History of Jena - Jena, LA

Jena Municipal Office                                                                                                                               Photo courtesy by Morgan Tarpley of The Jena Times
Our History

The site where Jena stands today began to attract settlers in 1802.  The Hemphills family entered a considerable block of land and settled about two miles below the present town of Jena.  Hemps Creek and post office were named after this family.  This beautiful ever-running creek had fertile bottom and hammock lands for cultivation and was an excellent range for both cattle and hogs, with wild game and fish being very abundant.

Later, in the middle 1850s, Benjamin Baker, assisted by his father, a native of Pennsylvania, built a watermill on Hemps Creek, about three miles below the present town of Jena.  The mill was equipped to make corn meal and to gin cotton.  This area soon became a favorite trading stop for the area farmers, and was the site of two general stores and a post office.

Hemps Creek post office was established in the late 1850s with Isaac L. Baker as the first postmaster.  The mail rider boarded with Mr. Baker and made alternate weekly trips to Harrisonburg and Alexandria on horseback.  In 1869, the first school house was built, and in 1892, the Jena Seminary opened, marking the beginning of secondary education in what is now LaSalle Parish.  Mr. James Forsythe who came to Hemps Creek in 1861 having subsequently served with distinction in the Confederate Army returned in 1865 and established his home here.  Being an educated man and having fine qualities of leadership, he was chosen as teacher of Hemps Creek School, a position he held until 1871.

In the year of 1871, it was requested from the post office department that “Creek” and “Bayou” be removed from the names of all post offices. Mr. Andrew Forsythe visiting his brother, James Forsythe from Jena, Illinois suggested “Jena, his hometown, which was named for Jena, Germany.  Mr. James Forsythe submitted this name to the post office department and it was accepted.  Thus, the name Jena came from Germany by way of Illinois.

The Louisiana & Arkansas Railroad operated its first train into Jena on December 31, 1893, and on May 1, 1904, the first passenger train arrived.  A small hotel was operated nearby, and in 1905, the “Jena Times” newspaper was founded.

On October 2, 1918, Mrs. Lula V. Coleman was made a Deputy Sheriff.  It was her opinion that she was the first female sheriff in the United States.  On March 28, 1920, she was appointed to head the town administration as mayor, by Governor John M. Parker.  Mrs. Coleman has the distinction of being the only woman ever to serve as mayor of Jena, and was the first female to hold the office of mayor in Louisiana and possibly even the United States.

Tour Photos of Old Jena

Articles Donated by Lora D. Peppers
Richmond Nolley: Louisiana's First Methodist Martyr
White Sulphur Springs: An 1800's Louisiana Spa Resort
LaSalle Parish By Lora D. Peppers

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