Alberta founded around sawmill in the 1890s

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Correspondent

Alberta was located a mile south of Castor on the former Louisiana & Arkansas Railroad. E. M. Werkheiser of Arcadia had moved his sawmill from Arcadia to this new location in 1899 and he named the settlement that developed there for his daughter. As time moved on, Bienville Lumber Company took over the operation and the company eventually thrived and employed an estimated 300 workers. The small town supported a United States Post Office, a Methodist Church, a community school, and three grocery and dry goods stores. Bienville Lumber Company’s store and office building was the site of a telegraph and ticket office, and the train stopped there each day.

Louise Cooke Townsend, a former resident of Alberta described the layout of the town.

“Extending east from the Commissary was a lane called Main Street. It had a beautiful line of trees on either side. My Grandparents home was at the end of this lane,” she said. “There were several streets with names I can’t remember, but I recall that we lived on Newly Wed Street. When my parents, Ruby Wardlaw and Guye Cooke, married Grandfather built them a house on this street.”
“My Grandfather, Henry Pleasant Wardlaw, was born near Alberta, and inherited a large tract of land there when his Mother, Mary Elizabeth King passed away. When the L&A Railroad came through, he built a large Commissary in Alberta near the railroad tracks. He carried everything in that store from snuff to coffins,” she said. “My Dad, Guye Cooke was his bookkeeper.”

“For a few years, Granddad’s son, Berry Wardlaw, had what we called a ”Chicken Wagon". He had two horses pulling a large buggy and behind was attached a store on wheels. There was a chicken coop on the back. As Uncle Berry peddled all kinds of merchandise from the store he was paid in chickens. He was a funny sight coming back from his route with a load of squawking chickens." Townsend said. By March 1915, the Bienville Lumber Company had exhausted its timber supply in the area surrounding Alberta. They bought a large tract of timber at Forest, Mississippi, and began moving the mill in April of that same year. Although some families stayed, most of the workers and their families moved away. The Post office moved to Castor, and children walked the one-mile distance to the new schools there.

“I walked with friends and Aunt Myrtle Wardlaw Franks who taught there to the Castor School.” Townsend continued. “The road was located opposite the railroad track from where it is now and there was a boardwalk over the swamp. We walked the mile to school and then home again in the evening. If the weather was bad, someone would carry us back and forth in a wagon.”

“The main road extended from Alberta toward Old Castor and the roads were maintained by the men of the community. When my sister died and was buried at Old Castor, we traveled there in our wagon. I remember how terrible the sand beds were. We moved away from Alberta when I was seven to Plains, Georgia. I returned to the Shreveport area to find a job at age fifteen.” she said.

“My son, Harry Townsend and I once visited the site of my birthplace and I could still remember how the old town was arranged. It’s all grown up now with trees, wild honey suckles, blackberry vines and other native plants. I found the foundation of the old church and just for a moment I thought I heard the lonesome sound of the train whistle and the rumble of the L&A coming down the tracks.”

Note: Louise Cooke Townsend was born in Alberta June 22, 1913. She now resides in Shreveport, La.

Clockwise from top left: Alberta school class; Bienville Lumber Co. commissary owned and operated by H.P. Wardlaw; train stop at Alberta; Methodist church at Albeta.

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