While heading north on Hwy 167 just a few miles past Quitman there is a sign that points toward an open area and an adjacent road. It says Ansley. If you travel along it a little ways you will come to a big curve at the top of a hill where a church and a cemetery is located. Today, that is all you will find of Ansley. There was a day not many years ago when that wasn’t the case. Oh no, far from it!
From 1900-1950 that same area was a vibrant collection of structures. Hundreds of people bustled about daily enjoying the amenities of everything from a huge hotel, hardware store, grocery market, lumber yard, Post Office, churches and a large school complex complete with gymnasium and auditorium. Employment was had through a large saw mill, timber working and on a railroad line. The town had its own water tower, electric company and even a gas station for the few who had “motor” vehicles.
Ansley was founded around the turn of the 20th century. It came about as result of four brothers – John Melvin, Virgil, James and Robert Davis, who had been successful timbermen in south Arkansas, wanting to relocate their empire. They focused their search for a new location in north Louisiana along the Arkansas Southern Railroad which ran from Little Rock, AR to Winnfield, LA.
After finding miles and miles of timber at their disposal they selected a spot ten miles south of Ruston for their next mill operation. How good were the prospects of the area? An example is a picture of a felled log that measured 6 feet 8 inches in diameter.
In 1900 the brothers sold their properties in Arkansas and along with their faithful employees moved to the new town that would be named Ansley, after the wife of Virgil Davis. A new mill was built and completed in 1902 and on December, 17th of that year P.N. (Pamie) Davis sawed the first line. Two days later Davis Brothers Lumber Company, Ltd. was incorporated. In 1908 another planer mill was constructed and in 1914 a new hardwood mill was erected.
As the mills prospered so did Ansley.
Soon it became known as one of the most desired places to live and work in north Louisiana despite its isolation from more populated areas. The area was virtually inaccessible except by horseback or the train that came through once a day each way. As an example it took a three hour horseback ride to reach the community of Jonesboro.
Regardless the community grew by leaps and bound over the first twenty years of existence.
This was mainly due to the incredible benevolence of the Davis brothers. Employees did not earn cash money but rather “chits” that were redeemable at the “company store” which housed virtually anything and everything needed or desired and at prices far below market value.
The Davis Brothers went out of their way to give their employees the best of everything. They donated the land and lumber for the Union Church to be built in 1902. The first school was in the house of Dixie Young but by 1909 a two story building had been constructed, once again with materials and on land donated by the Davis Brothers Lumber Company. A majestic, two story, hotel was erected in 1908 and at their expense the David Brothers installed a “dynamo”, which was what a power generator was called and wired each of the employees homes with electricity.
Next week: Ansley – From Boom to Bust!