Bernice Historical Society
Bernice Dots #2
The year 1899 saw the birth of the town of Bernice, the village of Lillie and the death of the village of Shiloh.
Capt. Henderson was moving his Arkansas Southern railroad at a fast clip toward Ruston making deals for timber, right of way and land on which to build railroad depots. Henderson was the consummate “deal maker” and used this skill to obtain the right of way and land for a railway station from Frank Farrar. This exchange would give birth to the village of Lillie. In return for the land, Henderson was to name the station after Farrar’s daughter, Lillie.
Continuing his move southward Henderson purchased land from Dave Cole ($480) and George W. Lowery ($480) on which he planned to lay out lots and create a town. Henderson was boarding in the home of Alan Lowery (witness to deeds of both Cole and Lowery) and in the same manner as at Lillie used the name of Alan’s Lowery daughter Bernice for the name of his newest railroad town.
In late March of 1899 the business portion of Shiloh was destroyed by fire. These stores were owned by men who would soon purchase lots in Bernice and who would become the first store owners, first bankers, and first town officials for the newly created town of Bernice.
Henderson quickly surveyed Cole and Lowery’s land and divided it into lots and on May 26th held an auction to sell lots to individuals and businesses. Many of the first lots sold were to men who had been in business at Shiloh.
In the 1980’s Edna Liggin interviewed two residents who were in Bernice on that day. Willie Belle McGee recalled that a big dinner was laid out at Oakhurst Park (Clubhouse) and Brooks Mabry recalled that Henderson had placed tubs on stumps and he and his brother hauled water to keep the tubs full so that people had something to drink.
An advertisement for the sale of lots appeared in the Arkansas Gazette. The author declared “the future of Bernice will be brilliant . . .you cannot make a mistake by attending this great sale and investing in lots at Bernice. A lumber yard, well stocked will be opened before the sale and other building materials will be held in cars on the side tracks for immediate use after the sale.”
The editor of the Farmerville Gazette made a pre-sale visit to Bernice and described the town as a “wilderness with a new cut road on which he ran right upon sixth street before he knew he was in sight of the town . . .but in a few months it will present quite a different appearance. New houses will be going up on all sides. The people in that section are thirsty and prosperous and we believe the new town has a bright future.”
(Next week: More details on the sale of lots and what was “Cold Water Bernice”)