Written by Dr. Timothy D. Hudson
During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Shiloh formed the commercial center of the western portion of Union Parish, attracting extensive business from not only the surrounding countryside of southwestern Union, but also from portions of Claiborne, Jackson, and Lincoln Parishes due to Shiloh’s role as a gateway connection to the New Orleans agricultural markets via Shiloh Landing, Bayous Corney and D’Arbonne, and the Ouachita River. After the war, Shiloh enjoyed a reputation as a leading center of culture and progress, with highly-respected educational institutions located “in the midst of a prosperous and energetic community thoroughly alive to educational interests.” Due to their schools and the vibrant Baptist Church, Shiloh attracted visitors from across north Louisiana, who described the village as “plucky and ambitious” and the “thriftiest, neatest, and most enterprising little town in North Louisiana,” with her citizens “famous for their hospitality, morality, and intelligence.” Shiloh’s learning institutions produced two Louisiana governors, William W. Heard and Ruffin G. Pleasant, Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives George W. Bolton, Union Parish Clerk of Court and Louisiana Secretary of State Edward Everett, among many others.
The western portion of Union Parish, including the Shiloh and Spearsville neighborhoods, developed a few years later than the rest of the parish. The earliest European settler, Elder Lawrence Scarborough, arrived with his family about 1825 and settled along Bayou Corney halfway between Shiloh and Spearsville, near the last few Choctaw Indian villages in the parish. In 1836, Solomon Feazel moved from the Downsville area where his family had settled in 1814 to what later became the Shiloh Landing and Lowrey’s Ferry on Bayou Corney. Clement Mosely and John Culbertson were the only other men to purchase farms near Shiloh prior to 1845. Settlement increased significantly between 1845 and 1850, with the arrival of the families of Berry, Jesse F., Jesse G., Levi B., and William E. Fuller, Stephen S. and William C. Heard, George Lowrey, Isaac C. Mayes, George W. Moore, Thomas Pearson, Ruffin G. Pleasant, Richard Pullam, Morris Skinner, George D. Stewart, Jesse Tubb, John W. Walker, Henry Youngblood, and Shiloh’s first two physicians, Dr. William A. Milner and Dr. Matthew D. Mayes. This nucleus of families led to the formation of the Shiloh Baptist Church in March 1849, and the church joined the Concord Baptist Association later that year. Rev. Jesse Tubb served Shiloh Church as pastor between 1849 and 1857, followed by Elder S. J. Fuller.
On 19 April 1850, Dr. Matthew Mayes purchased a 40-acre tract of land from the government surrounding the Shiloh Baptist Church. A few stores opened, and Drs. Mayes and Milner opened their office nearby. Milner petitioned for a local post office, and the Postal Service established the Shiloh Post Office on 16 April 1851, with Milner as the first postmaster. That same year, Oswell H. Youngblood, John D. Cole, Absalom Wade, and his son, James Thomas Wade, all arrived in Shiloh. Youngblood opened a blacksmith shop in town next to the public square and public well which he operated for the next three decades. Cole, the Wades, and Rev. Jesse Tubb opened a general store adjoining the public square and well that thrived in the mid-1850s. The week beginning Saturday, October 8, 1853, saw the first major influx of visitors to Shiloh, as the Concord Baptist Association held their annual meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church.
Like most of north Louisiana during the land boom of that period, Shiloh proved a transitory locale for many. Dr. Mayes died in 1856 and Dr. Milner moved on to Texas, but two new physicians arrived and hung their shingles in Shiloh: Dr. John C. Knott and Dr. John R. Clark. In 1857, Cole and Absalom Wade moved to Winnfield, selling their store to Ruffin G. Pleasant, who purchased a residence in Shiloh and left his farm in the country under the management of an overseer. Pleasant’s business flourished, and the influx of settlers from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia who poured into the Shiloh neighborhood in the 1850s led residents to petition the Louisiana Legislature for Shiloh’s incorporation, which the governor signed on 18 March 1858. Shiloh’s town limits consisted of ½-mile square region centered around Pleasant’s storehouse and the public square, with a municipal government of a mayor and five aldermen. The Act specifically gave the town the authority to “prohibit houses of ill-fame and disorderly houses” and to tax all plays and public entertainments as well as the “retailing of spirituous liquors, billiard tables, and every other species of gaming prohibited by the laws of this State.”
By 1860, the population of Shiloh’s surrounding countryside had increased significantly, contributing to its development as a small village. Although Pleasant’s general store remained the largest, Dr. John R. Clark’s son, Thomas, also operated his own store in Shiloh. Dr. Jesse J. Booles performed his residency at Dr. Clark’s Shiloh office before receiving his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Louisiana in March 1861. Dr. Clark retired after the war, and Dr. Booles then took over and practiced for the two decades, with Dr. A. D. Gaskill operating his medical practice in the countryside near town. In 1860, Shiloh had two mechanics and one engineer working in town, and three blacksmith shops, one with both a blacksmith and his apprentice.
The influx of settlers into the “hill parishes” of Union, Claiborne, and Jackson between 1835 and 1855 created logistical problems for those living long distances from their parish seats. As a result, citizens in the western portion of Union, eastern Claiborne, and northern Jackson felt they had more in common with each other than those on opposite sides of their own parishes, so they repeatedly petitioned the Louisiana Legislature to put their region into a new parish. The Legislature finally acquiesced, approving an Act on 2 March 1860 that specified the boundaries of the new parish, but stopped short of officially creating it, subject to a population count following the 1860 census to ensure that the proposed new parish had sufficient population. The Legislature proposed taking the western third of Union Parish, a region twelve miles wide by twenty-four miles long, and putting it into the new parish. This means that Shiloh and Spearsville, as well as the smaller communities of Mineral Springs and Darbone, and the later ones of Mount Union, Laran, Lillie, Cedarton, Unionville, and Dubach would all have been in the new parish, not in Union Parish (Lincoln Parish did not yet exist and these locations then all belonged to Union). The proposed new parish would also have included the eastern portion of Claiborne and the northern portion of Jackson (now Lincoln) Parish, including the towns of Lisbon, Hico, Summerfield, Scottsville, and Weldon. Had the Legislature proceeded with the creation of this parish, the history of both Shiloh and Union Parish would have unfolded quite differently. The war derailed these plans for a new parish, and by the time the Legislature addressed the problem in 1873 with the creation of Lincoln Parish, they used drastically different boundaries.
The war caused a setback to Shiloh and the parish, both in terms of destroying the local economy and the loss of a significant number of young men. The fall of New Orleans to the Union forces in April 1862 ended all commerce from the city into the Mississippi River Valley, basically eliminating merchants’ ability to obtain new stock. After serving as the driving force behind Shiloh’s creation, these conditions forced Ruffin G. Pleasant to sell his Shiloh store and town residence on 4 September 1863 and return to his farm in the country. He sold his farm on 10 March 1865 and moved his family to Texas, where he died later that year. The government closed the Shiloh Post Office in June 1866, reopened it in June 1867, closed it again in December 1869, and then finally reopened on 12 October 1871. The immediate postwar years also saw a new wave of immigration into western Union Parish, as difficult economic conditions in the eastern states prompted many to move west in search of a better life.
The resumption of commerce with the New Orleans markets by 1866 led to a gradual return to a new normalcy, and the influx of new residents led to the incredible growth of Shiloh as a regional center of commerce. Dr. John R. Clark retired from medical practice and took over his son’s general store, and John D. Hamilton, Daniel K. McLaurin, and Horatio McLain opened their own general stores in town, with Asa S. Duty operating a gunsmith shop. In the early years, commerce to and from Shiloh required the four-mile wagon trip from town to Shiloh Landing on Bayou Corney, then transportation via keelboats or barge down the bayou to Stein’s Bluff (located where the modern Bernice Highway crosses the Corney), where workers would transfer cotton and merchandise to steamboats for the trip down Bayou D’Arbonne and on to Trenton, Monroe, or New Orleans. Due to obstructions in the Corney’s channel, the smallest bayou steamers could only make the trip from Stein’s Bluff to Shiloh Landing on rare occasions, during periods of exceptionally high water. The resumption of steamboat service to Union Parish landings in the immediate postwar years proved sporadic, frustrating the Shiloh merchants. To guarantee regular service, Dr. Clark purchased the steamboat “Pioneer” in June 1868. A 103’ sternwheel packet built in Missouri in 1866, she began making regular trips between Stein’s Bluff, Monroe, and New Orleans. Dr. Clark sold the “Pioneer” to Shiloh farmer James Edmonds in March 1869, and he commanded her on trips through the end of the steamboating season on Bayous Corney and D’Arbonne in July 1870. Capt. Edmonds left the “Pioneer” at Trenton, and where she wrecked and sank on September 14th. By that time, Farmerville merchants had purchased a line of steamboats providing regular service to Stein’s Bluff, and so Edmonds retired from steamboating and focused again on farming.
By the early 1880s, Shiloh boasted over 400 residents and numerous merchants, including James R. Fuller, Joseph W. Heard, Seaborn J. Harris, Charles W. Elliott (who also made shoes), Jesse Boatright, John R. Pleasant, W. F. Lindsay, and Capt. John D. Hamilton, who also worked as a dentist. A. J. Mashaw operated a jewelry store on the town square, working as a silversmith and glazier. Three physicians operated medical practices in town: Dr. Robert Roberts, Dr. Robert F. Brooks, and Dr. J. G. Glover, all of whom had their own drug stores. Mr. Davis operated a large steam gin and grist mill that ran twenty-four hours a day during the winter, and Davis and Smith operated a “plucky” furniture factory, making “good, substantial and handsome furniture of oak, walnut, poplar and sweet gum,” producing over 1000 chairs per year. In 1882–1883, “with enterprising spirit,” merchants from Shiloh, Spearsville, Lisbon, and Summerfield donated $20,000 to Capt. Jesse Boatright for him to have the Corney cleared of trees and other obstructions, thereafter allowing small steamers to reach Shiloh Landing throughout the steamboating season. In the 1880s and 1890s, the smaller steamboats “Rowena,” “Tributary,” “Sallie,” “Friendly,” “HW Graves,” “Helen Vaughan,” “Addie,” “Rosa B,” and “John B. Robinson” regularly delivered cotton directly from Shiloh Landing to Monroe.
From the village’s formation, Shiloh residents placed a strong emphasis upon the enlightenment of their youth. Louisiana public education did not exist then as we know it today. In that era, larger communities formed their own academies, private institutions supported by tuition fees and often by a religious denomination. The Baptist Church supported the Shiloh Academy upon its formation in the 1850s, bringing Professors Absalom Wade and Elisha Perryman Bolton and their families to Shiloh. In 1860, Bolton taught languages, his son, James M. Bolton, taught mathematics, and a young woman. Miss S. L. High, also taught languages. Six other teachers worked in community schools in the surrounding countryside. At Shiloh Academy, school days opened each morning with readings from the Bible, a prayer, and remarks on events of current interest.
In November 1870, Shiloh resident and school teacher William G. Simmons sold a three-acre rectangular tract of land to the Shiloh Academy Board of Trustees for $100; given the price, it presumably contained at least one school building. The Academy had two five-month terms per year, with tuition ranging from $2.50-4.50 per month, depending on age. For out of town students, the Academy advertised stated that, “Board can be procured in excellent families in Shiloh, at reasonable rates.” Max Feazel served as Shiloh Academy Board President in the early 1870s.
The Shiloh Baptist Church’s 1875 selection of Rev. John P. Everett as pastor proved a turning point for the village. The son of Rev. George Everett who founded Spring Hill Baptist Church at Union Cross Roads (now Oakland) in 1848, John P. Everett was baptized by his father as a member of Spring Hill Church in 1845, and that church selected him as a deacon in 1853, licensed him to preach in 1854, ordained him as a minister in 1855, and called him as their pastor in 1856. A combat veteran of the Mexican War and primarily a self-taught man, Rev. Everett believed strongly in the value of education, establishing a thriving school near his farm at Oakland. He accepted the pastorship of the 350-member Shiloh Baptist Church in October 1875, and he and his wife, Sarah Jane Buckley Everett, promptly moved their family to Shiloh.
In October 1875, the Concord Baptist Association held its annual meeting at the Shiloh Church, and the body voted to establish the Concord Institute at Shiloh. The Trustees of the Shiloh Academy offered their land for the Institute, and Rev. Everett, together two other Baptist ministers, William P. Smith and Sterling C. Lee, managed to sell stock and raise sufficient funds for the Concord Institute to open for the Fall 1876 term. The boarding college consisted of three large, white wooden buildings heated by fireplace, the former buildings occupied by the Shiloh Academy. As President of the Concord Institute Board of Trustees, Rev. Everett insisted upon only hiring college graduates, and it soon had a student body of over 140 students from across North Louisiana. The Institute developed a reputation for proficiency in mathematics and theology, although they had faculty specializing in “Mental and Moral Philosophy and Ancient Language,” English grammar and literature, vocal and instrumental music, and French. Besides attracting many teachers to Shiloh, several local residents taught there, including Elisha P. Bolton and Miss Annie Pleasant, daughter of former merchant Ruffin G. Pleasant. Students paid tuition of $8-10/month, with rooms at $2.50/month, and meals costing 10¢/day. During its first term of operation, the Trustees petitioned the Louisiana Legislature to prohibit the sale of “intoxicating liquors in the town of Shiloh,” but the Legislature denied their petition, stating that the parish police jury had such authority. Ward Four, including Shiloh, held a referendum soon afterwards, and the community voted almost unanimously to ban sale of alcohol. Afterwards, the Concord Institute advertised its location in a dry area, “thus removing one source of apprehension which parents have for their boys when from home” (apparently, in that era, parents did not worry about their daughters’ consumption of alcohol).
Shiloh became a popular location for the annual meetings of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, who met there again in July 1878, with the delegates speaking “in high terms of the people of Shiloh and surrounding country.” On Sunday morning, July 14th, the association delegates met outside the Concord Institute to hear over one hundred members of the Shiloh Baptist Church Sunday School sing hymns. The Sunday School members then led the delegates on a procession through Shiloh to the Baptist Church, singing along the way. One visitor wrote, “The Institute at the place is also in a flourishing condition, and is doing a great work for that portion of the State in training the minds of the young.” Guests of Shiloh merchant James R. Fuller reported that they “could not possibly have been more hospitably entertained by anybody anywhere…the fact is, we fell in love with the people of Shiloh, and will never forget them nor the time which we spent so pleasantly with them.”
Within a few years of its opening, the Concord Institute became the leading Baptist college in Louisiana, more influential than the Mount Lebanon University and College and the Shreveport University. Much of the credit goes to the principal, Baptist minister Charles B. Freeman, who also taught philosophy and Greek. Rev. Freeman decided to leave the Institute at the end of the 1881–1882 term and move to Alexandria. The Trustees named Rev. Everett’s son-in-law, John B. Robinson, Jr., the Institute’s mathematics teacher, as the principal. He managed the Concord Institute in an efficient manner for several terms, carrying on the tradition established by Rev. Freeman.
Disaster struck the Concord Institute on 19 March 1884, when the school’s three buildings all burned to the ground, destroying all furniture, books, and musical instruments. Classes convened the following day in the Baptist Church, but a measles epidemic among the students led to the suspension of the term on April 5th. Principal Robinson himself succumbed to measles on April 17th. The school closed the term early, while the Trustees attempted to secure another principal over the summer. Rev. Everett offered the position to Col. James W. Nicholson, a well-known educator from Claiborne Parish. Having other obligations, Nicholson had to decline, but as a Methodist, he regarded Everett’s offer as the greatest compliment he ever received. Nicholson later became a mathematics professor and President of Louisiana State University. Their search for a new principal proved unsuccessful and combined with financial considerations, the Trustees to disband the Concord Institute in September 1884.
With the Institute now defunct, the Shiloh Academy made plans to reopen, with Rev. Everett now serving as president of the Board of Trustees. Everett secured the services of Confederate veteran Edwin Milton Corry as the principal. Described as “a gentleman endowed with educational attainments of a high order,” Principal Corry immediately placed the Shiloh Academy on a firm footing. Miss Belle Washington assisted Corry during the 1885–1886 year, when the Academy charged tuition of $2.00–4.00 per month, with board in local families at the rates of $8.00–10.00 per month. The Shiloh Academy was in a “flourishing condition” in 1886. Corry served as Principal of the Shiloh Academy until the summer of 1887, when he moved to the Magnolia, Arkansas high school; he later served as Superintendent of Claiborne Parish Schools. The Shiloh Academy appointed Professor Hendricks as principal after Corry’s departure, and in 1892, it had an enrollment of 109 students. Hendricks left at the end of the 1892–1893 school year.
Educational reform swept across Louisiana in the 1880s and 1890s, making the old academy system obsolete. In a progressive move, the Shiloh Academy Board of Trustees changed the school’s name beginning with the 1893–1894 year to “Shiloh High School,” although it remained a semi-public school and the Board retained full authority over its operation (parish school boards did not yet control the operation of parish schools). Although termed a “high school,” it remained a school for all ages, as our modern grade organizational structure had not yet evolved. Instead, they retained the time-honored system of student advancement by progression through McGuffey’s readers. For the 1893–1894 school year, the Shiloh High School hired Clarence Albert Ives, a May 1893 graduate of Louisiana State University. Dr. Ives later became State Supervisor of High Schools and LSU’s first Dean of the College of Education. At the age of 94, Dr. Ives described his tenure at Shiloh High School, saying that he began the year “with hope, enthusiasm, and a feeling that the community also shared this attitude.” He described Shiloh as “an attractive village with five or six general stores, a drugstore, and post office.” The Board of Trustees had not rebuilt after the Concord Institute had burned in 1884, but they held classes in first floor of the two-story frame Masonic Hall, located in a “beautiful grove of native trees, several acres in extent.” The hall had a partition used to separate the lower and upper grades, with local resident, Miss Julia Tabor, teaching the elementary level and Dr. Ives the upper ones. The severe economic depression of the early 1890s affected attendance, as many families did not have the means to pay the nominal tuition. Still, Ives recalled many pleasant memories of his year in Shiloh due to the “genial and intelligent people…many had striking personalities,” including Shiloh merchant and dentist, Capt. John D. Hamilton, leading merchants Seaborn J. Harris and W. H. White, gin operator Newton Covington, and Mr. Tabor, a leading farmer. Dr. Ives recalled numerous conversations with the Heard brothers, John, Henry, Steve, and William, all veterans of the Confederate Army, regarding their experiences during the war.
Railroad fever first hit Union Parish in the early 1850s, while the officials deliberated on the route for the new east/west railroad. In the expansion of railroads across the country following the war, the fever hit again in the 1870s, with a town meeting held at Shiloh on 9 August 1871. Interest in the planned railroad, plus the barbecue, attracted a large crowd, and the town selected local residents Charles A. Heard, Daniel K. McLaurin, and William G. Simmons as a committee to push for route passing near Shiloh. The extensive swamps surrounding Bayous D’Arbonne and Corney proved significant obstacles to the north/south railroad, and it took Congress until 1888 to pass legislation funding the endeavor. For the next decade, Shiloh residents believed the Little Rock/Alexandria railroad route would pass through their village. Railroad surveyors worked in Shiloh in mid-March, 1898, telling residents they believed the railroad route would enter Shiloh near the Shiloh High School building, about a quarter of a mile from the town square. Capt. C. C. Henderson promised residents to begin work as soon as the town voted a tax in support of the railroad. By late 1898, Henderson announced the selection of route for the new Arkansas Southern Railroad that by-passed Shiloh, passing several miles to the west of the town square. He named the railroad stop there after his daughter, Bernice.
A few months after Shiloh residents learned that Capt. Henderson had sidestepped their village with his route, tragedy struck. Between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. on Monday morning, 20 March 1899, an incendiary ignited a blaze in the storehouse of Elza B. Robinson on the Shiloh town square. The blaze had made a good headway when discovered, and the stiff wind at the time caused it to quickly become a conflagration that consumed all the adjoining frame structures. In addition to Robinson’s store, the storehouses of James R. Fuller, Joseph W. Heard, Harris & Harrell, Capt. Jesse Boatright, and Daniel K. McLaurin’s post office soon lay in ashes. Hearing the alarm early, John W. Harrell rushed to his store from his residence and managed to salvage some of his goods. He entered the burning building one last time to clean out his safe, and as he fled the inferno, he dropped $800 cash that the fire then incinerated. The other merchants barely managed to rescue their books. Only the stores of Capt. John D. Hamilton and L. W. Landers escaped the flames. Heard and Fuller were the only merchants with any insurance, so the fire proved a devastating loss.
Six months after an arsonist struck Elza B. Robinson’s store, a few men committed another dastardly crime against Robinson. Soon after midnight on Tuesday, September 5th, several men went to his horse lot in Shiloh, hitched two of his mules to a wagon, drove the wagon about three miles from town, then shot the mules and burned the wagon and harness. They shot one mule in the head, killing it instantly, but three shots were fired into the other’s head, with the poor animal still alive the next morning. The men then removed the wagon wheels, placed them in the wagon bed and set it on fire. Residents believed that the diabolical act was undoubtedly related to the arsonist that destroyed Shiloh a few months earlier, but no evidence was found to shed more light on the culprits.
Regardless of the motives behind these attacks on Mr. Robinson that managed to incinerate their village, the town merchants realized the loss of the Arkansas Southern Railroad to Bernice sealed Shiloh’s fate. The railroad officials held a public auction on Wednesday, 18 May 1899, to sell town lots in Bernice, then described as a “veritable wilderness.” The event attracted a crowd of over two thousand to Bernice, and all of Shiloh’s merchants bought lots, indicating their intention to rebuild their businesses there instead of in Shiloh. Elza B. Robinson sold his steamboat, the “John B. Robinson,” the last small steamer that had delivered cotton and goods from Shiloh to Monroe and New Orleans. With the railroad at Bernice, the need for steamboat service to Shiloh Landing had evaporated. The Postal Service created the Bernice Post Office on October 7th, and on December 13th, Governor Foster issued a proclamation incorporating the Town of Bernice, with J. T. Crews as mayor, and former Shiloh businessmen W. H. McLaurin as town marshal and Elza B. Robinson as alderman. Bernice held its first Christmas celebration on Saturday evening, 23 December 1899. The completion of the Arkansas Southern Railway from Ruston to Arkansas created a logging boom, and almost overnight the population of Bernice exploded, temporarily surpassing Farmerville as the largest town in Union Parish.
Although virtually all commerce moved to Bernice after the fire, with the Shiloh Methodist Church disbanding and reforming in Weldon and the Shiloh Post Office closing in 1906, the community endured. The Shiloh Baptist Church remained strong throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, now forming the central focus of the Shiloh Community.
Dr. Timothy D. Hudson is the mathematics department head at Southeastern Louisiana University and an avid historian on Union Parish. Dr. Hudson is a Union Parish native and graduate of Farmerville High School.