It was in 2013 that I first wrote about the picturesque village of Mount Hermon. My focus then was the Mt. Hermon Baptist Church which was organized on December 12, 1863, during the War between the States. My great-grandfather William "Billy" Frank Ellzey's tenure as Clerk of Mt. Hermon Baptist Church extended from January of 1894 to September of 1932.
Subsequent research on Mt. Hermon - the crown jewel of Northwestern Washington Parish - revealed valuable material penned by Bessie Ott Miller in October of 1969. Ms. Miller explained that the settlement of Mt. Hermon was named for Mt. Hermon Baptist Church, which had been named for the Biblical mountain cluster of Mount Hermon.
I also learned from renowned historian Dr. E. Russ Williams, Jr., in his book "History of Washington Parish, Louisiana, 1798-1992 The Story of a Land and People on Three Rivers: The Pearl, The Bogue Chitto, and The Tangipahoa in Southeast Louisiana" that in 1864 a significant, local anti-Confederate group founded what he called "a Union or Republican Club in the Mt. Hermon Baptist Church." A large meeting of residents who resided within five to ten miles of the Mt. Hermon Baptist Church and who didn't support secession from the Union convened in the spring of 1865 and planned a festive Fourth of July celebration which was well attended. Then, in 1867 the Unionists at Mt. Hermon became a Republican Club.
But the Baptist Church didn't have a monopoly on worship in Mt. Hermon. The historic Mt. Hermon Methodist Church dates to 1874, when it was founded by Walter Thomas Ott, David J. Ott, the Snells, the Alfords, and others who broke away from the Baptists. According to Dr. Williams in his book, it had something to do with dance. No matter the reason, the Methodists thrived, with a devout congregation still today.
Both before and during the Civil War, Sabbath School in Mt. Hermon took place in a log cabin school house, situated near the Mt. Hermon Cemetery. In 1885, a frame school building was constructed which replaced the first log cabin school. During the 1800s David Jackson Ott had donated the property for the Mt. Hermon School situated just off the main highway not far from the Mt. Hermon Cemetery. Both the log cabin school and its frame replacement were situated on this same property. Furnished with long wood benches and desks, the school was made of lumber which was sawed at the Ott sawmill and was dove-tailed in construction. Miss Edith Ott was a teacher there, and Denman Ott, whose widow Lavinia and heirs eventually donated the school to Mile Branch Settlement, was a student. Prior to its relocation on the Washington Parish Fairgrounds in 1977, the school was located on Denman Ott's property in Mt. Hermon.
The very first Post Office (originally Mount Herman P.O. changed to Mount Hermon in 1912), established in 1888 in the community, was housed in Elbert Weston "E. W." Ott's small country store, which was originally situated on his home place known as Fair Oaks Plantation. Before that time, mail came by wagon train to Mt. Hermon from Osyka, Mississippi, and Covington, Louisiana.
In the early 1900s E. W. Ott, uncle of brothers John Monroe Ott and George Herbert "Sam" Ott, sold the store to his nephews. Ott's country store, which became Ott Brothers, was relocated several miles to the south of the cemetery and old school house, where present-day Mt. Hermon is situated. There, according to my friend and former teacher Jackie Dobie, who is the daughter of John Monroe Ott, the Ott brothers sold material, shoes, pots, pans, overalls, coveralls, groceries, and feed - everything under the sun. And Ms. Jackie fondly recalled the people, "There was the coming and the going. They talked politics." Clearly, there was a wonderful time had at Ott Brothers store in twentieth century Mt. Hermon. And before long, more stores, a bank, and doctors' offices followed suit, opening and operating there.
A turning point, it was in 1900 that the railroad reached Mt. Hermon. In 1902 a depot was built. It was manned by a ticket agent who in addition to selling tickets handled packages and freight. Even mail arrived by train. The railroad brought Mt. Hermon into its own. For detailed information, I relied on my signed copy of "Little Railroads which Helped Build Communities," a terrific book by E. E. Puls. That is, indeed, what the railroad did. It built small settlements all across America and in this case, Mt. Hermon.
Before that, Mt. Hermon was a tiny, rural farming community with very little business other than cotton, a cash crop. I discovered receipts dated around the turn of the century for the sale of cotton to my great-grandfather William "Billy" Frank Ellzey, from both Lampton Mercantile Co, Cotton Buyers out of Magnolia, Mississippi, and from E. W. Ott who promised the "Highest Market Price Paid for Cotton and Country Produce."
It was the extension of the Kentwood-Eastern Railroad through the settlement of Mt. Hermon on to Warnerton, where it linked up with the New Orleans and Great Northern Railroad, that galvanized the economy in the area and lessened the village's isolation. According to Mr. Puls in his book, the eighteen-mile-long railroad was constructed mainly for the timber industry. Spur lines were built to get the logs out. Great Southern Lumber Company had cranked up the timber business shortly after the turn of the century. And as the area was vitalized, a passenger train began operating from Mt. Hermon to Warnerton and on to Hackley. Before this, residents were dependent on horse and wagon for travel. Mr. Puls explained that the railroad company developed what was known as a standard gauge railroad, on which both passenger and freight cars from the main lines could operate.
With the railroad came the construction of two cotton gins in Mt. Hermon. I am reminded of a delightful conversation some years ago with Mt. Hermon native Dr. Peggy Ott, renowned expert and educator in clothing and textiles. She revealed that in addition to the Ott Brothers general merchandise store, her father John Ott and his brother Sam Ott owned and operated a cotton gin at Mt. Hermon. It was there, at their cotton gin, that her interest in fabric was kindled, setting the late Dr. Ott on the path to an illustrious career in the field of fabric and education.
Credit goes to all my sources named herein, especially the book "Little Railroads which Helped Build Communities" by E. E. Puls.
•Stay tuned for next week's column which concludes the series on the community of Mt. Hermon.