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Visions of Vernon – Vernon Parish Communities, Auburn - Benasco (Hood)

STANLEY FLETCHER | Vernon Parish Historian
Leesville Daily Leader

A turpentine still was the source of income for the inhabitants. 

Auburn received a post office in 1905 which was discontinued in 1915 with George Choat Fort as postmaster.  Nothing in George's history indicated why he was the postmaster. He was a subsistence farmer from Arkansas who moved to Texas, then to Louisiana, then back to Texas.  He homesteaded 120 acres in 1909 in the Monk's Hammock community on a tributary of Sandy Creek. 

How did Auburn get its name?  In a 1909 publication ofDrugs, Oils, and Paints, Frank Hiscock Messenger of Auburn, New York announced plans to build turpentine stills in West Louisiana and East Texas for the purpose of producing paints, varnishes, and japans.   Japans are coatings which give metal a hard, black, and shinny look, used primarily on automobiles.

In 1910 Frank reported his occupation as a doctor.  It has been long known that turpentine still workers rarely got sick.  Eclectic Oil was the cure-all of the day which was made from turpentine.  It was used for toothaches, muscle pain, bronchial diseases, sore throats, earaches, cuts, burns, sprains, and many other physical abnormalities.  Perhaps Dr. Messenger planned to use turpentine in the drug industry and named the community after his hometown of Auburn.

Barham was a 20th century sawmill town about one mile south of Hornbeck west of U.S. Hwy 171 on Vernon Parish Road 66 in Ward Two.  It was built by the Weber King Lumber Co. and sold to William Russell Pickering in 1905. The mill was managed by Thomas Marion Barham who was the secretary of the W. R. Pickering Land and Timber Co.  He joined the company on February 1, 1897 in Missouri and moved up quickly, also serving as the secretary and treasurer of the Louisiana Central Railroad Co.  

 Pickering purchased 130,847 acres in Vernon and Sabine Parishes from Wright-Blodgett.  Much of the timber for his Pickering and Cravens mills was on present-day Fort Polk. He also purchased 100,000 acres in Texas.

Of Pickering's three mills, the Barham mill was the smallest.  It consisted of a planner mill, dry kilns, a lumber yard, machine shop, and a mill pond.  A corral and a barn were built and maintained to house the dolly-run mules. The mill cut 65,000 board feet of lumber daily plus 20,000 feet of flooring.        

Pickering did not use the Kansas City Southern Railroad.  He built the Louisiana Central Railroad from Pickering to Barham.  Pickering was his largest mill located between Leesville and DeRidder.  Lines were also built to Hornbeck and Cravens, which was east of Pickering on present-day LA Hwy. 10.  The Barham mill also built a terminal line west across Toro Creek into Sabine Parish to the Sabine River to harvest the hardwood along the river.  The railroad company built and maintained 75 miles of track which used twelve engines.

The community of Barham existed from 1902 to 1931,  In 1905 the population was 800 and grew to 1,500 in 1906.  The mill employed as many as 300 workers, including the flatheads who harvested the timber.  

The post office at Barham opened and closed many times.  It opened in 1902 and closed in 1908. The second opening was in 1909 and closed in 1915.  The third opening was in 1916 and closed in 1918. The fourth opening was in 1919 and closed for good in 1931.  The postmaster was James Elgie Reeve, who was from Ontario, Canada. James also served as the mill's stationary engineer.  A stationary engineer was someone who operated, troubleshot, and oversaw industrial machinery that provided energy in various forms.

 The town of Barham included a barbershop, post office, commissary, doctor's office, and depot.  There were boarding houses, an elementary school, and churches for both races, black and white. As with most mill towns, whites lived in pyramidal style houses and blacks lived in log-pen, bungalow, or shotgun houses.  Barham's only teacher was Lola Hughes. A mile north was Hornbeck School which was built in 1898 and had several teachers.

 Benasco, sometimes called Hood on some maps, was a 20th century side camp on the Red River and Gulf Railroad between Peason in Natchitoches Parish and Longleaf in Rapides Parish in Ward Six.  It was 24 miles northeast of Leesville and 24 miles west of Alexandria. 

Where were Benasco and Hood located?  Maps disagree. Some maps have Benasco and Hood as separate communities while others have them as a single community.  According to some maps, Benasco was on LA Hwy. 8 between Temple and Flatwoods. Hood was located on Hood Camp Road south of LA Hwy 8.   According to a RR&G Railroad map, Benasco was a side camp (sometimes called a section camp, which were found along the main line so flatheads didn't have to be transported to and from the worksite everyday) and Hood was a turpentine distillery.  This is supported by a check of Vernon Parish school records which show Hood was a black school and white students went to Stille, a white school a few miles down the track. 

Both communities were on the Red River and Gulf Railroad which was built by Crowell and Spencer Lumber Co. from Peason to Longleaf.  The main track was 45 miles long in Vernon Parish and 23 miles long in Rapides Parish. The company also had fifteen miles of side tracks.  Benasco had a post office which was manned by Benjamin F. Williams. A check of census records produced two possibilities. One was a railroad engineer from Harris Co., Texas and the other was a sawmill worker who lived in Cravens in 1917.  Normally, postmasters were business and or political leaders in their communities, which would suggest the railroad engineer.

 In 1925 the post office at Benasco was closed.  In 1929 the mill at Kurthwood closed along with the side camps and was moved to Longleaf.  In 1954 the track was dismantled.