Editor’s Note: Much of the information below was obtained from Kathlyn Goforth’s historical accounts of Baskin.
In current times, Baskin is normally a sleepy village with neatly trimmed lawns edging La. Hwy 15, but at the turn of the 20th century it was known as “Little Chicago.”
Baskin garnered its name due prevalent Saturday night drinking and dancing of workers blowing off steam from a long week at one of the various saw mills.
Plank runways connected dozens of stores in Baskin. Its business district was made up of the jail, Amos’s Store, Claude Smith’s store, Arthur McDaniel’s barber shop, Dr. Wheelus’ office, Tommy Craven ’s barber shop, Mrs. Reeder’s restaurant and A.P. LaBlanc two-story store which was later owned and operated as a hotel and room house by J.A. Walton.
Additional stores were Phil Baker’s meat market, Will Kelley’s store, Butler’s store, Home Athony’s station, a saw mill commissary, bank, S.C. Duchesne store, Carl Shipp’s store, Lon Mayberry’s store, A. W. Jenkin’s store, Robert Archibald’s store, Uncle Ben’s hair store, Sid Mock Butcher shop and Garvin Garner’s drugstore.
The village experienced a population boom with the introduction of the timber industry. Local historians estimate Baskin’s population grew from just a few hundred inhabitants to 1,500 to 2,000.
In 1902 Southern Land and Lumber Company, owned by Gabe Rigenolas, John Rydynk and Tony Walvoord, moved to Baskin. The company established a mill near Baskin School and intended to take advantage of the vast timber tract the area had to offer.
After a few years the original mill burned. Accounts of the incident, said the mill burned so intensely it disappeared. The mill was rebuilt and opened, but it was not until George Breeze of Baskin Lumber Company took over did the village see its peak in population.
The large mill owned by Baskin Lumber Company was one of several mills in the area. There was a tie mill located in the Piney Woods owned by Pete Woods. There was also a smaller mill owned by Zachary and
The timber cut during this time went to West Virginia.
The Missouri Pacific Railroad was built in 1895 near Baskin, and the first depot was established in 1909. It was a boxcar stationed across the road from the old Duchesne Cafe. The first agent was Phil Duncan.
In the 1920’s, George Yeager established a sawmill in the Mixon community followed by Dole Rogers in the 1930s. Porter Burgee opened a sawmill in the same area in 1936 with 3,200 acres of timber bought from George Breese.
Burgess also wrote the Homestead Exemption Law and Token Law for Huey P. Long. Burgess built 16 houses and the store known as Roger’s Store.
Another mill was located at the north end of Ward Six on Big Creek. Wyatt Lumber Company owned a tract of land northeast of Baskin that was heavily mortgaged. Holt and Murphy bought this land for $3.50 per acre.
Some of the land was sold to pay for the purchase. From the sell, 40,000 acres were left and soon 100 oil wells were producing on the land. When the timber reached maturity, it was sold to Hillside Lumber Company for $3.50 per acre to cut the pine timber only.
Hillside Lumber Company moved to the Baskin area from Quitman, La. The three owners were Paul Zachary, his son and son-in-law, Jeff Zachary and E.M. Spivey. Hillside Lumber Company milled the pine until Dec. 31, 1953 when it closed its operation. The owners moved back to Lincoln Parish when the mill closed.
The mill whistles played an important role in the lives of the inhabitants of the area. Even though the whistles were the order of the day, certain sounds evoked certain responses.
The whistle blew at 4 a.m. to wake the sleeping laborers, and again at 4:30 a.m. to warn them time was approaching.
Two short whistles meant to be on the job, and one long blow meant go to work. Fear struck the hearts of family members when the whistle sounded four long blows - this meant an accident or death had occurred.
Unfortunately, a time came when the trees were all cut. When this happened, the mills started pulling out and so did the work and people.
In the 1890 census, Ward Six population was 345. In 1930, it was 3,138,