A GLIMPSE OF MANSFIELD, LOUISIANA, IN 1908
© By W. T. Block
(click here for W. T. Block web page)
Throughout much of the
nineteenth century, one of the most culturally progressive landmarks of Western
Louisiana was Mansfield, in Desoto Parish. The city was first platted in 1843
and was incorporated in 1845. The first parish courthouse and college building
were erected there in the early 1850's. The town was surrounded by magnificent
short leaf pine forests, also rich deposits of lignite coal and limestone, the
latter being the principal ingredient of cement. In April, 1864, Mansfield
gained a permanent niche in American Civil War history, when Confederate
General Richard Taylor decisively defeated nearby a Union army, advancing along
the Red River. 1
Two monuments of Mansfield's
early cultural development were the Mansfield Female College and a long series
of newspapers, their origin dating back to the 1840's. A history of its
newspapers revealed that: 2
had no sooner been incorporated, which was in 1845, than she had a newspaper. The
press of Mansfield has always stood for the best, and the town's noble position
today (1908) is largely due to its newspapers. The first paper was the
Mansfield Advertiser, Roland Cole, editor. This was followed by
the DeSoto Columbian, and it in turn by the Mansfield Eagle,
W. F. Bennett, editor. These papers were published before the Civil War….
Mansfield Times was then launched by Messrs. Duke and Clarkson,
and later the Mansfield Reporter by James T. McClanahan. J. E.
Hewitt started the Desoto Democrat, which will be 18 years old on
July 8, 1908. In 1890 McClanahan began the Mansfield Journal,
which is the oldest paper in town (1908). In 1894, the Mansfield Progress
was first published, which is still in existence. In 1906, J. E. Hewitt
started the Desoto Enterprise, which is still being published. The
editors of the three papers now (1908) being published are excellent
newspapermen, two of them, Messrs. Hewitt and McClanahan, being veteran
Certainly Mansfield received
its greatest commercial impetus during the middle I890's, when the town became
the junction of two railroads. The Texas Central, later the Texas Pacific
Railroad, was built from Marshall, Texas, to Alexandria and beyond to New
Orleans. In 1895 the Kansas City Southern Railroad built through Mansfield en
route to Leesville, and by 1908, the Mansfield Railway Transportation Company
rails had reached the Sabine River, en route to Center, Texas. 3
Also by 1908, a number of
lumbering, logging, and other industries had been founded there, as one
newspaper article revealed: 4
A large amount of piling and ties are shipped from Mansfield....A fine $17,000
school nears completion.... A large cotton seed oil mill is one of the town's
interesting points.... The DeSoto Land and Lumber Company and the Central
Lumber Company have large plants and put a large sum of money into circulation.
The DeSoto Foundry and Machine Shop does a very large business.... This is a
home town - a town of handsome residences, magnificent trees, and a veritable
flower garden. Mansfield permits no liquors to be sold in its borders. 5
Another newspaper article
was equally as laudable concerning the town's merits, adding that:
Few towns in Louisiana have brighter prospects than has Mansfield.... There are
a number of industries that are doing a fine business. The DeSoto Land and
Lumber Company, the DeSoto Foundry and Machine Company, and the Central Lumber
Company, the oil mill, and the soda water factory are some of these....
Mansfield has the advantage over every town between Shreveport and Beaumont. It
is a very old town and from the earliest time, has been noted for its culture,
refinement, and educational advantages. The Mansfield Female College has been
a great factor in promoting educational advancement in all this section. The
public schools are of the best.... The business element is made up of energetic
men and... two banks of known stability are in evidence.... A word might be
said for the beautiful homes, surrounded by lawns, shaded by greet oaks. Everywhere
are oranges, jasmine, and magnolias.... 6
One leading manufactory was
Central Lumber Company, with a daily capacity of 50,000 feet from its five
planers, a 14"x30" sizer, a lathe for making tool handles, and
machinery to make telegraph poles and cross arms. The plant also operated an
Oldfield dry kiln, that could steam-dry 15,000 feet daily, and an ice plant,
that made twenty tons daily. The ice was distributed throughout the area on
the firm's two ice wagons. The plant's key personnel included C. W. Page, plant
manager, G. M. Hubbard, planer foreman; J. P. Allison, shipping clerk; J. W.
Shirley, millwright; C. B. Moreland, bookkeeper; P. W. Corrans, stenographer;
and J. C. Stokes, who was the ice plant manager.
The DeSoto Land and Lumber
sawmill ran throughout the panic of 1907 without shutting down a single day. In
June, 1908, the DeSoto mill ran two ten-hour shifts, day and night, with a
daily cut of 100,000 feet. The mill paid its 250 employees in currency, which
in turn was re-distributed among the town's merchants, and was the largest
payroll in town. Another record noted that DeSoto Land and Lumber Company
one of a chain of mills belonging to Frost Lumber Company. It has a cut of 100,000
feet daily, and the planer is sufficiently large to take care of it... There
has begun to be somewhat of a scarcity of (box) cars, and it is feared that
this will increase. When the road is completed to Center, Texas, this mill
will have the advantage of the Kansas City Southern, the Texas and Pacific, and
Santa Fe. General Manager (A. J.) Peavy has charge of the mill and the one at
Noble (La.).... He is surrounded by the best of lieutenants, namely: Thomas
Byrne, bookkeeper; G. B. Mathis, mill foreman; Walter Dunlap, planer foreman;
J. P. Hawthorn, yard foreman; R. R. Cheshire, shipping clerk; C. B. Robertson,
mill engineer and D. Barford, planer engineer. 7
The Mansfield Logging
Company was the contractor, that supplied the DeSoto sawmill with logs. The
DeSoto 'log front' was located twelve miles distant where eighty loggers out
and loaded 325,000 scaled feet of logs daily, that were hauled into Mansfield
on the log trains, over a standard gauge track built of 56 pound rails.. There
were also 80 tenant houses and a commissary located at the 'log front' Logging
was done mostly with mule teams, 8-wheel log wagons, and a steam-driven
American log loader. Key personnel of the log firm included R. J. Wilson,
superintendent; S. C. Burgess, secretary; George Kinney, manager; George
Byrnes, loader foreman; and Tom Trammell, Matt Young, J. M. Seymour, locomotive
engineers. The DeSoto plant had a stumpage reserve (uncut trees) equal to
450,000,000 feet. 7a
cultural achievement in 1908 was the granting of Bachelor of Arts degrees to
the 19 graduates of Mansfield Female College. Professor O. S. Dean was
president of the school, which had a faculty of thirteen, and departments of
foreign languages, liberal arts, sciences, music, art, and home economics. The
music department alone was equipped with ten pianos for training its music
As both the seat of justice
for a very large parish and the junction of three railroads, few cities in
Louisiana offered as much promise for prosperity as did Mansfield in 1908. On
the outskirts of town, land could still be purchased for as little as $8 an
acre. Mansfield did flourish until its vast surrounding forest vanished; later
it endured two world wars and the Great Depression, and today it survives as
one of the healthiest and best urban locations in Western Louisiana.
of Mansfield, La."' Beaumont Enterprise, June 2, 1908, p. 4,
1915 Railroad Map of Louisiana; also Map of Louisiana, 1915, by George F.
Cram Company of Indianapolis
"Sawmills on The Kansas City Southern”, Beaumont Journal,
Oct. 30, 1904;
"Lumber Mills of Louisiana", Southern Industrial and Lumber
Review (Sept. 1906), p. 29.
of Mansfield, La.,” Beaumont Enterprise, June 2, 1908, p. 4, c. 6.
From Mansfield," Beaumont Enterprise, May 30, 1908. p. 3, col.
Town of Mansfield,” Beaumont Enterprise, June 1, 1908, p. 4, col.
7; also "DeSoto Land and Timber Co.,” and "M. R.T. Railway,"
Beaumont Enterprise. Oct. 19, 1908, p 4, c. 5-6.
at MansfieId,” Ibid., June 1, 1908, p 4, c 8.
article is submitted by W. T. Block and first appeared in the book “Early Sawmill Towns
of the Louisiana-Texas Borderlands”, by W. T. Block, published by Dogwood
Press, Hemphill, Texas, 1996.