One of the Echoes of Our Past in the Minden area is the once thriving communities that are now gone or are greatly diminished in size. Communities such as Yellow Pine, Buckhorn, and Grove that once had their own post offices are now incorporated clusters of homes. Others such as Overton, once the Claiborne Parish seat, have completely vanished.
However, we have some communities that did not disappear from natural forces. In the summer of 1941, the United States government began construction of the Louisiana Ordnance Plant in western Webster and extreme Eastern Bossier Parish. The removal of the residents from the area of the plant marked the end of several small communities. Among those communities is the topic of today’s column, Gum Springs.
In July 1941, the Federal Government purchased 15,000 acres of land west of Minden to create a reservation to erect an ammunition loading plant. The property was condemned, but property owners were compensated at a rate set by appraisers hired by the government. Included in the proposed reservation, which was bounded on the North by U.S. Highway 80, on the South by the Illinois Central Railroad, on the East by the center of Dorcheat Bayou and on the West by the center of Clark’s Bayou, were three schools, several churches, nine cemeteries and 300 families. A gravel pit of 600 acres was located in the Northeast corner of the property and the reservation was dotted with oil and gas wells, which proved a particular problem for the government, as they had to purchase the leases on these wells. State Route 183, which ran from Doyline to Highway 80 through the reservation was closed immediately upon the first purchase of land. The churches were removed to another location, with the exception of the St. Matthew Baptist Church located on Highway 80. That church’s property was removed from the reservation and it is still located on the same site today, just west of the present-day entrance to the old LAAP site. The government assumed upkeep on the nine cemeteries: Allentown, Crowe, Jim Davis, Keene, Nottingham, Raine, Richardson, Vanorsdel, and Walker. All of these cemeteries with the exception of Allentown were located in Webster Parish. The 300 families, who lived in various small-unincorporated communities, were relocated to other sites. Although a suit was filed on behalf of the land owners challenging the government’s property appraisals by George Hearne of Shreveport, whose family had lived in the area for more than 100 years. The Hearne family had been the first to settle in the best-known settlement dissolved by the plant, Gum Springs.
In the fall of 1840, George Hearn (the final “e” was added later) and his bride, Virginia Greer moved to Claiborne Parish from Marengo County, Alabama. They homesteaded land in Western Claiborne Parish just south of what would become the Old Wire Road and eventually U.S. Highway 80 about two miles beyond the area of modern McIntyre. Hearne and his slaves opened land that extended south to springs that he named Gum Springs. In 1842, as other settlers began to arrive, Hearne erected a combination school and church building for the community. Dr. Alexander McIntyre bought Hearne’s original farm in 1843 and the Hearne family moved about two miles north and established a new home place, which was named Sunny Spot. In the same year this new farm became the Hearne home, Bossier Parish was created, and the area became part of that new Parish. According to Dr. Luther Longino, Gum Springs could be defined as the area bounded on the East by Bayou Dorcheat, on the West by Clark’s Bayou and extending about three or four miles north and south of Highway 80 between those two bodies of water, in other words, a large portion of the Ordnance Plant reservation.
The area soon became home to many families immigrating to Louisiana from the east. Between 1849 and 1850, James and Lucinda Outlaw Richardson moved to Gum Springs with their eight children from Mount Lebanon. They had been in Mt. Lebanon for about two years after leaving Twiggs County, Georgia. The Richardson family built a double-pen log home at Gum Springs and it remained the home of James Richardson until his death in 1903. He is buried in the Richardson Cemetery contained on the grounds of the ammunition plant site. Among his sons was James Sanders Richardson, an outstanding educator and Tax Assessor of Claiborne Parish. James Richardson was the father of Edwin Sanders Richardson, the topic of an earlier Echo of Our Past and Dr. Samuel Milton Richardson, Sr. of Minden. Other families who settled in Gum Springs were the Thompsons, Hudsons, McIntyres, McDonalds, Wieners, Nottinghams, Maples, Walkers, Dortches, Franks, Raines, and Doyles.
Eventually the original church and school was torn down and replaced by a larger building to serve the same purposes.
In 1858, a Baptist church was founded at Gum Springs by the Rev. John Dupree a missionary of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, who also founded the Bistineau Baptist Church and fourteen other Baptist churches in Northwest Louisiana.
The church however, began to suffer through hard times during the Civil War, when the men of the community were away at war. During that conflict, the community served as the campsite for a unit of Mississippi regiment of the Confederate Army. Gum Springs survived this time of crisis during the war and again thrived for a while, but was not as fortunate in the aftermath of the arrival of the Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Pacific Railroad in 1884. That railroad line which ran to the south by present-day Doyline and Sibley spelled a near-death blow to the Gum Springs community and particularly the local church. Residents moved to the new towns and churches along the railroad line and the Gum Springs Church became part of the Antioch Baptist Church, two miles away on the Wire Road.
The Hearne family had left Sunny Spot Plantation after the Civil War and moved first to Minden and later to Shreveport where they became prominent in the business community. However, the family cemetery remains and according to the research of Cliff Cardin of Bossier Parish and William O’Daniel, a Hearne descendant, it appears that the cemetery known as the Walker Cemetery is actually the Hearne family graveyard located on the land of Sunny Spot Plantation. One interesting fact is that the government has provided perpetual care for these cemeteries in the years since 1941 and as such, they are in much better shape than many cemeteries from a similar era, located on open land.
Other prominent families moved into the larger area of Gum Springs, which actually encompassed what we now know as McIntyre and Dixie Inn during those years of the 19th century. Nicholas Sandlin, war hero, attorney and political and agricultural leader settled on land owned by his father-in-law, Alexander McIntyre in the area of Gum Springs. Later this community would be known as Melrose and eventually as McIntyre, but when Sandlin settled there is was Gum Springs. His two sons, McIntyre H. and John N. Sandlin and their political achievements have been mentioned in earlier columns.
The school created at Gum Springs in the 1840s, continued to operate well into the 20th century, it was finally closed during the schools consolidation program of E. S. Richardson, grandson of a Gum Springs resident, in the 1920-21 school year. Before that school closed, it had another interesting part in the history of Minden. One young lady that was hired to teach at Gum Springs was a Miss Kate Jackson. After her teaching career at Gum Springs ended, Miss Jackson married Mr. Thomas Crichton, Sr. of Minden, a member of one of the leading business families of our town for many years.
By the time the land that was Gum Springs was purchased in 1941 for the ammunition plant reservation, the church was long gone as was the school. However, the impact of the settlers of Gum Springs was being felt by so many in North Louisiana through the descendants of those pioneer settlers who came to this untamed land and created a thriving settlement out of the wilderness. These settlers are also a part of the Echo of Our Past.
Minden Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald.