Briarwood Nature Preserve National Historic Place
The history of Briarwood is a long and storied one. The property was first settled by Caroline Dormon’s grandparents, Benjamin Scriven Sweat and his wife Harietta Theresa Trotti Sweat, as a cotton plantation in 1859. They named the plantation Briarwood in memory of their previous plantation, “Briarwood” located in Barnwell County, South Carolina.
Today the only remnants of those days is the ancient Post Oak that stands on the site and just down the road a cemetery that was used to bury slaves and their descendants.
Caroline Dormon, was born July 19, 1888, the sixth child of James Alexander Dormon and Caroline Trotti Sweat Dormon at the family’s summer home on Briarwood. Today, a gazebo with a bronze bust of Caroline stands at Briarwood to mark the location of this summer home.
Growing up between the family home in Arcadia, Louisiana and their summer home at Briarwood, Caroline developed a deep love for nature spending every moment possible in pursuit of knowledge about the outdoors and all of its inhabitants. “This was the legacy of Caroline Dormon: a family that valued the simple, but beautiful, joys of nature”.
Caroline graduated in 1907, with a degree in Fine arts with an emphasis on literature and art, from Judson College in Marion, Alabama. “As a result of this preparation, in 1908 Bienville Parish issued Caroline a five-year certificate to teach youth in the first grade, and in 1910 that same parish issued her another five-year certificate to teach youth sight singing and drawing”.
She was later transferred to teach singing and drawing in high school in Lake Arthur, Louisiana. Sometime after that she petitioned the superintendent to assign her to a school system in the piney woods and as a result was assigned to Kisatchie school.
Caroline and her sister Virginia moved to Briarwood to live in 1917. (This date is based on a handwritten note saying that “In 1917 Misses Virginia and Caroline Dormon built a home and came to live permanently in the community.”) The site of this house is where today’s Visitor Center stands, the only remnant of the original structure is the one hundred plus year old fireplace, still in use today on cold mornings.
In 1950 she had her dream house built on the hill just above the site of the family’s summer home where she was born. In December of that same year she and her sister Virginia moved into this house where they lived till the times of their deaths, Virginia in 1954 and Caroline in 1971.
With her death on November 23, 1971 her beloved Briarwood passed into the hands of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve and was overseen by her hand-picked steward, Richard Johnson.
In the ensuing years, Richard and his wife Jessie worked tirelessly to preserve and grow the work that Caroline Dormon started.
Today, Briarwood stands as a testament to the hard work and dedication of three amazing and tenacious people, Caroline Dormon, Richard Johnson and Jessie Johnson.
NOTE: The information on this page is extracted from the book “Gift of the Wild Things” by Fran Holman Johnson.