Written by Edna Liggin
Water Well At Site Of Union Gin School
On the highway between Bernice and Farmerville is a bare patch of ground. In the background is a shoved up mound of trees and dirt, and besides that a big hole full of water. In front three things are visible – a tank, a Christmas tree (oil well terminology) and an old lattice shed over a water well.
A few weeks ago the spot was alive with the noise and lights of an oil well drilling rig at work. The drilling bit went deep into the earth, and rocks strange to the eye began to appear on top. Pipes clanked and trucks came for various operations referred to as “sand fracturing” and “acidizing”.
Then things quited down. On the Christmas tree appeared a sign that said Franks-Flynn Energy-Webster H. Reeves No. 1 Well, HA RA SUC.
This spot was once the site of the Union Gin school, with its history now symbolized by a lone well shed. The name of the school itself, as well as the later activities of the school, represented the community.
What led to the establishment of the school, and the name Union Gin? What part did the school play in the community, and what were some of the activities that were held in the school house during the years it existed?
Life in this rural area had a focal point in the school between the years 1921 and 1947.
THE BEGINNING OF THE COMMUNITY
A woman came to Shiloh some time ago, looking for an organization to sell subscriptions to Holland’s magazine. She was informed of the Union Gin Home Demonstration Club. “Is that a liquor club?” she asked in her ignorance. With the passing of the generations, what the old well shed stands for will be forgotten too, by those who live here, and they, too, will wonder what Union Gin meant to the community.
By the time of World War I, the town of Shiloh had dwindled to a church, school, and store or two. The church areas of Mt. Patrick, Evergreen, and Mt. Tabor were divided by miles of muddy roads with travel by wagon, horseback, or afoot.
Just east of Shiloh, and south of Cornie, lived farmers one generation removed from early settlers of Shiloh. Some of these families were: Reeves, Shaw, Hamilton, Lowery, Austin, Ray, Wiltcher, Tabor, Lee, White, Fomby, Green, Liggin, Elliott, McIntosh, Ferguson, and Copeland.
These farmers grew cotton for a money crop, although it was a poor source of income in 1912. Each farm was almost self-sufficient, growing feed-stuffs and food. The families were proud of distinctive skills and crafts. Visits to Bernice and Farmerville were made only occasionally, and then mostly by the men of the families. The real life was in their own farms, and it was different from the past at Shiloh with its town houses and big plantations.
The area seem to draw other settlers. The J. M. Wynn family moved over from Dubach; T. W. Liggin from across Middlefork married one of the Wynn girls. The R. H. Albrittons moved from Farmerville, and settled near the Liggin farm. For awhile the Ward family had a sawmill and commissary nearby. Later, W. L. Golden settled on the Salley farm, once part of the 800 acre farm of John B. Tabor.
As these and other families raised cotton, the idea became feasible to have a cotton gin in the community. This would save the expense of taking cotton to a market miles away. Maybe they saw a rise in cotton prices after World War I.
Records show that in 1915 the Union Gin Company, Ltd., Bernice, La. was in operation with the board of directors as follows: J. D. Hamilton, J. M. Wynn, Y. S. Fuller, and J. E. Buckley. The corporation did business under a special charter of the State of Louisiana in Union Parish. They owned land, for in 1915 they sold 20 acres to William J. Reeves. The gin was located across the road, on the right, of where later stood the Albritton store. A small pond still marks the spot, and for years old pieces of tin were scattered over the area.
WHAT THE WELL SHED REPRESENTS
For twenty years or more the well shed, and well, had been hidden from sight by a young growth of pine trees, that had grown up since the school was torn down, and consolidated with Bernice High School. Cedar trees were mixed with the pines, and underneath were the huge foundation rocks of the school. Spiked iris, blue and white, bloomed year after year. It would have been a beautiful spot for a road-side park.
Now some thirty years since, the school has been gone forever, the park will not materialize, for on the spot is Webster H. Reeves No. 1, HA RA SUC! The school was begun in a generation that scarcely needed gas; now the ground on which it stood may produce gas that a generation sorely needs.
Although the school bowed to the consolidation trend of the times, the spirit of Union Gin community in that sense came to an end. Only in the memory of people living will be that of a clean swept playground, the necessary outdoor buildings, the dipper in the well-shed, the potbellied stoves in the rooms, the gatherings of children and parents for programs, parties, community meetings, war efforts, Sunday School, and singings.
As long as the school is remembered will also be remembered Charlie and Etta Elliott who donated the land for the school. They often sat on the porch of their nearby home and watched the pupils come and go, and occasionally come across the road to visit them.
THE BEGINNING OF THE SCHOOL
The school was started about 1921, with the first pupils walking or riding horseback. Later buses were driven by Les Wynn and Charlie Elliott. The teachers lived in the community and got to the school the same as the pupils. Once a teacher, J. C. Russell, was crossing a branch with the Liggin girls, and Maxine fell into the icy water. He carried her home, sure she would have pneumonia, but all was well.
And old picture, made in 1927-28, showed Miss Lola Gilliland, teacher and principal, with the following pupils: J. W. Reeves, Prentice Reeves, Eunice Shaw, Victor and Everett Albritton, Burke Moore, Ruby Hodge, Clovis Simpson, Brady Austin, Maxine Liggin, Juanita Huffman, Myrle Reeves, Marjorie Copeland, Jewel Reeves, Pansy Reeves, Leatha Simpson, Marvin Fomby, A. J. Lowery and Mable Roan. These were the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grades.
When school buses were provided and roads got better, many of these pupils went to Bernice High School to receive their diplomas.
THE SCHOOL WAS USED FOR COMMUNITY SUNDAY SCHOOL
The school was about ten years old, and definitely established as Union Gin community, when Sunday School was started in the building on Sunday afternoon. Southern Baptist literature was used. At that time Mt. Patrick was not functioning, and other neighboring churches too far away.
In 1930 the officers for the Union Gin Sunday School were: Mrs. Lucian Copeland, William Liggin, Willie Reeves, with Ruth Wynn as teacher. Included in the school were: Mrs. William Liggin, a Mr. Ferguson, Gladys Reeves, Mr. Shaver, Cecil Gresham, Bessie Lee, Dollie Green, Hazel Ferguson, Alice Gresham, Mattie McCuller, Lucille Barham, Clark Lowery, John Lowery, Woodrow Lowery, Louie Lee, Malvin Liggin, J. D. Reeves, Lavelle Ferguson, Clara Barham, Victor Tabor, Ruth Reeves, Edna Tabor and Mrs. Bob Tabor.
Enrolling the next year were: Mrs. C. T. Elliott, Lucian Copeland, Everett Albritton, Tommie Green, Edna Matthews, Bertie Matthews, G. W. Green, Calvin Green, Carey Reeves, Jewel Reeves, Marjorie Copeland, Maxine Liggin, Nell Liggin, Ruthelle Golden, Dorothy Golden, Elese Liggin, E. S. Liggin, Edward Lee Golden, Exie Farris, and W. L. Golden.
Many other names must have been added in the next few years. Many remember W. L. Golden leading out in singing “I’ll Fly Away”. Romance was at work too, for Sunday afternoon was a good opportunity for young couples to pair off.
THE DEPRESSION YEARS AT UNION GIN
Several things were done by the community to stem the tide of the depression. Marietta Harrell and Josephine Houch, Home Demonstration Agents, came into the community and organized the Union Gin H.D.C. They directed the building of a large canning kitchen with a furnace, just across the road from the school. For the first time farm women learned to operate sealers and pressure cookers, thus how to can meat and vegetables for year round use. Sometimes, surplus vegetables were canned and labeled, for sale.
For awhile Edna Tabor gathered up a class of women to teach them home crafts and skills, and some attended a school in Farmerville to learn how to make mattresses.
The people of the community had little money, but the spirit of cooperation was strong; there was a willingness to work, and an eagerness to make the best of what was available. Union Gin was actually eating better than ever before, and undaunted by the word “depression”.
In 1938 a movement was begun to have hot lunches in the school. Parents met at the school December 22, 1938 with Dr. Montgomery and Miss Clark, and as a result the hot lunch program came into being at Union Gin.
Mrs. Ruth Wynn and Mrs. Ethel Tabor visited each home, soliciting hens, peas, tomatoes, beans, corn and money. The mothers met at the canning kitchen January 3rd, 1939 and canned 92 cans of chicken. All other needed items were supplied by Mr. R. H. Albritton at reduced rates.
Crackers were served with hot soup and for dessert sometimes peaches. This replaced the meager, cold lunch previously brought by the pupils. Forty years ago parents believed in the value of the hot lunch in relation to the health and learning ability of the child, and did something about it.
Later, the school bought a cow, with each family paying twenty-five cents, and beef was added to the menu. Mr. Seth Tanner donated the cans in which the beef was processed.
OTHER ACTIVITIES IN THE SCHOOL
After that the energetic PTA of Union Gin decided the school building needed painting. Here again, parents, children and teachers worked together. One fund raising project was to sponsor the “Tune Wranglers” of El Dorado at the Royal Theater at Bernice.
The group was most familiar to the people of Union Gin, for in these years the majority of them had just discovered they could afford a battery radio. Previously, the W. J. Fomby home attracted many visitors for they were the only ones to own a radio.
The glamour boys came down to Union Gin to give a preview performance. With the pupils completely enthralled, the “Wranglers” played three numbers. They started to go, but the stardust in the eyes of the boys and girls held them, and so they pretended to be teachers and did a comic act. They gave a nickel to several pupils to read for them.
The pupils were given a half holiday to sell tickets to the show. The net proceeds were $10.50, but that could buy a lot of paint in 1939. The show was January 29th, 1939.
To buy reference books the school gave a command performance each Friday. To be approved, the school needed these books as well as maps, globes, painting on the inside, and a definite number of pictures on the wall. Cars must park so far from the building.
For the latter need, the men of the community came to the rescue, with teams and equipment, and the grounds were terraced. Working to have the school approved were Nell Liggin, Edna Tabor, Rita Andrews, and Marjorie Copeland.
Another year the teachers who met to discuss plans for Union Gin were Mr. and Mrs. Seth Tanner, Marjorie Copeland and Edna Tabor, with Ruth Wynn, substitute teacher.
The teachers were not the only ones to use the school for serous discussion. for awhile regular community meetings were held in school, fully organized. One year it was reported that on Monday night the farmers met to discuss their crops, both current year and the previous one.
The needs of the school were met whether to set out shrubbery or enlarge the cloak room. No job was too small or too large for the citizens of the area to undertake. The community school meant good to all the people.
There was joy in the school among the pupils, too. And old news item states, “Mr. Green, parish supervisor of music, had all Union Gin children singing with gusto and spirit Wednesday. Believe me, those kids really perk up when singing time comes!”
Another fund raising project (a little more money needed for paint) was a cake walk and popularity contest. The partition wall between two class rooms was removed and the cake walk set up. Music was furnished by local talent, and for a nickel the walks began. When it was over everyone had cake and fun.
Excitement came to Union Gin school one day when the law chased a magazine salesman to the school. It seems he had left the scene after smashing Mayor Talbot’s car at Bernice, and was caught at Union Gin by Marshal Wise and the Mayor.
By 1939 the Sunday School had come to an end, as Mt. Patrick Church was re-activated. More people had cars, roads were better, and the old Sunday School pupils at Union Gin had nearby constituted churches to attend.
WORLD WAR II BRINGS UNION GIN TO THE END
In the early 1940’s Union Fin turned its thoughts toward helping in the war effort, and here the splendid community spirit was evidenced as the school house was used in the capacity.
Working with the school, the Union Gin H. D. C. sponsored entertainment for the soldiers stationed at Selman Field, Monroe. At various times the soldiers were hosted to a pot luck supper, folk music and dancing.
The H.D.C. ladies cooperated with a square dance and a old fashioned dress parade at Farmerville for the United War Effort. Donations at Union Gin were made by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Seibert, and Victor Albritton. Among the first of the community’s young men to enlist was Dewitt Barham, Jr.
After the war, the boys of Union Gin returned to re-build their lives, to farm, and to work wherever they could. One of them stayed behind in a grave in France. Marvin Fomby was later brought to Shiloh for reburial.
The children continued to play at recess at Union Gin as they came in on buses, but babies born during World War II were not destined to attend Union Gin School. The school closed around 1946 or 47, over the protest of many who dearly loved the community school. The frame building was sold and torn down.
Named for a community cotton gin, it became the symbol of community life on the highest level. It opened its door for the community, for civic, patriotic, and spiritual needs.
Now in the seventies, the location again becomes important as after weeks of drilling, Webster H. Reeves No. 1 HA RA SUC comes into existence.
Only the old water well and its lattice shed remain as a reminder of all that took place at old Union Gin School!!!