Bernice Historical Society
Bernice Dots #31
By Cathy Buckley
In the early 1960’s the Bernice Industrial Development Corporation was developed in Bernice with the hope of attracting new businesses to help the town grow. Dr. W.C. Reeves served as president of BIDCO during its earliest years and the group sported a membership of 85 members with a nine man board of trustees.
One of the earliest projects of BIDCO was the acquisition of a new industry in town – The Bernice Manufacturing Corporation. In February of 1964 BIDCO operating along with the Town of Bernice and the Union Parish Police Jury signed a contract with the company for the manufacture of women’s sleep wear.
Hailed as the first major industry to come into the parish the plant opened its doors for business in April of 1964 inside some abandoned buildings in downtown Bernice. The Bernice plant was one of two “pilot” plants established in the area, the other being in Junction City. Earliest indicators were that each plant would employ 100 workers which would grow to 500 with the construction of a building especially for use by the plant. Some even suggested that within three to five years of establishment that each plant would employ 1000 workers; a goal that sounded good on paper but which was never reached. The weekly payroll of the plant at a 500 worker capacity was estimated to be $25,000 per week.
Workers from all over Union Parish came to the plant to work with 90% of the work force made up of women. A bond issue was passed for the construction of a 25,000 square foot, one story, air conditioned building on the site of the old “Graves Place”.
Several other towns within Louisiana and Mississippi had competed for the location of the factory but thanks to the hard work of BIDCO the plant selected the town of Bernice.
With the arrival of the new plant there came new residents to the town of Bernice many of which would purchase homes on “Petticoat Junction” street in the town of Bernice. Others would rent or purchase older homes scattered around town.
The year 1964 also saw the town celebrate one of its most famous citizens. Willis Reed, two time Little All America basketball player from Grambling College was honored by his home town. Reed led a parade through town and a banquet was held in his honor at Westside High School from which he graduated in 1960. During his four years at Grambling, Reed played in 125 games and scored 2315 points and was the second round draft choice of the New York Knicks upon his graduation from Grambling.
As the 1960’s drew to a close the “Garment Factory” was completing its fifth year with 200 workers employed; the hospital was in need of expansion so Wards 3, 4 and 10 had passed a tax to build the new “Tri-Ward Hospital” which held its open house in January of 1970. BIDCO had purchased a 40 acre tract of land in hopes of establishing an industrial park that would attract new industry to the town.
The Bernice Volunteer Fire Department had purchased new equipment and had established a radio service with state police in order to better serve the community. As 1970 rolled around Van Salley stepped down as town mayor after serving for 24 years.
The town needed a new water system which would come in several years and the town council and BIDCO were “flying” the idea of building an airport to serve the local area.
I hope you have enjoyed this whirlwind tour through the history of Bernice. There were many people and events not included but stop by the Bernice Depot if you want to step back in time in the history of Bernice.
I will write a few “Dots” on the history of education in Bernice that I hope you will enjoy.
********************************************************************************************* 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.