The village of Chatham, LA was molded as early as 1903 when the Tremont and Gulf Railway (TGR) got extended from Eros to Chatham. The railway was a subsidiary of the Tremont Lumber Company (TLC), which was located 20 miles west of Monroe on the old V.S. & P Railroad line. Ever expanding, after another sawmill was built in Eros it was decided to extend the line on to Winnfield.
The executives of TGR planned a meeting with the citizens of Dalley, which was an unincorporated community on a direct line between Eros and Womack, about getting land donations for the purpose of running the railway through and establishing a town there. Dalley, which was located at the crossroad of the Old Natchitoches Road and Vernon-Columbia road at the time that housed four stores, a blacksmith shop, post office and a school-lodge building.
Since only two citizens, Dr. S.O. Wilder and E.W. Ramsey, attended the meeting the TGR executives decided to locate the railroad and town about two miles east of Dalley on their own property. Upon learning this Dr. Wilder moved to the new town and erected the first residence there in 1904. There were other settlers in the area before the town was erected also, including one of the most prominent, Mr. Noah J. Chatham, who owned a large tract of land east of the new railway line.
When the first Post Office was established in 1905 an official name for it, which would also be the name of the town, was required. There is a difference of opinions on how Chatham got it’s name. One report states that several suggestions were made with “Avard” finally being selected but Mr. Chatham had insisted the town bear his name. There was a technicality that stood in the way though as already another Chatham was being used by the Post Office for a settlement in Caldwell Parish. This was where Noah Chatham’s brother, Jefferson Davis Chatham, was the Postmaster and he had made arrangements to have that Post Office be called the Chatham Post Office.
Not to be denied, Noah made a trip to see Jefferson Davis which resulted in official papers being signed signifying the end of the post office in Caldwell Parish being called Chatham. Upon returning Noah Chatham then filed the necessary paperwork to have the locality’s new name of “Avard” stricken. On May 4, 1908 the name was officially changed to Chatham.
There is some dispute in regard to the name of the town before Chatham was officially declared. While some say that the community was called Avard, still others declare it was called Chathamville. There is also the opinion that both names were used simultaneously with Avard representing the area west of the tracks and Chathamville to the east.
There is substantial evidence that the name Chathamville was the more accepted, one primary document being the official minutes of the Masonic Lodge during that period. As early as February 2, 1906 a petition was circulated among the membership of the community of Dalley’s Masonic Lodge to be removed and placed three miles east in Chathamville.
The early population of Chatham consisted primarily of families from nearby settlements of Dalley, Concord, Brooklyn and Hood’s Mill and the cultivation of timber was the main industry. There have been innumerable saw mills come and go through the years but the first was a “stave” mill which processed hickory.
History tells of Chatham becoming known around the world in 1907. That year was the year of the “Great Panic.” Tremont Lumber Company was one of the few companies in north Louisiana that wasn’t forced to “fold” due to the lack of money available but they did cut wages which caused dissension among the employees. This resulted in Tremont importing about forty Bohemians who agreed to work for the lesser wages.
This did not sit well with local residents and as result a “crowd” formed downtown where it was decided to run the “intruders” out of town. After getting “tanked up” the mob went into the Bohemian camp and started marching them out of town. Shooting from a distance began that killed several of the Bohemians resulting in a headline in the Shreveport Times that read “Ditches Running With Blood.”
Some men were arrested and held in the parish jail in Vernon. Judge Ware refused to let anyone out on bail or have a trial. This resulted in him being threatened to be lynched but he stated that he was doing this to protect the locals as “If you fellows get a trial now, every one of you would go to the penitentiary. There was never a trial but before it was over the Bohemian Government issued a formal protest which resulted in the U.S Government paying damage claims.
Next week: Chatham – The “wild west” of the south!