Bernice School Building Lost in Sunday Fire

Bernice Historical Society

People and Places

Education In Bernice

Farmerville Gazette – March 3, 1960

The elementary school building and the Bernice High School gym burned to the ground late Sunday evening, causing an estimated $250,000 in damages.  No one was injured in the blaze but all school supplies, equipment, books, school records, athletic and gymnasium equipment was completely destroyed.

Principal James B. Graves who first sighted the blaze about 7:10 pm and called the fire department said “we will still have school as usual even if we have to use the churches for class rooms.” The school buildings which burned held classes in grades 1 through 4, bringing in four teachers and about 120 students.

The buildings were erected in 1937 and were brick outside with wood paneling inside.  Graves said the fire apparently started from a faulty heating unit or the electrical wiring which was installed some 23 years ago.

Fire trucks were called from neighboring towns, including Farmerville but the blaze was so far advanced that fireman were kept busy preventing the nearby high school built alongside the other from catching fire.

Graves said class records dating from the first year of operations in 1938 were destroyed in the fire.  The building was insured.

I remember the night this happened.  We drove from Shiloh when we heard the news and watched as the buildings went down in the fire.  My ten year old brain only thought about my personal items lost in the fire not realizing what a loss to the community was suffered and how much of school history was destroyed.

When I graduated from Bernice High in 1968 Mr. Graves was serving his ninth year as principal.  He would remain in this position until he left in 1971 to take a position with the LHSAA in Baton Rouge.

Simon Pearson, who had been with the school since 1956 then became principal and served through the 1976-77 school year.

In May of 1977 Billy Henderson became principal.  Henderson had previously been Director of Student Affairs and Coach at Lillie Middle School.

Henderson was followed by Robert Harkins, Jackie Hill and Alice Bolton who was the principal at the time the school was closed in 2014.

All of us who were students at BHS have many memories of the teachers who taught us.  I have a confession to make regarding Mrs. McDonald our Home Economics teacher.  For some reason I thought Mrs. McDonald did not like me – it could have been because I put a zipper in a dress upside down or the time I cut out two dress fronts and tried to sew them together and sneaked the pattern out of the department with one of the fronts and went to Hicks’ Department store where Mother worked and had her cut out the back.  The next day when Mrs. McDonald came to my sewing area the other back had miraculously disappeared and she could not believe she had made the mistake of thinking I had cut out two backs.

Or it could have been when I got a small tape recorder for my birthday and would record her voice and then during the lesson touch the play button.  She would hear a voice but none of our lips were moving . . . she could never figure out where that voice was coming from.

Years later when both she and my mother were in the Bernice Nursing Home she admitted to me that she had thought at the time that “I would never amount to anything”.  I only smiled and came close to confessing these and other “Ms. McDonald moments” that I had committed but decided if she knew the whole truth about the things some of us in the Class of 1968 had done literally “under her nose” that it might be too much for her.  So I just hugged her neck and said “you know sometimes people will fool you.”

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.


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