Gibsland was rail hub in Northwest Louisiana

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Correspondent

Gibsland, Louisiana is located in North Bienville Parish near the crossroads of the Kansas City Southern Railroad, (formerly the VS & P), and Louisiana & Northwest Railroad. Historic Highway 80 cuts through the town from West to East and Interstate 20 stretches just out of reach of the incorporated limits on the north. The L&NW shops are located at Gibsland, a few hundred yards from one of the busiest interchange diamonds in all of the state. For decades, three different railroads interchanged in this north Louisiana town. The switching activity could get so hectic the daily routine was known among rail fans as the "Gibsland Shuffle".

History shows that the town of Gibsland had a beginning much like other small towns built along new railroads. Records show that the Gibbs, Hiram, Jasper, and Elizabeth, along with seven other families had migrated in to the landsite of Mount Lebanon around 1835. Mount Lebanon had grown and prospered until the Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Pacific Railroad built the first railroad line through in 1883 and families began moving two miles north to the new town.

Eighteen miles from the new Gibsland station was the town of Homer in Claiborne Parish. In an attempt to solve the problem of isolation from the VS&P the L&NW was established. On April 30, 1887, the company signed a contract with J. D. Beardsley to grade and construct 19 miles of line from Homer to connect with the VS&P at Gibsland.

Although many changes have occurred over the years, the L&NW and KCS railroads through Gibsland are still active lines.

The sign above the train depot spelled it Gibbsland. The post office stamp gave it only one b. Uncle Sam was in error and the railroad company correct, for the town was named in honor of Dr. Jasper Gibbs, upon a portion of whose huge estate the first little settlement was made in January of 1883.

Jasper Gibbs was a medical doctor. An early account written by William W. Todd and published in the History of Bienville Parish says; "In addition to his medical practice Dr. Gibbs was a representative of the progressive thought of his time, accumulating an estate of vast acreage and constantly experimenting with new ideas. A pottery factory was one of his experiments, and from the native pipe clay of this region, with trained slave labor, he produced superior and serviceable types of pottery for various domestic uses."

Todd goes on to say, "The Gibbs homestead stood on the east edge of Gibbsland. The Joseph Reno family lived in the house. It was a typical old style, story and a half house, with a large central hall and the framing held together with wooden pegs. In the upper half-story cleverly concealed was a small secret room, the original purpose of which is now unknown. It may have been a hide-away during the Civil War days. The house was probably built in 1846. Not far from the house was located the office in which Dr. Gibbs received his patients. Following the Civil War, Dr. Gibbs and his family moved to Texas. At his death his land holdings passed to his heirs. It was upon a portion of the land, adjacent to the old homestead, that the town of Gibbsland was later founded."

Coffee mugs decorated with the L&NW shield are lined along a shelf in the Gibsland Grill operated by Charlie and Marsha Andrews. Charlie who majored in history at Louisiana Tech likes the history of the area and has worked with others to preserve some of it He is active in Mount Lebanon as Mayor/volunteer and promotes Gibsland however he can on a daily basis. "The old Gibbs house is fascinating," he said. The walls have clay pellets inside, apparently some left over from Gibbs' pottery manufacturing business and used for insulation. There was an effort made several years back to restore the old house but it didn't happen," he said. "It would have been expensive, but I still wish we could have made it happen."

"We get a lot of interesting people through here traveling Highway 80, bikers, motorcycle riders, and now and then, mule drawn wagons," Andrews continued. "The big rock house on 80 east now occupied by a church is an eye catcher. Across the road where a convenience store is now located was the site of the Petty Stave Company, that was shipping oak barrel staves to all points in the United States in the 1920s."

Lavina Egan, respected historian, wrote, "Gibsland had a handicraft shop of unusual interest, that is, the violin making and repair shop of J. W. Schradieck. The shop was located on the grounds surrounding the home of William Todd, a pupil of Schradiek's father."

From 1920-1925, Gibsland had a Chamber of Commerce, Hortman's Gift Shop, Roger's and Wren, and Hamner & Company Cotton Gin. Businesses such as Gibsland Mercantile Company, the Bank of Commerce, and First National Bank occupied buildings on the Main Street. Sherman's Drug Store, and Gants Pharmacy, Nelson Row Company and Houch's plus many more are on an extended list of businesses in a poem written by Mrs. Alma Byrd in 1975. Gibsland had two newspapers, Bienville New Era established in 1885 and the Gibsland Times, which went out of existence about 1925.

In the late 1960s," Andrews said, "before Interstate 20 went through several miles north of the town we had five gas stations and now we only have one. Gibsland Bank is active in preservation and owns many of the old buildings along our street. That bank is our towns' best friend."

"Marsha's Mother's home was in Gibsland and our two children were growing up," he continued. "We would come here on weekends to visit her and mow the yard. After a time, we decided to move back to the country and slow down a bit. We bought the Colbert House in Mount Lebanon and I began the restoration work under Marsha's supervision," he laughed. "When that project was finished, we began operating the Gibsland Grill here in town. When we moved back here, I was afraid we would be bored but not so. There's something going on here and in Mount Lebanon all the time."

Note: Alton B. Lanier's fourth Trains byline published in 1985 tells the story of the Louisiana & North West railroad from its organization in 1885. The line has seen many changes through the years and it once extended through Lucky, Saline, through Briarwood Nature preserve and south to Chestnut, Louisiana. At Briarwood's nature preserve a telegraph pole still stands near the old railroad site. Many thanks to Richard Johnson who furnished a copy of Lanier's article.