Archive for the ‘Traveling Arkansas’ Category

From Cotter to Ash Flat

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019


In late 1902, an attorney named Walker Powell leased land along the White River to the White River Railway.

The company built a depot, an engine maintenance facility and a terminal yard. The city of Cotter was incorporated there on July 13, 1904, and the railroad’s division headquarters was officially established there in 1905.

“Early businesses included hotels, drugstores, a lumber company and a button factory that used mussel shells harvested from the White River,” Guy Lancaster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, a division of the Central Arkansas Library System. “As the local economy grew, so did antipathy toward African-Americans, many of whom were attracted to the area due to railroad work. As an Aug. 25, 1905, article in the Cotter Courier noted: ‘There’s a strong feeling against the Negro in Cotter and the county, and the feeling is growing. It is quite likely there will not be a colored person in Baxter County within a year. They are not wanted.’

“On Aug. 24, 1906, after a fight broke out between two black residents, public notice was served that all African-Americans were to leave town immediately. At the time, the African-American population numbered 10, though the Arkansas Gazette reported that seven African-Americans had been driven off in previous weeks.”

The Great Flood of 1927 did significant damage at Cotter. Another landmark event occurred three years later when the Cotter Bridge was completed across the river. The bridge is still there and is one of the most photographed bridges in this part of the country.

“It was the first in Arkansas to become a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and is one of only a small number of bridges designated as such,” Rebecca Nighswonger writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “East-west travelers through northern Arkansas often encountered problems crossing the White River. Although ferries operated at several places along the river, the river had a tendency to flood rapidly, grounding the ferries and hindering traffic, sometimes for several days. The fastest detour was to cross 100 miles north in Branson, Mo.”

Two companies, Henderson Bridge Co. and Denton Bridge Co., were granted franchises to build privately owned toll bridges over the river. Nothing, however, was built.

The Cotter Bridge is now officially the R.M. Ruthven Bridge, named after a former Baxter County judge. Legend has it that a study was done for the state in 1928 that concluded that a bridge at Cotter couldn’t be justified. Ruthven is said to have stolen the report.

“In the absence of a report, the Arkansas Highway Commission approved the site,” Nighswonger writes. “The Marsh Engineering Co. in Des Moines, Iowa, designed the bridge with its patented rainbow arches. Frank Marsh came to Cotter in May 1929 to survey the area where the bridge would be constructed. Bids were made for construction, and one was accepted. All were later rejected when plans changed, starting the process again. The final contract went to Bateman Construction Co. of Nashville, Tenn.”

Construction began in November 1929 and ended in November 1930. A ferry continued to operate until July 1931 when the state paid Joe McCracken $250 to destroy the ferry.

The name was changed to the Ruthven Bridge in 1976, and the landmark status was granted in 1986.

In 1990, the bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A new bridge to the north was meant to replace the old bridge, but public outcry saved it. The Cotter Bridge was renovated in 2004.

Cotter also has a water tower that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. The tower was constructed in 1935 with assistance from the federal Public Works Administration.

“As the United States struggled with the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration enacted the National Industrial Recovery Act to ease the effects of businesses closing,” writes Arkansas historian Mark Christ of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. “The act included an organization called the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (the Public Works Administration), which was created on June 16, 1933, to help finance federal construction projects and create jobs. The city of Cotter decided to seek funding for a badly needed public water system, and on Oct. 27, 1933, the Cotter Record reported success, writing that “the approval of the application for a loan from the Federal Administration of Public Works will make it possible for Cotter to have a public water system and will give employment to many of the unemployed in this vicinity for several months.”

On our trip across northern Arkansas on U.S. Highway 412, we have breakfast at the White Sands in Cotter, which is like stepping back in time. We then make our way through Gassville, which had a population of 2,158 in the 2010 census. The town was founded by P.A. Cox, a talkative sort who often was referred to as “a real gasser.” Thus Gassville.

We continue east on Highway 412 into Mountain Home, which we wrote about extensively in an earlier series on the Southern Fried blog.

Mountain Home changed dramatically with the construction of Norfork and Bull Shoals dams. The city’s population soared from 927 in the 1940 census to 12,448 in the 2010 census.

Clement Mulloy writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects on the White and North Fork rivers were intended to “provide flood control and hydroelectric power. The project was also intended to stimulate commerce and industry throughout the region. Norfork Dam was completed in 1944, and Bull Shoals, one of the largest dams in the nation, was completed in 1951. Both were dedicated on July 2, 1952, with President Harry Truman as the keynote speaker of the event.

“The construction of the dams was the most important event in the history of Mountain Home. The town was ideally situated about midway between the two projects. Formerly an isolated rural community with few businesses or paved streets and fewer employment opportunities, Mountain Home suddenly became a boomtown with workers attracted by high-paying government jobs moving into the area. New businesses were established and houses built, while farms that had been abandoned during the Great Depression were reoccupied, safe from the threat of future flooding.”

Soon after leaving Mountain Home and continuing east, we cross the bridge over Norfork Lake. Until 1983, those traveling the highway had to use a ferry to cross the lake. Funds were finally released in the early 1980s to construct the bridge and replace the ferry, which was operated by what then was known as the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

We soon find ourselves in Fulton County. The rural county had just 12,245 residents in the 2010 census, but that’s still almost double the 6,657 people who lived there at the time of the 1960 census.

The first known white resident of the county was William P. Morris, who used a land grant to acquire 160 acres near what’s now Salem in the 1830s. The Arkansas Legislature created Fulton County in December 1842. Morris donated the land for the county seat. The town first was known as Pilot Hill because of a large hill that overlooked flatlands in the South Fork River bottoms. The first courthouse was a one-room log cabin.

Loyalties in the county were sharply divided during the Civil War with settlers from the rocky uplands favoring the Union (those settlers rarely owned slaves) and slave-owning farmers in the river and creek valleys favoring the Confederacy.

“Fulton County residents lived in a guerrilla warfare state for three years,” Sarah Simers writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Bands of thieves known as bushwhackers and jayhawkers roamed the area, raiding local farms and terrorizing the citizens. They also burned the county courthouse, destroying land and census records. In 1868, Confederate veterans met at Bennett’s Bayou (now in Baxter County) in the western part of the county and formed a local Ku Klux Klan.”

Simers writes that farmers in the county “grew cotton and corn as cash crops, raised hogs and cattle for market and personal consumption, and relied heavily upon gardens to supplement their diets. When the Great Depression hit, many struggling farmers lost their farms. The Rural Electrification Act, a New Deal program, allowed local residents to form an electric cooperative, North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, in 1939. This organization not only provided electricity but also much-needed jobs to the county. Industrialization in other parts of the country attracted Fulton County youth as they left home in search of economic opportunities.

“Despite the arrival of the Tri-County Shirt Factory in the 1960s, the county population reached an all-time low in the middle of the 20th century. Desegregation wasn’t an issue in Fulton County. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were fewer than five African-Americans living there, all of them above the age of 21. … Fulton County remains a small, rural area in the Ozark foothills. Many of the residents are retirees who have returned to their childhood home. Other retirees are attracted by the scenic beauty and reasonable cost of living.”

We pass through the community of Gepp and then find ourselves at Viola.

Joe and James Wiseman opened a store at what’s now Viola soon after the Civil War. By the early 1870s, there was a log schoolhouse and a Methodist church. By 1890, there were two general stores, two cotton gins, a Masonic lodge, blacksmith shops and a flour mill.

“By 1905, the public school had outgrown its building and was meeting in the Methodist church,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Around 1909, a new schoolhouse was built and was also used as a teacher training academy. Viola’s first bank opened in 1913. … Five newspapers were published in Viola between 1884 and 1920, but none of them lasted more than two years.”

The Viola School District remains the heart of the town, which had a population of 337 in the 2010 census.

We make our way into Salem, the Fulton County seat. We park at the courthouse downtown and visit with the country treasurer. Salem is small, but its population has more than doubled from 713 in the 1960 census to 1,635 in the 2010 census.

The first telephone lines connected Salem with Mammoth Spring in 1890. Electricity, however, didn’t arrive until 1928. The power company was owned by brothers Ed and Wyatt Wolf, who turned off the power at 11 p.m. each evening and restored it at 6 a.m. the next day.

Highway 412 veers to the southeast as we leave Salem. We pass through the communities of Glencoe and Agnos and cross into Sharp County.

Like other counties in the state, Sharp County suffered from 1940-60 as Arkansans left home in search of work. Sharp County saw its population fall from 11,497 in the 1940 census to 6,319 in the 1960 census. The advent of the retirement industry industry changed all of that. By the 2010 census, Sharp County was at an all-time high of 17,264 residents.

Sharp County was established in 1868.

“The date when the first white settlers inhabited what’s now Sharp County remains disputed, though the earliest families were known to have been living in the Ash Flat area in the middle to late 1820s,” Nancy Orr writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Other towns such as Calamine were soon settled. The Williford area was settled in 1841. Evening Shade established the first school in 1847. In 1856, zinc was discovered in and around Calamine and was mined until the advent of the Civil War. … Some of the early settlers brought slaves with them.”

There were a few skirmishes but no major battles in the area during the Civil War.

“Sharp County was carved from Lawrence County in 1868 with parts of Independence County annexed in 1873,” Orr writes. “The newly formed county was named in honor of Ephraim Sharp of Evening Shade, who served as a state representative for Lawrence County. Sharp County was described at the time in a letter from H.L. Roberts to James M. Lewis, Arkansas’ first appointed commissioner of immigration and state lands, as being in a part of the state known for its bountiful fruit trees, abundance of timber, plentiful game, scenic grasslands and rivers.

“At first, the county had two courthouses. The first was built in 1870 in Evening Shade, while the second in Hardy was completed in 1894. It was necessary to have two because the county was divided by two rivers, the Strawberry River at the south end of the county and the Spring River at the north end.”

By 1890, there were 79 one-room schoolhouses scattered across the county.

Sharp County had just 93 black residents in the 2010 census. A Dec. 28, 1906, article in the Sharp County Record noted that blacks were fleeing Evening Shade following the posting of a notice “to the effect that these Negroes must leave the county at once.” Most communities in the county became known as sundown towns, places where blacks weren’t allowed after dark.

“The Great Depression hit Sharp County hard, but its residents were more fortunate than many living in the cities,” Orr writes. “Sharp County residents raised animals for meat and milk and had large gardens. Often cars were parked and put up on blacks so that the tires wouldn’t rot. Few had money to buy gasoline. World War II took many of the young men from the area, and families moved away to seek work. A number of people left for the state of Washington to pick fruit.”

The first town we reach in Sharp County is the current county seat of Ash Flat, which had a population of 980 in the 2010 census.

In 1967, the Arkansas Legislature passed a bill abolishing the dual county seats at Hardy and Evening Shade. Ash Flat was designated as the lone county seat.

“The relocation of the county seat improved overall business conditions,” writes historian Wayne Dowdy of Memphis. “Ash Flat also benefited economically from tourism to the Spring River area, though it doesn’t have any resort amenities like nearby Cherokee Village and Hardy. … The town remains a vital retail center with several stores that meet the consumer needs of area residents.”

The town dates back to 1856 when a post office was established here. Postmaster James McCord and a group of area residents based the name of the town on a grove of ash trees in the area.

“Isolated from Arkansas’ major commercial centers, Ash Flat evolved into an important trading destination for the surrounding farm communities,” Dowdy writes. “Ash Flat had a blacksmith shop, three stores, two saloons and a cotton gin in 1871. Thomas V. Stephens and R.J. Wilson put the cotton gin near Big Creek so the oxen that turned the wheel could have access to fresh water. By 1889, Ash Flat’s business interests had expanded to include a saddle-making operation, a grist and flour mill, a drugstore, a hotel and a sawmill. The town also had two churches and a physician.”

Ash Flat’s first high school opened in 1905.

David Mullins, who was the president of the University of Arkansas from 1960-74, was born at Ash Flat in 1906. Baseball pitcher Charles Elwin “Preacher” Roe was born at Ash Flat in 1915. He won 127 games from 1938-53 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.

We next pass through Highland, Cherokee Village and Hardy, towns that became dependent on tourists and retirees beginning in the 1960s.

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Harrison to Cotter

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019


We cross Crooked Creek as we leave Harrison, continuing our trek across north Arkansas on U.S. Highway 412.

The stream, famous among those who fish for smallmouth bass, begins south of Harrison in Newton County. It flows north into Boone County and under the highway here before turning east. We’ll cross the creek again at Pyatt in Marion County.

Crooked Creek eventually enters the White River. Jerry McKinnis made the creek famous with numerous episodes on his nationally televised fishing show.

The website “Fishing the Arkansas Ozarks” describes the creek as one that flows almost 80 miles “through oak-hickory hardwood forests, cedar glades and pastureland until it converges with the White River below Cotter. Its streambed is composed primarily of limestone gravel, boulders, bedrock and sand. In few places does the stream exceed more than 80 feet in width. Influenced by numerous springs, the water is clear and cool. In most reaches, the gradient isn’t steep, and flows are usually mild.”

The most popular floating area is the 20-mile stretch from Pyatt to Yellville.

The website describes the creek as “one of the best smallmouth bass fisheries in America, and anglers from more than 20 states fish it regularly. It’s one of Arkansas’ two Ozark Blue Ribbon Smallmouth Streams (the other being the nearby Buffalo River). When various aspects of its smallmouth fishery were compared to those of other famous streams, it invariably ranked within the top three in all categories. These categories included density (number of smallmouth per mile), catch rates (fish per hour), growth rates, size structure of fish population, yield (pounds harvested per hour), fishing pressure (hours of fishing per acre) and others.”

Crooked Creek was compared to top smallmouth streams in Virginia, West Virginia, Missouri and Wisconsin.

“None of those streams ranked as high consistently in all categories,” the website states. “Smallmouth do so well because Crooked Creek has excellent habitat (many deep pools, deep runs, boulders, large woody debris and undercut banks), the water is cool and highly aerated by numerous riffles, the growing season is long, and forage (crawfish, sunfish and minnows) is abundant. Every year, a number of four- to five-pound smallmouth are caught on Crooked Creek. … It isn’t uncommon for an angler to catch more than 40 fish in a day. Catches of more than 100 in a day have been reported to creel clerks. Crooked Creek also contains an excellent fishery for Ozark bass in the one-pound class. Largemouth bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish and green sunfish are fairly common.”

The downside is that Crooked Creek is also a good source for sand and gravel.

According to the website: “Because of rapid population growth and attendant construction in the Ozarks, demand for these materials became high. Large-scale gravel mining became a serious threat to the quality of the stream.”

The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission operates the Fred Berry Conservation Education Center along Crooked Creek near Yellville. Fred Berry, a local teacher, gave stock in a Yellville bank worth almost $2 million to the Arkansas Game & Fish Foundation and the Nature Conservancy. A 421-acre tract along the creek was purchased, removing a 2.75-mile section of the stream from the threat of gravel mining. Buildings and trails were then constructed.

We leave the Harrison city limits and find ourself in Bellefonte, which was the first temporary county seat of Boone County.

“The first white settler at the site that would become Bellefonte was John Simms, who purchased 80 acres of land from the U.S. government in 1854,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, a division of the Central Arkansas Library System. “The land included a productive spring of fresh water. Simms was later joined by the Freeland, Laffoon and Williams families. Two stores and a saloon were built. The men of the community reportedly chose to name their settlement for the spring. One of them supposedly said that ‘belle fonte’ is Latin for ‘beautiful spring.’ In truth, the French ‘belle fontaine’ comes closer than any Latin expression for a spring.

“A post office was established in the settlement in 1848, but it was called Hussaw until 1852 and then bore the name Mount Pleasant until 1871. According to the 1860 census, the community included a Baptist minister, two physicians, an attorney, eight blacksmiths, eight merchants, a tanner, a wagon maker, two masons and two carpenters. The settlement was known as a market for cattle raised in the Ozark Mountains.”

The community produced both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War.

In 1869, Boone County voters chose to make Harrison the county seat. The post office at Bellefonte changed its name from Mount Pleasant to Bellefonte in 1871.

Bellefonte was incorporated in 1872.

“By this time, the town had dozens of businesses, including a drugstore, a millinery shop, a livery stable, two saloons, a cotton gin, a flour mill and a leather factory that manufactured saddles, bridles and shoes,” Teske writes. “It also had an academy called North Arkansas College. A grade school was built. … Fourteen buildings, including the academy, were destroyed by fire in 1882. This fire slowed the growth of the town.”

The Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad completed its line through Bellefonte in 1901.

“A railroad depot was built, a hotel opened and business increased at the cotton gin and flour mill,” Teske writes. “The school burned down in 1901 and was again replaced. Another fire in 1912 destroyed the hotel and several stores and residences. The town failed to grow due to these setbacks. Several small school districts were consolidated into the Bellefonte School District during the 1920s. In 1929, several new homes were built, and a lake was constructed near the spring for which Bellefonte was named. In 1936, a lumber mill was built.”

The railroad ceased operations in the early 1960s, the post office closed in 1965 and the school district consolidated with Valley Springs.

Bellefonte had a population of 454 in the 2010 census, up from 300 in the 1970 census.

We continue east on Highway 412, passing through the community of Harmon before entering Marion County.

“The first white person born in Marion County is believed to have been A.S. ‘Uncle Bud’ Wood, the son of William Wood,” Sherry Sanders-Gray writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “William Wood moved from Tennessee as a young man between 1815 and 1820. One of the earliest white families in Marion County consisted of Mike Yocum and his three brothers — Jess, Solomon and Jake. These four men came to America from Germany in the 1820s or 1830s and settled at the mouth of the Little North Fork of the White River. Mike Yocum owned a mill located there.”

What’s now Marion County was created by the Arkansas Territorial Legislature in 1835 and called Searcy County for a time. In September 1836, the year Arkansas became a state, the Legislature named the county for Gen. Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War hero. The first courthouse was in the home of Thomas Adams, but the county seat was later moved to Yellville. The city was in the center of the county and on a military road that connected Batesville and Fayetteville.

“A significant free African-American population existed in Marion County beginning with David Hall, who moved from Tennessee with his family and settled on the White River near the mouth of the Little North Fork around 1819,” Sanders-Gray writes. “The 1850 census listed 129 free blacks and 126 slaves in Marion County, meaning that African-Americans made up 12 percent of the county’s population. Until passage of the short-lived Act 159 of 1859, mandating the expulsion of free blacks from the state, there existed for three decades little discord between the white and black populations of the county. By late 1860, however, the free black population had shrunk to eight.”

Few Marion County residents owned slaves, and there was strong Union sentiment during the Civil War, though the county did supply solders to the Confederate Army.

“As more and more men were recruited and left home, the county saw an influx of men from other areas who sought to evade service and began to plunder the largely defenseless homes and farms,”  Sanders-Gray writes. “These bushwhackers, along with groups of Union soldiers invading the county after the Battle of Pea Ridge, wrought vast devastation. … Yellville was occupied at various times by both forces and was controlled during the winter of 1864-65 by a large band of bushwhackers. By the end of the war, Yellville had been almost completely destroyed by fire. Rebuilding Yellville and the rest of the county happened slowly during Reconstruction.”

The county’s population grew from 3,979 in the 1860 census to 11,377 in the 1890 census due to the start of mining for lead and zinc. The area was helped in the early 1900s by the arrival of the Iron Mountain Railroad, which stopped at Pyatt, Yellville and Flippin.

Marion County’s population fell during each census in the first half of the 20th century, however. It bottomed out at 6,041 residents in the 1960 census.

“When the mining industry declined, people began to leave Marion County, seeking jobs elsewhere,” Sanders-Gray writes. “The Great Depression increased the exodus from the county. Several banks in Yellville and Flippin closed, and some stores went out of business. The Civilian Conservation Corps was active at Buffalo State Park (land now occupied by the National Park Service’s Buffalo National River) and in a small soil conservation project in the community of Eros. … Money-making efforts included digging for mussel shells and even occasional pearls in the White River, as well as raising herbs. Cotton had been a principal crop of Marion County since steamboats first came up the river in the 19th century, but tomatoes and fruits replaced cotton as the primary crops.

“During World War II, tomatoes continued to be a main crop in Marion County. The federal government purchased tomatoes from several farmers to feed American soldiers. After the war ended, the industry faltered. An attempt to raise strawberries in the southern part of the county similarly failed. Eventually, most of the agricultural land was converted to pasture or to fields of hay to support a growing cattle industry.”

Things turned around with the construction of Bull Shoals Dam (1947-51) and the tourists and retirees the project later brought to the county. The population was back up to 16,653 by the 2010 census.

We pass through or near Pyatt, Snow and Summit before stopping to walk around downtown Yellville, best known statewide for its annual turkey festival and the live turkeys that once were dropped from planes as part of that festival.

“In 1817, the federal government declared parts of the White River and Arkansas River valleys in northern Arkansas a Cherokee reservation,” Teske writes. “The Cherokee invited other tribes to join them on their land, and the Shawnee of the Ohio River Valley were one group who accepted the invitation. One of their settlements was on Crooked Creek, about 20 miles from the White River. An estimated 300 Shawnee lived there until 1828 when a new treaty moved the Cherokee farther west, opening northern Arkansas to settlement by Americans of European descent. The Shawnee also left, moving to Texas and to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). White settlers began using the houses and farms that the Shawnee had built, calling the settlement Shawneetown.”

When this became the county seat, the settlement was renamed to honor Archibald Yell, the state’s first representative to Congress and second governor.

“A community legend states that Yell wanted the city to be named for him and offered city leaders $50 for the honor but he never paid them,” Teske writes. “In 2005, two of Yell’s descendants, David Yell from Michigan and Sonny Yell from Georgia, visited Yellville and gave the city a gift of $50 in the name of their ancestor.”

The current Marion County courthouse at Yellville — the fifth in the county’s history — was built in 1944 on the site of the courthouse that had burned in January 1943.

And what about that turkey festival?

Teske writes: “After World War II, the American Legion post in Yellville elected to hold a festival celebrating the wild turkey. Wild turkey hunting had been suspended in Arkansas because hunters had depleted the species. The National Wild Turkey Calling Contest and Turkey Trot was held every October in Yellville on the second Friday and Saturday of the month. … Part of the celebration traditionally included dropping live wild turkeys from low-flying planes in an effort to replenish the species. Reportedly, the effort has on occasion killed rather than freed the birds. National attention was given to the turkey drop, including a memorable 1979 episode of the sitcom ‘WKRP in Cincinnati.'”

We head east out of Yellville and then make a short detour to the north in order to visit Flippin. The town, which had a population of 1,355 in the 2010 census, is best known as the home of Ranger Boats.

“In 1968, Forrest L. Wood and Nina Wood established Ranger, a company generally credited with the introduction of the modern-day bass boat,” Eve West writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The first six boats produced by the company were built in Flippin’s present-day city hall. In 1971, the original plant was destroyed by fire, but it was rebuilt.”

During the construction of Bull Shoals Dam, rocks needed for the project came from a quarry on Lee’s Mountain between Flippin and Bull Shoals.

“A conveyor belt, four feet wide and seven miles long, carried rock blasted out of the mountainside to a site near Bull Shoals, where the dam was being built,” West writes. “The belt ran 24 hours a day, and the quarry and dam’s construction provided jobs for many. The completion of the dam in 1951 and the creation of Bull Shoals Lake caused tourism to flourish along the upper White River. Resorts and fishing guide services sprang up, and what was to become Marion’s County’s largest industry was established.”

The first white settlers in this part of the county established homes in an area known as the Barrens.

“Established sometime in the early 1800s, the Barrens was a small settlement that included a general store, flour mill and cotton gin,” West writes. “The name later changed, and local legend purports that the owner of the general store, a man named Johnson, wasn’t pleased with the wares being sold by a peddler and therefore sent him away. Johnson was assisted by a goat that butted the peddler’s backside, and the settlement assumed a second name that it retained for years thereafter — Goatville.

“The name Flippin Barrens originated with Thomas H. Flippin, who migrated to Arkansas from Tennessee in 1837. He married Elizabeth Baugh and had two sons, W.B. and Thomas. He and his wife were farmers, and Flippin also served as Marion County clerk. Flippin died in 1856, leaving many descendants.”

The community’s first post office opened in 1878. People later began to move closer to the railroad, and that town was incorporated as Flippin in 1921. The first mayor was James Keeter. The population was 325 residents in the 1930 census.

We get back on Highway 412 and head to Cotter, which was once an important railroad town and is now known for the trout fishing there on the White River.

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From Huntsville to Harrison

Thursday, May 9th, 2019


When those of a certain age think of Huntsville, they still think of Gov. Orval Faubus, who served six terms as governor from 1955-67 and was one of the most famous (or infamous) people in the country following the 1957 Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis.

The Fay Jones-designed home that Faubus built during his final term as governor still overlooks the town from what’s known as Governor’s Hill. It was controversial because Faubus built the mansion despite having a salary of $10,000 a year as governor.

He would later say “his friends” helped out.

Huntsville has benefited from the growth in nearby Washington and Benton counties, having increased in population from 1,050 in the 1960 census when Faubus was in office to 2,346 in the 2010 census.

Madison County was established in 1836, and the first courthouse at Huntsville was built a year later.

“The town was also surveyed that year by county surveyor Thomas McCuistion (who also served as a schoolmaster at one of the county’s earliest schools just outside Huntsville),” Rebecca Haden and Joy Russell write for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “John Buchanan, the only postmaster in the region, moved his post office to the town at that time along with his home. He attempted to change the name of the town to Sevierville in recognition of Ambrose Sevier but was not successful. The post office was officially named Huntsville on Jan. 17, 1840.”

Haden and Russell report that Huntsville was the home of “numerous stores, saloons, blacksmiths, saddlers, mills, stables, lawyers and a newspaper” by the time of the Civil War.

Isaac Murphy, who would become the eighth governor of Arkansas, settled there in 1854. The courthouse and a number of businesses were burned during the Civil War.

“One incident known as the Huntsville Massacre took place on Jan. 10, 1863,” Haden and Russell write. “The Union Army under Gen. Francis J. Herron executed nine prisoners of war. A letter from Col. C.W. Marsh referred to this as ‘murder’ and ‘a great outrage.’ Most of these men were buried in Huntsville. In November of the same year, Union forces traveled through the area, killing and capturing guerillas. In September 1864, there was a skirmish at Rodger’s Crossing outside Huntsville.

“Most businesses were closed, the newspaper shut down and normal life was suspended. Following the war, the remaining residents began to rebuild their lives and businesses. Former slaves remained in the area with the African-American population growing until the 20th century.”

Once the 20th century arrived, however, there were successful efforts to ensure that black residents no longer lived in the area. Huntsville and other communities in this part of north Arkansas earned well-deserved reputations for being sundown towns.

Huntsville benefited from the harvest of virgin timber in the region from the 1880s through the 1920s.

“The 1920s were a time of prosperity for Huntsville,” Haden and Russell write. “A high school was built, electricity became available and automobiles began to be seen around town. Timber was still a profitable industry, and tomatoes and fruit were important cash crops. Bootlegging was also profitable, and Huntsville developed a reputation for wild living. … The Great Depression hit all of Madison County hard, though. The practices common in the timber industry had led to erosion, and the hilly soil was not suited to row crops such as corn or wheat. Even the small cash crops and subsistence crops that farmers had relied upon failed or became unprofitable.

“Madison County had cases of rabies, diphtheria and malaria as well as malnutrition. The population of the county declined, the railroads were dismantled and the timber industry collapsed. Without the support of surrounding agriculture, Huntsville had no customers for its businesses.”

The current courthouse was dedicated in November 1939.

The economy later improved in Huntsville and the surrounding area due to the growth of the poultry industry. Faubus also made sure that plenty of state projects found their way to Madison County during his 12 years as governor.

The Faubus mansion covers 14,778 square feet. As upkeep and property taxes took their toll, Faubus tried in his later years to convince the state to buy the house as a historic site. It was sold in 1989 to a couple from Delaware for $318,000.

“I would have been pleased to spend the rest of my life in the house, but that was not to be,” Faubus said that year. “My finances and obligations were in thousands instead of millions, but they are satisfied. And I can put on my tombstone: ‘His debts were paid.'”

Faubus died in December 1994.

Construction of the home had begun in 1965 during Faubus’ final two-year term as governor. He moved into the house in July 1967, six months after leaving office.

James O. Powell, the longtime editorial page editor of the Arkansas Gazette, once explained: “It wasn’t terribly complicated. It was done by a lot of gifts from a great range of friends of his. There was an open solicitation for funds. As I recall, we referred to them as ‘love gifts.’ They were large gifts from people he had done a lot of favors for, and at the time, he was still in a position to do more favors for them. It was just the baldest kind of conflict of interest to be a governor in office and receiving gifts — huge gifts — for the construction of a house.”

We head east out of Huntsville on U.S. Highway 412 and cross two of the state’s most beautiful streams, War Eagle Creek (some call it a river) and the Kings River. The streams have their headwaters in the same area, and both flow to the north.

The War Eagle begins in southern Madison County just west of the community of Boston. It flows to the northwest, passing the tiny communities of Witter and Aurora. It flows just east of Huntsville and crosses under Highway 412 northeast of Harmony. Withrow Springs State Park is along the creek. The creek eventually flows through the northeast corner of Washington County and into Benton County before entering Beaver Lake on the White River.

The Kings River, which I like to call the Buffalo River without the traffic, flows almost 90 miles through Madison and Carroll counties before entering Table Rock Lake on the White River. The river also begins near Boston in Madison County.

“The river divides Carroll County politically,” Scott Branyan writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “In 1883, the Arkansas Legislature recognized two judicial districts, at Berryville and Eureka Springs, on opposite sides of the river. … One of the first men of European ancestry to reach the Kings River was Henry King from Alabama. King, Thomas Cunningham and John J. Coulter made a prospecting expedition into the Boston Mountains in the summer and fall of 1827. Accounts differ as to King’s death.”

These settlers from Alabama along with settlers from Tennessee harvested timber along the river and opened up fields for small farms.

“Changes and decline accelerated in the 1940s when the poultry industry started to replace traditional subsistence farms,” Branyan writes. “More river corridor land was cleared to build poultry houses and to make room for cattle and hay pastures, which helped supplement poultry farmers’ incomes. By 1951, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had begun to make plans to dam the river near Grandview in Carroll County as part of flood-control efforts on the White River and tributaries, but a dam has never been constructed. Conservation gains over the years have written a different fate for the river.”

The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission maintains a state natural area along the river. In 2010, the Nature Conservancy purchased what’s known as the Kings River Preserve. The preserve includes almost 5,000 acres.

The Kings River has some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the country, attracting float fishermen from across Arkansas and from surrounding states.

We cross into Carroll County, a tourism magnet that saw its population more than double from 11,284 in the 1960 census to 27,446 in the 2010 census.

The county was created in November 1833 as part of the Arkansas Territory and named after Charles Carroll of Maryland, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. We’re in the sparsely populated southern part of the county, far from the tourism attractions in and around Eureka Springs in the north.

We cross another of the area’s scenic streams, Osage Creek. The creek starts in northern Newton County and enters the Kings River just below the U.S. Highway 62 bridge between Berryville and Eureka Springs. The Osage is also a fine stream for catching smallmouth bass.

We stop by the Osage Clayworks, where potter Newt Lale has been doing his thing for three decades. The pottery shop is housed in the building that was constructed in 1901 to house the Stamps General Store. The store operated until the late 1980s. It’s truly an Arkansas classic.

Highway 412 veers to the north at this point, and we soon find ourselves at Alpena on the line between Carroll and Boone counties. Highway 412 joins Highway 62 at Alpena. The two highways will run concurrently until we reach Imboden in Lawrence County.

I’ve also fished for smallmouth bass out of here on Long Creek. It was a wonderful float, and plenty of fish were caught.

Alpena was a product of the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad.

“The fertile land along Long Creek attracted John Boyd, who received a land grant in 1849,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “He was joined by William J. Estes in 1860 and Bailey Stone in 1861. As Carrollton, then the county seat of Carroll County, was only a few miles away, the residents couldn’t escape the upheaval caused by the Civil War. In 1862, about 3,000 Union troops camped in the area. After the Battle of Prairie Grove in December of that year, more than 20,000 Union soldiers were stationed at Carrollton. Skirmishes were fought in 1863-64, and guerrilla fighters controlled the area until the end of the war. The only structures surviving in Carrollton at the end of the war were two stables.”

The route of the railroad, which was three miles from Carrollton, spelled the end of that town. Alpena, which had been established as a camp for railroad workers, started to grow.

“Businesses began to relocate at the camp, sometimes disassembling their buildings in Carrollton to reassemble them at the camp,” Teske writes. “A post office was approved in 1901. It was briefly known as Estes before it was renamed Alpena Pass. When the town was incorporated in 1913, the name was shortened to Alpena. The town’s website claims that the name was that of one of the railroad cooks. Local farmers cut timber to sell ties to the railroad, and the town was platted in November 1900.”

Teske says that Alpena soon had “three general stores, two hotels, a drugstore, a poultry house, a livery stable, a school with 50 pupils, a lumber yard, two churches, three real estate agents, a restaurant, a barbershop, two blacksmith shops, a physician, a printing office and a population estimated at 450. By 1908, it had six general stores, a millinery shop, a bank and a flour mill as well as retaining most of the earlier features. A tomato-canning factory opened in 1910.”

By 1920, Alpena was a center for the timber operations that were clearing the virgin hardwood forests in the area. Timber and farm products were loaded onto trains that stopped there.

There was severe flooding along Long Creek in 1927, and many businesses closed during the Great Depression. The bank closed in 1931, and the railroad went out of business in 1961. Alpena’s official population hasn’t topped 400 since the 1920 census. It was 392 in the 2010 census.

The next stop is Harrison, which has long been the center of trade for this part of the state. The city saw its population triple from 4,238 in the 1940 census to 12,943 in the 2010 census.

What was known as the Crooked Creek post office was established in 1836, the year Arkansas became a state. A nearby settlement was named Stiffler Spring after owner Albert Stiffler. The two communities were part of Carroll County until Boone County was carved out of the eastern part of Carroll County in 1869.

“Determined to create a new town as the county seat, Henry Fick had Col. Marcus LaRue Harrison lay out the town with wide side streets and a courthouse square,” C.J. Miller writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Harrison and crew were in the area surveying for the railroad. In exchange for the survey, Fick named the town after the surveyor. In 1870, Crooked Creek’s post office was renamed Harrison. Newspaper editor Thomas Newman was elected mayor in 1882, and the U.S. Government Land Office moved to town in 1871.

“Harrison experienced opposition to its position as county seat. Civil War sentiment drove the Democratic, Confederate-leaning residents of Bellefonte to challenge the Republican, Union-leaning residents of Harrison for the designation of county seat. A hard-fought election ensued. Newspapers carried reports of murder attempts and corruption. Muskets were rumored to have been slipped into Harrison in boxes marked ‘records.’ However, a countywide vote resulted in Harrison winning the position of county seat.”

The year 1901 was a big one for Harrison. That was the year the Harrison Electric & Ice Co. brought electricity to town. It also was the year the railroad arrived.

“By 1912, the headquarters of the Missouri & North Arkansas line was in Harrison,” Miller writes. “Financial problems led to reduced wages. A strike by employees hit the line in 1921. Conflicts between those on strike and strikebreakers resulted in harassment and vandalism. The Protective League was established to prevent further damage . The line closed and later reopened with lower wages. Bridges were burned. The Protective League administered its form of justice with whippings and the hanging of Ed Gregor during what was called the Harrison Railroad Riot. The M&NA was granted permission to stop service in 1961.”

Harrison has long had to contend with a history of racial conflicts. In 1905, a vigilante mob burned homes and whipped residents in the black section of town. Many black residents fled the city at that time.

The rest of Harrison’s black residents left after a race riot that followed the 1909 trial of Charles Stinnettt, a black man accused of raping an elderly white woman.

After that, Harrison had a reputation of being a sundown town.

“The Ku Klux Klan was organized in Harrison in 1922 to fight what was seen as moral decline, including moonshine and prostitution,” Miller writes. “It played a role in fighting striking workers on the MN&A line. … Although the practice of not providing services to African-Americans ended in the 1970s, the stigma Harrison earned as a sundown town was reinforced by the reappearance of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1990s. Klan rallies led by local resident Thom Robb ceased in the mid-1990s, though the Klan maintained a compound in nearby Zinc and a presence on the Internet.”

Harrison was back in the news in 2013 when a billboard went up that read “Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White.” In December 2014, another billboard went up on which the KKK advertised its online radio station.

Harrison has experienced consistent growth, however. Publisher J.E. Dunlap of the Harrison Daily Times proclaimed it to be “the hub of the Ozarks,” and the nickname stuck.

Harrison native John Paul Hammerschmidt was elected to Congress in 1966 and worked during his 24 years in office to bring federal projects to the area.

A vote among Boone County residents in 1973 led to the creation of a community college now known as North Arkansas College. Harrison also benefited from the designation of the nearby Buffalo River as the nation’s first national river with large areas of the stream overseen by the National Park Service.

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From Siloam Springs to Huntsville

Monday, May 6th, 2019


We leave Siloam Springs and head east on U.S. Highway 412, passing through a bit of bucolic Ozarks countryside before entering the congested confines of Springdale.

We cross the Illinois River twice. The river flows to the northwest and then to the southwest through Washington and Benton counties before entering Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Legislature declared the Illinois to be a State Scenic River in 1970. That set the stage for decades of litigation between the two states with Oklahoma claiming that the runoff of poultry waste along with pollution from wastewater treatment facilities in booming northwest Arkansas had sullied the stream.

We go from Benton County into Washington County, which saw its population almost quadruple from 55,797 in the 1960 census to 203,065 in the 2010 census. The current population is estimated at about 235,000 residents.

Washington County was established in October 1828 from Lovely County.

“Conflict between the Osage and Cherokee in what’s now Washington County led to intermittent raids, which Indian agents and U.S. Army leaders attempted to end, often without success,” Matthew Bryan Kirkpatrick writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “William L. Lovely was assigned as the agent to the Western Cherokee by the U.S. government and sought to settle the dispute between the two warring tribes and the white settlers. In 1816, Lovely made what was known as the Lovely Purchase through an unauthorized sale of land from the Osage. The actual western border of the Cherokee land, which included portions of Washington County, was vague and remained unsurveyed until 1825.

“On Oct. 13, 1827, the Arkansas Territorial Legislature created Lovely County. Present-day Washington County was within the borders of this county. The seat of Lovely County was established at Nicksville, Okla. Many early settlers to Washington County came to the area after the establishment of Lovely County. The county was formed after the Cherokee were removed and the area was deemed safe for white settlement.”

There were settlements at Cane Hill by 1827 and at Shiloh (now Springdale) and Fayetteville by the 1830s.

“Lovely County was abolished by October 1828, most of it ending up, when the border was drawn, in Indian Territory,” Kirkpatrick writes. “From much of what was left in Arkansas Territory, Washington County was formally created three days later. … Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, Washington County started to attract more affluent citizens. This is probably due to the good climate and availability of inexpensive land. Archibald Yell may be the most famous man from early Washington County. In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson appointed him a judge in the region. Yell built his home, Waxhaw, in Fayetteville and practiced law in and around Fayetteville. In 1836, he was Arkansas’ first congressman. In 1840, he became Arkansas’ second governor.”

By the late 1800s, this had become one of the nation’s top fruit-growing regions.

“As early as 1852, area farmers sent crates of their ‘striped Ben’ apples across the Boston Mountains to sell at settlements along the Arkansas River,” Kirkpatrick writes. “Orchard production remained small until after the Civil War. Agriculture received a great boost with the completion of the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railway. It was completed in 1882 and provided a quick, reliable mode of transportation for commerce. Washington County’s apple harvest was the highest in the state in 1890 with 211,685 bushels. By 1900, production had nearly tripled to 614,924 bushels. The Western Arkansas Fruit Growers & Shippers Cooperative Association was organized at Springdale in 1888. … By 1900, Washington County was also exporting fence posts, hardwood lumber, railroad ties, spokes and posts throughout the country.”

The fruit business waned in the 1920s, and the timber boom slowed with the virgin timber having been cut. Fortunately for Washington County residents, the poultry industry took off.

“The Aaron Poultry & Egg Co. created the county’s first modern poultry processing facility in 1914 at an old mill building on Dickson Street in Fayetteville,” Kirkpatrick writes. “In 1916, the Aaron Co. decided not to build a permanent plant in Fayetteville. But Jay Fulbright, the father of future U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, built a processing plant along with other investors on West Avenue in Fayetteville. The company improved local stock both in egg production and the quality of roosters. Chickens slaughtered in the Fayetteville plant were shipped to markets throughout the nation. The plant grew, changed owners and eventually was acquired by the Campbell Soup Co. in 1955. Feed mills dot the landscape up and down U.S. Highway 71.”

We reach the suburban sprawl of the Fayetteville-to-Bentonville corridor and find ourself in Tontitown, a historic Italian community that has seen its population soar from 209 people in 1960 to an estimated 3,800 people today. Father Pietro Bandini led a group of Italian Catholic immigrants across the state from the Lake Village area to settle Tontitown in 1898.

The town was named in honor of explorer Henri de Tonti.

“The Tontitown Italians were tenant farmers on a south Arkansas plantation known as Sunnyside,” writes Susan Young of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History at Springdale. “Groups from northern and central Italy arrived there in 1895 and 1897 and soon found themselves battling poor sanitation, disease, unfamiliar farming methods, language barriers and contract disputes. In early 1898, about 40 families chose to follow Bandini, the plantation’s resident priest, to the Arkansas Ozarks where the climate, terrain and small-scale agriculture were more similar to northern and central Italy. They settled on a parcel of rocky land west of Springdale. Abandoned cabins and outbuildings provided shelter until homes could be built. Horses and plows were bought on credit. Land was cleared, and vegetable gardens, vineyards, apple orchards, peach orchards and fields of strawberries were planted.

“At the end of June 1898, Tontitown settlers held a picnic in observance of the Feast of St. Peter, Bandini’s patron saint. The annual picnic, which was moved to August in 1913 to coincide with the grape harvest, was the forerunner of today’s Tontitown Grape Festival. Early on, a group of thugs tried to burn down Tontitown’s schoolhouse, which also served as the church and residence of Bandini. According to local tradition, a picture of St. Joseph hanging in the schoolhouse was untouched by the fire, and so the parish was named for the saint. A new church building was dedicated in 1900, a post office was established the same year and the first mercantile store was opened by John Pozza.”

Bandini, who died of a stroke in January 1917, was intent on creating a model community. St. Mary’s Academy, a boarding and day school operated by the Sisters of Mercy from Fort Smith, opened at Tontitown in 1906. The town was incorporated in 1909, and Bandini was elected the first mayor in 1910. The railroad arrived in 1912.

“Grapes became Tontitown’s signature crop, especially with the arrival of a Welch grape juice factory in nearby Springdale in the early 1920s,” Young writes. “Tontitown’s vineyards often produced three to five tons of grapes per acre. The Mantegani and Granata family wineries produced some of Tontitown’s most popular wines. … The Grape Festival expanded to multiple days in the 1930s. At the heart of it all is the spaghetti dinner prepared by members of St. Joseph Catholic Church. Beginning in July each year, volunteers prepare hundreds of pounds of homemade pasta and sauce. Thousands of festival-goers are served the spaghetti dinner, which also includes fried chicken, salad with homemade Italian dressing, homemade rolls and, of course, Concord grapes. Proceeds from the spaghetti dinner and the Queen Concordia contest go to support the parish.

“In 1932, Albina Mantegani was crowned as the first Grape Festival queen. The queen contest didn’t resume until 1942 when Elsie Mae Fiori was chosen as festival queen with the title of Queen Concordia. The contest has been held every year since then. … The queen’s coronation is presided over by a local dignitary. Those who have crowned the queen in past years include Congressman Claude Fuller, Gov. Orval Faubus and Gov. Bill Clinton.”

It’s a Monday, and that means we can’t get fried chicken and spaghetti for lunch at Tontitown. Both the Venesian Inn and Mama Z’s Cafe are closed on Mondays. And, alas, Mary Maestri’s is long gone.

We head to another Arkansas classic, the AQ Chicken House at Springdale. Roy Ritter opened the restaurant on July 20, 1947. He was one of the first people to build large poultry houses in the region and later constructed a poultry processing plant.

AQ stands for “Arkansas Quality.” There once were several locations across the state. Now there’s just the original here in Springdale, and it’s as good as ever. It’s somewhat fitting that we eat chicken in Springdale, the heart of the Arkansas poultry industry.

“In 1940, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized Arkansas as the largest producer of chickens,” Velda Brotherton writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Soon the Rural Electrification Administration began to supply electricity to farms, which revolutionized poultry production. Led by Tyson Foods Inc., poultry production increased by 333 percent between 1935 and 1950. It increased another 336 percent during the next 10 years. In 1962, Arkansas growers for all poultry plants raised 25 million broilers. The county soon became one of the five most heavily industrialized in Arkansas. Meanwhile, the cattle industry of northwest Arkansas grew out of the use of chicken litter to improve pastures.

“The poultry industry spawned other businesses. Tyson Foods opened a hatchery, as did many others. George’s Inc. and Jeff Brown built feed mills and increased the size of their hatcheries. Others followed. Locals, many of whom had left the area for work, found jobs that had not previously been available. Farmers, who were hacking out a bare existence, turned to raising poultry and cattle. The city’s population increased steadily. The trucking industry grew primarily out of growers’ needs to transport their birds. Harvey Jones went into the hauling business with a wagon and a team of two mules in 1918. That launched Jones Truck Lines. Others soon followed such as Joe Robinson, Lindley Truck Lines, Willis Shaw and J.B. Hunt.”

By 2005, there were 26 truck lines with operations at Springdale. There are more than 75 manufacturing and poultry-processing plants in the city.

We continue east on U.S. 412 and soon find ourselves crossing the lower part of Beaver Lake.

Beaver Dam on the White River is to the north in Carroll County, but the lake it creates is about 73 miles long and two miles wide at its widest point. The lake reaches from almost Eureka Springs to almost Fayetteville. It serves the water needs of one of the nation’s most rapidly growing areas.

“Beaver was one of the first U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs in the country to provide for municipal and industrial water supply,” Scott Branyan writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “This additional use was authorized by the Water Supply Act of 1958, provided a local sponsor could be found to pay for the extra storage capacity. The cities of Rogers, Bentonville, Fayetteville and Springdale agreed to buy water from the newly formed Beaver Water District, which paid a share of the cost of the project.”

The dam is 2,575 feet long and creates a reservoir that covers 28,200 acres.

“While the possibility of a dam on the upper White River was examined as early as 1911, the first feasibility studies by the Corps of Engineers for constructing such a dam were made in 1929 and 1930,” Branyan writes. “However, it was not until 1954 that Congress passed a flood-control act authorizing its construction. Several proposed sites for the dam were determined to be unsuitable. One of these was near Beaver in Carroll County, a town named after 1850s settler Wilson Ashbury Beaver. That led to the name of the project. The Corps of Engineers chose a final location a few miles upstream near Bush.”

The first construction funds were included in a 1959 bill, but the legislation was vetoed by President Dwight Eisenhower.

“Eisenhower had objected to Beaver Dam because of uncertainties over marketing the hydropower from the project,” Branyan writes. “The Southwestern Power Administration had reported that the project was only marginally justifiable. Congress, however, overrode the president’s veto, and bids for the project were received the following year. The actual construction process began in November 1960.”

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Nov. 22, 1960. Power generation began in May 1965. The reservoir was full by 1968.

“Unlike earlier projects in Arkansas, the Corps only acquired flowage easements around the White River,” Branyan writes. “As soon as the federal land office opened to acquire land for the reservoir in October 1959, developers began to buy and sell property around the proposed lake. Out-of-state investors were quick to buy large acreages that could later be subdivided. By and large, Beaver is known as a residential lake. Situated close to the cities of northwest Arkansas, the lake area is home to many people who commute to work.

“Enthusiastic fishing reports published in newspapers and national outdoor magazines contributed to interest in the new lake. One newspaper article dubbed Beaver the ‘queen of the White River lakes.’ Promoter Ray Scott first brought the lake to prominent attention as a fishing destination. Scott held the first modern bass tournament at Beaver on June 5-7, 1967.”

The suburban sprawl of northwest Arkansas begins to thin out after we cross the lake. We soon find ourselves in Madison County.

The earliest white settlers arrived in this area in the late 1820s.

“Settlers who migrated to the area from Huntsville in Madison County, Ala., named both Huntsville and Madison County,” Rebecca Haden and Joy Russell write for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The majority of the settlers came from Tennessee, traveling by flatboat and wagon. The name Madison honors the fourth president, James Madison. Huntsville, in the geographical center, has always been the county seat. The Legislature established Madison County during its first session in 1836. It was formed from parts of Washington, Carroll and Newton counties. Its northern boundary originally extended to Missouri.

“The boundaries were changed many times before being finalized in 1885. The odd rectangle that resulted is 38 miles from north to south and 22 miles from east to west. … Future Gov. Isaac Murphy settled in Huntsville in 1854, was appointed governor in 1864 and served until 1868. He returned to Huntsville at the end of his term and lived there until his death in 1882.”

The railroads opened up the area’s hardwood forests for harvest.

“In the southern part of the county, millions of feet of virgin hardwood trees were harvested to be sawed into lumber, railroad ties and barrel staves to be shipped to other states,” Haden and Russell write. “On Sept. 4, 1886, the state granted a charter to the Fayetteville & Little Rock Railroad. Within a couple of years, tracks were laid from Fayetteville to Pettigrew so that the timber could be easily shipped. The railroads also allowed the development of cash crops, including tomatoes and watermelons. There were small commercial canneries in several of the towns.

“Many small towns sprang up along the rails, St. Paul being the largest. In 1900, its population was more than 1,000, making it larger than the county seat of Huntsville. The timber harvest lessened, the Great Depression set in and the railroad ceased operation on July 31, 1937. Most of the boomtowns along the railroad tracks declined and became ghost towns. Madison County was particularly hard hit by the Great Depression. The methods used by those who had harvested the timber led to the erosion of topsoil, limiting the productivity of the county’s small farms. Diseases plagued the area. Malnutrition was a serious problem.”

The population of the county dropped from a high of 19,864 in 1900 to a low of 9,068 in the 1960 census. Things soon began to turn around, though.

“Livestock became a popular income source in the county, especially dairy cattle,” Haden and Russell write. “Later, beef cattle production increased. It remains one of the top income sources. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, northwest Arkansas became a major poultry-producing area. Chicken and turkey production became a significant source of income for many residents.”

The boom in nearby Washington and Benton counties bled over into Madison County. By the 2010 census, the county’s population had rebounded to 15,717.

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Starting at Siloam Springs

Friday, May 3rd, 2019


We’re in the parking lot of the Cherokee Casino on the Oklahoma side of the state line, just west of Siloam Springs.

I’ve been joined by noted Arkansas historian Tom DeBlack and Paul Austin, the former head of the Arkansas Humanities Council. Our goal is to drive across north Arkansas from Oklahoma to the Missouri Bootheel on U.S. Highway 412.

Tom and Paul retired recently and have time for such adventures.


I call it work.

Even though it’s a Monday morning, there are plenty of cars in the parking lot. Back in 2008, the Cherokee Nation added an eight-story hotel with 140 rooms to an existing casino. The casino was expanded by almost 200,000 square feet as part of an $83 million project. About 1,600 new electronic games and 30 additional table games were added at that time to a casino that previously had 1,000 electronic games and 20 table games.

After getting a cup of coffee and a doughnut inside, we cross into Arkansas for our adventure. It’s an interesting contrast when you go directly from a casino to the campus of John Brown University, one of the most conservative institutions of higher education in the region. The private school was founded in 1919 by an evangelist named John Elward Brown.

“Brown was a self-educated evangelist, publisher and radio entrepreneur who grew up in rural poverty in late 19th-century Iowa,” Rick Ostrander writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “In July 1919, Brown, at that time a prominent evangelist in southern California with a family home in Siloam Springs, decided to establish a college that would offer practical vocational training in a Christian setting for poor, ambitious young people who couldn’t afford a college education. One month later, Brown returned to Siloam Springs and converted his 300-acre farm into a college campus.

“In September 1919, Southwestern Collegiate Institute began its first semester as a nondenominational Christian vocational school with 70 students and a handful of teachers. A few years later, the college changed its name to John E. Brown College and eventually to John Brown University in order to capitalize on the founder’s fame as an evangelist. In its first two decades, JBU functioned primarily as a school for the poor, combining religious and vocational instruction. The college initially sought to offer free education to all of its students. When this proved unfeasible, the college began charging nominal tuition and fees while relying on wealthy donors to cover the rest of the costs. Students attended classes half a day, spending the other half working in college industries such as a machine shop, a dress factory, a cannery and a dairy barn.”

There were mandatory Bible classes and required daily chapel attendance. Students had to be granted special permission to leave the campus.

“In the middle decades of the 20th century, JBU evolved both educationally and religiously,” Ostrander writes. “As academic expectations increased, students spent less time working in the college industries. At the same time, however, new vocational programs were added in engineering, broadcasting, publishing and home economics. In 1935, Brown purchased the rights to radio station KUOA, which formerly had been the radio station of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. The station became the voice of JBU.”

Ostrander notes that the school remained “firmly ensconced in conservative Protestant morality.” Students, for instance, campaigned successfully in 1944 to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages in Benton County.

“In other ways, however, the university’s religious character moderated in the mid-20th century,” Ostrander writes. “JBU gradually moved away from the strict fundamentalism of such institutions as Bob Jones University in South Carolina and joined the more moderate wing of American evangelicalism. This transformation was symbolized when Billy Graham, the leading evangelist of the 20th century, visited JBU in 1959.”

Brown died in 1957 and the school was taken over by his son, John Brown Jr. In 1962, JBU was accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities. Enrollment grew from 325 students in 1961 to 768 in 1969.

John Brown III became the school’s president in 1979 and grew enrollment to 1,044 students by 1991.

In 1994, Lee Balzer became the first president from outside the Brown family. Chip Pollard has been the JBU president since 2004.

JBU has benefited from the growth of northwest Arkansas and the school’s ties to the conservative business leaders in the region.

“In the 1980s, Walmart founder Sam Walton became acquainted with JBU through his company’s chief operating officer, Donald Soderquist,” Ostrander writes. “In 1985, Walton established a scholarship fund to enable students from Central America to attend the university. With other international students from Africa, South America and Asia, the university enjoys an international student population of about 15 percent. … Walton’s association with JBU led to a close relationship between the university and Soderquist. He served as chairman of the board of trustees and in 1997 he made a contribution that enabled the university to establish the Donald G. Soderquist Center for Business Leadership and Ethics.”

At the time John Elward Brown established the school in 1919, Siloam Springs was known as a health resort. “Siloam” refers to the healing waters of the Pool of Siloam in the New Testament.

The first white settlers in the area were believed to have been Simon Sager and members of his family in the late 1830s. A settlement known as Hico was established along spring-fed Sager Creek, and a post office opened there in 1855.

“In 1880, Hico merchant and former Union scout John Valentine Hargrove established Siloam City on land he owned in the valley along Sager Creek,” Don Warden writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Several factors led him to do this. The St Louis-San Francisco Railway (later known as the Frisco) in eastern Benton County led residents on the west side of the county to think that they too would soon have a railroad. The pure spring water flowing into Sager Creek was said to be medicinal, and testimonials about cures attracted health seekers even before Hargrove platted his land into a town. Trade with the Cherokee Nation and farming continued to be important parts of the local economy.

“Promotion of the new town was so successful that it was incorporated the next year as Siloam Springs. In 1882, the Hico post office closed and the Siloam Springs post office opened. The Hico post office reopened from 1885-94. Owners of land surrounding Siloam Springs platted their property to form commercial and residential additions to the town in 1880, 1881 and 1882. While there was still no prospect of a rail line in Siloam Springs by the mid-1880s, many of those who made up the town’s initial population boom began to leave. By 1890, the population was 821.”

In 1892, the Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf Railroad began building south from Sulphur Springs, which is near the Missouri border. The railroad line reached Siloam Springs the next year. The railroad was reorganized as the Kansas City Southern in 1900.

“To ensure that the line would pass through town, local businessmen led by Robert S. Morris of the Bank of Siloam pledged $20,000 to the railroad, half when the first passenger train arrived and the rest six months later. They also secured land for the depot and 10 miles of right of way for the track. On Dec. 20, 1893, the railroad reached Siloam Springs. Most of the buildings in the downtown historic district were built between this date and the beginning of the Great Depression.”

Siloam Springs annexed Hico in 1904.

In addition to bringing in those wanting to take the waters, the railroad allowed area farmers to ship out apples, peaches and strawberries. In 1908, the Arkansas, Oklahoma & Western Railroad was completed from Rogers to Siloam Springs. This made the area even more accessible.

In 1901, Benton County led the nation in apple production, producing 2.5 million bushels and becoming known as the Land of the Big Red Apple. Production hit 5 million bushels by 1919 before diseases in the early 1920s began devastating the apple orchards.

Farmers started switching over to cattle and poultry. By 1924, Benton County led the state in egg production. By 1938, Benton County was the largest broiler-producing county in the nation.

My mother would tell stories about going to what was known as the Arkansas Baptist Assembly near Siloam Springs when she was a girl growing up in east Arkansas during the 1930s. The assembly, now a retreat center known as Camp Siloam, was established by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention in 1923 and was operated by the ABSC until 2006 when it was given its own nonprofit status.

Other camps were established in the area.

Gypsy Camp, a private summer camp for girls, opened in 1921 along the Illinois River. Camp was held there until 1978.

In 1926, Earl Allen established Allen Canning Co. to produce canned tomatoes. The Siloam Springs company was a major employer for decades before going bankrupt.

Poultry processor Simmons Foods established its headquarters at Siloam Springs in 1952. It now has more than 1,000 employees in the area.

We head to downtown Siloam Springs, which is transforming itself into one of the best downtowns in the state.

We witness the construction of what’s known as Memorial Park. What was formerly Medical Springs Park is being transformed with the addition of a splash pad, an amphitheater and a new farmers’ market. In 2016, the city received a grant of $300,000 from the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program of the Walton Family Foundation to pay for design of the project. It’s on the former site of Siloam Springs Memorial Hospital.

Construction of the $3.23 million park began last May. The project is being funded by a local sales tax.

There’s also a project to make Broadway Street more pedestrian friendly. The initiative is adding angled parking, rain gardens and landscaping. According to Main Street Siloam Springs, there were 73 downtown events in 2018 and eight downtown building improvement projects.

Downtown Siloam Springs now has its own craft brewery (Ivory Bill Brewing Co.) and what I consider one of the best restaurants in the state in 28 Springs.

Visitors to downtown can also enjoy the Creekside Taproom, Fratelli’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria, Pour Jon’s Coffee & Vinyl, Pure Joy Ice Cream, Ziggywurst and the Cafe on Broadway.

A former newspaper office downtown has been renovated as the home of the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce. Downtown now has a building occupancy rate of more than 90 percent.

By the end of 2018, downtown Siloam Springs was the home of 12 restaurants or taprooms, 24 retail shops, seven salons/barbershops/spas and two dance studios.

Main Street Siloam Springs describes it this way: “Most of present-day downtown was built between the 1890s and early 1930s. In 1995, downtown Siloam Springs became a nationally registered historic district. With three parks, walking trails, notable architecture and graceful Sager Creek meandering throughout the downtown area, Siloam Springs is a beautiful destination for visitors, businesses and residents alike. The historic district is filled with retail shops, restaurants, professional services, residences, a bountiful farmers’ market and engaging community events.”

The springs that gave the city its name are also still there.

According to the Siloam Springs Museum: “Belief in the medicinal value of mineral water dates to ancient times. Spas devoted to bathing in or drinking mineral waters enjoyed their greatest popularity in the 19th century. Of the thousands of mineral springs in North America, about 800 at one time had resorts where people came to take the waters. One of these resorts was Siloam Springs. Of the dozen or more springs that emerged from the earth in the vicinity of the Hico settlement, eight came to be considered medicinal.

“The springs were usually described as pure water that would flush the disease-causing impurities out of a person’s body. On a list from 1898, one of the Twin Springs was said to have contained a small amount of arsenic, but on other lists it’s described as pure water. The only spring consistently listed as a mineral spring is Iron Spring. Signs at both the Two and Siloam springs threatened a $5 fine for washing in the springs. Today both the Siloam and Twin Springs are in basins, but these basins were built to keep Sager Creek out of the spring, not to hold spring waters for bathing. Though these springs were once considered medicinal, they have now been declared  unsafe for drinking due to high levels of bacteria in the water.”

On the nearby Illinois River, Siloam Springs has its own kayak park. The park opened in the spring of 2014 after the city of Siloam Springs received a grant from the Walton Family Foundation to purchase riverfront property adjacent to Fisher Ford Road and construct a city park. The flow of the river was engineered to create a series of whitewater rapids and standing waves. Other park amenities include a swimming area, a climbing boulder, walking trails, picnic tables, a changing station and rain gardens.

It’s time to head east on U.S. 412 to Tontitown, Springdale and on to Huntsville.

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To the Cossatot and back

Friday, March 15th, 2019


There’s not much traffic on Arkansas Highway 84 as we head west through the northern part of Pike County, passing through the communities of Lodi and Langley.

At Langley, we head north up Arkansas Highway 369 to check out the Albert Pike Recreation Area on the Little Missouri River. During the night of June 10-11, 2010, a flash flood along the river killed 20 people. The river rose more than 20 feet in less than four hours. Dozens of other campers were rescued by emergency workers. I remember that I was getting out of the car in Memphis, where I had gone with friends to watch the St. Jude Classic professional golf tournament, when I heard the stunning news from back home on the radio.

“We started hearing children and women screaming and crying,” Crystel Hofer, who was asleep in her cabin, told reporters the next day. “So we went to the door and opened it, and they were trying to come up the hill to where our cabin was to escape the rising water. Within 10 minutes, the water rose and campers were floating down.”

The force of the water was so great that it overturned recreational vehicles and peeled asphalt off the roads. Most people were asleep when the flooding began.

The Little Missouri River in the area was at 3 feet that Thursday morning. After 7.6 inches of rain fell overnight, it was at 23.5 feet by Friday morning as National Guard helicopters flew over the area to survey the damage. A refrigerated truck was brought in to serve as a temporary morgue.

The U.S. Forest Service closed the campground and hasn’t allowed camping there since the flood. In May 2012, portions of the recreational site were reopened for day use. This stretch of the Little Missouri remains popular with hikers and those just wishing to picnic along the river, though it would be nice if the Forest Service did a bit more to clean up the grounds. I’ve been told that things are left in such disrepair in order to discourage people from trying to break the rules and camp out.

Starting here at Albert Pike, when the water is at the right level, canoeists can float 20 miles to the U.S. Highway 70 bridge near where the river runs into Lake Greeson.

The Little Missouri River begins in Polk County and flows to the southeast through Montgomery and Pike counties. The lower part of the river below Lake Greeson forms parts of the borders of Pike, Hempstead, Nevada, Clark and Ouachita counties before the river empties into the Ouachita River.

After walking around, we head back down Highway 369, take a right and continue west on Highway 84.

We’re soon in the northeast corner of Howard County. Like Pike County, Howard is a county with the Gulf Coastal Plain in the south and the Ouachita Mountains in the north. It was carved out of parts of Pike, Polk, Hempstead and Sevier counties in 1873.

The population of Howard County was 13,789 in the 2010 census, fewer people than had lived there a century before. The county had 16,898 residents in the 1910 census.

The highest population recorded was 18,565 people in the 1920 census. The county bottomed out in 1960 when there were 10,878 residents.

“This decline, combined with the hardships of the Great Depression, made life difficult for many residents,” Lauren White writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “Peaches became a big export in the early 20th century. The enterprises started with small farm plots having a few acres of land and evolved into a big-time industry. In 1915, Ozark Fruit Growers Association shipped 700 carloads of peaches. The peach industry became less prominent in the 1950s, and orchards eventually were converted from commercial ventures to pick-your-own operations.”

The last bale of cotton ginned in Howard County was in 1971 at Mineral Springs as timber management, poultry production and cattle grazing took over.

Highway 84 runs into U.S. Highway 278 at Umpire. I head west on 278 so I can spend some time at the wonderful visitors’ center at Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area.

The Cossatot River begins southeast of Mena and flows south through Howard and Sevier counties before emptying into the Little River north of Ashdown. The upper part of the river is considered one of the top whitewater streams in this part of the country.

“The area along the Cossatot River, especially in the Ouachita Mountains, remained sparsely populated until the 20th century,” Guy Lancaster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The hills weren’t amenable to large-scale agriculture, and only the southern portion of the river below an area dubbed Three Chutes proved useful for transportation, though the stream would on occasion dry up.”

Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area conserves a 12-mile section of the Ouachita Mountains along the river, which has been designated in its upper reaches as a National Wild and Scenic River. There are more than 30 rare plant and animal species in the park.

According to the state Department of Parks & Tourism: “The idea of establishing a natural area along the upper Cossatot surfaced in 1974, shortly after the Arkansas Environmental Preservation Commission was created. The panel later was renamed the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. In October 1975, its staff contacted the Weyerhaeuser Co., which owned the land, to discuss acquiring the Cossatot Falls area and other portions of the Cossatot’s corridor. In January 1976, the commission presented a written proposal to Weyerhaeuser. While generally positive, the company’s response was tempered by concerns about the commission’s ability to oversee such an intensively used public recreation area. It’s used by floaters, campers, hikers and swimmers. The Cossatot River is famous for its Class IV and V rapids.

“By 1984, the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism had joined the effort, and the two agencies prepared a joint proposal that addressed Weyerhaeuser’s concerns about the state’s ability to manage the property. Once a tentative sale agreement was reached, the Natural Heritage Commission asked the Arkansas field office of the Nature Conservancy to assist with negotiations and acquisition. The conservancy agreed to acquire and hold in trust the acreage identified for the proposed park/natural area until funding was available for state purchase of the land.”

On Nov. 19, 1987, the state Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission held at joint meeting with the Natural Heritage Commission. At that meeting, Gov. Bill Clinton announced that the state would join with the Nature Conservancy to acquire land along the river.

The Nature Conservancy acquired title to 4,144 acres on Dec. 23, 1987. Management responsibility was transferred to the state in July 1988, and a cooperative management plan was developed between the Parks & Tourism Department and the Natural Heritage Commission.

In 1990, Arkla Gas Co. acquired 160 acres in the Brushy Creek area and donated it to the park to compensate for crossing the park with a 36-inch gas line. Additional land acquisitions have increased the size of the park to 5,300 acres.

Using money from Amendment 75 to the Arkansas Constitution, which was approved by voters in November 1996, the state constructed a 16,304-square-foot visitors’ center. The center was dedicated on Oct. 21, 2004. It has a gallery of interpretive exhibits, two classrooms, an elevated wildlife viewing area, a gift shop and administrative offices.

After spending some time at the visitors’ center, we double back to Glenwood.

From there, we take Arkansas Highway 8 to Caddo Gap and Norman.

We cross from Pike County into Montgomery County soon after leaving Glenwood.

Montgomery County had only 9,487 residents in the 2010 census, far below the 12,455 who lived there a century earlier. Still, that’s well above the 5,370 residents recorded in the 1960 census.

The Ouachita, Caddo and Little Missouri rivers all pass through this sparsely populated county, which has the most registered sites on the Arkansas Archeological Survey site database.

“Modern historians no longer believe that Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto fought the Tula Indians in Caddo Gap, but the inscription on a nine-foot Indian statue erected there in 1936 by the Arkansas History Commission holds to an earlier viewpoint,” Mary Lysobey writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

The first recorded non-Indian settlers came to the area in 1812 when Martin and Mary Belle Collier from Kentucky began clearing land near what’s now Caddo Gap.

“Granville Whittington arrived in 1835, chopping out a road along the ridges from Hot Springs to his farm home across the South Fork of the Ouachita River about a mile north of the community of Montgomery,” Lysobey writes. “In 1837, he opened a general store that drew customers from the surrounding wilderness. In June 1842, he opened the Mount Ida post office from his home. Farther west on the Ouachita River, the community of Oden had its beginnings in 1849 when a wagon train wintered there and decided to stay.

“Montgomery County, named for Gen. Richard Montgomery, who died during the Revolutionary War, was included in land claimed by Spain and then France before becoming American property in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. … Arkansas was designated a territory in 1819, and Hot Spring County was created out of Clark County in 1829. Montgomery County and its county seat, Montgomery, were organized on Dec. 9, 1842, out of Hot Spring County. The earliest surviving records of Montgomery County are dated July 1845.”

The name of Montgomery was changed to Salem in July 1850 and then changed to Mount Ida in October 1850 to match the name on Whittington’s post office.

“Mount Ida was incorporated in 1854,” Lysobey writes. “In 1889, more than two-thirds of the county was still public land. Political maneuvers in 1873 and 1917 gave the Bear, Cedar Glades, Hickory Station, Crystal Springs and Buckville communities to Garland County. Montgomery County’s current borders were finalized in 1925.”

Caddo Gap began to thrive with the coming of the railroad in 1905. The county’s population reached an all-time high in 1910 because of the many lumber camps in the area. Foresters cut the virgin timber and shipped it out on the railroad.

“In 1918, the Caddo River Lumber Co. had begun a survey for building a railroad out of Womble (now Norman), but it took four years for the 15-mile main line to be completed to the Mauldin logging camp, the county’s logging center,” Lysobey writes. “In 1936, a commissary and post office served Mauldin’s 300 people. In 1937, Mauldin was dismantled and carried off by rail. The lumber company, picking up its tracks as it left, had depleted the virgin timber. This, together with the Great Depression, had a devastating economic impact on the county.”

When President Theodore Roosevelt created the Arkansas National Forest in 1907 (later renamed the Ouachita National Forest), much of it was cutover land that hadn’t been replanted.

“Priorities included curbing timber theft and wildfires and setting up ranger outposts with telephones,” Lysobey writes. “Stands of trees were upgraded by enforcement of rules for selective cutting. Sixty-three percent of the county ultimately became national forest land as bankrupt farmers and lumber companies sold their land. The Little Fir and Big Fir communities died but have been resurrected as popular recreation areas on Lake Ouachita.”

At the time Roosevelt created the national forest through an executive order, Gifford Pinchot, the head of the Forest Service, noted that it was the only major shortleaf pine forest under the protection of the federal government. The 1911 Weeks Law, which authorized the federal purchase of forest lands in areas other than the American West, was used to add thousands of acres of cutover land to the national forest. Some of the largest increases occurred from 1933-41 as struggling Arkansas farmers moved out of the state.

The national forest now consists of almost 1.8 million acres in 12 Arkansas counties and two Oklahoma counties. It is the largest and oldest national forest in the South.

Workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration built a number of facilities in Montgomery County during the Great Depression. The timber began to grow back, and local farmers gave up on trying to grow cotton in these rocky hills. They instead turned to cattle and poultry to make a living.

“George A. Jackson Jr. had left Mount Ida with his parents during the Great Depression,” Lysobey writes. “He used the G.I. Bill to further his education. Returning to Mount Ida in 1954, he became one of the first poultry farmers and was instrumental in getting farmers throughout the county to irrigate and fertilize farmland to increase crop yield. By combining cattle and chickens, farmers were finally able to make a living off the land. By the 1960s, the county’s population had stopped its descent, aided by the influx of senior citizens retiring near Lake Ouachita.

“Most miners lost money speculating on silver, gold and copper, but the first quartz mining claim in 1904 was a portent. Mining increased during World War II because suitable quartz for oscillators for radio communication was found at Fisher Mountain. Exploration proved that crystal veins were present at any depth in the right rock type. Mount Ida, in the middle of one of the few areas on earth having quartz crystal worth mining, is touted as the Quartz Crystal Capital of the World. In 1987, about 44,000 pounds were produced. The current mining of 6,000 pounds a year is geared to tourists.”

I loved traveling with my father when I was a boy as he sold athletic supplies to school districts across the state. If it were a warm spring day, Caddo Gap was a favorite stop. He would let me wade in the Caddo River, and we would visit the Indian statue.

By the 1830s, Caddo Gap had a gristmill, several stores, a Methodist church and a toll bridge.

“In 1863, Confederate Gen. Albert Pike arrived and purchased a nearby tract of land,” Hattie Felton writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Local tradition states that Pike built a two-story house and lived in the quiet community, reading and writing for almost a year. He left suddenly in 1864, fleeing bushwhackers who destroyed his home. After the Civil War, the post office officially changed its name from Centreville to Caddo Gap. The population grew to several hundred when the railroad came to Montgomery County. The community added a newspaper, a bank, hotels, a cotton gin, blacksmith shops, a school and a sawmill.”

Only about 100 people now live in the unincorporated community.

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From Arkadelphia to Glenwood

Thursday, March 7th, 2019


It doesn’t take long to leave the Gulf Coastal Plain and enter the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains once you leave Arkadelphia and head west on Arkansas Highway 8.

We’ve decided to spend an entire Saturday poking around the Ouachitas.

When a community has a name like Alpine, you know you’re in the mountains.

“William Glover and his family, the first settlers of the area, arrived in 1848 in what would become Alpine, followed by several other families,” Jacob Worthan writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “It’s most commonly thought that the settlement received its name due to its location on the highest point in Clark County. However, several folktales also relay origins of the name. The original settlement was a mile east of the present community and was comprised of little more than a post office, a general store, a saloon and a few houses.

“According to ‘Goodspeed’s Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas,’ Alpine had about 50 inhabitants in 1890 and a post office, a general store, a hotel, a church that also served as a schoolhouse and a blacksmith shop.”

The first post office had opened in 1849. It closed after the Civil War and then was reopened in 1869.

The Works Progress Administration built a school building at Alpine in 1940. It was used until the 1957-58 school year.

The trip west through the rolling forests — which also features cattle pastures, plenty of chicken houses and some aging peach orchards — brings us to Amity, which had a population of 723 residents (fewer than it had a century before when there were 813 people living there) in the 2010 census.

A group of pioneer families led by William F. Browning began settling this area near the Caddo River in 1847.

“An abundance of water and rich bottomland drew them to the area,” Russell Baker writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Soon after his arrival, Browning built a two-story log house just west of Caney Creek. It soon became the center of an expanding community. According to Laura Scott, an early Clark County historian, Browning named his settlement Amity because he hoped to find it in ‘peace and brotherhood.’ In August 1848, Browning and a group of local citizens formed what would become the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, the first religious organization in the area. He built a large log church, which also served as Amity’s school. … The Amity post office was established nearby a few months later.”

Another sign that this is an upland part of the state is the fact that loyalties were sharply divided here during the Civil War. There was a strong Union sentiment in the hill country of Arkansas.

“After the war, the center of the community shifted to the south side of the Caddo River in an area that was first settled in about 1850 by John Hays Allen and a physician and Methodist minister named Amariah Biggs,” Baker writes. “Shortly afterward, the Amity post office was relocated to this area.”

By 1870, there was a store at the current location of Amity that was run by a Connecticut native named Philander Curtis. Baker describes him as “an old bachelor who wore a wig and kept a pet bear.”

Curtis, Riley Thompson and Jacob Lightsey purchased property from Allen in 1871 and laid out a town around a public square. A schoolhouse was built in the early 1870s, and the Amity Male and Female Academy operated from 1877-83. The rumor that gold had been discovered in the hills led to a short gold rush in 1887. Amity’s population grew from 140 in 1880 to 211 in 1890. A railroad was built through the area in 1900.

“The little town became a shipping and trade center,” Baker writes. “Large sawmills in nearby Rosboro and Glenwood provided employment for its labor force. The Bank of Amity was formed in 1905, and its old brick offices are now on the National Register of Historic Places. … In the years leading up to World War II, the worldwide shortage of cinnabar created a mining industry in the nearby Ouachita Mountains. However, with the end of the war and an increase in the world supply, the mines were abandoned.”

Continuing west on Highway 8, we leave Clark County and enter the northeast corner of Pike County. We find ourselves along the banks of the Caddo River at Glenwood. The Caddo has long defined this part of Arkansas.

“For centuries, this unique waterway has carved its way through sedimentary rock formations, creating a broad, shallow river valley and leaving miles of gravel along its path,” Brian Westfall writes for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “In some places, the nearly vertical beds of sandstone and novaculite create rapids. The Caddo, known for extremely clear water, originates from cold-water springs southeast of Mena. In this region, the springs flow from the Bigfork Chert Ridge, which sits atop the Ouachita Mountains Aquifer, known for its water quality. Bigfork Chert Ridge is often referred to as the Potato Hills due to uneven weathering that has left it looking like a potato patch.

“The stream flows generally from west to east through the Ouachita National Forest. After leaving the national forest, the Caddo meanders its way through the Athens Plateau, where the Corps of Engineers impounds it at DeGray Lake. From the base of DeGray Dam, the Caddo continues its trek southeasterly some seven miles before joining the Ouachita River.”

I’m biased since I grew up in this part of the state, but the Caddo has long been one of my favorite rivers. It’s an easy stream to fall in love with.

“Towering sycamore, sweet gum, cottonwood, ash, water oak, willow oak and river birch line the banks,” Westfall writes. “During the summer, cardinal flower, composites and other wildflowers give the river banks a colorful look. The woodlands are interspersed with pastoral settings. An old logging railroad tram parallels the river at times and gives it an added flavor. Deer, beaver, river otter, wild turkey, osprey and bald eagles are present. The Caddo Gap to Glenwood section is the most popular among canoeists. Generally, this section can be floated except during the very driest weather.”

While most other towns south of Little Rock were losing population in the early 2000s, Glenwood did well. Its population increased from 1,751 in 2000 to 2,228 in 2010. Growth slowed after 2010 with the closing of the Curt Bean Lumber Co. mill. The mill reopened under new ownership in 2017. The current population of Glenwood is about 2,100.

Construction of the Gurdon & Fort Smith Railroad through the area in the early 1900s had opened up its pine forests for harvest by wealthy families from Texas, Missouri and other states.

“In its wake, a number of new communities, most destined to be the location of large lumber mills, sprang up,” Baker writes. “Among these were Graysonia in Clark County; Rosboro and Glenwood in Pike County; and Caddo Gap and Womble in Montgomery County. In 1907, the Caddo River Lumber Co., led by Thomas Rosborough, built a large mill a few miles north of Amity at a site named Rosboro. Soon, a second company, the A.L. Clark Lumber Co. from Gilmore, Texas, purchased a former cotton field across the river from the village of Rock Creek and began construction of an even larger sawmill. It was a short distance from a newly opened railroad depot. About the same time, another timber company moved into the area from Louisiana.

“With these new mills under construction and the railroad in full operation, two local businessmen, Curt Hays and Will Fagan, laid out a new town on both sides of the depot. The business lots sold quickly, and a boomtown grew almost overnight. Because of the beautiful location of the new community, Glenwood was chosen for a name. By July 1907, Glenwood, with a population of about 250, had a post office. It replaced the post office at Rock Creek.”

Glenwood was incorporated in 1908. Its population increased from 768 in the 1910 census to 891 in the 1920 census to 1,310 in the 1930 census.

“In 1914, Glenwood received an additional economic boost when the Memphis, Dallas & Gulf Railroad opened tracks between Glenwood and Hot Springs, making the town a major rail junction as well as one of the centers of the lumber industry in the southern Ouachita Mountains,” Baker writes. “By 1916, the community included several churches, a number of new businesses, a telephone system and a new public dipping vat where farmers brought their livestock for dipping as part of the state’s tick eradication program.

“While Hays and Fagan were busy developing Glenwood proper, the Clark Lumber Co. was building its own residential community near its mill. It consisted of an area of large white frame houses for mill supervisors and office employees along Gilmer Street. Many of the smaller houses for workers, painted red and white, were built along nearby Clay Street, sometimes called Candy Street. In the fall of 1908, the company built a large frame community building near downtown. It was used for church services and a school.”

What’s now U.S. Highway 70 between Glenwood and Hot Springs was paved in the 1920s. That’s also when the peach industry began to develop in the area.

The Caddo River Lumber Co. purchased the Clark Lumber Co. in 1922 and expanded the mill. In June 1936, lightning started a fire that destroyed most of the mill. With the forests in the area cut out, the company moved its operations to Oregon.

Glenwood’s population fell from 1,310 in 1930 to 854 in 1940. It didn’t top 1,000 again until the 1970 census.

“The 1970s witnessed an aggressive campaign of industrial growth and annexation that brought the town’s population up to 1,402 by 1980,” Baker writes. “During this period, the Curt Bean Lumber Co., one of the nation’s largest independently owned lumber producers, located a lumber mill at Glenwood. During the 1990s, the Caddo River at Glenwood became one of the most popular canoeing streams in western Arkansas. The population stood at 1,354 in 1990. The Glenwood Country Club’s golf course was opened.”

A thriving poultry industry also brought a large number of Hispanic residents, who now make up almost a quarter of Glenwood’s population.

Leaving Glenwood, we travel about four miles west on U.S. Highway 70 and then continue west on Arkansas Highway 84. This route takes us across the northern part of Pike County, which was carved out of Clark and Hempstead counties by the Arkansas Territorial Legislature in November 1833 and named after explorer Zebulon Pike. Pike County is best known to Arkansans for the diamond mine near Murfreesboro and for Lake Greeson. Those attractions are to the south of us.

“In 1900, Martin White Greeson, who owned property in Pike County and also owned and operated the Murfreesboro-Nashville Southwest Railroad, started a campaign for a dam on the Little Missouri River to alleviate flooding,” Doris Russell Foshee writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Congress finally approved the project in 1941 and authorized $3 million for it. The construction began on June 1, 1948, and finished on July 12, 1951. The dam was named Narrows Dam because of its narrow site. The lake was named Lake Greeson in honor Martin Greeson.”

The southern part of the county is in the Gulf Coastal Plain with the northern part of Pike County in the Ouachita Mountains. We’re in what’s known as the Athens Plateau, the southernmost subdivision of the Ouachita Mountains.

“Although its topography is characterized by east-west ridges like most of the Ouachitas, the maximum elevations are under 1,000 feet,” Tom Foti writes for the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. “Despite the name, it isn’t a flat-topped plateau like those of the Ozarks. Rather it has been proposed that the entire set of ridges and valleys was lowered and raised as a unit after the ridges had formed. According to that scenario, the region was lowered below sea level and it rose again as a plain with the valleys filled with sediment. Streams such as the Cossatot River and Little Missouri River ran from north to south and crossed the ridges in their paths. At each crossing, they created a steep rapids or waterfall and emptied the valleys of their sediments. As a result, these streams have a much different character than those of the Ozarks, making them challenging for those in canoes and kayaks. Because of the waterfalls, this boundary has sometimes been referred to as the fall line. It has proven to be a prime location for dams that impound reservoirs built by the Corps of Engineers.

“Cities of the Athens Plateau — such as Bismarck in Hot Spring County, Wickes in Polk County and Amity in Clark County — are generally small with fewer than 1,000 residents. Larger cities such as Arkadelphia, Murfreesboro, De Queen and Glenwood are located along the boundaries of the subdivision. Some of these cities owe much of their economy to the timber produced within the Athens Plateau. The subdivision is still dominantly forested with much of it owned by the timber industry and managed for timber production.”

On the next leg of our trip, we’ll make it to the banks of the Cossatot River.

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From Mountain View to Heber Springs

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019


In addition to being one of the best places in the country to experience the music and crafts of the Southern mountains, Stone County also became a hub for those who enjoy the outdoors thanks to the development of trout fishing in the White River (documented earlier in this series) and the opening to the public of Blanchard Springs Caverns by the U.S. Forest Service.

Near Mountain View, resorts such as Jack’s and Anglers serve those who come for trout.

Blanchard Springs, meanwhile, is about 15 miles northwest of Mountain View.

“The spring that formed the cavern emerges from the mountainside in a waterfall and flows into a pond called Mirror Lake,” writes Arkansas historian Nancy Hendricks. “The spring was named for John H. Blanchard, who left his family’s plantation in Kentucky and fought for the Confederacy, enlisting in the Kentucky Volunteers in 1861. Following bitter conflict at such battles as Chickamauga, where he was wounded, Blanchard sought peace after the war ended by homesteading 160 acres in the tranquil Ozarks. There he built a gristmill powered by the falling spring that now bears his name. Blanchard was also elected to two terms as Stone County treasurer.

“Though there is graffiti in the cave saying ‘John 1922,’ it was not John Blanchard since he died in 1914 at age 74. Local residents were aware of the cave in the 1930s, but the only entrances were a sheer 75-foot drop and underwater through the spring as it exited. Exploration was delayed until more modern technology and equipment could be developed.”

Civilian Conservation Corps planner Willard Hadley began visiting the cave in 1934.

“Amateur spelunkers in 1955 found a human cranium, footprints and other signs of exploration by Native Americans,” Hendricks writes. “Cane and wooden torch remains underwent radiocarbon dating and indicated that prehistoric human exploration of the cave occurred at least during AD 215-1155. The first professional exploration was in 1960 by Hugh Shell and Hail Bryant. In 1971, scuba divers entered through the spring entrance and followed its course. The divers followed 4,000 feet of underwater passages and also mapped five caverns filled with air but inaccessible at that time. They photographed the awesome cave formations and noted forms of cave life. They estimated that it takes about 24 hours for water to flow through the cave, a journey of less than a mile.”

Following almost a decade of planning and development, what’s known as the Dripstone Tour was opened to the public in 1973. The longer Discovery Tour was opened to the public in 1977.

“Blanchard Springs Caverns was almost recruited by the federal government as a fallout shelter during the Cold War, though the plan was abandoned,” Hendricks writes.

We head south out of Mountain View on Arkansas Highway 5 and soon find ourselves in Cleburne County. Tourism has had an even more dramatic effect on Cleburne County than on Stone County. By 1960, the county’s population had dropped to 9,059, lower than it was in 1900. It had almost tripled to 25,970 by the 2010 census.

Cleburne County was the last of Arkansas’ 75 counties to be formed.

“In August 1881, Max Frauenthal of Conway bought from John T. Jones of Helena a 40-acre tract, including several mineral springs, in a valley near the Little Red River,” Evalena Berry writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “A few weeks later, Frauenthal organized the Sugar Loaf Springs Land Co. and sold shares to 10 businessmen. The land company’s purpose was to build a town, Sugar Loaf Springs (later to be known as Heber Springs). Frauenthal was elected president of the land company, and Wesley Watkins was secretary. Lots were sold, houses erected and businesses established. The town began to grow.

“Because travel by horse and wagon to Clinton, the Van Buren County seat, was slow and inconvenient, area residents wanted to establish their own county government. Officers of the land company bonded themselves to pay $6,000 to build a courthouse and a county jail on condition that the county seat be located permanently at Sugar Loaf. It had been 10 years since a county had been formed in Arkansas, but a bill was introduced in the Legislature on Jan. 27, 1883, by Sen. Zachariah Bradford Jennings of Van Buren County. The bill passed, and the new county was formed from parts of Independence, Van Buren and White counties with Sugar Loaf as the county seat. The county was named for Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne, who had a brilliant military career before his death during the Battle of Franklin in Tennessee in 1864. He was memorialized at the request of men who fought under his leadership. In its first quarter of a century, Cleburne County lay quietly hidden among the hills.”

Things began to change in 1908 with construction of the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad.

“Tourists flocked to the picturesque town of Heber Springs to drink water from the mineral springs,” Berry writes. “Doctors from the mosquito-ridden lowlands of southeast Arkansas sent their patients to drink the waters for their curative powers.”

The U.S. government had granted a land patent in 1835 to John Magness for a 40-acre tract that now includes Spring Park and its seven mineral springs. Magness sold the land in 1837 for $150 to Richard B. Lee, R.D.C Collins, William McKim and John T. Jones.

“Efforts were made by Jones and his partners to develop a place similar to Eureka Springs or Hot Springs,” Berry writes. “Jones took a proposal to the Legislature in 1837, and the following year, that body approved an act to incorporate the White Sulphur Springs Co. ‘for the purpose of making it a healthy resort for the citizens of Arkansas.’ The sulphur water didn’t attract tourists for bathing, but after the town was incorporated, the springs became known for their medicinal qualities.”

An 1886 booklet titled ‘The Famous Health Resort of Heber Springs and Cleburne County, stated: “The sulphur springs are a cure for dyspepsia, headache, biliousness and hundreds of other ailments.”

Infighting among the partners led to a judge ordering the land to be sold at auction in March 1851. No bids were received. The judge ordered a second auction in September of that year, and Jones bought the entire tract for $189.

“Jones held the tract undeveloped and unused for 30 years, during which time he acquired an additional 50 acres west of the original tract,” Berry writes.

Frauenthal, a Bavarian native, had the area surveyed and plotted.

“When the town applied for a post office, the U.S. Postal Service rejected the name Sugar Loaf Springs,” Berry writes. “The town fathers then agreed on the name Heber, honoring Dr. Heber Jones of Memphis, son of Judge John T. Jones, the early owner of the site. From 1882 until 1910, the post office was called Heber, and the town was called Sugar Loaf. At that time, in an effort to attract visitors to the springs, the names of both the post office and the town were changed to Heber Springs.”

Passengers were arriving via the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad by late 1908.

“Tourists flocked to Sugar Loaf Springs and filled the 11 rooming houses and hotels that were built to serve them,” Berry writes. “Doctors sent patients to Heber Springs to drink the mineral water for relief from nervous disorders and stomach ailments. Main Street thrived with a movie house, an open-air skating rink, an ice cream parlor, a bowling alley and other diversions. Fishing and picnics on the Little Red River were popular among residents and summer visitors.”

My grandfather in Des Arc was among those the doctors sent to Heber Springs to drink the water. My mother, who was born in 1925, had memories of going to visit him there on Sundays as a child when he spent several months in one of the rooming houses.

Tourism declined during the Great Depression, and Cleburne County again needed a boost. That boost came in the form of Greers Ferry Dam.

Soon after passage of the Flood Control Act of 1938, engineers began to survey not only the White River but also its tributaries such as the Little Red River. The completion of Norfork Dam in Arkansas on the North Fork River was followed by the construction of Bull Shoals Dam in Arkansas and Table Rock Dam in Missouri along the White River. In 1960, construction began on Beaver Dam in Arkansas on the White River and Greers Ferry Dam on the Little Red River.

Greers Ferry was named after a ferry that had operated on the river.

Work was completed in 1962, and President John F. Kennedy dedicated the dam on Oct. 3, 1963. It was one of his final major trips before his assassination the following month in Dallas.

“The dam measures 1,704 feet in length and stands 243 feet above the Little Red,” Zackery Cothren writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “It cost $46.5 million and created a reservoir of between 30,000 and 40,000 acres in Cleburne and Van Buren counties. Construction of the dam required the relocation of families living on the bottomland along the river. Upon the dam’s completion, a number of communities were submerged, including Miller, Higden, Shiloh and Edgemont. While there were many who were opposed to the construction of the dam, no citizen protest had ever halted plans for a Corps of Engineers reservoir. Most viewed opposition as futile.

“Despite the inundation of the majority of the county’s most productive farmland, the positive economic impact of the dam and lake was immediate. … Popular tourist destinations associated with the lake include the William Carl Garner Visitor Center, 18 recreational areas and three nature trails. The Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery, located below the dam, is another popular destination. The hatchery, operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, primarily raises rainbow trout.”

The area also was helped by the investment of one of the state’s business titans, Herbert L. Thomas Sr.

Thomas had been born in February 1899 in rural Ashley County in far south Arkansas. Early in life, he became convinced that the insurance industry was a sector of the economy that could withstand downturns. He formed the Mutual Assessment Co. in 1923. By 1925, there were more than 10,000 policyholders. Many of them were rural Arkansans.

Thomas later incorporated the First Pyramid Life Insurance Co. of America and set up shop in the Southern Trust Building in downtown Little Rock. He purchased the structure in 1937 and renamed it the Pyramid Life Building. That building still stands in downtown Little Rock and is known as Pyramid Place.

“Conscious of the importance of education for financial growth, Thomas served on the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees from 1943-51,” writes Arkansas historian Rachel Patton. “He was instrumental in the admission of the first black student to the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1948 (Silas Hunt). Thomas was also involved in banking. He acquired City National Bank of Fort Smith in the mid-1950s as well as Citizens Bank of Booneville in 1963.

“Although he never ran for political office, Thomas was heavily involved in politics. He had a close relationship with Sen. J. William Fulbright and headed his initial Senate campaign after convincing Fulbright to run for an office higher than Arkansas’ governorship. Furthermore, Thomas figured prominently in Kennedy’s 1963 visit to Heber Springs.”

Thomas and his wife Ruby had fallen in love with the Greers Ferry area. In 1961, Thomas purchased 500 acres near Heber Springs for a development that would become known as Eden Isle. His political connections paid off.

Patton writes: “People had been buying up large chunks of bottomland in hopes that they could sell it to the government at a profit or end up with lakefront property after the completion of a dam. After so many years, most individuals gave up on those notions and sold out. For those wanting lakefront property, it was a gamble to buy land around the proposed dam site because no one knew exactly where the lake would be or what the water level would be … until Herbert Thomas came along.

“Thomas knew Rep. Wilbur D. Mills and Sens. John L. McClellan and J. William Fulbright and was able to find out the location of the lake and its water level. He knew which land to purchase and when to purchase it. Thomas bought property historically owned by the Estes family and known as Estes Hill. It was also the first location of the Heber Springs airport so some people referred to it as the ‘old airport.'”

Islands in Corps of Engineers’ lakes cannot be privately owned. Knowing this, Thomas built a causeway that would be above lake level so what would become Eden Isle couldn’t be classified by the federal government as an island. Thomas also had to build the causeway before the lake was filled. Once the lake was filled, 400 of Thomas’ 500 acres were above water. Thomas began selling lots for homes and started construction on what he hoped would be the finest vacation destination in the state, the Red Apple Inn. The lodge and restaurant opened for business in 1963, burned in 1964 following a kitchen fire and reopened in 1965.

The Red Apple Inn fell into disrepair under the ownership of Melvyn Bell, who was millions of dollars in debt prior to his death at age 68 in July 2006 following a lengthy battle with cancer.

Along came Dick Upton and his wife Patti, the founder of Aromatique, the well-known manufacturer of home fragrance products. The Uptons spent $4.2 million in 1995 to buy the Red Apple Inn and then had to spend millions more on improvements to the facility. Within a few years, they had returned the Red Apple to its status as one of the premier resorts in the region.

Thomas had been a perfectionist when it came to Eden Isle.

“Planning and construction restrictions were to be enforced by a community corporation so that homes would blend into the landscape,” Patton wrote. “Houses were supposed to be relatively small and employ native stone, wood and glass construction with a tile roof. First Pyramid provided an architect and maintained a full-time engineer and construction force. The developers also hired full-time landscape architects to ensure that native trees and plants were protected and that yards were attractive yet low maintenance for individual landowners.

“Herbert and Ruby were very involved in the actual construction of homes and management of the restaurant at the Red Apple Inn. The Red Apple consistently enjoyed high national ratings for food, lodging and service. People knew the area because of the Red Apple Inn, not because of Greers Ferry Lake or Heber Springs. In 1978, the Red Apple executive conference center opened in a new addition to the Red Apple Inn and accommodated groups of up to 120 people.”

Thomas resigned as the First Pyramid chairman in 1980 and focused entirely on the development of Eden Isle during the final two years of his life. He was 83 when he died in March 1982.

Below the dam, the cold waters of the Little Red River became one of the South’s top trout fishing areas, attracting visitors from across the country. People no longer come to Heber Springs because their doctors sent them there to take the waters, though Spring Park in the center of town remains a nice place for a picnic. There are other reminders of when the town was a health spa.

“Heber Springs is one of the locations in the state where Depression-era post office art can be viewed,” Berry writes. “The Cleburne County Courthouse, built in 1914, is on the National Register of Historic Places, as is the Mike Disfarmer gravesite, the burial location of the well-known portrait photographer. The Women’s Community Club Band Shell, built in 1933, is also a landmark.”

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From Calico Rock to Mountain View

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019


We cross the White River at Calico Rock. We’re in Stone County now as we drive south. The county had just 12,394 residents in the 2010 census but is synonymous in the minds of most Arkansans with mountain music and culture.

Much of the northern part of the county is in the Ozark National Forest.

“Although one of the state’s younger counties, Stone County is home to dozens of listings on the National Register of Historic Places,” Stephanie Lawrence Labert writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “Among these is the Sylamore Creek Bridge, known locally as the Swinging Bridge. … Many spring-fed creeks, including the South Sylamore, are tributaries of the White River. A familiar tributary of the North Sylamore is Blanchard Springs. Known for cool, clear water that is a haven for trout and bass, the White River provides recreational opportunities in fishing and canoeing and is the source for the county’s public water system.”

Stone County was part of the hunting grounds for the Osage tribe. Settlers from Tennessee and other states to the east began moving into the area in the 1830s. Because few county residents owned slaves, there was a strong Union sentiment leading up to and during the Civil War.

“In 1862, the Peace Society was organized at Sylamore and was made up of about 80 men from the area,” Labert writes. “The men didn’t want to become involved in the war for either side but were eventually chained and sent to Little Rock. They were given the option of joining the Confederate cause or being shot.”

Stone County was created by the Legislature in April 1873 out of parts of Independence, Izard, Searcy and Van Buren counties.

“A site at the center of the county was chosen to be the seat of government,” Edie Nicholson writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “After some disagreement on what to name the new county seat, a group of citizens held a drawing. Though sources conflict about who submitted the name Mountain View, Elijah Chappell is thought to have been present at the drawing along with early settlers Jacob King and Calvin McMurtry. … After a small log building was constructed as the new county courthouse, businesses began to grow around the new county seat. In 1890, Mountain View finally became an incorporated town. The city has had three courthouses — the original log structure, a two-story frame courthouse built at the present site in 1888 and the current stone building that was constructed in 1923.”

Labert writes: “In the county’s early days, the economy was based on small-acreage cash crops such as grain and cotton along with timber, trapping and livestock. The residents of Stone County, like the rest of the country, suffered from the effects of the Great Depression. The self-sustaining lifestyle they were used to in this isolated area helped them survive. Due to poor road conditions, livestock and timber were shipped by rail or water. People survived by growing their own food, trapping, harvesting herbs, making corn whiskey and bartering with those who had what they needed.

“During World War II, Stone County was affected by rationing. Women began to work outside the home, and people collected items such as scrap rubber to help with the war effort. Stone County citizens increased farm production in milk products, eggs, potatoes and peanuts. At the close of the war, soldiers returned home and life resumed. A fire in the business district of Mountain View destroyed 13 businesses and damaged four others, providing another setback for the development of the county.”

With job opportunities limited, the population of Stone County fell from 8,603 in the 1940 census to 6,294 in the 1960 census.

“Agriculture (mainly beef cattle and poultry) and timber have always been important industries for the Mountain View area,” Nicholson writes. “But the community struggled to attract industry because of its inaccessibility. The roads leading out of Mountain View — with the exception of Highway 14 toward Batesville — weren’t paved until the late 1960s and early 1970s. Local residents feared that the county would decline if it didn’t find a way to attract visitors.”

Since 1960, the population of Stone County has doubled. Give credit to the Arkansas Folk Festival, the Arkansas Craft Guild, the Rackensack Folklore Society, Jimmy Driftwood and finally the Ozark Folk Center and Blanchard Springs Caverns.

“The Arkansas Folk Festival has its roots in the Stone County Folkways Festival, which was held in 1941 to celebrate the musical heritage of the area,” writes Lori Freeze of the Stone County Leader. “Musical performances and a jig dance contest were among the events held at the Blanchard Springs recreation area. World War II prevented subsequent gatherings, but the festival was revived in 1963 during the birth of a regional tourism effort. The Ozark Foothills Handicraft Guild (now the Arkansas Craft Guild), which represented a seven-county area, had held its first show the year before in Batesville. The local tourist and recreation committee had sponsored a regional dogwood drive the previous few years. It was decided to combine the different events into one big spring festival. Attendance at the festival peaked in the 1970s with the height of popularity of folk music and the free-spirited audience that followed it. The festival was extended over two weekends in its most popular phase.”

The festival still attracts between 20,000 to 30,000 people to Stone County each April.

Meanwhile, the Ozark Foothills Handicraft Guild was incorporated in 1962.

“The organization’s initial aim was to provide supplemental income for the people in the north-central Arkansas foothills,” Erlene Carter writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “In 1960, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service representative Leo Rainey, along with officials in Stone County, began exploring ways to bring cottage industry into the area. While soliciting crafters to exhibit at local craft fairs, they found members for the proposed guild. Focusing first on Stone County, they soon extended the area to include surrounding counties. The guild decided to include all of Arkansas in 1967. The name was changed to the Arkansas Craft Guild in 1990 to indicate a statewide organization.”

A Small Business Administration loan of $15,600 in 1963 allowed the guild to construct log cabins at Salem, Hardy, Clinton, Heber Springs and Mountain View. Stores were operating out of those cabins by 1964.

“These were the guild’s first retail outlets,” Carter writes. “Jim Warren, a woodcarver and carpenter, almost single-handedly built all five. Manned exclusively by volunteers, the outlets offered merchandise placed there on consignment by members. The guild prospered. By 1975, it was able to purchase land near Mountain View and build a craft shop and office complex, including the space necessary to hold its annual spring craft show. The first paid director, office secretary and shopkeepers were hired at that time. Merchandise was purchased from members.”

The organization’s first big spring craft show had been held at Mountain View in April 1962. A fall show started in October 1966 at Heber Springs. The Heber Springs show ended in 1989, and the Mountain View show ended in 1993. But the guild’s Arkansas Craft Gallery at Mountain View continues to be a popular stop for visitors and cements the city’s reputation as a place for Ozark crafts in addition to music.

Another major player in the rebirth of Stone County was the Rackensack Folklore Society.

“Stone County was unique in having music-making families who were the base of the Rackensack organization,” Glenn Morrison writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The society was begun by Lloyd Hollister, a doctor, and his wife Martha. They came from the Little Rock area in 1962 and settled at Fox. Hollister set up his medical practice in Mountain View with Howard Monroe, a noted surgeon in the area. The Hollisters attended various musical sessions in Fox and joined in the music-making. In February 1963, Hollister held a meeting with six others at the Monroe Clinic to form an organization that would reach out to the people of the area and provide an opportunity for them to share their music with the public. Before adjourning, it was decided to meet again that week and organize the new folklore society, elect officers and solicit membership.”

It was Jimmy Driftwood who suggested the Rackensack name. The folk festival was scheduled for the third weekend in April.

“The group received permission from the county to use the courtroom in the courthouse for practice sessions for the upcoming festival program,” Morrison writes. “These Friday night sessions became a weekly attraction to the public and were continued until the Ozark Folk Center was built. Turnout for the April folk festival was phenomenal with local, state and national media covering the event. In response, the Rackensack Folklore Society established itself as a permanent organization. Rackensack continued to have an annual folk festival the third weekend in April until the early 1970s, at which time the city of Mountain View and its newly formed chamber of commerce assumed the responsibility of having the festival at the same time each year.”

Famed editorial cartoonist George Fisher created a branch organization in Little Rock later in the 1960s.

The society and Driftwood would become key players in the establishment of the Ozark Folk Center. Driftwood, who had been born James Corbett Morris near Mountain View in 1907, had become nationally known in 1959 when Johnny Horton recorded his song “The Battle of New Orleans.”

“He was given the name Driftwood as the result of a joke his grandfather had played on his grandmother,” Zac Cothren writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “When the two went to visit their new grandson, Driftwood’s grandfather arrived first and wrapped a bundle of old sticks in a blanket. When Driftwood’s grandmother arrived, she was handed the bundle and remarked: ‘Why, it ain’t nothing but driftwood.’

“Music played a large role in Driftwood’s life from his earliest years. His father, a farmer by trade, was also an accomplished folk singer. It was through him and other local musicians that Driftwood was first exposed to the songs of the Ozarks. While still a small child, Driftwood learned to play the guitar his grandfather had made from a piece of a rail fence and other salvaged materials. He would continue to play this unusual-looking instrument throughout his career.”

Driftwood attended school in a one-room building at Richwoods in Stone County. He passed the state teachers’ exam at the age of 16 and then taught in one-room schoolhouses at Prim in Cleburne County, Roasting Ear Creek in Stone County, Timbo in Stone County and Fifty-Six in Stone County while also taking high school classes at Mountain View. He later attended what are now the University of Central Arkansas at Conway and John Brown University at Siloam Springs.

“Driftwood left college after receiving a degree and rambled for a while, eventually ending up in Arizona,” Cothren writes. “While in Phoenix, he won a local talent show, which led to weekly performances on a local radio station. He left Phoenix in 1935 and returned to Stone County to teach at Timbo. Although he had been writing songs and poetry for years, it was at Timbo that Driftwood began teaching his students history through song.”

In 1947, Driftwood purchased a 150-acre farm in Stone County and owned the farm until his death in 1998. He finally received a bachelor’s degree from what’s now UCA in 1949 after taking night and summer classes. Driftwood was then hired as the principal at Snowball.

“In the early 1950s, Driftwood began testing the waters of commercial music,” Cothren writes. “He submitted songs he had written to several record companies, including Blasco Music Co. and Shelter Music in Kansas City. Shelter and Blasco recorded some of Driftwood’s material with little commercial success. In 1957, Driftwood went to Nashville and auditioned for RCA record executive Don Warden, who signed him to a contract. Driftwood, under the guidance of RCA’s Chet Atkins, recorded his first album, titled ‘Jimmy Driftwood Sings Newly Discovered American Folk Songs,’ in less than three hours. It was released in 1958 and saw limited success.

“The album featured ‘The Battle of New Orleans,’ a song Driftwood had composed in 1936 to help his students differentiate between the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War. The song was a hit among those who heard it, but the strict broadcast standards of the day virtually excluded it from the airways because of the words ‘hell’ and ‘damn’ in the lyrics. After the release of Driftwood’s album, he quit his job as principal at Snowball and began making regular appearances at such popular country music venues as the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville; the Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Mo.; and the Louisiana  Hayride in Shreveport. He met Horton in Shreveport. Horton expressed an interest in recording ‘The Battle of New Orleans.’ Driftwood revamped the song’s lyrics to make them acceptable for radio.”

Horton’s version of the song topped the country charts for 10 weeks in 1959 and topped the pop charts for six weeks. At the second Grammy Awards ceremony in 1959, Driftwood and Horton won Song of the Year honors. Driftwood’s “Wilderness Road” received a Grammy nomination for Best Folk Performance of the Year. And Eddie Arnold received Grammy nominations in the folk and country categories for his version of Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud.”

In 1962, Driftwood became a starring member of the Grand Ole Opry’s cast and also taught folklore at the University of Southern California.

“Driftwood longed to return to Stone County,” Cothren writes. “In 1963, he returned to Timbo. He helped form the Rackensack Folklore Society, was one of the visionaries in creating the Arkansas Folk Festival and was a leading force in the establishment of the Ozark Folk Center. Having more national notoriety than anyone else involved in Arkansas’ folk scene, Driftwood was largely responsible for promoting and securing funding for folk celebrations and the folk center. He astounded city officials by obtaining $2.1 million toward the construction of the center from the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee.”

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the committee was chaired by an Arkansan, Rep. Wilbur Mills.

The Ozark Folk Center cost $3.4 million to build and opened in May 1973 as the country’s premier facility for preserving Southern mountain folkways and traditions. It had a 1,000-seat auditorium, multiple craft demonstration areas, a welcome center, a 60-room lodge, a restaurant, a conference center and a gift shop. Construction by Advanced Projects Corp. of New York, which had won the contract to build and operate the center, began in 1971 on an 80-acre tract at the north edge of Mountain View. The contractor ran into financial problems in 1972. The state later agreed to operate the center as a state park, which now covers 637 acres.

With so many factions in those hills, it was inevitable that there would be controversy.

Morrison tells it this way: “Music programs were scheduled weekly with Driftwood as the principal entertainer and emcee. Driftwood was appointed to what was then the state Publicity and Parks Commission. After the folk center became a state park, Rackensack officers received notice from the state that Rackensack would have to enter into a contract with the state if they were to provide the music. But the state couldn’t contract Rackensack since it was a nonprofit organization. A general meeting was called, and Josephine Linker Hart, the attorney for Rackensack, reported that the state had recommended that the name Rackensack Folklore Society be changed to Rackensack Inc. and that members be allowed to buy shares at a fee of $20 each. By a large majority, the membership voted to go with the state recommendation.

“Driftwood objected and told the members that Rackensack Inc. wouldn’t be formed, no contract would be signed with the state and members wouldn’t be paid to perform. Staff members in Gov. David Pryor’s office were following the developments and asked Driftwood to reconsider. Driftwood wouldn’t change his thinking, and it became necessary for Pryor to remove him from his position as musical director at the Ozark Folk Center. Rackensack contracted with the state and provided the musical programs for the first season of 1973. After leaving the folk center, Driftwood and a small following of original Rackensack members erected a building north of Mountain View and named it the Jimmy Driftwood Barn.”

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From Norfork to Calico Rock

Thursday, February 14th, 2019


I leave Norfork in Baxter County and continue the trip south on Arkansas Highway 5, crossing into Izard County.

Izard County once was much larger than it is today.

“In the 19th century, Izard County served as a gateway to settlement across northern Arkansas and was the parent county of seven other counties,” Susan Varno writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “Later, Izard County’s virgin yellow pine forests provided lumber to other parts of the state. … Izard County hasn’t changed a great deal since the settlers first arrived. Then and now, oak and pine forests cover much of the southern Ozark hills. The county’s high elevations are in the Boswell and Sylamore area. Limestone bluffs grace parts of Pine Creek and the White River. Grassy valleys are dotted with small towns.”

Settlers came here from the Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky. A writer named Augustus Jeffrey once said of Izard County: “From 1815-20, the White River valley was overrun by hunters, stock raisers, horse thieves, murderers and refugees from prisons.”

He noted that “about 1827, a revival of religion commenced under the preaching of the Baptist, Methodist and Cumberland Presbyterian churches.”

The territorial government in Little Rock split off part of Independence County in 1825 and named the new county for Gov. George Izard.

Varno writes: “Adding Osage (1827) and Cherokee (1828) lands, Izard County covered most of north-central Arkansas. In 1833, western Izard County was divided into Van Buren, Carroll and Johnson counties. Later, sections of Izard County were split off to become Marion (1836), Fulton (1842) and parts of Baxter (1873) and Stone (1873) counties.”

The first county seat at what’s now Norfork was moved to Athens in 1830 and Mount Olive in 1836.

Mill Creek (later Melbourne) became the county seat in 1875 and has remained the seat of government since then. Courthouses burned in 1889 and 1937 at Melbourne. The current courthouse was built from 1938-40 by the National Youth Administration.

The White River has always played an important role in the lives of those who live in this area.

“Keelboats began bringing settlers up the White River in the early 1800s,” Varno writes. “By 1844, steamboats were traveling the White River as far as Izard County, bringing in passengers and mail and leaving with cash crops. As a result, the county’s population increased from 1,266 in 1830 to 7,215 in 1860. Steamboats made regular stops at Guion and Calico Rock. From the 1820s, pine was harvested, some with slave labor, and floated down the river or taken by steamboat.”

The 1860 census reported that there were 382 black residents of Izard County. In the most recent census in 2010, there were only 175 black residents out of a total population of 13,696. That’s about the same as in 1870 when there were 164 black residents. Varno says that freed slaves were driven out of the county in the years after the Civil War by “lack of work, discrimination and the Ku Klux Klan.”

“Cash crops were cotton, corn, wheat, pork, beef and pine timber,” she writes. “Residents supplemented their farm produce with fish, wild game, mussels from the White River, berries and nuts. Almost every family in Izard County owned land. Abundant timber for building and firewood allowed each family to have as large a house as they wanted. Women spun cotton thread and made cloth on looms. Besides farming, residents found employment as lumberjacks or in local gristmills, cotton gins, sawmills and general stores.”

The railroad, running along the northern bank of the White River, came to this isolated part of the state in 1903. That ended steamboat traffic along the upper White River.

The county’s population fell from 13,871 in the 1920 census to just 6,766 in the 1960 census.

“Farming became less viable, and many county residents moved to Oklahoma or Texas,” Varno writes. “During the Great Depression, others went to the state of Washington to work in the apple orchards, some returning home after the harvest. Cotton farming died out after World War II.”

The trend of population loss ended in the early 1960s. Since 1960, the county’s population has more than doubled. What happened?

Tourism took off with the advent of world-class trout fishing on the White River, the planned community of Horseshoe Bend brought retirees to the county, an aircraft fabrication plant opened near Melbourne in 1964 and the state opened a prison unit just north of Calico Rock in 1990. The prison now serves as the county’s largest employer.

I roll into Calico Rock, which I’ve always considered to be among the most charming small towns in Arkansas.

It was first a steamboat landing on the White River known as Calico Landing. The population soared in the early 1900s as those working on the new railroad were housed there.

How did the city — which had 1,545 residents in the 2000 census — get its name?

Ed Matthews writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas that the name came about “because of the wide strips of color — blue, black, gray, red and orange — giving the appearance of alternate widths of calico cloth on the bluffs bordering the river on the north. No other city in the United States has the name. Early French explorers took note of the pristine beauty of the river valley, naming the river La Riviere Blanche. In writing of his tours of Missouri and Arkansas in 1818-19, author and scientist Henry Schoolcraft referred to the shore as ‘calico rock.’ Calico Rock’s boat landing was at the river’s confluence with Calico Creek, which flows between the two bluff formations on the river’s north bank. It was the most popular docking site above Batesville.”

The first post office opened in 1851. It soon closed and wasn’t re-established until 1879.

Matthews says of the years during and just after the Civil War: “There was considerable jayhawking, including general harassment, stealing, looting and burning. This, along with the commerce around the boat landing and the arrival of railroad construction crews, caused Calico Rock to acquire a reputation as a tough frontier town.”

Though the soil was rocky, cotton was grown in the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“The marketing and shipping of timber products was also a major industry of the town,” Matthews writes. “A barge-building entity operated for a short time on the north bank of the river, though the building of the railroad was the principal factor in Calico Rock’s economic growth. Churches were slow in coming to the reputedly tough frontier, and religious congregations often met in people’s homes. The Methodist and Presbyterian congregations of the town used the same building until 1907 when the Presbyterians built their own.”

The Bank of Calico Rock opened in 1903. In 1923, a spark from a locomotive started a fire that destroyed more than 20 businesses.

Matthews writes: “A planer mill, complete with dry-kiln chambers, was part of the town by 1904. Robert Hays and his brother converted it to a hardwood flooring mill by the 1950s. It wasn’t uncommon by 1907 to see more than 100 wagons arriving daily with timber products. The Benbrook Flour Mill, a water-powered corn-grinding mill, contributed to the region’s economic strength. Calico Rock became quite a shopping center as farmers brought their produce and did their shopping, frequently from such distances that they would camp overnight in the wagon yard known still as Peppersauce Alley because of the moonshine whiskey traded there.”

The Great Depression was especially tough on this area of the state as it continued to lose population from World War II until the 1960s.

“During World War II, the economy of this already struggling town was hit hard,” Matthews writes. “There was a great deal of outmigration to Kansas by people seeking employment in an ammunition manufacturing arsenal. After that plant closed, many former residents of Calico Rock stayed in the Kansas City area, and their families followed them there. About the same time, there was a noted migration of residents to work in the orchards of Washington state, gathering apples, pears, cherries and other fruit. … Calico Rock has never attracted much industry to sustain it.”

Retirees, however, helped the population grow from 991 in the 2000 census to 1,545 in the 2010 census. Calico Rock also became easier to reach. A bridge was built over the White River on Highway 5 in 1967 to replace the ferry that long had operated there.

What’s known as the Calico Rock Historic District covers a downtown block along the highway along with the historic Riverview Hotel a block away.

“These buildings, erected from 1903-24, represent early 20th-century architectural styles,” Varno writes. “The district is typical of downtown districts that emerged along railroad lines, though Calico Rock stands out for having been built on a hillside. The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Nov. 19, 1985. … Every spring, heavy rains caused the White River to rise, which made Calico Creek flood. In 1902, Izard County surveyor Elbert Benbrook platted the town’s business district on the hillside above the creek. That year, Joseph T. Garner erected a two-story frame building on the new Main Street. He opened a mercantile store. Soon after, Edward Nicholas Rand built two stone buildings on the high side of the street for his mercantile store and warehouse.

“Calico Rock quickly became a regional commercial center. Every Saturday, men and women from Izard, Stone, Baxter and Fulton counties came by train, wagon, truck or automobile to transact business, see doctors, shop, visit restaurants or see movies. Other buildings on the high side of Main Street were the Calico Rocket newspaper office (1904), the Wiseman Hotel (about 1912), the People’s Bank (1912) and Evans Brothers Pharmacy (1918).”

All of the buildings on the lower side of Main Street, which were of wood construction, burned in the 1923 fire. They were rebuilt with brick and stone.

“After the fire, businesses on the low side included Marshall Floyd’s Grocery (1924), Hayden’s Dry Goods (late 1920s), the Green Tavern Cafe (1925), the Hillbilly Cafe (1926) and City Barber Shop (1925),” Varno writes. “These buildings have basements with doors that open in the rear onto Peppersauce Alley, which is about 10 feet below Main Street. In 1924, Benjamin Sanders built the Riverview Hotel on Rodman Street above Main. He used cement blocks fired in a kiln in the hotel’s front yard.”

The Calico Rock Heritage Museum & Visitor Center was dedicated downtown in April 2014. It was the result of an effort that began in 2007 when a group of area residents formed the Calico Rock Organization for Revitalization Efforts to promote tourism. CORE later signed an agreement with the city to develop exhibits in the back room of a former bank building. The nonprofit Calico Rock Museum Foundation was chartered in 2008.

Jim Murphy offered in 2009 to sell a downtown building to the foundation at the discounted price of $80,000. Prisoners from the nearby state prison helped rehabilitate the building. Historic exhibits were placed in the building, and it opened to the public in January 2011. The Calico Rock Artisans Cooperative also sold arts and crafts in the building.

In 2012, the city sold a former bank building to the foundation for $1. The various facilities have now made Calico Rock an interesting stop for those driving along Highway 5.

The Calico Rock Heritage Museum and Visitors Center is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday. The adjoining Tomlinson Arts & Science Center is open from noon until 4 p.m. on Wednesday, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Another popular stop is the Printing Press Cafe & Ice Cream Parlor, which is open from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

We leave Calico Rock, cross the White River and head through Stone County to Mountain View as we continue south on Highway 5.

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