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History Hunts Blog

Following Louisiana's & Mississippi's Historic Railroads

Finding the Lumber Mill Railroads

Following the Historic Rails of Mississippi

The Search for the New Orleans Natalbany & Natchez

First, Click Here.

OK, that done, get ready to apply the history to the present.
I knew that this one would be frustrating. What I didn't know was that it was widely assumed and probably understood and probably known, that there wasn't much or anything left, material wise  or terrain wise of the old railroad. There would be no rails encapsulated in blacktop, no trestles, rotting ties or much.

I don't prescribe to widely held opinions or others findings. They might have missed something or had been content with images of the past. I know that another chapter can be written.  It might be a blank page or maybe not.  I'm putting this together because the  "maybe not"  was out there and I found a lot of it.  The piney woods eat history. Hunting clubs and farmers preserve  history, to a degree, when it is to their advantage,

The stretches of  right of way (ROW) found on this outing usually were capped with a gate.
A disadvantage on this hunt was, at first, neighborhood congestion.  Natalbany, the town, sits atop Hammond and every back road is a subdivision. No, not in the  likes of  "Smith Oaks" or "Jones Creek" but tightly placed housing lining every road. As I moved away from the tentacles of Hammond the situation improved.  If you've never gone exploring where people live on dead end roads then you don't fully understand the rules that apply. The number one rule is not to linger.  The second rule is move on if you hear barking and pray that the 125 pound Rottweiler from hell is on a chain and it doesn't break. The third and most important rule is to have a good story because you will inevitably need it .Believe it or not, "railfan" is a word in a foreign language. You do not want to use it. Doing so only aggravates your interrogator.  It makes you look like a frivolous twerp. Tell it straight or better yet, before he or she can ask you something,  ask him. "Do you know anything about the old railroad that came through here"? But, you'll need to fine tune that question. Use "tram" instead of "railroad".  It is the word the hunters use. They are their landmarks and they want to tell you about them because, suddenly they are the authority and empowered.
Sit back and listen.

There were several intervening occurrences that slowed or stifled  this investigation. The first occurred when I was approached by this young guy that followed me in a car, pulled ahead of me and waved me down.  He wanted to talk "motorcycles". I flex easily and we talked for 15 minutes. The other deterrence was deep gravel. I don't do deep gravel on the bike I was riding. I do do shallow gravel and that is only when the destination is extremely important to  the mission.

My search was empowered by a Google Earth map that helped some with the initial stretch leaving Natalbany, a section not covered by my other resource. The "kmz" file came from the link I told you to click at the beginning of this spiel.
The pink line is his rendition of the route. The numbers are my  way points, some places to turn, some destinations. 

From that guide I'd have to devise a route, roads that would be a mystery surface wise until encountered. The red line would be a rough attempt at accessing his route.

It did not go smoothly. My old GPS became confused at the end and basically had a nervous breakdown.  She was not happy with my rejecting her directive and froze up, thus my designation of the GPS as a "she".
All along the way I had to restart the route.
And. I did not have his map with me. I could not get the  GE file to upload to the GPS.
There is a way but I didn't have the time prior to take off.

Enough belly aching and excuse making.
The one stretch of ROW I got to ride was worth the 187 miles of heat, rain, dust and stress.
There is plenty of evidence of the NON&N out there.
I'm sure the hunters and farmers have seen it all though they probably think it's just a tram.

The search began in Natalbany.  I could have ended it there but then "anticlimactic"  would have been an understatement.  Still there was a siding where he had begun his map,

What this location had been I will not guess.
If a mill a pond would be required it seems to me. 

 The area was open and there was a stream for water.
The ingredients and evidence were there.
The yellow line is the Canadian National  main.
Of course it was another railroad when the NON&N was there.
Again, red is my planned route. Pink is the RR.
Another color, blue, will come into play.
It was my actual route.
Looking south from the connection.

 A constant problem is that roads change names.
This one was called "Dummyline".
That incorrectly inferred, again, that it was a tram.
It was the main line of the railroad.
It is now called "Pardo Road".
 I would suspect "Pardo" is a politician.

Pardo gets you just so far.

 There was a suspicious bridge along the way.
It was too wide to be a trestle unless it was a 2 track trestle..

 The end of Pardo butted against Interstate 55.

 I had chosen to to leave the main highway and venture north to see if any ROW evidence continued.
A car slowed to check me out.
That usually closes the session for that area.

 I held my ground, stared him down and he left.
Across the road the "evidence" continued.

 I turned back and got a better shot of the chicken coup property.

 Some shots are for location verification only.
Nevertheless, my statement about "neighborhoods" is supported here.

In this next picture the road was elevated a little at the right place.

 Mobile homes gravitate to old rail ROW's. Take my word on that.

 Here is where it got frustrating.
GE had invented a road or maybe Garmin had.
It did not exist and my planned red route could not 
be followed. Blue,  is my actual route.
Coming from the right are the shots taken while trying to get back to La.1064
where I could intersect La.43 to go north, far away from the ROW (pink).

 Taken Here.
I was nearing 1064, soon to turn north on Hoover Rd instead of 43.

The gates were the first "country" setting evidence I'd found.
The ROW was uncluttered and stress less.

Furthermore, the sign said, "Historic route of the NON&N".
I was in the groove.

  Approaching 1064.  I went north on Hoover Road. (blue line)
 Then East on 442.
Then north on 1063, and until the northwestward angle, I was on the ROW,
but didn't know it.


Evidently, I also missed the northwest angling ROW crossing on Hubert Silbey Rd,
 below the red line.
I have no explanation besides that I just missed it.
You can see I way overshot the crossing turning south.
I actually missed it twice since backtracking is the price you pay.
I ride alone. No one would have the patience to follow me.


The turn to the west on Ambassador (where you see "10") and then north was fruitless.
A gate ended my attempt.

I chose to go east on 1063  and then north on Evans and Lamonica
which was endless torture.

I reached 40 at the end of Lamonica.
The ride west got better.
A long stretch got me back to the railroad.
I picked it up easily.
 "Crossing" was the first hit.

This is at "Crossing".

This was Horseshoe Rd. (above map)

The picture above is the La.43 crossing.

I was at Georgeville.

I still have an eye for the old homes.

Better than a "security system".

It may have been this art studio at one time. You never know what you will find in the woods.

Next up was La. 43.
There had been something here  at one time.

This is it today.

I found a foundation but not one upon which I could  build an explanation.

Next up was Montpelier.
Hopefully I'd get to be a little more personal with the RR.

I took the first left hoping that I was joining the ROW.
No, it was one block to the west.
I went down the correct street obliviously.
I'll be back to a few of these places.

Shots taken while in Montpelier

I headed west and tried a couple of treks to the rails.

I dumbly went too far and hit Tarrel.
I wanted to go to neither.

It was getting hot.

Next up was Pine Grove.
I had no idea where the rails were so I shot a lot in different places.

This was north of La.16.
Well, wouldn't you have shot it?

This is the dead school between Johnson St. and the rails.
The empty lot above the rails is interesting.
The picture of the building which sits on it is  below the school shot.

The building south of the vacant lot looks like an old store.

I hated to leave Pine Grove but I had to.
I stopped at the cemetery to keep from needing one.
There was heavenly shade and a breeze.

There was ROW ahead. But it was not easy,

Banks Lane was a bust.
That would bar me from "16" and "17".

Banks Lane.. No way Jose', anyway. I don't do sand.

Just before Grangeville I hit gold.
I took Dick J. out to the rails and rode them east to the pipeline installation (far right)

I should have trimmed the fingers out of this shot. Oh well.

The berm was high above the forest floor.

This was what I'd hoped for but had realized would not happen, but it did.
Nothing left of the NON&N?

At this point the rails would kick southeast.

That break in the woods might be its path.

Before angling off the right of way I took a picture of its route heading north of  Grangeville.

I thought I was in the woods and then saw the main highway.

The old Masonic building is a landmark.

West of Grangeville are the gravel pits.
The rails of the NON&N may have been used to reach these at one time after the company had closed.

With no clue I crossed them at the intersection of 960 and 63.

Bluff Creek
I once had a reader ask me about Bluff Creek.
I did 30 minutes on investigation which was not good enough for  a thank you.
That was just another brick in my wall.

This was the Bluff Creek Church. It was nowhere near the rails.

La.959 sits above the ROW.
There are many opportunities to visit the ROW which is a big old power line route.

Place Marker.
I went way too far down this road.

Thank goodness. This outing was getting long.

I had no idea the red building on La.19 had more red buildings behind them.
There must be a story.

 There was nothing where the NON&N met the main line but a Slaughter cop giving a ticket.
I did not stop.  This ride had been uneventful and I chose not to ruin it.
I headed up to Ethyl on La.19.  It is the route of the old Illinois Central RR.
At  Ethyl, well covered in the Clinton and Hudson write, I said hi to the old rails once more.

Then it was on to McManus. There is an overpass on La.10 over the ghost railroad.

I wove my way south past the locked up gravel yard and crossed the "tracks".
This is looking toward the overpass, barely visible in the distance.

This is looking south toward Ethyl.

This old house was railroad mustard. 
The overpass is to the left.

La.10 lay ahead.  I was an hour from base camp. 
I hit rain but it was a good rain.
I almost got cold though not wet.
You can see the rain line  awaiting.
A steak dinner was, also.
I sure am glad I didn't stop north of Slaughter.
I don't think it would have worked out even if I had used "tram" instead of "railroad".

Added Article
 From Little Railroads Which Helped Build Communities
E.E. Puls, 1995
(his notes and snarky comments in parentheses)
Chapter V
The New Orleans, Natalbany, and Natchez Railroad and the Bluff Creek Campgrounds
Excitement spread among the inhabitants of south St. Helena Parish and the western part of Tangipahoa Parish when they got the news that a railroad was to be built from the small village of Natalbany to Grangeville, located in the western part of St. Helena Parish. The name of this railroad would be New Orleans, Natalbany, and Natchez. Its main purpose was to transport logs to the Natalbany Lumber Company's mills. However, the rail line was a separate company from the lumber operation. An ambitious undertaking, the railroad was constructed from Natalbany to Granngeville by December 1902. Twenty years later in 1929, the railroad would be extended north (sic, I think he meant WEST) into East Feliciana Parish to a point near Slaughter where it connected with the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad. But in 1902, Grangeville was the terminal of the railroad. Here the engines and the trains were cleaned, and the locomotives checked for any repairs that might need to be done. Also, water was added to the reservoir and fuel to the tender. ( Note: many lumber companies set up their logging railroad as a separate business. Not sure why but I suspect bookkeeping shenanigans and tax avoidance. )
In the process of building the railroad in 1092, surveyors began the task of laying out the right-of-way in Tangipoahoa Parish at Natalbany Station and moved westward to select areas where the least amount of labor would be required to build a roadbed. The land in Tangipahoa Parish was relatively level, and there were no major streams to cross, the larger body of water being the Natalbany River, which served as a boundary between Tangipahoa Parish and St. Helena Parish.
After crossing the river the surveyors concentrated on the hilly territory in St. Helena. This involved considerably more work because the hills had to be cut down so that the roadbed would be relatively level, and then low spots had to be filled in with dirt that had been removed from the hills. There were two small towns in south St. Helena, Montpelier and Pine Grove. They were selected as stations for the railroad.
After the completion of the railroad, the day came when the first passenger train was to make its debut from Natalbany to Grangeville. The passenger train was a rather odd-looking affair. The locomotive was very small and it had a cabbage-shaped smoke stack, a shape that served as a spark arrester. During dry season, sparks from an ordinary locomotive would fly into the surrounding territory and set fire to the woods. So this arrangement helped prevent forest fires. It also arrested sparks which were dangerous to passengers. For the most part fat pine was used as fuel; hence the term "Pine Knot Special" was often applied to this train, although there were other terms that were used, with some people referring to it as the "Pea Vine." It is reported that the little train consisted of several cars. The car directly behind the engine and tender was used for mail and express and for other items that had been ordered by people along the way. Following this car, there usually were two, one of which was used for black passengers and the other for white. The first car following the locomotive was used for mail and for baggage. (I note he is repeating himself here; he does that a LOT in this narrative)
The train usually left Natalbany for eight o'clock and made its way slowly through the area, stopping at most of the stations if there was a need to stop. The train stopped at smaller stations only if passengers loaded or unloaded, and as the services of the train developed, freight was also hauled. At both Montpelier and Pine Grove a station agent was on duty.
Even though the train moved slowly through the rural areas, it has been reported that on several occasions it killed range cattle, much to the anger of the owners. Also it is said that on several occasions people in wagons drawn by horses were thrown out because the horses stampeded at the sight of the train. They were not used to this strange looking object which they had never seen before.
One of the items for the people in that area which the train hauled was ice. By this time, an ice factory had been established in Hammond and ice was shipped from Hammond in three-hundred pound cakes to Natalbany, where it was transferred to the Natalbany train ad shipped to various points along the line. This was a boon to the people in this area because before that time most of them had never seen ice except perhaps during really cold weather. Now a new era began, an era when ice was used to some extent for cold drinks and also for ice cream. Ice cream became a popular product among the people because most of them had cows and eggs, which provided the main ingredients for ice cream.
The day the first train ran was an event long to remember. People gathered at the little stations along the way to see the train, which symbolized a pathway to the outside world. Very often in later times when people did not have anything else to occupy their time, they would gather at the station for what was referred to as "meeting the train." Out of curiosity they would see who was arriving and who was
leaving. There were so few things to occupy the time for people that meeting the train was one of the major events. Then, too, those people in towns like Montpelier and Pine Grove would wait until the mail was distributed. For many, this was the only mail service they had. So it was not unusual, then, that the arrival of the new passenger train caused excitement along the line and was the topic of conversation for many days.
So the train made its way slowly on to Grangeville, where there was a "Y," or turnaround. Grangeville was also the place where the locomotives were serviced. After the train turned around, it made its way slowly back to Natalbany, picking up passengers and mail.
Frequently people boarded the train, those wanting to go to Natalbany, and from there they transferred to the Illinois Central passenger train going to New Orleans. It was a long, tedious process, but it was the only way people had to get to the outside world at that particular time. There were occasions when this train met a very special need, for example, when people were attacked by an acute disease or an affliction that could not be handled locally. Usually this was a case of appendicitis. When the doctors decided that no help was available in the rural areas, the patients were hustled to the train on a stretcher and from there the difficult journey to Natalbany and then on to Charity Hospital in New Orleans. There were numerous cases where this was too late, and the victim died, particularly because of rupture of the appendix.
Two men who were boys at the time the passenger train was inaugurated are Joe Gill and the late Ben Gill, each of whom provided valuable information for this report. Joe Gill stated that the first day the train ran, the engineer blew the whistle almost constantly and kept the bell ringing. It was, he said, like a Mardi Gras parade. He was anxious to ride the train, but at that time money was scarce. So he
made arrangements with the conductor to sweep out the passenger car and for his services he was granted a ride on the train.
It might be well to see what influence the little train had on the people in the rural area it served, remember though that logging trains were in use before the passenger train was put into service. The logging trains hauled logs from the timber areas into the sawmill at Natalbany, which by this time had developed into one of the major milling industries in that particular area. From the main line, spurs had been built to gather logs in various areas of the parish. It might be well to observe what the little town of Natalbany looked like at this time.
Before the Natalbany Lumber Company began its enterprise, Natalbany was a small station along the Illinois Central, with very few inhabitants. But as the little town developed, because of the sawmill industry, mercantile enterprises were established, as well as a large commissary which was patronized by persons working m the sawmill. The people who worked the sawmill numbered several hundred. The village itself consisted of numerous family residences. There was also a hotel and in due time a school was developed which ran through the junior high school level. Several churches included the Baptist and Methodist churches. There was a railway station by the Illinois Central railroad and the New Orleans, Natalbany, and Natchez railroad also built a station very close to the Illinois Central Station. This station was next to a spur line that was built so as to provide a means for moving cars from the Illinois Central track to the Natalbany railroad.
Along the right-of-way from Natalbany to Montpelier there were a number of small sheds built, approximately ten feet by fifteen feet. There were used only as a shelter against bad weather. Traffic did not necessitate an agent at these places. The first one was Addison's Crossing, and the next one was Woodhaven. Further on down the line was Little River, and finally, Georgeville. Then the track crossed Natalbany River and went on into Montpelier. ( these would have been what were called whistle stops)
Records show that very few large farms were in existence at that time; usually they were just family affairs - that is, labor was produced by members of the family, The railroad would provide a means of hauling cotton to the market, thus eliminating the long, tedious trips by horse-team or ox-team, which were the prevailing modes of transportation at that time. The railroad would provide certain and relatively quick transportation to the front. The "front" referred to the stations that were located on the railroads of the Illinois Central track. Some took their cotton to railroad stations located in small towns to the west, mostly Clinton and St. Francisville. The purpose of this railroad was to provide a means of hauling logs from the large timber areas which had been acquired by the Natalbany Lumber Company. The main line was built along standard track specifications, and from the main line numerous spurs were built which penetrated into the timber area. Logs were transferred to the main line and on into Natalbany where a sizable modern sawmill had already been developed.
There was a slow transfer of farming activities after the facilities became available for transporting produce to larger markets. Before this time, no beans had been grown; that is, snap beans. But very soon several of the farmers began growing them and they were packaged in hampers and shipped from the various points into Natalbany, where they were either purchased by some of the agents who bought produce, or they were shipped to some of the markets. Also, when the strawberry industry was at its height in Tangipahoa Parish, there were a number of farmers who planted sizeable acreage of strawberries. These were loaded onto the afternoon train and shipped into Natalbany where they were transferred into refrigerated cars with other berries that had been grown in that particular area. (Shipment of strawberries by rail was once a huge industry in Tangipahoa Parish; Illinois Central once had complete trains of nothing but refrigerated cars to haul the berries north.)
Then, too, numbers of farmers began to realize that the railroad enterprise provided a means of selling produce from their farms. Numerous logging camps had been established along the spurs, and the inhabitants of these camps bought produce from the farmers. The sale of agricultural products was a boon to the people of St. Helena Parish because cash income had been very little. It was also during this time that the cotton market was depressed because of the inroads of
the boll weevils. Satisfactory methods had not yet been achieved to eradicate this insect. It has been said by some of the older people that the march of the boll weevil as it came across that part of the country was more devastating than Sherman's march through the South. However, as experimentation methods were found to control the boll weevil, cotton again, slowly but surely assumed its state of importance.
An event that was of interest to the people was the annual Florida Parishes Fair held in Hammond. At this time most of the schools in St. Helena Parish were closed on Friday of the week the fair was in session. A special train was arranged which picked up school children and adults along the route. This train arrived in Natalbany in time to meet a Fair Special, which for this particular event had originated in McComb. The passengers from the Natalbany train transferred to the Fair Special, and traveled the few miles to Hammond. Then after leaving the train they made their way to the fair grounds, where they spent the day. In the afternoon around four o'clock, they again made their way back to the station where they met the northbound special and rode it to Natalbany. Here they transferred to the Natalbany train which had been patiently waiting for them. After the passengers had embarked on it, the train pushed its way slowly back to Grangeville. Usually by the time it got there it was late in the afternoon, but the event was one that was enjoyed by most of the people because there were so few competing activities, and those who had been at the fair had seen things that they had never seen before.
One of the events that people in this area engaged in was the camp meeting, which was held annually at Bluff Creek. This event was under the auspices of the Methodist Church. It was looked forward to because it served as a social gathering. In many ways it was a family reunion for numerous people. This event lasted about a week. The officials of the railroad cooperated by arranging for a special train to be run for people from Natalbany, Montpelier, and Pine Grove for the people in the surrounding territory. They rented several passenger cars from the lllinois Central Railroad, and these were used for daily trips to the camp meeting grounds. The Bluff Creek camp meeting near Grangeville, as has been previously stated, was a turn-around for the train.
People who remember when this activity was in its heyday state that there were numerous cabins available where people could spend a week, and then there was a large tabernacle. It is stated that usually things began around nine o'clock in the morning and lasted until twelve o'clock. Then they were adjourned for people to go to their cabins or to engage in picnic lunches or, sometimes, some home cooked meals. Usually around two o'clock people reassembled and there was an afternoon session. These lasted several hours. Then the people again adjourned, returning at seven o'clock in the evening for the last sessions. At these sessions there was a great deal of music and preaching. It served as a kind of spiritual revival for those who attended.
The camp meeting sessions ran until not too many years ago, when it seems that there were competing activities that attracted people and there was no longer the enthusiasm to get together as they had for many years. The Methodist Church was rather prominent in this area, which is attested to by the fact that they maintained Centenary College at Jackson when there were few colleges or universities in the area with the exception of LSU at Baton Rouge. So the railroad and the church were agencies that contributed a great deal toward the social welfare of the people and also contributed to their spiritual life.
The following is a fictional story of a typical week at the camp ground meeting and preparation for it. It is fabricated from stories that were told by people who participated in this event. The name of the family is fictional and does not refer to any family living in this area at the present time. It is an attempt to portray the general pattern of a  week at a camp meeting at the Bluff Creek camp meeting grounds.
Camp meeting time at Bluff Creek elicited much interest and enthusiasm in the area that surrounded this place. Many people in St. Helena and the Felicianas participated in it and it usually occurred during the early part of August. It was at this time that farmers had their crops laid by, and it was a sort of intermediate period when there was not too much work to be done on their farms. It also served as a vacation for the entire family because it was an event in which all of them participated. The Carter family which will be described is a fictional one, but it could be representative of many families in that area during this particular period of time. We will name the father Jerry, shortened from the word Jeremiah because he came from a devout Methodist family that had been affiliated with this denomination for many generations. His wife was Mary. There were two older daughters who were married and living in Baton Rouge. Their husbands were affiliated with the newly established Standard Oil Company (the Esso refinery!) which came to Baton Rouge the early part of the twentieth century. The oldest boy in the family was Jerry, Jr., nineteen, and then their was Billy, fifteen, and Clara, thirteen. Closely associated with this family was Annie, a black woman who had been with the family since the first child was born. It was she who accompanied the family for many years to the annual camp meetings and it was she who took care of the household affairs in the cabin, who cooked their meals and saw to it that their laundry was kept in order.
The Carters lived on a typical farm in the western part of St. Helena Parish. It consisted of several hundred acres of land, a comfortable home and numerous farm buildings that surrounded the homestead, all of these building being wooden structures and typical of most of the farm homes in that locale during this particular period of time. This farm was perhaps a little bit larger than some of the others in the area, consisting of fifty to sixty acres of cultivated land on which the principal crops were cotton and corn. They also raised a number of beef cattle which were put on the market annually and provided ready cash. There was also some sugar cane grown for syrup. The corn was used principally for animal feed, and some of it was taken to the grist mill to be converted into cornmeal which was one of the staple foods in the family. There was also a flock of chickens that were fed the corn that was produced.
The Carters were devout Methodists. Mr. Carter was a pillar of the local church, and his wife Mary presided at the piano during services. Some of his relatives had attended Centenary College when it was located in Jackson, and there were several men who entered the Methodist ministry.
The Carters as a family unit had attended the annual camp meeting for many years. It was an event they eagerly looked forward to. We shall now take a look at the preparation they engaged in for several days before making the something like ten-mile journey from their farmstead to Bluff Creek. At the camp grounds there were cabins which were assigned to people who would attend the meeting, and the Carters had reserved one of these. Actually, it was the same one they had occupied for a number of years. There was a small kitchen which contained a wood-burning stove and the other rooms were dual purpose, used for sleeping quarters and also as a place to entertain friends.
It was necessary to take with them as much food as they had produced on the farm; usually this consisted of those vegetables that were in season at that time of the year. These were, for the most part, okra, tomatoes, white potatoes, and by this time sweet potatoes were also ready for digging. The farm flock produced eggs, and these too had to be packed and were part of the material that would be taken. The Carters produced hogs on their farm and processed some of the pork into hams and bacon. Usually by this time of the year there was no ham left, but there was some bacon in the smokehouse. This also was packed because it was needed for cooking at the camp grounds.
Then, too, it was necessary to arrange the clothing for a week because very little laundering could be done. The Carters possessed a rather large cypress ice chest with a sliding door at the top, and they usually filled this with food that was perishable or semi-perishable and when they arrived at Bluff Creek they purchased ice to help keep the materials. By this time ice was available at the local stores because the railroad train brought in cakes of ice, usually about once a week.
On the morning the family would make their trek to Bluff Creek, there was considerable excitement. They were up early. Everything that was to be taken was packed the night before, so it was only necessary to hitch the team of horses to the surrey, which was driven by Mr. Carter. Mrs. Carter, the two children and Annie were occupants of the surrey. Behind them was a one-horse wagon pulled by a mule. It was driven by Jerry, Jr., and it contained the materials that were being transported to the camp grounds.
The family started early because they wanted to avoid the heat of the day. By starting early, they usually could arrive at the camp grounds around noon. The route they took was a trail for the most part and was an area with which most of them were familiar. Their thoughts were on what was going to take place at the camp grounds, except for Jerry, Jr., who was looking forward to seeing his girlfriend, a young lady we shall call Margie Watson, who was two years younger than he. Jerry had met her at one of the previous camp meetings. As they drove along, he was oblivious of the surrounding territory, because his mind was on the young lady. He was going to propose to her during the time of the session. He was reasonably sure that she would accept. He had not told his parents of his plans, but he felt sure they would be pleased because she also was from a very devout Methodist family.
When the family group arrived at the camp grounds, some other campers had already set up housekeeping. There was the meeting of friends, some of whom, like the Carters, had attended these annual affairs over a period of time. Then there were some newcomers, and it was a pleasure to meet them. They moved on to their assigned cabin and began the process of unloading and getting established.
Among the things that the Carters brought with them was a large watermelon. Each year the farmers who attended this session vied with each other as to which one would bring the largest melon. Mr. Carter hoped that he would win the prize this year since the season had been favorable. But it might be said at this point that he came in second. Usually one day during the session a watermelon party was held, and at this time the winner of the contest was announced. There was also a contest to see who could eat the most watermelon; usually this was won by one of the younger men or boys in the group.
Among the things that the Carters brought for food was some canned goods that Mrs. Carter, with the help of Annie, had put up during the summer, and there were bushels of crowder peas. These grew in abundance in that part of the country. Shelling of peas was something of a social event, as very often some of Mrs. Carter's friends would gather and, as they sat around shelling the peas, they had an opportunity to exchange gossip and recall events that had happened during the past year.
There were many interesting social aspects at the camp meeting besides the religious angle. One of the highlights was a barbecue. This particular year Mr. Carter had been designated to raise a yearling. This meant he had saved an early-born calf, allowing it to stay with its mother until August. At that time it would be slaughtered and the meat would be used for the barbecue. This was an event in which all the people who attended the camp participated. It was kind of a joint
affair, with all of them furnishing some of the food. Mr. Carter, who was something of an expert in barbecuing and furnisher of the yearling, was the one who did the barbecuing. The animal would be slaughtered by a neighbor of his and would be brought to the camp on Friday, which was the last day of the session.
As Mr. Carter was in charge of the barbecuing, it necessitated that he rise early in the morning and prepare the barbecue pit and arrange the animal, as it needed constant attention if a good product was to be the result.
There were many activities that took place, so according to people who attended the camp meeting and those who can remember stories from people no longer living, it was a week of wholesome excitement and spiritual growth. Each day when the little train arrived from Natalbany, people would meet it to find out if they had any mail and also to see who would be attending the session for that day. It was noted earlier that the railroad ran a special during this period of time. It should also be understood that not all the people were permanent campers; it was a time when many came in just for the day-long session, some of them staying until the night session that would usually end about ten o'clock.
At this time the Methodist-Episcopal Church South was rather prominent in this part of the country. Part of its prominence may have been due to the fact that the church maintained Centenary College, and from this institution missionaries radiated into the rural area and established chapels. It should be said to the credit of the Methodist Episcopal Church that they were instrumental in promoting education. This was a time when there were few public schools. Also, this was a time when the Methodist-Episcopal Church South was a separate organization from the Methodist-Episcopal Church North. The original Methodist Church had split in two during antebellum days, and it was not until 1940 that the two organizations came together and formed what is now called the United Methodist Church. (Note: Beginning in the 1920's is when liberalism infested the Methodist church. It saw fruition in the merger that resulted in the United Methodist Church. My church denomination is one of those Methodist groups that refused to merge in 1939. Most of them lost their church buildings, as the church properties were owned by the Methodist demonination, not the local congregation.)
During this session, there were numerous contests. Some of these were quartettes that had been sent in by the various churches in the area. Also there were musical contests, usually piano renditions. The main portion of the sessions, however, were devoted to renditions of a religious nature. However, there were also contests which might be called Bible Contests; that is, representatives from various church groups were in the contest and questions from the Bible were asked. The ones who answered the most, of course, were designated as the winners.
There were usually three sessions during the day. One of these began in the morning around ten o'clock and concluded in time for people to go home for their noon meal or to partake of a picnic lunch. There were a few hours left for a siesta, and then there would be an afternoon session.
It was during one of these night sessions that Jerry and his girlfriend slipped away. It was a night for romance. The moon was shining in its full glory, and the young couple could hear the music and the preaching in the distance. But their minds were not particularly on this affair. It was at this time that Jerry proposed to his girlfriend and, with some degree of shyness, she accepted. He was overjoyed! They agreed then that they would make the announcement of their engagement, and they would make plans for the wedding to take place at the annual camp meeting. As Jerry left to go to his home, his heart was filled with joy because he felt that he had selected a girl who would become a partner in the farming enterprise and would take over his father's rather extensive farm in the future.
The last night of the camp meeting was one when the altar-call was made; that is, people who might have been moved religiously would come to the altar and profess their faith in the Christian religion. Some would indicate which church they wished to join, and those who had not been baptized would indicate their intentions. Sometimes a short session was arranged at the end of the main meeting, and the person was then baptized. It was the custom in the Methodist Church not to baptize by immersion, but if a person desired to do so arrangements could be made.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the minister called the audience to order because considerable movement had begun. He stated that there would be a very important announcement he wished to make. At this time he stated that the young couple, Jerry and Marjorie, were announcing their engagement and that their parents were planning a wedding to be held next year at the time of the camp meeting. He also added that it would be a gala celebration. Applause came from the audience, and many heads nodded in approval, as this young couple was popular and well liked by the people at the camp meeting.
When the announcement was finished, Jerry's father came to the platform and said, "Everybody present is going to be invited to this big wedding. It's going to be one of the biggest that this country has ever seen! There will be plenty of food to eat. You have a whole year to prepare for this great occasion. "
From the audience came several comments, "Yes, and we're going to have one of the biggest charivaris that this country has ever seen!" For those who are unfamiliar with a charivari, it was a kind of celebration that friends of the couple engaged in after the wedding ceremony took place.
At the conclusion of the announcements, the persons in attendance moved to their various places--those who were living in cabins retired to them and made preparations for their departure the next day. Those who had come on the special moved on to the railroad station where the train was waiting. The engineer had fired up the boiler, and there was a good head of steam which was necessary for the engine to pull the train. After he gave several loud whistles, the people hurried to mount the trains and repair to their seats. There were many goodbyes, many of them tearful because they realized that it would be a year before they would see each other again. As the engineer applied steam, the wheels of the engine spun several times and gradually grabbed hold of the rails and the train, with considerable effort, moved forward to make its way slowly through south St. Helena on into Natalbany. As the echoes of the whistle of the train resounded in the distance, people realized that this concluded another happy occasion. They also realized that there would not be many more camp meetings, because an announcement had been made that this type of activity would be concluded within a few years.
Thus it might be said with considerable certainty that the little railroad, the New Orleans, Natalbany, and Natchez, contributed a great deal to the social, economic and spiritual welfare of the people in south St. Helena Parish. There are very few people living today whose memory goes back to this time; but those who speak of this period speak of it with an air of nostalgia because they often refer to it as "the good old days." So the people in this part of the country are indebted to this little railroad for many reasons, and the memory of it will linger as long as the memory of the persons involved.