Home Life History: James Gilmer was pioneer in Bossier

History: James Gilmer was pioneer in Bossier

In its September 29, 1932 issue The Bossier Banner ran a sketch of James Blair Gilmer who was the son of George Oglethorpe and Martha Johnson Gilmer.  The sketch was written by J. T. Manry,  a collector of Bossier Parish History.

“James Blair Gilmer came to Louisiana during the thirties of the past century [1830s].  He entered a large tract of land from the Government, about four miles south of the Plain Dealing tract, entered by his father.  Here he built a palatial home, widely known for  many years as the Orchard, and in its time, was the most pretentious residence in North Louisiana, or, at that time, in the state.  It was destroyed by fire many years ago.  Its site is on the present paved highway, to the right when one is driving north, and just after leaving the Gardner bottom.  The acreage at present [1932] belongs to Mr. C. H. Antrim, of St. Louis, Mo.”

“At the time of the building of this home there were no saw mills in North Louisiana, and tradition differs as to the source of the lumber.  One claims it was obtained in Arkansas and brought down Red River on barges, and another says it was obtained in New Orleans and brought up Red River on steamboats.  Both traditions are probably in part aright, as Mr. Gilmer was the owner of two steamboats, which made regular trips to New Orleans and up the Red, to the head of navigation, and he probably made selections from both sources of supply.”

“The Orchard Home had a frontage of about 160 feet, with wide galleries around the entire building, which were supported by massive columns turned out of large pine logs.  Through the center of each column a hole was drilled and a four-inch copper tube was inserted.  These were the drain pipes for the gutters.  The entire roof was covered with copper sheeting before the shingles were put on.  The doorknobs were of solid silver.  (At least two of them are still in existence in the neighborhood of the old home).  The valleys of the roof were of sheet lead.  A peculiar thing about the construction of this house was that there was no front steps or doors.  The entrance was from the end or side of the house, but in lieu of front doors wide windows extended from the ceiling to the floor.  There were two parlors, each 30 by 30, with folding doors between.  These two rooms, on occasions of state, were thrown together, making a hall 30 by 60 feet.  There are yet living, near Plain Dealing, two old ladies who remember some of these balls of the days of yore.”

“The site upon which the house was built was so selected as to drain in every direction, and the grounds were landscaped and beautified by a trained artisan and set to all manner of trees, shrubs and flowers.  Some of the ornamental trees can yet be seen.  Liveries of horses and  kennels of dogs were kept for personal sport and the pleasure of visitors, and there were servant guides trained in the handling of horse and dog.”

“The foregoing is but an inadequate picture of the ‘Orchard’ during its days of grandeur, which ended with the untimely death of its founder and the subsequent debacle following the war of secession.”

Be sure to read next week’s column to find out about James Gilmer who carved out not only a home in which to live, but also an estate, which, “from point of productivity and vastness, was unequaled in this broad domain.”

To see a picture of Orchard Place around the turn of the century, visit the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center.

Ann Middleton is Director of the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center. She can be reached at (318) 746-7717 or by e-mail at amiddlet@state.lib.la.us

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