Throughout much of the nineteenth century, one of the most culturally progressive landmarks of Western Louisiana was Mansfield, in Desoto Parish. The city was first platted in 1843 and was incorporated in 1845. The first parish courthouse and college building were erected there in the early 1850's. The town was surrounded by magnificent short leaf pine forests, also rich deposits of lignite coal and limestone, the latter being the principal ingredient of cement. In April, 1864, Mansfield gained a permanent niche in American Civil War history, when Confederate General Richard Taylor decisively defeated nearby a Union army, advancing along the Red River. 1
Two monuments of Mansfield's early cultural development were the Mansfield Female College and a long series of newspapers, their origin dating back to the 1840's. A history of its newspapers revealed that: 2
". . .Mansfield had no sooner been incorporated, which was in 1845, than she had a newspaper. The press of Mansfield has always stood for the best, and the town's noble position today (1908) is largely due to its newspapers. The first paper was the Mansfield Advertiser, Roland Cole, editor. This was followed by the DeSoto Columbian, and it in turn by the Mansfield Eagle, W. F. Bennett, editor. These papers were published before the Civil War....
". . .The Mansfield Times was then launched by Messrs. Duke and Clarkson, and later the Mansfield Reporter by James T. McClanahan. J. E. Hewitt started the Desoto Democrat, which will be 18 years old on July 8, 1908. In 1890 McClanahan began the Mansfield Journal, which is the oldest paper in town (1908). In 1894, the Mansfield Progress was first published, which is still in existence. In 1906, J. E. Hewitt started the Desoto Enterprise, which is still being published. The editors of the three papers now (1908) being published are excellent newspapermen, two of them, Messrs. Hewitt and McClanahan, being veteran journalists....
Certainly Mansfield received its greatest commercial impetus during the middle I890's, when the town became the junction of two railroads. The Texas Central, later the Texas Pacific Railroad, was built from Marshall, Texas, to Alexandria and beyond to New Orleans. In 1895 the Kansas City Southern Railroad built through Mansfield en route to Leesville, and by 1908, the Mansfield Railway Transportation Company rails had reached the Sabine River, en route to Center, Texas. 3
Also by 1908, a number of lumbering, logging, and other industries had been founded there, as one newspaper article revealed: 4
". . . A large amount of piling and ties are shipped from Mansfield....A fine $17,000 school nears completion.... A large cotton seed oil mill is one of the town's interesting points.... The DeSoto Land and Lumber Company and the Central Lumber Company have large plants and put a large sum of money into circulation. The DeSoto Foundry and Machine Shop does a very large business.... This is a home town - a town of handsome residences, magnificent trees, and a veritable flower garden. Mansfield permits no liquors to be sold in its borders. 5..
Another newspaper article was equally as laudable concerning the town's merits, adding that:
". . . Few towns in Louisiana have brighter prospects than has Mansfield.... There are a number of industries that are doing a fine business. The DeSoto Land and Lumber Company, the DeSoto Foundry and Machine Company, and the Central Lumber Company, the oil mill, and the soda water factory are some of these....
". . .Socially Mansfield has the advantage over every town between Shreveport and Beaumont. It is a very old town and from the earliest time, has been noted for its culture, refinement, and educational advantages. The Mansfield Female College has been a great factor in promoting educational advancement in all this section. The public schools are of the best.... The business element is made up of energetic men and... two banks of known stability are in evidence.... A word might be said for the beautiful homes, surrounded by lawns, shaded by greet oaks. Everywhere are oranges, jasmine, and magnolias.... 6..
One leading manufactory was Central Lumber Company, with a daily capacity of 50,000 feet from its five planers, a 14"x30" sizer, a lathe for making tool handles, and machinery to make telegraph poles and cross arms. The plant also operated an Oldfield dry kiln, that could steam-dry 15,000 feet daily, and an ice plant, that made twenty tons daily. The ice was distributed throughout the area on the firm's two ice wagons. The plant's key personnel included C. W. Page, plant manager, G. M. Hubbard, planer foreman; J. P. Allison, shipping clerk; J. W. Shirley, millwright; C. B. Moreland, bookkeeper; P. W. Corrans, stenographer; and J. C. Stokes, who was the ice plant manager.
The DeSoto Land and Lumber sawmill ran throughout the panic of 1907 without shutting down a single day. In June, 1908, the DeSoto mill ran two ten-hour shifts, day and night, with a daily cut of 100,000 feet. The mill paid its 250 employees in currency, which in turn was re-distributed among the town's merchants, and was the largest payroll in town. Another record noted that DeSoto Land and Lumber Company was:
". . . one of a chain of mills belonging to Frost Lumber Company. It has a cut of 100,000 feet daily, and the planer is sufficiently large to take care of it... There has begun to be somewhat of a scarcity of (box) cars, and it is feared that this will increase. When the road is completed to Center, Texas, this mill will have the advantage of the Kansas City Southern, the Texas and Pacific, and Santa Fe. General Manager (A. J.) Peavy has charge of the mill and the one at Noble (La.).... He is surrounded by the best of lieutenants, namely: Thomas Byrne, bookkeeper; G. B. Mathis, mill foreman; Walter Dunlap, planer foreman; J. P. Hawthorn, yard foreman; R. R. Cheshire, shipping clerk; C. B. Robertson, mill engineer and D. Barford, planer engineer. 7..
The Mansfield Logging Company was the contractor, that supplied the DeSoto sawmill with logs. The DeSoto 'log front' was located twelve miles distant where eighty loggers out and loaded 325,000 scaled feet of logs daily, that were hauled into Mansfield on the log trains, over a standard gauge track built of 56 pound rails.. There were also 80 tenant houses and a commissary located at the 'log front' Logging was done mostly with mule teams, 8-wheel log wagons, and a steam-driven American log loader. Key personnel of the log firm included R. J. Wilson, superintendent; S. C. Burgess, secretary; George Kinney, manager; George Byrnes, loader foreman; and Tom Trammell, Matt Young, J. M. Seymour, locomotive engineers. The DeSoto plant had a stumpage reserve (uncut trees) equal to 450,000,000 feet. 8
Mansfield's outstanding cultural achievement in 1908 was the granting of Bachelor of Arts degrees to the 19 graduates of Mansfield Female College. Professor O. S. Dean was president of the school, which had a faculty of thirteen, and departments of foreign languages, liberal arts, sciences, music, art, and home economics. The music department alone was equipped with ten pianos for training its music students. 9
As both the seat of justice for a very large parish and the junction of three railroads, few cities in Louisiana offered as much promise for prosperity as did Mansfield in 1908. On the outskirts of town, land could still be purchased for as little as $8 an acre. Mansfield did flourish until its vast surrounding forest vanished; later it endured two world wars and the Great Depression, and today it survives as one of the healthiest and best urban locations in Western Louisiana.