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VERNON LOUISIANA

Vernon today  

This building is just to the North side of the road going in to Vernon.  This is the grocery store and service station in ruins.

 

The Forgotten Legacy

After Jackson Parish was formed in 1845 the Vernon town site was made June 1845 by Dennis Mackie, surveyor and P. Wyatt, Chairman.

The story goes that there were three places wanting the location of Parish Seat. These were Vernon, Mount Zion and a place four miles north of Vernon. Vernon was the most convenient to the majority, so in 1846, by Act of the Legislature No. 173, Vernon was named the first Parish seat of Jackson. It is said that Vernon was named after a family by the name of "Vernon" who wee living in that vicinity at the time. 

The most revealing description of Vernon and Jackson Parish is given by Mr. J. W. Dorr in the following letter published in The Louisiana Historical Quarterly. Mr. Dorr, a gentleman connected with the editorial department of the New Orleans Crescent, made a horse and buggy tour through a considerable portion of Louisiana during the spring and summer of 1860. The description follows in part: 

"To reach Vernon, the parish seat of Jackson, the traveler must leave the stage of Vienna, and take a private conveyance to that place, sixteen miles distant. Vernon, is a pleasant little burgh of some three or four hundred inhabitants, Joseph R. Ryan, Esqr., Mayor. It is located on a knobby, knolly, hilly piece of ground, and is a rather picturesque settlement, with its courthouse occupying a hill in the center - a capitol line mount; its churches, Methodist and Baptist; its residences on hill and in dale with ground running back to adjoining forest, or broadening into wide and beautiful fields."

After the founding of the Vernon town site, a small log courthouse was first used. Following that a two story building was build. In the fall and winter of 1859, according to notes taken from The Southern Times published at Vernon, in the issue of November 28, 1859, the following notice was published: Notice to the Builders and Contractors. The undersigned Committee appointed by the Police Jury of the Parish of Jackson, Louisiana, for the purpose of contracting for the building of four brick chimneys to the Courthouse in the town of Vernon, will on the 10th day of December next let to the lowest bidder before the Courthouse door in said Parish, the building of said chimneys. Specifications will be given on the day of letting.

A draft on the Parish Treasurer will be given at the first meeting of the Police Jury after completion of the work. (Signed H. C. Slaton, W. C. Ashley, M. Johnson, W. B., Warren, Committee, November 25, 1859. The contract for the building of the chimneys called for two chimneys to be built with fire places upstairs and down stairs. Two to be build with one fireplace each, down stairs. 

Mr. Clarence A. Ives describes the courthouse as an impressive building of classic design; a two-story structure with wide halls extending entirely through the building on the first floor. Parishes' offices were on the first floor, the second floor serving the court. It occupied the crown of a gentle slope. There was a level spot of about an acre square which was enclosed by an ornamental fence, building and fence painted white. Entry to the courtyard was by means of broad steps at the center of each side. There would thus be no bother about keeping the gate shut. To suit the mode of travel of the time, hitching posts or racks were provided. 

Business, houses and offices faced the courthouse, forming a spacious town square. This kind of setting was common throughout all north Louisiana.

On the night of January 24, 1879, a disastrous fire completely demolished this magnificent courthouse that was once the pride and joy of Jackson citizens. (On January 15, 1947 Judge E. L. Walker said that when he became Clerk of Court (Jackson Parish) in 1916 he was advised by his predecessor, Mr. L. W. Ramsey that the courthouse burned September 28, 1878. The Bossier Banner printed October 17, 1878 says, "The Courthouse at Vernon, Jackson Parish, was recently burned by an Incendiary. All records were lost."

To go on with the story of the fire, it is said that the light from the flames could be seen for miles around. There was a man sentenced to ten years in prison for this deed. He had some indictments on him in the courthouse and evidently did not want to be prosecuted. The Legislature, by Act. No. 7 of 1879 provided for the reestablishment of the destroyed records. Judge N.M. smith worked patiently for years doing his best to make maps and to establish clear titles to land.

Court was held for the next six years in churches and sometimes in schools. Instead of the taxpayers voting a tax to build a new courthouse, they built it by private subscriptions from members of the parish. It was a single story building dedicated in 1884. The police jury paid one hundred and fifty dollars a year for the use of this building as a courthouse and as offices for the clerk and sheriff. 

There were few professional people in Vernon. There were two doctors and two lawyers, but no dentist. Doctors were not greatly skilled in medical practice. They used simple, time-honored remedies for common ailments. doctors did not maintain offices, but were called from their homes at any hour of the day or night. The doctor brought along a supply of medicine, and thus was a druggist as well as a doctor. Fees were light; some of the poorer families were not able to pay at all, but no one was neglected.

Approaching the town square from any direction except from the east would be up hill. Vernon was truly at the cross roads. seven roads led to it. One led north towards Longstraw, then northeast toward Monroe and Trenton, the market center, east toward Columbia, southeast towards Sparta and Coushatta, northeast towards Vienna.

Vernon was not a large town but the fact that so many roads led to it, indicates that it was an important business and political center. It was the courthouse town and the chief trading center for a large area.

The soil was sandy loam and because of this the gentle slopes drained well. This gentle area had a type of soil suited to cotton, corn, potatoes, orchard fruits and melons. Generally better crops were produced here more so than other North Louisiana parishes in 1860. The population of Jackson Parish was between nine and ten thousand, with more than a third of these being slaves. The farmers worked to produce as much as possible for family needs. This included meal, grits, meat, milk, vegetables, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, and fruit. Most farmers made syrup from sorghum cane, and honey was plentiful.

Other products for home use were raw wool, cotton, and feathers. The cotton and wool were corded and spun into thread. The cotton or woolen thread was then knitted into a variety of useful items. This added much to the duties of the women. 

The only item produced on the farm and sold on the market was cotton, which was gathered and sold in the fall of each year. The farmer was fortunate if the sale of his cotton brought enough to pay for what he had bought on credit during the year. There were many small planters but comparatively few large ones engaged in the cultivation of cotton. Cotton was transported on wagons drawn by four large mules. Each wagon could carry five or six 500 pound bales of cotton. Most of the traffic was during the wet and rainy fall and winter months. The wagon wheels were ringed with narrow iron tires that cut into the earth easily. The roads were not kept up, and wee in constant need of repair. 

Just north of the town square was a level tract of perhaps ten acres that was used for public service. This was a favored spot for outdoor gatherings, etc. At about the center of this square stood the Methodist church, at the edge of an oak grove. A one-room school building was north of the church. In 1860 the Vernon Female Seminary had an average attendance of some forty-five pupils and occupied a large comfortable building. Rev D. B. Thomas was principal at that time.  There was a flourishing school for boys also. When a Mr. Ives attended school in Vernon around 1875 there was a one teacher private school there which operated throughout the year, but did not have a steady enrollment. School was held on the first floor of the two-story frame building that had been an academy before the war.

The most commonly used texts were McGuffey's Readers, Noah Webster's Blue-Backed Speller, Davies' Arithmetic, Cornell's Geography, and Smith's Grammar. The modern system of grading was not used.

There were no other buildings in Jackson Parish that were strictly schools. In other places, school was held in churches and Masonic lodges. These schools were called public schools, but they wee that only in part. The tuition was usually $1.50 per month. At that time, farm labor was paid 50 cents a day. Public schools did come into being until after 1895.

A Presbyterian church stood on the southeast corner of the square. The Baptist Church was some distance away on the south side of town, buildings were the courthouse and jail. The first jail was a two-story building with a trap door on the second floor used for hanging. The second jail was the only brick structure in the village, was still standing in 1945, but has been torn down since. Mr. Ives recalls the interior was grimy and ill served, smelly and repugnant. One of his saddest memories concerning the jail was the harsh and unfeeling treatment of the insane. Such people would be placed in jail until there was room for them in the state institution. The state facilities wee far from adequate and these poor people would be imprisoned for an indefinite period without attention except as to food. If violent they would be chained. This condition was true all over the state in those days.

 

Sign to the Baptist Church of Vernon

There were three churches in Vernon: Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian. Each had its own church building, but none of the congregations was strong enough to support a full-time minister. Services in each were held once a month, and these were staggered so that, in a sense, these were community churches. Most of the preachers had no religious training. They were farmers as well as preachers. 

The Presbyterian church dated as far back as the early or middle 1850's and belonged to the Red River Presbytery. The records of this congregation are preserved in Ruston along with those of the First Presbyterian Church there.

The Negro preachers of the day had either little or no education. They preached what they heard and talked about in the fields. One Negro preacher, on being reprimanded for preaching half-drunk, replied that he could talk with more fervor when he was about half-sober. Negro services were carried on with an excess of emotion. There were shouts of "Hallelujah," rhythmic chanting, and stomping of feet.

Sometimes regular services and revival meetings did not seem to be enough to combat the tendency to sin, and a "camp meeting" was called. A camp ground was developed at Oak Ridge, four miles east of Vernon. Cottages were build near the stream to house people during the meetings. These camp meetings usually lasted about two weeks with services four times daily: sunrise, mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and evening.

The preaching at these camps was harsh and strong. Emotional fervor was contagious; sometimes whole parts of congregation would break out in loud cries. The people seemed to endure religion rather than enjoy it.

Saturday was a big day in Vernon, as it much have been in like centers elsewhere, particularly in the agricultural south. People streamed in from all directions, Negroes and whites, in wagons, buggies, and on horseback. These throngs did not come to sell anything except perhaps a few eggs. Because the farmers had money just once a year, following the sale of cotton in the fall, the merchants  operated on a credit basis. Many farmers were poor risks, so merchants were compelled to "mark-up" the prices so that those who paid their bills indirectly paid for those who didn't. The saloons attracted some of them, which would be evident as the wore on. The merchants of Vernon in 1860 were W. C. Ashley, M. B. Kidd and Brother, Davis and Sholar, Samuel and Cann, William Lewis, and Lloyd and Ives.

Wide interest on voting days brought everyone who could walk or ride to town. Election days wee like holidays. The town was full of people and excitement. Saloons did a rush business. All voting was carried out in the open. Ballots were passed out freely. This gave poll workers the opportunity to mark ballots according to their preference, and thus stack the ballot box.

Holidays played a major role in the social life. May Day, the fourth of July and Christmas were the most important holidays.

There were functions that were both social and practical in value such as, log rolling, house raising and quilting bees. 

Two popular ball games of the period were "cat" and "townball." Cat was played with a twine ball and any number could take part. Two batters stood about forty feet apart. A third player pitched the ball, and when the ball was hit the batters had to change places. If another got the ball and ran to either station before the runner, that station was then his. Townball was played with a hard rubber ball and a bat that was squared at the striking end. There were three bases and a home plate similar to baseball. Two captains chose their players until everyone was on one team or the other. Thus, there were no idle spectators. The batter was out if the ball were caught on the first bounce or thrown across the base path in front of the runner. Other games included marbles, leapfrog, shinney, and other running and jumping games.

Hunting and fishing, besides being a major source of food, provided hours of relaxation for the men. There were no restrictions then to conserve game. Turkey, quail, deer, dove, squirrel and other game were there for the killing.

To satisfy their desire for news people gathered in this way at trading centers, visited much, turned out on public occasions. Even church attendance was affected by a desire for news and companionship. There was a daily mail service between Vernon and Vienna, except Sundays. This was by horseback, as the mail in the nature of things was not considerable. The old road one would thus travel did not follow any of our present roads, but roughly paralleled the Farmerville Highway (Route 33) and the Chatham Road (Route 146). Mail from abroad came to Vienna first. This town 17 miles north of Vernon was on a main highway east and west across the state. This road from Monroe to Shreveport was called the "Wire Road' because a telegraph line followed the road. It was best known of all the roads in North Louisiana. The road from Vernon joined the Wire Road at Indian Village some fifteen miles from Monroe. A Mr. Stinson of Gainsville, was awarded the contract to carry the mail between Vernon and Vienna. Such a route was called a "Star Route." This was a horseback service using two horses, each horse being used on alternate days. His son was the mail carrier, the Christopher Ives home was his headquarters for him self and horses. He would leave Vernon in the morning, reach Vienna about noon, and return in the afternoon. In rough wintry weather this was not exactly easy life.

The post office was once the oldest in the state, having been established in on June 4, 1846 and was closed permanently on July 1, 1967 after 121 years of service.

Robert A. Carson was the first postmaster. These postmasters followed him through 1893 and the dates of their appointments are as follows.

    Marion W. Ashley,                 December 24, 1852

     John C. Jones,                         December 16, 1854

    John W. Arnold                       May 15, 1856

    James M. Smith                        January 29, 1857

    J. Y. Allen                                 December 26, 1865

    John H. Tatum                         February 13, 1866

    Hiram L. Smith                         May 9, 1870

    Mrs. Mary M. Stover             December 1, 1873

    Ferdinand M. McCormick     January 21, 1873

    Dennis N. Pyburn                    Failed to qualify, January 9, 1879

    William H. Squyres                 February 27, 1879

    Edwin L. Hill                             March 23, 1881

    Augustus C. Simonton           October 31, 1892

The only railroad serving North Louisiana at that time was the Texas and Pacific Railway from New Orleans to Shreveport. The railroad form Monroe to Shreveport was built in the early 1880's. Monroe was the chief market center for the general area because of its rail connections and because shipping by boat on the Ouachita River was available during the winter and spring months. A round trip from Vernon to Monroe (some thirty miles) usually took three days.

Over a period of time, Vernon acquired several newspapers. The first newspaper was established by J.C. Drew as the "Jackson Patriot." Sidney McCranie moved to Vienna and took his paper with him renaming it the Vienna Sentinal. The "Jacksonian," was edited by Andrew J. Bell and the "Southern Times" was edited by G.W. McCranie. A few of the Southern Times have been preserved and now on microfilm at various libraries.

The Civil War caused hardship and deprivation in Vernon As it did in many other similar towns. However, the people were fortunate in that no large battles or total destruction occurred in the area. A local legend in Vernon states that part of the plans for the Battle of Vicksburg were made in the old Vernon post office, but documentation is lacking. But in reality, the war began the inevitable decline of Vernon, for after the war came the movement and westward expansion that was to deplete the community and remove Vernon from its position of prominence. 

Life was not easy in those hard years after the Civil War. Fortunately, there had been no fighting in this immediate section, and few of the enemy troops wee to be seen. However, the war brought casualties to many families. The fact that a husband or father had been killed or disabled in the war left some families poor, but the people of Vernon rallied to their aid.

When reconstruction drew to a close, Jackson Parish grew rapidly in the areas around Macedonia (now Jonesboro), but the population of Vernon gradually began dwindling.

The economy in the country around Vernon was dependent almost entirely on agriculture and specifically on cotton. Without any industry of its own to compete with the saw mill towns of Jonesboro and Chatham, Vernon's influence became less and less and her commerce suffered.

Even before the courthouse burned, Mr. William B. McDonald, who was a representative to the Legislature, saw that Vernon had seen its best days. He was in favor of moving the governmental seat to a settlement where railroads would probably build, and where sawmills would be constructed. He was a man of leadership and foresight. and as usual in such cases, he had enemies. his opinion cost him his life for he was shot and killed at old Vernon as he was preparing to go to the Legislature.

After the court house burned talk arose concerning the transfer of the Parish seat. Before the question was settled, almost every Legislature saw a bill introduced for moving the Parish seat away from a declining community.

Bills for the removal of the parish seat were introduced in the legislature in 1884,  1904. and 1908 but all defeated. In1910 the Legislature passed Act No. 67 providing the removal of the parish seat from Vernon to a point "as near as practicable to the center of the parish." 

The story of what happened to the old Vernon courthouse is worthy of note. A public auction was held and Mr. Jim McDowell purchased for the surprising sum of $65 the courthouse built by private subscription. He proceeded to tear it down move the lumber to his land and built a five- room house that was still used as his home in 1945. Mr. McDowell  sold the benches that were in it realizing through this sale almost one-half of the money he had spent on purchasing the building. When my sister Kathy and I (Elaine (Monroe) Nagel stopped to ask the man beside the road where Vernon was he pointed to the home acorss the road from us and said that house over there has the wall's inside covered in the courthouse lumber. This house stands today in 2000

The loss of its status as parish seat was something of a death-blow to Vernon In the years that followed more of its citizens continued to move away and slowly its business and commercial life died. The town square which had once been surrounded by thriving businesses became an empty field; the school and all but one small church disappeared. Where streets had been and where buildings had once stood there were now lonely pines and deserted plum thickets.

Vernon presently consists of a small number of neat and attractive homes, most of  which are located approximately; one-tenth of a mile west from the site of the old town square. The Vernon Baptist Church which is located a few yards from the area where the jail once stood and near the former location of the Vernon Academy School

The old cemetery still stands.

The Old Vernon cemetery may be found a short distance from the church and contains many tombstones with inscriptions over a hundred years old. The earliest known burial in the cemetery took place in 1855.

There is one business left in Vernon a grocery store and service station location on the Vernon Road.

At the southern edge of the community is the Vernon fire tower  which stands like an inland lighthouse above the hills. The tower watches over the never-ending forest and as fewer and fewer people remain in Vernon, the forest reclaims its own.

Vernon had no corporate limits but extended indefinitely into the country. The people were not particularly conscious of being either town or country people. All were farmers except a few merchants and parish officials. The village was small, the country around it sparsely populated, so it was natural that people in and out of town knew each other intimately. 

Jackson was a large parish covering some 260,000 acres of which more than 50,000 were in cultivation in 1860. The principal crops were cotton and corn. There was much land available for purchase at that time, but nearly all of the more valuable tracts wee in private hands. The price of none of the land--even the most valuable--exceeded ten dollars per acre. Inferior but pretty good land sold for three. Average land sold for six and a half dollars per acre. 

 

 

This information was taken from two sources.

1. The Village of Vernon seat of Government in Jackson Parish 1845- 1873 Arliss Morelle Barr

2. Jackson Parish Louisiana, Jonesboro 1982

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