Places to See
Louisiana’s Legend Country boasts historic sites which tell the stories of its adventurous past, but it also features art galleries and exhibits throughout the year, showcasing its creative culture. Take a stroll down our Historic Main Street area in Leesville and venture further out into the region beyond to take in all there is to see in Vernon Parish.
Early travel in Vernon Parish was very difficult. The few roads were little more than pig trails. It proved very difficult for farmers traveling to markets for either buying or selling their goods. The settlement of Almadane first sprang up because its location on the Sabine River made it possible for residents to send and receive goods by steamboat. Lumbermen also made use of the river. They cut down nearby trees and hauled them to "Nacoco" Creek to be "rafted" and floated to the sawmills at Orange, Texas.
Three early settlers in the area were Daniel R. Knight, Al Damereal, and Mann Huddleston. When the first post office opened in 1883, the responsibility fell to Daniel Knight, as the prospective postmaster, to come up with a name for the community. He chose Almadane -- a combination of the names of these three pioneers -- "Al" Damereal, "Ma"nn Huddleston, and "Dan" Knight, with an "E" added for euphony.
Soon after the turn of the century, Capt. Samuel Allardyce moved to the area to run the general store, the cotton gin, the grist mill, and the sawmill. He also provided a news source to the community -- on Tuesdays and Thursdays he shared World War I news by reading the newspaper to customers gathered in his store.
In the 1920's, when the railroad replaced the steamboat as the most viable way to transport goods, the sawmills were closed, and many residents moved away to find work. The Almadane Plantation dog trot house marked the spot for many years, but today is no longer on the main road (Hwy. 111) passing through the site. Though altered by recent owners, the home and site are still beautiful. The Almadane Cemetery for black workers is located very near the river which once served as a major transportation route for the entire area. Today, it is a completely rural area, with no businesses at all. It is located on the Myths and Legends Byway.
Info taken from "Louisiana Place Names: Popular, Unusual, and Forgotten Stories of Towns..." by Clare D'Artois Leeper . Leesville Daily Leader story April 11, 2001 (with photos)
Booker-Lewis House c. 1904
The Booker-Lewis House and Restaurant, located at 102 East North St, offers a graceful balance of elegance and country charm. Built in the Queen Anne Colonial Revival style, the house retains many of the original windowpanes and all of the original Louisiana yellow pine door casings and floors. All four of the massive pocket doors are original, as are the light fixtures in the dining room and foyer. Each guest room boasts its own unique personality with quilts, artwork, antiques, and antique reproductions.
The house was built as a private residence in 1905 by Mr. H. T. Booker, a bookkeeper at the Nona Mills Lumber Company. Mr. Booker lived in the house until his death in 1935, whereupon the house was occupied by his daughter, Ollie, and her husband, Frank Taylor Lewis. Today, the beautifully restored home surrounded by lush gardens offers elegant convenience with a generous portion of country charm to the overnight visitor. The Booker-Lewis Restaurant is open seven days a week and features world-class fare in a "casual fine dining" setting. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Burr Ferry Confederate Breastworks, 1864
The Confederate Breastworks at Burr Ferry were erected during the Civil War to protect Texas from invasion. They are one of the few remaining earthen fortifications in Louisiana and the only Civil War site in Vernon Parish.
This site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and on Louisiana’s Civil War Trail. It is the only known surviving example of “tetes de pont” or head of bridge, a design element for defending roads leading to river crossings. It is owned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans Louisiana Division and is located near the Burr's Ferry Bridge. It is open to the public and has a pavilion with picnic tables and grills. More information on the Scenic Byway sites nearby.
See more about the Red River Campaign in Louisiana.
Burr's Ferry Bridge
The Burr's Ferry Bridge was built in 1936-37 by the W. Horace Williams Company under the Works Progress Administration. It spans the Sabine River and connects Texas Highway 63 with Louisiana Highway 8. The design of the Burr's Ferry Bridge addressed difficult site conditions and employed innovative solutions, including the use of long spans and a slightly curved alignment. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Central Louisiana Veterans Cemetery
The Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs opened their second Veterans Cemetery in 2012. Located on two hundred acres donated by the U.S. Army, the cemetery is open to members of any U.S. military branch, their spouse and dependent children. It is open daily for visitation and has a computerized grave locator available.
The grounds are beautifully landscaped. Native cypress trees line the Memorial Walk where you can sit awhile and enjoy a peaceful moment of silence.
The AMVETS Memorial Carillon is a living memorial to our nation's deceased veterans whose bells toll as a constant reminder of our debt to those who fought to preserve freedom throughout the world. The bells toll every hour on the hour and play several melodies at 12:00 noon daily.
On special holidays, such as Memorial Day and Wreaths Across America, the entrance to the cemetery is spectacularly decked out with an Avenue of Flags.
For more information, please call (337) 238-6405 or visit one of the websites below.
Christian Commonwealth College/Colony
This building was the female dorm for the Christian Commonwealth College and still stands on LA Highway 171 South near Fort Polk Entrance Road. The college, founded in 1923 just south of the socialist New Llano colony, promoted the rapidly growing labor movement. Differences with New Llano leaders caused so many problems that by December of 1924, the college had moved to Mena, AR. The Christian Commonwealth Colony was founded in 1931 by Dr. Samuel W. Irwin. The Utopian or socialist colony was located five miles south of Leesville and consisted of numerous five-acre plots which members could farm for five years at no charge. At the end of that time, the plot could be leased for life for only a nominal charge. This colony was not part of the New Llano colony.
The original theater at this site was an open-air theater called the Aero-Dome. There were no walls - the roofed area was surrounded by a fence.In the 1920s, the building was re-modeled into a Moorish movie palace with Spanish tile, twisted columns and niches on the second floor facade, and called the Dreamland. Later renamed the Vernon Theater, this movie house played movies from the years of Tom Mix to those of Jane Fonda before it closed and was re-opened as Celebrations, a hall currently available for parties and special occasions. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ferguson House c. 1890s
The Ferguson House is a Victorian Style house located at 406 N 6th Street. The house was home to G.R. Ferguson, who was the General Manager for the Nona Mills Lumber Company.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
First National Bank Building c. 1907
Built in the style popular for large commercial buildings at the beginning of the 20th century, the lower floor housed the First National Bank and several retail stores. The upper floor was occupied by an opera house, known as the National Theatre. The bank closed during the depression but the Opera House continued to present traveling Vaudeville shows, symphony orchestras and opera companies for many years.
Recently, the Sliman family donated the building to the parish and the interior was renovated for use as the Vernon Parish Courthouse, although the exterior has been completely preserved. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
First United Methodist Church c. 1920
The First United Methodist Church, located on Hwy. 171, was established by the Methodist families of the Nona Mills Lumber Company. Built in the Mission / Spanish Revival style, the church has retained all of its original stained glass windows. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fort Polk Military Museum
The Fort Polk Military Museum is housed in a new building located at 7881 Mississippi Ave on Fort Polk. The 3,600-square-foot facility houses objects and historical artifacts relating to Fort Polk history, including uniforms, equipment, weapons, training aids and more to help visitors understand the role that Fort Polk has played in preparing the Army for war.
In addition, a portion of the museum highlights the "Heritage Families" who suffered considerable hardship when they were displaced from their homes to make room for the Army community.
Museum hours of operation are 10am - 5:30pm, Tuesday through Thursday. Large groups should call ahead to schedule a tour.
Warrior Memorial Park
Located on Louisiana Avenue, just west of Colorado Avenue, at Fort Polk, Louisiana is Warrior Memorial Park, which houses twelve historic military vehicles.
It is open to the public at all hours and has a walking trail, as well as picnic tables and benches.
Fullerton Town & Mill Site
The arrival of the railroads in west central Louisiana heralded the first major population boom in Vernon Parish. Trains made travel to the area much easier -- and even more importantly, created a reliable method of transporting goods to and from the area. Lumber barons around the country seized the opportunity and began buying up the land and cutting the virgin pines. Lumber towns sprang up overnight, offering comfortable homes and a regular income to their workers. One small drawback to this was that most companies paid with paper "scrip" or tokens that could only be used in their commissary, i.e., the "company store", but the sturdy homes and steady income insured there would be no shortage of workers.
Fullerton, Louisiana was the company town of the Gulf Lumber Company. As in most lumber towns, activities were regulated by the steam whistle. The day started with the whistle and ended with the whistle. Most companies, to facilitate getting the timber to the mill, built railroad spurs that went into the woods where they were cutting the trees. Fullerton was no exception. Every morning the train hauled the men into the forest to work. Throughout the day, these same trains hauled the timber to the mill as it was cut, and at the end of the day, carried the men home.
The mills at Fullerton were made of steel and concrete, the first of that type built in the south. The average daily cut for a ten hour shift at the two mills was 350,000 feet, though at times this average was much exceeded. The lath mill produced 50,000 laths daily, plus barrel staves and headers. The turpentine distillery produced 15 barrels of turpentine spirits and 45 barrels of rosin per day. As the long leaf timber reserve began to vanish, the turpentine distillery was converted to an alcohol distillery which used extracted sugar from chipped waste woods to make the alcohol.
Modern even by today's standards, the town of Fullerton had a hospital, dentist, commissary, cafe, post office, drug store, barber shop, public telephones, bank, feed store, a jail, and even a Ford dealership. Homes were painted and had electricity and indoor plumbing. For recreation, citizens could watch a motion picture show, enjoy the public swimming pool, or cheer for the town's baseball team. The town boasted an elementary school, a high school, a Boy Scout troop, and both a Protestant and a Catholic church. According to W. T. Block, dedicated historian and guest columnist for the Beaumont Enterprise for many years, a trolley connected the town with the Jasper and Eastern Railroad (Santa Fe), as well as the Kansas City Southern and Southern Pacific.
The 1910 census listed a total of 1,550 citizens with 660 being employees of the company. Notable on this census was the fact that approximately 500 of those citizens were Afro-Americans who lived in a separate area described as being most excellent and beautiful, with painted cottages and running water. The 1920 census shows a population of 2,412 citizens and lists 41 Mexican tram track employees among the workers.
Without re-forestation, the trees couldn't last forever, and eventually the day arrived when the "last log" was cut. This distinction went to a huge long leaf pine which stood near the mill and had been selected for that purpose years earlier. Further demonstrating their appreciation for all their workers, one white and one black man were chosen for the honor of cutting the final tree on May 6, 1927. The mill had been in operation for only 20 years and had cut all the timber from 97,000 acres. The populace scattered, some buildings were sold and moved, some dismantled and carted away. Much of the cut-over land was sold to the Federal government. Some eventually became part of the Kisatchie National Forest, while some became part of the Fort Polk military reservation.
The Fullerton Mill site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Today, you may visit the ruins of this once prosperous community at the Fullerton Lake Recreation Complex in the Kisatchie National Forest. Points of interest are identified along the 1.6 mile Fullerton Mill Trail which loops around the old Mill Pond.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
See more Logging in Vernon Parish
Fullerton Images at Fort Polk Cultural Resources
Historic Vernon Parish Courthouse
When Vernon Parish was first created in 1871, Dr. Edmund E. Smart donated a block of land for the first courthouse and other city structures. Early leaders built a simple wood-frame structure which served the new community well until the 1880's when citizens were able to finance a more substantial building. Architectural problems, created by artesian wells on the site, caused the tower on this building to pull away from the main building, and in 1910 this one was also replaced.
Built in the shape of a Greek cross, the third and now historic Vernon Parish Courthouse is the only Beaux-Arts building in the parish. It has two full stories and a third story cupola, which once housed the large bronze bell that now hangs in the gazebo located on the northwest corner of the lawn. The cupola also has four clocks, one on each side, and all are controlled by one small electric motor. Originally constructed of tan brick, the building has been painted white in recent years.
The entrances on each side of the building are flanked by colossal composite columns topped by elaborate pediments bearing floral decorations. On the ground floor, a wide central hallway occupies most of the main building while the central portion of the upper floor contains the courtroom. Projecting from each corner on both floors are small office wings.
Much of the interior has been modernized over the years, but some original elements remain. Like the staircase with its paneled newel posts and decorative iron balustrades; the blue and brown tiled floor and the paneled wainscoting in the main hall downstairs; and the decorative balustrades and other woodwork encompassing the legal bench.
On July 4, 1976, a time capsule was buried on the courthouse lawn which is meant to be opened on July 4, 2076.It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Holly Grove Methodist Church 1834
Holly Grove Methodist Church was founded in 1834, and is believed to be the oldest protestant church in continuous operation west of the Mississippi. It is a simple frame church which characterized much of rural Louisiana at the turn of the century. It is located 4 miles southwest of Anacoco on Holly Grove Road.
Local legend has it that the church served as a stop on the underground railroad in its early years. Since Mexico owned Texas until 1836 and had declared slavery illegal, any slaves who could get across the Sabine River were considered free. Add to this the traditions of the Methodist church which opposed slavery and the possibility becomes not only reasonable, but also highly likely.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Joint Readiness Training Center & Fort Polk
Fort Polk covers 198,963 acres in permanent building, housing, and training ranges. It was part of the famous "Louisiana Maneuvers" which took place in the early 1940s and was the largest training maneuver of its kind staged before or since.
The army base has the second largest payroll in the state, employing over 4,600 civilians (DA, contract, PX, and other). With over 37,000 military retirees and their family members living in the area (including southeast Texas), Fort Polk is a most welcome resource.The U.S. Army's elite national Joint Readiness Training Center for the Department of Defense has found a home at Fort Polk. Soldiers from the international community as well as our own forces train in rotational cycles throughout the year in various settings to prepare them for all types of warfare situations. Also circulating through the JRTC and Fort Polk are the multitude of reserve components such as ROTC, National Guard, and Reserves.
Kansas City Southern Railway
The Kansas City Southern reached Leesville in 1897 and built a roundhouse for repairing and switching the steam locomotives. The first diesel passenger train, pulled by Engine #7, arrived in Leesville April 21, 1938. The last passenger train departed Leesville on May 19, 1968.The old depot, located on Third Street, currently houses the Museum of West Louisiana and has a model of the old roundhouse and train yard, along with many other railroad pictures and memorabilia. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Leesville Hotel/The Gift Gallery at Phoenix c. 1907
This hotel had thirty-five guest rooms and was the latest in high style when built in 1907. Combining Mission and Classical styles, the hotel originally had a large, two-story porch with Roman columns in the center of the main facade. As was the custom with hotels, located on the first floor in front of the main entrance was a brass compass. According to legend, the infamous Bonnie and Clyde were among some of its most notorious guests. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lyon's Building c. 1907
The Lyons Building, located at 115 South 3rd St., is Italianate in style. The flat roof, imposing cornices, and arched windows combine to form one of Leesville's oldest and most elegant buildings. At the main entrance to the building, you will see the original mosaic tile which still runs throughout the first floor of the building.
The building is remembered by many as the location of both the famous "Happy Hour Cafe" and the office of Dr. I. O. Winfree, a dentist who practiced for over 50 years upstairs in this building. In fact, several of the windows on the upper floor still bear Dr. Winfree's name. In the 1960s the lower floor housed Lenahan's Department Store.
This building, along with the entire row of buildings on the east side of Third Street, between Texas and Courthouse Streets were built by B.H. Lyons. Originally, there was a matching building on the north end of the block, but it, and at least one adjoining building, was destroyed by a fire in the 1920s. At that time, Mr. Lyons replaced them with the buildings that remain to this day.
Today, the upper floor is used as a residence which is fondly known to locals as the Tree House Loft. The ground floor contains the offices for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lyon's-Stelly Home c. 1900
The Benson H. Lyons House (c. 1900) is a large Queen Anne Revival style residence with prominent Eastlake features. The double wraparound gallery that outlines three sides of the home is bedecked with elaborate woodwork which makes this one of the most pretentious homes in Vernon Parish.
Some of the highlights of the home include the four identical Eastlake mantels made of wood sawn to produce an elaborate burled pattern in the graining; two transoms and three main doors which feature small colored glass panes that accent the clear glass window panes contained in each; and of course, the wraparound gallery which outlines both levels of the main block on three sides.
According to tradition, the Lyons House was built in 1890 by Dr. E.E. Smart (founder of Leesville), for his daughter Lula and her husband, Benson H. Lyons. Mr. Lyons served as Vernon Parish Sheriff and was a successful lumberman. Mr. and Mrs. Lyons donated land for churches and schools and were involved in many other civic endeavors.
Their home is located on the corner of First and Lula Streets, the latter of which was named for Mrs. Lyons. It sits behind the Vernon Parish Courthouse and just across the street from the original Smart Plantation home. Mrs. Lyons lived in the home until her death in 1944. She left the house to her daughter who remained in the home until 1963 when it was sold to Harry Edward James, Jr.
In 2003, the home was purchased by LaFonda Stelly, and serious restoration was begun. In 2004 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Merchant & Farmer's Bank Building c. 1928
The distinguished Merchants and Farmers Bank building is built in the English Revival style. Hallmarks of this style are corner quoins and classical architectural devices such as the egg and dart molding across the main façade. The bank originally had a bronze clock on the front and still has its beautiful white marble counters. Currently home to Senior Circle, the building is part of the Leesville Historic District and on the National Register of Historic Places.