teacher. Another school teacher memory is that of Malda Farrar about Sudie Mae Carroll. She was always opening windows.

John Evans needs a little memory on a 1919 token from Lindsey Store that he possesses, while Billy Grafton of Pisgah needs that of the 1908 shoot-out on the streets of Bernice. The shoot-out occurred between the depot and the across-the-street business buildings, as a passenger train stopped at the depot. T. W. Clark, peace officer, was killed in the crossfire of a feud between the Mortons and Barhams. Trainmen were injured.

As the town reached the depression decade, cotton was giving good economy, the trains were running on full schedule, and the stores selling goods. A cotton farmer of Shiloh, Joe Henry Lewis, bought a car, drove it home, but forgot how to stop it. So he drove round and round in his front yard for awhile.

With the roads much improved, the mail carriers were also able to get automobiles to deliver them mail. Gone were the days of the pony express and the horse and buggy.

The town of Bernice was twenty-five years old when Minnie Baldwin became Lady Postmaster, and she was to serve in this capacity for the next 35 years, or until May 14, 1959.

When Minnie Baldwin began her tenure of postal service, women in American had only been voting for five years. They were just beginning to speak up at church meetings and to teach Sunday School.

Bernice was five months old when William Couch became the first postmaster in 1899. He was followed by John R. Pleasant in 1901; then Charles Dow in 1907. John Melton became postmaster in 1913, with his home standing today in Bernice, known as the Melton house. He was followed by J. M. Talbot for a short interim as acting postmaster, with Thomas Shields taking office July 1, 1922. Another interim postmaster served, S. L. Baldwin, before Minnie Baldwin became lady postmaster on April 7, 1924.

The assets for good mail delivery in the Bernice area were great in those days, remembers Minnie Baldwin. Mail was brought in four times a day on the trains, with three rural routes delivering mail. The carriers were Emmett Riordan, Marvin Tanner and Wes Shackelford.

Wes Shackleford was the first to retire, in 1937, after 30 years. He carried his first mail pouch July 1, 1907. He used every mode of transportation except airplane, and mail was going by airmail before he retired. He went from pony express to a shiny new car.

By the time of his retirement, he expressed memories of riding a horse, and when the roads were good, hitched behind a two wheel cart. Parcel post had not begun, and the weight limit of a package was four pounds. He later was to say that parcel post was the greatest improvement in mail service.

Wes Shackleford later was to remember that it took six hours to make the first route of 20 miles. Often he had to stop and make a trail. He had little mail to deliver and seldom sold over 50 cents worth of stamps a day.

In 1920 came the change to an automobile, then in 1926 a change in the routes. His was now 45 miles long, but he made it in 4 hours, and delivered 6,000 or more pieces of mail each month. The Shreveport Times was coming in daily, and he sold four to five dollars worth of stamps a day.

Although Mrs. Baldwin remembers the post office in several places, it was located where part of the present back is today, when the fire came that destroyed the post office in 1939. She remembers it was a wild stormy night, with the fire burning down to the corner. Everything was destroyed but the vault.

What action did the lady postmaster take when she found herself bereft of a place to work? Her first action was to contact train officials and ask for the pouches to be put off unlocked. She then distributed mail from the back of the Miller Drug Store. Another locality was used across the highway until the post office was rebuilt.

She remembers that Marvin Tanner retired after Wes Shackleford, then Emmett Riordan. In time the three routes were reduced to two, the number of routes serving today.

(to be continued)

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