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There has been considerable difference of opinion among the local population of Chatham as to just when the names Avard and Chathamville were in use. Some people have said that all of the town was first called Avard and that later, Avard was changed to Chathamville, and in 1908 the “ville” was deleted leaving the name Chatham. Others say the names of Avard and Chathamville were in use simultaneously: Avard west of the tracks and Chathamville to the east. There is substantial evidence that indicates the latter argument is correct; however, further evidence indicates the name Avard existed only because of its selection as the name for the new post office. Within a year after Avard Post Office was established in 1905, the people of the community were referring to the community as Chathamville.

The official minutes of the Masonic Lodge for the period record that as early as February 2, 1906, a petition was circulated among their membership of Dally Lodge for “the removal of Dally Lodge to a place three miles east by the name of Chathamville.” On May 28 and 29 of the same year, “Having received the consent of the Grand Lodge for the removal of Dally Lodge to Chathamville, the lodge furniture and fixtures were moved from Dally to Chathamville.” A map has been preserved that shows the name was Chathamville. It shows the railroad, city blocks, and a general layout of Chathamville at that time. All available evidence indicates that the only place the name Avard was found in the community was on the post office. Noah Chatham was successful in having that removed in 1908.

By 1905 the town had been surveyed and staked off by Sam Collins. Collins worked for Tremont Lumber Company as a surveyor and it is believed that his residence was the second to be constructed in Chathamville after Dr. Wilder’s home. On July 4, 1905, Collins, serving as the official representative of Tremont Lumber Company, stood on the depot loading platform and auctioned off the town lots. Prices varied anywhere from $5.00 to $25.00 depending on how close to the commercial sector it was located. A few lots where the businesses exist today brought a higher price. People came from miles around by horseback, wagons, buggies, and even trains to attend the auction. All of the outlying communities were represented. People from Dally, Brooklyn, Hood’s Mill, and Womack all bought stock in the future of Chatham by their purchase of lots and the establishing of residences and businesses. The owners of the three earliest mercantile businesses in Chatham all had previous experience in business in their respective communities before coming to Chatham. Dr. Samuel Wilder had a store at Dally; John Anders owned and operated one at Brooklyn; and W.D. Womack had connections with a store owned by Charlie Womack in the community of Womack.

Since the very beginning of Chatham’s existence the timber industry has been the reason for and stimulus behind the economic well-being of the people living there. The cutting of the virgin pine timber made the construction of railroads a necessity which in turn gave birth to small villages and towns such as Chatham.

Logging camps and sawmills provided much needed jobs, especially in times of economic depression, although the timber industry was not immune to adverse economic conditions either. There have been innumerable sawmills in the vicinity of Chatham over a period of years. At one time there were five big sawmills located on the Trmont and Gulf Railroad alone: Tremont, Eros, Dodson, Jonesboro, and Rochelle. Although the logging and marketing of timber has changed drastically over the years, the timber industry still is the main economic pursuit of the people of Chatham.

By 1911, both Jonesboro and Chatham were growing rapidly and looking to the future. The South Arkansas Southern Railway Company had run the first railroad in the parish through Jonesboro in 1900. In 1903, the Tremont and Gulf Railroad, had run its line from Eros to Winnfield and as a result, Chatham has been founded. These two railways, while providing the impetus for the establishment of new communities, also proved to be the downfall of others. Dally was wiped out after being bypassed, and Vernon, which had been the parish seat since the formulation of Jackson Parish in 1845, would decline rapidly in importance in the early 1900's.

More populous areas of the parish began to clamor for a changing of the parish seat. Both Chatham and Jonesboro made their bids for the new parish seat. Vernon, naturally did not want to see the seat moved. Chatham and Jonesboro were both anxious to have it moved. As early as 1908 a bill was introduced in the Louisiana legislature to authorize a vote on the issue. Bill after bill was introduced; argument after argument was voiced. The people of Chatham felt they should have the seat of government since Chatham was geographically nearer the center of the parish. Finally, it was determined that on February 9, 1911, an election would be held to allow voters to decide the site of the new court house. When the votes were counted, Jonesboro had received more votes than any other community in the parish; however, it was not a majority. It was decided that a run-off must be held. Jonesboro and Chatham were to be rivals for the honor.

It was raining on election day, but a heavy voter turnout was expected. ON May 14, 1911, when all the votes were counted, Jonesboro had won the election by 150 votes. The tally was Jonesboro 1064, and Chatham 914. The next day The Shreveport Times ran a story with the heading: “Jonesboro is to be Jackson Capitol; Won Over Chatham.” Then May 16, people from Jonesboro journeyed to Vernon with several wagons and transferred the records.

The people of Chatham were infuriated over the results of the election, claiming that the election had been “stolen.” A petition was filed contesting the election. Four of Chatham’s leading citizens were appointed to travel to Jonesboro to see what could legally be done. They returned to Chatham and reported that nothing could be done. Thus, the new courthouse was built in Jonesboro where it has remained to the present time.

A hand drawn seal by the Governor of Louisiana, J. Y. Sanders, is found on the proclamation incorporating Chatham as a Village in January 1909. J.M. Collins was elected mayor, and the population was approximately 220. In 1938, Chatham was incorporated as a town. Today the population of Chatham has exceeded 850 people. Despite a tendency of the employable ages to migrate to other areas, Chatham has sustained a population growth trend throughout its existence.

Design and Photography by Andy Bloxham
Provided by USDA and La Tech Rural Development Center