Bernice Historical Society
Bernice Dots #8
By Cathy Buckley
When Capt. Henderson was establishing the town lots in Bernice he set apart lots for churches and schools.. The Baptist congregation which was established in 1899 with William Cooksey as pastor for one service a month would meet inside the building used as a school until 1902 when at a cost of $2700 a building was constructed to be used as a church. At the time the church was called the Bernice Missionary Baptist Church, a name it would use until it became the First Baptist Church of Bernice in 1936.
Many of the charter members had been members at Shiloh Baptist Church and used the Articles of Faith and Covenant of Shiloh to establish their church. In addition Cooksey was then pastor at Shiloh and agreed to come to Bernice once a month to conduct services.
Capt. Henderson, acting as head of the railroad, sold lots to other churches between the years 1900 – 1902. Land records record these as: “The Methodist Church South (Bernice United Methodist); Colored Missionary Baptist Church of Bernice (1900); Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (1902 with John Carter as Pastor).” I hope to have more of the history of these churches at a later date.
An interesting event occurred in town in October of 1905 that involved Dr. D.B. Garland and former town marshal W.J. Thaxton and a transient horse trader. The Times Picayune ran an article entitled “DESPERATE DUEL” about the fight which occurred in Dr. Garland’s office – “the men fighting like fiends, rolled out of the Doctor’s office and over the verandah to a concrete pavement below”. The Times Picayune mistakenly reported the injuries as fatal. The horse trader was arrested as an accessory and taken off to the parish jail.
Further investigation revealed the fight started over the repair of a buggy by Thaxton who was the town blacksmith and that the horse trader, who was a friend of Dr. Garland, fired the shots which injured Thaxton.
In July of 1905 the Bernice Civic Club was organized at the home of Mrs. Y.S. Fuller with 28 ladies as charter members. The club met weekly in the homes of the members using the alphabet to determine who the next hostess would be.
Their first work in the town was the town park which the club christened “Oakhurst.” A social held at the park raised the sum of $102 to make improvements within the park. The Civic Club would provide a major role in the improvement of the town for several years.
In 1906 the new Bernice Hotel opened under proprietor, Mrs. G.L. Slaughter with rates advertised at $1.50 per day. An ad appeared in The Shreveport Times touting the hotel as having “elegantly furnished rooms with a generous table and the best place in Bernice for the traveling men; Located one block west of the depot.”
By the year 1907 Bernice had made a name for its self as the “Little Town Growing Rapidly”. It was in that year that Bernice moved from being a village to its incorporation as a town.
The Shreveport Times in an article entitled “UPBUILDING OF BERNICE” called the town a “flourishing little city” with a “spirit of public improvement largely developed among her citizens.”
Listed as a matter of town pride was the new $16,000 school building just completed by Messrs. Crews and Mabry, architects of the elegant brick building with commodious rooms and an auditorium capable of seating one thousand.
The town’s population was listed as 1200 and the Civic Club was mentioned as “doing a very fine work in town improvements and the “park” bids fair to become a thing of beauty in the near future. The club members are all “up and doing.”
A 1909 history of Bernice which appeared in the catalog for Bernice High School gave this description of the town: “The town boasts of several large brick business houses, besides many frame buildings. These stores are filled with magnificent stocks of goods that would do credit to some of our larger cities. For the size of the town the Bank of Bernice is one of the most substantial in the state. The hotel accommodations are the best. Two well conducted houses care for the traveling public and several boarding houses are well patronized. The Bernice Lumber Co. is one of the largest and most extensive lumber organizations in northern Louisiana. A two thousand light dynamo at the lumber company furnishes lights for the town.
Although Bernice has a good health record it has the services of three well read and experienced physicians. Bernice was recently incorporated as a town with proper officers elected and installed. Socially and religiously, Bernice is trying to be a leader. Several religions are represented in the town but only two have church buildings, the Methodist and the Baptist.
Note: I intentionally left out the 1908 shooting at the Depot since an article on that event recently appeared in this paper.
VISIT THE BERNICE DEPOT IF YOU WANT TO SEE SOME OF OUR HISTORY ON DISPLAY.
If you have historical documents you would loan please call Cathy Buckley
********************************************************************************************* 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.