Archive for the ‘Traveling Arkansas’ Category

The hydroelectric battle

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

The visitors’ center at Bull Shoals-White River State Park is well worth the visit.

On the back deck is a spectacular view of Bull Shoals Dam with the lake on one side and the cold water of the White River on the other side.

If you have any doubt that Arkansas has the best system of state parks in the country, this facility will help put such doubts to rest.

Inside, exhibits tell the story of the White River, both before the construction of Bull Shoals Dam in the late 1940s and early 1950s and in the decades that have followed.

As an Arkansas history buff, the thing I found most interesting was a framed front page of the Baxter Bulletin from 64 years ago (it now publishes six days a week but was a weekly at the time). It was the issue published after President Truman spoke at the dedication of Bull Shoals Dam on July 2, 1952.

Truman, never one to mince words, took a shot at Arkansas Power & Light Co. (now Entergy Arkansas) and the other private power companies that had opposed the use of federal dams to generate electricity.

According to the articles in the newspaper, AP&L engineers had constructed a model in an attempt to show that flood control and hydroelectric generation weren’t compatible goals for the same dam.

Truman didn’t hesitate on the day of the dedication to make fun of that model.

What you must understand is that AP&L had been the most politically powerful business entity in the state for several decades thanks to the skills of Harvey Couch and C. Hamilton Moses.

Couch, who grew up in rural Columbia County, had at the age of 35 in 1914 purchased the only electric transmission line in the state. That line ran 22 miles from Malvern to Arkadelphia.

Couch later built two dams on the Ouachita River near Hot Springs (forming Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine) to generate electricity for his growing utility company.

By 1930, AP&L had 3,000 miles of lines and served customers in 63 of the state’s 75 counties. Couch also formed Mississippi Power & Light Co. and Louisiana Power & Light Co. He built the first modern natural gas-fired power plant in this part of the country near Monroe, La., and was appointed by President Hoover to the board of the Reconstruction Finance Corp., which was formed in 1931 to address problems caused by the Great Depression.

“The only luxury the longtime resident of Pine Bluff (where AP&L had its headquarters) allowed himself was a rustic log cabin on Lake Catherine,” Patricia Laster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “He called it Couchwood, and there he entertained everyone who had helped him in his rise to fame, as well as international bankers and presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

Couch used his political influence to persuade officials in Washington not to create a taxpayer-subsidized Arkansas River Valley Authority that would cut into AP&L profits. Instead, the Roosevelt administration pushed for the Tennessee Valley Authority, which was created by Congress in May 1933.

Like Couch, Moses grew up in rural south Arkansas. He was born on a farm near Hampton in 1888 and worked in area logging camps when he wasn’t in school. He graduated from what’s now Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia in 1908 and then headed south to New Orleans, where he obtained his master’s degree in Southern history from Tulane University. He earned his law degree in 1911 in Little Rock and then went to work for Gov. George Donaghey. Moses later served as an adviser to Gov. George Hays and Gov. Charles Hillman Brough.

Moses became the general counsel for AP&L and Couch’s other businesses in 1919. Moses moved into the role of AP&L president following Couch’s death in 1941 and proved just as politically influential as Couch had been. Moses was the AP&L president until 1952 and remained as board chairman until 1955.

Sherry Laymon writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas that “private power companies profited greatly during World War II as they operated at full capacity to meet war production demands. However, decreased power loads after the war created financial difficulties for utility companies, which eventually led to an intense struggle between public and private power entities in the 1940s. To increase public demand for electricity, Moses initiated his Arkansas Plan, designed to encourage community leaders to utilize local residents, resources, capital and labor to strengthen their communities and attract business and industry into the state. The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, state organizations and private corporations supported his efforts and organized to form the Arkansas Economic Council in December 1944.

“Moses, Arkansas’ business cheerleader, visited many Arkansas communities and motivated Arkansans to demonstrate civic pride in their towns by making notable improvements to attract new industry. As a result, local residents enhanced their communities by paving city streets, whitewashing storefronts, landscaping public property and developing recreational programs. They also built houses, churches, hospitals and schools, which attracted more industry to the state. Moses then traveled across the country preaching the gospel of Arkansas to draw corporate attention to the state. Within 10 years, the state reaped bountiful harvests as new industry created 36,000 jobs.”

Arkansas remained a rural, poor state, though. And large parts of rural Arkansas remained without electricity.

“Private power companies had explored the possibility of building a dam at Wildcat Shoals above Cotter as early as 1902 but never began work toward it,” Scott Branyan writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Congress approved the construction of six reservoirs in the White River basin in the Flood Control Act of 1938. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report in 1930 had recommended the Wildcat Shoals site along with seven others as being the most effective of the 13 investigated. However, in a 1940 report, the Corps of Engineers presented the Bull Shoals site as an alternative to Wildcat Shoals, where unsuitable foundation conditions had been found. This report recommended the construction of Table Rock and Bull Shoals as multipurpose reservoirs for flood control, hydropower generation and other beneficial purposes, coming to the conclusion that the reservoir projects were justifiable.”

Pushing early on for construction of dams on the White River was Congressman Claude Albert Fuller, who served in Congress from 1929-39. Fuller, who had practiced law at Eureka Springs before being elected to Congress, helped lead the fight for adoption of the Flood Control Act of 1938, which followed a series of devastating floods in the region in 1937.

Fuller was defeated in the Democratic primary of 1938 by Clyde Ellis. Fuller went back to Eureka Springs to practice law and served as president of the Bank of Eureka Springs from 1930 until his death in 1968. He continued as a private citizen to advocate for the dams.

Meanwhile, Ellis took up the fight in Congress. Ellis, the oldest of nine children, had been raised on a farm near Garfield in Benton County. The farm had no electricity, and rural electrification became his passion.

Ellis helped form the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, which was designed to protect the interests of the New Deal rural electrification programs.

Ellis ran for the Senate in 1942 and lost in the Democratic primary. John L. McClellan became the state’s new senator. Ellis was hired in 1943 as the first general manager of the NRECA.

In a 1984 history of the NRECA titled “The Next Greatest Thing,” it was written: “The record of NRECA in those years, stamped with the strong and powerful personality of Ellis and his spellbinding, single-minded leadership, is studded with stunning victories, few defeats.”

Sheila Yount writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “Known as Mr. Rural Electrification, Ellis led the electrification association through funding battles for the Rural Electrification Administration, which provided low-interest loans to the nation’s electric cooperatives, and fiercely fought the power companies, which opposed the rural electrification program. Rural service was far more expensive to create than service in urban areas. When the power companies charged higher rates for rural service, their customers used less electricity, making the service increasingly unprofitable.

“Ellis also helped persuade the federal government to include hydropower plants at Norfork Dam in Baxter County and other dams in Arkansas that were originally designed for flood control only. He fought major battles to give the cooperatives access to the power from those dams. Ellis credited the NRECA’s success to the grassroots support of the electric cooperatives.”

Ellis wrote a book titled “A Giant Step” in 1966.

“The wires which tied the houses of rural people together also seemed to unite their spirits,” he wrote. “Beginning in the early days and growing through the years, there has been some unusual quality about the rural electrification program, which has drawn people of diverse political and social views together in a common purpose. The people who work for our program feel they’re working in a cause or movement or a crusade, which many of them can’t define.”

Yount writes: “Besides the political arena, the association’s role expanded to provide many services for the nation’s electric cooperatives, including retirement and insurance plans; training for directors and employees; legal seminars for cooperative attorneys, safety training; and communications assistance. Ellis also helped bring electricity to people in 30 other countries through the Agency for International Development. This program was a compilation of various federal efforts to provide foreign aid during the Cold War. Created by the Kennedy administration, AID used American dollars to fight poverty and bring about development in Third World nations. Ellis traveled to Colombia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and other countries promoting rural electrification, using his experiences in Arkansas to prove to governments and citizens that such a program was possible anywhere in the world.”

Construction on Norfork Dam on the North Fork River began in the spring of 1941.

“The North Fork River was a strong candidate for a tributary flood control project,” Branyan writes. “The Corps noted it was a primary contributor to flooding in the White River because of its steep banks and big feeder streams, which frequently swelled quickly during periods of runoff. For a number of years, the Corps and private entities had studied the site for potential hydropower use as well. … Securing funding for Depression-era projects at the time of a possible impending war, however, was difficult.

“Congressman Ellis argued that a dam with a power plant was immediately needed for any increased manufacturing requirements during possible wartime production demands. He succeeded in obtaining funding and additional authorization for hydropower in the Flood Control Act of 1941, and the Little Rock District of the Corps of Engineers awarded the construction contract to the Utah Construction Co. and Morrison-Knudsen Co.”

The Norfork powerhouse was operational by 1944. A second generator was in use by February 1950.

The dam was made entirely of concrete — about 1.5 million cubic yards to be exact. The site that was chosen is 4.8 miles upstream from the confluence of the White and North Fork rivers at Norfork.

A Missouri Pacific railroad spur from Norfork to the site of the dam was built to move equipment, concrete and 2,000 tons of reinforcing steel. A total of 27,000 railroad cars moved along the spur during construction.

“During 1940, several hundred small farms were abandoned in Baxter County and left in foreclosure,” Branyan writes. “However, the construction of a dam in the area meant prospects for work during the Depression. As soon as word of the approval of Norfork Dam appeared in the newspapers, locals began contacting Ellis to inquire about jobs. During the four years of the project, the number of workers employed on both the dam and powerhouse was 815.

“Farmland around two communities along the river — Henderson in Baxter County and Bakersfield in Missouri — was inundated. Around Henderson, about 400 landowners had to relocate. Twenty-six cemeteries were moved. Crops continued to be harvested into the late fall of 1942. The lake began to fill by Feb. 1, 1943.”

Construction of Bull Shoals Dam began in 1947. That dam required 2.1 million cubic yards of concrete. At the time of its construction, it was the fifth-largest concrete dam in the country, and its powerhouse was the largest building in the state. Powerhouse construction began in September 1950 and concluded two years later. The final two generating units were installed in 1963.

“The completion of the dam and reservoir immediately began to affect the local economy,” Branyan writes. “Media coverage attracted attention to the region and resulted in the quick growth of the tourist industry. In 1940, there were only 13 businesses in the area that provided overnight accommodations. By 1970, 300 such establishments could be found. Assessed taxable real estate values, per capita income and manufacturing payroll rose dramatically in the following decades. The area also now supports a retirement community.

“The dam put an end to long, multiday fishing floats from Branson, Mo., to Cotter. Jim Owen of the Owen Boat Line had operated a float trip business on the river for many years. Largely through Owen’s promotion, the White River garnered a reputation for excellent smallmouth bass fishing. But the new reservoir soon offered equally excellent lake fishing for a number of warm-water species as well as stocked trout below the dam. Marina, boat businesses and fishing guide services sprang up rapidly to handle the influx of anglers.”

Resorts such as Gaston’s became nationally known due to the quality of the trout fishing created by cold-water releases from the dam.

Back to Clyde Ellis: The man known as Mr. Rural Electrification retired from the NRECA following a heart attack and stroke in 1967. He was named general manager emeritus.

Ellis later worked for the U.S. secretary of agriculture and for McClellan in the U.S. Senate. Ellis died in February 1980 in Washington following another stroke and is buried across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital at Arlington National Cemetery.

Here in Arkansas, he probably should be remembered as the man who handed AP&L a rare political defeat while bringing government-subsidized hydropower to a poor, rural state.

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Greeks in Arkansas

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

On the day that my column about the history of Greeks in Arkansas ran in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, I received a text from my old friend Sam Stathakis in Hot Springs.

“From all the Greeks, thanks for the shout out,” he wrote. “Opa!”

The history of Greeks in Arkansas is fascinating, and James and Helen Hronas did yeoman’s work in pulling it together through the years.

“Because so few single women were among the first immigrants, men would return to Greece or to a larger U.S. city where they had relatives so they could be introduced to eligible women,” Helen Hronas writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “Partly because of the scarcity of eligible Greek-American females, about half of the marriages took place with local women who were not Greek. With the first generation, much more intermarriage with non-Greeks occurred, though non-Greek spouses often became active members of the Greek Orthodox Church.

“The Balkan Wars that preceded World War I inspired many immigrants to return to Greece to help free it from the Ottoman Turks. Among those who saw action there were Theo Stathakis and Harry Hronas of Little Rock and Andrew Makris of Pine Bluff, all of whom returned safely to the United States. Newspaper clippings from the Arkansas Gazette and the Pine Bluff Daily around 1911 described how dozens of patriotic young men from Pine Bluff, Texarkana and Little Rock departed from Union Station in Little Rock for New York to offer their services to ‘overthrow barbarism’ in their native land.

“The contingent of Greek immigrants in Arkansas grew quickly through the 1920s until laws were passed to limit immigration. By then, the Greek population was quite large in Little Rock, probably more than 200. Afterward, it slowed considerably, but those who stayed in Little Rock remained united by their Orthodox faith, common culture and native language.”

Based on the Hronas’ research, here’s a breakdown on Greek immigration to several Arkansas towns:

Little Rock — Most early Greek families who came to Arkansas settled in Little Rock. The first Greek immigrant known to have arrived in Little Rock was Anastasios Stathakis in 1892. New immigrants often would stay at the home of Pelopida and Eugenia Kumpuris. The Homer Society was formed in Little Rock in 1905 to bring Greeks together, and what’s now Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church began meeting in 1913.

Helen Hronas writes: “Annunciation in Little Rock bought its first building in 1919 from Winfield Methodist Church at 15th and Center streets. The congregation outgrew this facility and in the 1970s bought land to build a new church on Napa Valley Drive. It was completed in 1983. The first Greek Food Festival was organized in 1984. Held on the church grounds, it has become a popular event that benefits the church and local charities. The Greek Folklore Society was organized in 1989 to promote Greek folk dancing and to perform at the festival.”

El Dorado — During the oil boom of the 1920s, William Photioo and his wife, Johanna Theoharis Photioo, moved to Union County to open a pharmacy and soda fountain. A plan by the Ku Klux Klan, which was active in south Arkansas at the time, to burn down their business was thwarted by friends of the couple. These friends spoke up on their behalf, and the KKK changed its plans.

Fort Smith — By the 1940s, there were about 40 Greek families in Fort Smith. Many of them were in the restaurant business. St. George Greek Orthodox Church was established after World War II, but it became inactive in the 1990s.

Hronas writes about Fort Smith: “The cafes were so busy that they had to close for several hours a day to catch up with washing huge stacks of dishes, cleaning the premises and cooking more food. The Nick Avlos family entertained Greek-American servicemen stationed at Fort Chaffee. In Fort Smith, all but about five families were composed of Greek husbands and non-Greek wives. They did not have a full-time priest or church services, but occasionally a priest would arrive from Little Rock for a sacrament, funeral or liturgy.”

Pine Bluff — Andrew Makris came to the United States in 1906 and helped begin the OK Ice Cream & Candy Co. in Pine Bluff in 1912.

Hronas writes: “When Makris returned to Greece to fight in the Balkan Wars, he married and then returned to Arkansas with his bride and sponsored relatives, George and Peter Zack and Gus Pappas, who became partners at OK. Pappas first sold ice cream as a street vendor and later became proficient in candy making, which became a part of OK. In 1930, the OK founders had a grand opening of their new, modern plant on Main Street, which employed 35 people making ice cream. An upstairs room was devoted to candy making. George Zack headed the milk and Angel Food ice cream department. As the company prospered, they invested in a liquor distributorship. Andrew Makris’ sons, Pete and George, were each named Outstanding Young Men of the Year by the Junior Chamber of Commerce, and each served as president of the Junior Chamber.”

Because Pine Bluff did not have a Greek Orthodox church, most Greek families there attended the Episcopal church and then traveled to Little Rock for holidays at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church.

Hot Springs — Greeks have a long history in the Spa City, having become doctors and leading business owners. In 1954, a movement headed by the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association began with the goal of establishing a Greek Orthodox church in Hot Springs. In 1959, the first building ever constructed in Arkansas specificially for an Orthodox congregation was completed, and the parish of Zoodochos Peghee (commonly known as St. Mary’s) opened with a dedication ceremony on Jan. 30, 1960.

Hronas writes: “The Greeks and their families who settled in Hot Springs in the early 1900s were entrepreneurs and worked long hours to support their families. One enduring company was the Pappas Brothers Confectionary. Peter Pappas arrived in Hot Springs in about 1903 and his brothers — John, Angelo and William — later joined him in business. During the Depression, Pappas Brothers, the Deluxe Café (owned by George Gabriel) and other Greek eateries served countless needy people, including students at nearby schools who had no lunch money.”

Texarkana — About 10 Greek families settled in Texarkana. Most of them were in the restaurant business. A priest would come once a month from Shreveport, La., to celebrate the liturgy. People from the Greek Orthodox church in Shreveport also would come during the summer to teach the Greek language to children.

The Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese established a mission in Little Rock known as Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in the 1990s. Another mission was established in Fayetteville. Out of the Fayetteville mission grew St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church in Springdale. Noted architect Marlon Blackwell designed a facility for St. Nicholas in 2010.

“During the Great Depression in the 1930s, several families had great financial troubles, losing property and investments,” Helen Hronas writes. “Others lost most of their bank savings. Some families were evicted from their homes and lived in their businesses or elsewhere. Few, if any, Greek families went hungry since their principal occupations were most ofen associated with food. Some local banks and investors worked with small business owners and allowed them leeway in paying their rent so that they did not lose their businesses entirely.”

Many of the male children of the first Greek immigrants to Arkansas served in World War II. Hronas notes that for years after the war, Arkansas Greeks “shipped supplies to Greece and helped financially with the recovery there.”

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The Greek connection

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

It’s May, the month for what’s now known as the International Greek Food Festival at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Little Rock.

The festival long has been among my favorite annual events in Arkansas.

Almost 30,000 people turn out each May for the three-day event (May 20-22 this year), which began in 1984 to raise money for the church.

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church was founded in 1913 to serve a growing Greek population in the state. The congregation purchased its first building (at 15th and Center streets) a few years later from Winfield Methodist Church and stayed at that location until moving to the current location at 1100 Napa Valley Drive in west Little Rock in 1983.

“Thanks in part to the money we raised from the food festival, we had the mortgage paid off on the new building by 1989,” said Little Rock construction executive Gus Vratsinas, one of the event’s founders. “At that point, we began giving to various charities. Those charities, in turn, started supplying us with volunteers for the festival.

“We’ve got this thing pretty well figured out after 32 years, but you’re always tweaking things. When we designed the current church, we put in a big kitchen that could handle our baking needs. The ladies who make the pastries now start work in December. Last year, we made 24,000 pieces of baklava and sold out. This year, we’ll have 30,000.”

In addition to food, there’s music, dance and other activities. It’s a way to celebrate the rich Greek heritage in Arkansas.

Vratsinas’ father came to the United States in 1912 at age 12 but later went back to Greece. He eventually returned to the United States and wound up in Little Rock, where an uncle operated a downtown café. Vratsinas’ mother came to this country from Greece in 1939. Gus Vratsinas is quick to list the Little Rock restaurants once owned by those who came from Greece — the Post Office Café, the Maxell House Café, Miller’s Café, the Palace and others.

Helen Hronas has a well-documented history of Greeks in Arkansas on the website of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

“Though small in number compared to other immigrant groups, Greeks and Greek-Americans in Arkansas have had a notable impact upon the state,” she wrote. “From their beginnings as laborers, Greeks in Arkansas quickly became entrepreneurs and business owners, and many of the children and grandchildren of these original immigrants went on to business, academic and medical careers. Many Greeks who come to Arkansas today are in the medical or research fields. Emblematic of the acceptance of Greeks by the state has been the popularity of the Greek Food Festival, one of the most well-attended culinary fetes in the state.

“Immigrants from Greece began arriving in Arkansas in the late 19th century. Most were single young males who left their homeland for the United States full of hope for a more prosperous life. Greece was very poor at the time, and some parts of northern Greece had not yet won their freedom from the Turkish Ottoman yoke. It was a dangerous and difficult three-week voyage, and many left with little more than the clothes on their backs and a few coins. The first priority of those who were married was to earn enough money to send for their wives and children. Most immigrants became permanent residents, but others saved their money and returned to Greece.

“Most families settled in Little Rock. The earliest immigrants to Little Rock came mostly from villages and small towns of the Peloponnesus (southern Greece), particularly from Olympia and Sparta, and usually headed to places where they knew someone who could help them get established. The first to reach Little Rock was Anastasios Stathakis, who arrived in 1892 from Sparta. In 1902, Pete Peters was the first child born of Greek immigrants in Little Rock. Pelopida and Eugenia Kumpuris frequently housed new immigrants at their Little Rock home.”

The Stathakis family name is still well known in Hot Springs.

And the Kumpuris family name is still well known in Little Rock.

“The newly arrived usually worked for a time for those who came earlier while picking up enough English to get by,” Hronas wrote. “Few had an opportunity for formal schooling, although some were well educated in Greece before immigrating. Many did hard labor such as building railroad tracks, and as was common with immigrants who spoke little or no English, sometimes the employer refused to pay once the job was done. Such discrimination and abuse provided the Greeks an incentive to go into business for themselves as well as educate their children. The Greeks were soon running fruit and vegetable markets, hot dog stands, candy shops, grocery stores, cleaners and shoeshine parlors. Most gravitated toward food service.”

In 1905, a group of Greek immigrants in Arkansas created the Homer Society, which served both religious and cultural purposes.

Hronas wrote: “At first, visiting priests from Memphis were invited to celebrate the divine liturgy and perform sacraments. In 1913, members arranged for a permanent priest, Father Kallinikos Kanellas, and services were held in an upstairs meeting hall over a high-end grocery store near Ninth and Main streets for the next eight years. A small chapel was arranged for liturgies and sacraments, and another area was used for social gatherings. Research by Rev. Father George Scoulas in the 1960s indicated that Kanellas probably was the first Orthodox priest of Greek ancestry to come to the United States. He died in 1921 and is buried in the historic Oakland Cemetery in Little Rock, where most of the early Greek immigrants were interred. Early church leaders included P.G. Johnson, Pelopida (Peter) Kumpuris, Joe Stathakis, Anastasios Stathakis, Peter Stathakis, George Lianos, Basil Peters, Sam Stathakis, George Stathakis and Harry Hronas.”

A 1952 story in the Arkansas Democrat stated that the first Orthodox church in Arkansas was a Russian Orthodox church at Slovak in the southern part of Prairie County. Two Russian priests founded the church in 1894.

“Annunciation in Little Rock is the oldest continuous Orthodox church in Arkansas,” Hronas wrote. “The parish of the Annunciation, under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Detroit, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America and the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople, received a state charter on June 8, 1920. A church building at 1500 Center Street was purchased from the Winfield Methodist congregation in 1919. The parish outgrew this building.”

Now, only about 30 percent of the Annunciation congregation is of Greek ancestry. Other members are descended from immigrants from Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Russia, Romania and elsewhere.

The chairman of this year’s food festival is Jason Chacko, a financial adviser for Morgan Stanley whose name central Arkansas residents will recognize from his morning financial reports on the radio.

Chacko’s family came to this country from India. The family history has been traced back to the first century when the apostle Thomas converted the Pakalomatom family to Christianity.

“I’m standing on the shoulders of the giants who built this festival,” Chacko said during a recent breakfast. “I was five months old when the first festival was held. It has changed a lot since then. Our goal is to be among the best family events of the spring in Arkansas.”

With 22 nationalities represented at Annunciation, the name word “international” was added to the International Greek Food Festival.

“It has truly become an international event,” Chacko said. “You can eat Mediterranean food while watching Russian dancing.”

Vratsinas was the president of the parish council at Annunciation when the new facility was built in 1983.

“It was a no-brainer,” he said of the decision to create the food festival. “This kind of thing had been going on in other cities for decades. Our church had been selling gyros since they started Riverfest so we decided to create our own festival. We bounced around with the dates on which to hold the event and finally settled on the weekend before Memorial Day weekend. It keeps getting bigger. Last year was our largest event yet with about 30,000 turning out over three days. That’s obviously more than a 200-family church can handle, so now we rely a great deal on volunteers.”

Chacko said the organizers like to “show off the church.”

“We have icons painted by priests out of Greece,” he said. “People can walk through on their own, and we also offer formal tours during the festival.”

The hours for this year’s festival are from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Friday, May 20; 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Saturday, May 21; and 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 22.

Food can be eaten at the festival or picked up at a drive-through location. The foods offered range from gyros to calamari to Armenian pizza.

There’s also a market at which visitors can buy items such as Greek olive oil, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, salad dressing and cheeses. The market also will offer Russian collectibles such as nesting dolls and eggs along with ceramics, scarves, stained-glass lamps, jewelry, Middle Eastern coins, European artwork, wooden toys, rolling pens and other gift items.

Do you know what pastitsio is (long macaroni layered with seasoned ground beef and then topped with a thick cheese sauce)?

Do you know what tiropeta is (cheese puffs)?

Do you know what spanakopita is (spinach cheese puffs)?

You can learn all of that at the festival.

The festival again will team up with Chef Shuttle, which will allow people to have meals delivered to their homes and offices. The menu will be posted at the weekend of the festival.

Volunteers for the festival, such as ROTC students from Catholic High School for Boys (who clean the grounds), will earn about 4,000 hours of volunteer credits.

Among the charities that will benefit from this year’s event are Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, Community Connection, Easter Seals of Arkansas, the Harmony Health Clinic of Little Rock, Literary Action of Central Arkansas, Youth Home and the Wolfe Street Foundation.

“It’s truly a community event,” Vratsinas said.

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Spring in the Spa City

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

On the morning of Tuesday, March 15, Hot Springs business leaders gathered at the Embassy Suites Hotel adjacent to the city’s convention center to hear from Mike Preston, the young, highly articulate executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Preston, who was hired by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and moved to Arkansas from Florida last year, gets it.

He understands that economic development in the information age is no longer about industrial recruitment.

It’s about recruiting people — smart, creative, talented people. They’re people who can live wherever they wish and often choose a city based on things such as the ability to reside in a walkable downtown, the quality of restaurants, the assortment of live entertainment at night, the number of bicycle and hiking trails, etc.

For decades, Hot Springs failed to play to its strengths. I know it has been a theme of this blog for several years, but I’ll say it again: Hot Springs’ business and civic leaders allowed a downtown that should be a national treasure to deteriorate. I watched those beautiful old buildings decline and wanted to cry. It was almost criminal what happened.

Preston told those at the breakfast meeting of the Hot Springs Metro Partnership that cities must play to their strengths and then let the world know when things are going well.

Eric Jackson, the veteran general manager at Oaklawn Park, took that message to heart.

Early on the Sunday morning after Preston’s speech, Jackson looked back on what had been a remarkable previous 10 days for Spa City tourism and sent a sunrise missive to key leaders in the city.

He wrote: “Our community recently wrapped up a series of events that resulted in an overall tourism and hospitality product unlike anything in the South. In a relatively short period of time, Hot Springs hosted the state high school basketball championships, several large conventions, the nationally acclaimed St. Patrick’s Day parade, live entertainment ranging from bagpipes to the blues, group tours and the Rebel Stakes day at Oaklawn, which essentially has become like a second Arkansas Derby day. Good luck trying to get a hotel room or a restaurant reservation. You couldn’t turn around downtown or at Oaklawn without running into celebrities or top names in industry and government.”

An estimated crowd of 35,000 people showed up on Saturday, March 19, to watch the Rebel, the race that began drawing the nation’s attention last year to eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

This year’s Rebel came just two days after a throng that some people estimated to be near 30,000 packed downtown Hot Springs for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on Bridge Street. This was the 13th year for the parade, a creation of the multitalented Steve Arrison, who heads the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau. The parade has garnered national media attention for Hot Springs and becomes bigger each year.

During the three days after the parade, more than 50,000 racing fans showed up at Oaklawn. Jackson pointed out that at Oaklawn there were:

— Attractions ranging from petting zoos to live entertainment on the open infield.

— Backstretch tours and the increasingly popular Dawn at Oaklawn program for those wanting to learn more about thoroughbred racing.

— A choice of several dozen concession areas and 10 places to sit down and get something to eat or drink.

— Wagering on live races, imported races, electronic games, poker and Instant Racing.

— Uplinks transmitting Oaklawn’s races by satellite to more than 1,000 locations in North America.

— National media coverage.

— More than $2 million in purses, including the country’s top race for three-year-olds that weekend.

— Four areas featuring live musical entertainment.

— Almost 1,500 horses being trained, fed and groomed.

“On top of all that, you have the Mid-America Science Museum, golf, fishing, restaurants, shopping and everything else in this resort community,” Jackson wrote. “It really was amazing. For about a week, our community was the epicenter for hospitality, tourism, entertainment and sports in the South. And, quite frankly, everyone from the shop owners to our police made it look effortless.”

The previous week, large crowds had migrated to the Hot Springs Convention Center for three days to watch the 14 high school basketball championship games. I attended the Saturday games. When I left the arena to walk over to The Porterhouse for dinner, there was bumper-to-bumper traffic on Central Avenue downtown.

Add the fact that the tulips are in full bloom at Garvan Woodland Gardens on Lake Hamilton, drawing throngs of visitors from multiple states.

Verna Garvan spent more than three decades creating the gardens on family property. Her story is an interesting one. She was born Verna Cook in January 1911 in Groveton, Texas.

“Verna and her sister Dorothy were raised to be proper ladies, but Verna often accompanied her father to work and absorbed his business acumen,” Judy Byrd Brittenum writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “In 1916, her father moved the family to Malvern to manage the Wisconsin & Arkansas Lumber Co., an enterprise producing oak and pine flooring. Malvern Brick & Tile was also purchased by Verna’s father, who later served as a board member of what’s now the Malvern National Bank. His land and business investments were transferred upon his death to his wife and daughters but administered by Verna. At the end of her life, she was purported to have the largest holding of timber rights in Arkansas, as she always retained the mineral and timber rights from company land sales.

“Cook grew up in Malvern but attended Holton-Arms, a prestigious Washington, D.C., girls’ school, for her secondary education. When her father died in an auto accident on Aug. 12, 1934, she was engaged to marry Alonzo Bernard Alexander of Spartanburg, S.C. Her mother and sister wished to take no active role in the family business, and after her marriage on Oct. 1, 1934, she proposed that she and her husband manage the the holdings. They moved to South Carolina.”

She was a long way from the family businesses back in Arkansas, but those businesses survived the Great Depression. The brick company supplied thousands of bricks for the massive Army and Navy Hospital at Hot Springs, for instance. A son who had been born with cystic fibrosis died in 1954 in his teens, and Verna’s first marriage ended in 1956. She moved back to Arkansas and met Patrick Garvan Jr., who was visiting a friend in Hot Springs. Garvan was from a prominent New York family. They were married in June 1960 and were planning to build a home on the 210 acres along Lake Hamilton that now house Garvan Woodland Gardens. Patrick Garvan died in 1975, and the home was never built.

“Disappointed in her personal life, she sought to ensure that her garden would remain viable after her death,” Brittenum writes.

Verna’s father had purchased the 210 acres that became the gardens in order to harvest its hardwood timber for his flooring mill. The land became much more valuable when Harvey Couch of Arkansas Power & Light Co. built Carpenter Dam on the Ouachita River, creating Lake Hamilton. Garvan sold Malvern Brick & Tile to Acme Brick in the 1970s, giving her more time to develop the gardens.

The late Marla Crider wrote: “Gardening became Garvan’s passion. As she continued to develop the grounds after her husband’s death, she decided the garden should be shared with the public. She enlisted the help of longtime Malvern Brick & Tile employee Warren Bankson to assist with her vision of a public facility. Together they constructed infrastructure and planted thousands of native and exotic trees, shrubs and plants. She named her landscaped creation the Twentieth Century Gardens.

“Realizing that she and Bankson were not equipped to create a true botanical garden on the scale she had hoped, Garvan signed a trust agreement with the University of Arkansas on Nov. 11, 1985, committing the School of Architecture and its landscape architecture program to operate Twentieth Century Gardens in perpetuity as a service to the people of Arkansas with the understanding that she would maintain control until her death. As stated in the agreement, her motivation for bequeathing the property to the university was to serve as a tribute to natural preservation in the 20th century.”

Garvan hired famous architect Fay Jones and business partner Maurice Jennings of Fayetteville to design an open-air pavilion, which was under construction when Garvan was diagnosed with cancer. Garvan died on Oct. 1, 1993.

The aforementioned Judy Brittenum, who taught landscape architecture at the University of Arkansas, had been appointed by the school in 1990 to work with Garvan to document all the plants in the gardens. David Knowles, an engineering professor, did a detailed survey of all 210 acres. Bob Byers was hired in 1994 as the garden curator and resident landscape architect. Bankson served as garden superintendent.

In 1996, a Cleveland-based landscape architecture and consulting firm was hired to create a 25-year master plan for the gardens. The plan was completed three years later, and a rock and stream garden known as the Garden of the Pine Wind was constructed in 2000. It later was ranked by the Journal of Japanese Gardening as No. 15 on a list of 300 Japanese–style gardens in North America.

The university changed the name from Twentieth Century Gardens to Garvan Woodland Gardens in 2000. A welcome center was built, and the gardens opened to the public on April 7, 2002.

John Ed and Isabel Burton Anthony later were the major benefactors of the Anthony Chapel, which opened in September 2006. Maurice Jennings and David McKee of Fayetteville designed the chapel and the 57-foot Anthony Family Carillon.

Like the St. Patrick’s Day parade, Garvan Woodland Gardens draws more national publicity with each passing year.

Hot Springs’ revitalization efforts received another boost last year when the Mid-America Science Museum reopened following an extensive renovation. In 2011, the museum was awarded a $7.8 million capital grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. Museum officials spent the next several years working with construction consultants, architects and exhibit developers. The museum had to raise $1.6 million to match the grant. A sizable donation from the Oaklawn Foundation in 2013 allowed the museum to reach its fundraising goal.

The museum closed in August 2014 so renovations could begin and reopened in March 2015.

It was Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller in the 1960s who first had the idea of an interactive science museum for Arkansas. Rockefeller hired a well-known museum consultant and sponsored a symposium of state leaders to discuss the idea. Hot Springs was identified as the best place for the project.

After taking office in 1971, Gov. Dale Bumpers supported the effort to build the museum. The Legislature established the Arkansas Museum and Cultural Commission during the 1971 session, and Rockefeller was appointed chairman. Temporary offices were opened in the Medical Arts Building in downtown Hot Springs in 1974.

“Construction began on March 11, 1977, on the 65,000-square-foot facility, built on 21 wooded acres in Mid-America Park, a commercial development that includes what’s now National Park College, the museum, industrial and commercial entities,” Richard Mathias writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “The multimillion-dollar facility is divided into two wings, which are connected by a glass-enclosed bridge that spans the outside stream. The museum opened to the public on Jan. 20, 1979.

“Sunday, April 22, 1979, was proclaimed Mid-America Day by the major of Hot Springs as the museum was dedicated by Gov. Bill Clinton in a grand opening ceremony. It also received the Henry Award from the Governor’s Conference on Tourism in 1982, honoring contributions to the state’s tourism industry. In 1981, the Hot Springs City Council appropriated, through the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission, one cent of the hospitality sales tax to support the museum after Gov. Frank White abolished the museum commission and the appropriations for its operations.”

In November 2001, the museum became the first Arkansas facility to be designated an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. That was the year that the facility was deeded from the state to the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission. Efforts began in 2004 to become a private, nonprofit entity governed by a board.

Reopened and looking like new, the Mid-America Science Museum now takes its place alongside Oaklawn, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Magic Springs and even Hot Springs National Park as an important Spa City attraction.

So far, it has been a spring to remember in Hot Springs.

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The boy from Billstown

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

One of the perks of hailing from southwest Arkansas is being able to correct people when they claim that Glen Campbell comes from a tiny town called Delight.

“Well, he’s actually from Billstown,” you say with a smile. “That’s a suburb of Delight.”

Glen Travis Campbell was born April 22, 1936, at Billstown to Carrie Dell Stone Campbell and John Wesley Campbell. He was one of 12 children.

“Many of his relatives were musicians, and young Campbell soon developed an interest in singing and playing,” Terry Buckalew writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “He received his first guitar at age four, performed in public by age six and made occasional appearances on the local radio station. The Campbell family moved first to Houston, Texas, and then to Albuquerque, N.M., where teenaged Campbell began performing in nightclubs. Campbell dropped out of school in the 10th grade to spend more time on music. In 1956, he joined the Sandia Mountain Boys, a local band led by his uncle, Dick Bills. Campbell stayed with the group until 1958.

“In 1958, Campbell formed his own band, Glen Campbell and the Western Wranglers. In 1960, Campbell disbanded the group and moved to Los Angeles. He hoped to establish himself as a solo performer but found himself instead to be a sought-after studio musician and guitarist. He worked for a year with the instrumental rock group The Camps (of ‘Tequila’ fame) before recording his first solo record in 1961.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

His 1967 recording of “Gentle On My Mind” hit the charts and earned him Grammy Awards in 1968 for Best Country Vocalist and Best Contemporary Vocalist.

Along came “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” in 1968.

“Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights” were all huge hits for Campbell during the next few years.

He had a weekly variety program on CBS by 1969.

He appeared in the movie “True Grit” in 1969 and earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Newcomer.

In 1970, he played the title role in the movie “Norwood.”

Campbell was inducted into the inaugural class of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 1996 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.

In his song “Arkansas,” Campbell sings about “Pike County’s sandy loam.”

The first transcribed version of the song that I could find on the Internet had it as “Park County’s sandy lawn.”

I suppose one can be forgiven for not knowing much about Pike County, a largely rural county in an often forgotten corner of the state.

Billstown is about six miles from Delight, and the Billstown schools consolidated with those in Delight at the start of the 1948-49 school year. Since then, Billstown has primarily been a small collection of homes.

Pike County was carved out of two existing counties — Clark and Hempstead — by the Arkansas Territorial Legislature in 1833 and named after explorer Zebulon Pike. In 1836, the year Arkansas became a state, a post office was established at Murfreesborough (later shortened to Murfreesboro).

The population of the county grew: 969 in 1840; 1,861 in 1850; 4,025 in 1860; 3,788 in 1870; 6,345 in 1880; 8,537 in 1890; 10,301 in 1900.

The high-water mark for the county came in 1910 when the census registered 12,565 residents. There were 11,291 residents a century later in the 2010 census.

By the early 1900s, railroad owner Martin White Greeson was lobbying officials to have a dam built on a section of the Little Missouri River known as the Narrows with the goal of preventing flooding downstream.

Greeson had been born in Van Buren County in 1866 and later taught school at Bee Branch and Morrilton. After getting a law degree from Cumberland University in Tennessee, he moved to Prescott in 1888 and joined the firm of Atkinson & Tompkins. He later owned the Murfreesboro-Nashville Southwest Railroad and purchased the Kimberlite Diamond Mining & Washing Co. at Murfreesboro in 1913.

“After pushing the idea at the local level, Greeson took it to the U.S. Congress in the 1920s, where it was repeatedly introduced and repeatedly forgotten,” William H. Pruden III writes of Greeson’s efforts to get a dam on the Little Missouri. “In an effort to facilitate the construction of both the dam and the flood-control project, he had bought some of the land. But the idea remained on the drawing board. Appointed to the Arkansas Flood Control Commission by Gov. Carl Bailey, Greeson continued to advocate for the idea until 1941, when Congress approved the Little Missouri River project and authorized $3 million for its implementation. However, the project was set aside during World War II, and construction did not begin until 1947.

Greeson didn’t live to see the project completed. He died in November 1949 and is buried at Prescott.

The dam was completed in 1950 and dedicated in 1951. It blocks a valley that’s 941 feet wide. The dam is known as Narrows Dam and rises 183.5 feet above the river. It forms Lake Greeson, which covers almost 7,000 acres. Eventually, the people attracted to the county by the lake caused the population losses to end. The lowest recorded population in Pike County after the 1880 census was 7,874 residents in 1960. People had been leaving the county for years as farming declined, the forests were cut down and the mines played out.

“In the early 1900s, practically every settlement in the county had its own cotton gin, gristmill and sawmill,” Doris Russell Foshee writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “By the 1920s, most of the forests had been cut over, and sawmills were not profitable anymore. In 1930, cinnabar, the principal ore of mercury, was discovered in a six-mile-wide area beginning in east Howard County, extending across Pike County and ending in west Clark County. Companies began to mine this mineral, providing jobs for the citizens of the county. In 1931, mining was done both above and below surface. Cinnabar was extracted from these mines until 1944. Some of the old, abandoned mines can still be seen around the shores of Lake Greeson.

“The first recorded mining of gypsum in Arkansas occurred in 1922. It was mined by open-pit methods. A formation of gypsum is exposed in a narrow belt extending from the Little Missouri River westward into adjacent Howard County. The greatest thickness of this gypsum bed is 12 feet at Plaster Bluff in Pike County. All of the mining occurring now is across the county line in Howard County.”

A settlement known as Highland, which was southwest of Murfreesboro, had what was reported to be the largest peach orchard in the country by 1904. There were almost 4,600 acres of trees, and more than 200,000 bushels of Elberta peaches were shipped out in good years. People would come from surrounding states to work the harvest until the orchards began to decline following 1915.

Along with Glen Campbell, Pike County is best known for its diamonds. Murfreesboro became a boomtown for a time after John Wesley Huddleston found diamonds near there in 1906. Another boom period occurred when Wesley Oley Basham discovered the 40.23-carat Uncle Sam diamond in 1924. The realization later would set in that not enough diamonds would ever be found to make diamond mining a viable industry in the county.

Like a lot of Pike County residents, Huddleston was a struggling farmer. Who would have dreamed that he would become recognized as the first person outside South Africa to find diamonds at an original volcanic source? He was simply walking through one of his fields on that August day in 1906 when he saw something shining on the ground.

Huddleston came from a family with deep roots in the county. His grandfather, David Huddleston, had served as county judge for 22 years. A great-uncle had been the sheriff for a decade.

Here’s how Dean Banks tells the Huddleston story for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “The grandparents, parents and other members of the large extended family settled along the Little Missouri River a few miles south of Murfreesboro and owned several properties by the 243-acre tract where the diamonds were found. John and Sarah Huddleston’s home farm, 49.26 acres purchased in 1889 for $1,000, lay only a mile from the future diamond field. They also owned about 40 acres beside the field until their growing family evidently prompted them to sell that property. Later, after the birth of the last of their six daughters in 1899, the couple bought another 40 acres in the same area.

“Huddleston was known as one of the many avid outdoorsmen and amateur prospectors of his era, and no doubt he became familiar with the wooded hills and gullies of those 243 acres before he and Sarah paid $2,000 for the big tract in July 1905. The Huddlestons intended to finance the new property not only by farming or other work but also by selling appreciating parcels of land or using the rising value of their home place to secure loans from a well-to-do landowner of the area.

“In August 1906, however, Huddleston found two unusual crystals along a public road running through the new property. Experts in Little Rock and New York City identified them as diamonds, and soon word of the discovery got out. When diamond-mining interests appeared on the scene in September 1906, the Huddlestons accepted $360 cash for an extendable six-month option on the 243 acres at a purchase price of $36,000. Afterward, they signed deed contracts and received payments on principal and interest for almost 10 years.

“In later accounts, Huddleston was presented as an irresponsible son of a sharecropper or a dreamy backwoodsman who received cash for the property and soon squandered it. But actually the couple used the bulk of their available cash to buy clear title to land in Murfreesboro, rural Pike County and adjoining Clark County. In early 1908, the entire family moved to Arkadelphia, the Clark County seat, primarily to give the five daughters the social and cultural benefits of a city. In Arkadelphia, the Huddlestons reportedly enjoyed a life of ease and leisure. John Huddleston soon purchased an automobile and often was seen driving near his old home and the diamond field.”

His wife died in December 1917, and his youngest daughter died in February 1918. Huddleston moved back to Murfreesboro. A 1920 Arkansas Gazette story described him as “a wealthy man, as wealth goes in this remote region.”

Huddleston died in November 1941 and is buried three miles south of the diamond field.

“As wealth goes in this remote region” is a good phrase for what has never been a wealthy part of the state.

“During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps was active in the area, and men from Murfreesboro assisted in CCC projects such as the Albert Pike campground in Montgomery County and Shady Lake in Polk County,” Foshee writes. “With Murfreesboro being a rural area, the majority of people at the time raised gardens. Wild berries and grapes grew abundantly in the countryside, where wild game also roamed. When the men went off to fight during World War II, many women moved themselves and their children to Texarkana or other nearby cities to look for employment, primarily in ordnance plants that were being built in southern Arkansas.”

Murfreesboro never reached 2,000 residents. The 2010 population was 1,641.

Delight, meanwhile, dropped from a high of 539 residents in 1910 (when it was bigger than Murfreesboro) to 279 people a century later.

What’s now Delight originally was known as the Wolf Creek settlement. A post office was established there in January 1832, and the community became a mail stop between Little Rock and Washington in Hempstead County.

One of the first settlers was Samuel Hasley, who purchased 43 acres from the government in what’s now Delight. The Hasley family name has been well known for decades in southwest Arkansas.

In the late 1800s, the Southwest Arkansas-Indian Territory Railroad Co. laid tracks through the area, which accelerated the harvest of Pike County’s abundant timber supplies. R.B.F. Key built a sawmill that began operation in 1897. Dr. William Kirkham, a prominent physician, was given the honor of naming the town in 1904. He chose the name Delight because it’s said that he was delighted to be living in the area.

The Ozan Lumber Co. was the area’s dominant business for much of the 20th century. The company owned 132,000 acres by 1956 and was sold to the Potlatch Corp. in the 1960s. Gravel mining also was common.

As the timber companies cleared the surrounding woodlands, farmers such as Glen Campbell’s father turned to growing cotton in the sandy loam. Like much of southwest Arkansas, Pike County no longer has any cotton acreage. These days, the sandy loam that Glen Campbell sang about has led to pine plantations, pastures for cattle and a state park where visitors can still search for diamonds.

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Down in southwest Arkansas

Friday, March 4th, 2016

In some ways, southwest Arkansas is the forgotten part of our state.

There’s a mystique to the Ozarks and the Delta, areas that long have been studied and written about.

The Ouachita Mountains also have a certain cachet.

The pine woods and blackland prairies of the southwest also have their charms, as evidenced by the reaction I received following a recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette column I wrote about a trip from Little Rock to Nashville in Howard County with one-time Scrapper quarterback Tom DeBlack, now a history professor at Arkansas Tech University.

Tom and I both love Arkansas history.

I’m an amateur.

Tom is a professional — one of the top Arkansas historians.

As we drove west on Interstate 30 toward Arkadelphia on a Saturday afternoon, Tom suggested that we take “the back road,” which meant the curvy, shaded route through Hollywood, Antoine, Delight and Murfreesboro.

If you like rural Arkansas, it’s as scenic and filled with history as any drive in the state.

Within a few miles of exiting the interstate and heading west on Arkansas Highway 26, you’ll pass two of the most historic homes in southwest Arkansas, Magnolia Manor and the Bozeman House.

Construction on Magnolia Manor, which is maintained in pristine condition by current owners Bill and Sherri Phelps, began in 1855 and ended in 1857. Most of the raw materials for the house were obtained locally.

Thousands of Americans were moving west in the decades before the Civil War, and a South Carolina plantation owner named John B. McDaniel caught the fever. He sent his three sons and a nephew to Arkansas in 1853. He soon followed with his wife, Mary Ann, and two daughters. He hired a master carpenter and bricklayer named Madison Griffin to build a house for the family.

Here’s how the Clark County Historical Association describes his work: “Over the course of three years, Griffin produced a sturdy and serviceable, but not ornate, two-story structure of mixed Greek Revival and Italianate design. He sited the house facing east, toward Arkadelphia, but accounted for the course of the nearby Okolona Road as it swept in a broad curve from south to west. The east side faced the road and featured a traditional entry and corridor-flanked stairway. The south side extended to became an ell; in the center of that ell, Griffin created a second entrance with a hallway behind it. Whether one traveled southwest toward Okolona from Arkadelphia or in the reverse direction, one first encountered a mansion entrance.

“Foundation and chimney brick were fired from local mud. Nearby oak provided the hand-hewn beams, sills and joists. Local walnut served interior use, and plentiful pine became two-inch-thick floorboards. Griffin imported some materials from Little Rock for fine trim work. In keeping with common practice, he separated the two-room kitchen from the house but provided a covered walkway between the two structures. Scattered behind the main house were a gin and barn.

“Some house features were as foreign as the family. Lore has it that during the three years of building, McDaniel traveled to New Orleans on business and returned with a pair of magnolia seedlings, which he planted to flank the eastern face and signify his home’s true front. As they matured, they also provided the home’s name. Family lore provides another story about a building feature: A large iron ring built into the wall graces the front stairway landing, a ring to which McDaniel chained watchdogs at night.”

Mary Ann McDaniel lived in the home until her death in 1883. The home later fell into disrepair and was sold to state Sen. Fletcher McElhannon, who renovated Magnolia Manor in 1932. McElhannon was long a member of the board of what’s now Henderson State University, and a building on the Henderson campus is named for him.

Another state senator, Olen Hendrix from Pike County, and Arkadelphia philanthropist Jane Ross later would own the home. Both had deep roots in southwest Arkansas.

Hendrix, who was born in the Piney community of Pike County in July 1909, only attended school through the eighth grade but became one of the area’s leading businessmen. He was involved in the lumber business, banking and oil production. Hendrix was a president of the Bank of Prescott and the chairman of the Bank of Delight. He was appointed to the state Highway Commission in 1952 by Gov. Sid McMath and then was appointed in 1955 by Gov. Orval Faubus to the board that oversaw facilities for the mentally ill. Hendrix was elected to the state Senate in 1958 and served through 1982, chairing both the Legislative Council and the Joint Budget Committee during his tenure at the state Capitol.

Hendrix long was a member of the board at Harding University, where he endowed the Olen Hendrix Nursing and Home Economics Center in 1975. He served on the boards of Arkansas Cement Co. and the American Foundation Life Insurance Co. Hendrix died in August 1998.

Ross was born at Arkadelphia in December 1920, the daughter of prominent timberland owner Hugh Ross and his wife, Esther Clark Ross. J.G. Clark, her grandfather, had begun buying forests in southwest Arkansas in the 1880s.

Jane Ross graduated from Henderson in 1942 and then worked as a Navy photographer in Washington, D.C., in 1943. Ross served from 1944-46 in the Women’s Army Corps of the Army Air Force. She later studied color photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, graduating from there in 1947. Ross returned to Arkadelphia to open a photo studio, which she operated until 1955. That was the year her father died, requiring her to devote her time to managing the family timber fortune.

Ross and her mother established the Ross Foundation in 1966. She was the chairman of the foundation board until her death in 1999. The Ross Foundation remains among of the state’s largest philanthropic organizations.

A few miles west of Magnolia Manor is the Bozeman House, which was built in the late 1840s by Michael Bozeman. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Like Magnolia Manor (which has been on the National Register since 1972), it remains in pristine condition. Bozeman bought a portable sawmill powered by eight mules, set it up on his plantation and sawed the lumber for the house. The Greek Revival home sits on oak sill beams. The house was surrounded by a gin, blacksmith shop, slave cabins and corn cribs.

The 1850 census listed Bozeman, his wife Lucy and four of their children as living in the home. The Bozeman plantation had an overseer named John Graham.

Bozeman later was elected to the state Senate. He also was part of a group that worked for years to make the Ouachita River navigable to Arkadelphia. During a meeting at Arkadelphia in October 1849, William Phillips & Co. of New Orleans promised to run the steamboat Lucy Wing to Arkadelphia on a regular basis if those in the area would pledge their support. A committee agreed to remove obstacles on the Ouachita from the mouth of the Little Missouri River to Arkadelphia. However, the logs and other debris in the river were more than they had bargained for. It wasn’t until February 1859 that the first steamboat made it all the way from New Orleans to Arkadelphia.

Planters such as Michael Bozeman and John McDaniel were attracted to the area because the blackland prairies proved highly suitable for growing cotton.

The Nature Conservancy describes the area this way: “The blacklands of southwestern Arkansas, a landscape dominated by tall native grasses and vibrant wildflowers, had a watery beginning. Millions of years ago, the Gulf of Mexico covered the region. As the gulf receded, it left behind deposits of shellfish that formed a chalky layer underneath a deep mantle of rich, black soil. It’s from this dark soil that the blacklands got their name. The state’s blackland prairies and associated woodlands harbor more than 600 types of plants, including 21 globally imperiled plant communities. Some 315 animal species are found at blackland sites.”

There once were almost 12 million acres of these blackland prairies in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama. There are only about 10,000 acres remaining in scattered patches. First, the grasslands were plowed to grow cotton. When the nutrients gave out, they became pastures and pine plantations.

In the 1980s, the Nature Conservancy partnered with the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission to identify the least disturbed blackland sites. The public can visit the Terre Noire Natural Area, a 490-acre preserve that’s just a few miles from the Bozeman House and Magnolia Manor.

The next community west of the Bozeman House is Hollywood. Settlers began taking advantage of the rich land along Terre Noire Creek and Hollywood Creek in the early 1800s. Notable Arkansans such as Albert Pike, Chester Ashley and Robert Crittenden visited the area as part of their law practices.

Nearby Greenville was the county seat of Clark County from 1830-42. It was on the Southwest Trail (later called the Military Road). Moses Collins offered 30 acres of land so a jail and courthouse could be built at Greenville in 1830. The county seat previously had been at Adam Stroud’s home a mile east of Hollywood. In 1842, the people of Arkadelphia hosted a large, festive picnic to promote its position on the Ouachita River and its 250 residents. Soon after that event, the Clark County Quorum Court voted to move the county seat from Greenville to Arkadelphia. When the route of the Military Road was changed, Greenville ceased to exist.

Hollywood continued to thrive, though. Methodists established the Davidson Campground about three miles from Hollywood in 1884, and summer meetings are still held there. Hollywood had a sawmill, cotton gin, Garrison’s General Store, Wingfield & Jackson General Store and E.S. Lee Grocery Store in 1890. The 20th century saw a slow decline. By 1950, all grades of the Hollywood schools had been consolidated with Arkadelphia, and there was only one store. The post office closed in 1975.

You’ll travel through thick forests west of Hollywood until crossing the Antoine River into Pike County. The small river forms in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains west of Amity and flows to the southwest for 35 miles before emptying into the Little Missouri River.

Guy Lancaster writes in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture: “There was apparently a bridge over the Antoine River by 1836. Though some early white settlers did grow cotton and other crops on the lower reaches of the river, the river never provided a major transportation corridor, and the area around the river remained rather sparsely settled until the arrival of the timber industry and the railroad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Missouri Pacific worked on building its railroad along the west side of the river until 1905, when a rock slide that killed nine workers led the company to rebuild the route along the east side. This line paralleled much of the river until it reached Pike Junction.

“In 1907, the Arkadelphia Lumber Co. moved to a site near the Antoine River. This eventually became the town of Graysonia in Clark County, which for several years was home to one of the largest mills in the South. The cut-and-run practices of the lumber companies that operated along the river soon led to the decline of Graysonia and other mill towns. Unlike other waterways in this region of Arkansas — such as the Coassatot, Little Missouri, Caddo and Ouachita rivers — the Antoine River has not been dammed. This is likely because impounding the short river would not provide much flood control.”

You’ll find yourself in Antoine as soon as you cross the bridge. It was one of the first settlements in what’s now Pike County. The population in the 2010 census was 117 people, down from 233 in the 1940 census.

“Native Americans and French trappers operated on the land around Antoine during the 1700s,” Doris Russell Foshee writes in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “The town was reportedly named for one of the French trappers. He was found dead at his camp near the road and the only identification to be found was the name Antoine. The citizens buried him on a hill above the river. People covered his grave with small stones and chiseled ‘Antoine’ on a large stone and placed it on his grave. The area around the grave became the town’s cemetery. Antoine’s tombstone disappeared in later years.

“Antoine was one of the finest settlements in that area. It was a stopping place for travelers on the Southwest Trail on their way to Texas in the early 1800s. Two bois d’arc trees marked the Southwest Trail, which followed what’s now Antoine’s Main Street on Highway 26. Antoine didn’t see much action during the Civil War, though the Skirmish at Terre Noire Creek took place near the community. During the war, Union soldiers reportedly encountered two young boys who were coming back with their family corn from the local gristmill, took the corn and then hanged the boys from a large chinquapin tree.

“In the early 1890s, there was a logging boom so the citizens had work that lasted through the Depression years. By 1890, Antoine included a bank, a school, a cotton gin, a post office, several churches, a gristmill, a bottling works, a blacksmith shop, a café and a pool hall. About 1911, the entire south side of Antoine — which had the bank, hardware store and several other stores — burned. A later fire destroyed a hotel. In 1947, the school burned. The citizens decided to not replace it but to consolidate with Delight.”

In the next post, we’ll continue our trip across Pike County.

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The Louisiana Purchase survey

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Little Rock attorney John P. Gill has spent years trying to bring attention to one of the most important surveys in the history of Western civilization.

And it began right here in Arkansas, though the vast majority of Arkansans couldn’t tell you anything about it.

Gill worked with former Arkansas Secretary of State Sharon Priest and longtime state employee Ron Maxwell to raise money for a public sculpture that will be installed in 2016 in front of the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock.

Michael Warrick, a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and Louisiana sculptor Aaron Hussey were commissioned to create a worked titled “Straight Lines on a Round World.” At a height of 20 feet, it will be among the largest freestanding glass sculptures in the world.

Gill wrote the entry about the Louisiana Purchase survey for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. He began it this way: “The purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 practically doubled the size of the United States, yet little of it was marked off by the American land survey method, which divides land into square tracts, an orderly prerequisite for land ownership in the 19th century. The survey of this vast, new American West began in what would later become the state of Arkansas and is commemorated at Louisiana Purchase State Park on U.S. Highway 49 between Brinkley and Helena. Since Arkansas was first, the survey enabled early sale of land that contributed to Arkansas being the third state admitted into the union west of the Mississippi River (after Louisiana and Missouri).

“The survey of the Louisiana Purchase, ordered during the administration of President James Madison, began shortly after the end of the War of 1812, in part as a means for the federal government to pay its veterans with land. The nation’s greatest asset was land west of the Mississippi River, and it was necessary to survey that land so that it might be apportioned fairly to veterans and sold to settlers and other investors who were already streaming into the trans-Mississippi West.”

In October 1815, surveyors Prospect Robbins and Joseph Brown set out from the Mississippi River.

Robbins began at the mouth of the Arkansas River and headed due north.

Brown began at the mouth of the St. Francis River and headed due west.

“Brown’s survey line is called the baseline, and Robbins’ line is called the fifth principal meridian because it was the fifth north-south line surveyed in the United States,” Gill wrote. “During this period, surveying land was exceptionally difficult work. Using only a compass and a chain, surveyors made their way through the wilderness, stopping every half mile to mark or ‘blaze’ a tree. They carried all of their provisions with them for a task that lasted several months. In the wilderness of the Arkansas Delta where Robbins and Brown worked, the only signs of life were scattered Indian and animal trails.

“On Nov. 10, 1815, Robbins crossed the baseline that had been set by Brown, who already had proceeded to the west of that point. Robbins sent for Brown, who returned to mark this intersection of their surveys as the initial point of the first survey of the American West. From this initial point, which is located in a headwater swamp at the northwest corner of Phillips County, the lands in Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota and part of Minnesota and South Dakota are measured. This initial point is located in the Louisiana Purchase State Park. Brown’s survey line today marks the northern boundary of Phillips County. He continued west to the Arkansas River on Dec. 4, 1815, while another surveyor continued the baseline across what is now known as Baseline Road in Little Rock.

“Robbins traversed the western boundary of Phillips County and continued north, reaching the present-day Missouri border later that month and continuing onward to the Missouri River, where other surveyors continued the meridian to the Canadian border. Several other surveyors followed Robbins and Brown, marking the corners of each square mile using the initial point as their reference. The process took many years, and some surveys were still not complete when Arkansas joined the union in 1836.”

During a recent lunch meeting in downtown Little Rock, Gill told me: “This survey was a key to the growth of the United States. We read all the time about the Lewis and Clark expedition, but Robbins and Brown ought to get recognition. I’m hopeful that the sculpture will at least make people in Arkansas more aware of their history. People will see it and want to read more about the survey. It has taken us years to get to the point of actually commissioning the sculpture, but we finally concentrated and got it done.”

In November 2002, Gill joined 12 other Arkansans in retracing the initial baseline of the Louisiana Purchase on a three-day hike through east Arkansas. He later edited a journal about the expedition that was published in 2004 by the Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial Committee of Arkansas.

“A nation that only recognizes part of its history is not a whole nation,” Gill wrote in the preface to the journal. “A nation that celebrates with selective memory does not practice equal treatment of all its citizens because all of them have their own history. A marker outside Marianna in Lee County locates the home site and grave of John Patterson, Arkansas’ first native-born white child. … The unique history of this Arkansas resident and others similarly situated is not recognized by most Americans and is lost in history.

“Twenty miles southwest of Patterson’s grave is another monument, one that locates the initial point for the first survey of the new West — the Louisiana Purchase. Although the survey enabled the settling of some of the land that doubled the size of the United States, this unique history of Arkansas is not recognized by most Americans and is lost in history. One hundred fifteen miles west of the initial point marker is another monument, one that marks the trail of explorers William Dunbar and George Hunter at Hot Springs, where their ascent of the Ouachita River culminated. Although these explorers made the first report to Thomas Jefferson of exploration of the Louisiana Purchase (even complete with biological specimens), this unique history of Arkansas is not recognized by most Americans and is lost in history.

“Ninety miles southwest of the Dunbar-Hunter marker is the place near Texarkana where the Spanish army stopped the Freeman-Custis exploration of the Red and Arkansas rivers that was the Southern counterpart to Lewis and Clark. Although Thomas Jefferson’s instructions to both the Lewis and Clark and Freeman and Custis expeditions were nearly identical, and the U.S. Congress initially appropriated more money for Freeman and Custis than for Lewis and Clark, their expedition is not recognized by most Americans and is lost in history.

“In an effort to help this nation recognize its whole history and give equal treatment to Arkansas’ central role in the exploration and settlement of the Louisiana Purchase, 13 Arkansawyers sought to examine just one of these events lost in history and set out to retrace the initial baseline of the Louisiana Purchase on the eve of its bicentennial.”

The long hike took place from Nov. 7-9, 2002.

Of the spot where the three-day expedition began, Gill wrote: “The place where the St. Francis River and Mississippi River join forces is called the mouth of the St. Francis, but that geographic term does not do justice to the beautiful place where the St. Francis meets the father of waters. Reached by Forest Service road through a huge native pecan orchard, a 13-foot circumference native pecan sentry permits entry to this fairyland. The quiet calm of this land belies the power of 484,000 cubic feet of water passing this place each second of every minute of every day. The willow and cottonwood trees reaching from the loess soil and sand blend in perfect harmony with the water, and one standing in this place understands and feels peace.

“It has not always been so. Violent floods have moved the river like the tail of the panther crouching for its prey. This mouth is now one mile downriver from where it lay on Oct. 27, 1815, when Joseph Brown set out on his epic journey to make Thomas Jefferson’s dream of private land ownership come true. At that time the St. Francis made a fishhook to the east and then flowed north to meet the Mississippi; therefore, when Brown set out heading west, he left the mouth, traveled just over two and a half miles and hit the St. Francis again. So he crossed and continued from the west bank. This spot, under a 10-foot circumference American elm, became the starting point for the 2002 expedition on Nov. 7.”

Gill wrote that Crowley’s Ridge “stands in stark contrast to the flat Mississippi Alluvial Plain known as the Delta. Unlike most mountains created by violent upheavals, volcanoes or earthquakes, Crowley’s Ridge is the remains of fine, windblown soil accumulated from ancient time and then eroded by the Delta’s many rivers. The dust-like soil created when ice age glaciers pulverized rocks is called loess. Its susceptibility to erosion created deep ravines with near vertical cliffs as though sliced with a knife. Even an experienced hiker or woodsman is not prepared for the arduous task of crossing the ridge. Most of the journey is a steady climb punctuated by a steep slide and another climb. And another slide. And another. And another in endless succession. The loess soil is extremely loose, making footing difficult.

“Sinkholes beneath the soil can, and did, twist knees and legs when the soil gave way. Fall rains made matters worse. But at least the 2002 expedition did not have to contend with large brass compasses, mules, chains and provisions. In the first half mile from the low road, the baseline traverses six steep elevations; the first as high as a 16-story building. Little is known about Joseph Brown, but he must have been a rather rugged individual for he described Crowley’s Ridge as just ‘very hilly oak land.’

“As much as the terrain is unforgiving, the scenery gives breathtaking beauty. It is much more than oak land, for just the first hill contains a smorgasbord of trees spread among trout lilies; yellow poplar, red buckeye, hornbeam, water oak, cedar, sugar maple, sassafras, cherry bark oak and surprisingly beech, which is at its southern growth range on Crowley’s Ridge. The autumn rainbow of colors set against a blue bird sky lingers in one’s memory.”

In an essay in the journal, naturalist John Morrow wrote: “Our journey drew attention to a gorgeous part of the Natural State, but one not often closely examined. All too often stereotyped as a boring, monotonous region, the trip proved to me that sometimes you just have to slow down to appreciate some things. I have found that any disdain for the Delta comes from people who drive across it at 70 miles per hour, staring at it through tinted glass.”

Though it is one of our smallest state parks, Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park is among my favorite spots in the state parks system. While surveying the boundary between Lee and Phillips counties in 1921, surveyors Tom Jacks and Eldridge Douglas from Helena found witness trees that had been marked by Robbins’ party more than a century earlier. The L’Anguille chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Marianna held a ceremony on Oct. 27, 1926, to place a stone marker on the site. The Arkansas Legislature authorized a state park there in 1961, but no money was appropriated. In fact, development did not begin until 1977. Today visitors can walk down a boardwalk through the swamp to the 1926 monument, reading interpretive panels about the Louisiana Purchase, the survey and the Delta. In the modern visitors’ center of the Mississippi River State Park near Marianna, a video features Gill talking about the survey.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture notes that Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park “conserves a rare headwater swamp, located on Little Cypress Creek, and a granite monument standing in the swamp’s interior. … On April 19, 1993, the National Park Service designated the point a National Historic Landmark. … The park’s complex plant community includes species normally associated with swamps such as swamp tupelo, bald cypress, black willow and buttonbush, in proximity with upland species such as sweet gum, mulberry, Nuttall oak and sassafras. Many bird species — such as the prothonotary warbler, the belted kingfisher, the pileated woodpecker and the barred owl — can be observed in the surrounding swamp area.”

Thanks John Gill, Sharon Priest, Ron Maxwell and Arkansas State Parks for not letting us forget the survey that changed America.

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Catholic fare

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

While I’ve attempted to visit as many independently owned restaurants across the state as possible through the years — especially those in rural areas — one thing I’ve not done is take in most of the historic annual events that are associated with Catholic parishes.

Though there’s not a large Catholic population in Arkansas, these are among the most storied and anticipated events in our state.

In fact, the annual supper at St. Joseph Church in Center Ridge bills itself as “the original spaghetti supper.”

In 1929 — the year the Great Depression began — Benedictine nuns were looking for a way to raise money for school supplies. They wound up raising $40 by selling pasta suppers for 25 cents per plate. That cost included homemade wine, by the way. The homemade wine is a thing of the past, but there’s still homemade Italian sausage and spaghetti produced for a March supper and a June summer picnic.

“It’s not only the taste of the food,” Theresa Paladino told the Arkansas Catholic in 2013. “It’s the hospitality, the friendliness and the heritage of fourth and fifth generations that makes it the best. We don’t have a set sauce recipe. Everybody just brings their own and dumps it in the pot. I’ve seen years when it rained, and people in line stood there and got rained on. One year the transformers blew, and people ate in the dark. People have sat in their cars to eat. Before we were on city water, the wells almost ran dry because we boiled so much pasta. But the Lord always made sure we had enough.”

Parishioners start making the sausages in January. It’s a family tradition for those in the area, which was settled decades ago by Italian Catholics. The two dinners combine to serve more than 3,000 people each year.

Up in northwest Arkansas, St. Joseph Church at Tontitown serves an estimated 7,000 plates of spaghetti during the Grape Festival each August. The event began in 1898 when Italian immigrant farmers — who had left behind the mosquitoes and malaria of the Sunnyside Plantation near Lake Village — decided to have a picnic. Now, fried chicken and pasta are served from Thursday through Saturday. The pasta and sauce are homemade.

Ryan Pianalto, a fourth-generation member of the church, described it best a couple of years ago when he said: “It’s just the best thing ever. You would trade your birthday for the Grape Festival in a minute. … It’s fantastic to use these old recipes. It’s also amazing to hear my great-aunts and uncles talk about how they made it in these five-gallon pots where they would stir it all day long. These days we use a 100-gallon pot.”

Speaking of Lake Village and its Italian heritage, the Our Lady of the Lake spaghetti supper began in 1909. The recipes for the March event have been handed down since then. More than 300 pounds of pasta are produced on the weekend before Washington’s Birthday is celebrated in February. In late February, about 3,600 meatballs are made. Diners have been known to line up by 7 a.m. the day of the event for takeout orders.

You know a place named Little Italy must have a Catholic church and an annual supper. And that’s just the case for St. Francis of Assisi Church in the Little Italy community near Roland, where almost 1,000 diners buy tickets for homemade pasta, sauce and sausages each October. The sausages are cooked in wine, and the salad dressing comes from a recipe that’s a century old. The event, which began in 1927, is almost like a homecoming with people who grew up in the parish coming from multiple states to eat and visit with friends.

The spaghetti dinner at St. Joseph Church in Pine Bluff, which is held each October, dates back to 1934. The meatball recipe has never changed. Almost 11,000 meatballs are produced each year. The work starts weeks in advance.

A Christmas season tradition in Little Rock is the Mancini Sausage Supper. I had the honor of being the main speaker for the event several years ago. My pay was five pounds of sausages. The supper began at St. Joseph Orphanage in North Little Rock. Members of the Knights of Columbus would give the orphans presents, and the children would sing Christmas carols. Sausages were made from Duroc hogs on the St. Joseph grounds, which were descended from Subiaco Abbey litters. The sausage supper now is held at McDonald Hall, which is adjacent to the Cathedral of St. Andrew in downtown Little Rock. Proceeds go to several charities. Those who buy tickets also are asked to bring unwrapped toys.

The event has become so big that Petit Jean Meats at Morrilton now prepares the sausages, though the original recipe is used. More than 300 pounds of sausages are served each year. Another 200 pounds are sold for people to take home. The supper is named for the late Louie Mancini, a longtime member of the Knights of Columbus.

It’s not all pasta and sausage at Catholic events across the state. There’s also:

— Polish fare at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in the Marche neighborhood of North Little Rock. The annual Polish Karnawal Festival in September attracts more than 1,000 people for gokie (patties of beef and pork), butter potatoes, haluski (braised sweet cabbage, onions and butter) and dumplings. There’s homemade sauerkraut that has been pickled in brine for six weeks and homemade Polish sausages.

— Latino and Vietnamese food at the St. Vincent de Paul Church Festival each September in Rogers. There are 15 food stands offering everything from Vietnamese spring rolls to handmade tamales as this ethnically diverse parish celebrates the start of fall.

— Boston butts, pork loin and barbecued chicken each October for the festival at Blessed Sacrament Church in Jonesboro. Demand for the Boston butts (pork shoulder) is so high that people begin ordering them months in advance. About 800 butts are sold for people to take home.

— Rolls and tamales at Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith for the church bazaar on the first weekend in November. The yeast rolls have been made each year since 1970. They’re known as “featherbed rolls.” The tamales, also available at the cultural festival each September at the church, are made from scratch by 60 volunteers.

— No article on food at Catholic events would be complete without mentioning the hot sauce and peanut brittle produced at Subiaco Abbey. There are 600 habanero pepper plants on the grounds. The plants produce 1,500 pounds of peppers, and those are turned into 2,500 five-ounce bottles of sauce. Both red and green peppers are grown. The peanut brittle, meanwhile, is produced in small skillets.

“Somebody once asked me why we didn’t make a mild habanero sauce, and I said: ‘For what?'” Father Richard Walz told the Arkansas Catholic in 2013. “Some of the commercial sauces out there are very, very thin. If you held it up, you could read a newspaper through it. We’re not afraid of someone stealing our recipe because we use way more peppers than most places would think was profitable. And a bag of most peanut brittles is the best advertisement for ours because you see a lot of candy and maybe a peanut here and there. We use more peanuts than any other brittle I’ve ever seen.”

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The Natural State bucket list

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Several years ago, we published an Arkansas bucket list, and it proved to be popular.

It’s high time to update that list. So here goes.

Please share the link with your friends and let me know in the comments section what you would add.

There are certain things every Arkansan should do at least once. They include:

— Watching Sonny Payne do his “King Biscuit Time” radio show at the Delta Cultural Center in downtown Helena.

— Drinking some of the water at the Mountain Valley headquarters in downtown Hot Springs.

— Fishing for bream on a south Arkansas oxbow during the day and then frog gigging on the same lake at night.

— Watching the cardboard boat races at Greers Ferry Lake and then having dinner at the Red Apple Inn.

— Buying some wine at Altus and then visiting the monastery at Subiaco.

— Sitting on the east side of Mount Nebo while watching the sun rise over the Arkansas River Valley.

— Watching the Memphis fireworks on the Sunday before Memorial Day from a sandbar on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River.

— Taking a slow walk through Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock, especially when the roses are blooming.

— Attending a high school basketball game on a winter Friday night at Valley Springs.

— Attending a high school football game on a fall Friday night at Nashville.

— Eating a turkey leg at the Arkansas State Fair.

— Attending the fall and spring craft fairs at War Eagle.

— Singing “Amazing Grace” during a funeral at a country church.

— Fixing a casserole for a church potluck.

— Helping clean up a rural cemetery.

— Fishing for smallmouth bass on the Kings River.

— Eating a tamale spread at McClard’s in Hot Springs.

— Attending the King Biscuit Blues Festival at Helena.

— Dancing to the band in the lobby of the Arlington Hotel on a Saturday night during the Oaklawn race meet.

— Standing in the state Capitol rotunda and looking up.

— Climbing Pinnacle Mountain.

— Spending the night on a houseboat on Lake Ouachita.

— Attending a county fair parade.

— Driving the Pig Trail when the leaves are turning, stopping along the way at the Turner Bend Store.

— Pigging out on barbecue for breakfast at Jones in Marianna.

— Watching the elk graze in the Boxley Valley.

— Listening to the music on a Saturday night in downtown Mountain View.

— Taking a bath on Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs.

— Standing along the rail at Oaklawn Park on Arkansas Derby day.

— Hanging out with the students on Dickson Street in Fayetteville after a Razorback football victory.

— Reading the Civil War markers at DeValls Bluff and then having barbecue at Craig’s.

— Eating a slice of watermelon (with salt) at the Hope Watermelon Festival.

— Attending the all-tomato luncheon during the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival at Warren.

— Walking the boardwalk through the swamp between Brinkley and Marvell to see the Louisiana Purchase monument.

— Attending an event in the room behind the kitchen at Doe’s in Little Rock.

— Touring the Cash house at Dyess and then heading over to Wilson to see the English Tudor architecture.

— Walking through the Lakeport Plantation near Lake Village.

— Getting a room for the night at Mather Lodge atop Petit Jean.

— Attending the duck gumbo contest on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Stuttgart.

— Buying an ice cream cone at the Ernie Dunlap Store in Kirby.

— Having your picture taken while standing on the Arkansas-Texas line at the federal courthouse in downtown Texarkana.

— Attending the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Hot Springs.

— Wearing a kilt to the annual Scottish festival at Lyon College in Batesville.

— Going to Garvan Woodland Gardens on Lake Hamilton when the tulips are blooming.

— Watching the rice harvest near Weiner on a cool fall day.

— Attending the annual Slovak Oyster Supper in February.

— Attending the annual Gillett Coon Supper in January.

— Attending the annual Grady Fish Fry on the third Thursday in August.

— Waiting for a seat at The Pancake Shop on a Sunday morning in Hot Springs.

— Going to a cattle auction at a local sale barn.

— Watching the toad races during Toad Suck Daze at Conway.

— Having a Friday night catfish dinner at The Whippet in Prattsville.

— Sitting alongside the bypass at Sheridan on the Friday before modern gun deer season and counting the trucks headed south on U.S. Highway 167.

— Catching a mess of crappie on one of the lakes in the White River National Wildlife Refuge.

— Seeing how much fried chicken you can eat at the Monte Ne Inn near Rogers.

— Eating an entire hubcap cheeseburger at the original Cotham’s in Scott.

— Walking from your room at the 21c Hotel in downtown Bentonville to view the exhibits at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

— Sitting quietly for 30 minutes or so in the Thorncrown Chapel at Eureka Springs.

— Floating in a canoe down the Buffalo River when the dogwoods are blooming.

— Calling the Hogs at football games in both Little Rock and Fayetteville in the same season.

— Searching for the Gurdon Light late at night.

— Fishing for trout early in the morning on the upper White River.

— Watching the sun rise on a winter morning from a duck blind on the Grand Prairie.

— Spending a night at both the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs and the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs.

— Attending a Battle of the Ravine football game between Ouachita and Henderson in Arkadelphia.

— Digging for diamonds at the Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro.

— Visiting Bald Knob when the strawberries are ripe in May and ordering the strawberry shortcake at The Bulldog.

— Sampling the fried chicken at the Mount Nebo Chicken Fry.

— Stomping grapes at Tontitown.

— Picking wild blackberries while wondering how many chigger bites you’ll have at the end of the day.

— Eating some peaches at the Johnson County Peach Festival.

— Kayaking on the Mulberry River.

— Having a steak on a Friday night at Jerry’s in Trumann.

— Hanging out with the regulars at Roy’s in Paragould.

— Attending the Fourth of July community picnics at Corning and Piggott.

— Crossing the U.S. Highway 62 bridge over Norfork Lake on a clear day and admiring how blue the water is.

— Eating a gear salad and the filet mignon at Herman’s in Fayetteville.

— Sitting outside at Basin Spring Park in Eureka Springs on a fall Saturday evening while enjoying the music.

— Visiting Judge Parker’s courtroom at the Fort Smith National Historic Site.

— Driving along the Talimena Scenic Drive near Mena when the leaves are changing.

— Spending the day walking around Historic Washington State Park when the jonquils are blooming.

— Taking a boat out on Grassy Lake in southwest Arkansas at night to look for alligators.

— Walking around the courthouse square in El Dorado and going into as many of the locally owned shops as possible.

— Eating a turkey sandwich at the original Burge’s in Lewisville.

— Buying more than you need the week before duck season at Mack’s Prairie Wings in Stuttgart.

— Wrangling an invitation to one of the Sunday night wild game dinners at Gene’s in Brinkley.

— Grabbing a weekday plate lunch at the Pickens Store in Desha County during the harvest season.

— Eating a plate of buffalo ribs at the Lassis Inn in Little Rock.

— Touring the Lower White River Museum at Des Arc on a Friday afternoon, followed by a catfish dinner at Dondie’s.

— Spending a summer Saturday morning at the farmers’ market on the square in Fayetteville.

— Visiting a sand blow in northeast Arkansas while contemplating the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12.

— Getting a sunburn while attending Riverfest on Memorial Day weekend in Little Rock.

— Buying a stack of books at That Bookstore in Blytheville.

— Riding a horse at the Horseshoe Canyon Ranch near Jasper, followed by supper at the Low Gap Café.

— Finding a swimming hole on the Eleven Point River and then having lunch on the front porch of the country store at Dalton.


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The retirement state

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

It was 1948 and World War II veterans were starting families and buying homes after having attended college on the G.I. Bill.

In the flat cotton country of east Arkansas, a West Memphis businessman named John A. Cooper Sr. had an idea.

Cooper looked to the west — to the Ozark foothills to be exact — and purchased 400 acres near where Otter Creek runs into the Spring River. At first, he used his Otter Creek Ranch as a family retreat. But Cooper had a bigger plan in mind. He began to buy up other land in Sharp and Fulton counties, and in 1953 he formed the Cherokee Village Development Co. with the idea of selling lots to people in Midwestern states such as Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Gov. Orval Faubus attended the dedication of Cherokee Village in June 1955 (it was Faubus’ first year in office) and declared it to be the “coming mecca of the Ozarks.”

Cooper eventually built two golf courses, seven lakes, 350 miles of roads, a water system and three recreation centers.

“Less than 10 years after the town’s founding, Cherokee Village had grown so much that additional land was necessary to satisfy the demand for new homes,” Wayne Dowdy of Memphis writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “However, adjoining land was occupied by the Memphis Boy Scout Council’s summer camp, Kia Kima. In 1964, Cooper approached the Boy Scouts and offered to give them a larger tract of land on the South Fork of the Spring River in exchange for their property. The Memphis youth organization relented after Cooper agreed to construct several new buildings on the Boy Scouts’ new property. The Kia Kima trade and other land purchases expanded Cherokee Village to 13,500 acres by 1980.”

Dowdy writes that the development of Cherokee Village “had a profound impact on Arkansas. The retirement community industry became an integral part of the state’s economy as the older Americans who flocked to Cherokee Village transformed the state into one of the most innovative and popular retirement destinations in the United States.”

In the 1960s, Cooper set his sights on Bella Vista in northwest Arkansas, which had a long history as a resort.

John Spurgeon writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture: “William S. Baker, a Benton County Presbyterian minister, and his wife Mary decided in 1915 to develop a summer recreation area in Benton County. Damming Sugar Creek created a large lake suitable for swimming. The Bakers’ plans called for adjacent tennis courts, golf links and nearly 400 lots selling at $100 each. A contest was used to select the resort’s name with the winning entry being Bella Vista. Business was not lucrative, however, and by 1917 the resort was offered for sale.

“Samuel and Mary Linebarger and their three sons moved in 1900 to Bentonville for a change in climate following Mary’s diagnosis with tuberculosis. After she died two years later, the family left Arkansas. The Linebarger Brothers Realty Co., founded by Samuel’s three sons, returned to purchase Bella Vista along with adjoining acreage, seeking a new investment. Initial expansion plans called for a pavilion suitable for dancing, a 30-room lodge and a dining hall. A nine-hole golf course was added in 1922, a large swimming pool in 1924 and the 65-room Sunset Hotel in 1929. In 1930, the brothers developed a cave into a nightclub, calling it Wonderland.

“The resort retained the Bella Vista name and opened from June to Labor Day, renting rooms by the day or the week, selling lots and building cottages. Bella Vista amenities included swimming, golf, tennis, fishing, camping, horse rides, rowing, games and dances with orchestral music. The Linebargers catered to wealthy, urban families who could spend the entire summer on vacation. Under the leadership of Clarence A. Linebarger, the youngest Linebarger brother, summer business progressively improved. The Great Depression, World War II and changing vacation concepts — with automobiles and highways allowing people to venture to new and distant places — resulted in the resort’s decline.

“Elzy Lloyd Keith, who operated the Lake Keith Resort in Cave Springs, purchased Bella Vista in 1952, billing it as ‘Bella Vista the Family Resort, the Beauty Spot of the Ozarks.’ Keith transitioned Bella Vista into a family resort, substituting roller skating for dancing, and added a restaurant, grocery and motel. … Keith closed the Sunset Hotel after one year, giving it to a Baptist minister to start a school. Within five years, the school also closed.”

Cooper moved in, quickly buying up land and dividing it into lots. During the next 35 years, more than 37,000 lots were sold. Almost 13,000 of them have been developed. A study in 1987 showed that 16.5 percent of all Benton County tax revenues and 45 percent of the property tax revenues for the Bentonville School District were coming from Bella Vista. The Bank of Bentonville reported in 1992 that 34 percent of its deposits came from Bella Vista residents.

The population of Bella Vista soared from 2,589 in the 1980 census to 9,093 in the 1990 census to 16,582 in the 2000 census to 26,461 in the 2010 census.

On Nov. 7, 2006, residents voted by a two-to-one margin to incorporate it as Arkansas’ newest city. With the explosive growth of northwest Arkansas, Bella Vista can no longer be considered a retirement community. It’s instead a growing municipality.

In 1970, Cooper set his sights on southwest Arkansas as he began to develop a 20,000-acre tract in Saline and Garland counties into Hot Springs Village.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture notes: “Cooper had been approached separately by two people with the idea of creating a retirement community, state Sen. Bud Canada and Peter D. Joers, the president of the Dierks Coal & Lumber Co. After touring the property by air, Cooper realized the potential of the land and immediately bought 20,000 acres from Dierks Forests Inc. His plan was to create a peaceful retirement community in a natural setting that would offer all modern-day conveniences without the hassle of living in an urbanized city. Unlike his other two communities, Hot Springs Village was created as a gated community in order to provide security for its residents and as an experiment to see if the gated community would result in more residents than the non-gated communities.”

The population grew from 2,083 in 1980 to 6,361 in 1990 to 8,397 in 2000 to 12,807 in 2010.

There were smaller retirement communities in the Arkansas hills built by developers other than Cooper.

Horseshoe Bend — located in parts of Izard, Sharp and Fulton counties — was developed along the Strawberry River.

“In the late 1950s, Bill and Dick Pratt sold 200 acres of land to a group of developers from Texas,” writes Steven Teske of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. “The brothers — businessmen from Little Rock and Newport respectively — had purchased abandoned land for a retirement community. The Texas developers began selling lots, but they then defaulted on their business loans, and the Pratts regained control of the community. Purchasing additional land, they continued selling lots, as well as creating streets and utilities for the new houses. Where the woods reportedly once hid a whiskey still, an airport was built.

“Creeks that flowed into the Strawberry River were dammed to create several lakes. Cedar Glade Lake failed to fill with water as was intended; engineers discovered that the water was emptying into a previously unknown cave. They spent more than $100,000 plugging holes in the bottom of the lakebed. … A feature called Gobbler’s Knob, frequented by local hunters, was converted into the Turkey Mountain Golf Course. Construction began in 1961, and the first nine holes were open to the public in 1963; the remaining nine holes were finished in 1971.

“The Pratts employed a sales team that at one time had 100 employees. In all, they created 56 subdivisions on 14,000 acres, and by 1974, they had sold 12,000 lots. Many of the houses were prefabricated. More than half of the new residents were from Illinois (which accounted for a quarter of the residents), Missouri, Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin. The city was incorporated in 1969, creating a city government and a police force, as well as guaranteeing oversight of the city’s utilities. Various new churches were formed, including Lutheran, Episcopal and Roman Catholic. Each was the first of its denomination in Izard County.”

A film and television producer named Albert Gannaway came to town in the late 1960s with the idea of creating a theme park to be known as Ozarkland. A replica frontier homestead at Ozarkland was to be the set for a televised music program known as “Ozarkland Jamboree.” The park and the television program were both financial failures. East Arkansas music promoter and developer Gene Williams bought Ozarkland in the early 1970s with the idea of creating an amusement park to be called Frontierland. That effort also failed.

“In spite of these failures, the development of Horseshoe Bend provided jobs for residents of the area,” Teske writes. “Retired farmers and business professionals opened shops and restaurants, and roughly half the sales staff of the development hailed from Arkansas. Construction jobs also employed workers whose previous income from farming had been considerably less. Not only did Horseshoe Bend bring the first golf course and first public swimming pool into the region, it also introduced the first Kiwanis Club and the first legal drinking establishments.”

The Pratts decided to sell their holdings in 1974 to a group known as Gulf South Advisors. It turned out to be a corporation involved in questionable activities. Millions of dollars intended for the further development of Horseshoe Bend were lost. A lengthy bankruptcy case put a halt to growth. Former salesmen for the Pratts became independent real estate agents, and a municipal improvement district took over the golf course and lakes.

Meanwhile, just north of Eureka Springs along Table Rock Lake, Robert McCulloch (a Missouri entrepreneur known for McCulloch chainsaws and for purchasing the London Bridge and reassembling it in Arizona) began work on a 4,500-acre retirement community known as Holiday Island in 1970.

“The developers donated one acre of land to Grace Lutheran Church, which was formed in 1972 by 26 Lutherans,” Teske writes. “A Presbyterian church was formed in Holiday Island in the 1990s. There are also two Baptist churches and a community church. In addition to building homes, the developers created two golf courses, a marina, a shopping center and a recreation center. … The area also has two assisted living facilities, a campground and motels and rental properties.”

In Van Buren and Cleburne counties, three Fort Smith businessmen — Randolph Warner, Neal Simonson and George Jacobus — decided in the early 1960s to buy land on the north shore of what would become Greers Ferry Lake for a retirement community.

“They hired a retired cotton broker named C.M. Owen to find a suitable location,” James White writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “In his Jeep, Owen followed the logging roads to a high point overlooking the green valley that was being filled to form the lake. A new corporation — Fairfield Communities Land Co. — formed by Jacobus, Simonson and Warner (later to become Fairfield Communities Inc.) began the purchase of land from the Nebraska Tie & Lumber Co., which owned the timberlands on the north shore of the lake. By 1965, the first 3,500 acres had been purchased by Jacobus and his partners. Lots were sold, and the price included a small annual amenities fee for the recreation facilities.

“All early activities centered near the marina, which was built in 1966. In 1967, more than 300 mobile homes were brought in to house the prospective lot buyers. The Wild Boar restaurant was built in 1967 on Highway 330. The second floor of this restaurant became the offices of FCI. The Civic Center building was built in 1972 and was where many of the social and community meetings were held. … Before and after the Wild Board restaurant burned in early 1980, the FCI offices and other businesses began moving to the present Indian Hills Country Club and the mall area.”

In addition to selling lots, the company began pushing timeshares in vacation homes in 1979. By 2006, about 7,800 lots had been sold (only 1,200 of them have houses on them). The number of residents was about 2,400, but there were an estimated 20,000 annual timeshare visitors. FCI later filed for bankruptcy, and the property owners association known as the Community Club assumed control. The city of Fairfield Bay was incorporated in 1993.

The development of these retirement communities established Arkansas as one of the most important retirement destinations in the country. Cooper, who was born at Earle in 1906 and received a law degree from the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., had a keen understanding of people who had been raised poor during the Great Depression before climbing into the middle class. He guessed correctly that some of them would want to retire in places where the cost of living was low and the winters weren’t as harsh.

The 1960s and 1970s were the boom period. Arkansas retirement developments advertised free vacations in markets across the Midwest. Couples would come to the state and spend a few days enjoying the amenities in exchange for participating in a “tour” with a real estate agent that was actually an intense sales pitch like something out of the David Mamet play “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Male high school teachers and coaches often would spend their summers as salesmen. The good ones could earn more money in three months of selling lots than they had earned in nine months of teaching.

The problem for the rural Arkansas retirement communities (Bella Vista is an exception since it’s now part of an urban area) is that the Baby Boomers are different from their parents. Fewer of them want to live by a golf course in a rural area during their retirement years. They tend to prefer urban areas with amenities such as fine dining, live theater, symphony orchestras and sports events.

College towns also have proved to be popular retirement spots due to the number of events they offer.

In our next installment, we’ll take a look at how these Arkansas retirement communities are now trying to reinvent themselves.

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