Bernice Historical Society
Bernice Dots #4
By Cathy Buckley
In mid December of 1899 the village of Bernice was incorporated with J. T. “Jake” Crews as the first mayor. The first marshal was W.H. McLaurin and E.C. Colvin, A.H. Henderson and E.B. Robinson made up the first town aldermen. The new railroad town was off and running. The saws and the hammers were humming as stores and homes went up across the newly incorporated village.
A postmaster was appointed (Couch) and the town celebrated Christmas with a village celebration held around a decorated tree. The entire village turned out to celebrate the reality of Capt. Henderson’s dream now coming true.
I had always thought Capt. Henderson had earned his title from his participation in the military but in reality his title was an unofficial one given to him when he worked for the St. Louis livestock commission. Captain was a title given to cattle buyers.
From St. Louis, Henderson had gone to Arkadelphia to manage the estate of his Aunt and by 1892 had accumulated several town lots located near the Methodist College there. In addition Henderson was involved in timber, oil, banking and the newly formed Arkansas Southern railroad. His most active pursuit was in his role as Superintendent of that railroad.
Henderson was a frequent visitor to North Louisiana during this time and a Shreveport newspaper described him as “a gentleman of sound business judgment and an enthusiastic believer in the future development of North Louisiana whose opinion will command capital in the money cities of the world”.
In addition to his economic interests in North Louisiana, Henderson was deeply committed to the social and economic interests of his hometown of Arkadelphia.
Henderson donated heavily to the Methodist College there and in 1901 became chairman of its Board of Directors and in 1904 the college was named for him and became known as Henderson State College.
In 1911 Henderson moved to El Paso, Texas for health reasons. He had suffered for some time with a lung condition and thought the western climate would benefit his health. He would remain in El Paso until his death which occurred in 1923 while he was visiting San Diego, California.
As Superintendent of the Arkansas Southern it had been Henderson’s role to find the cheapest and easiest way to take the railroad 101 miles south of El Dorado to Winnfield. As a result he moved south with railroad towns popping up along the path of the road.
As the road neared Ruston, Henderson would make his home there and became actively involved in the affairs of the town. In later years a Ruston resident described him as a “postbellum industrialist who climbed his way to leadership from his starting point as a small time farmer.”
Henderson’s contribution to our part of North Louisiana is significant and Bernice owes its existence to his vision and his leadership.
Next week: Earliest town officials, merchants, physicians and events