Bernice Historical Society
Bernice Dots #6
By Cathy Buckley
By 1903 Bernice was making rapid progress with new businesses popping up almost weekly. The depot handled a steady supply of staples and merchandise that streamed into town from commercial outlets both north and south of town.
The first of two destructive fires occurred in June of 1903 when the Bernice Hotel was destroyed by fire. Many of the town’s residents were at the Bernice First Baptist Church where a revival had been in progress for twelve days. The congregation heard the alarm and moved toward the hotel where the men ran in to save all they could on the ground floor of the two story building. It did not take long for the entire building to turn to ashes. The preacher at the revival had been rooming there and lost his suitcases and his sermon notes.
The second fire was in March of 1904 and started in a feed store but quickly spread destroying 7 business houses in town. Some of the businesses destroyed were: J.W. Heard and Bros., Bernice Millinery, Morton’s Hardware, Landers General Merchandise, Oakley and Co. Feed. In addition the offices atop the Heard Building housed the law offices of Judge Roberts and the printing “outfit” of the Bernice Record. The fire was declared to be the work of an arsonist.
In March of 1905 another fire destroyed the “Famous” Land Brothers clothing establishment and the jewelry stock of J.R. Fuller which was kept in the same building.
From this time forward all new stores were brick and mortar which led to an Alexandria news editor state he had “never seen as many brick stores in a small town” in his life.
One problem that plagued the town for many years was the easy access to “blind tiger juice”. A blind tiger was anyone who made and sold alcohol illegally. Those who purchased the juice were frequently found about town at night disturbing the peace or attempting to commit other crimes under the cover of darkness.
Despite attempts to stop the acquisition of alcohol, the town still had a problem. An interesting event occurred in July of 1903 and was recorded in the pages of the local paper and reprinted in papers across the state. The headline – BERNICE BOYS BURN A BEAUTIFUL BARREL OF BOOZE –the article stated that “the town hoped this would prove to be an effective lesson to those illicit dealers in liquor since public sentiment of the citizens had been powerless to suppress the traffic”.
In spite of the fact that arrests had been made no convictions had resulted. So the town formed a Citizens Protective League and on this particular Saturday in July made its first step to “purge our good town of liquor”.
For a few days previous there had been a “suspicious box” at the depot awaiting claim by its owner. That morning a respected farmer came to the depot and loaded the box into his wagon. The farmer had been hired to pick up the barrel and deliver it to its owner. The Citizens Protective League then stopped the wagon, opened the box and found a barrel of liquor. A meeting of the town citizens quickly followed at which it was decided to roll the barrel into the street where it was burned.
The good health of this section of Union Parish was a matter of pride to the town. To encourage others to come and make their home here there were often items that appeared within the local news and circulated statewide through the Shreveport Times. One such stated “ A gentleman recently came here from a neighboring town for the purpose of establishing an undertaker’s shop but it is understood that he is somewhat discouraged over the prospects for his business, as people in this section have a habit of living indefinitely. The gentleman might do better to establish an up-to-date grocery store.”
Next Week: Earliest school and newspapers; another destructive fire