The Early Days

Research reveals that in the first half of the 1800s early settlers were homesteading, clearing and farming lands in the Winn Parish area of Louisiana. By 1845, a significant number had moved into the area with some choosing to homestead while others bought land from existing owners. Many of these early settlers came from North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Mississippi. A network of rudimentary roads linked the Parish Seat of Winnfield, LA (circa 1854) with outlying towns and communities. One such community was the Couley Community named after the Couley Creek that meandered through the area and emptied into nearby Saline Lake. In the Couley Community, there existed a crossroads of sorts where the road leading from Montgomery, LA (circa 1840) to Winnfield, LA crossed another community road. This road ran from the Couley Post Office near Saline Lake past the homesteads of Burris Davis, the James “Jim” Luther home place, then past the Jeff Shaw, Edward Shaw, Albert Holmes and Charles Phillips home places where it ultimately linked to other roadways. At this crossroads, sometime between 1850 and 1860, a small one-room log church was erected. As was the custom, this log church also served as the school. By all accounts, this log building faced the road that ran along what in now the northern boundary of the present-day Couley Double Church and Cemetery, Inc. property. Its site was slightly down hill and one-hundred feet or so to the East of the present-day church building. It is said the building had a fireplace and chimney, probably wooden shutters for windows and a front door as its single entry. An affidavit signed by Mr. Glyn Wyatt, who had personal knowledge of the early church buildings erected on this site, is available in our archives and an artistic rendering of the original log church is shown above.

Photo: Shady Grove or Bretts Church Singing Club:
Top Row (L-R) 3rd Cleveland Shaw, 5th Lee Luther, 9th Loon Wyatt, 11th Peter Keiffer, 12th Charles Wyatt; Middle Row (L-R) 1st Professor J.E. Coker (one-armed school teacher), 2nd Rev. Joel M. Durham, 8th Janie Kennedy, 10th Tamer Luther (peeking between two other ladies); Bottom Row (L-R) 5th Ella Everett, 6th Clara Kennedy, 7th Eva Kennedy, 9th Annie Wyatt.

This first church and school was known as the Union Grove Society. It was a “union church” in that the Baptist and Methodist congregations both set their preaching dates so that each did not interfere with the other. These two groups also worked together for the betterment of the community. Services would be held on Saturday nights, Sunday mornings and Sunday nights. It was said that some ministers furnished their own transportation, probably horseback or horse and buggy. But, some of the visiting ministers would have to be carried by church members in their own horse and buggy to catch a train for their home. Church records show that the Union Grove Society dissolved around 1883. There were thirteen (13) names on the register when it was dissolved. A new church was in place by 1888 on this site. This new church was built approximately where the current church building now sits. This new church was known as the Shady Grove or Bretts Church. At some point, around 1910, the remains of the old original log church was removed from the grounds because it had pretty well rotted down. The background of an old picture of the Shady Grove or Bretts Church Singing Club shows the exterior of the church was constructed with vertical rough-cut 1″ X 12″ boards with narrow batten boards covering the cracks between the 1X12s with wooden shutters to cover the windows. A copy of this old picture, with caption identifying most of the people in the picture, is shown above. A cemetery was started to the East of the church building sites at some undetermined point. It was originally called Pine Grove Cemetery. There are several unmarked graves and likely some lost graves. The earliest marked grave in the cemetery is that of Adah Everett Wyatt who died May 13, 1898. As the reader can tell, the early churches on this site were called by different names over time, i.e. Union Grove Church, Bretts Church, Shady Grove and Pine Grove Church.

School was held in this church, in the same manner as it had previously been held in the Union Grove Society Church, until 1908 when a new Couley school house was built one mile North of this church. At about the same time, a mile or so West of the new Couley School, a new church was built that was initially called the Henry Little Church. This church ultimately became the United Methodist Church and remains active on that site adjacent to present-day Highway 84. Soon thereafter, in 1909, the Baptists decided to build a church building of their own. This new Baptist church was built a few yards to the West of the Shady Grove or Bretts Church and near the location of the current entryway cattle guard. This church was named the Pine Grove Baptist Church. The Shady Grove or Bretts Church then became the Methodist Church and coexisted with the adjacent Pine Grove Baptist Church. Since these two churches sat side-by-side, many in the greater community began to refer to them as ” the Couley Double Churches “.

Hence the origin of the name!

The Middle Years

The Shady Grove Methodist Church and the Pine Grove Baptist Church actively coexisted for approximately 17 years until they both burned to the ground as casualties of a raging forrest fire that enveloped a large part of the Couley Community in the latter part of 1925. Intensive logging of the virgin pine timber had been going on throughout this area and the forest around these two churches was deep in dried pine tops, logs and underbrush left over from these logging operations. It was reported some residents of the Couley Community initially attempted to fight the encroaching fire around the churches. However, they ultimately had to abandon those efforts and focus on trying to save their personal homes.

Some time around 1927 or 1928, Mr. Mid Kelley drove his Model-T Ford car around the community and gathered up fifty dollars ($50.00) to help build a new non-denominational church on the site of the burned “Couley Double Churches”. Mr. Mid Kelley reported that most donated twenty-five cents or less except Mr. S. J. Harper of Winnfield, LA who donated fifty cents. The fifty dollars collected via these small donations was used to buy nails, windows, and three doors for the new church. Mr. Cavitte Cookston, of Winnfield, LA had bought and owned the standing timber in Saline Lake. He donated selected cypress trees to be felled and milled into lumber for the new church along with seasoned “rounds” of cypress that were to be split into shake shingles for the roof. Cypress wood was a choice building material in that it is fine grained and contains natural resins that preserve the wood and prevents rotting. Men from the community built scaffolds around the designated trees in the lake to stand on while they used two-person cross-cut saws to cut down the trees. These virgin cypress were so large in diameter that often the scaffolds had to be 12 to 14 feet above the water level in order to get high enough on the tapered trunks for their saws to work. After the trees were felled into the water they were floated to shore, hauled out and skidded by mule team to Mr. Fred Lovell’s saw mill nearby on the bank of the lake. After the lumber was milled it was stacked so it would air dry. In 1929, construction of the new non-denominational “Couley Double Church” building was begun. Mr. Ed Garrett and son Hubbard, of Calvin, LA brought the Parish road grader and tractor to level and shape the site where the old Shady Grove Methodist Church had burned. After the site was prepared, he and Hubbard stayed to help install the post & beam foundation. A crew of volunteers from the community used the materials mentioned above and erected the new church building and that building remains to this day. The framing and structural members were native pine and the exterior walls were rough-cut cypress 1X12s (with batten boards covering the cracks) and the roof was cypress shake shingles. During the initial construction, not all the pine flooring material was dry enough to plane smooth so some cypress boards were used instead. Today, a close examination of the church building floor reveals about one-half of the flooring is cypress. The interior ceiling was finished with pine boards soon after the church was built and the interior walls shortly thereafter. The name of the cemetery was changed from Pine Grove Cemetery to Couley Double Church Cemetery.

The Modern Years

In 1950, about 21 years later, the church building was renovated. The exterior batten boards were removed, the naturally weathered and unpainted cypress board walls covered with tar-paper and white asbestos siding applied all around. The cypress shake shingle roof was replaced with a standing seam metal roof and new wood sash windows were installed along with new wood doors. Our archives contain a copy of a photograph showing the men of the community who worked on this renovation project. Later, Mr. Alvin Martin bought and installed aluminum sash windows to replace the wood sash windows in the church building. In 1988 the original cypress blocks under the church were removed, the church re-leveled and new concrete blocks placed under the building. Mr. Sam Ates and son of Winnfield, LA did this work. Also, in 1988 a quit claim deed was sought by and given to the Couley Double Church and Cemetery by the United States of America Department of Agriculture. That deed’s property desctription defined 2.71 acres with an official survey that included a metes and bounds description. It was filed for record in the Parish Deed records at the Winnfield, LA Court House. The non-denominational Couley Double Church continued relatively active during the 1929-1950 era. An annual tradition had developed wherein the congregation would have an annual “grave yard working” on a specific Saturday in May. At that time the grave sites and cemetery grounds were groomed and everything made tidy. The ladies of the community would bring covered dishes and a “dinner- on-the-ground” would be enjoyed by all at noon. The next day, Sunday, a special memorial service would be held which often featured a guest preacher. Over time the population in the Couley Community declined and many of the Methodists in the congregation migrated to the aforementioned United Methodist Church. Even after there were insufficient numbers to sustain weekly church services, the community continued the “annual grave yard working” and “dinner-on-the-ground” tradition. At some point during the 1960s the “annual grave yard working” became unsustainable. A visionary initiative was led by Mr. Alvin Martin to raise money to establish a “perpetual maintenance” fund for the Double Church cemetery. Mr. Alvin Martin had previously worked on Wall Street in New York City as a bookkeeper and fully understood the principles of money management and finance. Later, Mr. Glyn Wyatt continued this fund raising campaign. Within a few years a modest, but sufficient amount had been raised and invested in an interest bearing account. Following the plan, the interest income from the “perpetual maintenance” fund was used to cover a significant portion of the costs to hire someone to maintain the grounds of the church and cemetery. Concurrently, the traditional “dinner-on-the-ground” and Sunday memorial service were combined and an annual “home coming” was established for the third Sunday of May. Annual contributions, memorial donations, and earnings added to the principal of the “perpetual maintenance” fund helping keep pace with inflationary costs of maintenance. This successful initiative is quite a legacy for those forward-thinking individuals of yesteryear! For many of the intervening years oversight and care of the Couley Double Church and Cemetery continued under the stewardship of Mr. Edwin Kelley and his wife Bertice. They established mailing lists of relatives and descendants of persons buried in the cemetery and mailed-out an annual financial report, with a reminder of the homecoming, to those on the list prior to the third Sunday in May. Many other individuals from the community, as well as patrons who had moved away, have continued their support by accomplishing special improvement projects and/or providing annual financial contributions. Around 1990-1992, Mr. Donald E. Kelley stepped in to help Edwin and Bertice with their oversight and management tasks. This included management of the funds of Couley Double Church and Cemetery, preparation of the annual financial report, coordination the location of new burial sites and making sure the grounds were properly maintained. At the annual Couley Double Church “homecoming” service on May 18, 1997, Mr. Edwin Kelley spoke to the congregation and stated he and Bertice could no longer continue their leadership and management role for the Couley Double Church Cemetery due to their advancing age. He urged several of the attendees to form a small committee to determine the best way to sustain and maintain the Couley Double Church and Cemetery into the future. This committee, headed by Mr. Thomas E. Luther, met immediately following the traditional “dinner-on-the-ground” and soon decided the best course of action was to create a “perpetual management structure” in the form of a non-profit Louisiana Corporation. Mr. John W. Pickett, Jr., a retired judge and licensed Louisiana Attorney, was enlisted by Mr. Thomas E. Luther to draft and file the appropriate papers with the Corporation Division of the Secretary of State of the State of Louisiana. Within the Articles of Incorporation were listed Edwin M. Kelley, Donald E. Kelley and Lenora Martin of Winn Parish Louisiana; Charles R. Luther, a resident of Universal City, Texas; Donald W. Ferrier, a resident of Caddo Parish Louisiana; and James M. Luther, a resident of Lafayette, Louisiana as the petitioners for incorporation of the Couley Double Church Cemetery. These Articles of Incorporation were filed, approved and recorded by Fox McKeithen, Secretary of State of Louisiana on March 30, 1998. The initial Board of Directors of Couley Double Church Cemetery, Inc. consisted of Mr. Charles R. Luther, Mrs. Lenora M. Martin, Mr. Donald W. Ferrier and Mr. James M. Luther. Mr. Charles R. Luther was elected by the Board to serve as President and Mr. Donald E. Kelley to serve as Secretary/Treasurer. The By Laws of the Corporation stipulate the processes and procedures whereby the general membership of Couley Double Church Cemetery, Inc. elect new members of the Board of Directors along with the processes and procedures whereby the Board of Directors elects/appoints the corporate officers. Ownership of the land, physical plant and monetary assets of the Couley Double Church and Cemetery were officially transferred to the Corporation. The Couley Double Church Cemetery, Inc continues to function very successfully as the “perpetual management structure” under the able leadership of the corporation’s officers. The objectives, as stated in Article III of the Articles of Incorporation, will be fully attained throughout this next century as the corporation is “- – – operated exclusively for the maintenance, upkeep, beautification and preservation of the Couley Double Church Cemetery”.