Henderson almost bought some property about a mile north of the present town from Henry Mabry, but they could not agree on the price. The Captain moved south and bought land from Allen Lowery and Dave Cole and eventually named his acquisition for Lowery's infant daughter, Bernice. On late spring day in May, he auctioned lots for the planned community. According to Henry Mabry's son Brooks, he and his brother furnished water for the momentous event.
"We hauled water from up there where Preacher Burns' wife is living now, in a wagon, and put it in tubs on stumps along there on every corner. He had the lots laid off...my brother...and myself would go round and fill the tubs...for people to drink".
Bernice was incorporated that same year, and the railroad depot was built soon after. A 1901 picture of Louisiana Street includes the depot, and a 1906 interior photograph shows the agent and several local citizens. Today is has been restored and houses the Depot Museum with a collection of Bernice memorabilia and also serves as a tourist information center.
Jake Crews was the first mayor. He was also the contractor who built many of the earliest homes. Still standing are his personal 1900 home, now the Caldwell Home and said to be the oldest house in town; the 1902 Garland/Reeder House; the 1903 J.W. Heard/Laurence/Patton House; and the 1904 Thomas Heard House. Other turn-of-the century structures remaining are the Cook/Minter House, the John Roach House and the Rives/Lindsey Hotel. The first brick home in town was the Pollock/Martin House, which dates from the 1920s, as does the old Bernice Jail.
Among the oldest homes in the area are the R.T. Moore/Gresham/Stenzel House known as the "Sweet Onion" and McCuller Log Cabin, both circa 1865. The circa 1895 Alabama Methodist Church is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Lynn Log House was moved to its present location and reconstructed from an antebellum dogtrot house that once stood across the road.
Captain Henderson donated land to the town to be named Oakhurst Park. It was filled with oak trees surrounding a gazebo where public functions were held during the early years. In 1938, the Bernice Clubhouse was built in the park, and it remains in use today. Nearby was the childhood home of New York Knicks basketball great Willis Reed.
The original town as laid out by Henderson has recently been designated as the Bernice Historic District by the town council.
The first store was in a tent and run by a man named Nelson, and the next was a mercantile business in a box car, operated by Will Martin. Other merchants soon followed, many of them coming from Shiloh, and the Bank of Bernice was chartered in 1901. Bernice was basically a sawmill town from the start, and there has nearly always been at least one, and often two, mills running here. Nor was the Arkansas Southern/Rock Island the only railroad. In the early part of the century the Bernice and Northwestern Railroad Company, also known as "the dummy line", headed northwesterly towards Summerfield to haul in the logs from the lumber camps along the way. A saloon and pool hall were among the early businesses, and it was not unusual to see a fight on Saturday afternoons in the middle of the red dirt main street under the sycamore trees.
Even though Bernice has changed from its rough and tumble early days, it remains something of a mill town with one sawmill and a chip mill operating here. The Lindsey warehouse complex of 63 buildings provides space for several timber-related industries. The town also has a nursing home, a volunteer fire department, several churches, and numerous small businesses.
There were 668 households out of which 31.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.2% were married couples living together, 25.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.2% were non-families. 29.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.56 and the average family size was 3.17.
In the town the population was spread out with 27.7% under the age of 18, 11.1% from 18 to 24, 23.6% from 25 to 44, 18.5% from 45 to 64, and 19.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 79.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 68.8 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $20,602, and the median income for a family was $27,708. Males had a median income of $20,903 versus $17,083 for females. The per capita income for the town was $11,279. About 24.9% of families and 30.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 39.4% of those under age 18 and 26.5% of those age 65 or over.