Archive for March, 2016

Spring in the Spa City

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— National media coverage.

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

— Four areas featuring live musical entertainment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post to Twitter

Chris Beard and the UALR Trojan miracle

Friday, March 18th, 2016

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s double-overtime victory over Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday was a win for the little guy.

As someone who has spent decades writing about and broadcasting small college sports, I was delighted last April when UALR hired the head coach from Angelo State in Texas, an NCAA Division II school.

Not everybody in Little Rock was happy.

Joe Kleine, the former Razorback and NBA star who had been Steve Shields’ top assistant at UALR, wanted the job and had broad support in the community. You say “Big Joe” around Little Rock, and people immediately know who you’re talking about. Great man. Great family. I’m among the many people who consider him a friend.

Others (including key executives at Stephens Inc.) were pushing for another former Razorback and NBA star, Darrell Walker. Walker served as the head coach of two NBA teams, the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards.

But the school’s first-year athletic director, Chasse Conque, wanted someone who not only was a proven head coach at the college level but also was young and hungry.

Conque was castigated in the days that followed the announcement of Beard’s hiring. He was too young and too inexperienced, they said of Conque. He just “didn’t know how Little Rock works.”

Conque, the son of former University of Central Arkansas head football coach Clint Conque (who is now the head football coach at Stephen F. Austin University in the piney woods of east Texas), actually knew the UALR program inside and out. He had worked for four years under the previous athletic director, Chris Peterson, as the department’s development director before spreading his wings a bit in 2011 when he went to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to raise money for the UAMS Medical Center.

Having worked at both UALR and UAMS, Conque indeed knew how Little Rock worked.

Having grown up as the son of a college coach, he also knew what he wanted in a coach.

When Conque was hired as athletic director in January 2015, UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson said: “Chasse represents an unusual opportunity to hire someone who is both an insider and an outsider, and I believe he’s the right person for this department at this time. He knows the challenges and the opportunities of Trojan athletics very well, and he brings particular strength in the critical area of fundraising. After growing up living and breathing intercollegiate athletics, Chasse proved himself as a person and as a professional when he was here.”

One important move that Conque made was to rebrand the school’s teams simply as Little Rock. UALR means nothing to a national audience. Little Rock is an existing brand.

He came up with the hashtag #LittleRocksTeam to take advantage of a metropolitan area of 730,000 people.

He made sure there was a contract extension for women’s basketball coach Joe Foley (who, with all due respect to Beard, just might be the best college coach for any sport in the state), already an inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

He renewed the school’s contract with Nike.

He started the aggressive “I’ve Got Mine” season ticket campaign.

And he hired Chris Beard.

Beard was a guy who spent seven seasons learning the game under Bobby Knight at Texas Tech. When Knight’s son Pat was named Tech’s head coach in 2008, Beard became the associate head coach. In Beard’s 10 years on the Tech staff, the Red Raiders made it to the NCAA Tournament four times and made it to the NIT three times. There was a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2005.

Beard was born at Marietta, Ga., and raised in the Dallas suburb of Irving. He’s a 1995 University of Texas graduate (he was a student assistant for the basketball program) who started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Incarnate Word in San Antonio, spent a season at Abilene Christian and then spent a couple of seasons in Denton at the University of North Texas.

It would have been easy for Beard to have been a career assistant, but he wanted to be a head coach. He started his head coaching career at the junior college level at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas in 1999-2000 and then moved to Seminole State College in Oklahoma in 2000-01 before going to Texas Tech. His Fort Scott team won 19 games and went to a regional tournament. His Seminole State team was 25-6 and finished No. 14 in the junior college national rankings.

After that decade at Texas Tech, the head coaching bug bit again.

Beard worked in 2011-12 as the head coach of the South Carolina professional team in the ABA (remember when the Arkansas Rimrockers were in that league?), where finances are always shaky. The first-year franchise posted a 31-2 record under Beard’s leadership.

He then returned to Texas to serve as the head coach at Division II McMurry for the 2012-13 season. Success there (McMurry was 19-10 in its first season as a Division II member) led to the offer to be the head coach at another Division II program, Angelo State in San Angelo.

The Rams, who had suffered through three consecutive losing seasons, went 19-9 in Beard’s first season. Angelo State won its first 10 games that season and found itself ranked for the first time since 2009.

The next season saw Beard lead Angelo State to a school-record 28 victories and the Division II Sweet 16. The Rams were 17-0 at home and finished the year ranked No. 19 nationally in Division II. They led the nation in scoring margin, were third in field goal percentage, fifth in assists and in the top 10 in total rebounds, assist-to-turnover ratio and assists per game.

So you had a coach who had gone 47-17 in two seasons at Angelo State.

Here’s what the Kansas head coach, Bill Self, had to say at the time: “I think it’s a great hire. He had the chance to learn under one of the all-time pillars in our game in Bob Knight. He’ll bring energy, he’ll bring excitement and he’ll bring a work ethic and recruiting knowledge that will be very beneficial to the Little Rock program.”

Here’s what the Tennessee head coach (and former Texas head coach), Rick Barnes, had to say: “Chris has an incredible work ethic and has won at every level he has ever been. I’m very confident that he’ll accomplish great things at Little Rock.”

Here’s what Kent Hance, the former Texas Tech chancellor, had to say: “I think Chris Beard is the finest young coach in America, bar none. He’s a great recruiter and coach, but the thing that I like most about him is that he cares about the kids. He graduates players and makes sure they’re good citizens and complete student-athletes. I’m thrilled for him and Little Rock. Get ready because you’re about to move up.”

Still, there were those in Little Rock who complained.

I liked Beard the first time I met him. Soon after the coach arrived in Little Rock, my friend Kevin Crass invited me to Doe’s Eat Place to share a steak with Beard. Kevin and I have been friends since we were students at Ouachita Baptist University. Kevin’s son Ted was the only member of Shields’ staff that Beard retained.

Beard told stories of how Bobby Knight would drive two hours to try out a new barbecue joint for lunch. I certainly thought more highly of Knight after learning he was a fellow barbecue aficionado.

Beard was witty. He also struck me as intense, maybe even someone with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. In other words, exactly what UALR needed.

That attitude was evident in this quote Beard gave to USA Today earlier this week: “Me personally, I’ve been overlooked my whole life. I wake up every day with an edge. Guys like me get one chance. I wasn’t a great player. I don’t have a famous grandfather. I get up every day, surround myself with winners. Every day I feel like I’m an underdog.”

That newspaper story told how Beard took his team up on Petit Jean Mountain to Camp Mitchell, the old camp operated by the Episcopal Church in Arkansas.

The players slept in bunk beds and talked late into the night, getting to know their coaches and each other much better.

Senior Roger Woods told the newspaper: “We had a lot of players with a lot of different stories that were really impressive. … We all wanted to come together and get something going in Little Rock.”

Conque liked what he saw in Beard.

And Beard liked what he saw in Little Rock. He saw a chance to build something special at the Division I level.

“We have everything we need to build a successful program,” Beard told interviewer Greg Henderson last year. “We have the best facility in college basketball, a great capital city, a great university, history. I don’t see any reason we can’t get it done. Our mission is ‘why not us’ from the first recruiting call.”

He also took Conque’s rebranding as “Little Rock’s team” to heart, saying his players took pride in having the name of the state’s largest city on their jerseys.

I have to believe that this is what the late Jack Stephens had in mind when he gave that $22.4 million gift to UALR to build what’s now the Stephens Center, which is a perfect size for a mid-major program (seating 5,600 people) and is as fine an area as there is in the country.

“We’re not done yet,” Beard said after Thursday’s win over Purdue. “We came to this tournament to win two games in Denver and try to advance to the Sweet 16, just like everybody else.”

Now, some of those same people who were criticizing Conque’s choice in a coach a year ago are worrying that Beard’s stay in Little Rock might be a short one.

Even if it is, he has given basketball fans in this state a season they’ll always remember.

Why not us indeed.

Post to Twitter

The breakfast club

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

It’s shortly past 7 a.m. on a Wednesday, and Don Allen is sitting at his usual spot.

They call it the Round Table, and it’s in the corner of the state Capitol’s basement cafeteria in Little Rock.

Allen, 85, is the patriarch of the Round Table, a legendary breakfast spot where politics, sports and personalities have been cussed and discussed for decades.

Allen became a regular at the table in 1972 when he joined the staff of then-Gov. Dale Bumpers. He can be found in the same seat most weekday mornings, having arrived by 5:20 a.m.

“They let me in the back door,” he says.

When Allen began coming to the Capitol basement for breakfast, legislators such as Rep. John Miller of Melbourne and Rep. Lloyd Reid George of Danville ruled the roost at the Round Table.

On the large lazy Susan in the middle of the table, brass nameplates for Miller and George state that their seats are “reserved in perpetuity.” The nameplates were purchased by Little Rock attorney George Jernigan, a former chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party and a former chairman of the Little Rock-based Political Animals Club.

“When someone dies, we move the nameplates from the actual table to the lazy Susan,” Allen says.

George, a noted raconteur, was born in 1926 in his grandparents’ house at Centerville in Yell County and grew up at Ola. He graduated from Hendrix College and then became a coach and teacher at Fourche Valley, Ola, Morrilton and Gillett. George later borrowed enough money from his father and grandmother to open a butane gas company at Danville, where he was elected mayor.

George first was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1962 and served a total of 28 years. He would celebrate the final day of legislative sessions by wearing overalls, a sign that it was time to go back to the farm in Yell County. George died in February 2012 at age 85.

Miller, who lived in Izard County for 84 of his 85 years, was a 1949 Arkansas State University graduate who worked in his family’s retail business before spending four years as the Izard County clerk. He later opened an insurance agency, a title abstract business and a real estate brokerage.

Miller was elected to the Arkansas House in 1958, the start of a 40-year legislative career. He soon became recognized as the expert on the state budget. Miller died in June 2014.

There’s one other nameplate on the lazy Susan. It belongs to former Rep. William K. “Mac” McGehee of Fort Smith, who was elected to the Legislature in 1996 and was found dead of natural causes in his apartment in the Capitol Hill Building adjacent to the state Capitol just before the 1999 legislative session. McGehee was given his “reserved in perpetuity” spot because he had the current lazy Susan made by the Riverside Furniture Co. in Fort Smith and then flew it to Little Rock in his private plane.

“It’s a lot bigger than the old lazy Susan,” Allen says matter of factly. “George Jernigan gave us the old one, but it was hard to reach.”

The lazy Susan has not only bottles of barbecue sauce, hot sauce and pepper sauce but also jars of homemade jams, jellies and preserves that legislators bring and leave there. Jars of honey and sorghum molasses also are dropped off from time to time.

The table was constructed by the staff of Arkansas Secretary of State Bill McCuen, who later was imprisoned for corruption in office. McCuen died of cancer at age 57 in 2000. Before his election as secretary of state in 1984, he had served as a public school teacher and principal at Hot Springs, as the Garland County judge and as state land commissioner.

McCuen put his signature on most everything at the Capitol during his decade as secretary of state and had a soft spot for those who sat at the Round Table. The new table — the smaller version used in earlier years now sits on the other side of the cafeteria — was made out of leftover plywood from a Christmas display.

Capitol observers thought the Round Table’s days were numbered in November 2014 when Arkansas voters approved an ethics amendment that would no longer allow lobbyists to buy breakfast for legislators. For years, top lobbyists would put money in the pot to fund the breakfast activities. Legislators who were invited to sit at the table simply went through the line, got what they wanted and had their purchases recorded in the spiral-bound notebook that rested next to the cash register.

Ron Harrod is a longtime lobbyist who became a regular at the Round Table after being appointed in early 1983 to the powerful Arkansas Highway Commission to replace James Branyan of Camden. Harrod, a Dumas native, was an insurance agent in Prescott at the time.

“When the ethics amendment passed, we decided to shut down the table,” Harrod says. “But you know what? Not a single legislator complained about having to buy breakfast. We found out that it was about the fellowship rather than the food.”

He then adds (with a smile for the benefit of the legislators at the table): “We’re not allowed to buy them breakfast, although one of them could buy me breakfast. To this day, not a single legislator has offered to buy my breakfast.”

There are still two brass nameplates on the table for living legends.

One belongs to Allen, who became the executive vice president of the influential Arkansas Poultry Federation in 1976 and held the job until 2000, when he retired and was replaced by former state Sen. Morril Harriman. When Mike Beebe became governor in January 2007, Harriman resigned from the Poultry Federation to become Beebe’s chief of staff, a job he held for Beebe’s entire eight years as governor.

The other nameplate belongs to Tim Massanelli, a native of the community of Goat Shed in Lincoln County. Massanelli worked on his family farm, ran a liquor store and managed a coin-operated machine business during the early years of his career. In 1973, at the suggestion of state Rep. G.W. “Buddy” Turner, he became the parliamentarian for the Arkansas House of Representatives and served for 38 years until retiring in 2011.

Massanelli worked with 19 speakers, seven governors and more than 1,000 House members. He was replaced by Buddy Johnson, who began working for the House in 1985 after having served as a reporter for United Press International. Johnson joins the breakfast group on this Wednesday morning, trading barbs easily with Allen and Harrod.

Massanelli’s nameplate has a spelling mistake. It says that his chair is “reserved in perpeturity.” The regulars decided to leave the plate just like it is so they could give Massanelli a hard time.

Allen tells stories of past legislators such as the late state Rep. Bobby Newman of Smackover, who Allen says would order three soft eggs each morning and then sop up all the yolk with his toast. Then there was the legislator who irked the late Zelma Maxenberger, who managed the cafeteria for a quarter of a century. The legislator, who shall remain nameless, would loudly ring a bell for service prior to the official opening time of 6 a.m. Told by the management that no coffee would be served to those at the Round Table until 7 a.m. if he didn’t stop ringing the bell, the offending legislator was banned from the table.

“Sometimes we have 14 or 15 people sitting over here at one time,” Allen says. “I have to tell you that the idea of lobbyists buying off politicians with a meal is pure BS. This has simply been a way for us to get to know each other through the years.”

Harrod says: “Most of these legislators have someplace where they go for coffee back in their towns. This is just the Little Rock version of what they have back at home.”

Many of the traditional spots where Arkansans gathered for breakfast and political talk in the 20th century are gone. One notable example was the Sno-White Grill at Pine Bluff, which closed last year and was replaced by an Italian restaurant. Sno-White was founded in 1936, one year before Walt Disney produced his first full-length animated classic, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

The Pine Bluff institution closed when Bobby Garner decided to retire at age 79. Garner would arrive at 5:30 a.m. six mornings a week with the restaurant opening at 6 a.m. Among the coffee-drinking regulars, there were 6 a.m., 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 9 a.m. and even 10 a.m. shifts.

While the state Capitol has the Round Table, Sno-White had the famed Back Booth. It was a large booth with political posters covering the walls behind it — “I’m for Arkansas and Faubus,” “John McClellan for Senate,” “Dale Bumpers for Senate” and even “Monroe A. Scharwazlose, Democratic Candidate for Governor, The Law and Order Candidate.”

Schwarzlose, who raised turkeys in nearby Kingsland, ran for governor in the Democratic primaries of 1978, 1980, 1982 and 1984.

Kelley-Wyatt’s in Batesville had its Round Table, where Independence County politicians gathered for years. The restaurant closed for a time but reopened last fall.

Jerry’s in Fayetteville, long a breakfast gathering spot near the Washington County Courthouse, is gone. But a well-known restaurant up the road in Springdale lives on. In 1944, Toy and Bertha Neal began serving meals in Springdale. Neal’s Café still opens at 6 a.m. seven days a week and is a political gathering place for the northwest corner of the state. It fact, its political cachet increased when owner Micah Neal was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. Toy and Bertha Neal were Micah Neal’s great-grandparents. Micah’s father, Don Neal, later ran the restaurant in the landmark pink building.

In Conway, Bob’s Grill on Oak Street downtown has the motto: “If it happens in Conway, it’s talked about at Bob’s Grill.”

Away from the state Capitol in Little Rock, the breakfast spot for politicians was once the Coachman’s Inn, a hotel owned by famed financiers Jack and Witt Stephens. It stood where the downtown post office is now located. In 1983, Skip Rutherford left the staff of U.S. Sen. David Pryor and moved to the private sector to work for Mack McLarty, the chief executive officer of Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co. Rutherford missed politics and wanted an excuse for those with a strong interest in the political game to gather and talk about what was going on in Arkansas. He asked some friends to join him one morning at the Coachman’s for breakfast. Judge William J. Smith was invited to talk about former Gov. Orval Faubus and the 1957 Little Rock school desegregation crisis. Afterward, those in attendance agreed to meet again and bring friends to what they decided to call the Political Animals Club.

At first, the Political Animals Club’s membership was limited to people who were not running for or holding elective office. When Rutherford announced in 1987 that he was going to run for the Little Rock School Board, he stepped down as club chairman. The Political Animals Club had moved its meetings from the Coachman’s Inn to the Little Rock Hilton (now the Clarion) on University Avenue by that time. Jernigan took over as the second chairman in 1987 and was succeeded by his law partner, Russ Meeks.

The fourth Political Animals chairman was Bob Lyford, who was the general counsel for the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. During Lyford’s tenure, the club often held its 7 a.m. breakfast meetings in the ornate conference room at the AECC headquarters in southwest Little Rock. In January 2007, Lyford handed over the chairmanship to Steve Ronnel, a Little Rock businessman who had worked in the White House during the Clinton administration. Ronnel switched the meeting times from breakfast to lunch as people’s habits changed and fewer people wanted to show up at 7 a.m.

The Coachman’s has long since been replaced by downtown’s Capital Hotel (also owned by the Stephens family) as the breakfast gathering spot of choice for lobbyists who are looking for something a bit fancier than the basement of the state Capitol. Most mornings now find several tables at the Capital Hotel filled with lobbyists and legislators (who presumably are paying for their own meals).

Though breakfast meetings of the Political Animals Club are now a rarity, there are smaller breakfast groups that meet on a regular basis to talk politics. Rutherford is a member of two such groups. One group began meeting in 1991 at a now-defunct downtown Little Rock restaurant known as Hungry’s. The group later met in North Little Rock at Roy Fisher’s Steak House, also now defunct.

For years, Fisher’s waitress Mary Daniell, who died in February 2011 at age 71, would trade good-natured insults with a group whose regulars included Rutherford, then-state Sen. Bill Gwatney, former Little Rock bank executive Gene Fortson and longtime North Little Rock political gadfly Walter “Bubba” Lloyd Jr.

Members of the group and even the waitress would tease Gwatney because of his family money, especially when he would order a staple of the Fisher’s breakfast menu known as “the working man’s breakfast.”

“That’s as close as you’ll ever come to being a working man,” Daniell would tell the automobile dealer.

Gwatney was the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party in the summer of 2008 when he was murdered at state party headquarters by a lone gunman, who was killed later in the day during a shootout with the police. No reason for the murder was ever discovered.

Soon afterward, Rutherford said of the breakfast group: “We had no regular schedule. It was just when somebody sent a notice out. It was always a long breakfast, talking about politics, sports, current issues. Those conversations were great because Gwatney would unload on any issue. Politics was a common ground. When I was state party chairman, I used to say in speeches that my best achievement was making sure Bill Gwatney ran as a Democrat and won as a Democrat.”

After taking a break following Gwatney’s death, the group began meeting again. The members now gather at the Red Door at the foot of Cantrell Hill in Little Rock.

Rutherford also is a member of a Saturday group organized by Little Rock businessmen Bill Booker and Graham Catlett.

“Bill and I began having brunch on Saturdays at Buster’s in the early 1980s,” Catlett says. “We later began meeting at Copper Grill at 8 a.m. each Saturday, and the group grew. Our meeting places move seasonally.”

One of the regulars is Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola.

“By 9 a.m., all the world’s problems are solved,” Catlett says.

Post to Twitter

Mr. Downtown Little Rock

Monday, March 14th, 2016

The original version of this story ran in Talk Business & Politics magazine.

Jimmy Moses grew up steeped in the history of Little Rock, especially its downtown.

His great-grandfather, Herman Kahn, moved to Little Rock from Frankfurt, Germany, in 1870. Kahn and his sons, Sidney L. Kahn Sr. and Alfred G. Kahn, were involved in banking and real estate development.

Sidney Kahn developed the Prospect Terrace neighborhood in Little Rock.

Herman Kahn’s best-known development was the Marion Hotel, which was among the most famous businesses in Arkansas for much of the 20th century.

Construction on the Marion began in 1905. It was the tallest structure in the state from when it opened in 1907 until 1911. The hotel closed in early 1980 and was demolished to make way for the Excelsior Hotel (which later became the Peabody and then the Marriott) and the Statehouse Convention Center.

The 500-room Marion had green carpets, bellboys in green uniforms and a marble fish pond in the lobby. The hotel was named after Herman Kahn’s wife, Marion Cohn Kahn.

The Marion billed itself as the “Meeting Place of Arkansas,” and the state’s top organizations held their conventions there. Its bar was named the Gar Hole and featured a mounted alligator gar. Visitors to the Marion through the years included Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Douglas MacArthur, Helen Keller and Will Rogers.

Within walking distance of the Marion, Moses’ family operated the music and electronics store Moses Melody Shop on Main Street. The business was established shortly after World War I by Moses’ grandfather, Grover Cleveland “Cleve” Moses, and operated for almost six decades until falling victim to downtown’s decline in the late 1960s.

During the 1960s, the store had what was known as the Color TV Lounge where customers could watch color television. There were soundproof glass booths for listening to records, and there were live Saturday radio broadcasts by radio station KALO that featured local bands. Jimmy Moses worked in the store as a boy.

Moses describes downtown Little Rock as “being in my DNA.”

He remembers the days when customers would come into Moses Melody Shop in droves. Down the street, the Marion Hotel lobby was filled at all hours. Downtown Little Rock was the place to be.

By the time Moses left for college at Washington and Lee University in the mountains of southwest Virginia, the capital city’s core had begun its long, slow decline.

Moses sits by a window in the Little Rock Club on the 30th floor of the Regions Center in downtown Little Rock and looks out on the city that has been central to his career. He’s now in his 60s and thinking about his legacy. He says he wants to be remembered as someone who helped transform Arkansas’ largest city back into a place where people “want to live” rather than fleeing to the suburbs in Saline, Faulkner and Lonoke counties.

“Little Rock is at a crossroads,” Moses says as he gazes down on the capital city. “We’ve done a lot of good things to set the stage for growth, but I’m not sure that our leadership has fully embraced the concept that we can be great.”

Those who compare the relatively slow growth of Little Rock to Austin or Nashville can become depressed when thinking about the city. But those are state capitals of far larger states that also are the homes of world-class universities and bustling music scenes. They have amenities that Little Rock will never have.

Little Rock looks far better, though, when compared to Southern cities such as Birmingham, Ala., and Jackson, Miss.

In 1950, Birmingham had a population of 326,037, more than triple the size of Little Rock at the time. Birmingham was the same size as Atlanta (331,314) in 1950. By 2010, Birmingham’s population had fallen to 212,237. While Birmingham was losing population, Little Rock was growing from 102,213 residents in 1950 to 193,524 residents in 2010. With a population that’s expected to surpass 200,000 during the next year, Little Rock is now the same size as Birmingham rather than a third its size.

Jackson, meanwhile, had a population of 202,895 in 1980, far larger than Little Rock’s population of 159,151 at the time. The current population of Jackson is about 170,000. The cities appear to be headed in opposite directions. In Mississippi, for example, Bass Pro Shops and an outlet mall chose to locate in the suburb of Pearl. In Arkansas, Bass Pro and an outlet mall chose Little Rock rather than a city in the suburbs.

Moses points out that public projects continue to complement private investments in downtown Little Rock. In addition to construction of a new Broadway Bridge, work is proceeding on the $68 million renovation of the Robinson Center. The city has committed $20 million to the Little Rock Technology Park downtown, and voters recently approved a bond issue of $35 million for upgrades to the Arkansas Arts Center, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and MacArthur Park. The bonds will be paid back over 30 years with collections from an increased hotel tax.

During the past year, other parts of town have seen the opening of a $23 million transmission operations center for Entergy Corp., a new Southern region operations center for the regional energy transmission organization Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator, a $52 million facility in southwest Little Rock for Federal Express and a major expansion of Dassault Falcon Jet adjacent to the city’s airport.

Dr. Dean Kumpuris, a longtime member of the Little Rock Board of Directors, says: “We’re headed in the right direction. The strongest thing we have going for us is a group of people willing to roll up their sleeves, identify the problems and then attack those problems.”

Kumpuris describes the decision to place the technology park downtown as “an absolute winner for everybody.”

Jimmy Moses and business partner Rett Tucker remain atop the list of those “willing to roll up their sleeves, identify the problems and then attack those problems.”

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee, Moses earned a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Florida. He was working for the planning firm Hodges Vines Fox & Associates in 1981 when Little Rock turned to the firm for suggestions on what to do with a downtown that had been gutted by so-called urban renewal. Most residents and many businesses had moved out.

In Moses’ words, downtown “barely had a heartbeat.”

It would be years before his vision began to be achieved, but Moses was an early proponent of attracting full-time residents back downtown.

In July 1982, Moses joined forces with Rick Redden and John Allison to launch Allison Moses Redden Architecture, Interiors and Planning. Allison Moses Redden later became AMR Architects Inc. when Moses and Allison began new firms. Moses teamed up with fellow Little Rock native and Washington and Lee graduate Tucker to form what’s now Moses Tucker Real Estate.

Moses Tucker’s efforts to bring residents downtown included development of the Arkansas Capital Commerce Center in 2002, the First Security Center in 2004, 300 Third Street in 2007 and the River Market Tower in 2009. The company has worked with hotel developer John McKibbon to bring four new hotels to the River Market District.

Moses Tucker later expanded its efforts to Main Street to transform the 1912 Blass Building into the Mann on Main. The popular Italian restaurant Bruno’s Little Italy was reborn in the complex.

Farther south on Main Street, Moses Tucker has joined forces with Cromwell Architects Engineers to bring life back to the building that housed the Arkansas Democrat from 1916 until the early 1930s. The building, designed by noted Arkansas architect Charles Thompson, later housed a furniture store and the Lido Cafeteria. The top floors have been vacant for more than 25 years.

In the River Market District, the company partnered with the Central Arkansas Library System to develop the Arcade Building, which is home to the upscale restaurant Cache, the Ron Robinson Theater and other offices and businesses.

On East Capitol, Moses Tucker tore down the former Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co. headquarters and replaced it with the MacArthur Commons apartment complex. In November, the 59-unit, three-story building was sold for $10.5 million to MacArthur Commons LLC, led by David R. Thompson. The project, which was completed in September, was already 97 percent occupied at the time of the sale.

During the summer, Moses Tucker broke ground on the 36-unit Legion Village apartment complex on nearby Rock Street with additional plans to renovate the former M.M. Eberts American Legion Post building and an adjoining structure.

In October, Moses Tucker announced that it had teamed up with the Cromwell firm to develop a 3.5-acre area east of Interstate 30, near the Heifer International headquarters. Cromwell plans to transform a 50,000-square-foot warehouse into a mixed-use development and add 20,000 square feet to the building. About a third of the facility will house Cromwell’s Little Rock offices. Moses Tucker will handle the management and leasing of the complex. For now, the area, which already includes Lost Forty Brewing and Rock Town Distillery, is being billed as East Village.

“Forty years ago, when we built our building at Markham and Spring streets, the area was in need of a major redevelopment effort,” says Dan Fowler, Cromwell’s director of finance and business development. “Our building, along with investments in the Camelot Hotel, Excelsior, Stephens Building and Capital Hotel, created a vibrant district within the core of our city. We hope to do the same east of I-30.”

Cromwell CEO Charley Penix says that the addition of restaurants and apartments to the area could lead to “the new River Market.”

Moses also envisions an area that mixes retail, restaurants and residents, leading to activity 24 hours a day.

“In northwest Arkansas, you have had the Walton family and the Tyson family provide direction and vision,” Moses says. “We don’t have one dominant family here. But we do have a chance to be a great city. What we have to realize is that we’re not finished. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Moses also has turned his attention to the neighborhood where he’s having lunch on this day, which is now being called the Financial Quarter.

Almost 5,000 people work in the high-rise Simmons Tower, Regions Center, Union Plaza, Bank of America Plaza and Stephens Building. A large number of those workers drive into downtown Little Rock five mornings a week, walk from parking garages into their buildings and don’t come out again until walking back to their cars at the end of the day for the drive to places such as Bryant, Conway and Lonoke.

Moses Tucker took a first step with almost $1 million in improvements to the first and second floors of the Regions Center, which it manages.

A volunteer design cooperative known as studioMAIN has worked for more than a year on a plan to revitalize the Financial Quarter, which is bordered by Sixth Street on the south, the Arkansas River on the north, Main Street on the east and Broadway on the west.

Both Jimmy Moses and Rett Tucker describe the neighborhood as “tired” and in need of renovation.

Once lively bank lobbies are now empty as more people do their banking online.

The first phase of a three-part plan for the Financial Quarter will include a so-called pop-up event designed to show what the neighborhood could be, better branding and the addition of street furniture, painted crosswalks, hanging banners and landscaping.

The second phase will involve the redesign of existing plazas and bank lobbies in an effort to draw people out of their offices for dining and shopping opportunities.

The third phase will include plans for building out the Financial Quarter, including the replacement of surface parking lots with high-rise housing projects and adjoining parking decks.

During a meeting of stakeholders last year, Moses recalled how desolate the River Market District once was and told those in attendance that the River Market area started with far fewer assets than the Financial Quarter.

Asked to list three top objectives for Little Rock during the next decade, Moses says:

— “Transforming the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. It needs to be to this city what Vanderbilt University is to Nashville. There’s no reason that UALR can’t be nationally recognized. To be a great city, Little Rock needs a great institution of higher education. Hiring the right person to succeed Joel Anderson as chancellor is critical to the future of this city. We must have someone who understands the role of an urban university and can build on what Joel has done.”

— “Continuing redevelopment of the city’s core. We’re creating a sense of place down here, and it’s important that we don’t lose momentum. Seeing what’s going on downtown has given people a sense of pride in the city. It’s time to accelerate that process.”

— “Building the brand of Little Rock. We need people across the country to recognize Little Rock as a city that’s on the right path. For instance, I like the fact that UALR is now simply branding its athletic teams as Little Rock. UALR has no meaning to people outside of Arkansas. Little Rock, however, means something.”

Moses is convinced that UALR needs a significant presence downtown. He thinks the university should find a way to partner with the Little Rock Technology Park, which is trying to develop a research-technology corridor along Main Street.

“If I were the new chancellor, the first directive I would issue would be that UALR must have a satellite campus downtown and that it must be aligned with the tech park,” Moses says. “Even if the project takes 20 years to complete, it’s important that we do it. We already have the law school, the Clinton School of Public Service and the Arkansas Studies Institute downtown. If we could somehow add more UALR departments to the mix, we could have a real intellectual powerhouse that would attract more young, talented people to live downtown. There are certain things that we simply have to do if we’re going to be great as a city, and this is one of them.”

Moses realizes that a new generation is taking on leadership roles in Little Rock. His son Chris was named the president of Moses Tucker in 2013. Chris Moses graduated from Little Rock Central High School and then received a bachelor’s degree in real estate finance from Arizona State University in 2001. After working for Moses Tucker in Little Rock and for firms in Orange County, Calif., and Atlanta, Chris Moses received his master’s degree in real estate development from Clemson University in 2011. He returned to Moses Tucker after earning the advanced degree.

Despite having his son as president of the company, Jimmy Moses has no plans to slow down.

He told an interviewer in 2014: “I’d like to keep doing this for another 25 years.”

Two years after making that comment, he’s busier than ever.

Post to Twitter

The sportswriter

Friday, March 11th, 2016

The original version of this story ran in Talk Business & Politics magazine.

It has been 30 years, but I vividly remember that interview in 1986.

The student from the University of Missouri was an Arkansas native and had a knack for the written word. He was back in Little Rock during spring break, and he needed a job with a May graduation looming.

The newspaper business was still robust, and we had plenty of applicants in those days at the Arkansas Democrat, where I served as the 26-year-old assistant sports editor. This particular writer’s stories stood out. He clearly had a future in the newspaper business, and I recommended that he be hired. He came on board late that summer, but I didn’t get to work with him. The newspaper’s mercurial managing editor, John Robert Starr, informed me that I would be headed to the East Coast to serve as the Washington correspondent. I spent the next four years living on Capitol Hill, finally returning to Arkansas for good with a wife I had met in the nation’s capital.

The new sportswriter was named Kane Webb, and he flourished at the Democrat. When I was editor of Arkansas Business, I wound up hiring him away from the Arkansas Gazette as the end neared for that newspaper in 1991.

Webb’s long-form writing skills were a major reason that Arkansas Business was named in 1992 as the best business publication in any market of 1 million or fewer people by the Alliance of Area Business Publishers.

Last October, a lot of Arkansans were surprised when Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that a former journalist would replace the beloved Richard Davies as executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism. Davies was retiring after having worked for the department for 42 years, serving under eight governors. Few people lasted longer in state government than Davies. And few people in state government were more popular.

Now, the avuncular Davies was being replaced by former sportswriter Kane Webb.

“I’ve known Kane for almost 20 years, and I’ve gotten to know him especially well since he joined our team,” Hutchinson explained. “He has a deep and abiding passion for Arkansas. He has written about more people, places and events in this state than I can count, and he understands how important parks and tourism are to Arkansans. … He’s an outstanding communicator, and I’m grateful for the work he has done as one of my senior advisers.”

Like Webb, Davies was a journalism major in college. He graduated from the University of Arkansas, served in the U.S. Army and was looking for work. Bill Henderson, who headed the department at the time Davies was hired, also had been a journalism major. Henderson gave Davies a job as a writer.

“That was in the days when Gov. Dale Bumpers had put a lot of money into state parks in places like DeGray and Toltec and the Ozark Folk Center, and those places were just coming online,” Davies said. “So I was writing about what the department was doing, and it became more and more administrative and less and less writing. I ended up over at the state parks division for 14 years and back here for another 25.”

The first state park was established atop Petit Jean Mountain in 1923 after the Legislature authorized the commissioner of state lands to accept land donations for parks. In 1927, the Legislature established a seven-member State Parks Commission that had the power to acquire tax-delinquent lands for parks. That’s what happened in the case of the second state park atop Mount Nebo.

Later legislative changes would occur — a revised Arkansas State Park Commission was established in 1937, the State Forestry and Parks Commission was launched in 1953, the State Publicity and Parks Commission was created in 1955 and the current state Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission was formed in 1969.

The current state Department of Parks and Tourism was created in 1971 during Bumpers’ first year in office.

Webb and I met recently for a burger at a place where we’ve shared stories many times through the years, the venerable Town Pump in the Riverdale area of Little Rock. I had never asked him why he initially wanted to be a sportswriter. This time I did.

“Like every other boy who liked the Razorbacks back in those days, I grew up reading Orville Henry in the Gazette,” Webb said. “I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

He recalls grabbing the Gazette at the family breakfast table in 1976 on the morning when Henry broke the story that Frank Broyles would be retiring as head football coach at the University of Arkansas and devoting all of his time to his job as athletic director.

Webb was born at Hot Springs, where his dad taught English, but he spent most of his formative years in Sherwood. He attended Catholic schools — Good Counsel in Little Rock in the first grade, Immaculate Conception in North Little Rock from the second through the eighth grades and Catholic High School in Little Rock from the ninth grade through graduation. He inherited a love of sports from his father, who would run over to Oaklawn Park during his lunch breaks back in the Hot Springs days and place bets for fellow teachers.

Floyd Webb, the father, also loved baseball. He had been a talented knuckleballer for the famed American Legion team known as the Little Rock Doughboys. The team, which played at Lamar Porter Field and was sponsored by the M.M. Eberts Post of the American Legion, existed from the late 1920s until the 1950s. It was the national American Legion runner-up in 1947, losing to a team from Cincinnati. Floyd Webb came along a few years prior to a Doughboy named Brooks Robinson, who would go on to become a legendary player for the Baltimore Orioles.

Floyd Webb decided that he could make more money for his family selling college textbooks than teaching school. The family lived for a time in Tennessee at Nashville and Memphis before settling in central Arkansas. Kane Webb lived for one year on Little Rock’s Fair Park Boulevard before his family built a home in Sherwood.

In addition to a love of sports, Floyd Webb instilled a love of reading in his son. The teachers at Catholic High also helped inspire him to read and write. Each afternoon after school when there wasn’t a sports practice, Kane Webb could be found at a place called Publisher’s Bookstore, walking the aisles and looking for new books to purchase.

“I went to the counselor’s office at Catholic one day and told him I wanted to be a sportswriter,” Webb said. “I asked him where I should go to college. He said I should go to Missouri. It was that simple. It was the only school to which I applied, and I never set foot on campus until the first day of my freshman year.”

Webb joined the staff of an alternative newspaper on campus as a freshman and began cranking out copy.

He said: “I wrote pretty much every day for the next 30 years.”

Webb remembers his first day of work at the Democrat: Aug. 6, 1986. His first out-of-town assignment was an American Legion baseball tournament at Memphis. He got the final score wrong in his story. He figured that might be the end of his newspaper career, but no one said anything. In those days, as the Little Rock newspaper war was heating up and both newspapers had large amounts of space to fill, just getting out the paper each night was the goal.

“Being in the sports department at the Democrat was kind of like being in a fraternity,” Webb said. “We were young, and most of us didn’t have families to worry about. Friday nights during high school football season were spent drinking beer on the parking lot after we got the city edition out. We would rush to the box in the middle of the night to buy a Gazette and then count to see if we had more high school scores. It was a war, and we thrived on that. I can remember once going straight from the parking lot to the airport to fly to a Razorback football game. I never went to bed. I realize now how lucky I was to come along when newspaper work was still fun.”

In the fall of 1990, Webb was offered a raise from $20,000 a year to $28,500 to jump to the Gazette. He made the switch.

“I was going to get married, and I needed the money,” Webb said. “In hindsight, it was a stupid decision. It was all about the money. By about May 1991, some of us realized the Gazette wasn’t going to survive.”

Webb moved to Arkansas Business shortly before the Gazette closed in October 1991. He married Fran Jansen of Little Rock the following month.

“Going to Arkansas Business was a key point in my career because it got me out of sports and allowed me to write about other things,” Webb said.

We had desks that faced each other at Arkansas Business, where I was the editor, and we didn’t mind working long hours. Those were exciting times, and there seemed to be big stories every week — the Gazette closed, Bill Clinton was running for president, Witt Stephens died, Sam Walton died.

During the early summer of 1992, I was contacted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and asked if I would be interested in filling the new position of political editor and coordinating the coverage of Clinton’s presidential campaign. I accepted the job, and Webb succeeded me as editor of Arkansas Business.

In 1994, Webb interviewed with Paul Greenberg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page editor of the Democrat-Gazette. Greenberg hired Webb as his deputy.

“I knew him, of course, but I had never met him,” Webb said of Greenberg. “It was amazing how much freedom he gave me.”

Webb later lived for a short time in Minneapolis, where his wife’s brother resided, and survived what he called “the worst winter of my life.” He also spent a brief time in New Orleans, one of his favorite cities, writing for the Times-Picayune. The vast majority of his career, though, has been in Arkansas.

At the Democrat-Gazette, Webb spent more than a decade writing daily editorials, a weekly column and features for the Sunday Perspective section, which he edited. By 2009, Webb decided that the newspaper business was no longer fun. His father died in May 2009, and Webb said he “lost my ballast.”

Webb did some freelance writing after leaving the newspaper and also accepted an invitation from his friend Steve Straessle to teach journalism, creative writing, American literature, music survey and religion at Catholic High. By 2010, the Democrat-Gazette was calling again, asking Webb to serve as the editorial director of its special publications — Arkansas Life monthly magazine, Sync Weekly and three zoned editions. He set the editorial direction and tone for publications and supervised a staff of more than two dozen employees.

He especially enjoyed the work on Arkansas Life.

“I once had been told that I was a magazine writer trapped in a newspaper writer’s body,” Webb said. “I was just a duck to water when it came to magazines. I loved every part of it — writing, editing, managing the staff. I wanted Arkansas Life to be for Arkansas what Texas Monthly was for Texas.”

When Webb became concerned that he and the Democrat-Gazette management didn’t share the same vision for the magazine, he accepted an invitation to interview for the job of editor of Louisville magazine. Because of his love of thoroughbred racing, Louisville — the home of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby — was to Webb a bit like Mecca is to a Muslim pilgrim. Webb hit it off with the magazine’s owner, Dan Crutcher.

He said of Crutcher: “Dan told me he bought the magazine because he wanted to be able to write longer stories. How can you not love that? My mother and sister had moved to Bella Vista after my dad died. I needed a change of scenery. I just needed to get out of Arkansas.”

Webb transformed the magazine, winning praise from readers and seeing Louisville nominated for national awards. But his father-in-law died, his mother-in-law was aging and his wife and daughter missed Little Rock. So Webb returned to Arkansas once more in the spring of 2014. He began reworking a novel his father had written under the name of F. Spider Webb in 2005. It’s titled “Pool Halls, Parlors and Pawn Shops” and focuses heavily on thoroughbred racing.

Webb also did freelance writing, wrote a column for the website Sporting Life Arkansas, edited a book on the Kentucky Derby and helped out a couple of public relations firms.

The week before Christmas in 2014, Webb received a text from a number he didn’t recognize. It said: “Do you want a job?”

He asked, “Who is this?”

It was outgoing 2nd District Congressman (and incoming lieutenant governor) Tim Griffin, who informed him that Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson needed a strong writer on his staff. Webb, who had covered several governors as a journalist, was intrigued.

Webb began work Jan. 5, 2015. He and Hutchinson hit it off immediately.

“I was kind of the older guy with gray hair on a relatively young staff,” Webb said. “There was the inauguration, and then we went directly into the legislative session. We were working seven days a week, but I didn’t mind. It was pretty heady stuff for an old sportswriter. During the summer, the governor promoted me to senior adviser, and I began working on projects beyond writing for him. One of those projects was to find a replacement for Richard Davies. We looked outside the state and inside the state.

“I kept going back to something Chuck Magill at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock told me. He said: ‘This is such a peculiar state, and I mean that in a good way. You need someone who knows it well. It would be even better if it were someone who lived somewhere else and then came back to Arkansas.'”

Davies mentioned that Webb himself might be a good fit for the job.

Two interviews that Webb had planned with potential directors were called off, and Webb wrote the governor a memo explaining that he had reached a dead end.

Hutchinson called him in and said, “You’re going to get the job, and I want to announce it right away.”

Webb said the governor “trusted me and knew how much I love Arkansas. I enjoyed my brief time working in the governor’s office. I didn’t mind the hours or the pressure. I’m crazy enough that I want to do it all.”

Webb shadowed Davies for six weeks until Davies’ retirement took effect at the end of November.

Like the reporter he once was, Webb took copious notes on a daily basis.

“It was kind of Richard’s farewell tour as we went to state parks and tourism attractions across the state,” Webb said. “His generous endorsement of me at every stop went a long way in helping me get off to a good start. My first goal is to do no harm because I didn’t inherit an agency that’s broken. Tourism revenue is at an all-time high in our state. I’ve walked into an excellent situation.

“I think we have the best system of state parks in the country, but there’s always room for improvement. For instance, we need to attract more outside investors in our private-sector tourism facilities. We need to convince more people to relocate to Arkansas. We need to have more of a national effort to sell Arkansas to groups such as motorcyclists and mountain bikers. Tourism is no longer the toy department of state government. It’s economic development.”

So how does the writer I first interviewed three decades ago sum up the whirlwind of recent months?

“I’m a lucky man,” Webb said. “I love the fact that old sportswriters are able to do things like this. I like it that I’m the third journalism major to head this department. You know, I’ve always been a sportswriter at heart.”

 

Post to Twitter

The boy from Billstown

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

The rest, as they say, is history.

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

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

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

He had a weekly variety program on CBS by 1969.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post to Twitter

Down in southwest Arkansas

Friday, March 4th, 2016

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

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

The Ouachita Mountains also have a certain cachet.

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

Tom and I both love Arkansas history.

I’m an amateur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post to Twitter