Bernice Historical Society
Bernice Dots #9
By Cathy Buckley
In February of 1914 citizens in and around Bernice and the eastern part of Claiborne Parish considered the possibility of forming a new parish with Bernice as the parish seat of government. The local paper in Bernice ran an article stating one possible reason was the difficulty of citizens in Bernice accessing the parish seat in Farmerville and of those in the eastern section of Claiborne accessing Homer.
The editor of the Bernice paper (Lowman) stated “if we value time, and all of us do, the expense of getting to either of these places will amount to more in a year than the extra tax of building a new court house. It is easier, cheaper and quicker to go to New Orleans and back than it is to go to Farmerville or Homer and return.”
The Farmerville Gazette replied that they had no serious objection to the plan but asked the question “why do you wish to leave Old Union? You are now citizens of the grandest parish in all Louisiana”. The exaggeration of the Bernice editor was brought out and the Gazette reminded Lowman that his cost of traveling to New Orleans was cheaper since he was a journalist however that would not be the case for the other citizens of Bernice.
The seriousness of the matter is documented in a letter from Bernice Mayor, M.A. Talbot written to the Louisiana Attorney General, Ruffin G. Pleasant on February 14, 1914. In this letter Pleasant outlined the steps for the creation of a new parish stating that any new parish had to contain at least 625 square miles and no less than 7000 inhabitants and that such an action must be brought before the parish in a special election and two-thirds of those voting would have to approve the action.
No further mention of the creation of a new parish can be found so it is assumed the “new parish” could not meet the guidelines of the state constitution.
In May of 1914 the last of the frame store buildings burned leaving only brick structures. The fire began in the store of R.A. Autrey and spread to the Grafton building and a building owned by W.W. Aulds. Brick buildings on both sides of the fire were barely damaged and no contents lost. The business portion of Bernice was now completely of brick construction and the town barred the building of any wooden structures within the business section of town.
The Bernice Post Office was robbed in February of 1914. The thieves used nitroglycerine to blow open the safe and left town in an automobile with a thousand dollars of stamps and around two hundred dollars in cash.
The year 1915 brought much excitement in Bernice when R.G. Pleasant began his campaign for Governor of Louisiana. Pleasant made his formal announcement to begin his campaign in Bernice; described in the Monroe News Star as a “bustling little city” and the home ward for Pleasant who was from Shiloh.
A political rally and barbeque followed at Bernice that summer at which an estimated 4000 people attended. The scene was described as” pleasant up and down, straight through and across.”
The high school at Bernice was growing in leaps and bounds and in the 1906-07 school year it became the first state approved high school in the parish under the leadership of G.W. Newton.
In the 1908 – 1909 school year BHS had its first high school graduates; Love Cole and Emmie Talbot. The next year there were 15 graduates : Littleton Porter, James A. Wainwright, John L. Pratt, Harper Garland, Leolian Denham, Maggie Mabry, Maida Cole, Charles E. Smith, Desmond Talbot, Keldron Thaxton, Ola Johnson, Marguerite Newton, Nell Garland, Euphie Odom and Margie Colvin.
In the 1912 – 1913 school year Nathan Bright, a graduate of the University of Tennessee became principal. His wife was on the faculty as well along with Mrs. D.B. Garland who had been on the faculty of the school since it began as a public school.
By 1915 the school boasted of several college graduates on the staff. The yearly salary of the Principal was $1350 ; the janitor $180 and a “wagonette driver” made $360 a year. The building and site were valued at $20,000.
Interesting fact: The Bernice basketball team traveled to Dubach for a game in which Dubach won 15 to 7; Bernice was ahead 7 to 4 at the end of the first half but did not score a point in the second half. The newspaper account declared that an old spirit of rivalry exists between the two teams and the game was played with that spirit which shows that each side was putting forth every effort to crown their respective schools with success.
********************************************************************************************* 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.