Brief History of Corney Creek Festival

Good Ole’ Corney Creek Cookin’
Bernice, Union Parish, Louisiana

Corney Creek Festival was started in Bernice, Union Parish, Louisiana in 1976. Today it is one of the most unique and well-know festivals in Louisiana. Lack of funds and the desire for individuality prompted the originators to capitalize on the bountiful heritage and natural resources of the area. Thus, beautiful historic Corney Creek was chosen for the focal point.

Corney Creek originates in Arkansas. It flows through the beautiful red hills and piney woods of Union Parish that was carved out of Ouachita Parish in 1839. The scenic stream meanders 32 miles to connect Corney Lake and D’Arbonne Lake: both currently very popular fishing and recreational spots.

In the last century, Corney Creek was a major shipping stream as well as the best mode of transportation for early settlers and travelers. Citizens of this area are greatly indebted to Corney Creek.

According to historian, Edna Liggin, steamboats commonly plied up and down the Corney in the 1890’s, carrying passengers, bales of cotton and barrel staves downstream. The “Helen Vaughn”, owned and piloted by Captain Vaughn, made its first trip from Farmerville to Shiloh Landing in 1890. A brass band supplied entertainment and passengers rode free on the special excursion. While it operated, the boat subsidized its way by delivering merchandise to the Shiloh stores on the upstream trips

In May of 1894, Captain Henry Lindsey obtained a pilot’s license in Monroe for his “Lora Lindsey”, a lighter stern-wheeler, and became a fierce competitor for Captain Vaughn.

Late summer of 1894 was unusually dry. This spelled disaster for Corney Creek steamboats. The low water level stranded them upstream for the next six months. In March of 1895, the “Helen Vaughn” burned at White’s Ferry with 450 bales of cotton that had been picked up in Shiloh and Farmerville. Then in April, the “Lora Lindsey”, on its way downstream, sank near Mosely’s Bluff on  D’Arbonne with 60 bales of cotton. The “Belle of D’Arbonne” made its way up to Shiloh Landing from New Orleans in June of 1895 and wasn’t able to make the voyage downstream until that fall.

Many smaller crafts operated between Monroe and Shiloh Landing on a regular basis. Captain W. W. Robinson, remembered as Captain Bill in the Shiloh area, was a pilot during the Corney Creek and Shiloh landing “Hey Days”. He died in 1936 at age 69.

Shiloh, in addition to being a major shopping and manufacturing center of Union Parish, was important to the religious groups, too. The first Chartered Baptist College in Louisiana was organized at Shiloh, a predecessor of the present one in Pineville. Union Parish was settled in the early 1800’s, predominately by Baptist and Wesleyan Methodist from Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia. Old church records indicate the settlers held services in their homes, out of doors, in the Court House, in the Lodge, and under bush arbors until church buildings could be erected. One of the oldest churches still standing in the area today is the Alabama Methodist Church, circa 1849, on Louisiana Highway 2, west of Bernice.

The political history is just as outstanding as the religious history and as colorful as the beautiful landscape. Four state governors, for two states, were born in Union Parish. William W. Heard and Ruffin G. Pleasant served as Governor of  Louisiana, 1900-04 and 1916-20 respectively. Arkansas Governors were George W. Donaghey, 1908-12; and Tom J. Terral, 1924-26. Politics and religion vie for top place in Union Parish.

In the late 1890’s, the railroad made its debut into Union Parish. Bernice was organized in 1899 and the shipping points shifted from Shiloh Landing on Corney Creek to the railroad depot in Bernice. This new mode of Transportation spelled “gloom” for Shiloh and “boom” for the new town of Bernice that immediately became a thriving trade area with its general store, cotton gins, sawmills, hotels and movie house.

Time marches on and today, through the annual Corney Creek Festival celebration, we take time out to review the past as we enjoy the many benefits from the efforts, foresight and progress of the hard working pioneers that settled Union Parish. Corney Creek Festival Committee would like to preserve the waterway that brought our folks to this area of Union Parish. The originators have designed the festival to revive memories of the past by noting the historical importance of Corney Creek and honoring the pioneers through our schedule of events: canoeing on scenic Corney Creek, local and state Historical Hall of Fame, folk arts and crafts and family fun with “ole”time activities.

Corney Creek Articles of Incorporation were filed with the State of Louisiana on June 9, 1980, certifying the purpose as conservation and preservation and denoting the nonprofit status of Corney Creek Festival, Inc. We are making progress. Interest continues to grow and we were notified in June of 1982 that Corney Creek had been included in the list of American Scenic Rivers as a historical scenic stream. Corney Creek is now protected by the provisions of preservation and environmental acts. Come join us as we celebrate our heritage and preserve our scenic streams for future generations.



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