Bernice Historical Society
Bernice Dots #7
By Cathy Buckley
An early history of Bernice published in a catalog prepared for Bernice High School in 1909 states this fact:
“Bernice has always taken a deep interest in the education of her children and from the very beginning she has fostered private and public schools. Soon after her foundation a suitable building was erected and as the village grew, additions were made to meet the requirements of the schools.”
Less than a year elapsed after the founding of the town of Bernice in 1899, before citizens of the community began to make arrangements for the education of their children. The first teacher was Miss Julia Foster who taught a private school. Within another year the public school idea had taken root and a frame building was constructed and dedicated to the advancement of learning. This building would be destroyed by fire in 1905.
In July of 1966 the Monroe News Star published an interview with Julia Foster written by Carol Albritton. In this interview Julia stated that she began her career in Claiborne Parish but her second school was at Bernice and she was the first teacher in the first school in that town.
“The school at Bernice, then a new sawmill town was in a huge warehouse whose owner brought in ten foot long benches as his endowment and then declared it a private school. Here I taught 100 students in a bizarre age range. It was understood that unless the underage child could be sent along “to be seen after” the older ones could not be spared to go to school as the parents had to be at the business, farm or mill work for the family to survive.”
The first name mentioned as “being in charge” of the Bernice High School was Professor Fortson (1901).
A frame building was built for the school and in 1904 the building was enlarged to meet the needs of the growing student population.
In 1902 W.C. Roatan became principal of Bernice High School. Previously he had been principal at Arcadia. In that same year the school was painted and the Gazette reported that “it adds very materially to the appearance of the building.”
Roatan was active in school affairs state wide and for most of his tenure at BHS the newspaper of the state teachers’ association, the Louisiana School Review was published in Bernice.
In April of 1905 fire destroyed the school and only the school piano and the principal’s library were saved. The town immediately called a meeting to make plans to replace the frame building with a large two story brick school and passed a 5 mil tax to finance the construction of the school which was expected to cost between ten and twelve thousand dollars.
The local Bernice paper (Herald) was proud of the plan and described the proposed building. However, the Farmerville Gazette did not have such a high opinion of the town’s plans and called the plan “An Expensive Folly”. The Gazette further stated they thought the plan was a joke and that such a large building was out of place and far beyond the need and means of a town the size of Bernice. The Gazette also stated that the money could be better spent by building a less imposing structure in the village.
The Gazette’s final opinion on the matter was “the erection of such a building in Bernice is about as sensible as a reproduction of the Czar of Russia’s Winter Palace in Farmerville and that said construction would be strictly for the town and of precious little benefit or utility to the country embraced in the district and will be about 20 years ahead of its surroundings, if ever the town lines up its proportions. . .our only reason for saying what we did was the impression that the burden was too great for the community to bear, but if they can stand it why of course we will have to put up with it and withdraw any doubts we may have.”
In October of 1905 Bernice school opened a four month public session housed in a large tent with a wooden floor, desks and other school paraphernalia and the Herald proclaimed “when our brick building is erected Bernice will have the most imposing local school structure in North Louisiana.”
The new two story brick school was completed in 1907 at a cost of $16,000.
Newspapers- Bernice had a newspaper as early as July of 1900 with the publication of the Bernice Enterprise followed that December by the Bernice Times which remained in circulation until 1905.
In 1902 the Bernice Home Journal was started by L.M. Nelson who ran the paper until 1907 at which time it was sold to E.C. Lowman who sold out to T.W. Shields in 1917. Shields would later go into politics at which time he sold the paper to J.C. Phillips, a local printer in town. This paper would be acquired by the White family and operated first as the Bernice News and then as the Bernice News Journal until the mid 1980’s.
In December of 1903 the Bernice Record already in publication and was quoted in area papers of North Louisiana. The Record ceased publication in December of 1903 due to “lack of support”.
The Bernice Herald was founded in 1903 and continued publication under different editors until at least 1915. The paper was edited and published by G.C. and G.G. Crichet and was considered the official journal of the Farmer’s Union. In 1907 a fire destroyed the print shop and home of Crichet who claimed that his enemies had “burned him out” because of his conflict with an area minister on the matters of religion. Crichet would leave Bernice and return to his home state of New Mexico.
OPEN HOUSE AT THE DEPOT – FRIDAY – DECEMBER 15th – 10 am until 1 pm
********************************************************************************************* Cathy Buckley is a native of Union Parish and lifelong citizen of Shiloh. She served as Principal of Spearsville High School for many years until her retirement. Cathy is now the director of the Bernice Depot Museum and a active member of the Bernice Historical Society.