Section House brings memories
By Mary K. Hamner
A house up north of Jamestown, Louisiana on Highway 792 marked the beginning of the quest for this story. Jesse Ray Everage who lives in the house didn't think it strange that I stopped on a cold rainy day to inquire. "People often stop to look at the house," he said. "My Mother and I haven't lived here long and I don't know much about the house, but I would like to know more."
It had been built to last, approximately 110 years ago, as the Section Foreman's house along the L & A Railroad at the town of Lawhon. After L&A merged with Kansas City Southern all the buildings along the line were sold to private owners and moved. The Lawhon Section house, like all the others, has exterior walls of bat and board siding and interior tongue and groove walls and ceilings. According to one source the house was purchased and moved by Claude Ray to a spot just a short distance above its original location along the railroad.
When William Buchanan opened up North Louisiana with the L & A Railroad, towns popped up like mushrooms after a warm summer shower. The story of Buchanan, the six-foot, red-haired, eldest son of a tannery worker, born in 1849, and the railroad is captured in Archer Mayor's Southern Timberman, The Legacy of William Buchanan.
Station Map-Lands-Tracks-and-Structures of the Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad, a voluminous file available at the Bienville Parish Clerk of Court's office shows the towns that were located along the Louisiana line. The layout of towns was similar in that all had Station depots and housing for the Section Foreman and his family plus housing for workers and an outdoor toilet for the use of everyone. Streets were named and laid out along blocks made up of 150 x 50 feet rectangles.
Many of the small towns were built near or around a sawmill. According to a quote from Mayer's book, "Those towns represented salvation. Everybody worked at the sawmill and the sawmill was everything." One hundred ten years later, many of these railroad/sawmill towns are still on the map. Others are just places in the minds of some like Merry Conly who wants people to remember their local history.
Andrew Jackson White, the grandfather of Merry White Conly, was a gypsy type according to his granddaughter. "Pap didn't travel for pleasure," Conly said. "He just didn't like to be in one place for very long. Grandma was tired of moving- they had seven kids at the time. When they stopped in at Lawhon, she asserted herself and said, 'This is it, I'm not traveling anymore!' They stayed, built a home there, where five more children were born." Merry's parents brought their family up in a home nearby. Both old houses are on their original sites near the former Lawhon Station on land still owned by the family.
Conly writes in her History of Lawhon, La., "Lawhon was located near the L& A Railroad off Louisiana #792. There were four passenger trains a day, two up and two down. Freight trains made runs night and day. The water tank that supplied the trains was about 20 feet high and held about 12 feet of water. The local boys often used the tank for a swimming hole. The L & A had its own section house and depot, complete with mail crane and freight platform."
"Farming was the main source of income for families of Lawhon. Cotton, corn, and sugar cane were the major crops. Tom Lawhon owned the local cotton gin. A bale of cotton weighing 500 pounds would bring about three cents a pound. Andrew Jackson White owned and operated the syrup mill and gristmill. He would grind corn and make syrup for the public on weekends. He also operated the Blacksmith Shop."
"The sawmill and planer mill owned by J.E. and J.T. Adams provided a number of jobs for the local men. Mr. Elsie Alvin Smith kept the sawmill supplied with logs. There were mill houses available for some of the workers."
Merry Conly's history of the place where she was born reflects a typical railroad town of the early 1900s. All the elements were there, churches, the Lawhon store, a two-room school, and basketball and baseball teams that made their town proud. The post office, which had been established in the late 1890s, closed in 1943, and a rural carrier delivered mail from Jamestown. The Tom Lawhon store stood until the early 1950s.
A left turn 2.4 miles North of Jamestown onto Nebo Road off Hwy. #792 leads across the dump of the former railroad line, now a recreational trail. Just up from the Trail, on the left is the house built by Andrew Jackson White, and a little further on is the former home of Merry White Conly, now owned by her son. The road winds around opening up on Lake Nebo and the Ebenezer Church.
"In my Lawhon years," Conly said, "we went to Coon on a Log contests and cookouts at Nebo and many times at night, we could hear the choir singing at the Church. The most memorable sound was the lonesome whistle of a freight train pulling a long line of cars through Lawhon with its caboose click, click, clicking along behind."