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Visions of Vernon Vernon Parish Communities, Ollieville - Pickering

Stanley Fletcher
Leesville Daily Leader

 Ollieville (30.958416 N, -93.368120 W) is a crossroad community located at the intersection of north-south Cottonwood Road and east-west Hawks Road in Ward Three.  The community is in T1S, R10W.

     Ollieville is named after Oliphant/Oliver "Ollie" M. Midkiff (1872-1938).  He was the grandson of the infamous Pharoah Howell Midkiff who died in Ft. Jessup's jail after a shootout in 1842 or 1843. 

     The Midkiff family was the dominant family in the Ollieville community.  Seventeen land grants were issued to family members totaling 920 acres.  The two cemeteries in the community, Ollieville and Miller, contain 21 and 52 Midkiff burials.

     The township was slow to settle.  The earliest homesteader was Thomas Word in 1881.  Other families were Cryer, Davis, and Hinson.  Carpetbaggers Lutcher & Moore purchased 6,720 acres from 1884 to 1890 and Pack & Woods purchased 2,665 acres from 1884 to 1889.

     Students in the Ollieville community went to Midkiff School.  Those in the northern part of the community went to Lilly School, which was two miles away.  Both were elementary schools only.  When they closed students went to Fal School, which was also a high school, established in 1915.  Fal School closed in 1928 and all students went to Evans School.

     Parkville (30.992777 N, -92.982042 W) is a mystery.  According to one source, it was the first name of Rustville, which was the site of Fullerton's turpentine distillery.  Rustville was located two miles south of Fullerton on the Gulf and Sabine Railroad at the present day intersection of LA Hwys. 399 and 458.

     Parkville received a post office on Sept. 29, 1908 with a village population of 300.  Samuel S/Y. Bedgood was the only postmaster.  The post office closed on Nov. 15, 1909.  Mail from Parkville went to Fullerton.  

     Turpentine distillery workers were generally black.  A check of Fullerton's 1910 and 1920 censuses does show a large number of Parks who were black, suggesting Parkville was the site of a turpentine distillery owned by Gulf Lumber Company.

     Pickering (31.0340784 N, -93.2707191 W) was a sawmill community established by the Pickering Lumber Company which was owned by William Russell Pickering from Kansas City.  The mill was a large mill with 500 employees.

     Pickering purchased 130,847 acres in Vernon and Sabine Parishes at $35.00 an acre, much of it from Wright-Blodgett.  He built mills at Pickering and Cravens to harvest central Vernon Parish's lumber and a mill at Barham to harvest northwest Vernon Parish's lumber and Sabine Parish's lumber on Toro Creek.     

     Pickering's mill and town were constructed in 1898-99.  The population was 1,200 in the village plus 800 more in the area.  A post office was established with Edward C. Pickering as postmaster.  According to the 1900 and 1910 census, Edward was the brother of William and manager of the company store where the post office was located.  The post office closed in 1927 and reopened from 1928 to 1934.  During the 34 years Pickering had ten postmasters.  The post office was a high-volume post office with an annual compensation of $498.37 in 1901.   

     When the mill was constructed it could cut 100,000 board feet per day.  It expanded in 1904 to become one of six large mills in Vernon Parish, tied with Neame and Cravens at sawing 200,000 board feet per day.  The saws could cut 36 feet long beams.  With Pickering's 500 workers, the mill shipped 4,000 railroad cars annually containing fifty million board feet of lumber.

     The Pickering mill contained the sawmill building plus a planner mill, dry kiln, blacksmith shop, machine shop, and a mule barn. 

     Even though Pickering was on the KCS line, Pickering built his own railroad called the Louisiana Central Railroad.  Built in 1904-05, he had lines to Neame, Hornbeck, Barham, Cravens, and Toro in Sabine Parish.  In total, he built 75 miles of track on which he operated his twelve steam engines.

     As with most mill towns, Pickering had a mill-owned commissary.  It's not known if workers were paid in cash or scrip.  Other businesses were a barbershop, ice house, depot, department store, hotel, boarding houses, and a doctor's office.  The community also had a ball park, church, and two schools.  Housing consisted of white, Italian, and Mexican housing.  The map of Pickering does not have black housing. 

     As with sawmill towns, alcohol was forbidden within one mile of the mill site.  Called the Bottom, it was where the saloons were located.  Written records and maps disagree about the location of Bottom.  According to written records, it was located one mile south of town at the edge of the Neame hills.  According to Pickering's map, it was the area between the railroad and present-day U.S. Hwy. 171. 

     Pickering's white school was located across the road behind present-day JD's RV Park.  According to written records, there was a black school which is not on Pickering's map.  In 1922 Cooper, Grannis, and Pickering Schools consolidated and moved 3/4 mile north on land donated by Ed Carroll.  In 1930-31 Pickering's white school had 240 students and eleven teachers.  The black school had nine students with one teacher.  Whiskachitto School for whites and Log Camp School for blacks were the only remaining Ward Four schools.

     Pickering's development suffered greatly when a second fire destroyed much of the mill in 1926.  Instead of rebuilding, the mill closed and moved to California.  Unlike most mill towns that died with the mill, the community continued to exist.  The post office which closed in 1927, reopened in 1928.  In 1936 about 300 people were still living there.

     The common belief that the cut-and-get-out mind set of sawmill owners left no concern for the environment.  This is not true.  Many companies were concerned about the environment.  At the national level the Timber Culture Act of 1873 required forty acres of standing timber for every 280 acres harvested.  At the local level in Central Louisiana Henry and Quintin Hardtner were already addressing the issue of reforestation.  They suggested leaving four seed trees per acre.  Pickering was an exception.  William T. Block, author of Early Sawmill Towns of the Louisiana-Texas Borderlands, stated Pickering had a reputation for its detrimental practices in the lumber business.