Birth of Plain Dealing as a Colonial Homesite
By Ann Middleton
In the March 29, 1956 issue of The Bossier Banner-Progress J. T. Manry submitted an article that originally appeared in The Shreveport Journal in 1931. The article related how George Oglethorpe Gilmer and his eldest son James Blair Gilmer came to Northwest Louisiana around 1830. Both men knew about soils and were experts in productive farming and recognized that the swampy areas of the Red River were not fit places to bring their families, but they were impressed with the richness of the soil and the possibilities for development. A few miles back from the river they found rich, loamy soil underlaid by red clay and having springs of the purest water.
George O. Gilmer bought from the government at cash sale, 5,000 acres of this upland on which the town of Plain Dealing now stands. James B. Gilmer bought about the same acreage a few miles south of his father's land.
After the two Gilmers returned to their homes and selling their considerable lands in Alabama (George O.) and Georgia (James B.), they moved all their belongings to Louisiana. In the beginning, the Gilmer family lived in a temporary home while George O. cleared and fenced his land and began to plant, cultivate and harvest his fertile yields. He then made plans to build a suitable home for his family by building a saw mill where only the finest timber cut the lumber for a house worthy of those it was to shelter.
While the lumber was air-drying, Gilmer burnt a large kiln of brick to be used as the foundation of his house and for chimneys. To determine the location of the home, wells were sunk at several locations to locate the finest water supply. Manry's description of the construction of the house follows.
"Then an excavation 40 feet square and 5 feet deep was made-this was the cellar. A solid brick foundation was built from the bottom of the excavation to five feet above the surface, on which were placed 16 x 16 hewn oak sills, and all framework was of equally massive proportions. The body of the house contained four rooms, 20 x 20; with hall, 18 x 40. There were also rooms called the L, with long gallery upstairs. The cellar was divided into two rooms, 20 x 40, one of which was well lighted and ventilated, with concrete floor and many conveniences. This was the dining room. The entire inside was plastered and the house painted white with green blinds. When completed it was a mansion fit for the most exacting taste and is said to have been the first frame house built in North Louisiana. It was the custom of the time, when a home was established that it should be distinguished with a name, and thus "Plain Dealing" was born."
George O. Gilmer later bought and put into cultivation three large river farms, each containing more than 1,000 acres. He gave all of these river farms, together with more than half of the Plain Dealing tract, to his children while he was alive.
"The old Plain Dealing home was destroyed by fire in 1888. In its passing, one of the best known landmarks of North Louisiana was removed. From the date of its construction in the latter part of the thirties to date of its destruction by fire, the stately old mansion stood with doors ever open to relatives, friends and stranger alike. Its hospitality was known for many miles…"
To find out more about the Gilmer family as well as other pioneer families of Bossier Parish, visit the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center.