The Ford Museum's Exhibits
The Herbert S. Ford Museum exhibits various periods in the history
of North Central Louisiana, from the pre-Columbian era to the turn of
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New Exhibit: Images of America: Claiborne Parish
The Herbert S. Ford Museum has released a pictorial history book, Images of America: Claiborne Parish, containing 232 vintage photographs of the parish. Click here for more information
Before the invention of the telephone, bells were an important communication mechanism.
The mezzanine contains a square piano that Isaac Murrell, the first European child born in Claiborne Parish, purchased for his wife in 1853. Assembled in New York, the piano was shipped to New Orleans then to Minden by barge and ox cart.
In addition to Isaac Murrell's piano, the mezzanine contains a player piano from the early 1900s and several other instruments.
The last known Native American inhabitants of modern-day Claiborne Parish were the Kadohadacho tribe of the Caddo Indian Confederacy. The Kadohadacho tribe were related to the Plains Indians of the Southwest rather than the Southeastern tribes who inhabited most of Louisiana. The early European settlers shortened the name to simply "Caddo." While no permanent settlement existed in modern-day Claiborne Parish, the Kadohadacho tribe used the region for hunting and mound-building.
Three cases exhibit Native American culture in the modern-day Claiborne Parish region. Arrow points, grinding stones, and pottery are among some of the artifacts exhibited.
A dugout canoe from the banks of the Sabine River is also on display. Bayou Dorcheat was the early lifeline of the parish, and canoes were an efficient way of traveling throughout the region.
During the pioneer period, English and Scottish-Irish people migrated from the Southeast region of the United States to escape debts or avoid the law. Many other new settlers came in search of adventure or untouched farmland.
John Murrell, his wife, and six children are believed to be the first pioneers to arrive in 1818. Most pioneers built crude log cabins with cypress roofs, barely sufficient to protect them from the sometimes harsh conditions of the region. Because they had to provide food, clothing, tools, and furniture for themselves, the early settlers were mostly self-reliant.
During this period, Military Road was constructed through northwest Louisiana. The road passed through Claiborne Parish, linking army posts throughout the region and eventually progressing into the Arkansas Territory. Also during this period, modern-day Claiborne Parish was formed from the northern portion of Natchitoches Parish. The parish was named after the first American governor of Louisiana, William C.C. Claiborne.
The second wave of settlers arrived in Claiborne Parish during the 1840s and 1850s, primarily from Georgia and Alabama. By 1860, the European population had doubled and the slave population had tripled. Cotton production also increased by 765%. Farms grew larger and slave labor became critical to maintain the crops and livestock.
This area showcases some ways that settlers tamed the wilderness: a blacksmith shop used for making horseshoes, axes, chains, saws, and other metal items; a cradle Scythe for harvesting grain by hand; a large bag for picking cotton; and a large wooden wheel. Ben Langheld and James Miller built the wooden wheel to move wagonloads of corn into the barn corncrib, thus reducing the labor and time required to move corn.
Before the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) was added to the Constitution, many farms had stills for distilling alcohol. During the Prohibition era, many people continued to produce alcohol. These bootleggers or moonshiners called their product white lightening. Louisiana Highway 146 is called The White Lightening Road because the men who grated the road bed were in jail from making illegal alcohol.
In 1861, the Civil War reached Claiborne Parish. Almost every home sent at least one soldier to the war. During the war, Claiborne Parish served as a Refugee Center, receiving refugee families from the Mississippi Valley and other regions. Though Union soldiers did not enter the parish until after the war, many sons of Claiborne Parish lost their lives during the war.
The flags of the Confederacy are displayed in this area, along with the original Judge's Bench from the Courthouse, and the Courthouse bell. Confederate guns and sabers are displayed in a case, along with a 1905 photograph of some of the last remaining Confederate soliders alive in the parish.
By 1900, life in Claiborne Parish was changing drastically. The L&NW Railroad, constructed in 1888, quickly led the parish into a period of economic recovery. The growing economy allowed the Hotel Claiborne—current home of the Ford Museum—and the Homer National Bank to be constructed in 1890.
By 1917, oil exploration had begun, but it wasn’t until January 1919 that Consolidated Progressive Oil Company drilled a commercially successful oil well near Homer.
In addition to the original oil well near Homer, the Haynesville and Lisbon Fields produced many barrels of oil per day. By 1946, there were 785 oil wells and 46 natural gas wells in the parish. While the technology used to search and drill oil has become more sophisticated, oil exploration in the parish continues today.
A train bell from the first locomotive engine in the parish and train tickets from the Gibsland-Darley, Athens-Spring Lake, and Homer-Kerlin stops are among the items exhibited in this collection.
The textile collection holds several noteworthy items: the Double-Harness Loom (circa 1830) from the Germantown colony near Minden, the Knighton spinning wheel (circa 1862), and some early sewing machines.
F.C. Haley was the Claiborne Parish Superintendent for 24 years—he consolidated the parish schools from 72 schools to 10 schools in the 1970s. The Haley family sponsored this exhibit in memory of him.
Near the entrance to the exhibit, a large bell from the Homer Male College is displayed, along with photographs of the college. Founded in 1855 under the jurisdiction of the Louisiana Methodist Conference, the college offered Bachelors and Masters degrees in the Arts and Sciences.
Pen and ink murals depict school life in the pioneer period, along with books, photos, and artifacts of the early academy movement in the parish. Most notably, a photograph of Homer Male College graduate Col. James Nicholson is displayed. Col. Nicholson taught mathematics at Louisiana State University, serving as president of the university from 1883-1884 and 1887-1896. He wrote numerous mathematics textbooks, several of which were used by Harvard and Yale.
During the 1800s, living conditions were harsh for residents of Claiborne Parish. Measles, pneumonia, malaria, yellow fever, typhoid fever, and tuberculosis were common, causing high infant morality rates.
Doctors traveled many miles on horseback to treat persons suffering from disease or illness. Operations were often performed on kitchen tables by lamplight and payment was often made with farm products. This collection displays some early medical tools and books. Also, Dr. Nolan Wilson’s dental chair and foot-pedaled dental drill are displayed.
Because of the economic boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s, the 25 rooms of the Hotel Claiborne housed many visitors from all around the country. Besides a bed, each room contained a washbowl and water pitcher on a washstand.
The furniture in the Hotel Room belonged to Mrs. Herbert S. Ford, who lived to be 100 years old.
Many newly married couples came to the Hotel Claiborne on their honeymoons and traveling salesmen called drummers displayed their wares for local merchants to order.
Local parties were held in the upstairs parlors, complete with orchestras. During the 1920s, oil spectators and businessmen left the hotel with no vacancies.
Beautiful wallpaper lined the walls and faux bois finish was painted on the doors. Transoms above each door ventilated the rooms.
Among the items on display are the General’s portrait and his flags, medals, and awards. Additionally, guns from the Ford gun collection and the Far East are exhibited.
Various weapons from World War I to the Vietnam Era are also on display, including a World War II Liberator—a rare pistol designed to be discarded after one use.
Also, the medals of Larry Sale—the most decorated Louisiana soldier of World War I—are on display. A smaller case holds Civil War artifacts, including $1.00 bills issued by Claiborne Parish.
Mr. Kitchens wrote many humerous articles for the local paper, eventually writing and illustrating a book entitled “Trickem on Gooch Creek” in 1957.
One of Kitchens’ hobbies was working metal—he called his yard “Kitchens Sink,” and filled it with whirling windmills and humorous art.
General stores were an important part of life in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The general store in Homer sold everything from groceries to iron cookware and plows, some of which are displayed in this exhibit.
The general store also served as the Post Office.
The Hotel Claiborne parlor is located at the front of the second floor and holds a piano, carpet, drapes, a chandelier, chairs, and desks. The décor was quite ornate, in line with the time period. The large door leading to the balcony was often opened, and hotel guests frequently sat outside in the evenings.
A large wicker basket from the First Baptist Church of Homer and the 1868 organ of the Arizona Methodist Church are both on display in this exhibit. Photos of Sunday school classes and baptisms are also displayed.
The early years of the 20th century brought profound social and economic change to Claiborne Parish. The catalyst for this change was the discovery of oil in the region. The discovery well of the Homer Field, drilled on the Shaw lease by Consolidated Progressive Oil Company, came in on January 12, 1919, pumping 2,500 barrels of oil and water from the Nacatoch sand at a depth of 1,409 feet. Standard Oil Company's Guy Oakes No. 1, a "gusher," was completed on October 10, 1920, producing 20,000 barrels from the Oakes sand at 2,090 feet. Rapid development followed, with the Homer Field becoming the most prolific and profitable of the northern Louisiana oil fields to that time.
In the early part of 1921, speculators began drilling in the Haynesville district. Shreveporter J.E. Smitherman and his associates brought in the Taylor No. 2 on March 30, 1921 and almost overnight, Haynesville mushroomed from a town of 1,000 inhabitants to a boomtown of 10,000. By November 1921, seldom a week passed without there being at least a dozen completions in the Haynesville Field. It became customary to let the wells "blow over the top,' and a well that did not "paint the derrick" was almost considered a failure.
Oil was discovered in Lisbon on December 18, 1936. The discovery well of the Old Lisbon Field, located on the H. W. Patton place, was brought in by Reb Oakes and J. D. Caruthers, Sr. at a depth of 5,1000 feet. The discovery of "black gold" changed the lives of Claiborne Parish resident forever. We owe a lot to the men, mules, and mud that made it happen.