Minden is a small city in and the parish seat of Webster Parish, Louisiana, United States. is located twenty-eight miles east of Shreveport (in Caddo Parish). The population, which has been stable since 1960, was 13,082 at the 2010 census. The 2000 population had been 13,027; growth over the decade was hence .4 of 1 percent. Minden is 51.7 percent African American.
Minden is the principal city of the Minden Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is part of the larger Shreveport-Bossier City-Minden Combined Statistical Area.
Minden has possessed a post office since 1839. The current postal building at 111 South Monroe Street was completed in 1959.
The community has been served by a newspaper since the 1850s. The current publication, the Minden Press-Herald, is located in a building previously occupied by a supermarket on Gleason Street south of Broadway Street. The Press-Herald became a daily newspaper on July 18, 1966, but was earlier published as two weekly papers, the Minden Press on Mondays and the Minden Herald on Thursdays. For a time there was also the Webster Signal-Tribune.
On October 15, 2012, an ordnance bunker at nearby Camp Minden exploded, but the blast was contained with minimal damage. Camp Minden is the site of the former Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant, once the major area employer. In December 2012, police began the removal of 2,700 tons of explosives from Camp Minden, leading to evacuations in the nearby town of Doyline.
Among the original settlers in the Minden area was Newitt Drew, a Welshman originally from Virginia, who built a gristmill and sawmill on Dorcheat Bayou in south Webster Parish in what became the since defunct Overton community. Minden itself was established in 1836 by Charles H. Veeder, a native of Schenectady, New York, who named it for the city of Minden in Germany. Veeder left Minden during the California Gold Rush and spent the rest of his life practicing law in Bakersfield, California.
A year before Veeder arrived, a group from Phillipsburg (now Monaca, Pennsylvania), led by the Countess Leon, settled seven miles (11 km) northeast of Minden in what was then Claiborne Parish. For nearly four decades, this Germantown Colony operated on a communal basis. It was dispersed in 1871, when Webster Parish was severed from Claiborne Parish. The "Countess" moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where she died in 1881.
One of three Utopian Society settlements in this area, the Germantown Colony was the most successful and lasted the longest, having peaked at fifty to sixty pioneers but usually with fewer than forty followers. The settlement had been planned by the countess’ husband, Bernhard Müller, known as the Count von Leon. He died of yellow fever on August 29, 1834, at Grand Ecore, four miles (6 km) from Natchitoches, before he reached Webster Parish. Leon and his followers attempted to build an earthly utopia, socialist in practice, while awaiting for the Second Coming of Christ. For his religious views, Leon had been exiled from Germany. He intended to plant the settlement in Webster Parish to coincide with the latitude of Jerusalem, 31 degrees, 47 minutes. The colonists worshiped under oak trees at the center of the colony. They supported themselves from farming, with a concentration on cotton. The settlement is preserved at the Germantown Colony and Museum.
A second museum in Minden, the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum, named for Dorcheat Bayou, is located downtown at 116 Pearl Street near the post office. It preserves the cultural history of the city and parish from the 19th century.
During the American Civil War, a large Confederate encampment, which housed some 15,000 soldiers was located east of Minden. At the time Minden was a supply depot for the troops. Some thirty Confederate soldiers who died in the Battle of Mansfield and another engagement at Pleasant Hill are buried in the historic Minden Cemetery located at Pine and Goodwill streets and Bayou Avenue. A modern cemetery, Gardens of Memory, opened in 1957 off the Lewisville Road north of Minden.
In 1862, Confederate General Richard Taylor, son of Zachary Taylor, issued orders to round up deserters. According to the historian John D. Winters of Louisiana Tech University, near Minden were seen "many robust-looking men claiming to be 'discharged soldiers.'" General Taylor reported that a "'large number of persons liable to military service . . . , deserters, enrolled conscripts who have failed to report, between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, are to be found throughout the state.' He ordered militia officers and parish sheriffs to arrest all men who could not prove legal exemption or absence from military service because of furlough or parole. Liberal rewards were offered for the apprehension of such men."
Governor Henry Watkins Allen tried to make the state self-sufficient during the war. A factory for the manufacture of cotton and wool cards was erected at Minden and in full operation by the end of the war. In 1864-1865, divisions of General Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac, hero at Mansfield, and Maj. Gen. John H. Forney established winter quarters near Minden.
Coldest state temperature
On February 13, 1890, Minden recorded the state's all-time coldest temperature, degrees during the height of the Great Blizzard. Another reading was recorded in Minden on February 2, 1899. The humid subtropical climate, however, is usually mild in winter and mostly hot in summer.
William L. "Will" Life (June 23, 1887 – October 1972) was from 1925 until his death the owner of the large Webb Hardware store in downtown Minden. A former member of the Minden City Council, who was defeated in 1938, Life was sometimes known as the "father of modern Minden" because of his civic leadership.
Life attended the former Minden Male Academy, which was located at what is now Academy Park. He graduated from Minden High School in 1905 and was a member of the 1904 basketball team. He resided in Minden his entire eighty-five years except during World War I, when he served for three years in the United States Army Signal Corps. On June 23, 1972, four months before Life's death, Mayor Tom Colten proclaimed "Will Life Day" in Minden. Life is interred at Minden Cemetery.
During the Great Depression, one of the two Minden banks failed. Five banks now exist, Minden Building and Loan, Capital One, Regions, Citizens, and Richland State. On May 1, 1933, a tornado destroyed some 20 percent of the residences in Minden. Thereafter a fire destroyed much of the business district and many homes. During the national bank holiday in 1933, the funds of both Minden citizens and businesses were frozen, making recovery from the tornado and the fire more difficult. Later, a summer flood destroyed a third of the crops in the area. Because of these quadruple tragedies, 1933 has been called the "Year of Disaster" in Minden.
Ben F. Turner, Sr. (1883–1934), was the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway express agent in Minden and the volunteer fire chief. During the 1933 fire, he sustained a heart attack and hence died the next year of cardiac failure. Oddly, Ben Turner's grandfather had died in 1835 while fighting a fire at a brush arbor meeting in Georgia. Ben Turner's son, Harold Martin "Happy" Turner (1911–1988), was a well-known boarding house, restaurant owner, and civic booster in Minden.
George N. Turner
Unrelated to Ben or Happy Turner, George N. Turner (1919-2013) of Minden won two Bronze Star medals and the Oak Leaf Cluster as a member of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. One of the Bronze Stars was for "bravery above and beyond the call of duty". Turner was engaged in combat during World War II at Omaha Beach and the siege of Bastogne. He received a battlefield commission from General Maxwell D. Taylor and was discharged with the rank of captain. After his military service, Turner was the long-term office manager of the Minden branch of the Louisiana Department of Labor Workforce Commission, usually called "the employment office." Upon retirement from state civil service, Turner, a widely knownm figure in the community, completed at the age of sixty-five his college degree from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. For sixty-two years, he was a deacon of the First Baptist Church of Minden.
1946 lynching case
A racially-tinged beating and lynching case in 1946 led to a parish-wide cover-up involving Minden police, the Webster Parish Sheriff's Department, the coroner's office, and several well-known individuals in the community. The crime was the only lynching in Louisiana that year. J. Edgar Hoover himself is quoted in FBI documents as having said: "We had incontrovertible evidence of a multiple-agency cover-up." John Cecil Jones was an honorably-discharged veteran of World War II and a cousin of Albert Harris, Jr. A woman in rural Webster Parish was the catalyst of a trespassing investigation that involved both Jones and Harris, who was questioned by a sheriff's deputy and subsequent sheriff, O.H. Haynes, Jr., about the alleged crime. Harris was released to a mob in nearby Dixie Inn, taken to a rural area and bound, covered, and beaten by several other men. Albert Harris, Sr., feared for his son's life and sent him out of the state. Deputy Sheriff Haynes went to retrieve Harris from his house. When he arrived and discovered that Harris, Sr., had sent the son away, Haynes broke the senior Harris' jaw. Harris, Jr., was eventually delivered to Haynes' custody. John Cecil Jones, the cousin, was picked up at his workplace in Cotton Valley. Both were jailed, tortured, and beaten multiple times by Haynes and another deputy, Charles Edwards. On August 8, 1946, Haynes released both men to a mob in front of the old jail. The two were driven south of Minden. Jones received the brunt of the beatings and torture. Both were left for dead.
This is an excerpt from the report of Webster Parish Coroner Dr. Thomas A. Richardson on the death of Jones:
Head shows numerous bruises, face is blackened from trauma, laceration on right side of head between right ear and occiput (back of head), eyes were degenerated, face and neck show numerous bruises, left shoulder was burned, arms were darkened from being bound, severe blow on right-side back and shoulder, numerous bruises on the back, chest and ribs were thrashed and beaten and caved in to the point where the skin had been sheared off, they slashed his scrotum, knees and legs were badly bruised, calves and arms were darkened, hands and feet had sand on them as if they had been in water, green fluid exudes from the mouth when pressure is applied to the abdomen; body found on [Minden businessman] Frank Treat's pond."
According to R. Harmon Drew, later a state representative but then the assistant district attorney for Bossier and Webster parishes, jail records had been manipulated. According to the FBI, Dr. Richardson tampered with and concealed evidence taken from the crime scene, including a mechanical pencil and a wristwatch.
Whitfield Jack of Shreveport, Barry Booth, A. S. Drew, and Harmon Caldwell Drew were defense attorneys for Haynes, Edwards, and the other defendants. R. Harmon Drew was defense counsel for the then Minden Police Chief Benjamin Geary Gantt, who was ultimately not indicted, although multiple witnesses' testimony stated that various city police officers had escorted the mob vehicles to the city limits. Newspaper writer Paul Corvin likened city police at the time to the Gestapo but did not write such accordingly out of fear for his life.
Eugene H. Lowe, Jr., the American Legion post vice-commander, said that local law enforcement personnel were outlaws and his sentiments echoed those of the reporter Corvin. Eventually, Harris, Jr., fled Louisiana, and the NAACP, and the FBI became involved in the case. Federal indictments were handed down and deputies Haynes and Edwards and four others were arrested and tried for violating the civil rights of Jones and Harris, Jr. Ultimately, an all-white jury did not convict any of the six defendants.