Mary K. Hamner
Piney Woods Journal Correspondent
Louise Cooke Townsend has lived a life packed full of adventure. She was born in Alberta, Louisiana around the turn of the century, (June 22, 1913), and recalls the now nonexistent saw mill town as if were, just yesterday.
Alberta was located about a mile south of Castor on the former Louisiana & Arkansas Railroad. E, M. Werkheiser of Arcadia, founded the little town through 1898 and 1899. He moved his mill from Arcadia to Alberta and he named the settlement that developed there for his daughter Alberta. In 1900 a new company was formed under the name of Bienville Lumber Company and they employed from 250 to 300 workers.
The small town supported a U. S. Post Office, a church and school, and three groceries and dry good stores. Bienville Lumber Company’s store and office building was the site of a telegraph and ticket office and the train stopped there each day. Townsend’s Grandfather, Henry Pleasant Wardlaw, was born near Alberta and inherited a large tract of land in the area when his Mother, Mary Elizabeth King, died. He built his first home in 1840 and raised a family there. Later, when the L. & A. Railroad came through, he built a huge store called a Commissary on the site of the railroad line.
“He carried everything in that store from snuff to coffins,” Townsend said. “My Dad, Guye Cooke, was his bookkeeper and Mr. Brazelton from Atlanta, Georgia was his clerk. For a few years Grandad’s son, Berry Wardlaw, had what we called a ‘chicken wagon’. He had two horses pulling a large buggy and behind was attached a store on wheels. There was a chicken wire coop on the back. Uncle Berry peddled all kinds of merchandise from the store and he was paid in chickens. He was a funny sight coming back from his route with a load of squawking chickens in that coop,” Townsend laughed.
“Extending east from the Commissary was a lane called Main Street. It had a beautiful line of trees on either side. My Grandparents home was at the end of that lane. There were several streets with names I can’t remember but I do recall that our family lived on Newly Wed Street. When my parents, Ruby Wardlaw and Guye Cooke, married, Grandfather built them a house on this street.”
“Grandfather Wardlaw’s house built at the end of Main Street was big and built with a wrap around porch. Many salesmen called ‘drummers” and preachers stayed there when they came to Alberta. Their home water supply came from a well opening up onto the porch. The well was deep and the opening was approximately four feet square. It was curbed with lumber and the water was drawn up with a bucket and a rope attached to a pulley.”
“Maintenance of the well required someone to go down into the hole and clean out the growth of moss and lichen about once a year. The men cleaning out the well once left their task at lunchtime and carelessly left the opening uncovered. I was about four years old and found my reflection in the water of the open well quite fascinating. I was playing peek-a-boo when my Aunt found me and pulled me back from disaster,” Townsend laughed. “As a child, I had no fear and as the first grandchild, I was probably a little spoiled.”
“My Mother liked to sew and since she had no sewing machine at our house, she would take her sewing project up to my Grandparent’s house. She soon discovered that I could climb the chinaberry tree outside the sewing room but then couldn’t get down. She left me there while she sewed, knowing that I was safe and she wouldn’t let anyone passing by take me down. That Chinaberry tree was a built in baby sitter for her small adventuresome child.”
“Life in Alberta was a free and happy time for me,” Mrs. Townsend continued. “I lived in the midst of family and friends and felt very secure. One of our neighbors, Dr. Archibald, had horses, beautiful riding horses as I recall. I often crawled through the fence where they grazed and played hide and seek between their legs. I fished in Castor Creek, picked berries, and listened for the train. I was on my way to the creek to fish one day and midway of the trestle crossing the swamp. I heard the train but kind of froze there, not knowing which way to jump. It wasn’t easy to stop a train with a half-mile of cars extending behind but it had to be done. I got a whipping from my Mother for that and a lot of negative attention from the engineer of the train too,” Townsend said.
“My uncle, Albert Williamson, was the engineer on the train. Alberta was a train stop and we would dress up and go down to the station. We took cookies to my uncle and the arrival of the train was the event of the day. Uncle Berry Wardlaw passed the mail to the train extended on a long pole.”
By March 1915, the Bienville Lumber Company had exhausted its timber supply in the area surrounding Alberta. The company bought a large tract of land at Forest, Mississippi and began moving the mill in April of that same year. Although some families stayed, most of the workers and their families moved away. The post office was moved to Castor and Alberta children walked the one-mile distance to the new schools in Castor.
“I walked with friends and Aunt Myrtle Wardlaw Franks who taught there.” Mrs. Townsend continued.” The road was located opposite the railroad track from where it is now and there was a boardwalk over the swamp. We walked the mile to school and them home again in the evening. If the weather was bad someone would carry us back and forth in a horse drawn wagon.”
“The main road extended from Alberta toward Old Castor and the roads were maintained by the men of the community. When my sister died and was buried at Old Castor Cemetery, we traveled there in our wagon. I remember how terrible the sand beds were. We moved away from Alberta when I was seven, to Plains, Georgia. I returned to the Shreveport area to find a job at age fifteen.”
“When my son, Harry K. Townsend, and I last visited the site of my birthplace, I could still remember how the town was arranged. It’s all grown up now with trees, wild honey suckle, Huckleberry bushes, and other native plants. I found the foundation of the old church and just for a moment I imagined I heard the lonesome whistle of the train. In memory, I went back again and imagined that I was waiting for the train and Uncle Albert, with a plate full of cookies in my hands.”
Louise Townsend will celebrate her 100th birthday with family and friends at her home at The Oaks in Shreveport.