Archive for the ‘Traveling Arkansas’ Category

From Walnut Ridge to Paragould

Friday, July 26th, 2019


When I was asked to give an evening lecture last year at Williams Baptist University, I was told that I would spend the night at the Hotel Rhea in downtown Walnut Ridge.

Downtown Walnut Ridge?

I didn’t know you could spend the night downtown.

I had no idea what to expect, but I can tell you that it was delightful. I could hear the freight trains passing through town during the night, but I liked that. And it was just a short walk to breakfast the next morning at Moni’s Grill, where I was greeted by the city’s mayor, Charles Snapp.

We all know about the economic problems faced by towns in the Arkansas Delta. But a handful of those communities are revitalizing their downtowns and trying to buck the trend of population loss in the region.

Walnut Ridge belongs on that list.

With the Hotel Rhea at Walnut Ridge, the Lesmeister Guesthouse at Pocahontas and the Inn at Piggott, there are three towns in northeast Arkansas with old downtown properties that have been transformed into first-class overnight accommodations.

The first Hotel Rhea was constructed in phases from 1904-08. Once it was finished, it was considered to be among the finest hotels in the state. There was steam heat, running water and a bath in every room. The Rhea took up most of the 100 block of West Main Street before a fire on Nov. 16, 1914, destroyed part of the building.

The portion left standing was renovated in 1915-16 and became the home of Cooper Drugs. A dentist and doctor had their offices upstairs.

Those rooms later were used for apartments. The Snapp family bought the building in 2012 and created three suites upstairs and one suite downstairs. A separate area downstairs can be rented for private functions.

Unlike most Delta towns its size, Walnut Ridge isn’t bleeding population. The decrease in population from 2000 to 2010 was a small one — 4,925 to 4,890. The most recent population estimate for the city was 5,062.

Sales tax collections jumped considerably last year with the opening of additional businesses. Snapp told Talk Business & Politics: “It’s a larger variety of shopping opportunities. If our residents can buy what they need here, they don’t have to go to Jonesboro or Pocahontas or another town. We’re keeping our people here. Our sales have gone up and up. We plan for that to continue.”

The city’s annual Beatles at the Ridge festival in September had a record turnout, attracting almost 15,000 people. More than 100 vendors were in town for the two-day event, and there were two stages with live music. It was the eighth time for the festival to be held. It celebrates the fact that Walnut Ridge was the only Arkansas city visited by the Beatles.

Late on the evening of Sept. 18, 1964, Walnut Ridge businessman Jack Allison saw a large plane headed toward the city’s airport. He asked three teenage boys to go see who was on the plane. When the door opened, the members of the band stepped out. They had left a concert at Dallas and were on their way for some rest and relaxation at a dude ranch near Alton, Mo.

Their plane was too big to land at most airports in the area, but Walnut Ridge’s airport had long runways since it had been the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School during World War II.

“That year, the popularity of the Beatles was without rival,” Michael Bowman writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were mobbed by teenage fans at each public appearance. The Fab Four, as they were dubbed, had five singles in the top five slots on the Billboard charts. Their first film, ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ appeared in 500 U.S. theaters. The group’s first appearance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ drew an estimated 73 million viewers. In their legendary 1964 concert tour, they performed 32 shows in 34 days.”

After the concert in Dallas, the members of the group had boarded a plane operated by Reed Pigman, who owned American Flyers Airlines in Dallas. Pigman also owned the ranch near Alton that would serve as a place for rest and relaxation before the final concert of the year in New York.

“The Walnut Ridge airport provided the ideal spot for the group to change planes before heading to Missouri,” Bowman writes. “The runway was built as a training facility during World War II and could handle large aircraft. Also, the Beatles could avoid the crush of screaming fans by landing at a secluded airport at the edge of a small town.”

Pigman, who was also the pilot, would die on April 22, 1966, of a heart attack while at the controls of a Lockheed Electra coming into Ardmore, Okla. The crash that followed killed more than 80 members of the military who were being flown under a Department of Defense contract with Pigman’s company.

Nighttime landings were rare in Walnut Ridge in those days so a large plane circling at midnight created plenty of attention.

A smaller plane was already at the airport to take the band to Missouri. Word spread about the stop, and it was speculated that the Beatles would depart from Walnut Ridge on a Sunday.

“While most people attended Sunday morning church services, 200 to 300 people descended on the Walnut Ridge airport in anticipation of the Beatles’ return,” Bowman writes. “The plane that had carried the group across the United States sat on the runway waiting for their return from Missouri. Parents snapped photographs of their children next to the plane. Home movie cameras captured the crowd’s excitement. The sounds of teenagers singing Beatles songs could be heard across the runway.

“There were many false alarms that morning. Teenagers mobbed a local crop-duster mistaken for the Beatles plane. Little did they know that McCartney and Harrison had arrived at the airport an hour early and watched the spectacle from an old truck parked across the runway. Suddenly, a small commuter aircraft with Lennon and Starr landed and taxied up the runway. The two left the plane, walking through a gauntlet of polite but excited spectators. As Lennon and Starr ascended the steps to the larger plane, the old truck that held Harrison and McCartney pulled up next to it. All four Beatles quickly boarded and left for their last U.S. concert of the year. For many of the Walnut Ridge teenagers, it was their only chance to see the Beatles in person.”

In September 2011, civic leaders unveiled a monument in downtown Walnut Ridge designed to look like the cover of the album “Abbey Road.”

The next year, the town built the guitar-shaped plaza downtown. That plaza mainly honors the musicians who once traveled up and down U.S. Highway 67 to play at clubs in the area.

In 2009, the Arkansas Legislature designated a 111-mile stretch of the highway through Jackson, Lawrence, Randolph and Clay counties as Rock ‘n’ Roll Highway 67. A portion of the road in Miller County in southwest Arkansas later received the designation.

“The term rockabilly is defined as a mixture of blues, country and western and rhythm and blues music that saw its biggest popularity beginning in the post-World War II era and lasted until around the time of the so-called British Invasion of the early 1960s,” Keith Merckx writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Original rockabilly artists included Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis along with noted Arkansans Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Sonny Burgess and Billy Lee Riley. These same musicians are cited as influences by later musical legends –ranging from the Beatles to Bob Dylan — who credit rockabilly as an inspiration for their own distinctive styles of music.

“Establishments on U.S. 67 that hosted these acts included Bob King’s King of Clubs in Swifton, the Silver Moon Club in Newport and the rooftop of the Skylark Drive-In Theater in Pocahontas. … The idea to honor the road originated in 2005 with noted Pocahontas musician Gary Gazaway (who has performed and recorded with the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Winwood, Joe Cocker and Phish). As a lifelong resident of the area, Gazaway had long recognized the significance of the highway as a musical artery. He suggested the idea to Michael Luster, the director of the Arkansas Folklife Program at Arkansas State University, and music historian Stephen Koch, co-founder and host of the radio program ‘Arkansongs.'”

The three men wanted the highway to be known as the Rockabilly Highway.

A committee was formed, and some members feared the term rockabilly would harken back to the stereotype of Arkansas hillbillies. The committee voted 8-5 in favor of using Rock ‘n’ Roll Highway 67. Gazaway was among those in the minority.

“This hillbilly culture is what made the music,” he said. “To call it anything else is to go against the historical aspect of it.”

Arkansas author and music historian Marvin Schwartz notes that the height of the rockabilly era was the late 1950s.

“Many Arkansas rockabilly groups such as Sonny Burgess & the Pacers and Billy Lee Riley & the Little Green Men had recorded for Sun Records and were rising to national attention,” he writes. “Dale Hawkins, a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, specialized in creating a sound (called Swamp Rock by some) that went on to help shape rock ‘n’ roll music. Bobby Brown of Olyphant in Jackson County was a popular rockabilly performer of the 1950s and 1960s, often playing at the Cotton Club in Trumann. On May 13, 1957, the Little Rock CBS television affiliate began broadcasting ‘Steve’s Show,’ hosted by Steve Stephens and featuring local teenagers who danced to hit records as rockabilly artists and other performers lip-synched the words.

“Sonny Burgess’ ‘Sadie’s Back in Town,’ released by Sun Records on Dec. 31, 1959, could be considered the last rockabilly hit of the era. The popular music industry was shifting to a softer format and more banal subject matter than rockabilly’s fast cars, rowdy women and rebellious partying. Arkansas rockabilly artists either modified their styles or retired from the music business. A rockabilly revival in the 1970s brought renewed attention to the genre, while European audiences have maintained a nearly cult-like devotion to the original sound. Arkansans such as Jason D. Williams of El Dorado continue to perform in a traditional rockabilly mode.”

In addition to capitalizing on its music traditions, Walnut Ridge has done an excellent job of putting interpretive signage downtown to give the history of the city’s old buildings. Walnut Ridge is home, however, to one of the newer courthouses in the state. The Lawrence County Courthouse was completed in 1966. Still, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015 because of its New Formalism style.

In 1870, the Legislature split Lawrence County into two judicial districts. Walnut Ridge served the eastern half of the county, and Powhatan served the western half.

A two-story courthouse built at Walnut Ridge in 1897 lasted until only 1900. In 1901, county offices moved into a building constructed by the Steward Brothers Co. of Newport and designed by noted Arkansas architect Charles Thompson.

“Powhatan’s courthouse suffered after decades of population depletion in the town, weakened commerce and neglect,” Jared Craig writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Lawrence County officials attempted to consolidate the county seats to Walnut Ridge three times, but voters turned down each measure. Meanwhile, Walnut Ridge’s courthouse deteriorated. County officials warned that both courthouses probably should be condemned. In 1963, county residents finally voted to consolidate the county seats to Walnut Ridge and approved the construction of a new courthouse.

“A record turnout voted in the special election, which was likely due to a $500 prize the Lawrence County Development Council awarded in a drawing to a participating voter. Additionally, Walnut Ridge merchants contributed money for another drawing, signaling the business community’s support. County officials alleviated residents’ concern of funding with an extension of a two-mill hospital tax and a hefty grant from the federal government that U.S. Rep. Wilbur Mills advocated. The courthouse cost $450,000.”

We leave Walnut Ridge and continue the trek east on U.S. Highway 412, soon crossing into Greene County. The Cache River forms the county line.

The Cache begins near the Arkansas-Missouri border and flows through northeast Arkansas until it empties into the White River near Clarendon.

“With the arrival of American settlers, steamboats began plying the waters of the Cache River, and towns were established in its vicinity,” writes Arkansas historian Guy Lancaster. “The town of Maberry in Woodruff County, founded in 1842, was a notable shipping point for cotton and locally harvested timber. So was Patterson in Woodruff County. However, the towns established along the White River, which runs nearly parallel to the Cache from Newport on south, grew larger given the White River’s greater reach and use as a transportation corridor.”

The lowlands between the Cache and L’Anguille rivers served as a major obstacle to the completion of the Little Rock & Memphis Railroad. The line linking the two cities wasn’t completed until 1871.

“Though the Cache River area was an important source of timber, the area was not as extensively cleared as were other parts of eastern Arkansas due to the river’s reputation for flooding,” Lancaster writes. “Major stands of native hardwood survived. Because the Cache moves at a slow speed due to its low amount of fall per mile — and the fact that the contour of the flat land surrounding it does not lend itself to levee construction — the Cache River can overflow its banks after only a few inches of rainfall. Work on the river in northeast Arkansas in the 1920s and 1930s straightened the channel, even splitting the river into two separate ditches between Bono and Egypt in Craighead County. That helped speed the flow of the river, but farming along it was still a risky endeavor.

“During the flood of 1937, the Cache River was one of a number of east Arkansas rivers that spilled across agricultural land. Planters and businessmen long advocated for some form of flood control along the Cache, which had no well-developed system of levees. The Flood Control Act of 1950 authorized the Cache River-Bayou DeView Project, which was a plan to dredge, clear and realign 140 miles of the Cache upstream from Clarendon along with 15 miles of the upper tributaries and 77 miles of Bayou DeView. Initial funds for the project, projected to cost $60 million, weren’t approved until 1969.”

A lengthy environmental battle ensued.

Indebted to east Arkansas planters, U.S. Rep. Bill Alexander pushed hard for the project. It was opposed by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation and a large number of other organizations. A federal lawsuit was filed to stop the project. U.S. District Judge J. Smith Henley ruled in favor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May 1972, and his verdict was appealed. In July 1972, the Corps began clearing and dredging in the Clarendon area.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to Henley in December 1972, noting that the Corps had not met the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. In March 1973, the court ordered that work be halted. The Corps’ environmental impact statement finally was approved three years later, but by then Congress had backed off funding such a controversial project.

“Opponents of the project worked to create a national wildlife refuge along the river, partly to block the project but also to protect the river from rampant development,” Lancaster writes. “In 1986, the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge was established, stretching south from Grubbs in Jackson County to Clarendon and incorporating a large swath of Bayou DeView. North of Grubbs, the Cache River exists as little more than a ditch or series of ditches.”

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From Portia to Walnut Ridge

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019


We’ve left the Ozarks and are in the Delta now.

The first town we visit on this leg of our trek east across north Arkansas on U.S. Highway 412 is Portia, which long was known for its Fourth of July picnic that attracted politicians from across the state. The event was discontinued several years ago.

The railroad came to this area in the early 1880s, and Portia was incorporated in May 1886.

The town’s population in the 2010 census was 437, even less than the 571 people who resided there in 1890 when the virgin hardwood forests were being cleared and cotton was becoming king.

“Due to its convenient location to both river travel and the railroad, the town was considered for relocation of the Lawrence County seat,” Mike Polston writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “After much debate, the seat remained in Powhatan. Many believed that the move had been vetoed because of reporting by the local populist newspaper editors W.S. and S.W. Morgan and their criticism of the Democratic Party. The paper, the Portia Free Press, was published from 1886-88.”

The Portia Lumber Co. was a major employer by 1890 as the forests of the Delta were cleared during the period of Arkansas history known as the Big Cut.

“The town’s population began to decrease with the decline of the timber industry by the turn of the century,” Polston writes. “By 1903, the town had 11 businesses, including two cotton gins. It was also home to a section house and depot with two passenger and two freight trains passing through daily. … In 1906, a devastating fire swept through the town, having been ignited by a butcher shop’s exploding coal oil lamp. Winds quickly spread the fire until all the businesses on the south side of the tracks were destroyed. A number of homes were also burned, requiring some citizens to live temporarily in tents. The fire resulted in a town ordinance requiring new buildings to be constructed of brick or some other fire-retardant material. Many did not rebuild.”

A schoolhouse that was constructed in 1914 still stands at Portia. The Fourth of July event was on the grounds of the school, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

The picnic began in 1905. Some of the annual events attracted almost 10,000 visitors.

The next town on the route east is Hoxie, which received nationwide publicity in 1955 for becoming one of the earliest Southern cities to desegregate its public schools.

Danyelle McNeill writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “Hoxie moved to desegregate in June 1955, becoming one of the first school systems in the state to do so. The superintendent of schools, Kunkel Edward Vance, gave three reasons for integration: It was ‘right in the sight of God,’ it complied with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling the previous year in Brown v. Board of Education and it saved money.

“Hoxie’s desegregation was not an uneventful one, though it had been uneventful at first. But when Life magazine ran a three-page article about the desegregation, segregationist groups traveled to the area and began a campaign to stop the integration. These segregationists circulated petitions and publicly protested at the school. Parents opposed to the integration boycotted the school by pulling their children out of classes. Consequently, Hoxie’s summer term ended two weeks early. A tense standoff between the Hoxie School Board and segregationists began. Gov. Orval Faubus refused to become involved.

“Meetings and hearings were held in an effort to determine if the integration should go forward. … Hoxie continued to experience difficulties due to segregationists’ attempts to challenge the decision. Their attempts failed, and a permanent injunction stating that the school had the right to integrate without outside interference was issued by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Hoxie schools officially integrated. Desegregation at Hoxie was overshadowed two years later by the 1957 desegregation crisis at Little Rock Central High School.”

Hoxie owes its existence to the fact that the leaders next door in Walnut Ridge couldn’t come to an agreement with officials of the Kansas City, Springfield & Memphis Railroad.

“They weren’t able to obtain enough land for a depot and terminal facilities at a reasonable price,” McNeill writes. “Mary Boas approached railroad officials and suggested that the railroad use her land instead. She informed the railroad that she would give them the right of way through her land for no charge. The railroad gladly accepted this offer. Boas’ husband, Henry, received a contract for part of the railroad’s construction, and the Boas family built a hotel near the tracks in 1879.”

Hoxie was incorporated in 1888. It was named for railroad executive H.M. Hoxie.

“Hoxie experienced strong economic growth in the early 1900s,” McNeill writes. “Due to the railroad’s installation of a roundhouse, repair shops and a railroad office, local steel workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, painters and other skilled laborers and office workers found employment. With the arrival of the railroad, businesses moved to the area. An ice plant and stockyards for cattle were opened. This was followed by the opening of the first Bank of Hoxie (which no longer exists), a bottling company and a lumber company. Jobs remained plentiful, and the town flourished until the 1920s. During this time, famous people traveled through the town by train. William Jennings Bryan and Jack Dempsey, the world heavyweight boxing champion, made short stops in Hoxie.”

A strike by the railroad workers in 1923 caused a number of families to leave the area. A tornado did damage in 1927, and railroad facilities later were moved from Hoxie to Poplar Bluff, Mo. The population of Hoxie dropped from 1,711 in the 1920 census to 1,448 in the 1930 census. Growth was slow until the 1960s.

Hoxie then grew from 1,886 residents in the 1960 census to 2,780 residents in 2010.

The adjacent county seat of Walnut Ridge, meanwhile, has grown from 1,798 residents in the 1910 census to 4,890 residents a century later.

“Col. Willis Miles Ponder, a Civil War veteran from Missouri, formally founded the town of Walnut Ridge in 1875,” McNeill writes. “He later served as its first mayor. Before applying for a post office, Ponder called the town Pawpaw because of the number of pawpaw trees in the area. The town’s name was changed after moving to its new location. Upon application for a post office at the new site, Ponder was informed that there was already another town in Arkansas with the name of Pawpaw. Ponder changed the name to Walnut Ridge due to the number of walnut trees in the new area.

“Both timber cutting and agriculture provided income for the citizens of Walnut Ridge. Cotton was the main crop. Corn and hay were also grown. … After many years of sharing a dual county seat with Powhatan, Walnut Ridge became the lone county seat in 1963. The Lawrence County Courthouse was completed in 1966.”

An ugly incident that became known as the Walnut Ridge Race War occurred in 1912.

Arkansas historian Guy Lancaster describes it as “an instance of violent nightriding in which a group of white vigilantes attempted to drive African Americans from Walnut Ridge. They did not succeed in making Walnut Ridge an all-white town, but they did manage to drive black laborers from certain local industries. This was often the aim of nightriders, who were frequently poor whites who wanted those jobs for themselves.”

Notices signed “Kit Karson and Band” were posted in April 1912. The notices ordered blacks to leave the city.

A group of white citizens posted a notice that said: “We will protect our help and prosecute you to the limit of the law. Furthermore, the white people will arm their servants with instructions to shoot the first intruders who disturb them.”

On the evening of April 19, 1912, a group of white men dynamited one black-owned home and fired upon another.

Business leaders contacted Gov. George Donaghey, and he called out the local militia to restore order.

“By the time the militia, under the command of Brig. Gen. William K. Surridge, arrived in the city from Black Rock, half of an estimated black population of 400 was reported to have fled,” Lancaster writes. “Some white citizens reportedly opposed the militia quartering there, but state and local newspaper accounts generally credit the action with restoring peace in the city. … This event bears similarities to other instances of nightriding in Lawrence County. On Jan. 12, 1894, a group of unknown vigilantes posted a notice warning all African Americans to leave Black Rock. At the time, about 300 black workers lived in the city, laboring in the timber and manufacturing industries. One third of them reportedly left in response to this threat, despite the fact that local industry leaders had pledged to protect them.”

A major boost for the city came when the federal government decided to create an Army Air Forces flying school near Walnut Ridge during World War II.

The flying school was among seven that were established across Arkansas. Contract primary flying schools were at Camden, Helena and Pine Bluff. Newport and Walnut Ridge had basic flying schools. Blytheville and Stuttgart had advanced twin-engine flying schools.

“The Walnut Ridge Army Flying School enrolled during its existence 5,310 students; 4,641 of them graduated,” Harold Johnson writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “In early April 1942, a board of three Army Air Forces officers went in search of a new location for a basic flying school. The site that was planned for Dyersburg, Tenn., was deemed unacceptable because it would require moving five million cubic yards of dirt. The three men flew over an area just northeast of Walnut Ridge that looked promising. Returning by car the next day, they looked over the site and checked on public schools, housing, utilities and transportation. On April 15, 1942, they recommended it for the flight school.  The U.S. government approved the recommendation, and construction on the airfield began June 20, 1942.

“The government paid $305,075 for 3,096 acres. The land housed private homes and the Moran School, a typical two-room rural public school. Forty-five families lived on the land and were forced to move out quickly. Their homes were torn down. Landowners were paid an average of $110 an acre for their land while the sharecroppers and tenant farmers who constituted most of those living on the land were reimbursed for a share of their crop.”

Auxiliary airfields were built at Biggers, Pocahontas, Walcott, Beech Grove and Bono. The government had to purchase 2,624 acres of farmland for those airfields.

“These other airfields were used for safety reasons,” Johnson writes. “There were about 250 airplanes based at the field, and students did extensive takeoff and landing practice. It would have been risky and impractical for that many airplanes to be in a traffic pattern at one time. Construction of the airfield brought in 1,500 workers. Walnut Ridge and Pocahontas residents opened their homes to the workers. The mayors and the Boy Scouts worked to find housing for them. Churches and civic groups provided recreational facilities. Residents rented out rooms, garages and attics to accommodate workers. … People who were once glad to get $1 a day could make 50 cents to $1 an hour or more at the airfield. They came from Jonesboro, Monette, Paragould, the Ozark foothills and southern Missouri.”

The airfield was activated on Aug. 15, 1942. The first 100 troops arrived 10 days later. There was no base housing yet, so the troops were transported each day from a Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Five Mile Spring north of Pocahontas. Due to delays, the first three classes of cadets scheduled for Walnut Ridge were sent to Blytheville instead.

“Blytheville was scarcely better prepared than Walnut Ridge,” Johnson writes. “Circus tents were used for operation headquarters and classrooms. The runways weren’t ready so flying was done from oil-coated dirt strips.”

Training at Walnut Ridge finally began on Oct. 12, 1942, as students began training on the BT-13. Forty-two students and instructors died while training. The last class graduated on June 27, 1944.

The airfield was transferred to the Department of the Navy on Sept. 1, 1944, and operated as a Marine Corps facility. It was decommissioned on March 15, 1945.

Walnut Ridge was selected after the war as a place to store obsolete planes.

“The planes came in droves with as many as 250 arriving in a single day,” Johnson writes. “An estimated 10,000 to 11,000 warplanes were flown to Walnut Ridge in 1945 and 1946 for storage and sale. At least 65 of the military’s 118 B-32 heavy bombers were flown to Walnut Ridge, many straight from the assembly line.”

The Texas Railway Equipment Co. bought 4,871 of the aircraft at Walnut Ridge in September 1946 for just more than $1.8 million.

“Two giant smelters were constructed to melt the scrap aluminum, which was formed into huge ingots for shipping,” Johnson writes. “In about two years, the planes were all scrapped. When the salvage was completed, the airfield proper, along with about 60 percent of the land, was turned over to the city of Walnut Ridge to be used as a public airport. All runways are still active, and one has been extended to 6,000 feet.”

Part of the grounds later would serve as the home of what’s now Williams Baptist University. Hubert Ethridge Williams, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pocahontas, decided that northeast Arkansas needed a Baptist college.

“Williams aggressively cultivated support from many area residents for the proposed college,” Kenneth Startup writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “He found substantial encouragement from Jonesboro Baptist College alumni (the school had failed during the early years of the Great Depression) and from former students and supporters of Maynard Baptist Academy, another attempt at Baptist-sponsored education in the region that lasted from 1900-26. Williams’ relentless commitment to the cause culminated in the opening of the college, then named Southern Baptist College, in Pocahontas on Sept. 10, 1941. The college offered a two-year liberal arts curriculum, and a majority of the college’s early students studied to become clergymen or public school teachers.”

The city of Pocahontas made a community center that had been built by the Works Progress Administration available for classes. H.E. Williams became the school’s first president and stayed in the post for 32 years. The main building being used by Southern Baptist College burned on Dec. 26, 1946. That’s when negotiations began with the federal government to move the school to the former airbase.

“Sen. John L. McClellan and Rep. Wilbur Mills advocated for the college in its negotiations with the federal government,” Startup writes. “During the next several decades, the college transformed the airbase through millions of dollars of construction and renovations.”

In 1968, the school was formally adopted by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

The school became a four-year institution in the early 1980s. The name was changed to Williams Baptist College in 1990 and to Williams Baptist University in 2017.

In May 2016, residents of Walnut Ridge and College City, where Williams Baptist was officially located, voted to consolidate the two towns.

The Beatles had made a stop at the airport on the way to a ranch in nearby Missouri in the 1960s.

“To commemorate the Beatles’ stopover in Walnut Ridge in the 1960s, the town has changed the name of a downtown street to Abbey Road, erected a sculpture of the Beatles in a downtown park and created a music festival called Beatles at the Ridge,” McNeill writes. “The town has also added a guitar-shaped plaza downtown that has plaques honoring nine musicians who traveled U.S. Highway 67 and played around the Walnut Ridge area in the 1950s, including Sonny Burgess, Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty.”

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From Hardy to Black Rock

Friday, July 19th, 2019


The Spring River is just a few hundred yards to our right as we continue east on U.S. Highway 412 out of Hardy.

A huge spring at Mammoth Spring marks the start of the river, which travels almost 75 miles across north Arkansas before emptying into the Black River near Black Rock. More than 9 million gallons of water an hour comes from that spring.

“The Spring River is joined several miles downstream by the South Fork, which flows eastward from its origin near Salem,” Charles Crawford writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “As it is not fed by the spring, the South Fork of the Spring River carries a less consistent volume of water and sometimes isn’t suitable for canoeing during late summer and early fall. However, its extensive gravel bars provide good sites for camping and picnicking.

“The constant supply of cold, clear water provided by this river and its tributary creeks, along with the rich alluvial soil built by the regular flooding from heavy rainfall, attracted populations to the area. The early inhabitants were the Native Americans, who hunted, fished and maintained camps and villages in the valley between the river and the rocky bluffs and tree-covered hills flanking both sides of the stream. Artifacts and burial sites can still be found after each flood in the fields along the banks.”

Mammoth Spring National Fish Hatchery is adjacent to Mammoth Spring State Park. The hatchery is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Jim Hinkle Spring River State Fish Hatchery, which is operated by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, is two miles downstream from Mammoth Spring.

“Two small dams are located on the Spring River, both near the origin of the stream at Mammoth Spring,” Crawford writes. “They are too near the headwaters of the river to provide flood control, thus leaving much of the river in a fairly natural state. The upper part contains numerous rocky rapids, several waterfalls and pools containing drifts and underwater snags.”

Before leaving Sharp County and crossing into Lawrence County, we pass the turn to Williford, which had a population of 75 residents in the 2010 census. That was down from a high of 357 residents in the 1920 census.

“During the early 20th century, it was one of the county’s largest and fastest-growing towns, but since then it has experienced a steady decline resulting in an almost nonexistent business district,” writes Arkansas historian Mike Polston, a Williford native.

The first white settler in the area was reportedly Jeremiah Pitt Baird, who established a home on the banks of the Spring River in 1841.

“Shortly after he settled his family on the opposite side of the river from the present-day town, others began to move into the area,” Polston writes. “Among those was Ambrose Williford, who became a prominent landowner after whom the town was named. In the community’s earliest days, homes were established on both sides of the river with the town eventually being established on the north side.”

The coming of the railroad that ran from Memphis to Springfield, Mo., brought growth. Railroad construction began in 1870 and was completed in 1883.

“On Oct. 1, 1883, the first train to pass through Williford attracted spectators from miles around,” Polston writes. “A station was soon built, and the town became a center of local shipping and commerce. The rail line later became part of the Frisco Railroad. The tracks are still in use today.

“A major contributor to local growth was the establishment of a limestone quarry east of town in 1884. Many of the town’s merchants sold goods to the workers. Ownership of the operation changed, and a new quarry was opened west of town where a better grade of stone was found. A work camp of 14 company houses was constructed with each being painted green, resulting in the name Greenville. The local economy prospered with merchants selling goods and many of the townspeople also working at the quarry. Forty to 50 railroad cars of stone were shipped each day.”

Williford had three general stores, a saloon, a cotton gin, a blacksmith shop, a one-room schoolhouse, a doctor’s office and a post office by 1890. A steel-frame bridge across the Spring River was constructed in 1907. The Sharp County Bank was established in 1911. A 10-room hotel opened the following year.

Then came the floods and fires from which Williford never fully recovered.

“Flooding of the town has always been a threat,” Polston writes. “In 1915, the town sustained major damage, and the river bridge was washed out. It was soon rebuilt. By the mid-1920s, the town had more than 25 businesses. A major fire destroyed seven of those in the spring of 1929. Most did not rebuild. … The growth of the town has always been tied to the railroad, whose tracks run not more than 100 yards from the business district. With the decline of passenger service and the development of roads and highways as an alternate means of trade and travel, growth became stagnant.”

Polston says the proposed construction of Bell Foley Dam on the nearby Strawberry River in the late 1960s “brought some hope for renewed growth, and work began on a vacation resort near the town in anticipation of the lake. However, the controversial dam was never built. In the 21st century, most of the old business buildings are vacant and in ruins.”

As we continue east, we leave Sharp County and move into the hill country of Lawrence County.

Lawrence County is divided by the Black River. On the west side, there are the Ozarks. On the east side, it’s the flat, row-crop country of the Arkansas Delta. Lawrence County is known as the Mother of Counties because it once covered most of north Arkansas, an area that eventually would be divided into 31 counties.

The county is named for James Lawrence, a naval hero in the War of 1812. It was created in 1815 as part of the Missouri Territory and was the second (after Arkansas County) of the five counties that would become the Arkansas Territory in 1819.

“White settlers first inhabited the county’s western regions, traveling on the Black River or, after 1811, over the Military Road,” John Jacobsen writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “This route, along with the swampy conditions in the east, explains the early settlement concentration in the county’s hilly western half. The earliest important settlement was at Davidsonville along the Black River. Named for territorial legislator John Davidson, the town served as the first county seat in 1816. Exaggerated tradition claims 3,000 Davidsonville residents before yellow fever ended the settlement. In 1829, the county seat moved to Jackson on the Military Road.”

The first Lawrence County community we pass through on our U.S. 412 route is Ravenden, which came about once the railroad was established in the 1880s.

“With the development of the town along the tracks, it soon became an important trade center in the area,” Polston writes. “The business sector is no longer located on the original site. In 1947, the business sector slowly began to move to the newly completed U.S. highway, where it remains today.”

The first white settler in the area was a former British soldier named William J. Ball, who had fought at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. He settled along the Spring River in 1858.

“He named his developing settlement Opposition, saying it was in opposition to the nearest town of Smithville,” Polston writes. “It never grew very large and died when it was bypassed by the railroad in the 1880s. With the completion of the main line of the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad in 1883, it was decided to build a trunk line to the resort town of Ravenden Springs in Randolph County, about seven miles to the north. The new town at the intersection was to be called Ravenden Junction. Though the trunk line was never constructed, a settlement that had begun to develop along the main line before its completion began to thrive, especially with the completion of a depot and section house. Two passenger trains a day serviced the town. The last passenger coach passed through on Dec. 8, 1967.”

The sons of William Ball — Sam and Trick — were leading merchants in the area. The name Ravenden became official when a post office was established in 1891.

“The local economy was driven by the production of cotton and cattle, both of which could be shipped by train,” Polston writes. “The abundance of timber led to a thriving lumber trade, especially railroad ties. The town was incorporated on Nov. 15, 1901. The Bank of Ravenden, established in December 1905, was in continuous operation until closing during the Great Depression in 1930. Around 1905, John Chun founded a short-lived weekly newspaper call The Ravenden Hustler.”

A brick schoolhouse built in 1918 was used until consolidation with Sloan-Hendrix at Imboden in the 1940s.

“Sometime in the 1930s, the town suffered a major fire that destroyed or damaged all but one of the businesses on Main Street,” Polston writes. “Ravenden still maintains a small business district on the highway. Perhaps the most striking feature of the town is a 12-foot-tall raven first constructed in 1991.”

The next town we enter is Imboden. Paul Austin, the former head of the Arkansas Humanities Council who hails from Imboden, is along for this trip. We take a break on the back deck of his mother’s home, which overlooks the Spring River.

“Though a number of settlers lived in the area by the 1820s, the town, which became a local trade center, did not exist until the construction of the railroad in 1883,” Polston writes. “By the 1820s, the Military Road crossed the Spring River near the present town, attracting new settlers. There is evidence that a few houses and a store existed prior to the coming of the railroad. One of those early settlers was Benjamin Imboden, who moved his family to the area in 1828. Imboden acquired considerable property, eventually owning the largest amount of land in the area. The town would be named in his honor.

“In 1882, just prior to the coming of the railroad, Imboden sold the land where much of the town would be built to wealthy local developer W.C. Sloan. … The first business, Sloan Mercantile Co., opened in late 1883 and remained in business until 1930. It was soon followed by others, including the first hotel, known as The Strawn, and an African-American-owned barbershop that opened in 1885. The first brick building, owned by G.W. Hooper, was constructed in 1886.”

Imboden was incorporated in April 1889.

“At the time, it consisted of three general stores, two grocery stores, two saloons, a hotel, a livery stable, a school and a Catholic church,” Polston writes. “The population, which numbered a little more than 150 at the time, increased to more than 400 during the next 10 years.”

There was a ferry across the Spring River until the first bridge was constructed in 1898. A new bridge was built in 1938 by the federal Public Works Administration.

In 1891, the board of Hendrix College decided to establish five academies across the state. Sloan-Hendrix Academy was established at Imboden. It remained in operation until 1931 when the campus was sold to the Imboden School District. The name Sloan-Hendrix is still used for the public schools.

Polston writes about how town leaders bought a radio for the community: “Benches were set up, and people came into town on a nightly basis to listen to the broadcasts. In the 1920s, Otho Crouch opened a movie theater called the Hippodrome. Movies were also screened at the school until the 1930s by the school organization known as the Sloan-Hendrix Helpers.”

Ravenden had 470 residents in the 2010 census; Imboden had 677.

Black Rock marks the end of the Ozarks as you head east. Once the railroad came, timber companies began moving in to cut the virgin timber in the Ozark foothills. Black Rock boomed for a time.

“General stores were quickly established, and a sawmill was built on the Black River,” Guy Lancaster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “In 1884, the city incorporated with a recorded population of 277. By 1890, the city had about 10 sawmills. The decade of the 1890s saw the creation of numerous industries, many linked to the timber businesses — shingle mills, planing mills, a furniture factory, a handle factory and a wagon factory. In addition, Black Rock featured a stone quarry and the Southern Queensware Co., which was established in 1896 to produce porcelain, earthenware, encaustic tiles and enamel brick. Between 1890 and 1900, the city grew from 761 to 1,400.”

The population was down to 662 residents by the 2010 census.

When J.H. Myers found a large pink pearl inside a mussel in 1897, a pearl rush ensued.

“Most people simply threw away the mussel shells they opened, but Myers shipped a load of ostensibly worthless shells to Lincoln, Neb., in 1899 to be used in the manufacture of buttons,” Lancaster writes. “Along with partners N.R. and H.W. Townsend, Myers established the Black Rock Pearl Button Co., which was reportedly the first button factory in the South. It was later purchased by a company in Davenport, Iowa, and expanded. The Chalmers Button Factory opened in 1909.

“After World War II, with the increased availability of plastic buttons, the industry foundered. The last button factory in Black Rock closed in 1954, though mussels are still harvested from the Black River and shipped to China, where they are used for cultured pearls.”

We cross the Black River at Black Rock on the bridge that opened in May 2015 to replace a bridge that had been built in 1949.

Three rivers join in southeast Missouri to form the Black River. It crosses into Arkansas northeast of Corning in Clay County. Its route then takes it through the Dave Donaldson Black River Wildlife Management Area, through Randolph County to the county seat of Pocahontas and then past Davidsonville, Black Rock and Powhatan.

“From there, it flows south through the Shirey Bay-Rainey Brake Wildlife Management Area, crosses the southern border of Lawrence County and forms the east-west border between Independence and Jackson counties,” Jerry Cavaneau writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “It finally turns southeast and enters the White River at Jacksonport, just north of Newport. Its Arkansas tributaries are the Current, Spring and Strawberry rivers. The Black has numerous sharp bends, many with colorful names such as Deadman and Hole in the Wall in the Davidsonville area along with the Box Factory, Battle Axe and Dead Mule bends along the lower course of the river.

“The river and the wildlife management areas through which it flows provide abundant opportunities for hunters, fishermen, hikers and wildlife watchers. The main species of fish are largemouth bass, crappie and catfish. Duck, squirrel, deer, rabbit and turkey hunting are popular along its course. Both the Donaldson and Shirey Bay WMAs offer fine green tree reservoir habitat for ducks. There’s also a population of furbearers such as beaver, muskrat, mink and raccoon.”

Batesville lawyer Fent Noland wrote in 1839: “The country up White River and the Black is destined to be the finest in Arkansas. Nature has done all she could. Man will do the rest.”

By the late 1800s, more than 40 steamboats were operating on the Black River.

“The first train arrived in Pocahontas in 1896, and the railroads gradually replaced river traffic,” Cavaneau writes. “As late as the 1920s, however, steamboats and snag boats (used to clear river debris) were still in operation.”

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Highland, Cherokee Village and Hardy

Friday, July 12th, 2019


We roll through Highland on our trip east on U.S. Highway 412. We quickly enter Cherokee Village and then Hardy. The three communities are connected.

When the Hardy and Ash Flat school districts consolidated in 1962, they built a new high school between the two cities. The businesses and neighborhoods that sprang up around the school became the city of Highland, which had a population of 1,045 residents in the 2010 census.

“When Sharp County was created in 1868, much of it consisted of heavily forested hillsides,” Steven Teske writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The first official landowners in what would become Highland were Thomas Irvie, who bought his land in 1889, and Thomas J. Harris, who bought his land in 1895. By this time, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway had been built through Hardy, facilitating shipping of the timber that was being cut in Sharp County and the crops grown on the cleared land. Already the area was being called Highland, presumably because it consists of a ridge between two lower areas.

“A post office was established in Highland in 1878, but it closed in 1901 because the area was so sparsely settled. The settlement’s postmaster, W.W. Hill, served a term as county surveyor and studied the natural features of Sharp County. The early history of the area is also remembered for the residency of the Porter family, who established a Baptist mission in which two-hour sermons were standard fare. … Until the consolidation of the Ash Flat and Hardy schools, few residents could have predicted the emergence of a city at Highland.”

Along with the school, the creation of Cherokee Village as a retirement community changed everything.

“Many restaurants and stores were built in Highland,” Teske writes. “Eventually, the citizens of the community voted to incorporate as a second-class city in 1998. On Feb. 5, 2008, a tornado tore through Sharp County, devastating Highland and other nearby communities. Although no lives were lost, many homes and businesses were destroyed. Some were rebuilt, but difficult economic times prevented complete recovery.”

Nearby Hardy, which had 772 residents in the 2010 census, is a much older city than either Highland or Cherokee Village.

Hardy was established in 1883 when the railroad came through this part of the Ozarks. The accessibility provided by the trains helped make the area a tourist destination.

In 1867, the Arkansas Legislature voted to pay companies $10,000 for every mile of railroad track they laid. That incentive created a boom in railroad construction.

“Named for railroad contractor James Hardy of Batesville, the town was developed on 600 acres by early settler Walker Clayton to serve the needs of travelers,” writes historian Wayne Dowdy of Memphis. “Clayton also donated the land for what’s now called the Hardy Cemetery Historic Section. Residents wanted to name the town Forty Islands after a nearby creek, but the U.S. Post Office insisted on Hardy because that designation was used to deliver mail to railroad workers in the area. This was not the last time an outsider influenced the direction of Hardy’s development.

“When Hardy was incorporated, it was far removed from the county seat in Evening Shade. Feeling isolated from their government, Hardy residents asked the General Assembly to come up with a solution to the problems of distance and poor roads. In 1894, the state divided Sharp County into two sections with Hardy named county seat of the Northern District. A court was established along with other government offices, which increased Hardy’s population to 347 people by 1900. As the 20th century progressed, better roads made the dual county seat structure unnecessary. Ash Flat was designated the county seat in 1963.”

A Memphis doctor named George Gillespie Buford was stranded along with his wife in Hardy in 1908 due to train problems.

“The couple climbed Wahpeton Hill on the south bank of the Spring River and was charmed by the area’s natural beauty,” Dowdy writes. “The following year, the Bufords purchased 50 acres on Wahpeton and built a summer cottage. During the next few years, Buford expanded his land holdings by purchasing the nearby Jordan and East Wahpeton hills. In 1912, the Memphis physician constructed 10 cottages for summer visitors on his newly acquired property, which he named Wahpeton Inn.”

Others from the Delta also viewed the area as a nice escape from the heat and mosquitoes in the lowlands during the summer.

L.L. Ward of Blytheville opened a resort known as Rio Vista in 1932. The Girl Scouts of Memphis established Camp Kiwani in 1922. The YWCA of Memphis built Miramichee in 1916. And the Boy Scouts of Memphis built Kia Kima in 1916.

“In addition to the railroad, bus service connected Hardy to the rest of the world,” Dowdy writes. “By 1930, the town had 508 permanent residents. The visitor population swelled to 1,000 per day between July and September. The tourism boom spawned by Wahpeton, Rio Vista and the summer camps led to economic growth. Two blocks of Main Street were filled with businesses, including a bank, two cafes, two drugstores, a Ford automobile dealership and a grocery.

“Town leaders — most notably drugstore owner William Johnston — tirelessly promoted Hardy as a place where city dwellers could find relaxation. In an interview with a Memphis Press-Scimitar reporter, Johnston boasted that Hardy had the ‘finest fishing in the world.’ Although most residents welcomed tourists, some townspeople found it difficult to adjust as the average population increased by thousands during the summer months. In 1935, cafe owner Tennie Meeker said: ‘You take a big trainload of people and dump them down suddenly in a small town like Hardy, and it nearly works everybody to death.'”

Later in the 20th century, tourists arrived in the Hardy area via automobile rather than train.

“Resting near the intersection of national highways 62 and 63, Hardy was easily accessible for those who traveled by car,” Dowdy writes. “When large-scale federal highway construction began in the 1950s, the tourism population shifted from long-term visitors to those looking for a weekend getaway. Recognizing this trend, the Wahpeton resort individually sold its cottages in 1953. The established tourism industry in Hardy was augmented with the construction of retirement homes by West Memphis developer John Cooper. The founding of Cherokee Village increased tourism to the Ozark foothills, and within a decade, the Hardy area was recognized as an important retirement center.

“In 1968, the Arkansaw Traveller Folk Theater was established in Hardy to preserve the culture of the Ozarks. When the railroad depot closed in the 1970s, some Main Street businesses relocated. This relocation accelerated when the Spring River flooded in December 1982. In their place, shops specializing in antiques and crafts were opened, which, along with the draw of the Ozarks’ natural beauty, has helped Hardy remain a popular tourist destination.”

Cooper had purchased 400 acres along the south bank of the Spring River near the mouth of Otter Creek in 1948. What became known as the Otter Creek Ranch was a place to entertain friends and family members.

“After purchasing additional land, Cooper formed the Cherokee Village Development Co. in 1953, divided the property into lots and constructed individual homes,” Dowdy writes. “When the property was formally opened in June 1955, Gov. Orval Faubus declared it to be ‘the coming Mecca of the Ozarks.’ By 1961, retirees from across the United States had relocated to the Spring River area, transforming Cherokee Village into a popular retirement center. Cooper’s development company opened Bella Vista in northwest Arkansas in 1967 and three years later opened Hot Springs Village. The introduction of these three communities established Arkansas as one of the most important retirement destinations in the United States. In addition to homes, the Cherokee Village Development Co. added two golf courses, seven lakes, three recreation centers, 350 miles of roads and a water system for its residents.”

In 1964, Cooper offered the Boy Scouts a larger tract of land on the South Fork of the Spring River in exchange for the land housing Kia Kima. Following negotiations, Cooper agreed to construct buildings for the Boy Scouts on the new property.

“The Kia Kima trade and other land purchases expanded Cherokee Village to 13,500 acres by 1980,” Dowdy writes. “When Cherokee Village was established, no provisions had been made for residents to share the costs of maintaining the roads and recreational facilities operated by the development corporation. Not wanting to fund these services exclusively, the corporation’s board of directors suggested the creation of a suburban improvement district in 1968. … About 1,100 property owners petitioned the circuit court for permission to establish the district, but not all Cherokee Village residents approved of the plan.”

Following court challenges, the Cherokee Village Suburban Improvement District was formed and a three-person board of commissioners was chosen to oversee it in 1975. The city of Cherokee Village was established in the late 1990s.

“In addition to a mayor and city council, a police force was created and a district court established,” Dowdy writes. “Although the improvement district remained a vital entity, the city of Cherokee Village took over some of its duties. For example, the city assumed responsibility for street maintenance in 2003.”

A few weeks after passing through Cherokee Village on the Highway 412 trek, I was back for the first Arkansas Pie Festival.

More than 700 people bought tickets to the festival on the day before Easter. The weather couldn’t have been better, and that helped. This obviously was an idea whose time had come. Not only did the festival bring people to the Cherokee Village town center to spend part of the day, it also attracted statewide media attention to a retirement community that many people had thought was past its prime.

Bella Vista has benefited from being part of the booming northwest Arkansas region. Hot Springs Village has benefited from its proximity to Hot Springs and Little Rock. The more rural retirement communities such as Cherokee Village — along with nearby Horseshoe Bend in Izard County, Holiday Island near Eureka Springs and Fairfield Bay on Greers Ferry Lake — have had a much tougher time redefining themselves in an era when retirees want to be close to major hospitals and cultural amenities.

Fortunately for this area of the state, there’s a group of talented young people determined to craft a future for a beautiful but isolated region.

One of them is Graycen Bigger, the executive director of the Spring River Innovation Hub. Bigger has worked in the arts and education sectors as a lecturer and researcher. She became what’s known as the director of placemaking for Cherokee Village, working to use the arts to spur economic development and improve the quality of life for residents of Sharp, Fulton and Izard counties.

Bigger has a master’s degree in art business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York and wants to help artisans throughout the Ozarks earn a living. She says her efforts are about “supporting small businesses, entrepreneurship, innovation and creative ideas. Part of that is thinking of the next generation.”

Proceeds from the Arkansas Pie Festival will go to science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (commonly known as STEAM) programs sponsored by the innovation hub.

Another of the people behind efforts to revitalize this part of the state is Jonathan Rhodes, whose father Ron has been involved in real estate development at Cherokee Village for 48 years. Ron Rhodes grew up at Corning and first came to this area on dirt roads to attend Boy Scout camp.

“My parents settled in Cherokee Village and raised their family here,” Jonathan Rhodes says. “This is home. … It’s our privilege to carry on what John Cooper started here more than 60 years ago.”

Rhodes graduated from Hendrix College at Conway in 1998. He worked for U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Washington for seven years and earned a master’s degree in urban and environmental planning from the University of Virginia in 2003. He later joined the United Nations World Food Program. Rhodes worked in its Rome headquarters and in Sudan on a two-year assignment.

In 2012, Rhodes moved back to Cherokee Village to join the family real estate and property management business. He also put his master’s degree to work as the director of community development for Cherokee Village.

In 2017, Rhodes, Bigger and others came up with the idea of the Spring River Innovation Hub. They received a grant from the Delta Regional Authority and launched a small business incubator in Cherokee Village last year. The organization’s mission statement notes that it will provide a “creative culture of innovation and entrepreneurship through an inclusive, collaborative network of diverse resources and opportunities.”

An unused portion of Cherokee Village’s town center was transformed into a co-working space.

Rhodes and Bigger hope the hub eventually will be viewed as a pacesetter for rural development in the South. There are professional development opportunities, networking events, business counseling, mentorships, community programs, high-speed Internet, video-conferencing capabilities and more.

Just as John Cooper was an innovator in the 20th century, Rhodes and Bigger want to be innovators for the 21st century by creating a model that struggling rural communities across the region can emulate.

In an era when most parts of rural Arkansas are losing population, it certainly beats wringing one’s hands and reminiscing about the good old days.

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From Cotter to Ash Flat

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp County was established in 1868.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ash Flat’s first high school opened in 1905.

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

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

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Harrison to Cotter

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bellefonte was incorporated in 1872.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what about that turkey festival?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Huntsville to Harrison

Thursday, May 9th, 2019


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

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

He would later say “his friends” helped out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The current courthouse was dedicated in November 1939.

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

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

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

Faubus died in December 1994.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Siloam Springs to Huntsville

Monday, May 6th, 2019


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

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

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

Washington County was established in October 1828 from Lovely County.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Starting at Siloam Springs

Friday, May 3rd, 2019


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

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

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


I call it work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Siloam Springs annexed Hico in 1904.

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

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

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

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

Other camps were established in the area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To the Cossatot and back

Friday, March 15th, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only about 100 people now live in the unincorporated community.

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