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/ Chatham History

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The group entered Jackson Parish on December 23 while snow covered the earth outside. One hundred years later descendants of these pioneers gathered at the historical site to commemorate that occasion. Today a historical marker stands next to the church to remind generations of the future of the perseverance and spirit of this particular group.

Before these settlers, the next earliest setters after John Stow was Jesse Wyatt. Papers found in the old William Wyatt home date back to 1817. Jackson Parish records show a date of “September 8, 1823, No. of Receipt and Certificate NO. 13, in District Ouachita, Tp. 15, N.R.L.W.,” as well as a number of entries at later dates. Jesse Wyatt and wife, Elizabeth Hagler Wyatt, settled at what is now known as the “Veal Farm” located outside the city limits of Chatham on what is now Highway 146. The couple had come from Georgia and had stopped for a short time in Catahoula Parish where they had made friends with the Indians. As they traveled the Indian trails from Catahoula area to the Indian Village in what is today northeast Jackson Parish, they learned of the beautiful area encompassing the vicinity of present day Chatham. Family legends report that Jesse traded to the Indians a keg of gun powder for his first tract of land. Jesse and his wife soon moved from the Catahoula area to their new home by horseback, following the Indian trails and paths of animals, then the only method of travel through the wilderness. The United States Census of 1850 recorded Elizabeth Hagler Wyatt as a widow, 60 years of age, who was born in Georgia. Living in the same household were her sons Benjamin Wyatt, 19, and Jesse Wyatt, 33 both born in Louisiana.

While living in this area the Wyatt family allotted a small tract of land for a cemetery. The location of this cemetery is known by local residents as the Wyatt Cemetery, and it is located approximately one mile from Highway 146 and near what was once the old settlement of Dally.

Although several families were living in the area of what later was named Dally by 1861, the greatest migration into the area occurred between 1865 and 1900. By 1900 Dally was a thickly settled and thriving community. Officially, Dally was located at the intersection of the Vernon-Columbia Road and the old Natchitoches Road and consisted of three stores, a post office, a blacksmith shop, and a two-story building which housed the school on the first floor and the Masonic Lodge on the second floor. Dally, however, was more than just a few buildings located at a convenient crossroad. Approximately forty-five families lived within a two mile radius of Dally. Names such as E. W. Ramsey, Dr. Samuel Oscar Wilder, Jack Richardson, R. L. Dickerson, and Oliver Redwine Hearne are just a few of the many that are deeply embedded in the history of this colorful era. One need only to walk among the tombs of old Concord Cemetery, located approximately 2 miles from Old Dally, to be reminded of these pioneers who came and carved for themselves a living from the soils of the “piney woods.”

Dally may be said to be the forerunner of modern Chatham, although the sister communities of Brooklyn, Hood’s Mills, and Womack claim to have contributed after the Tremont and Gulf Railroad was established during the early 1900's near Dally. The railroad company planned to build a track through the settlement of Dally. These were the days when the towering virgin timber was being cut and sawmills were being established throughout North Louisiana. The Tremont and Gulf had already laid tracks from Monroe to Tremont, and then to Eros. Large sawmills were in operation at these sites and plans called for the track to continue to Winnfield, Louisiana, by way of Dally. Naturally, the railroad expected the citizens of Dally to lend enthusiastic support for the proposal. A “mass meeting” was called at Dally in 1903 so that the citizens of the town could express their support for the laying of track. Much to the surprise and chagrin of the company, only two citizens showed up for the “mass meeting.” These were Ed Ramsey and Dr. Samuel Wilder.

This lack of interest prompted the Tremont and Gulf Railroad to build the line three miles to the east. Although this would result in a slight curve in the track it would be crossing land which Tremont already owned. The major exception to this was a tract of land owned by Noah J. Chatham. Noah undoubtedly recognized the importance of a new railroad and agreed to terms whereby the new railroad could be built. Noah’s father, Elijah Chatham, had moved to Jackson Parish in 1852 to take advantage of the cheap land being offered to homesteaders. Elijah and wife Susannah homesteaded a 160-acre tract of land near what is now the Chatham Cemetery in Chatham, Louisiana. They eventually acquired 480 acres of land, located east of what is now Chatham. Noah was Elijah’s only son to remain in the vicinity of Chatham, and it was Noah who acquired most of the old estate.

The railroad was completed in 1903 and a sign reading “Chathamville” was emblazoned on the new depot. After the new railroad by-passed Dally, Dr. Wilder decided to move to Mer Rouge, Louisiana. He had even boarded the train and reached Tremont before he was talked into staying in Chatham by officials of the Tremont and Gulf Railroad. Dr. Wilder was offered the pick of any location near the new depot. On it he could build a new home. The company even went so far as to agree to build the new home for Dr. Wilder. It is not known whether the company supplied the materials and labor or if they simply supplied the manpower for erecting the build. It is known that this was the first residence erected in Chatham, and that later as the town site was laid out, the streets were run using this home as a guide to block off the rest of the town.

In addition to his regular practice as physician in Chatham, Dr. Wilder served as physician and surgeon for Tremont Lumber Company and Tremont and Gulf Railway Company for approximately twenty years, and at the same time and for several years, operated a mercantile business in Chatham.

When the first post office was established in 1905, Dr. Wilder served as the first postmaster. The United States Post Office Department needed an official name for the new post office and requested the people of the area to select one. Several names were suggested but the name “Avard” was finally selected. Noah Chatham had insisted the town bear his name, but a technicality stood in the way. Noah’s brother, Jefferson Davis Chatham, was living in Caldwell Parish at the time and was postmaster of a post office there. Known to his friends as “Dave,” he had made arrangements with someone in Caldwell Parish to call their post office “Chatham.” The national government would not allow two post offices to have the same name, so Noah made a trip to Caldwell Parish to meet with his brother. After this meeting papers were signed and arrangements were made for Chatham in Caldwell Parish to be renamed something else. Late in 1906 or early in 1907, Jefferson Davis Chatham left Caldwell parish and moved to Franklin Parish. Noah Chatham then filed the necessary papers to have the name “Avard” removed from the post office, and with little opposition, the name was officially changed to “Chatham,” May 4, 1908.

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