Bienville day trip is colorful

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Correspondent

In 1860, J. W. Dorr wrote this description of Bienville Parish: "The forest growth of the Parish is magnificent. The pine, the cheapest, most common and useful among woods, as iron is among metals, grows to large size: the sassafras becomes a stalwart tree, from eight to twelve inches in diameter, and the beech, white ash, sweet gum, hickory, and several varieties of oak, all flourish exceedingly. The face of the country is very broken, and to travel is a continual up and down hill business."

The up and down hill business began for my neighbor, Sandra Allen, and I when we launched out to explore our own back yard in Bienville Parish. The up and down of Ridge Road was training for the drive up through Bienville to the highest point in Louisiana, Driskill Mountain, the ultimate high country in the State of Louisiana. Making the decision to drive on through and not hike to the top was easy since it was a very hot day. It was truly a glorious day--colored with varying shades of green in the grasses and trees, offset by wildflowers blooming alongside the roads we traveled.

It was a straight shot north to Arcadia along Hwy 147 and we took our time to just observe points of interest in front of us. Photo shots along the way were of flowers and trees, and beautiful homes we hadn't taken the time to see before. Have you ever noticed that roads you travel often become so familiar that you really don't see what you drive past?

Entering Arcadia through the residential section and past the former Inez Conger home, we admired the ages-old magnolia tree in the front yard supported by multiple roots and branches. Ancient markers in a cemetery along the street testified to the history of the area. Research tells us that Arcadia was a former stage coach stop on the stage road from Monroe to Shreveport, and on to Texas. It became a railroad town in 1884 when the V. S. & P. Railroad was built through, and in 1892, the parish seat of government. It is a patriotic town with flags attractively displayed on the town hall and the Depot museum. It's difficult not to tarry there because there are attractions. After photographing murals painted on one of the town buildings, the new Henderson Jordan Park, and historic murals inside the Arcadia Post office, we turned on to Historic Hwy 80 East.

F. Lee Estes, long time photographer of historic scenes in North Louisiana, writes of Dixie Overland Highway: "If one abandons the heavy traffic and menacing 18 wheelers of Interstate 20 to cross North Louisiana via US80, it can be a venture back in time, and opportunity to enjoy some beauty here and there--or simply slow down and remember you are on part of the oldest all weather coast to coast thoroughfare in the United States."

It is an attraction not to miss. The color of the trees and the variety of the wildflowers change with the seasons. Don't be surprised if a deer crosses the road in front of you or if a wild turkey flies up with astonishing speed. \par }{\plain Entering Gibsland on US80 takes you smack dab, or almost, in front of a beautiful two story brick church. It is old, and unique in that the front steps lead all the way to the top floor where church services are held. Sunday school rooms are on the bottom. Since we had frequented Gibsland often in the past, for festivals and for meals at the Gibsland Grill, we chose not to tarry there on this trip through.

Turning left off US80, onto Hwy 154, we drove on through Mt. Lebanon, the site of a settlement established in 1835. What a grand old community with its beautifully restored old homes, an excellent museum, and historic church. The church was organized July 8, 1837, and has been in continuous existence since that time. As we continued our drive, it led past Mt. Lebanon Cemetery, the burial site of some of our relatives. Since it was way past lunch, we continued past Mt. Olive and on to Ringgold. Kepler Lake was just down the road on the way but we decided to save that for another day.

We entered Jamestown on our way and as we paused at the crossroads, we talked about the old railroad town and recalled drawings by a former resident, Geraldine Goss. Her works are artistic reproductions that makes the old town live again. It is still a municipality and served by a mayor and town council. One store located on Front Street, sells gasoline and other merchandise.

I had begun driving faster and sight seeing less by this time of our day. We had planned to eat in Grammy Sue's Tearoom in Ringgold and it was time for food. We were briefly on the old Military Road built in 1827-1828, which today was teeming with big trucks, a sign of the ongoing oil and gas boom in the area. Lunch in the popular tearoom was not a disappointment but our day trip was winding down.

On the way home, we reviewed the area we had covered and talked to keep from falling asleep after our late and heavy lunch. We knew that we had a lot more day trips to go before we covered all the up and down hill business of Bienville Parish.