Home » A Night at the Museum: A History of Mt. Lebanon

A Night at the Museum: A History of Mt. Lebanon

by Minden Press-Herald

The Dorcheat Historical Museum had the pleasure of hosting Mary Claire Kettler for their Night at the Museum event on March 11, where she enlightened attendees on the history of Mt. Lebanon. 

Kettler began by talking about Martin Canfield who founded the place that would eventually become Mt. Lebanon. “Martin Canfield is considered the father of Mt. Lebanon. In the spring of 1835, he set out from the Edgeville District in South Carolina. He was traveling west by horseback, scouting out the potential plans for a settlement by a group of gentlemen farmers,” said Kettler. 

She then explained that Canfield would then make his way across Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi and found his way into Louisiana. She also went into detail about some of the historical context of the state of Texas in the early 1800s that would explain what kept Canfield from going further than Louisiana. “If we put into perspective what was going on at the time, in 1830, Mexico had stopped all of the legal immigration. So now they don’t want people settling into Texas. In 1835, the Texas Rangers were formed to protect what settlers there were from the Indians. In March of 1836, the Alamo fell after the Texas Declaration of Independence. So everything over in Texas Territory was in a period of unsettled and unrest. So that might have not been attractive to Martin Canfield,” said Kettler.

She then explained that Canfield probably got as far as the Red River, which at the time had a huge raft blocking a lot of the water flow, stretching 8 miles downstream of Shreveport and 17 miles upstream of Shreveport. So Martin backtracked and started reconsidering the land that he passed over which would become Mt. Lebanon.

Originally eight families arrived, but over the next ten years many families from the Edgeville District would plant their roots in Mt. Lebanon. 

“A lot of settlements began because they were on a body of water and they made a good port … but there was a new concept emerging, planning cities before settlement began. And we see that’s what happened here in Mt. Lebanon, because Mt. Lebanon is planned with a parallelogram at the heart of its town. Businesses, church lots, residences, side streets all radiated off of this parallelogram,” said Kettler. 

After talking about the city’s planning, she gave a perspective on the history of Mt. Lebanon’s religious history. 

“They organized Rehoboth Baptist Church in July of 1837, and this is meaningful to me, on September of 1837, on motion by the church, it was agreed that a good blank book would be purchased to record the church history, and that is just phenomenal to me because it gave us many primary sources of history knowledge about the goings on of Mt. Lebanon,” said Kettler.

“The church as we know it today is the third church. The first one was a small church, and in 1840 it was in the minutes that they agreed to move the church into Mt. Lebanon if brothers Drake, Canfield, and Tandy Key would agree not to conduct business on the Sabbath.

“And for some reason when the church was moved a third time they decided to change the name from Rehoboth to Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in 1860.” 

She then provided some short biographies for some of the notable pastors who ran these churches. “There was a free man of color by the name of Henry Adams. He was born in Georgia just across the Savannah River from Edgeville, and he presumably traveled west with this convoy of settlers, and since he was the only ordained preacher in the bunch, he became the first pastor of Rehoboth Baptist Church. Henry Adams served for a while and then eventually located to Louisville. Kentucky, and established a grand church there for free men of color,” said Kettler. 

“Henry, he owned property around Mt. Lebanon, and when that property was sold, it was designated that proceeds from that sale went to buy bibles for children in Africa and in the United States, so he must have been a mighty good man.”

“One of our connections to Minden is George Washington Baines. He was the one that was responsible for the organization of the Louisiana Baptist Convention in 1848. He went on to become the president of Baylor University. And as we all know, his great grandson Lyndon Baines Johnson was our 36th President of the United States. 

“Baines came to Mt. Lebanon from near Harrison, Arkansas. He was expelled by that church when it was taken over by hard shell baptists. Hard shells, their main issue with Baines was the concept of predestination. They also are opposed to Masons, theological seminaries, bible and missionary societies, and  a new concept that was beginning to be floated around, Sunday school. So I think with the life of Baines and what he went on to do… the Calvanistic theology of the hard shell would have been very much in opposition to his beliefs,” said Kettler. 

She was also enthusiastic to share the town’s dedication to education, having many prominent citizens go on to become presidents for various universities as well as the facilities for education that were developed there over the years. 

“As Mt. Lebanon became an influential town, the community leaders decided that they needed an institution to educate a learned clergy. In 1853, the preparatory department of the Mt. Lebanon University opened to students, and, in 1854, the collegiate department admitted 94 students with Dr. Bartholomew Egan as its first president,” said Kettler. 

“Shortly after this we had the female academy that was located behind the third Methodist church and a library. We take libraries for granted today, but that was such an important aspect of the founding of this university, that they received a $500 endowment from this newly formed Louisiana Baptist Convention to get their library started.”

The university would see some repurposing during the course of the Civil War. “The university of course was now vacated of students, so it would become a hospital. In 1864, Gov. Henry Allen commissions Dr. Bartholomew Egan to establish the State Medical Laboratory for the production of medicines for both soldiers and civilians. Medicinal alcohol, turpentine, castor oil, and morphine are some of the things that we know that were produced. These were used for a wide variety of ailments and treatment of injuries in the civil war. The buildings of the female academy were required for the labaratory, and adjacent to that was a medicine well. It was where they used to store medicines to be kept at a certain temperature,” said Kettler.  “It goes without saying that Governor Allen was extremely appreciative to Dr Egan for sending him some of the medicinal alcohol one Christmas.”

As a small aside, Kettler brought up an interesting note about one of their stamps becoming quite a valuable collectible. “Something that we probably are most known for is a 5¢ stamp, because it’s a reverse image. I think Postmaster Wells carved the stamp impression as he looked at it, but when it was used as a stamp it came out in reverse. This stamp sold for $385,000 in 1999,” said Kettler.

She also elaborated on the careers of two of Mt. Lebanon’s most successful entrepreneurs, Harvey Couch and Wil Egan. Harvey Couch worked for the railway mail service and had an early exposure to a new invention of the time, telephones, and started his own telephone service between Gibsland and Mt. Lebanon.  

“Harvey, they were at a water stop, and he started asking some of these men, what were these poles that they were putting up along the railway. It was this new contraption called telephones. So Harvey goes back, he contacts his friend Will Egan, and they talk about this, and they decide that there would probably be a good chance that it could go over between Gibsland and Mt. Lebanon,” said Kettler. 

“They strung telephone wire from Mt. Lebanon to Gibsland, and it was quite successful. They formed the North Louisiana Telephone Company in 1905. In 1911 they sold it. It had 1500 miles of line. Fifty exchanges in four states, to Southwestern Bell for over $1 million. 

“They went on to incorporate and founded Louisiana Power and Light, Mississippi Power and Light, and Arkansas Power and Light.”

Mt. Lebanon goes to show that even a small town can hold such a vast history. Kettler and other local historians such as herself are able to share the stories and histories of what they are passionate about thanks to the Night at the Museum hosted by the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum located at 116 Pearl Street. The next Night at the Museum event is scheduled to be held on April 15 starting at 5:30 PM.  

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