Minden, Louisiana, founded in 1835, has a colorful history filled with interesting characters, unique events and more than its share of difficult times. However, the town has overcome its challenges and grown while maintaining its small-town charm and earning the reputation of being a "good place to live."
While settlement in the area of Minden dates back to the second decade of the 19th century, the community itself can trace its beginnings to 1835. In that year, Charles Hanse Veeder, a German-American born in New York State but most recently a resident of Southern Indiana, came to Louisiana and built an inn on a hilltop a few miles from Bayou Dorcheat. Legend has it that the inn was constructed on a salt lick that was the best deer-hunting site in the region. By 1837, Veeder had laid out a town in the shape of a parallelogram and divided the area into lots. He named the settlement after the home of his ancestors in Germany -- Minden. The little town grew and prospered and soon became the largest town in the vast area covered by old Claiborne Parish. In 1838, Minden received one of the first charters for a public school from the State Legislature. Although the school did charge tuition, it was open to all white children. This original Minden Academy later split into two schools, the Minden Male Academy and the Minden Female College, which both operated into the 1890s. The Minden High School of today sits on the site of Veeder's original Minden Academy.
Minden earned an early reputation as a town of culture, aided by the school and the early introduction of religion into the community. The Methodists established a congregation in 1839, followed by the Baptists in 1844, and the Episcopals in the early 1850s. With a large number of its settlers coming from England and long-settled areas of South Carolina and Georgia, Minden never experienced the rough frontier lifestyle of its larger neighbor to the west, Shreveport.
The economic life of Minden centered around commerce on Bayou Dorcheat. Three separate landings on the bayou served the Minden community, and the city served as a shipping point for goods from much of the interior of North Louisiana. Before the Civil War, warehouses and commercial buildings extended for more than a mile along the East bank of Bayou Dorcheat.
Actual fighting never reached Minden during the Civil War, but troop activity was almost constant in the area, particularly just before and after the Red River Campaign of 1864, which culminated in the Battle of Sabine Crossroads at nearby Mansfield. More than 20 unidentified Confederate casualties of that battle were buried in a trench in the old Minden Cemetery. During the winter of 1864-65, nearly 15,000 Confederate troops were quartered in several camps just east of town, collectively known as Camp Magruder. The City of Minden was surrendered to Federal troops in mid-May 1865.
The trying years of Reconstruction began for Minden in June 1865 when units of the 61st United States Colored Troops began military occupation of the town. One positive note for the city came in February 1871 when the new Parish of Webster was created with Minden as its seat. The new parish constructed a courthouse in 1872, and Minden gained the added prestige of being a seat of government.
In 1901, the Minden Lumber Mill, at the time one of the largest in the United States, opened here. In May 1918, a fire of mysterious origin destroyed the Mill, but Minden's economic downturn was brief as the 1920s saw the discovery of the nearby Cotton Valley Oil Field and, in 1923, the shops of the L&A Railroad moved to Minden bringing several hundred new workers to Minden and thousands of dollars in payroll.
|With the coming of World War II, a new industry came to Minden in June 1941. A large shell-loading plant, the Louisiana Ordnance Plant, was constructed just west of Minden. With a brief hiatus in the early 60s when the shell plant -- now known as the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant -- closed, Minden's economy grew throughout these years. The city constructed a new power plant, made street and sewage improvements, and finally constructed a new City Hall and Civic Center Complex.|
In recent years, Minden has seen a shift from relying on a single industry to a varied economic base built on the timber and oil and gas industries, along with various retail enterprises and a few manufacturers. The proximity to Shreveport has led to the idea of Minden becoming a bedroom community for its large neighbor, or perhaps a retirement community. Whatever the outcome, based on its history, Minden will find a new way to survive and thrive in the 21st century.
--Information Courtesy of Webster Parish Historian John Agan
Webster Parish is located in the beautiful pine hills of Northwest Louisiana. The area that is today Webster Parish was first settled in about 1818. Dorcheat Bayou, which bisects the parish from north to south, was the transportation artery that brought the first settlers to the area, and it remained the main connection to the outside world until the coming of the railroads in the years after the Civil War. Today, the bayou, which ceased to be a commercial artery in the early 20th century, is a lovely reminder of the source of settlement and is enjoyed today for fishing, boating and for its scenic value. When the first settlers arrived they were living in Natchitoches Parish, which covered all of Northwest Louisiana in those days of early statehood. Webster Parish was formally created on February 28, 1871, with lands taken from Claiborne, Bossier, and Bienville parishes. The parish seat was located at Minden, the largest town in the parish, which is located in the south central part of the parish.
In its early years, the economy of Webster Parish was based largely on farming, with cotton as an important but not dominant crop. The rolling hills that cover the eastern part of the parish were not conducive to the crop, although in the areas along the bayou the land did allow for some large cotton growers to prosper. In fact, one community in the parish, Cotton Valley, drew its name from the principal product grown in that section of the parish.
By the late 19th century, timber was already becoming a primary industrial product and it remains so today. Springhill -- the second largest town in the parish -- located at the far northern end of the parish, abutting the Arkansas border, owes its existence to the logging industry. Although today it is enjoying a rebirth with a growing economy and friendly people sparking a boom in tourism. The discovery of the Cotton Valley Oil Field in the 1920s transformed the economy of Webster Parish, as later discoveries of oil and natural gas were made all over the parish. Today, oil and gas remains a major economic factor in the parish,
Today, Webster Parish is economically prosperous, and offers the visitor the opportunity to take part in all of the various recreational opportunities that make Louisiana the Sportsman's Paradise. For those coming to reside, Webster Parish is a place with friendly hardworking people. It is close enough to the city but retains the charm of country living. It is a wonderful place to call home.
Important Years for Webster Parish:
1818 - The first settlers arrive in what will become Webster Parish.
1822 - Newitt Drew establishes a saw and grist mill at Overton, the junction of Cooley Creek and Bayou Dorcheat. Over the next few years commercial traffic picks up on the stream and steamboat trade through the Red River, Loggy Bayou and Lake Bistineau reaches Overton six months of the year.
1836 - Overton becomes the seat of government for Claiborne Parish and a new town; Minden is founded just north of Overton on the hill over Bayou Dorcheat
1848 - After being hit by two Yellow Fever epidemics, Overton loses the title as Claiborne Parish seat to Athens. By the mid-1850s, the town at Overton will be abandoned, with only the commercial structure at the bayou landing left in operation.
1864-65 - During this winter, more than 10,000 Confederate troops are quartered at Camp Magruder in the hills above Cooley Creek east of Minden. A large Confederate Quartermaster's depot is also located in Minden.
1865 - From June through December, the Minden area is occupied by soldiers from the 61st United States Colored Troops.
1871 - Webster Parish is created on February 28, out of portions of Claiborne, Bossier and Bienville parishes. It is named for Senator Daniel Webster. Minden is named as the parish seat.
1882 - The Vicksburg, Shreveport and Pacific Railroad begins construction of the first east to west rail line across the parish as part of its line across North Louisiana. The Webster Parish station on the line is at Lanesville, today known as Sibley.
1898 - The Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad begins construction of the first north to south rail line through the parish.
1901 - Springhill is founded, supported by the timber industry.
1923 - The shops and offices of the L&A Railroad relocate to Minden from Stamps, Arkansas.
1937 - International Paper opens a huge mill at Cullen near Springhill.
1941 - The Louisiana Ordnance Plant, a large shell-loading facility, opens near Minden.
1955 - The operations of the L&A Railroad are moved from Minden to Shreveport.
1979 - The Cullen plant of the International Paper Company closes, although smaller industries owned by the company remain in the Springhill area.
1991 - The Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant, successor to the Louisiana Ordnance Plant, closes permanently.
--Information Courtesy of Webster Parish Historian John Agan
Located seven miles north of Minden on the Germantown Road is the Germantown Colony Museum, on the original site of the Germantown Colony. This museum was established in 1975 and operates under the auspices of the Webster Parish Police Jury. Founded in 1835, the colony has a unique place in American history.
The following account of its history was written by the late Rita Moore Krouse, who championed the preservation of the colony and the establishment of the museum:
of uncertain parentage, a hermit, a vagabond, a dabbler in alchemy and
metaphysical esoterica. All of these terms could be used to describe one
Bernhard Mueller, a native of Kostheim, Germany, who called himself Count
Leon. He was a man who had visions and claimed the power to cast out evil
spirits and heal the sick.
|"Leon designated himself the anointed of God, out of the tribe of Judah, and the root of David, and announced a grand plan under which the faithful of all nations should be united under a single shepherd. This shepherd could act as lawgiver and a sanctifier in anticipation of the second coming of Christ. The shepherd, of course, to be himself, Count Leon.|
"Leon developed a devoted group of followers, among them Dr. Johan George Goentgen, the son of a pastor, who was prevented from becoming a preacher by an unspecified affliction of the throat. Dr. Goentgen was educated as a theologian, but was working as a librarian in Frankfurt. He became Leon's secretary and probably contributed to the thinking and writing which has been attributed to Leon.
"Through Goentgen, Leon had corresponded with George Rapp and had been invited to come to the colony which Rapp had established at Economy, Pennsylvania. The move to Economy came in 1831.
"Conflict over positions of leadership, Rapp's treatment of his followers and Leon's opposition to celibacy resulted in the removal of Leon, his followers, and some of Rapp's people who had broken away, to Philipsburg in 1832. Here, they established another colony. Disappointment in the slow growth of this community prompted the move to the ill-fated settlement at Grand Ecore, Louisiana, where Count Leon died of Yellow Fever in August 1834.
"The remaining immigrants left Grand Ecore and came to the present site in North Louisiana in 1835, where they remained for the next 36 years. The colony at Germantown was unique in North Louisiana, but was one of dozens of similar communities in the United States at that time. However, few, if any, enjoyed as long an existence as Germantown.
"All property was owned in common and strict observance of religious principles was required. Every person in the colony was assigned a specific task, according to his talents, and they all led quite ordinary lives.
"Because they were a hard working and enduring people, they began several industries at Germantown. They operated a cotton gin, a blacksmith shop, a shoe-making shop and a carpentry shop, among other activities. They planted and cultivated mulberry trees, to serves as homes for silk worms, which were used to produce silk cloth. At a later date, when the Germantown store was opened, they subsidized home industries for other people. This may have been the only activity of its kind in North Louisiana at that time.
"The size of the colony was never very large, never more than 35 persons, but they worked together with the resources that they had and the colony prospered.
Civil War marked the beginning of the end for the Germantown Colony. Because
there was nothing in their life or their religion to make the colony grow,
and partially because of differences over the support of the war and the
financial losses suffered during wartime, the colony disbanded in 1871.
It was largely forgotten until interest was revived in the 1940s, leading
to the establishment of the present museum at the site."
For more information about the Germantown Colony and Museum, call (318) 377-6061.
Several pictorial and written histories of Minden and Webster Parish are available, including:
of America: Minden by John Agan
of America: Webster Parish by John Agan
Pride and Perseverance by John Agan
Transcriptions From the Gardens of Memory Cemetery by Earlene Mendenhall Lyle and Barbara Mendenhall McLemore. This 119-page book includes 3,000 burials with all information derived from the headstones and has a full alphabetical index by surname and by maiden names as could be determined. For order information, call (318) 377-3349.
Willie & Mary Mack Memorial