History of Richland Parish, Louisiana as printed in the Richland Beacon News December 30, 1999
Can you imagine this of Richland Parish? "A vast extent of territory . . . found inhabited by 200 individuals. The commerce of the country does not exceed 6 to 7 thousand pots of bear oil, 2000 deerskins, or 500 beaver pelts. The prairie lands to the east of the (Ouachita) river do not seem natural. They have everything you can ask, and in truth, lack only cultivation."Those words were written in 1788 by Don Juan Filhoil, the commandant of the Spanish settlement at Fort Miro (Monroe). He had just come from exploring the territory and reported that opinion to his Spanish government.
In 1803, the United States purchased Louisiana and a party of United States soldiers took over command at Fort Miro and the Ouachita Country. When Louisiana was admitted to the Union in 1812, parishes were beginning to be formed from that huge tract of land. Many people immigrated from the southern states to the east.
In the early days, folks depended primarily upon the rivers and streams in the area for transportation. About 1840, a road was built through the canebreak and swamp area between the Boeuf River and Bayou Macon. In ten years or so, ferries and stagecoaches popped up in the area.Because of the rich soil, cotton was being grown along the riverfronts, which was convenient to water and transportation.
By 1850 cotton production was virtually the only industry in north Louisiana. Following the Civil War, cotton acres were abandoned and converted to forest growth.
A charter had been granted as early as 1836, but it wasn't until June 1854 that construction was begun. By 1857, the railroad stretched from Mississippi to Tallulah. It was not until 1859 that the railroad reached all the way to the little settlement of Delhi.
Because of the timing of the completion of the railroad project, it was used during the war mainly to transport soldiers and supplies to the Confederate cause.
During the Civil War, much of the railroad was destroyed by Union forces operating in the area and the people again had to turn to
As the Reconstruction era continued, the people of the area were determined to make the best of what they had. Small settlements were popping up all over the area during the mid-1800s, some of which were Delhi, Alto, Goshen, Girard and Charlieville -- all of these had post offices.
Just west of Delhi was a growing settlement called Little Creek, that boasted two railroads: the Vicksburg, Shreveport and Pacific and the New Orleans and Northwestern. Little Creek was the hub of action because of the new railroads and the businesses and homes that were springing up all over the area.
A man named John Ray, a transplanted Virginian, rose to political prominence after the Civil War. He was the Republican representative
The act called for portions of Carroll, Franklin, Morehouse and Ouachita parishes to be formed into a new parish: Richland Parish. The name came from the rich soil and fertile land of that country. The parish was placed within the Twelfth Judicial District and in the same Senatorial District as the parishes of Carroll, Madison and Morehouse. A Police Jury was held in December 1869 and construction of a courthouse was authorized. Little Creek, which had been renamed for Ray and was called Rayville, was then designated as the parish seat. An interesting fact about Rayville is that Ray named the streets Louisa, Julia, Benedette and Rosa after his our daughters. The new courthouse was a small, wood frame building with only two rooms. It housed the courts, the clerk of the parish office and the sheriff's department. The first sheriff was A. J. Lidell and the first clerk was J. Newt Pitts.That same year, Wiley P. Mangham established the Richland Beacon-News in Rayville and began his career as the parish's first newspaperman and the paper's establishment as the parish recorder.
By 1873, the parish was well established and required a new, bigger courthouse. The old courthouse was sold to a negro church organization that floated it some ten miles down Little Creek to use for a church.The new building was a two-story brick affair that was modern in all its appointments. Police Jury records from 1873 noted "all monies received from the auction of ferry franchises across streams running through Richland Parish should be used for the purchase of chairs." This courthouse was used until 1951, when the present structure was built.
After the inception of Richland Parish, schools and churches began to form in many areas. One particular church was mentioned several times in the news of the day: Alto Presbyterian Church. An article from a February 1873 Richland Beacon-News said this about the new little church: "The Presbyterians of Alto have erected a new Church in their town, which is a spacious and handsome building that reflects credit upon the moral worth of that community and speaks well for the liberality of its good citizens. The house was put up by Mr. N. M. Aston, who is, by the way, a first rate architect and builder. Rev. D. A. Campbell is its chosen Pastor and we hope that in his new field of labor he may be rewarded with abundant success."
In 1871 there were seven school directors whose duty it was to examine and hire teachers. Only four teachers were hired, at a salary of $1.50 per pupil per actual time taught. School terms varied in length from one to three months. It is interesting to note that only $152 was paid to the teachers during the year 1871. In those days, school buildings were recommended to be 24x36 feet, but the size was altered to be 20x28 feet because of a deficiency in funds. It would be 1902 before a "modern school" would be built in the area.
The towns of Rayville and Delhi were incorporated in 1882. At that time, according to "Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Louisiana" (Vol. II, Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1892), Delhi had "nine general stores, two drug stores, two livery stables, two hotels, one steam-gin, a good public school, and churches of Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic."
In the fall of 1890, a fire engulfed one-half or more of the business portion of Rayville. Again in 1891, it was visited by a similar disaster. The community worked hard to rebuild what they knew to be a wonderful place to live, work and worship in the twentieth century. After all, the new century lay just around the corner.