Stewart House

101 Homer Road


101 Homer Road Colossal Ionic Columns, at portico, dormers, balustrade at roof peak.  Built 1906 by Daniel Webster Stewart. Architect, Mr. LaRue of St. Louis Mo.

The turn of the century home at 101 Homer Road was built by prominent attorney Daniel Webster Stewart and his artist wife Alice, in 1903.  The Victorian Era Home was constructed on land that had been the site of a union soldier’s encampment during the reconstruction period after the Civil War.  Later in the 1800’s it was the location of a livery stable and Blacksmith shop.  The Greek Revival Front entrance is framed by four large gothic columns and a second floor veranda.  The brick path backs up to the entrance an onto a 1400 square foot wrap around porch.  Once you have entered the central hallway of the home you are surrounded by rare wood moldings, columns and exquisite 10 foot pocket doors. The Stewart Family had three children.  Mary the unmarried daughter, a world traveler and accomplished teacher, was the last to live in the home.  She left in 1980 due to deteriorating health and died soon there after.  The property was vacant but remained completely furnished until the family chose to sale in 1995.  Today many of the original furnishings and personal items of the Stewart family still remain in the home.

A property with historical significance


One of the most talked about issues currently in Minden is the status of the property located at 110 Homer Road, owned by Craig and Mona Farley. I would be less than candid if I didn’t admit that the writing of this column today was not caused by the present controversy. The genesis of this article began in the Spring after the first public discussion and I am writing it at this point because of things I have been told by both sides of the arguments. I really hate to use the word sides; in this matter. I wish we were all on the same side; what is best for Minden. I have good friends on both sides; that I have worked with on many projects over the years. This is not an advocacy piece for either side; the eventual use of that property will be worked out by the owners and our city government.


The Berry Plantation

The purpose of this column today is to discus the historical significance of the property; or rather what is probably the greatest historical significance of the property. It is one that has somewhat escaped attention in this matter as the focus has been on the historic Stewart Home and on the contributions of the Stewart family to Minden. Those are both very important elements of our history. But the event that had the deepest and the longest lasting impact related to that property took place nearly half a century before the Stewart Home was built in the waning days of the Civil War, when, according to local tradition and some written sources the land in question was part of the Berry Plantation; home of pioneer settler J. W. Berry.

*Photo Above: Col Berry and Camilia Hadley Berry


Black Soldiers


As I write this article I must confess I do not know the exact boundaries of the land owned by J. W. Berry in Minden in 1865. That is perhaps the weakest part of my research skills; I am not very well schooled in researching land ownership. However, this will be an ongoing project and one of my next endeavors will be to establish the precise territory covered by the Berry estate. What is an established historical fact is that from May until December 1865 forces of the 61st United States Colored Troops lived on the Berry Plantation in 24 cabins built by the soldiers after they arrived in Minden. These African- American troops, most of whom were freed slaves from Tennessee, Northern Mississippi and Northern Alabama, were the occupation army charged with reestablishing the control of the United States government over Minden and protecting the rights of the newly freed slaves. The interaction between those forces and the residents of Minden marks the beginning of what would be a century long process that eventually allowed African Americans to become full partners in citizenship. In 1840, the first Federal Census taken after the founding of Minden, Claiborne Parish (of which Minden was a part until 1871) had a population of 3,846 white residents and 2,339 residents classed as persons of color; all but 44 of those persons of color were slaves. By 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, the total white population was at 8,996, while the slave population had grown even more rapidly to a total of 7,848 (by 1860 there were only 4; free persons of color in all of Claiborne Parish). Thus, interaction between the races increased strictly because of a nearly split population. The 1870 Census would find Minden and Webster Parish in a new world in terms of the social order. In that year, the African- American population in Claiborne Parish had climbed to 10,608, exceeding the white population of 9,630. In addition, the social structure of the South had been recreated, with the freed slaves as full members of society. It would take many, many years for a balance to be achieved in our society. (Some might argue it has not yet been achieved.) In many ways those six months between May and December 1865 when the African-American soldiers occupied Minden became a microcosm of the century to follow with all the challenges and triumphs, tragedies and progress the following decades would entail. In this article I will briefly give you some of the facts we do know about that period.


Union Forces


With the evacuation of Shreveport and North Louisiana by the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi in May 1865, Union forces gradually moved into our area. As part of the; punishment; phase intended by the United States Congress in the aftermath of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, almost all the South was to be occupied by units of the United States Colored Troops. These units were composed of African-American soldiers from both the North and the South serving under white officers that had been formed following the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The story of perhaps the most famous of these units, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, is told in the movie Glory. The troops that eventually came to Minden had originally been known as the 2nd Tennessee Infantry of African Descent or the 2nd West Tennessee Infantry Regiment, formed at La Grange, Tennessee in the summer of 1863. In March 1864, they were given the USCT nomenclature by which they are officially known as; the 61st United States Colored Troops.

*Photo Above: J.W. Berry John Agan


Col. John Foley


The commander of the 61st USCT who was headquartered part of the time in Shreveport and part of the time here in Minden was Lt. Colonel John Foley. What follows is his biography from the history of Greenwood County Kansas, written in honor the Centennial of Independence in 1876.

COL. JOHN FOLEY, farmer, Section 33, Township 25, Range 13, P. O. Quincy, was born in 1830, in Clark County, Ohio, and until fourteen years of age alternated between school and his father's farm. When fourteen he became apprenticed to the trade of harness-making, at which he worked until eighteen years of age, when he engaged in the cattle and stock business until December, 1861, when he enlisted in Company H, Sixty-second Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and upon the organization of the regiment, in February, 1862, was commissioned First Lieutenant. He remained with his regiment until May, 1863, when he was authorized to raise a colored regiment, which he did in Jackson and La Grange, Tenn., being subsequently commissioned Colonel of the same, known as the Sixty-first Regiment United States Colored Infantry. He continued in command until the regiment was mustered out at Baton Rouge, February, 1866. At the close of the war Col. Foley returned to Illinois and engaged in farming until his removal to Kansas in October, 1870. His farm of 160 acres upon the Verdigris River is nearly all under cultivation, his average yield of corn being thirty-eight bushels to the acre, and millet two and a half tons per acre. At present he has only sixty head of cattle, and six or seven horses. In 1855, he married Miss Elizabeth Kendall, of Bloomington, Ill., by whom he has four children-Jacquetta, born June 17, 1862; Eugene, born March 5, 1868; Lena, born October 21, 1871, and Lulu, born December 22, 1876; Col. Foley has been two years County Commissioner, and for the past three years has been one of the trustees of Quincy Township.


Captain Graff


When Foley took over command of the 61st, he brought with him Charles Graff, a Sergeant in his old Illinois unit. Graff would receive a promotion to Captain in the new unit and based on the account of Marshall Harvey Twitchell, the famed carpetbagger whose control of Red River Parish led to the Coushatta Massacre during Reconstruction; it was Graff who actually commanded the forces at Minden, Company I of the 61st. Twitchell came to Louisiana during the summer of 1865 to become the Freedman’s Bureau Agent at Sparta, then the seat of Bienville Parish. In that role he had to call on the military forces at Minden and Captain Graff for help on at least two occasions. The 61st was at first used to occupy the City of Memphis from March to July 1864. During that time Col. Foley was for a time the military officer in charge of the city. Gradually the Union Army began to use the Colored Troops for more than just garrison duty beginning with the famous efforts of the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner, South Carolina and the Louisiana Native Guards at Port Hudson. The 61st first saw combat in an expedition to capture Tupelo, Mississippi in July 1864. They went on to fight in several battles in Mississippi and defend the city of Memphis from an attack by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forests Confederate Calvary.


Chaotic Times


Early in 1865 they were sent to New Orleans and spent the waning days of the war as occupation forces in South Louisiana and in Mississippi. It is at this point that tracing the actions of the unit becomes more difficult. The ending days of the Civil War proved to be very chaotic times for the United States Government. Many people do not realize how close this nation came to military rule (the entire country, not just the former Confederacy which would eventually endure military rule during Reconstruction.) The assassination of Abraham Lincoln in the failed coup attempt of John Wilkes Booth, followed by the ascension to the Presidency of Andrew Johnson, a Southerner, caused many of the Radical Republicans in Congress to contemplate turning control of the government over to the United States Army. That uncertainty is reflected in the official records of the day. The collected military orders of the war time period are assembled in what has come to be called the; War of the Rebellion; by students of the Civil War. The references to the 61st in those 70 volumes tell us that the unit was sent to Alabama in May 1865 where it stayed until being mustered out on December 30, 1865.




However, local tradition, but more importantly contemporary newspaper accounts tell us a different story. It is clear that elements of the 61st were sent to Northwest Louisiana where they occupied Shreveport and the surrounding communities, including Minden. Why those orders do not appear in the official records can partially be explained by the ongoing battle between Congress and the President over who would administer the Reconstruction of the South. Records of the individual men who served in the 61st indicate that the unit actually disbanded, at least the units that were here, in February 1866 in Louisiana. Minden had been home to a rather large Quartermaster’s Depot located in the vicinity of the present intersection of East Union and Talton Streets in the Warsaw Community. The Depot was turned over to Union forces on about May 15, 1865 by Colonel Nicholas Floyd of Virginia. (Floyd had married a young lady from a prominent Minden family during his stay and took his bride back to Virginia with him.) But those forces were not from the 61st. The first concrete reference to the presence of the occupation troops comes in June 1861.


Latter 1865


In next Week’s Echo, we will look at the few facts we do know of what took place here in Minden in that last half of 1865 as the residents of Minden dealt with a social structure that had been turned upside down along with the rigors of martial law. There are some embarrassing moments but some rays of hope that shine through the story. We will also look at the difficulties faced in trying to recreate what happened here because of the relatively short lives of the Union officers who led the occupation. Most intriguing is the mysterious story surrounding one particular soldier from the 61st; the role he would play in Minden’s history and the puzzle he has left for researchers to sort out in trying to understand those turbulent days. All of these questions and these stories centered around that property at 110 Homer Road then on the northern fringe of Minden, but today at the heart of the city and the heart of controversy.


John Agan is a local historian, an Instructor at Bossier Parish Community College, and a published author. His column appears Fridays in the Minden Press-Herald.