Archive for the ‘Traveling Arkansas’ Category

From Washington to Fulton

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020


My mother, who died five years ago this week at age 90, loved attending the annual Jonquil Festival at Washington in Hempstead County.

And I enjoyed taking her.

While she liked the arts and crafts, I was fascinated by the history of this place.

The festival, which normally (at least when there’s not a worldwide pandemic) takes place the third weekend of March, attracts people from across Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. It began in 1966 with a small tour around town that coincided with the blooming of thousands of jonquils.

By the late 1960s, the weekend event was known as the Jonquil Trail. What was then Old Washington Historic State Park was created in 1973 and took over management of the event.

“It has continued to grow and expand into a festival that offers arts and crafts, food, music and carriage rides to visitors,” Jade Fitch writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “There are also activities such as games, tours and candle making. The Jonquil Festival relies on the state park staff, staff members from other state parks and volunteers. The Jonquil Festival is committed to teaching Arkansas history through the events at the festival.

“The setting itself is educational because it’s part of Historic Washington State Park. Exhibit tours are available for visitors to learn more about the history of the area, and historical interpreters are available to display the 19th-century clothing relative to the sites where they’re stationed. The flowers are the highlight of the festival. As visitors make their way into the event, they’re able to see yellow, white and orange jonquils. In the early years of the festival, park staff would order jonquils to increase the number of flowers on the grounds. Now there is an adequate number of flowers. Larger groups are divided, and the bulbs are relocated to various areas of the park.”

Historic Washington State Park includes more than 50 buildings on 101 acres. Thirty of those buildings are considered historically significant. Several of them are open for tours. The story of how most of this once important town became a state park is an interesting one.

“In the late 1870s, Hope began to promote the idea that the county seat should be relocated from Washington,” Bryan McDade writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “For 60 years, and several elections, Hope tried to gain the county seat. Unethical behavior abounded on both sides, consisting of lies, cheating, mudslinging and election fraud. Finally, the Arkansas Supreme Court intervened and in a May 1939 ruling declared that Hope was the Hempstead County seat. The historic preservation movement centering on Washington had begun a decade earlier. Members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy were able to secure money from the Legislature in 1929 to fund restoration of the 1836 Hempstead County courthouse.

“In 1958, a group of Washington residents formed the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation to preserve the town’s structures and interpret its history. They operated tours of some historic homes for 15 years and were able to get the Washington Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 1972. In 1973, they invited officials from what’s now the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism to help preserve and interpret the town. The foundation donated buildings and antiques. Old Washington Historic State Park became the 34th state park when it opened July 1, 1973.”

There are now 52 state parks. In September 2006, the state Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission voted to change the name of the park to Historic Washington State Park.

McDade writes: “Among the many notable structures are the 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse; the Works Progress Administration gymnasium; Pioneer and Presbyterian cemeteries, where many notable early Arkansans are buried; the Washington post office; the James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades, a project of the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana; and the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives. The Royston Magnolia on the park grounds, which was planted in about 1839, is part of the Arkansas Famous and Historic Tree Program. The American Bladesmith Society’s Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing, the world’s first college dedicated to teaching the art of making knives and swords by hand, operated at the park from 1988-2019 when it relocated to Texarkana.”

We leave Washington, make our way back to U.S. 67 and head to Fulton, which had 201 residents in the 2010 census, down from 647 a century earlier.

Steve Teske of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies notes that some people claim that Fulton is “the oldest continually settled community in the state. Located at a convenient crossing of the Red River, Fulton has long been a transportation hub of southern Arkansas. Due to floods and river erosion, none of the early historic structures have survived into the 21st century. The Caddo tribe inhabited the Red River valley of Arkansas long before European explorers reached the area. A party of French explorers passed through the region in 1687 and noted several Caddo villages, one of which may have been at the site of contemporary Fulton.

“The network of footpaths used by Native Americans and early American settlers known as the Southwest Trail ran through the area. A boat landing and ferry across the river were established early in the 19th century. According to a 1938 Arkansas Gazette article, records as early as 1807 referred to ‘the little town of Fulton on the Red River.’ White settlements on both sides of the river relied on Fulton for food, merchandise and other necessities of life.”

Robert Stone received a land deed from Juan Dulac of the township of Little Prairie in 1808 for the land where Fulton is now located. Another early investor in the town was Amos Wheeler of St. Louis.

“On Dec. 11, 1819, notices appeared in Arkansas and Missouri newspapers that James Bryan (an agent of Stephen F. Austin) was selling lots in Fulton at an auction scheduled for April 29, 1820,” Teske writes. “The Treaty of Doaks Stand, made between the federal government and the Choctaw in 1820, recognized Fulton as a landmark on the line that separated Choctaw land from land open to American settlers. Many American pioneers already had established themselves west of Fulton on land the treaty granted to the Choctaw.

“The military highway that improved the Southwest Trail made Fulton the gateway to Mexico and later the American Southwest. Most of the pioneers from the United States who settled in the northern part of Mexico known as Texas crossed the Red River at Fulton on the way to their new homes. In 1834, a group of investors that included Roswell Beebe and Edward Cross surveyed and platted a larger settlement for Fulton with streets, homes, a hotel and warehouses. George Featherstonhaugh visited the town on Dec. 10, 1834, and wrote about it in his travel diary.”

A post office was established in 1838 and was first called Red River. That was changed to Fulton in 1840. A school and church were operating at Fulton by then.

“During the Mexican War, American soldiers entered Mexico from several directions, but at the conclusion of the war, many of the returning soldiers came home by way of the crossing at Fulton,” Teske writes. “Meanwhile, steamboats regularly landed, unloading passengers and supplies and then receiving cargoes of cotton. One of the first rails planned for Arkansas was to have its southern terminus at Fulton. Beebe, Grandison Royston and Cross incorporated the Cairo & Fulton Railroad on April 1, 1852, planning to link southern Illinois with the Red River crossing by way of Missouri and Arkansas.

“Surveyors had  already planned a route across Hempstead County before the incorporation of the railroad. A second railroad, planned to cross southern Arkansas from the Mississippi River to the Red River, was planned. The Mississippi, Ouachita & Red River Railroad was surveyed from Gaines Landing on the Mississippi River to Fulton. In December 1852, the federal government approved legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Solon Borland to fund both railroads as well as a third line connecting Memphis to Little Rock. Some rails were laid during the 1850s, but the Civil War delayed construction of these planned railroads for several years.”

There was a Confederate supply depot at Fulton during the Civil War. Both Confederate and Union troops on their way to Texas passed through the town.

“In 1868, Elijah Smith laid out an addition to Fulton, seeing that much of the original town was in danger of being washed away by the Red River,” Teske writes. “The railroad finally arrived in 1874. The Cairo & Fulton had by this time become the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad. A railroad bridge across the Red River opened March 20, 1874. The railroad affected many parts of Arkansas, creating new cities like Hope while older cities faded. Fulton neither prospered nor disappeared. For a time, it thrived as a lumber town while remaining a center for shipping cotton.

“According to a 1936 Hope Star article, Fulton had African Americans during its days as a timber center serving as postmaster, school board member, city council member and constable. There were also two black justices of the peace. As Smith had foreseen, the older section of Fulton was removed by the Red River. The current town now encompasses his addition. In the 20th century, railroads began to give way to automobile and truck traffic. A 22-mile road was completed in 1922, linking Fulton with Emmet. U.S. 67 was completed in 1934, and construction began on Interstate 30 in the 1960s, each with its own bridge over the Red River. The interstate bridge was opened in 1966, but the full interstate highway wasn’t finished in the area until 1972.”

We cross the river into Miller County and continue to Texarkana, which we wrote about extensively in our previous series on U.S. 82.

This concludes our series on the stretch of U.S. 67 from Benton to Texarkana.

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Slice of the good life

Monday, November 23rd, 2020


Long before it was known as the birthplace of President Bill Clinton, Hope was known for its big watermelons.

One of my best assignments in recent years has been to emcee the celebrity watermelon-eating contest at the Hope Watermelon Festival. The event was canceled this year due to the pandemic.

“The festival originated in 1926 and has been ongoing, though not continuous, since 1977,” writes southwest Arkansas historian Mary Nell Turner. “There’s no admission fee for the four-day event, usually held the second week in August at Hope’s Fair Park. Activities include watermelon-eating and seed-spitting contests, fiddling, arm-wrestling contests and as many as 200 vendors displaying their wares. The competition for growing big melons was a creation of John S. Gibson. In 1916, he began to offer modest prizes for the largest vegetables and watermelons.

“Local farmers Hugh and Edgar Laseter developed a seed line in an attempt to win the contest. Hugh grew Arkansas’ first giant watermelon. The 136-pound melon was harvested Aug. 12, 1925, and generated so much excitement that the first watermelon festival was held the next year. The first five festivals drew large crowds. The crowd was estimated at 30,000 people in 1928. Visitors traveled on Missouri Pacific, Frisco and Louisiana & Arkansas special trains from Little Rock, Shreveport and towns in Oklahoma.”

Events were filmed by Fox, Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and other studios to be shown in newsreels in theaters across the country. Large speakers were borrowed from Arkansas Power & Light Co. so the crowds could hear.

“The program included a parade with floats, bands and decorated cars,” Turner writes. “At Fair Park, a coronation ceremony was held. Introduction of the maids and the crowning of a queen was followed by a speech from a visiting dignitary. Visitors were served free iced watermelon. The day ended with dances in the Elks Hall, a skating rink or in the streets. In 1928, two trains were stopped at noon so passengers could be served slices of watermelon. The first queen was Laurine Lewis of Hope, who was chosen from the festival maids. The maids, in turn, had been selected by a vote in each political township.

“Speakers also attracted visitors. Congressman Tilman B. Parks crowned the first and second queens. The Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Joe T. Robinson of Arkansas, was the guest speaker at the third festival in 1928. He returned to speak and crown the queen in 1930. Oklahoma Gov. William J. Holloway spoke in 1929, and Arkansas Gov. Harvey Parnell crowned the queen. In addition to problems caused by the Great Depression, the handling of the large crowd became too much for the small town.”

Oscar Middlebrooks briefly revived watermelon fever in the area when he grew a 195-pound watermelon in a field near Patmos in Hempstead County in 1935.

“The melon was shipped to movie star Dick Powell, an Arkansas native,” Turner writes. “President Calvin Coolidge was another recipient of a big melon from Hope.”

By the 1970s, Pod Rogers of the Hope Star was traveling across the country promoting Hope watermelons. He urged officials at the local chamber of commerce to start the festival again, and they did in 1977.

Meanwhile, the Bright family began receiving nationwide attention for the big melons being grown on the family farm just east of Hope. Lloyd Bright wrote a 1978 book titled “Producing Giant Watermelons.”

With the 1992 election of Clinton as president, Hope had another reason for people to pull off the interstate. Clinton had spent the first four years of his life in his grandparents’ house at 117 S. Hervey St. The house opened to the public as a museum in June 1997.

“The house was built in 1917 for Dr. H.S. Garrett, who evidently designed it to imitate his previous dwelling in France,” the late Bill Norman wrote for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The 2,100-square-foot home contains six rooms, including a kitchen, living room, bedroom and the nursery where Clinton slept. The house was purchased in 1938 by Eldridge Cassidy and Edith Grisham Cassidy, Clinton’s grandparents. Their daughter, Virginia Cassidy Blythe, made her home with them after the death of her husband, William Jefferson Blythe III, while she was still expecting their only child.

“Clinton was born at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope. The building no longer stands, but a plaque marks the spot where it once existed. Clinton’s grandparents raised him in their home while their daughter studied nursing in New Orleans. When he married Roger Clinton, the Clintons acquired a house at 321 E. 13th St. in Hope in 1950. They moved to Hot Springs in 1953. The Cassidy family continued to own the house on South Hervey Street until 1956. The house passed through other owners and was vacant after 1992, when it was damaged by an electrical fire.”

After Clinton became president in January 1993, a foundation was formed to acquire the house and restore it.

“The Clinton Birthplace Foundation sought to raise $1.5 million over five years, 40 percent of which was intended to create an endowed fund to maintain the house for perpetuity,” Norman wrote. “Controversy was ignited when accusations were made that wealthy donors, some from other nations, hoped for favors from the president’s administration because of their gifts. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 1994, bypassing the usual rule that a structure must have achieved significance more than 50 years before being registered.

“An exception to the 50-year benchmark was granted because the home was ‘the single property most significantly and exclusively associated with President William Jefferson Clinton’s humble beginnings, the inner strength that he learned from his mother and the dedication to purpose that has sustained him through his distinguished career.'”

The foundation had to repair the roof while adding new siding. It later acquired furniture to make the house look like it had in the late 1940s.

“The president’s mother and former neighbors described the house as they remembered it, and some residents of Hope contributed furniture and other articles for the museum,” Norman wrote. “A visitors’ center was added outside the house, and a rose garden was dedicated to Clinton’s mother. The museum opened to the public on June 1, 1997. In December 2010, it was designated a National Historic Site by the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

A Christmas Day fire in 2015 damaged the home. It reopened to the public on July 30, 2016.

One of the things that helps Hope retain its viability as a regional center these days is the presence of a community college, the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana. The school was founded as the Red River Vocational-Technical School in 1965. As part of a statewide effort to transform technical schools into two-year colleges, it was renamed Red River Technical College in 1991.

In March 1996, Hempstead County residents approved a quarter-cent sales tax to support the college. The school became an affiliate of the University of Arkansas System and was renamed the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope in July 1996. A branch campus opened at Texarkana in the fall of 2012. In early 2019, the college changed its name to University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana as the number of college students at Texarkana grew.

For those interested in history, a trip to nearby Washington is a must. I’ve always considered Historic Washington State Park to be our state’s version of Colonial Williamsburg.

Washington, which had a population of 730 in the 1880 census, was down to just 180 residents by the 2010 census. The community is now dominated by the state park.

“The Southwest Trail was built during Arkansas’ territorial period, linking St. Louis to Texas and crossing Arkansas from the northeast corner to the southwest corner,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “William Stevenson, a Methodist preacher, established Ebenezer Campground for revival meetings on a sandy hill that would soon become the site of Washington. Elijah Stuart built a log house on the same hill, perhaps as early as 1818, and his house also served as an inn and tavern. Hempstead County was organized in December 1818 and designated Stuart’s tavern as its first permanent seat of government in 1824 because of its central location.

“The land around the tavern was surveyed and laid out in square blocks oriented along the Southwest Trail. A land auction in 1826 created the structure of the city, and merchants began to conduct business there soon thereafter. Washington applied for incorporation in 1830. Incorporation lapsed following the Civil War and wasn’t reinstated until 1880. Important early settlers in the city included John Johnson, Ephraim Mirick and Abraham Block. James Black established a blacksmith shop in which he reportedly fashioned the first bowie knife for James Bowie in 1831.”

Stevenson, a circuit-riding preacher, is the person credited with bringing Methodism to Arkansas.

“Swept into the enthusiastic Methodism of the Second Great Awakening, he felt a desire to spread the faith that led him into sparsely settled areas,” Michael Johnson writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Stevenson, who was born in October 1768 in South Carolina on the border of Cherokee territory, had Presbyterian parents. His mother later converted to the Baptist faith. Stevenson heard a Methodist preacher for the first time at age 20. He converted at age 31.

Stevenson and his wife moved with their eight children to Missouri in 1809. He wrote one of the earliest accounts of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12. He also ran unsuccessfully against Stephen F. Austin for a seat in the Missouri Territorial Legislature in 1815.

Stevenson moved to Hempstead County in 1816.

“In 1817, he was appointed by the Methodists’ Missouri Conference as a circuit rider, along with John Harris, for the Hot Springs Circuit,” Johnson writes. “The circuit included all of Arkansas south of the Arkansas River. From 1818-25, Stevenson served as a presiding elder in Arkansas, except for a couple of years when he suffered from poor health. His ministry reached out to frontier families over a large area of Arkansas, often traveling through difficult conditions. Most of his work was with white settlers, though he did record small numbers of black and native American converts.

“Stevenson’s leadership of Arkansas Methodism was highly energetic. Methodist ministries in Arkansas shrank after Stevenson relocated to Louisiana in 1826. Stevenson was also involved in early Arkansas politics. He was elected as the representative from Hempstead County to the first General Assembly of the Arkansas Territory in 1820. He was chosen to serve as speaker but resigned the position after one day for reasons that are unclear. … It was Stevenson who proposed the motion to make Little Rock the capital of the territory.”

The territorial capital moved from Arkansas Post to Little Rock in 1821.

Washington became quite cosmopolitan for its time. In addition to Methodists attracted by Stevenson, there were Jews such as Block, who was the patriarch of the first documented Jewish family to come to Arkansas.

Block was born in either 1780 or 1781 in Bohemia. He came to Virginia at about age 12. He served with the Richmond Light Infantry Blues in the War of 1812. He and his wife had 14 children.

“In 1823, Block began to liquidate property inherited from his father-in-law and began the process of moving the family westward toward Arkansas,” David Markus writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “This move was probably brought about by limited economic opportunities in Richmond, as well as the influx of capital from his wife’s inheritance. While his wife Fanny was pregnant with the couple’s seventh child, Block left for New Orleans to begin establishing economic ties to the area. By 1825, he had started a business in Washington and summoned his family west. With seven young children in tow, Fanny left for Arkansas via New Orleans in 1826. As was family custom, she and the children didn’t join Block in Washington until a suitable house was built in 1827.

“Although the Blocks had strong ties to the Jewish community in New Orleans, they were unable to attract others in that community to join them in Washington. As a result, their only connections to the broader American Jewish community were periodicals and occasional business trips to New Orleans. This lack of community did not, however, diminish the family’s ties to the Jewish faith. When the first congregation, Shangrai Chesed (Gates of Mercy), formed in New Orleans in 1827, Block joined as a founding member. This limited contact with other Jews did, however, restrict the manner in which the Blocks practiced their faith in the home. As a consequence of their religious isolation in Arkansas, the family did not keep kosher, and the majority of the Block children married and left the faith.”

Along with his sons, Block established businesses not only at Washington but also at Fulton, at Paraclifta in Sevier County, at New Orleans and at several stops along the railroad that ran from Houston to Dallas. The family home was restored and became part of Historic Washington State Park.

Block died in March 1857 on a trip to New Orleans and is buried there.

Meanwhile, James Black, who was born in May 1800 in New Jersey, ran away from home at age 8 and went to Philadelphia. He became an apprentice to a silverplater there. His apprenticeship expired when Black was 18, and he headed west. He first settled at Bayou Sara in Louisiana and set up a blacksmith shop.

“Some think that Black met Jim Bowie for the first time there in 1822,” writes Josh Williams of Historic Washington State Park. “In late 1823, after battling disease and major floods, Black decided to move. He went up the Red River to Fulton and settled in the vicinity of Washington. Around 1824, Black was hired by local blacksmith William Shaw. While working for Shaw, Black made a reputation for himself in the community as a skilled craftsman and blacksmith, and Shaw offered to make Black a partner in his business. Shaw had nine children. The eldest daughter was Anne, age 16. Black and Anne Shaw fell in love, but her father objected to the relationship. Black decided to move from Washington to western Arkansas Territory.”

Black settled along the Rolling Fork River just west of Paraclifta. He built a dam on the river and established a gristmill along with a blacksmith shop.

“James and Gilbert Clark also settled in the vicinity and set up a salt works,” Williams writes. “Not long after they were settled, the U.S. government declared that the land they settled was part of Indian Territory. Black, the Clark brothers  and other settlers had to move to other lands. Black moved back to Washington. He hadn’t forgotten Anne Shaw. There were married June 29, 1828, at the Hempstead County Courthouse in Washington without the consent of William Shaw. There were married for seven years and had five children.”

Black set up his blacksmith shop and became known for the quality of his knives. An article in the Washington Telegraph on Dec. 8, 1841, said he had made Bowie’s famous knife in late 1831.

Bill Worthen, the former director of the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock and an expert on frontier knives, writes: “The bowie knife, made popular in the 1830s, has evolved into a specific form in current use. The bowie knife was worn for defensive purposes. Its primary function was for personal combat. It was designed to be part of a gentleman’s attire, and the key difference between the bowie knife and a hunting knife, a dagger or a dirk was initially the quality of finish of the bowie. Bowie knives came in a variety of forms — with or without guards, with differently shaped blades — and often were adorned with silver and other decoration, sometimes including etching or engraving on their metal surfaces.

“The knife got its name from a pioneer family who settled in early Arkansas and Louisiana. Jim Bowie, the best known of the brothers, killed one man and seriously injured another with a ‘big knife’ in what was known as the Sandbar Duel on Sept. 19, 1827, upriver from Natchez, Miss. Bowie later moved to Texas and died at the Alamo. In the early 1830s, the term ‘bowie knife’ began to be used — possibly shorthand for ‘knives like Bowie’s’ — for the Mississippi River Valley region. Jim Bowie’s brother Rezin promoted the knife’s association with the Bowie name by giving away several presentation knives and attributing the design of the first bowie knife — the one wielded by Jim at the Sandbar Duel — to Rezin himself.”

Early Arkansas leaders Daniel Webster Jones and August Garland said they heard stories from James Black stating that he had made the knife for Bowie at Washington.

“Black’s knives, embellished with silver plating on the ricasso (the part of the blade immediately above the handle) and silver around the distinctive, coffin-shaped handle, became the most copied of all bowie knives,” Worthen writes. “Many Sheffiled, England, cutlers produced knives with the coffin handle and/or elements of the silver wrap around the handle. The connection of these knives to Arkansas, and the state’s reputation for the use of the blade, inspired an alternative term to ‘bowie knife.’ The ‘Arkansas knife’ and then ‘Arkansas toothpick’ were used synonymously for the bowie knife in the antebellum period. Only a few references from that period make a distinction between an Arkansas toothpick and a bowie knife.

“In the 1830s, several states passed laws establishing sanctions against the use of the bowie knife and the Arkansas toothpick. The state’s reputation suffered because of its association with violence and the toothpick, and some people called Arkansas the Toothpick State. By the time of the Civil War, the term ‘bowie knife’ had come to be used for any large knife, and many soldiers went off to war with such knives. Today, ‘bowie knife’ usually is defined as a large knife with a cross guard and a blade with a clipped point, while the ‘Arkansas toothpick’ is a knife with a double-edged blade coming to a point.”

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A place called Hope

Thursday, November 19th, 2020


The Harry Thomason film that introduced nominee Bill Clinton to the Democratic National Convention in 1992 made Hope famous.

For those of us who grew up in Arkansas, Bill Clinton was from Hot Springs. After all, that’s where he came of age and graduated from high school. But he was born at Hope and lived there through kindergarten.

And “I still believe in a place called Hope” has a better ring to it than “I hail from the loose buckle on the Bible Belt.”

What’s now Hope was part of a blackland prairie known as the Prairie De Roan.

“The town developed as the Cairo & Fulton tracks were being laid from Argenta (now North Little Rock) to Fulton,” writes southwest Arkansas historian Mary Nell Turner. “The first passenger train pulled into what was known as Hope Station on Feb. 1, 1872. By the time the railway offered lots for sale, the wood-frame depot was almost complete. James Loughborough, the railroad company’s land commissioner, named the workmen’s camp in honor of his daughter, Hope. The company drew a plat of the town and sold the first lots on Aug. 28, 1873. The state had given the land to the company to defray building expenses.

“Walter Shiver built the first house near the depot in 1873. The town was incorporated April 8, 1875, and the first officials were elected May 14 of that year. The Barlow Hotel opened in 1886, seeking to fill the need for lodging and dining. Three more railways arrived in Hope by 1902, and passenger service continued until 1971. By 1900, the town had begun to produce electricity, an idea promoted by retired steamboat captain Judson T. West, who had moved to Hope in 1875. An artesian well supplied water for the city.”

The Barlow Hotel operated until 1964 and became well known throughout the region.

“The Barlow was built as the Lamar Hotel by local merchant J.C. McKee,” writes former Hope resident and Arkansas historian Revis Edmonds. “It initially sought to attract a clientele dominated by railroad passengers, as Hope was built around what would become two major railroad lines — the north-south Louisiana & Arkansas line (now Kansas City Southern) and the east-west Cairo & Fulton (now Union Pacific). In 1886, M.H. Barlow, a hardware merchant who hailed from Cory, Pa., was persuaded that the hotel in a growing railroad town was a good investment and began almost eight decades of family ownership.

“Barlow had four children, three of whom went into the hotel business. John D. Barlow took over the operation of the Hope hotel in 1904. R.P. ‘Dick’ Barlow took over a Malvern hotel in 1928. Henry Barlow operated the Barlow Hotel in De Queen from 1931 until poor health forced his retirement 10 years later. M.S. Barlow’s daughter, Dr. Alice Barlow Brown, served many years as a medical missionary in China.”

John Barlow announced plans in 1930 for a 10-story replacement for the hotel, but those plans never came to fruition due to the Great Depression.

“Barlow, however, continually upgraded the popular establishment,” Edmonds writes. “It was the first facility in the city to have hot and cold running water and was said to be the first customer of Hope Water & Light in about 1910. For years, the hotel’s strawberry shortcake was popular with both local and traveling diners. William Jennings Bryan visited the Barlow in the early 1920s. The hotel became the hub of community meetings and banquets in the community. In time, the hotel accommodated retail businesses such as Middlebrooks Grocery, Singer Sewing Machines, Ladies’ Specialty Shop and Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co.

“Arkla president Witt Stephens was close friends with Barlow, and Barlow was an initial investor in Arkla when Stephens purchased the firm from Cities Service Oil Co. Witt Stephens’ younger brother Jack worked several summers at the Barlow Hotel as a busboy. Barlow sold the hotel in 1943 to the Lampkin estate while still remaining a leader in hotel trade associations. Ben Owen, a Hope businessman with department stores in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, purchased the hotel in 1960 and made long-awaited upgrades such as a standalone coffee shop and an enlarged 250-seat banquet room.”

On Sept. 14, 1964, an electrical fire began in the kitchen and destroyed the hotel. Three guests were killed in the fire.

An 1888 article had stated that the growing railroad town of Hope included lumber mills, a wagon factory, a cotton compress, two banks, a newspaper, a public school and an opera house in addition to the hotel. U.S. 67 was sometimes known as the Broadway of America, and its route through Hope later brought additional businesses.

“The Arkansas Supreme Court declared Hope the county seat on May 11, 1939, after five bitterly fought elections to move the courthouse from Washington to Hope,” Turner writes. “An act of Congress in May 1824 had named Washington the county seat, but Hope citizens believed their town had become the commercial center of the county. The federal Public Works Administration built Hope’s courthouse in 1939. On July 1, 1941, the government announced a land condemnation order and work began on the Southwestern Proving Ground. The government built the Army ordnance plant on 50,000 acres of farmland just north of Hope.

“Four dozen Army officers directed the activities and were assisted by an Army Air Corps detachment of about 150 men. Civilian employees — more than 750 daily — were transported by bus from Hope and surrounding counties. The plant was completed and the first ammunition was tested Jan. 1, 1942. Work continued until the end of the war in 1945. Some of the employees, both civilian and Army, remained in Hope.”

One of those employees was Paul W. Klipsch, who had been born in March 1904 in Elkhart, Ind.

“As a boy, he enjoyed music and was fascinated with sound,” Nancy Hendricks writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “At age 15, he built a radio receiver a year before the first scheduled commercial U.S. radio broadcast in 1920 at station KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh. Klipsch attended college at New Mexico A&M (now New Mexico State University), graduating with a degree in electrical engineering in 1926. He joined the radio division of General Electric. In 1928, his passion for trains led him to Chile, where he was a locomotive maintenance supervisor for three years. Returning to the United States in 1931, he entered Stanford University and received an engineering degree.

“For the next seven years, he worked in oil exploration in Texas, researching the design of audio speakers in his spare time and submitting his first patent application for speaker horn design. With the coming of World War II in 1941, Klipsch was stationed at the Southwestern Proving Ground at Hope. After the war, he remained in Hope and devoted his career to designing and building superior loudspeakers. He rented a tin shack behind a dry cleaner in Hope and manufactured components for his first Klipschorn.”

Klipsch registered the name Klipsch & Associates in 1946 and hired his first employee in 1948. He was granted 12 patents in acoustics, eight in geophysics and three in ballistics.

“The high-frequency section was granted a patent in 1951,” Hendricks writes. “The Klipschorn as a complete system never received a patent for acoustical or electrical properties but was granted a patent for ornamental design in 1951. It’s considered one of the finest loudspeakers ever made and is the world’s only speaker to be in continuous production for more than 70 years. The sound moves from the speaker, using the walls of the corner of the room as part of the speaker to create a rich audio quality similar to an orchestral setting.

“Klipsch’s many awards and recognition include being chosen 1985 Citizen of the Year in Hope, which named its municipal auditorium in his honor in 1995. In 2001, the Little Rock Arts and Humanities Promotion Commission recognized Klipsch with its Award of Distinction. … His national honors include the Silver Medal from the Audio Engineering Society, induction into the Audio Hall of Fame in 1984 and his 1997 induction into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame, where he was recognized along with fellow members Thomas Edison, Jonas Salk and the Wright Brothers.”

Klipsch sold the company to a distant cousin named Fred Klipsch in 1989. Audiovox purchased the company in 2011. Paul Klipsch died at age 98 in May 2002.

The Klipsch Museum of Audio History was later established. Work began last year to restore a 1921 house that had been empty since 2008 into a vistors’ center for the company. The house is adjacent to the Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site, which is operated by the National Park Service.

“The Southwestern Proving Ground Airport was deeded to the city and dedicated as the Hope Municipal Airport on April 27, 1947, with an air show,” Turner writes. “In June of that year, the government deeded 750 acres near the airport to be leased in support of the airport. The War Assets Administration turned over to the city the deeds for 2,500 acres of the Southwestern Proving Ground land for an industrial area. … The federal government sold much of the original 50,000 acres of proving ground land to former owners.”

The final section of Interstate 30 in the area was officially opened in November 1972. That led to a shift of businesses from downtown Hope to the interstate exits.

An extensive effort to bring life back to downtown Hope has been taking place in recent years. Hope became part of the Arkansas Downtown Network in 2018. Since that time, downtown has:

— Welcomed nine new businesses with a couple of more expansions

— Seen four building rehabilitations

— Seen the placement of a large “Welcome to Historic Downtown Hope” sign

— Seen all streetlight poles painted and LED lighting installed

— Seen the formation of a beautification committee that has transformed flower beds along the perimeter of the historic district

— Celebrated the opening of Pavilion Park

— Seen the relocation of the Hope Chamber of Commerce offices

— Seen the placement of three statues, red trash receptacles and black benches along with the purchase of new Christmas decorations

— Seen an increased interest in upper-level living in downtown buildings along with an increased number of events downtown

The Hempstead County Courthouse is being relocated to a former bank building downtown.

The Cairo & Fulton depot, built in 1912, served as a freight depot for 53 years and then spent more than three decades as the offices of the Stephens Grocer Co. In 1999, the Harold Stephens family donated the building to the city. It now serves as a visitors’ center.

As noted, President Clinton was born at Hope. Gov. Mike Huckabee was born and raised at Hope. So was Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty, Clinton’s first White House chief of staff and now an internationally known business leader and consultant.

In addition to those raised at Hope, some interesting people such as Klipsch moved there through the years. One of the most interesting was Alex Washburn, the editor and publisher of the Hope Star for 54 years.

Washburn was born in Toronto in 1899 to parents from Pennsylvania and Illinois. The family later relocated to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Washburn graduated from a Pennsylvania Methodist prep school known as Wyoming Seminary in 1917. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio for two years, spent a year in the journalism school at Columbia University and then graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri in 1923.

“The day after graduation, Washburn began his carer in a university-arranged job at the El Dorado Daily News,” Edmonds writes. “Three years later, he was promoted to editor, the youngest in Arkansas at that time. A year after Washburn’s promotion, Clyde Palmer of Texarkana purchased the Daily News, and Washburn began seeking an opportunity to strike out on his own. In 1929, after obtaining a loan from his father, Washburn purchased the evening Star of Hope and the morning Hope Daily Press and consolidated them into the Hope Star.

“At the last moment, Palmer and Washburn entered into a half-interest in the paper, which lasted until Palmer’s death in 1958. Palmer’s capital was reportedly critical to updating the newspaper’s technology, but Washburn long remained displeased at the necessity of the partnership.”

In 1948, Washburn formed the Hope Broadcasting Co. and put KXAR-AM on the air. Federal regulations forced the sale of the station in 1976.

“The Star under Washburn was noted for its crusading conservative editorial stance in both local and state affairs, and a limited-government philosophy at the national level, all consistent with Washburn’s well-known frugality and insistence on efficiency,” Edmonds writes. “His one-man editorial page — ‘Our Daily Bread: Sliced Thin by the Editor, Alex H. Washburn’ — was a smorgasbord of opinions on topics such as government waste, reform, liquor prohibition and the misdeeds of local politicos. In the Saturday edition, editorial contributions from other papers were shared in a section titled ‘With Other Editors.’

“Washburn was vehemently opposed to urban renewal and revenue sharing, and he continually blasted federal planning. However, he considered one of his chief victories to be the extension of a municipal water supply from Millwood Lake to Hope, an action for which he had lobbied in the lake’s initial planning process in the 1950s. The Hope water facility was dedicated two weeks before his death.”

Washburn died May 16, 1983. He had never married or had children. The paper was sold a year after his death and no longer exists.

“Hope’s economy long depended on farming,” Turner writes. “Cotton was the chief crop until the 1920s. More than 30,000 bales a year were produced in the mid-1930s. So many buyers had offices on Second Street that it was known as Cotton Row. The United Cotton Seed Oil mill was a successful industry as long as cotton was grown. More diversified farming began to be encouraged when the University of Arkansas established an experiment station near Hope. The poultry industry in the area began when Freda R. Greenan moved her business from Illinois in 1951, helping to revive the economy by encouraging farmers to raise chickens. She sold Corn Belt Hatcheries of Arkansas in 1964.

“Hempstead County’s hardwood forests provided timber for lumber companies and manufacturers. The Ivory handle factory, incorporated in 1901, produced hardwood handles that were shipped worldwide. It became Bruner Ivory handle factory in 1933, was sold to a Tennessee company in 1980 and closed in 2004. The clay soil of land south of Hope was used to make pottery and bricks for many years. Norris P. O’Neal came to town in May 1901 to establish Hope Brick Works. The last bricks were made there in November 2000.”

Hope’s population soared from 1,644 in 1900 to 7,475 in 1940. The city continued to grow, hitting 10,290 residents in the 1980 census.

Like most towns in south Arkansas, it has struggled to prevent population losses during the past 40 years. The population is now estimated at 9,700.

“Hope had a dual educational system until desegregation was accomplished in 1969,” Turner writes. “Hope’s first public school for white children began in a small former Presbyterian church in 1880. The first teacher, Charles Bridewell, had operated a private school the previous four years. The school board’s first building venture was a two-story red frame building in 1888. Its ad for a design was answered by 15-year-old Willis Jefferson Polk, an Illinois architect’s apprentice. The building was used for 20 years for the entire school. When increased enrollment demanded a new facility, what was described as a dream school was built in 1908. It was named Garland Grammar School and became Garland High School in 1922. It was condemned in 1930 because of poor construction.

“With the sale of its property to the county and revenue from consolidation of several rural schools, a modern three-story brick building was constructed at the south end of Main Street in 1931. It has been used as a high school since then. The first school for black children was in a one-room building on South Hazel Street that opened Oct. 1, 1886, with Henry Clay Yerger the only teacher. A few years later, Yerger built Shover Street School. Later, Yerger was instrumental in securing funding for his educational projects from the General Education Board, the Rosenwald Foundation and the Smith-Hughes and Slater Funds.”

Yerger built a dormitory in 1918 to accommodate girls who wanted to attend high school. He also established a teacher training summer school for black teachers that operated from 1895 until 1935. Yerger was honored in October 1935 when the high school for black students was named Henry Clay Yerger High School.

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Headed toward Hope

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020


The population of Prescott more than tripled from 1,287 in the 1890 census to 3,960 in the 1950 census as the town became the center of timber operations in this part of southwest Arkansas.

Timber companies built small railroad lines across the region to haul out logs. One of the most famous short lines was what became known as the Reader Railroad.

Debbie Fenwick Ponder writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “Sayre Narrow Gauge, the railroad’s original name, was constructed in 1889 to move the virgin timber that was being harvested south of Reader, which is on the Nevada County-Ouachita County border, for a sawmill in Gurdon. In 1910, the line was purchased by the McVay Lumber Co. In 1913, it was taken over by the Valley Lumber Co., which extended it to tracts of timber in lower Nevada County. A.S. Johnson purchased the sawmill in 1921. In 1925, he organized Reader Railroad, named after the small community and postal stop of Reader. He also used the railroad to transport freight to and front newly discovered oilfields near Waterloo in Nevada County.

“Reader Railroad continued to work the river bottoms and creek valleys, hauling timber and freight until the 1950s when the parent company was dissolved. Tom Long purchased the railroad and began an upgrade. He promoted it for passenger and freight traffic, but the energy crisis of the early 1970s closed the refinery in Waterloo. Declining tourist traffic couldn’t sustain the little railroad. Long abandoned his plans, and the railroad was sold to a group of businessmen who worked to preserve it. They, in turn, sold it in 1980 to R.A. Grigsby, who emphasized the history of Reader Railroad and the role it played in the development of south Arkansas.”

Parents would bring their children for the trip through the pine woods.

“At the end of the track, the engine was turned by hand on a turntable,” Ponder writes. “The engine then picked up the train while the caboose was placed on the rear for the return trip. In 1985, ABC and Warner Brothers came to south Arkansas and used the railroad cars and stations for the filming of the miniseries ‘North & South.’ Equipment from Reader Railroad was also used in filming the 2007 movies ‘3:10 To Yuma’ and ‘There Will Be Blood.’ The railroad operated until 1992, when it couldn’t meet new federal safety regulations.”

Back in Prescott, visitors can see the old buildings that make up the Prescott Commercial Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in December 2008. Many of the buildings are empty since Prescott has been losing population for the past 40 years.

“Prescott was founded after the railroad passed through the area, and an active line still runs through the historic district in the 21st century,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University at Arkadelphia. “Many of the businesses in town were located near the tracks for easy access receiving and shipping goods. A row of 11 buildings is on West First Street South. Facing the railroad tracks, the single-story structures were constructed between 1900-05. The buildings are good examples of commercial properties constructed in this period. The majority of buildings in the district are single story, though several two-story buildings are present.

“Most of the structures are of simple design, constructed from brick with little or no ornamentation. Notable exceptions to this include the post office at 206 East Elm St. Constructed in 1926-27, the building is designed in a Colonial Revival style. The First United Methodist Church and associated education building include some Gothic Revival details. The two-story church has a corner tower and is connected by a covered walkway. It’s the only church included in the district.”

The Nevada County Bank building at 100 West Main St. was constructed in 1912 in the Classical Revival style. Two stone columns flank the front door. The red-brick Gilbert Lumber Co. building was constructed in 1924. The brick building that once housed Logan Grocery was built in 1912.

Prescott has one of the newer county courthouses in Arkansas. It was built in 1964.

“Three permanent purpose-built courthouses have served the county,” Sesser writes. “The first was constructed in Prescott in 1884. It was razed in 1911 and replaced by a structure the same year with a county investment of about $60,000. The condition of the 1911 courthouse deteriorated through the decades. By the 1950s, the county was considering options to replace it. An effort to pass a bond issue to support construction of a courthouse failed in 1961. During the next two years, Prescott experienced significant growth and investment, leading to another vote in September 1963. This time, the bond issue was approved by voters, and demolition of the 1911 courthouse began in January 1964.

“Construction of the new building on the same site was completed by Oct. 31, and most of the county offices were occupied in early November. The building was dedicated on Dec. 4. 1964. The courthouse was designed by the Weaver & Hiegel firm of Little Rock and constructed by the E.W. Johnson Construction Co. of Texarkana. The flat-roofed building is designed in the New Formalism style and constructed from red brick with cast-stone accent. The courthouse sits on a continuous cast concrete foundation. The structure faces northwest and measures 12,850 square feet.”

We leave Prescott and continue toward the southwest on U.S. 67, crossing Terre Rouge Creek and passing through Emmet, which had 518 residents in the 2010 census.

Emmet was established as a railroad stop along the Cairo & Fulton

“Nevada County wasn’t created until 1871,” writes Steve Teske of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. “Before the arrival of European explorers and settlers, the land was home to the Caddo until it was acquired by the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Dominated by pine forests, the land was only gradually cleared for cotton and other crops. Larger plantations were built to the south while northern Nevada County consisted mostly of small farms. In 1837, Martin Edwards acquired the land on which Emmet would be built. A Methodist church was organized in the area around 1855. Until the construction of railroads after the Civil War, the region attracted little attention.

“The Cairo & Fulton was established in 1853 with a plan to create a line that would run from the Arkansas-Missouri line across Arkansas and into Texas. After several name changes, the line eventually became part of Union Pacific. The line that ran through southwest Arkansas bypassed important cities such as Washington while creating new cities such as Prescott and Hope. Edwards’ farm was halfway between Prescott and Hope and became the location of a depot. It reportedly was named for one of the railroad employees. Robert F. Elgin was the first depot agent.”

A post office was established in 1871 with the name Burkville. The name was changed to Emmet in 1874. Alfred Eaves was the first postmaster.

The oldest burial date in Ephesus Cemetery at Emmet is 1876. The city was incorporated in 1883.

“During an election in 1890 when many parts of Arkansas, including areas of Nevada County, voted to prohibit the sale of alcohol, Emmet voters decided to remain wet,” Teske writes. “High prices for cotton during World War I brought brief prosperity. The timber industry and truck farming also provided jobs. Among the crops shipped from Emmet during the 1920s were cantaloupes, peas, beans, radishes, mustard plants, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries and watermelons.”

By the 1950s, row-crop farming had almost disappeared from northern Nevada County.

In 1959, Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co. opened Arkla Village as a tourist attraction along U.S. 67. It was a pet project for Arkla boss Witt Stephens.

“It featured a saloon and general store, a livery stable and a museum,” Teske writes. “Connected with the village was a factory that built horse-drawn carriages. Employing 34 workers, the factory included Amish farmers and Hollywood movie makers among its customers. Both the village and the factory had closed by 1970.”

The construction of Interstate 30, causing traffic to abandon U.S. 67, spelled doom for attractions such as Arkla Village.

I will always remember where I was in 1980 when the United States defeated the Soviet Union in hockey — the so-called Miracle on Ice — during the Winter Olympics. Okolona High School had a basketball sensation named Ricky Norton, and I was calling Okolona’s postseason games that season for KVRC-AM in Arkadelphia. I was at a district tournament game in the old Emmet gymnasium when L.D. Hoover, working back in the studio, interrupted me and said: “Rex, there has probably never been a hockey score given on KVRC. But you might be interested to know that the U.S. just beat the Russians.”

I’m in Hempstead County after leaving Emmet. I pass through Perrytown, which had 272 residents in the 2010 census. Named for businessman Perry Campbell, Perrytown was incorporated in 1963.

“Robert Carrington, James Cantley, William Easley and David Mouser all received land patents in this area in 1837,” Teske writes. “Carrington owned the largest portion of land. By this time, the Southwest Trail had been established through Arkansas, running through Washington and Fulton. The Cairo & Fulton, intended to connect southern Illinois with towns along the Southwest Trail in Missouri and Arkansas, was first surveyed in the 1850s. When tracks were finally laid in Hempstead County in the 1870s, they swung to the south of Carrington’s land but helped to create the city of Hope. The land continued to produce cotton and other crops into the 20th century.

“U.S. 67 was created, following the route of the Southwest Trail and parallel to the railroad. The highway crossed the area that would become Perrytown. Campbell established a truck stop next to the highway in 1955. During the next eight years, he added a garage, a restaurant and a motel he called Perry’s Congress Motel. By 1963, Campbell had competition from a second motel. The area also supported a cabinet shop, a grocery store, a gift shop, a clothing store, a shoe store, two greenhouses and two watermelon stands.”

Residents voted to incorporate in 1963. They decided to name the community Perrytown, against Campbell’s wishes. An October 1963 story by Wick Temple in the Arkansas Gazette was headlined “New State Municipality Spawned by Thriving Truck Stop and a Dream.”

Campbell served as mayor. He died in 2005 and was honored in a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Mike Ross from Prescott.

Hempstead County was established in December 1818 before Arkansas even became a territory.

“The Missouri Territorial Legislature had created additional counties from Arkansas County,” writes southwest Arkansas historian Mary Nell Turner. “The county was named for Edward Hempstead, the first delegate to Congress from Missouri Territory. It has been home to four Arkansas governors — Augustus Garland, Daniel Webster Jones, Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee.”

Settlers came up the Red River and also down the Southwest Trail into to this area, beginning in the early 1800s.

“Mound Prairie, their first settlement, was not far from the Red River on rich black land,” Turner writes. “Some grew wealthy from cotton production, but no town developed. Nearby Columbus became the trading center. Three days after the county was organized, commissioners reviewed, marked and laid out a road for the crossing of the Southwest Trail at the Little Missouri River. … Washington was established as the first county seat in 1824. It was on the Southwest Trail and, because of its proximity to the border, was a stopover for those traveling west. Sam Houston and Davy Crockett were two of those travelers. Washington was on the Trail of Tears for Indian removal from 1832-38. It was also the rendezvous point in 1846 for volunteers to be mustered in for the Mexican War.

“Before Arkansas statehood, wealthy Virginians with plantations on the Red River were building their homes in Spring Hill for educational and social advantages. They established the Spring Hill Female Academy in 1837 and later added a male academy. Also during this time, families with few slaves came from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and the Carolinas. Some rented small farms until they could purchase land. They started neighborhood schools and churches. Hempstead County ranked fifth in slave-owned counties in Arkansas. The 1850 census showed 296 owners and 2,394 slaves.”

The economy of Hempstead County continued to be based on cotton and timber after the Civil War.

“Steamboats moved up and down the Red River, transporting cotton to be sold in New Orleans and returning with merchandise for stores,” Turner writes. “The first roads had been cut out under the supervision of the county courts, which kept them passable with landowner overseers. Railroads crisscrossed the county beginning with the Cairo & Fulton, for which the laying of tracks was completed by 1873 with the first steam engine arriving at Fulton. The Cairo & Fulton was reorganized as the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern, then became the Missouri Pacific and finally the Union Pacific. A branch later ran from Hope to Nashville in Howard County. The Louisiana & Arkansas also ran from Shreveport to Hope for many years. The Frisco ran from Hope to Oklahoma.

“By 1880, the rich earth near Columbus was producing 1,120 pounds of cotton per acre. Total production of cotton for the county was 13,985 bales, worth an estimated $1,425,000. By 1890, cotton production had increased to 15,985 bales. Cotton continued to be king until after World War I. With the development of the automobile, good roads were in demand. In 1922, the road from Emmet to Fulton was improved as part of the Bankhead Highway. It ran on the north side of the railroad tracks. In 1934, the first cars drove on the south side of the tracks on paved U.S. 67. Interstate 30 was completed in 1972.”

Hope replaced Washington as county seat in 1939. Fulton also declined in importance as river traffic ceased. A ferry there remained in operation until the U.S. 67 bridge was completed in 1930. In 1941, the federal government constructed the Southwestern Proving Ground on more than 50,000 acres in the center of the county. Ammunition was tested there. The facility closed in 1946. Some of the land was then used for industrial sites.

“Army Maj. Paul W. Klipsch was in the ballistics department at the proving ground from 1942-46,” Turner writes. “He stayed in Hope and eventually began to manufacture audio speakers. He became known internationally for his products, making some of the world’s finest concert-quality loudspeakers, speaker systems and electronic audio products. … From the beginning, the county’s timber was a source of income. Capt. Judson Timothy West, who retired to Hope from steamboating in 1876, organized the Hope Lumber Co. in 1890. It was one of the largest in the area, shipping lumber throughout the country. Ivory Handle Co., incorporated in 1901, used hickory. Small sawmills dotted the county. Most of the hardwoods are now gone, and pine is grown for harvest.

“The University of Arkansas Southwest Branch Experiment Station was founded in 1929 as a fruit and vegetable station near Hope. In the 1950s, work changed to beef cattle, forestry and crops other than vegetables. Poultry has become the leading part of the agricultural sector in Hempstead County. The county rates in the top 10 of broiler growers in the state. Many farmers raise poultry and cattle while growing timber part time.”

The Rick Evans Grandview Prairie Conservation Education Center was established by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission in 1997. It includes almost 5,000 acres on the site of Mound Prairie and its former plantations.

“This land represents one of the largest tracts of blackland prairie in public ownership in the nation,” Turner writes. “The land is being allowed to return to its original condition. Recreation is also provided by the Lester Sitzes Bois d’Arc Wildlife Management Area south of Spring Hill. The Grassy Lake and Yellow Creek clubs near Saratoga are privately owned and are known for their virgin cypress trees and alligators. Millwood Dam and Millwood Lake are on the northwest edge of the county and in adjoining Little River County.”

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On to Prescott

Monday, November 16th, 2020


Before reaching Prescott, I turn off U.S. 67 and take a county road to the banks of the Little Missouri River. I want to see where the Engagement at Elkin’s Ferry was fought during the Civil War.

Confederate troops attacked a Union column there during what was known as the Camden Expedition.

“The battle site is commonly known as Elkin’s Ferry because that’s how the name was printed in the official records of the Civil War, but the Elkins family owned the ferry at the time so the name is more properly rendered Elkins’ Ferry,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University at Arkadelphia. “After capturing Little Rock and Fort Smith in September 1863, Union forces were in control of much of the state. From these two occupied cities, Union troops could launch an attack into southern Arkansas, northern Louisiana or eastern Texas. In March 1864, an attack on northwest Louisiana and eastern Texas was launched from both Arkansas and New Orleans.

“Leaving Little Rock on March 23, Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele set out to help the Union column from New Orleans capture Shreveport, then the headquarters for the Confederate Trans-Mississippi. Arriving in Arkadelphia on March 29, Steele remained for three days, waiting for reinforcements from Fort Smith under the command of Brig. Gen. John Thayer. Thayer’s Frontier Division’s progress was hampered by bad roads and a lack of provisions. After three days, Steele was forced to continue his mission without the extra men.”

Steele reached the Little Missouri River on April 3. He was running short on supplies and decided that the best strategy would be to capture Camden and get supplies there.

“Camden was rumored to have a large supply of food, but it was occupied by the main body of the Confederate Army in Arkansas, led by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price,” Sesser writes. “Steele decided to move toward Washington — then the Confederate capital of Arkansas — and draw Price’s army from Camden, leaving the town open for the taking. To move toward Washington, Steele needed to cross the Little Missouri. Leaving one brigade of infantry on the north bank of the river near Okolona to act as a rear guard and look for Thayer, Steele moved most of his 8,500 men to the river. Price, meanwhile, had dispatched Brig. Gen. Joseph Shelby to harass the column from the rear and Brig. Gen. John Marmaduke to stop the enemy’s advance.

“Each commander had a brigade of cavalry under his command. Price was unable to send any infantry because both of his divisions were sent to Louisiana to counter the Union thrust from New Orleans. Shelby decided to attack the Union rear guard while it was still isolated. At 9 a.m. on April 3, he attacked with his cavalry. Soon, a hailstorm moved into the area. Amid lightning and thunder, Union and Confederate forces continued their fight. The Confederates weren’t driven off by Union troops or even the weather. After three hours, Union artillery fire upset several beehives near the Confederate positions, forcing a hasty retreat.”

While Shelby was launching his attack on the Union rear guard near Okolona, Marmaduke went after the head of the column on the south bank of the Little Missouri. He was driven back, but Marmaduke’s forces resumed the attack at 6 a.m. the next day.

“Marmaduke’s attack succeeded at first, pushing Union troops back toward the river,” Sesser writes. “As more Union troops crossed the river, it became harder for the Confederates to continue their attack. They fell back to their original positions by 11 a.m. The rest of the Union Army crossed the river April 4. The next day, Steele resumed his march. He halted his army again only six miles from the Little Missouri when word reached him of Thayer’s approach. Marmaduke and Shelby had withdrawn 16 miles to Prairie D’Ane, where they went into camp and awaited the Union forces.”

Sesser calls the Engagement at Elkin’s Ferry “the Confederates’ best chance of containing the Union advance into southwest Arkansas, but the lack of infantry units and the piecemeal use of the available cavalry units hindered their efforts. The lack of commitment exhibited by the Confederate forces let the Union advance continue.”

We continue our trip down U.S. 67 to Prescott, where the Prairie D’Ane battlefield is within sight of Interstate 30.

“Price’s main objective was to protect Washington,” Sesser writes. “Two cavalry brigades under Col. Richard Gano reinforced Shelby and Marmaduke on April 6. On April 7, the rest of the Confederate forces in Camden further reinforced the units in the field. When the units from Camden arrived, Price took control of the entire army. Federal troops were also receiving long-awaited reinforcements. … On April 9, Thayer finally reached Steele, and the combined armies continued their march.

“Thayer’s men were short of food, and Steele had to request that rations be sent immediately from Little Rock. On April 10, Steele’s men reached Prairie D’Ane. The Confederates had been building earthworks for six days, and the Union troops immediately began building their own defensive positions about a mile away. Prairie D’Ane consists of about 30 square miles of open, rolling land surrounded by forests. For the next two days, the Union and Confederate armies exchanged an occasional artillery shell and engaged in limited skirmishing. Neither side wished to force a major engagement, and the bulk of the two armies received a short respite from the war. The men were able to relax and do everything from hunt rabbits to write letters home.”

There were several small attacks. The last fighting occurred about midnight on April 11.

“On April 11, Steele formed his army into a battle line that stretched more than two miles but didn’t move on the Confederate positions until the next day, when he found them abandoned,” Sesser writes. “Price had withdrawn under the cover of darkness to positions near Washington, where he prepared to defend the capital. With the Confederate Army defending Washington and leaving Camden undefended, Steele turned his troops to the east and moved on the city. His men entered Camden on April 15 despite Confederate attacks along the column.

“The skirmish at Prairie D’Ane allowed Steele to confuse the Confederates and force them to defend Washington while Union troops moved into Camden. Little loss of life resulted from the skirmish, but it was the turning point of the Camden Expedition. Without provisions, the Union advance into southwest Arkansas had been stopped and turned away. There was little hope of Steele reaching his ultimate objective of Shreveport and east Texas.”

The battlefield at Prairie D’Ane still looks much as it did at the time of the Civil War. On Feb. 23, 2018, an acquisition ceremony was held to present the deed for 808 acres of the battlefield to the Nevada County Depot & Museum.”

The museum at Prescott, which was founded in 1976, is a good place to learn more about the history of southwest Arkansas. It’s located in a 1912 depot. Passenger service to Prescott was suspended in 1968.

According to the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “The city of Prescott purchased the building and its adjoining parking lots from Missouri Pacific in 1970 for $1. During the next two years, the building was used for a variety of purposes, but the noise of passing trains soon forced the city simply to use the depot for storage. During the 1972 Prescott centennial celebration, several museum exhibits were set up in the depot, and excursion trains stopped in Prescott for the first time in years. It was during the centennial that a group of local citizens formed an organization to create a state park at the Prairie D’Ane battlefield. The depot served as the headquarters of the Nevada County State Park Association, as the group was known.

“In 1976, the Prescott Chamber of Commerce moved into the building. John Teeter became the first curator as several exhibits were installed. A replica of a pioneer cabin and some Civil War artifacts were among the first exhibits. In 1977, the Nevada County Historical Society successfully nominated the depot for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, and it was placed on the register on Nov. 17, 1978. The Nevada County State Park Association was also incorporated in 1978. In 1982, it became a nonprofit organization tasked with keeping the museum open to the public while at the same time furthering its goal of bringing a state park to Prairie D’Ane.”

No state park ever came to Prescott. In 1992, the depot received a grant from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program for renovations. Another grant came in 2000 from the Arkansas Highway Commission. The name of the association was changed to the Nevada County Depot & Museum.

When I was a boy growing up in Arkadelphia, people often would travel to Prescott to view Old Mike, the name of a traveling salesman who died there in 1911. The body was embalmed and open for public viewing for more than 60 years.

“Mike visited Prescott about once a month to sell pens, paper and thread to homes and businesses near the railroad tracks in the center of town,” Sesser writes. “He would arrive on the southbound 3 p.m. train and stay overnight. The next day, he would board the 3 p.m. train and continue his journey. On April 11, 1911, Mike probably attended an outdoor revival in the city park. The next day, his body was found underneath a tree in the park, where he had apparently died of a heart attack or stroke. The body was taken to Cornish Funeral Home, where it was embalmed. A search of Mike’s belongings didn’t turn up any identification.

“What was known about Mike was that he was 40 to 45 years old, spoke English with little accent, was probably Italian, had suffered some type of injury to his right arm and left leg (possibly the effects of a stroke) and had had elaborate dental work done. The body was placed on display at the funeral home in hopes of someone identifying it. No one came forward to identify or claim the body. As the years passed, it became more unlikely that Mike would ever be identified. The body turned into somewhat of a tourist attraction. People traveled from surrounding areas to view the remains. In 1975, the Arkansas attorney general’s office asked Cornish Funeral Home to bury the body. On May 12, 1975, a quiet ceremony was held at the DeAnn Cemetery, and Old Mike was put to rest.”

Prescott’s population has declined from 4,103 in the 1980 census to an estimated 3,000 residents today.

The land that is now Nevada County was sparsely populated for much of Arkansas’ history as a territory and state.

“It remained wilderness with a few cotton plantations introduced to the area in the first half of the 19th century,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “An important transportation corridor traversed the area, connecting Camden and Washington. This route, which ran several miles south of present-day Prescott, was part of the Indian removal route and also served as a major corridor for shipping goods and transporting people from the Washington area to the navigable head of the Ouachita River.”

The Cairo & Fulton Railroad was constructed across the north end of Nevada County in the early 1870s. Robert Burns moved from Little Rock to the Nevada County town of Moscow, two miles south of the tracks.

“He persuaded railroad surveyors to place a town on the line near Moscow,” Teske writes. “In August 1873, four surveyors, including W.H. Prescott, laid out 24 blocks on each side of the rails. Within two weeks, Burns had constructed a frame storehouse. A second store, a restaurant and a hotel quickly followed. The railroad had established a depot in the city by November. On Nov. 24, Prescott received a post office. Burns was named postmaster. Prescott was said to resemble an oil boom town in the speed of its growth.

“Controversy exists surrounding the name of the town. Most historians assume that it was named for the surveyor, but others note that railroad executives Thomas Allen and Henry Marquand had a friend of the same name for whom the city might have been named. A Methodist preacher led services in Burns’ store. The first church was a Cumberland Presbyterian church built in 1875. The first newspaper, called the Banner, was published in January of that year.”

A charter for the city was granted in October 1874, but the first election wasn’t held until 1876. E.A. Warren was the first mayor.

In 1877, Nevada County voters decided to move the county seat from Rosston to Prescott. A school district also was established that year. The Nevada County Picayune began publishing in 1878, and the first bank was established at Prescott in 1880.

“Prescott continued to grow and thrive as the 20th century approached,” Teske writes. “Ozan Lumber Co. was established at Prescott in 1891 to harvest the timber of southwest Arkansas. The Reader Railroad was created to link timber operations to the Cairo & Fulton line. Various crops, including peaches, were raised in the Prescott area. Icehouses in the city helped to preserve the fruit while it awaited shipping. Hines Trucking, an early transportation company, was established at Prescott in 1936.”

James Bemis and Benjamin Whitaker opened a sawmill in Prescott in April 1891. In July of that year, it was incorporated as Ozan Lumber Co. with the name apparently taken from the nearby town of Ozan in Hempstead County.

“Whitaker remained a part of the business for only a short period before selling out and embarking on other ventures,” Sesser writes. “The lumber business proved to be successful with timber shipped on the company-owned Prescott & Northwestern Railroad. The company opened a wholesale land office in 1901 under the control of Bemis and his sons, William N. Bemis and J.W. Bemis. The company continued to grow and began harvesting timber in the southern Ouachita Mountains in 1905, building a rail extension into the area that was known colloquially as the Pea Vine.

“Thomas Rosborough began working for the company around 1905. The brother-in-law of William Bemis, Rosborough had experience in the lumber industry, holding positions in Kansas and Louisiana. The company owned timberland in the Ouachita Mountains, but the terrain made it difficult to access. With the support of the Bemis family, Rosborough organized financial backers from Kansas City and founded the Caddo River Lumber Co. Rosborough built a mill about four miles northwest of Amity for Ozan Lumber Co. and began harvesting timber in the area. The area surrounding the mill was named Rosboro in honor of Rosborough. In 1908, Caddo River Lumber Co. purchased the mill and associated timberland from Ozan Lumber Co.”

In December 1915, Ozan Lumber Co. merged with the Grayson-McLeod Co. to form the Ozan-Graysonia Lumber Co.

“James Bemis died in 1918, and his sons continued to operate the company together until J.W. Bemis died in 1922,” Sesser writes. “J.R. Bemis, the son of William Bemis, joined his father in a partnership to operate a new company as a wholesale lumber company in St. Louis under the name Ozan Lumber Co. This company moved to Prescott in July 1929 and formally incorporated. Starting as a wholesale lumber business, the company expanded into manufacturing the next year. This mill was replaced in 1933 by a two-story mill on the same site. It burned in 1936. A second mill operated during the same period at Whelen Springs in Clark County and a third was constructed at Delight in Pike County.”

The Delight mill opened in 1937. The Whelen Springs mill closed in 1938, but a mill opened at Rosboro the following year.

“Rough lumber from the Rosboro mill was placed onto flat railcars and transferred to the Delight mill, where it was dried and finished,” Sesser writes. “With the death of William Bemis in 1935, the Ozan-Graysonia Lumber Co. and the Ozan Lumber Co. merged under the latter’s name. Four retail lumber yards and about 52,000 acres of land were transferred to the new company. The lumber yards were sold by 1941, but the company continued to purchase additional land. It focused on selective harvesting of timber, moving away from large-scale clear cutting. By 1956, the company owned more than 132,000 acres of timber.

“The company cut smaller second- and third-growth timber, as the large virgin forests had almost disappeared. This business model led the company to invest in education programs in nearby schools to teach children the importance of replanting trees after a harvest. The mill at Delight was destroyed by fire in March 1952. In order to continue to supply other operatons of the company, including a planing mill at Delight, the Rosboro mill was moved from one shift to two shifts. This second shift remained until November 1953. The company focused on other businesses outside of the timber and rail industries. Ozan Lumber Co. even owned automobile dealerships at Prescott and Smackover.”

What was then the Potlatch Corp. purchased the company in 1964. With the housing industry battered by the Great Recession, Potlatch closed its Prescott mill in 2008.


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Home of the Hoo-Hoo

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020


It was Jan. 21, 1892, when six men formed a fraternal organization of lumbermen with a unique name: The Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.

The birthplace of the organization was Gurdon, which we pass through on our trip toward Texarkana on U.S. 67.

“The men saw a need for an organization to promote unity and fellowship among lumbermen and to combat a possible split brought on by the lumbermen’s broad range of pursuits,” Rachel Bridges writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The six men — Bolling Arthur Johnson, a journalist for the publication Timberman in Chicago; George Washington Schwartz of the Vandalia Railroad in St. Louis; William Starr Mitchell of the Arkansas Democrat at Little Rock; William Eddy Barns of the publication St. Louis Lumberman; George Kimball Smith, secretary of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers Association; and Rudolph Strauss of the Malvern Lumber Co. — began discussing the idea of an organization for lumbermen.

“In Hotel Hall at Gurdon, the men set up the basic tenets of the order. Hoo-Hoo was to be an organization comprised of men with high ideals, and the order’s motto became Health, Happiness and Long Life. The group, led by Johnson, decided that the board of directors would be called the Supreme Nine.”

The directors were given these names:

— The president was the Snark of the Universe.

— The chaplain was the Bojum.

— The secretary was the Scrivenoter.

— The sergeant at arms was the Gurdon.

— At-large members were Senior Hoo-Hoo, Junior Hoo-Hoo, Custocacian, Arcanoper and Bandersnatch (later changed to Jabberwock).

“Some of the names were derived from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Hunting of the Snark,’ which one of the founders had recently read,” Bridges writes. “The name Hoo-Hoo also had a unique origin. In Kansas City, about a month before the founding of the order, Johnson had used the term to refer to an unusual tuft of hair on the head of Charles McCarer, who became the first Snark of the Universe and was given membership No. 1.

“Consistent with their unconventionality, the group chose as its mascot a black cat with its tail curved into the number nine. Membership in Hoo-Hoo was to be limited to 9,999 members. As the order increased in popularity, this number was changed to 99,999. Meetings were held on the ninth day of the ninth month at nine minutes after the ninth hour. Annual dues were $9.99, and the initiation fee was 99 cents.”

The organization would grow to include more than 13,000 members.

“The first club established outside the United States was founded in Canada in 1924, and other groups sprouted up in places as far away as Australia,” Bridges writes. “Though the Hoo-Hoo experienced a slump from 1929-38, when membership dropped to around 700, the order recovered and membership began to rise again. Two U.S. presidents have had membership. Theodore Roosevelt was given the reserved membership No. 999 for his work promoting the importance of forests. Warren Harding was No. 14,945 and was ‘concatenated’ in 1905.”

In 1981, the organization moved its headquarters from Boston back to Gurdon.

In the southeastern corner of the parking lot for Gurdon’s depot, there’s a granite-and-bronze Hoo-Hoo monument by artist George Zolnay. The monument was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 1999.

“In 1891, there were many local and state associations of lumbermen but no national order had been established,” writes Arkansas historian Mark Christ. “In order to promote communications, foster cooperation and create a shared code of ethics for the lumber industry and its workers, Johnson aspired to create a fraternity of lumbermen.”

The men who formed the association had been in Camden for a meeting of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers Association. A delayed train stranded them in Gurdon for five hours.

“The organization borrowed some concepts from historical Egyptian lore for the titles, symbols and rituals of the fraternity,” Christ writes. “The theme of ‘nine’ came from the legendary number of a cat’s lives. In 1909, five of the founding members of the order — Johnson, Barns, Mitchell, Schwartz and Smith — gathered in Gurdon to dedicate the Hoo-Hoo monument. The plaque, cast from the copper in pennies donated by Hoo-Hoo members, was affixed to the building that stood on the site of Hotel Hall.

“In 1927, the building holding the Hoo-Hoo monument was scheduled for demolition, and the bronze plaque was moved across Main Street to its current location adjacent to the Missouri Pacific Railroad depot. There, it was affixed to a permanent barre granite base and dedicated for a second time. The bronze plaque inset on the northwestern side is divided into three horizontal levels and is decorated with Egyptian revival-influenced reliefs and engravings, as well as a small relief of Hotel Hall. The names of all Hoo-Hoo presidents — or Snarks of the Universe — were engraved on the opposite sides of the monument, and two statues of cats, as they appear on the Hoo-Hoo logo, were placed atop the new monument.”

Zolnay had been born in Hungary in July 1863. He moved to the United States in 1892 after having studied at the Imperial Academy in Vienna and the National Academy in Bucharest. He was a member of artists’ unions in Europe and the United States.

“Zolnay specialized in large memorial sculptures and architectural sculptures,” Christ writes. “In addition to the Hoo-Hoo monument, he’s known to have executed other small-scale bronze works, including the relief panel on the monument for Gen. Richard L. Hoxie and his wife at Arlington National Cemetery. Zolnay died on May 1, 1949, in New York City. The identities of the sculptor of the cats and the fabricator of the granite monument on which the Zolnay plaque is set are unknown. However, these elements have been a part of the monument since its 1927 relocation and contribute to the overall integrity of the Hoo-Hoo monument.

“After its move to the current location, the monument remained a center point of the group’s identity. The names of succeeding generations of Rameses — the title given to Snarks of the Universe after their tenure as president of the organization ended — were engraved on its reverse side, providing additional historic and traditional importance to the monument in its 1927 location and manifestation. In fact, the monument was utilized by the organization continually until 1988, when there was no additional space to inscribe the names of Snarks. Two smaller granite monuments were purchased to carry the names of future Snarks. Those monuments flank the original monument.”

The first white settlers had arrived in the Gurdon area shortly before 1820.

“Capt. Robert Tate, his siblings and other family members were the first group to travel up the Ouachita River and arrive in the area,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University. “Each purchased several hundred acres of land from the government land office at Washington in southwest Arkansas. This initial purchase included the land where Gurdon now stands. The population grew slowly. In 1836, Meriwether Lewis Randolph, grandson of Thomas Jefferson, arrived in the area. He bought several thousand acres near the present-day location of Gurdon but died of malaria in 1837 before much work was completed on his holdings.

“Settlers continued to slowly enter the area in small numbers during the next several decades. The area next experienced a large influx of settlers in 1874 when the Cairo & Fulton Railroad was constructed. On July 12, 1875, a post office was opened but closed that same year on Oct. 18. On March 15, 1876, the post office at Tate was renamed Gurdon. A small depot was constructed, and by 1880 the town had been laid out. That year, 33 citizens petitioned the court to incorporate the city of Gurdon, which was approved.”

Gurdon appears to have been named for Gurdon Cunningham, who surveyed the right of way for the railroad in the area. Gurdon became an important center of both the railroad and timber industries.

“The number of mills operating in the area reached a peak of 10 in the late 19th century,” Sesser writes. “The combination of people passing through town on the railroad and the rough nature of the timber business brought many unsavory characters to Gurdon. When the first minister arrived in 1881, he found a community of 500 people with three saloons and no churches. The situation changed by 1887 when all saloons were banned. Several churches were founded during this period.

“The first newspaper was founded at Gurdon in 1886 and was called the Gurdon Advocate. After several changes in both name and ownership, it became the Gurdon Times. In 1892, an African American known only by his surname of Bowles was lynched for the alleged rape of a young white woman, Nellie Wilkes. In 1903, an African American man named Alex Thompson was lynched for allegedly attacking a local doctor.”

Gurdon has always been an interesting place. Not only do you have those cats curled atop the Hoo-Hoo monument, its high school athletic teams are known as the Go-Devils (which is actually a type of equipment used to drag heavy logs).

And then there’s the Gurdon Light.

Staci Morrow writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “The Gurdon Light is a mysterious floating light near Gurdon. It was first sighted during the 1930s. Many theories exist to explain the light, including one which connects it to the 1931 murder of William McClain, a railroad worker. The popular local legend drew national attention in December 1994 when NBC’s ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ documented the phenomenon.

“The light is said to appear along a stretch of former railroad tracks outside of town. Some people believe the light originates from the reflection of headlights of cars off Interstate 30. However, the site is more than two miles from the interstate, and people began seeing the light decades before Interstate 30 was built in the 1970s. Others believe that swamp gas creates the light, though the light appears in all kinds of weather. A somewhat popular story is that a railroad worker was working outside of town one night when he accidentally fell into the path of a train and was killed. Since his head was severed from his body, many locals say the light is the lantern his ghost uses while looking for his head.”

McClain was a foreman for the Missouri Pacific Railroad in December 1931 when he got into a heated argument with employee Louis McBride regarding how many days McBride was being allowed to work.

“During the Great Depression, the company didn’t have the option of giving McBride more hours on the job,” Morrow writes. “McBride became angry, hit McClain on the head with a shovel and beat him to death with a railroad spike maul or a spike hammer. The Gurdon Light was first sighted shortly after this murder, and many have come to believe that the light is actually McClain’s ghostly lantern glowing.”

The site is a popular place for college students from Arkadelphia to visit, especially around Halloween.

We leave Gurdon and continue toward the southwest on U.S. 67 and soon find ourselves in the Little Missouri River bottoms. The river begins in the Ouachita Mountains of Polk County and flows to the southeast through Montgomery and Pike counties. Narrows Dam on the river was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The dam was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1941 and built in 1950 about six miles from Murfreesboro.

Below the dam, the river leaves the Ouachita foothills and enters the Gulf Coastal Plain. We cross it a bit to the west of where it empties into the Ouachita River.

We exit Clark County as we cross the river and enter Nevada County. The Legislature formed the county in 1871 from parts of Hempstead, Ouachita and Columbia counties.

“The reason for the selection of the county’s name has been lost,” Peggy Lloyd writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Sierra nevada, as in the Sierra Nevada in California, means ‘snowy range’ in Spanish. The county has no snowy mountains, but one theory holds that the shape of the county resembles that of the state of Nevada. Another perhaps more plausible theory is that the county was named for the silver-rich state of Nevada. The name may have been chosen in the hope that it would suggest riches comparable to those from Nevada’s famed Comstock mines. However, the county’s name isn’t pronounced like that of the state, featuring instead a long ‘a’ sound for the middle syllable.”

Stephen Vaughan and his wife Polly came up the Ouachita and Little Missouri rivers in about 1812, settling at a place on the Little Missouri later known as Janes Ferry.

“Vaughan was the first person in the county to be granted a federal land patent,” Lloyd writes. “He bought four tracts along the Little Missouri from the public domain. But he had been dead for two years by the time the patents were granted on Dec. 5, 1823. His widow established her claim to his estate and for years ran a ferry and an inn for travelers heading north to Hot Springs. Land patents in the county were few in the 1820s. Statehood in 1836 and the opening of the Red River to steamboat navigation spurred land sales in the late 1830s. Small farmers, larger planters with slaves and land speculators began to buy land out of the public domain. The flood of immigration in the 1850s accelerated the trend, which continued to the brink of the Civil War.

“Many settlers were Southerners and brought their slaves to establish cotton as a major cash crop. Larger slaveholders were especially prevalent in a band across southern Nevada County. Thomas Mendenhall of Jackson Township (then in Ouachita County) was a North Carolina native who spent years in Alabama before moving to Arkansas. With 99 slaves, he was the largest slaveholder in his township in 1860. Many African Americans in the region still bear the names of these early planters. In this mix were smaller farmers who owned few slaves, if any. Many of the planters and farmers moved to Prescott after the railroad arrived in 1873 to pursue careers as merchants, businessmen, professional men and public officials.”

The northern part of the county had fewer large farms and slaveholders. At the time of the Civil War, there were no towns of any size in what would become Nevada County.

“The first county court convened on May 8, 1871, at Mount Moriah, a country church that served as a temporary county seat since no incorporated cities or towns existed in the new county,” Lloyd writes. “Mount Moriah is still an active Methodist church between Prescott and Rosston. In 1872, a governor-appointed commission established Rosston as the county seat. On May 19, 1877, voters elected to move the government to the newly created railroad town of Prescott, where it has remained since July 2, 1877.

“The building of the Cairo & Fulton Railroad in 1873 shifted the focus to the new railroad towns of Boughton, Prescott and Emmet. By early 1874, the railroad was completed to Texarkana. In May 1874, it was reorganized as the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern. The railroad attracted merchants from nearby counties such as Pike and Ouachita. Immigrants from other Southern and Midwestern states, as well as those from Canada and Europe, were in Nevada County by the 1880s.”

The population of the county grew from 12,959 in the 1880 census to 21,934 in the 1920 census. It has been falling ever since. There were just 8,997 Nevada County residents in the 2010 census.

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South toward Gurdon

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020


We leave Arkadelphia and continue our trip down U.S. 67.

Five miles from Arkadelphia, we pass through Gum Springs, a community with a population of just 120 people in the 2010 census.

“Gum Springs is thought to have received its name due to a spring located near a gum tree on the original plot of land,” Jacob Worthan writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “In the mid-20th century, the town rose from a farming community to become an industrial center in Clark County. Today, Gum Springs has dwindled to a small rural community, as have many of the neighboring towns. Little is known about the origins of the town, other than the fact that the Clark County poor farm was established near the eventual site in 1887, and a post office was established in February 1889 under the direction of postmaster Henry Gerrell.

“In the early 1900s, the town — which was established along the Missouri Pacific Railroad — was primarily a small agricultural community composed of farmers and sharecroppers. The white Baptist church burned in about 1925, never to be rebuilt. In 1922, the post office closed in favor of a rural mail carrier. Several years later, the train depot closed. In 1949, the white school was consolidated with the Arkadelphia School District. The African American school consolidated into Arkadelphia’s schools later.”

Like many Southern communities, Gum Springs was split by race.

“The west side of the town was primarily populated by African Americans while whites occupied the eastern part,” Worthan writes. “This changed in the 1950s with the establishment of the Reynolds Metals Co. aluminum plant along the eastern side of the railroad in Gum Springs. This forced several families, primarily black families, to move their homes to other areas of town. Shortly after the establishment of the plant, Gum Springs was incorporated, cementing the cooperation between the two sides of town under one central government.

“The Reynolds plant began production of aluminum in February 1954 and continued aluminum production until its closure in June 1984. Combined with the 5,000-acre farm, also owned by the company, Reynolds provided much of the employment and economic stability for Gum Springs residents.”

Clark County built an industrial park at Gum Springs in 1979. For the past several years, area residents awaited construction of a giant Chinese-owned pulp mill that was to have been the most expensive industrial project (at a cost of almost $1.8 billion) in state history. With the breakdown in U.S.-Chinese relations, though, plans for the plant, to be built by a company known as Sun Bio, were abandoned.

In the Gum Springs area, one can still see stretches of pavement from the old highway that was constructed in the 1920s and the remains of tourist courts and other businesses that were in operation when this was the main route to Texas.

The next community we pass on our way to Texarkana is Curtis.

“Originally used as a refueling stop for trains along the Iron Mountain Railroad, it became a timber community heavily dependent on the surrounding forests,” Worthan writes. “During the mid-1900s, the community became home to a successful semi-professional baseball team. Curtis was established in the 1870s, largely due to promotional brochures distributed by the railroad, advertising the area and encouraging people to settle there.

“Curtis started as a fuel chute along the Iron Mountain. At first, the fuel chute only supplied wood to the railroad traffic. The chute was later converted to dispense coal. The first train stopped on June 20, 1873, with a small celebration by local residents and friends of the railroad. The community had not yet been named. When it was suggested that one be given, the engineer of the first train to refuel asked that it be named for him. Thus it was named Curtis in his honor. By 1880, the railroad had also established a depot at Curtis.”

Several lumber mills were established in the area. Thomas Brothers Mill at Curtis operated until a large fire in 1952. A fire destroyed the Curtis cotton gin at about the same time.

A number of Welsh families moved to the area in 1881. Swedish families also moved here.

“During the 1940s, baseball became a favorite pastime for the citizens of Curtis and the surrounding area,” Worthan writes. “In the post-World War II era, Curtis was home to an amateur team composed primarily of local players, as well as a semi-pro team. The semi-pro team was managed by R.W. ‘Witt’ Stevenson. It won at least two state championships and played in a national championship tournament. The baseball field built for the two teams was surrounded by a wooden fence and contained a grandstand.

“During the summer of 1940, a detachment of U.S. Army personnel was bivouacked at Curtis for several weeks at three locations. While stationed in the community, the unit established a warehouse on the school grounds. During this time, Lt. Gen. Ben ‘Yoo-Hoo’ Lear made visits to the area to inspect the troops. During the 1950s, Curtis suffered several natural disasters. On Sunday, March 26, 1950, a tornado struck Curtis. There were no reported fatalities, but one person was seriously injured.”

The school at Curtis was consolidated into the Arkadelphia School District in the early 1960s.

Leaving Curtis, we cross Terre Noire Creek and what are known as the boat ditches. Ron Deaton, who graduated from Arkadelphia High School in 1962 and Ouachita Baptist University in 1966, wrote a lengthy article in 2016 for the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, telling how the boat ditches got their name.

The article also outlined the history of the Ross Drainage District, which Deaton described in a letter to me as “one of the most successful drainage districts in the history of Arkansas in that the Ross governing structure is still in existence and operating while most others have ceased to exist as legal entities. The law creating the district was passed in 1917, and the canals were dug in 1919-22.”

Deaton taught history at Prince George’s College in Maryland and also worked for several members of Congress and President Jimmy Carter before retiring.

Dozens of drainage districts across the state were created by the Legislature and local governments from 1907-27.

“Many of them ultimately failed to create workable drainage programs,” Deaton writes for the Arkansas Historical Quarterly. “Such efforts were usually led by local elites, especially more established planters and merchants seeking to protect their properties and crops from flooding. The controversy over drainage in Clark County began in 1908 when a plan was proposed for controlling flooding on Terre Noire Creek. Terre Noire is a French term that means black earth or black land. The creek’s fertile floodplain had become an important site for cotton and grain production by the middle of the 19th century.

“Terre Noire Creek (often spelled Terre Noir in older sources) traverses the entire county, generally flowing southeast. Its valley is thus a formidable watershed draining much of the land surface within Clark County, though the county itself is bounded on the east by the much larger Ouachita River and one the west by the Little Missouri River and its tributary, the Antoine River. All these streams originate in the Ouachita Mountains north of Clark County and have historically been prone to flooding. The terrain in the creek valley varies significantly. Elevations are over 600 feet above sea level at the top of Chalybeate Mountain at the north end of the county, dropping to 120 feet in the southeast portion.”

The creek leaves the mountains and enters the Gulf Coastal Plain, where it becomes a slower, sometimes swampy stream.

“The steep decline of the creek bed from a higher elevation into this lowland greatly accelerates the intensity of flooding there, making farming a risky endeavor,” Deaton writes. “Despite this threat, the rich soil and level land of the creek bottom made it one of the most desirable locations for crop production in south Arkansas. Jacob Barkman, who arrived in the area from Kentucky in 1811, established Arkadelphia beside the Ouachita River. As other settlers moved in, they were drawn to the alluvial plains of the local streams, especially Terre Noire Creek. The village of Greenville was established near the creek, becoming the first county seat in 1823. By the 1850s, farmers in the county, some using slave labor, grew hundreds of bales of cotton each year and transported them down the Ouachita, Red and Mississippi rivers to markets in New Orleans.

“One of the county’s antebellum settlers would eventually help lead the effort to control flooding on Terre Noire Creek. Jesse Arendall Ross was born in Alabama on Oct. 26, 1838, but his family relocated by wagon train to Clark County, arriving in 1846. His name first appeared on the 1850 census record as a resident of the Shiloh community 10 miles southwest of Arkadelphia, where his family had acquired land and began farming in the bottomlands of Terre Noire Creek. ”

Ross served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and was known by friends as Major Ross after the war. He was elected Clark County clerk in 1880, served two terms in the state Senate and was appointed in the 1890s by President Grover Cleveland as the registrar of federal lands for south Arkansas.

“Despite his military and public service positions, Ross remained primarily a planter and businessman,” Deaton writes. “Like most who owned land or farmed in the Terre Noire Creek bottomlands, he experienced regular flooding of his crops and took various actions to deal with the situation. The Arkadelphia historian Farrar Newberry reported that Ross ‘set up a plant on one of his farms to manufacture drainage tiles, and came to enjoy a lucrative business. In fact, making of tile occupied much of his time in the years following his tenure in the clerk’s office, and his product was widely used in Clark and surrounding counties.’ These drainage tiles were intended to control flooding, but Ross and other landowners soon needed a more effective method for draining their wetlands.

“By the end of the 19th century, steam engine dredges, often called steam shovels, came to be widely used for improving drainage by digging ditches and canals up and down rivers and their tributaries that could divert overflow. These early experiments with ditching and dredging for drainage would accelerate the development of Southern agriculture by opening wetlands for cultivation. A number of states established drainage districts. Arkansas’ ‘ditching act’ of 1902 conferred authority on counties to create drainage districts for dredging, subject to feasibility studies.”

In a letter to the editor of the Arkadelphia newspaper Southern Standard in November 1907, attorney R.W. Huie stated that a plan was under discussion “whereby the swamp land and overflow district of Terre Noir Creek and its tributaries can be successfully drained and fully reclaimed, thereby making them the most valuable lands in Clark County, for agricultural purposes, and at a reasonable cost, extending over a period of 30 years.”

In January 1908, the newspaper reported that the drainage district had been organized. Opposing creation of the district were two Chicago attorneys who had become involved in timberland speculation in the area. The attorneys were Charles Thornton and Justus Chancellor, whose firm was described as one of the most prosperous in Chicago.

“As they became increasingly prosperous in their law practice, the partners began investing in the untapped natural resources of the South, especially timberlands, which were becoming more accessible with the expansion of railroads,” Deaton writes. “A major sawmill and lumber industry had emerged in Arkansas in the 1880s as railroads made it possible for speculators (including the railroads themselves) to reach previously inaccessible timberlands and ship out lumber.

“Northern economic interests usually provided the necessary capital and economic expertise, which was often not otherwise available in the post-Civil War South. Based in Chicago, Thornton and Chancellor had access to these resources and, when allied with a railroad, they also were well positioned to oppose the creation of a drainage district. … By 1900, a significant amount of timberland in Clark County had come into the possession of Thornton and Chancellor, aided by advantageous state law. At that time, it was not uncommon for poor homesteaders and squatters to lose their land because of unpaid taxes.”

Thornton and Chancellor hired the law firm of J.H. Crawford in Arkadelphia. In June 1905, Crawford filed notice that the two men from Chicago were paying taxes on 20,514 acres of tax-delinquent land in the county. The court granted them ownership in December 1908, putting them among the state’s largest landowners.

“These 1908 timberland acquisitions occurred in the very year that Jesse Ross and the planters upstream on the creek initiated their plans for a drainage district to protect their farms from flooding,” Deaton writes. “A prolonged struggle soon ensued as some of the lands that Thornton and Chancellor had acquired were proposed for inclusion in the district. The pair had little interest in paying taxes to drain land they wanted simply to cut, rather than cultivate. As historian Jeannie Whayne notes, in examining such controversies in northeast Arkansas, ‘many speculators and lumber companies opposed drainage as they had no intention of incurring the taxes required to fund construction.'”

The Southern Standard was editorially supportive of Ross and other planters. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the planters in January 1910, but additional legal challenges followed. Cost studies were still incomplete when Ross died on Feb. 4, 1913. In 1917, the planters asked the Legislature to approve the district and named the district in honor of Ross.

Speaker of the House Lee Cazort declared: “If the United States is forced into war, we all know that the farmer will assume additional importance. … I believe that it is a part of preparedness to adopt every measure that will increase the production of our farms.”

Bonds to finance dredging and construction of canals on either side of Terre Noire Creek were sold in November 1918. A contract with the J.S. Sternberg Co. of St. Louis called for removing 170 million cubic yards of earth. The Southern Standard reported in February 1919 that Sternberg “is here, and getting his forces ready. The ditches, which are to be 10 feet deep and 20 feet wide, will be run close to the hills on either side” of the creek.

The dredged material would be deposited to form levees.

In July 1919, the newspaper reported: “The steam shovel began moving dirt last week on the big ditches to be dug in Terre Noir bottom. Work has been going on for some time getting ready for the shovel, which had to be placed on a large boat, to be floated downstream as the work progresses. A hole was first dug by hand large enough to float the boat.”

A second boat provided housing and cooking facilities for the dredging crews. The canals thus became known as the boat ditches. The U.S. Geological Survey later would name them the North Boat Ditch and the South Boat Ditch.

In 1921, the district sold additional bonds to the St. Louis Union Trust Co. The bank secured a lien on the taxable properties of landowners.

“By 1932, during the depths of the Great Depression, the district board proved unable to make the interest and principal payments due on the bonds,” Deaton writes. “The St. Louis bank responded with a foreclosure suit against the Ross Drainage District in federal court in Little Rock. The court placed the Ross Drainage District into receivership. … Receivership ended in April 1937 when a new refinancing agreement was reached between the district and Union Planters National Bank & Trust Co. of Memphis, giving a new start to the district. Refinancing the debt owed by the district allowed it to narrowly avoid failure.”

The last of the so-called refunding bonds from 1937 were retired by the Ross Drainage District in 1980.

“The decades after World War II saw a transformation of the farm economy in Arkansas with a decline in sharecropping and an increase in mechanization, resulting in larger farms and fewer farmers,” Deaton writes. “Cotton lost its primacy as many farmers turned to other crops. The last cotton gin in Clark County closed in the early 1960s, reflecting the overall shift to soybean cultivation. As farms were consolidated, fewer members owned larger portions of land in the district. Many of them turned to raising timber, creating pine plantations that did not require intense management.

“Cattle raising also expanded because hay production had become mechanized, too. All these changes reduced the role of traditional planters in the Ross Drainage District and gradually changed its emphasis as well. Maintenance of the levees rather than enlargement of the district became the primary goal of the district board.”

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service provided $100,000 for levee repairs, with the district contributing another $26,000.

Deaton writes: “While drainage efforts in south Arkansas have been little studied, the story of the Ross Drainage District in Clark County reflects broad developments in the state’s history — the arrival in the late 19th century of railroads and extractive industry often dominated by out-of-state capital; the emergence of a fractious politics in the districts and planters wielding their influence in state government to overcome local opposition; the state’s increasing dependence on federal aid for improvement and maintenance of its waterways; and the shift away from cotton to other staple crops and, in south Arkansas, pine plantations. More than a century after its first conception, the Ross Drainage District is still providing drainage protection to the lands between the canals, even if the future of its levees remains uncertain.”

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Where history lives

Monday, October 19th, 2020


When I was young, my father and uncle purchased the old post office building at Arkadelphia to house their sporting goods business. That building, constructed downtown in 1916-17, was the place where my friends and I would play. It was quite a structure.

In June 2011, the Arkadelphia Commercial Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The borders of the district are Main Street between Fifth and Seventh streets and Clinton Street between Sixth and Ninth streets.

The old post office is at Sixth and Clinton.

“Arkadelphia grew westward, away from the Ouachita River, which is about a half mile away from the district,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University. “The buildings in the district evolved through the years. The earliest buildings are free standing or in a row and are frame or brick constructed on a brick or concrete foundation. Many have recessed entries and display windows. Neoclassical revival elements are visible in the post office building. The Royal Theater at 625 Main St. is constructed in an Art Deco style and later began serving the Clark County Arts Council. The oldest confirmed building in the district is at 614 Main Street. A former jewelry store, it later became a coffee shop.

“The arrival of automobiles in Arkadelphia prompted a heavy investment in service stations, and it was noted in the 1930s that the town supported more service stations than churches. The Johnson Service Station opened at 716 Clinton St. in 1920. Shepherd Auto Sales at 612 Clinton St. opened in 1948. South Sixth Street, which passes through the district, is also U.S. Highway 67, which helped drive business to the area in the early and mid-20th century.”

J.C. Penney opened a store at 605 Main St. in 1929 and stayed there until 1984. There were four drugstores downtown when I was a boy. Dew Orr Department Store operated downtown from 1946-84. I can still remember how Bill Deaton’s radio ads for Dew Orr sounded on KVRC-AM.

A tornado destroyed part of downtown on March 1, 1997, but thankfully many of the oldest buildings survived. In addition to the old post office that still houses Southwest Sporting Goods Co., I spent time at the nearby Clark County Library, which was constructed at 609 Caddo St. in 1903 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in November 1974.

A group known as the Women’s Library Association was formed in November 1897 to establish a library. A collection of books was stored in various locations around town.

“By 1899, the group was unable to find a rent-free location,” Sesser writes. “The association began working to build a permanent facility to house the library. A number of fundraising events were held, and the group had collected $1,000 by 1903. The association borrowed an additional $3,000 so construction could begin. After the library opened, the group continued to raise funds to retire the debt, meeting this goal in 1913. The building was designed by Little Rock architect Charles Thompson and constructed by James Pullen.

“The building faces north and is fronted by an Ionic portico. The portico is supported by four columns topped with an entablature, with two columns on each side. The portico is reached by climbing three concrete steps, and a set of double wood-and-glass doors is centered on the porch. The doors are flanked by sidelights and are topped with an arched transom. … The interior of the original building includes 15-foot ceilings and heavy molded trim throughout. The original building was square and a single story. Through the years, wings were added to the east and west ends of the building, and a second story was added at the rear.”

The Women’s Library Association was in charge from 1903-39. The library was then donated to the city. The county took over in 1974. The Women’s Library Association still exists and continues to hold its meetings in the historic structure.

I would spend hot summer afternoons in the library’s cool, spacious Arkansas Room, reading stories on local history that had been written by Farrar Newberry, one of the most interesting and successful people to hail from this part of Arkansas.

Newberry was born in July 1887 at Gurdon. His family moved to Arkadelphia in 1894. Newberry graduated in 1906 from Arkadelphia Methodist College (now Henderson State University) and received his master’s degree from Vanderbilt University two years later. He served in the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1915-16 and sponsored what was known as the Newberry Act, a prohibition bill.

In 1915, Newberry began working for the giant fraternal benefit society known as Woodmen of the World. He became the president of that Omaha-based organization in 1943 and served in the role until 1955. He then retired and moved back to Arkadelphia.

“Newberry devoted much of his time to research and writing,” prominent Arkansas historian Wendy Richter writes. “He composed dozens of articles on Arkansas history topics and was responsible for placing markers at many historical sites around Clark County. In particular, Newberry’s newspaper columns brought local history to the attention of area residents. Active in many civic organizations, Newberry also served as president of the Arkansas Historical Association. Newberry Hall on the Henderson campus was named in his honor.

“Newberry donated his colonial-style home at 11th and Henderson streets in Arkadelphia to Henderson, and the university utilizes the structure as the president’s residence. Newberry died July 31, 1968, and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Arkadelphia.”

Those interested in the area’s history can visit a museum that’s operated by the Clark County Historical Association in the former Missouri Pacific Depot (which still serves as an Amtrak stop). The depot was constructed in the Mediterranean style in 1917 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Sitting outside that building in my parents’ Oldsmobile and looking at the sign that said “Arkadelphia,” I learned to spell the name of my hometown.

“In 1873, river transportation was replaced by rail when the Cairo & Fulton connected the city with Little Rock,” Sesser writes. “The line was acquired by the Missouri Pacific in 1917, and the company constructed a number of new depots to serve communities along the tracks, including Gurdon. The Arkadelphia depot was constructed south of downtown and sits to the northwest of the rail line. Constructed of red brick and with a red clay tile roof, the single-story structure is rectangular with a telegraph operator’s office jutting out toward the tracks. The southwest end of the building is an open platform.

“The northeast end originally included an open platform but was enclosed to house freight and other large items. The enclosed portion of the structure is clearly visible, as the bricks are a slightly different shade of red. It has an off-center wooden double door at the end that opens onto a small platform that is accessible from the street. This end of the building includes four six-paned windows on each side. The side of the train depot facing the tracks features a door that was added when the freight area was enclosed, as well as two large freight doors.”

The Boy Scout Hut is another historic Arkadelphia structure. When I would play in the woods around it as a boy, I didn’t realize that one of the most historic buildings in town was that log structure. It was constructed in 1938-39 by members of the National Youth Administration, a New Deal agency created to offer job opportunities during the Great Depression to those between the ages of 16 and 25. The Boy Scout Hut was added to the National Register of Historic Places in January 2002.

“Construction of the hut was supervised by Edwin Dean, the district supervisor from Camden, and Edward Wyate, the supervisor from Hope,” Sesser writes. “The local foreman was A.F. Bishop of Arkadelphia, who supervised the 30 local young men who worked on the project. The city, chamber of commerce and school district all provided workers. Local businesses and the Arkadelphia Rotary Club provided equipment and materials. The state’s highway department and the city provided trucks, while the NYA provided cement and use of a truck.

“Work began in September 1938 and continued intermittently until the structure was completed the following June. … The building is constructed of pine logs stripped, stained and treated with creosote. The logs were then chinked with concrete. The hut faces southeast and is fronted by a gabled front porch. The porch roof is supported by a large log post at either end. Two doors are centered on the porch.”

The focal point inside the Boy Scout Hut is a stone fireplace. Two Boy Scout troops began using the building as soon as it was completed. Girl Scout troops started meeting there in the 1950s on land that’s part of Arkadelphia’s Central Park.

One can find a great collection of historic homes and buildings by driving around Arkadelphia and the surrounding countryside. One of my favorite houses, which is about six miles west of town, was built by Georgia native Michael Bozeman in 1847. Bozeman was born in 1808 and moved to Alabama in 1819. He came to the Arkansas Territory in 1835.

“Bozeman farmed a number of crops but focused on cotton,” Sesser writes. “The family lived in a log cabin after arriving in Arkansas. Construction on a new house began around 1847 at a cost of ‘$1,500 and one slave,’ according to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The building is one and a half stories with double pile and a central hall. The structure has two chimneys and two interior staircases. The staircases lead to separate rooms on the second floor, and access between the rooms wasn’t possible. This allowed males and females to be separated at night.”

By the 1850s, Bozeman owned more than 9,000 acres and served in the state Senate. The Bozeman family helped found nearby Mt. Bethel Baptist Church. Bozeman died in 1883 and is buried in a cemetery behind the house. His wife died three years later. The Ross Foundation renovated the home and owned it (it later reverted to private ownership) at the time it was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

The nomination states: “According to his biographer, Farrar Newberry, Bozeman was worth in excess of a quarter of a million dollars, impressive figures for antebellum Arkansas. A more intimate picture of Bozeman’s plantation is revealed in an 1857 plantation journal, which was discovered in the Bozeman house. The journal lists a variety of crops grown on the plantation, and Newberry says that it ‘reveals the meticulous care he gave to every detail of the management of his growing enterprise.’

“Bozeman’s position of importance both as an early settler and as a land proprietor is revealed in a listing of his civic ventures. He was a charter member of his church in 1836 and in the same year he represented his church in the establishment of the Saline Baptist Association. It was the first such association south of the Arkansas River. In 1847, he helped found Oakland Academy, which was in perhaps the first painted, frame schoolhouse in Clark County.”

The house was constructed of oak timbers cut by a mule-powered, two-tooth saw.

The nomination form notes: “The Bozeman House was known as a center of social and community activity. Croquet was played on the lawn, church and school groups assembled at the house, and in times of dread, such as the Civil War, neighbors would gather for mutual condolences.”

East of Arkadelphia on the other side of the Ouachita River, one can find the Hudson-Jones House in the Manchester community, which was constructed in about 1840 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 1982.

“The land around Manchester was purchased by the Somerville Land Co. in 1836, the same year Arkansas became a state,” Sesser writes. “The next year, Thomas Hudson, a member of the company, moved to the area. He built a two-story log cabin and began to operate a farm. In 1840, Hudson began construction on a new home. A carpenter known only as Mr. Pryor was hired to lead the construction project.”

There are several historic outbuildings, including a combination smokehouse and storage facility, a shed, a hay barn, a well and a cellar.

“Hudson lived on the property until 1859, when he sold it to Nat Kimbrough Jones, who was also a member of the Somerville Land Co.,” Sesser writes. “James Kimbrough Jones, the son of Nat, lived in the House from 1859-67 except during his service in the Civil War. Jones later served in the Arkansas Senate and both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. The Hudson and Jones families gave the house its name. The land was sold to the Hunter family in 1909.”

Other historic structures in the area include:

— The W.H. Young House in Arkadelphia, constructed in 1921 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 2006. The land on which the house sits was purchased by John S.T. Callaway in 1836 and lost at a sheriff’s auction in 1842. The auction was held to pay a legal judgment in favor of Benjamin Duncan. The neighborhood later became known as Duncan’s Addition. The house was constructed by William Hatley Young, a salesman for Fones Brothers Hardware Co. of Little Rock. It was built in the Craftsman style. The Young family owned the home until 1952. It remains a private residence.

— The Nannie Gresham Biscoe House in Arkadelphia, constructed in 1901 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in January 2004. Nancy “Nannie” Caroline Gresham was born in Georgia in 1847 and married John Basil Biscoe in 1871. She moved to Arkadelphia in 1883 (her husband had died earlier that year) to be near her brother and his family. She began teaching courses in the preparatory department of what’s now Ouachita Baptist University when the school began in 1886. She later bought two adjoining lots a few blocks from the college at 227 Cherry St. and began construction of the house. Biscoe was the first president of the aforementioned Women’s Library Association. She died in 1931, and the house passed to her widowed daughter. The house is still a private residence.

— The C.E. Thompson General Store and House, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 2001 and now serves as a barbecue restaurant. Sesser writes: “When constructed, the business was located at the western edge of Arkadelphia. The Thompson family lived in the back of the building, while the front served as the store. Serving a rural part of the county, the business was successful due to its location at the intersection of two state highways. The store sold a number of staple foodstuffs and necessities, as well as gasoline and related automotive items. A set of gravity-fed pumps was installed near the front of the store in 1936. … The Thompson family also operated a sawmill located across Arkansas Highway 8 from the building. The construction of Interstate 30 and the growth of Arkadelphia to the west brought more businesses to the area. The sale of gasoline was discontinued in the 1980s due to new environmental regulations, and the store closed a short time later.”

— The Domestic Science Building on the campus of Arkadelphia’s Central Primary School. It was constructed in 1917 and added  to the National Register of Historic Places in December 1982. Sesser writes: “A public school board was formed in Arkadelphia in 1870 and operated school intermittently for more than a decade. Faced with uncertain finances and several private schools operating as competitors, the public schools had difficulty remaining in operation. A permanent school building was constructed in 1888, and regular sessions began to be offered. The enrollment at Arkadelphia High School grew during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, forcing the local school board to expand the campus. The largest class to graduate in this period was in 1912 when 32 students received diplomas. Early in 1917, the board added three departments to the school: commercial, expression and domestic science. While the other two new subjects could be taught in existing classrooms, the domestic science department required a purpose-built structure. The school board voted to move the home that had been provided to the principal down the block and construct a new building on that location east of the main high school building. The board worked to ensure that the facility would be open by the start of the fall term in 1917 but missed that date by a few weeks. The building opened in October and was filled with $1,000 of equipment designed to help teach domestic science skills.”

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Visiting historic Arkadelphia

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020


Few places in Arkansas have a richer history than the old river town of Arkadelphia. And it still boasts a number of historic buildings and homes that make it well worth a visit for those interested in history.

In a little book called “Visit Historic Arkadelphia,” authors Dave Ozmun, Ray Granade, Laverne Todd and Shirley Graham wrote: “Serving as Clark County’s seat of government since 1842, Arkadelphia has offered the surrounding countryside a farm market and trading center, thanks to reliable transportation, first by water, then rail and later roads and interstate highways. From its perch adjacent to the Ouachita River at the edge of the Ouachita Mountains, Arkadelphia has enjoyed a history of light industry, agriculture and manufacturing. Today there are also recreational opportunities offered by the Ouachita and Caddo rivers and the Caddo’s impoundment, DeGray Lake.

“Arkadelphia’s most enduring asset may be its commitment to education. Of the five colleges founded in the community between 1885 and 1895, two continue to thrive in Arkadelphia while the others moved to Little Rock. At one time, local newspapers called this the City of Colleges and occasionally the Athens of Arkansas. Yet the history of Arkadelphia reaches further back, to America’s earliest days. From prehistoric times to the 1700s, when they migrated south into eastern Texas and northwestern Louisiana, this area was home to the Caddo Indians.”

Many call the salt works operated by John Hemphill in the early 1800s the first industry in Arkansas.

“Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the area around what became Arkadelphia was administered first as part of the Louisiana Territory then, when Louisiana became a state in 1812, as part of the Missouri Territory,” the authors write. “While administered under the Missouri Territory, the local area was designated as Clark County in 1818. After Missouri achieved statehood in 1819, Arkansas became a territory in its own right, then a state in 1836. In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned an expedition, headed by William Dunbar and George Hunter, to map the southern part of the Louisiana Purchase. Their trip up the Arkansas River would coincide with the Lewis and Clark trip up the Missouri River.

“When trouble with the Osage Indians canceled their plan, Dunbar convinced Jefferson that an expedition up the Ouachita River as far as Hot Springs would be beneficial. It became the first river explored by Americans following the Louisiana Purchase. As he reached the bluff on which Arkadelphia now sits, Dunbar chose to call the area the Great Glaze. About 1808, Adam Blakely opened a blacksmith shop on what’s now Caddo Street near the Ouachita River. That was the beginning of a town.”

One of the most historic buildings still standing in Arkadelphia is the Clark County Courthouse, designed by noted Arkansas architect Charles Thompson and built in 1899.

According to “Visit Historic Arkadelphia”: “For public buildings, Thompson favored Romanesque style, as evidenced by the courthouse and the public library in Arkadelphia and by buildings in El Dorado, Prescott and Hope. The six-story clock tower holds a 600-pound clock. The whole structure was erected using local materials — bricks from Clark County earth and granite quarried near the Caddo River just north of town. Three county courthouses have been located on this site since Arkadelphia succeeded Greenville as the county seat in 1842. This one succeeded a squarish wooden building that had replaced the original log structure.

“During the late 1980s and through the 1990s, some county officials hoped to demolish this courthouse and replace it with a more modern one. The March 1, 1997, tornado, which destroyed or damaged much of the town, damaged the courthouse. Determined efforts by local residents, combined with grants and federal money, led to its restoration.”

Just across the street from the courthouse stands the building that housed the law offices of Harris Flanagin, the Confederate governor of Arkansas. The building at 320 Clay St. was finished in 1858 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in December 1977.

“The building was constructed in several phases,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University. “The front portion was constructed by law partner J.L. Witherspoon. J.H. O’Baugh, a lock brick maker, provided the bricks for the first phase of construction and possibly built the office. The bricks were received in 1855, and construction of the building was finished by 1858. The original design was two rooms with a front porch. Each room had a single door that opened onto the porch, but the rooms weren’t connected by a passageway. Each room also contained a fireplace and chimney.

“At the end of the war, Flanagin and Witherspoon returned to Clark County and resumed their law practice. Sometime during this period, Flanagin purchased the office from Witherspoon. In 1874, Flanagin was selected to represent Clark County at a constitutional convention but became ill during the proceedings, dying in Arkadelphia on Oct. 23. After Flanagin’s death, the office passed to his son Duncan. A section of rooms constructed from wood was added to the rear of the property, and a door connecting the two original rooms was installed. The property was rented as private housing until 1903 when Duncan Flanagin sold the building to Judge J.H. Crawford.”

Crawford used the building until his death in 1930. It was used by his son, Dwight Crawford, as a law office until his death in 1968. In 1974, the office was sold to attorney Bob Sanders.

Harris Flanagin had been born in New Jersey in November 1817. His father was a cabinetmaker who had come from Ireland in 1765. Flanagin was educated in a Quaker school and became a math professor at a seminary in Pennsylvania when he was just 18. He later opened a private school in Illinois.

Writing in the book “Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives,” historian Michael Dougan of Jonesboro says: “Armed only with a letter certifying him to be a ‘gentleman well educated and possessing a good moral character,’ Flanagin moved to Arkansas in 1839, settling at Greenville in Clark County before relocating to Arkadelphia, where he established his law office on the courthouse square. His primary interest seems to have been speculating in land with an old Pennsylvania friend, Benjamin Duncan, who served as Clark County sheriff in the 1840s. A Whig in politics, Flanagin was elected to the Fourth General Assembly in 1842, serving in the House for one term.

“Although he volunteered for the Mexican War, his company seems not to have completed its organization. In 1847, he was elected captain of a militia company. In 1848, Flanagin won a spirited contest against Democrat Hawes H. Coleman for the office of state senator. Again, he served only one term. After the collapse of the Whig Party in the 1850s, his political activity was reportedly limited to serving as an Arkadelphia city alderman. Flanagin married Martha Elizabeth Nash of Hempstead County on July 3, 1851. Flanagin had been raised a Baptist, but after he married, he attended the Presbyterian church with his wife, becoming known locally as a ‘trunk Baptist.'”

In 1861, Flanagin was elected to attend the Arkansas Secession Convention.

“A reluctant secessionist, he was highly regarded by the former Unionists and left the convention after the passage of the ordinance of secession on May 6 to accept the captaincy of Company E of the Second Arkansas Mounted Rifles,” Dougan writes. “He participated in actions at Wilson’s Creek and Pea Ridge. After the death of Col. James McIntosh and the reorganization of the regiment, Flanagin was elected colonel. During the summer of 1862, Flanagin was serving in the Army of Tennessee when his name was put forth as a gubernatorial candidate in a public letter by a strong coalition of ex-Unionists (mostly ex-Whigs) and Democrats who wished to supplant the highly unpopular incumbent, Henry Massie Rector, whose most recent action had been to issue a proclamation threatening to secede from the Confederacy.

“The Constitution of 1861 had contrived to shorten Rector’s term by scheduling a gubernatorial election for the fall of 1862. During these months, Flanagin kept a small diary but made no reference to his candidacy, thus leading some writers to the erroneous conclusion that he had no knowledge of his nomination at the time of his election. However, private correspondence from Arkansans in the Army of Tennessee reveals that the men were aware of his nomination and anxious for his success. His friends in Arkansas did all the campaigning for him. A pro-Rector paper tried to stir up anti-Irish sentiment by claiming the challenger’s last name was O’Flanagin, but the colonel outpolled Rector by more than a two-to-one margin.”

Flanagin was sworn in on Nov. 15, 1862.

“Flanagin called on the Legislature for laws to help people cope with shortages of salt, aid impoverished solders’ families and stop profiteering and liquor production,” Dougan writes. “Some laws were passed, but Flanagin took a passive attitude toward executive responsibilities and failed to offer effective leadership. A Baptist minister reported that he had heard it said ‘your governor loves whiskey too well to get him to stop still houses.’ In contrast to many Southern governors, he didn’t oppose the imposition by Confederate authorities of conscription or endorse an extreme states’ rights position.

“Flanagin worked to get Confederate authorities to take seriously the defense of Arkansas, and he accompanied the Confederate Army on its futile assault on the Union-held port of Helena in 1863. He also made two efforts to raise state troops for defense. After the fall of Arkansas Post in January 1863, he called for volunteers to serve for 60 days. Since the Federals didn’t follow up their victory, there was no need. In any case, the state had no weapons with which to arm the men. In August, when a Federal column began marching on the capital, Flanagin formed a company of old men, which he led himself. Since the Confederates failed to make a serious effort to defend the capital, the Union Army captured Little Rock on Sept. 10, 1863.”

State officials fled south, taking state records with them. Flanagin went home to Arkadelphia for about a month until Confederate authorities convinced him to re-establish a state government at Washington in Hempstead County. The Legislature met at Washington in 1864.

“Thanks to judicial decisions authored by new state Supreme Court Justice Albert Pike, this ‘rump’ government was granted legal standing for its operations,” Dougan writes. “One more brief flight to Rondo (now in Miller County but probably in Lafayette then) took place in 1864 when it appeared that Union Gen. Frederick Steele would capture Washington. Steele, however, went to Camden instead, and the Confederates returned to their temporary capital. Affairs in the Trans-Mississippi were in great disorder once the fall of Vicksburg left this section largely responsible for its own defense. Flanagin failed to attend the first Trans-Mississippi Department governors’ conference, made limited use of his executive powers and did little to retard the rising peace sentiment among the masses.

“Morale-building public speeches and aggressive executive actions were lacking. However, with most of the state either a no-man’s land or in the hands of Union forces, tax collections stopped, and with it the state’s source of revenue. Flanagin’s most energetic act was his rejection of a Confederate enrolling officer’s attempt to draft the clerk of the state Supreme Court. The most important effort to sustain the war was supplying the Washington Telegraph with newsprint, but this was undertaken by Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith and not by Flanagin. The governor’s wartime correspondence contained letters from friends who apparently shared his belief that the war was lost. When criticized by his inactivity, he responded that he would never act ‘without or contrary to law.'”

Unionists in Arkansas had written a new constitution and installed Isaac Murphy as governor in 1864. After the war, Flanagin returned the state archives and retired to Arkadelphia to resume his law practice.

“His correspondence indicates he opposed violence and took the same high legal and moral tone that had marked his gubernatorial career,” Dougan writes. “In 1872, he was selected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. After the Brooks-Baxter War, he was elected to the state convention that wrote the Constitution of 1874, serving as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He was even spoken of as a possible gubernatorial candidate. He died, probably from congestive heart failure, before final ratification. But he had signed an early draft.”

Flanagin is buried in Arkadelphia’s historic Rose Hill Cemetery. His reputation was that of a man who took direct action once he had made up is mind.

The authors of “Visit Historic Arkadelphia” tell one story along those lines: “At age 34, the still-unmarried man didn’t seem interested in romance, but a friend told him one day that he knew just the right girl for him. A few days later, Flanagin appeared at the home of Phinias Nash in Washington and told Nash that he had come to court and possibly marry his daughter. He was invited to stay for dinner and afterward talked with the young lady. The next morning, he returned to Arkadelphia. Three weeks later, Flanagin returned to Washington, and he and Martha were married.”

The authors note that Rose Hill originated “when a child of Benjamin Maddox died in 1852 and was buried in the family’s back yard. After other family members died and were buried there, friends requested and were granted the same privilege in what came to be known as the Maddox burying ground. Almost 20 years later, the city bought the property for a municipal graveyard and named it Rose Hill in 1880. Alice McNutt donated the rock fence surrounding the cemetery.”

The cemetery has graves that date to the 1850s. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

“The first public cemetery in Arkadelphia was established shortly after the town was settled,” Sesser writes. “It was named the Blakely Graveyard for an early name of the settlement. The graveyard was closed by the city board to future interments in 1869. Several graves from the Blakely Graveyard were moved to the new cemetery after it opened, including the bodies of several Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War. Rose Hill Cemetery, which fronts Main Street, covers about 12 acres.

“The eastern boundary of the cemetery is South 12th Street, and the western boundary of the cemetery abuts another cemetery. The southern boundary is adjacent to private property. The land slopes down from the front of the cemetery with concrete retaining walls used to prevent erosion. The oldest graves are in the northern section with newer graves to the south and west. There’s a small gazebo in the cemetery, and several small sheds are used to house maintenance equipment. A black wrought-iron fence runs in front of the property, and an iron sign displaying the name of the cemetery is located slightly to the east of the front entrance. … A dirt road leads into the center of the cemetery from the front entrance, and a number of magnolia, cedar and other types of trees are located in the older section.”

The cemetery, which makes a nice place for a walk for those interested in Arkansas history, contains more than 3,100 graves. About 1,800 of the interments were made between the 1850s and 1940s. There are few burials there these days.

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The old river town

Monday, September 14th, 2020


I’ve always liked river towns.

I’m not talking about those towns with a small stream flowing through the city limits. No, I’m talking about places with rivers large enough so a steamboat could dock; towns that owe their existence to the river; towns with ornate old houses whose original owners had the furnishings shipped up from New Orleans or down from St. Louis.

Helena on the Mississippi River, with its rich history and cultural mix, has always fascinated me despite decades of economic decline.

Like Helena, Arkansas City once was on the banks of the Mississippi, but Old Man River moved, as rivers are wont to do.

Other cities on the eastern edge of the state — places such as Blytheville, Osceola, West Memphis and Lake Village — tend to sit back a bit from its banks to avoid the floods.

My mother hailed from a river town, Des Arc on the White River. I was raised in a river town, Arkadelphia on the Ouachita River. Though railroads replaced rivers as the major transportation corridors beginning in the late 1880s, there remains a certain vibe to a river town that can’t be found elsewhere.

“It’s believed that Clark County pioneer Jacob Barkman was the first to bring a steamboat up the river past what’s now Arkadelphia,” writes noted Arkansas historian Wendy Richter. “Barkman lived near the confluence of the Caddo and Ouachita rivers and used the water for trips to New Orleans. Barkman first traded with merchants to the south by means of pirogues, or large dugout canoes, but when his business began to grow, he needed larger and faster boats. So he built a boat he called The Dime. The Dime was said to be a nice boat, and it made regular trips up and down the river before it eventually sank.”

In later years, much bigger boats could be found on the Ouachita with names such as Arkadelphia City, Susie B. and Jo Jacques.

“The Rock City once met with difficulties a few miles below Arkadelphia,” Richter writes. “The boat was apparently long and large for the river, and it lacked the power to successfully navigate the rapid and winding current of the upper Ouachita. Loaded with cotton and passengers, the boat failed to make a turn and ended up broadside to an island, in danger of being broken to pieces. Several men drowned attempting to free the trapped vessel. It is believed the boat finally made it to safety.

“Steamboats continued to travel the river even after the Civil War. In 1873, a man who lived between Arkadelphia and Rockport built a boat and took it down the river. Because of construction on a railroad bridge at Arkadelphia, he could go no further. So he sued the railroad for obstruction of navigation on the river, claiming damages in the amount of $10,000. Indeed the railroad’s construction in the 1870s marked the beginning of a new era in transportation in Arkansas and the gradual demise of the steamboat.”

In my files is a little book titled “Visit Historic Arkadelphia” that was written by Dave Ozmum, Ray Granade, Laverne Todd and Shirley Graham. They do an excellent job of outlining the city’s colorful history and the river’s key place in that history.

“Some of the earliest people moving up and down the river were trappers,” they write. “By the 1800s, a steamboat landing welcomed The Dime, Will S. Hays, Rob Roy, Lightwood and other boats to dock. Today an Arkansas Game & Fish Commission boat ramp lies just across the Ouachita River from that spot. The first bridge spanning the Ouachita near Arkadelphia was built in 1903. It replaced the ferry that docked just downstream from where the bridge met the bluff, and locals referred to it simply as ‘the free bridge.’ That initial structure was replaced with a new one in 1959. Today, the old ferry dock has been replaced by the Ouachita River Park. Designed by Twin Rivers Architects of Arkadelphia, it has become the site of special public events as well as picnics and family gatherings.

“By the mid-19th century, Arkadelphia had developed into an important river port, connecting the area to the Mississippi River, New Orleans and the world beyond. With the arrival of the Cairo & Fulton Railroad in 1873, Arkadelphia became one of the principal transportation hubs in southwest Arkansas. After the merger of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern lines that ran between Missouri and Texas, the present depot was built in 1917. The depot is of Italianate-Mediterranean design, one used all over the Southwest by the Missouri-Pacific Railroad. After many years of popularity, rail travel declined and the depot closed in 1971. It reopened 32 years later as a museum.”

Near the depot was the Arkadelphia Milling Co, which was begun by three brothers in 1898 and grew into one of the state’s largest industries.

According to the authors of “Visit Historic Arkadelphia”: “The mill operated 24 hours a day producing flour, meal, stock feed and staves. At the peak of production, 300 men were employed, and its products were shipped to 12 countries and 28 states. Its slogan ‘we never sleep’ was known in nearly every part of the world. The mill purchased large quantities of grain that were shipped to Arkadelphia by train. As one of Missouri-Pacific’s biggest customers, it secured a special rate for shipping grain from Kansas City. In the early 1900s, the railroad dramatically increased the tariff, making a hardship on the mill.

“H.W. McMillan, attorney for the mill, began searching for ways to get the tariff reduced. During his investigation, McMillan learned that drawbridges were required on navigable river railroad crossings. Since the Ouachita was navigable only part of each year, a trestle bridge had been constructed across the river. In hopes of getting the tariff reduced, McMillan gave Capt. Flave J. Carpenter $5,000 and told him to go to New Orleans. A few weeks later, Carpenter began his trip from his dock just north of the bridge and proceeded down the river. Carpenter stopped short of the railway trestle and began wildly sounding his horn. When asked why the horn was blowing, his reply was that he was waiting for the drawbridge to be raised.”

The agent at the depot sent a telegraph to his supervisors in Little Rock. Later that day, a train with three engines and only one coach pulled into the station. It was carrying the division superintendent, the division freight agent, the division passenger agent and three lawyers.

The authors write: “It took less than 10 minutes to reduce the tariff, and the train headed back to Little Rock. The horn ceased to blow, and Carpenter continued his trip to New Orleans. Following the compromise between the mill and the railway, the mill continued a flourishing business until it succumbed to the Great Depression in the 1930s. The silos that still stand near the depot bear mute witness to its former existence.”

Arkadelphia remains filled with beautiful old homes. Two of them, the Barkman House and the Henderson House, are just across U.S. Highway 67 from each other. Both houses are owned by Henderson State University.

The Barkman House was built in 1860 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It was built by James Barkman.

“James Barkman was the son of Jacob Barkman and Rebecca Davis Barkman, who settled along the Caddo River in 1811,” writes Henderson historian David Sesser. “One of the earliest settlers in what became Clark County, Jacob Barkman owned a variety of businesses and worked as a planter. James Barkman was born in 1819 and followed his father into farming. The younger Barkman was successful and quickly accumulated wealth. In the 1860 census, the family of James Barkman included his wife Harriet, four daughters and one son. Barkman also owned 28 slaves. Eventually, James and Harriet had another daughter along with another son, Walter Eugene, who was born in the house and lived in it until his death in 1959.

“James Barkman began construction of the home on what was then the northwestern side of Arkadelphia before the start of the Civil War. The foundation and five chimneys are constructed of stuccoed brick. The house consists of a center hall with rooms on either side, with two wings at the rear. The first floor has four rooms along the central hall with two additional rooms in the south rear wing. The other wing contains modern facilities. With a hip roof and a chimney at each end, the building has a two-story facade across its front. The staircase in the house is rear facing, and both Greek and Gothic details are visible throughout the building.”

The house was sold to what was then Henderson State Teachers College in 1968 for $65,000. Archeological excavations took place on the grounds in 1990 and 1993.

According to “Visit Historic Arkadelphia”: “Local legend reports that piles of lumber were taken from the front yard to build fortifications and that Union troops occupied it for a month. … The mirror in the hallway is original to the house.”

The Henderson House was built by Charles C. Henderson, the man for whom HSU is named.

“Marrying in San Antonio in 1880, Henderson and his wife returned to Arkadelphia, where they began to purchase a number of houses and plots of land,” Sesser writes. “On July 16, 1892, Henderson bought a plot at the corner of present-day 10th and Henderson streets, directly opposite the campus of Arkadelphia Methodist College (now HSU), where he had been named to the board of trustees the previous year. Two small cottages built in 1876 on the property faced the campus. Henderson and his family lived in one of these homes for several years before the family moved to Ruston, La. Returning to Arkadelphia in 1903, Henderson moved one cottage to a new location and began an extensive expansion project on the second cottage.

“During the next several years, Henderson added a wraparound porch with a balustrade on the front of the home. The porch curves around a two-story turret and has a portico with six columns. The interior of the house is lavishly adorned with fretwork. Two parlors are located on the first floor, each with large fireplaces. Numerous other common rooms are located on the first floor, along with a heavily detailed staircase to the second floor. The staircase opens on the second floor into a square hallway that leads to numerous small rooms.”

“Visit Historic Arkadelphia” calls the Henderson House “a fine example of how successive owners can adapt a structure to changing needs and architectural tastes. Henderson, a former cattle broker with the St. Louis Livestock Commission, had bought the property from H.B. Stuart for $2,500 and then remodeled it over eight years at a cost of $5,000 into a 30-room Victorian mansion that he simply called ‘the big house.’ The exterior mixes Queen Anne-style with round turrets and a variety of window styles. The interior is said to have the state’s best fretwork. A later owner added the columns in the 1920s to give it a neoclassical look.”

Just four years after completing the house, Henderson moved to El Paso, Texas. He sold the house in 1911 to T.N. Wilson, who in turn sold it to Claude Phillips in 1918. The university bought the house in 1978 and operated a museum in the home until the 1990s. Following an extensive renovation in 1999, it became a bed-and-breakfast inn. It continues to operate as one of the best B&Bs in the South.

Another of the beautiful old homes in Arkadelphia is Magnolia Manor, which was built by John B. McDaniel from 1854-57. The house was several miles west of Arkadelphia when it was constructed but is now in the city limits. McDaniel journeyed to New Orleans and brought back two seedling magnolia trees to plant in front of the house. One of the trees still stands.

“The name of the home comes from the massive magnolia tree in the yard that was planted by McDaniel shortly after the home was constructed,” Sesser writes. “The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 1972. McDaniel was born on May 5, 1811, in Marlboro County, S.C. He married Mary Ann Thomas on June 14, 1836, and the couple eventually had five children. McDaniel owned a plantation in South Carolina but sold it in 1850 to move to Arkansas. Purchasing 80 acres in Clark County, McDaniel began construction on the house in 1854. By 1860, the family owned at least 320 acres.

“Madison Griffin, a mason from South Carolina, supervised construction of the house. A group of slaves owned by McDaniel completed construction. The bricks were made on site, and the lumber was from nearby trees. The foundation of the house is brick, and the walls are wood-frame construction. Wooden siding covers the house, typical of the Greek Revival style. The exterior of the house is white. Other Greek Revival characteristics include the corner boards, the entrance architraves, the flanking pilasters and the window surrounds. The roof of the two-story home has an overhang of two feet and is supported by scrollwork brackets.”

The house has three chimneys. Each chimney is connected to two fireplaces. The parlor, dining room, den and three bedrooms all have fireplaces.

“Mary Ann McDaniel died in 1883, and John B. McDaniel died in 1889,” Sesser writes. “Both are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Arkadelphia. They sold the house in 1877 to Annie Hoskins, and she lived there with her husband T.C. until they sold it to the son of the original owner in 1906. The daughter of John R. McDaniel and Kate McDaniel — Anne Stark McDaniel — lived in the house with her husband Benjamin Foster, a professor at Henderson. After his wife’s death, John R. McDaniel lived with his daughter and son-in-law until his death in 1918.”

State Sen. Fletcher McElhannon and his wife May purchased Magnolia Manor from the Fosters in 1929 and restored it in 1932-33. A garage with a bedroom above and a new porch were added. Another porch was enclosed, and two bathrooms were added. After May McElhannon’s death, the home was purchased by state Sen. Olen Hendrix, who did additional renovation work.

Another of the fine old homes in Arkadelphia is the Greek Revival-style Habicht-Cohn-Crow House, which was constructed by Anthony Habicht in 1870. Habicht was born in New York, the son of German immigrants. He came to Arkadelphia after the Civil War to work for the Freedmen’s Bureau and had a house built based on one he had seen in Natchez, Miss.

Habicht sold the home to Mark Matthias Cohn, the founder of what would become the M.M. Cohn chain of department stores. The Polish immigrant later moved his store to Little Rock. Some stories say it was because Arkadelphia civic leaders wouldn’t let him sell liquor in the mercantile store. The house was sold to real estate agent A.M. Crow and remained in the Crow family until 1932.

“Habicht resided in Arkadelphia for five years before moving to Texas, where he worked as a notary, in insurance and in banking,” Sesser writes. “He died in Austin in 1891. The east-facing house is located on a corner lot in downtown Arkadelphia and is surrounded by large magnolia and oak trees. The home was constructed by a Mennonite carpenter named Gebhardt. The home is designed in a T shape. It is fronted by a wide wood front porch with four evenly spaced columns. The porch is accessed by a set of wooden steps with banisters. The house is entered through double front doors that are covered with screen doors. The doors are flanked by sidelights and topped with a transom.”

William Gerig bought the house from the Crow family in 1932. It passed to his daughter, Mildred Gerig Newberry, in 1937. Following her death in 1971, the house went to her daughter, Emily Peterson. The house was sold several more times and is now occupied by an insurance company.

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