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History of Jena
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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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