Wayne Durbin recalls Bienvelle parish history

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Corresondent

Writers meet the most interesting people, most often when they aren't even looking for a story. A stop at Durbin's Convenience Store at the intersection of Louisiana Highway 4 and 155 opened up a wealth of information and insight into Bienville Parish History I never knew before. I had simply asked of a worker in the store about the government of Friendship and was referred to her boss, Wayne Durbin, "a gentleman well versed in Friendship's history," she said.

According to the History of Bienville Parish, "The early industry of Friendship was trapping, farming, salt making, lumber mills, cross tie mills, turpentine still, mining lime, and cotton gins. Up to 1950 cotton was king, but by 1980, there was no cotton at all and many acres of the land is in tree farms. A few people raise beef cattle, hay, chickens, and watermelons."

"Friendship is just a community, no mayor or town council." Durbin said, when I called later. " At one time there were seven businesses along the stretch of road extending east from my store. In fact, Hall's Station was once located here, where my property is, and the road was known as Highway 99 1/2. Down this same road, Friendship Baptist Church was organized in 1840. Today, my businesses and Tom's Nursery on the west, are the only commercial establishments here. However, the Friendship community is alive and well and has a lot going on."

Durbin's roots are deep in the area--his great grandfather migrated in just after the Civil War, first settling in Winn Parish. His wide experience in the forestry industry has broadened his knowledge of land locations, land ownership, and history. "Brushy Valley, the oldest settlement in Bienville Parish was located near here," Durbin said. He drew in the site on a map of Bienville Parish.

According to an autobiography by William Potts published in "The History of Bienville Parish, "Brushy Valley was located on a mail route put through sometime around 1823. Peter Franks was probably the first person to live on Brushy Bayou and his was the first residence in what is now Bienville Parish." Potts goes on to say, "Brushy Valley was a place where folks gathered for amusement and entertainment. A track for horse racing owned by the Potts, Howard and Gray families brought people to the community from miles afar. They came bringing their favorite steeds, to vie for the coveted title of having the fastest horse in this part of the country and as one man said, 'They came to do a lot of horse trading.'-According to Potts, "One of the most 'talked about' marriages to occur in Bienville Parish took place in Brushy Valley on July 24, 1866. At the plantation home of her parents, Adele Coleman was married at twilight in the evening to H. Marshall Twitchell, a young Yankee Captain from Vermont, who had been sent to the parish to enforce carpetbag rule."

Fifty-nine years old, Durbin grew up with a background in logging. "Dad was a logger, Grandfather, a World War One Veteran had a saw-mill, grist mill, and a store. I now own that property. I worked for Bodcaw before they sold out. I worked for Burn's Forest Products for twenty years," Durbin said. "In 1999, my wife Dwanna and I began the Durbin Company. We worked out of our home for a while and then in March of 2000, I went looking for Otto Friday. I showed Friday a hand drawn map on a spec sheet and asked him to build us an office."

"Looking back" Durbin continued, "It all seemed to move so fast. I had been cutting timber for W. E Barron, Jr. Mr. Barron and I cut the lumber for the office and the store on a one-man sawmill. Every board was either off my property or Mr. Barron's. The trees were either lightning struck or otherwise damaged. We didn't waste a thing. Six months after we built the first office building, we were adding on more office space. We soon employed three foresters, and two office assistants. In 2001, Otto Friday laid the forms for the store and in 2002 our full service convenience store was up and running."

"In the beginning," Durbin said, "We had eleven contractors working for us, moving logs from stump to the mills. Then we bought our own equipment to do our logging jobs. We became more diversified in time, did some hauling with our trucks for Weyerhaeuser. The operation changed loggers cut and bank with their equipment and the trucks would be dispatched to haul the logs to different mills. Now we make more money trucking than in logging."

"Today, it seems to me that many who have been dependent on the timber industry face a bleak outlook. Durbin Timber Company's workforce has been cut from a six-man office force down to just me. My wife is employed by Louisiana Tech, and the other employees found work elsewhere. The diversity we have achieved in Durbin Company allows us to keep moving forward. I think the answer to the problems we face in today's economy and in our Nation can be found if we persevere and keep hitting the problems head on."

* Additional reading about Friendship's history can be found in Volumes 1 and 2 of the History of Bienville Parish. For more about the Reconstruction period after the Civil War and Marshall Twitchell, read "The Edge of the Sword", by Ted Tunnel. Books are available through the Bienville Parish Library.