Minden Press-Herald

Oct 02nd

Descriptions of Minden

This week's Echo of Our Past we will examine two old descriptions of Minden.

The first was written in 1898, by Catherine Cole, a writer for the New Orleans Picayune. Cole traveled all across Louisiana and sent her impressions back to the New Orleans paper.

Her story was reprinted in the Webster Tribune of November 30, 1898.

The second account was written in 1914 by the editor of "The WOW Forest," a publication of that lodge. It was reprinted in the Minden Signal-Democrat of February 13, 1914.

Here is Cole's article:

"In north Louisiana the hills take on rich autumnal hues – the broomsedge is bronze and brown on the wasted fields, the sumac is red in the hollows, the holly berries glow on the hills and the maple and sweet gum trees are in a glory of color.

"Squirrels chatter up and down the hickory trees and in the woods one may plow knee-deep through the red rustling drift of fallen leaves.

"A tap road, that cost the citizens of Minden $60,000 to build, connects that old and tree-grown community with the V. S. and P. Railroad.

"It runs, like all short tap roads, a friendly and sociable little train, with the baggage car giving into the passenger car, and the engineer able to keep up social relations of a conversational kind with the passengers if he so desires.

"When this train is about to leave Minden the whistle blows in plenty of time for passengers to assemble; it is obligingly run as a Bayou Lafourche steamboat.

"The little trip of six miles is through a stretch of lovely pine forest, and on has scarcely comfortably settled in a cozy corner of the jaunty little train before the whistle blows and the train rattles up to the little station at the foot of the hill on which the old town is built.

"All about were the green and golden and brown-hued hills – lapping one into the other and crowned with the huge loblolly pines. The red road of sand and gravel into which the carriage wheels crunched pleasantly, wound up into the town.

"The rain had ceased and the blue sky smiled down upon the pines. And such a town! If you, or I, my good sir or madam, should go abroad or north, or east or west, and chance on such a town we would profess ourselves delighted.

"Fancy a town with big brick stores, with a tumblefication and jumblefication of shops, with a lot of broad balconied, big-chimnied houses, some half shops, or half homes and half houses; with churches with sweet steep spires piercing the skies, as if some giant pine had put forth a silver needle; with old creaking wells in the roadways; with beautiful gabled homes; with rambling old mansions and new spick and span 'Queen Annes' – fancy such a town I say, winding off in the world and getting bewitched in a pine forest, that becomes so knit on the town that it is hard to tell where nature leaves off and human nature begins.

"This is Minden. There is one wide street – wider than Canal Street, I fancy, lined with stores, with old-fashioned wells out in the street, and frequented, I dare say, by all the Rebeccas of the neighborhood.

"This beautiful broad street is irregularly dotted with magnificent pine trees in clusters; with sentinels in accidental rows and under these there came the odd gypsy sideshows that frequent the country towns of Louisiana; the big ox-wagon loaded with cotton; the picturesque grouping of colored people in for a day's trading; the blooded horses of the planter, his wife's dainty phaeton, or comfortable carryall.

"Rambling off in all ways are the shadowy streets lined with sweet homes, until finally the houses dwindle, and the forest, sweet and primeval, vanquishes civilization and rides over the hills and far away.

"Minden, one of the oldest towns of North Louisiana, is the county seat of Webster parish, in which are some fine government lands subject to entry under the Homestead Act. Railroad companies have thousands of acres of land for sale here.

"The country is hilly, well watered, and wooded, and if fertilized would be one of the best truck farming and corn-yielding parishes in the state.

"The assessed value of land in Webster is $1,089,972. The total acreage is 265,126, with only 56,185 acres in cultivation. On 18,720 acres of land, 15,770 bales of cotton are raised; on 16,700 acres, 156,000 bushels of corn are raised, and all this is without any high farming except in certain cases.

"During the last two or three years the farmers have taken to making their own bacon and lard and molasses. There is no corn sold at all to the farmers, they raise all they use.

"In the town of Minden are two good colleges – the Minden Female College, in existence long before the war, and the Normal and Business College, a mixed institute of high grade.

"The railroad, six miles long, was built by home capital and is out of debt; the cotton compress, also built by Minden merchants, is out of debt. In the town there are twenty merchants, all with good trades and occupying commodious brick stores; there are two livery stables and two hotels, a weekly newspaper, the Webster Tribune.

" Minden has a population of 1500, and beautiful situation, its fine business opportunities, its cheap lands and unusually cheap living commend it to all immigrants in search of homes in the red hill country of North Louisiana."

Now for the somewhat more prosaic account from the WOW publication in 1914:

"The editor of the Forest paid a short visit to Minden on last Saturday and remained there until noon on Sunday. He went down on business connected with the W.O.W., and while there succeeded, with the assistance of others, in securing fifty new subscribers for this paper.

"Minden is a beautiful little city of about 1000 inhabitants. Its appearance will commend it to anyone who has an eye for beauty and an appreciation of what goes to make a desirable place in which to live.

"It is an old town, how old we cannot say, for we failed to ask, but it is old, and all the more beautiful because of this. Its fine old residences have a strong Southern flavor about them that every right-minded stranger appreciates and falls in love with at first sight.

"It has hundreds of new residences, of course, and many now in course of construction, but they are all, or nearly all, modeled on design typical of the South and which have made the South famous in prose and poem. Nothing could be more enchanting than Minden's residential district.

"The business district is confined in great measure to one long street, and here one is almost amazed to find stores exceeding in size, facilities, and general updatedness very many of those in cities three or four times larger than Minden.

"Inquiry on this hand brings the answer that this little city does an enormous trade with the surrounding country and has a large payroll from the lumber mills in the neighborhood.

"The merchants of Minden are a wide-awake lot, courteous in manners and fully alive to their opportunities. Their places of business and the size and variety of the stocks they carry reflect great credit on themselves and their city.

"Minden has a very handsome court house and a good looking, serviceable jail, having accommodation for 10 prisoners, twenty-three were the most ever incarcerated there at one time.

"Nearly all the religious denominations have handsome churches that are well attended. Good schoolhouses are also there, the high school building being particularly fine and imposing in appearance.

"The city is blessed with an ample supply of best quality artesian water, which for drinking would be hard to beat.

"Provision is made for fires, too, and water plugs can be met with every few hundred yards. The fire fighting force, we understand, is volunteer, but we were also told that the losses to the city from fire were very small and the boys were excellent fighters.

"The fraternal orders are well represented in Minden, the W.O.W.; K. of P. and I.O.O.F. being the strongest. The K. of P. have a good hall in which the others hold their meetings.

"We saw only one policeman while we were there and he is a Woodman and, they say, a crackerjack officer, a terror to evildoers and a success in keeping the city straight.

"The soil on which Minden is planted is sandy, and never gets muddy, her people say, unless there is a deluge, consequently they do not need paving.

"There is plenty of good sidewalk, however, well made, wide, and of good concrete. Automobiles are there as well as everywhere else, and everybody owns a fine horse.

"Minden is a "dry" town and no one drinks or encourages the drinking of alcoholic liquors. She is one city in Louisiana whose people are a unit in opposing the liquor traffic.

"Of course some scalawags from outside may get in there occasionally with a bottle in their hip pockets or their bootlegs and proceed to paint the town, but their career is always short and very inglorious.

"If a stranger wishes to make a good impression in Minden he had better not imbibe liquor, talk liquor nor smell of liquor if he does his name is Dennis.

"(If like me you are totally clueless as the meaning of the phrase, "his name is Dennis" here is an explanation from the Dictionary of American Regional English.

"There is not much doubt but that this use of 'Dennis' is an allusion to an expression which may still be used, 'His name is Dennis.'

'In the early part of the past century, whalers applied the name Dennis to a whale so stricken with a harpoon that he spouted blood, or appeared to do so.

'Among the whalers the expression 'his name is Dennis' meant he is done for, he has had it. Many years ago I heard this expression but it may now have died out altogether...")

"Minden is a clean town everywhere. Her people are as hospitable as the Creator ever made.

"They are proud of their town and like proud hosts give of their best to the visitor and the stranger. Her hotel accommodation is sufficient and comfort marks everything.

"Finally, her grand old trees, cedars, oaks and all varieties, lend of their grandeur and beauty to everything, and make of Minden a nature city – the most to be desired of all cities."

So there are two views of Minden through the eyes of visitors of long ago, two more Echoes of Our Past.

John Agan is a local historian, an instructor at Bossier Parish Community College and a published author. His column appears Fridays in the Minden Press-Herald.






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