Archive for December, 2018

From Ashdown to De Queen

Friday, December 28th, 2018

THIRD IN A SERIES

We drive around Millwood State Park on this cold, windy day. Except for employees, the park is deserted.

At the southwestern end of the 3.3-mile-long Millwood Dam, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers established the Cypress Slough recreational area soon after the lake opened in 1966. On April 1, 1976, the Corps of Engineers signed a lease agreement with the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism to transform Cypress Slough into Millwood State Park.

The name Millwood comes from a nearby river landing that was used to bring goods into the area from as far away as New Orleans from 1845-75.

We next drive to Yarborough Landing, where several hundred people live in homes near the banks of Millwood Lake. There’s just one pickup truck parked at the boat ramp, and a man who appears to be in his 80s is getting ready to fish for crappie despite the heavy winds and frigid temperatures.

“Are they biting today?” one of my passengers asks.

“They’re always biting,” he says. “You just have to know where they are. And I know where they are.”

As we drive back toward Ashdown, several men are cleaning a deer outside a small meat processing facility.

A old man fishing for crappie. A deer being processed. These things says rural Arkansas to me.

We get back on U.S. Highway 71 and head north toward De Queen. We drive through Wilton, which had 374 residents in the 2010 census.

“Although the city was at one time a candidate for the county seat of Little River County, Wilton’s current condition is exemplified by its four properties on the National Register of Historic Places — a strip of highway, an abandoned store, a railroad depot and a cemetery,” Steven Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

When the residents of Richmond in Little River County told officials from the Texarkana & Northern Railroad that they couldn’t build tracks through the city, a farmer named Sergent Smith Prentiss Mills sold the right of way through his property. A community called Millkin was named in honor of Mills and Paschal Kinsworthy, who also owned land in the area. By the late 1800s, there were three lawyers, two doctors and a pharmacist in Millkin.

In 1892, the name of the depot there was changed from Millkin to Wilton since a major railroad stockholder was from the town of Wilton in England. Wilton was incorporated in 1894. By the turn of the century, there were four blacksmith shops, three livery stables and several stores at Wilton.

“The construction of U.S. Highway 71 brought automobile traffic passing between Texarkana and Fort Smith,” Teske writes. “A celebration marking the opening of a highway bridge near Wilton brought state officials to the city. The celebration featured music, a barbecue and motor boat races on the Little River. … The Wilton School District was consolidated into the Ashdown School District in 1941. Six businesses in the city remained open in 1950, but all of them had closed by 1975.”

We continue north on Highway 71 and cross the Little River just as it enters Millwood Lake. The river begins in the Ouachita Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma and enters Arkansas for the final 92 of its 220 miles. The Little River empties into the Red River near Fulton. Steamboats once made up the river as far as Millwood Landing when the river was high.

“During the territorial period, several saline springs along the Little River were important for the area’s salt industry,” Guy Lancaster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “An 1832 congressional act authorizing Arkansas’ territorial governor to lease salt springs in the territory specifically mentioned a Little River Lick. … Many farmers along the river bottoms grew cotton. The river often overflowed onto lower areas, providing rich farmland. What later became the Kansas City Southern Railroad crossed the Little River in 1895 and opened up the area to large-scale timber harvesting and processing operations. One of the largest of these companies was Dierks Lumber & Coal, which for a while was the largest producer of pine lumber in the South. In 1913, a bridge was built over the Little River at a place called Mills Ferry. This was replaced in April 1935 by a new bridge north of Wilton.”

As soon as we cross the river, we’re in a long stretch of bottoms that are now a part of the Pond Creek National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, which covers almost 28,000 acres, was established in 1994 in the Pond Creek Bottoms. Local residents requested in 1997 that the refuge’s name be changed from its original name of Cossatot National Wildlife Refuge in order to preserve the Pond Creek name. The Cossatot flows into the Little River at this point.

“The bottoms — with an intricate system of drains, natural oxbow lakes, streams and cypress breaks — provide an extremely valuable yet rapidly disappearing wetland hardwood forest community that’s a haven for myriad native wildlife and migratory birds,” a National Wildlife Refuge System history of Pond Creek states. “Migrating and wintering waterfowl use the forested wetlands of the refuge during the fall, winter and spring. The wood duck, the only year-round resident waterfowl species, uses the area heavily for breeding and nesting.

“About 20 species of waterfowl traditionally use the seasonally flooded wetland habitats of the refuge any given year. Neotropical migratory birds use the area as a rest stop during fall and spring migration to replenish energy reserves for the long journey to and from wintering areas in Central America and South America. At least 20 of these species are known to nest on the refuge during the spring and summer months.

“Most of the area is a contiguous forest of bottomland hardwoods, pine mixed with hardwoods and pine plantations. Weyerhaeuser converted about 6,000 acres of hardwoods to pine plantations that were planted from 1970-87. A result of this conversion was a loss of high-quality wildlife habitat that supported important wildlife species indigenous to bottomland hardwoods. A priority management objective is to convert these plantations to native hardwoods.”

The exit from the bottoms is rather dramatic as we begin to climb into the hills that will mark the rest of this journey. We pass by the turn to Ben Lomond and go through the community of Falls Chapel.

“The site of Ben Lomond remained unclaimed until the middle of the 19th century when settlers from Scotland — including Wiley and Mary McElroy and James Willson — arrived and named the hill location for a famous Scottish mountain,” Teske writes. “In the years following the Civil War, more settlers came to southern Sevier County. Ben Lomond grew into one of the more important towns in the county, rivaling Paraclifta and Lockesburg in significance. In 1868, the oldest continuous post office in the county — known as Pine Woods from 1833-46 and then renamed Brownstown — was moved to Ben Lomond. The town became an agricultural center, especially for cotton farmers. In some years, Choctaw would come from the west to work in the cotton fields during the harvest season. …  A Masonic lodge was built, and a two-story schoolhouse served as many as 50 students.

“The timber industry developed in the area during the 1880s. Lumber workers harvested pine, oak, cypress, hickory, ash and cedar trees. Trapping animals for their fur was also profitable. Some farmers invested in cattle and hogs as well as cotton.”

We’ve been in Sevier County since crossing the Little River. The county was created by the Arkansas Territorial Legislature in October 1828. It included parts of what are now Little River, Miller, Howard and Polk counties.

“Joseph McKean and his wife Lucy arrived in 1833 on a steamboat that traveled up the Red River,” writes Billy Ray McKelvy, a longtime Arkansas newspaperman and the current De Queen mayor. “McKean was elected as Sevier County’s representative to the first state constitutional convention in 1836 and served two terms in the Arkansas Senate. He was the first postmaster of Ultima Thule, a settlement on the east side of the present Arkansas-Oklahoma border. As a government agent, he provided supplies for the Indians during removal. Other early settlements around the county included Brownstown, Dilworth, Red Colony, Norwoodville, Falls Chapel, Ben Lomond and Walnut Springs.

“On Oct. 22, 1828, the Arkansas Territorial Legislature designated the county seat in the home of Joseph English. Five appointed commissioners located the seat of justice at a spot about one mile east of the Cossatot River. The site was called Paraclifta, reputedly in honor of a Choctaw Indian chief who intervened to resolve a dispute between some Indians and white men over a horse. The first courthouse was a log building on a public square. The Territorial Legislature made Paraclifta the permanent seat of justice in 1831. Maintenance of the courthouse and jail occupied much of the early county government’s attention.”

The poultry industry began to grow in the area by the 1920s. Giant companies such as Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride later moved in. Sevier County was producing almost 50 million broilers annually by 2005.

The poultry plants brought Hispanic immigration. By the 2010 census, almost 30 percent of the county’s population was Hispanic. The timber industry also remains important with about 70 percent of the land area covered in timber.

We pass through Lockesburg. Though it had a population of just 739 people in the 2010 census, it served as the Sevier County seat for almost 36 years.

“The city lost much of its importance when it was bypassed by the railroad in the late 19th century and also when it lost its status as the county seat in the early 20th century,” Mike Polston writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “When Sevier County was created in 1828, the centrally located settlement of Paraclifta was designated as the county seat. In 1867, when an area of Sevier County was carved away to become part of newly created Little River County, Paraclifta was no longer centrally located. Discussions began about the possibility of relocating the county seat. The Locke brothers — James, William and Matthew — offered 120 acres of land, and Royal Appleton offered 60 acres for the site of a new county seat. On Jan. 18, 1869, a petition to relocate the seat of government to Lockesburg was accepted by the county court.

“In October 1869, the county board of commissioners contracted with A.M. Hawkins & Brothers to construct a two-story brick courthouse and jail at a cost of $12,400. The contract ultimately cost twice that amount. The first session of the county court was held in the new building in March 1871. Poor construction resulted in a new jail being built in 1884. It burned in 1887, and a third structure was built. Though the city wasn’t incorporated until Nov. 7, 1878, it saw significant growth in the early 1870s. William Locke, as the first elected mayor, led that early development. Many people moved from Paraclifta, with some of its buildings dismantled and moved to Lockesburg. A post office was established on May 3, 1870, with Matthew Locke as postmaster.”

By the 1890 census, there were three general stores, three blacksmith shops, a shoe shop, a drugstore, three doctors and a hotel at Lockesburg.

“A major blow to the city’s importance occurred in 1905 when the county quorum court voted to build a new courthouse,” Polston writes. “Almost immediately, De Queen residents began a campaign to relocate the seat of government to their city by offering $10,000 for the new courthouse. Later that year, a special election was held, and Lockesburg suffered the same fate as Paraclifta had years before.”

The Lockesburg School District was consolidated into the De Queen School District in 2005, and the high school campus there closed in 2010.

Much of the fate of modern Sevier County was determined by the aforementioned railroads, the poultry industry and what became Dierks Forests Inc.

Dierks Forests had holdings of 1.75 million acres by the time it was sold to Weyerhaeuser in 1969.

German immigrant Peter Henry Dierks became a successful businessmen in eastern Iowa. His sons Hans and John joined another partner to develop a retail business with seven western Iowa locations. In 1895, four Dierks brothers incorporated Dierks Lumber & Coal and moved the headquarters from Iowa to Lincoln, Neb.

“In 1896, the company moved its headquarters to Kansas City due to that city’s position as a new railway hub that brought lumber from Arkansas and Texas,” Nancy Hendricks writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “In February 1900, the Dierks company purchased the Williamson Brothers mill in De Queen. Moving to De Queen to manage that operation, Herman Dierks became closely associated with Arkansas, going on to purchase large tracts of timberland in the southwestern part of the state. … Other Dierks family members joined the business, which included managing company ventures in Arkansas and Oklahoma. When the Dierks family established a logging camp along the De Queen & Eastern Railroad in the early 1900s, the name of Hardscrabble was changed to Dierks. The mill at De Queen burned in 1909 and was replaced in 1918 by operations in the company town of Dierks in Howard County.”

In 1925, the company bought an additional 88,000 acres of timberland in the Ouachita Mountains. A large mill opened at Mountain Pine in Garland County in 1928.

“By 1930, most of the company retail lumber yards in Nebraska were closed, but in Arkansas and Oklahoma the company was operating five lumber mills and two rail systems,” Hendricks writes. “The company had purchased more than 1.25 million acres of land and in the 1920s implemented some of the first forestry conservation policies in the South. In 1954, Dierks Lumber & Coal changed its name to Dierks Forests Inc. The company diversified, opening box factories and a paper mill, and producing pressure-treated wood products, fiberboard, grocery bags, window frames and gypsum wallboard.”

The company’s headquarters moved from Kansas City to Hot Springs in 1956.

It’s past noon by the time we enter De Queen as part of our trip north on Highway 71. We head downtown for lunch at Stilwell’s.

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From Texarkana to Ashdown

Wednesday, December 26th, 2018

SECOND IN A SERIES

Breakfast is at Johnny B’s in downtown Texarkana on this second day of the road trip.

After our pancakes and eggs, we take the obligatory photos while straddling the state line at the U.S. post office and federal building downtown. It’s cold and windy, so we don’t waste much time.

We head north on State Line Avenue and leave town on U.S. Highway 71. We’re briefly in Texas with its higher speed limit (those Texans love to drive fast) before crossing back into Arkansas after crossing the Red River.

The Red River begins in the Texas Panhandle and forms the border between Oklahoma and Texas during part of its 1,290-mile route. At this point, it forms the border between Arkansas and Texas (Oklahoma is just a few miles to the west).

The river continues flowing east from here to Fulton, where it suddenly turns to the south and flows through southwest Arkansas and into Louisiana.

The French established trading posts along the Red River in the 1700s.

“Until the late 19th century, the Red River’s utility as a transportation corridor between the Mississippi River and points west of present-day Shreveport was impeded by the Great Raft (or Red River Raft), an enormous logjam that clogged the lower part of the river,” Guy Lancaster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “It extended to more than 130 miles at one point. The raft likely existed for hundreds of years. It was so old that, according to some sources, it actually became a part of Caddo mythology.

“In 1828, Congress set aside $25,000 for the raft’s removal, and Capt. Henry Miller Shreve, then serving as the superintendent of Western river improvement, was assigned the task of clearing the raft in 1832. In 1838, he completed the task, though it re-formed farther up the river soon thereafter and eventually extended to the Arkansas border. Congress hesitated in setting aside more money for the clearance project with many members feeling it to be a lost cause.”

The part of the raft that had re-formed was removed in 1873. Dams were placed along Red River tributaries to keep the raft from forming again.

“Despite the eventual clearing of the river, no major towns in Arkansas were established upon the Red, though Texarkana, Hope and Lewisville all lie at a few miles’ remove,” Lancaster writes. “Until 1900, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers straightened the channel of the river with the result that steamboat traffic increased as boats were able to transport goods from the mouth of the Mississippi River through Arkansas and into Texas and Oklahoma and back again. The river was navigable all year to Garland in Miller County where the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railway (Cotton Belt) crossed the river. The railroad — as well as the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway, which crossed the River River at Fulton — provided stiff competition for steamboats, soon replacing them entirely.”

We’ve entered Little River County, which the Legislature carved out of parts of Hempstead and Sevier counties in 1867.

“The land in and around Little River County is rich and fertile,” Martha Trusley writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “It contains an abundance of lime formations in some areas near White Cliffs, Okay and Foreman. Because of the available limestone, the Western Portland Cement Co. once thrived at White Cliffs, though now only its ruins exist. Much later, because of the limestone running through Little River County, Sevier County and Hempstead County, Ideal Cement Co. was built at Okay. It made quality cement for years but was later sold to a German company that did not want to make the costly repairs that were needed.

“At the same time that Ideal Cement Co. was operating full scale, Foreman Cement Co., owned by Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co., was producing an abundance of quality cement. Eventually Foreman Cement became the leading producer of cement in the southwest region of Arkansas. It is still a thriving plant owned by Ash Grove Cement Co.”

Members of the Caddo tribe had moved out of this area by 1778 as white settlers began to move in.

“The first town to be plotted was Laynesport in 1836 on land donated for development by Benjamin Layne,” Trusley writes. “By 1845, Willow Springs, later renamed Rocky Comfort, began to flourish in the western part of the county. By 1854, the community of Richmond had begun to thrive. … After the legal establishment of Little River County in 1867, the first courthouse and jail in the county were located near the area that’s now known as Alleene on land owned by the first sheriff, William M. Freeman. In 1868, Gov. Powell Clayton had all county records moved to Rocky Comfort.

“In 1880, the citizens of Richmond built a new courthouse. The property on which the courthouse was built was deeded to the county on the condition that Richmond would remain the county seat. After this courthouse burned, citizens of Richmond built another courthouse at no cost to the county because they wanted to keep the county seat in Richmond. In 1902, the county seat was moved from Richmond to Foreman, formerly called Rocky Comfort. Foreman and Ashdown later competed for the county seat. When an election was held in 1906, Ashdown won the most votes to become the new county seat. After this election, records were moved from Foreman to a vacant building known as the Mizell Building. A new courthouse was constructed in Ashdown in 1907.”

We make our way through Ogden, which had just 180 residents in the 2010 census.

A century ago, Ogden had a number of businesses that served those who lived on cotton farms in the area.

“M.W. Bates arrived around 1878 and named the settlement Ogden, which was the maiden name of his second wife,” Steven Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Bates, who served as Little River County judge from 1884-88, owned the first cotton gin, first sawmill and first store built in the community. His son-in-law, R.L. Bright, was the first doctor in Ogden. A school with seven students was established in the Methodist church, which was organized in 1892. A post office had opened the previous year.”

The population of Little River County began to increase as the railroads entered the area. The first railroad entered the county in 1889. The Arkansas & Choctaw Railroad had made it to Ashdown by 1895, and the Texas & Fort Smith Railroad brought additional settlers.

“Cotton was the leading crop, and most of the early communities had cotton gins,” Trusley writes. “Corn was the second-largest crop, but later the timber industry would become the leading industry in the county. Many of the small settlements in Little River County were located near sawmills, cotton gins or rivers. … The presence of the Kansas City Southern Railroad, the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad and the Memphis, Dallas & Gulf Railroad caused the county to grow rapidly. Before the construction of railroads, the rivers were used to transport goods by way of ferries, steamboats and flatboats. Passenger trains began operating in the county in the late 1890s. After the emergence of railroads, electrical and telephone services became available to parts of the county by 1912, and natural gas came to Ashdown in 1930.”

The construction of what’s now Highway 71 had an even bigger effect on the county than the railroads.

Teske writes: “In 1915, the Arkansas General Assembly passed the Alexander Road Improvement Act. Ogden was one of the first communities in the state to benefit. According to the Third Biennial Report of the Department of State Lands, Highways and Improvements: ‘The first permanent road built under the Alexander law was the road from Ashdown to Ogden and Richmond in Little River County. It is about 15 miles long and cost about $60,000.’ The road eventually would become U.S. Highway 71. Increased traffic meant increased business, and Ogden grew large enough to seek incorporation in 1920. … The highway through Ogden was paved in 1940. It continued to endure heavy use for the next 30 years until a bypass to the east of the city was created about 1970. The old highway through town continues to be used for local traffic. In 2013, the road was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a well-preserved stretch of concrete highway built in the 1940s.”

We head north to Ashdown and pass the paper mill that led to growth here in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

“The development of Millwood Lake in 1966 was a major boost to Ashdown’s industrial growth,” Trusley writes. “The Nekoosa paper mill was built at Ashdown in 1968. … The mill was sold to Georgia-Pacific in 1991 and sold again to Domtar in 2001. Ashdown is known for its timber industry, and Domtar is a major employer.”

Ashdown first was known as Turkey Flats and then Keller. It was incorporated as Ashdown in June 1892. The town was named by Lawrence Alexander Byrne, who owned sawmills in the area. When his mill at Keller burned, he said that though it was reduced to ashes, he would help grow a town there and call it Ashdown.

We spend about an hour at the Two Rivers Museum in downtown Ashdown. It’s at the intersection of Main Street and Highway 71. The museum was created in 2005 by the Little River County Historical Society.

The museum is in the Bishop Building, which was built in 1908. The building once housed a pharmacy and later an antiques store. A mural depicts the Little River County Courthouse, the lumber industry, cotton fields and a train. One exhibit in the museum honors Henry Kaufman, an immigrant of German-Jewish descent who founded Kaufman Seeds at Ashdown.

After visiting the museum, we take a side trip to Millwood Lake.

The construction of Millwood Dam by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took place from 1961-66 at a cost of $46.1 million. The dam is on the Little River and was designed to control flooding downstream along the Red River. The earthen dam is 3.3 miles long. The lake it created is in parts of four counties — Little River, Howard, Hempstead and Sevier.

“Millwood Dam was made possible by the federal Flood Control Act of 1946, though opposition within the state and from neighboring states delayed the project,” Lancaster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Within Arkansas, Dierks Forests Inc. faced the loss of 6,465 acres of land in an area that would become the reservoir. Ideal Cement Co. of Okay initially objected on the basis of its quarries potentially being flooded. A Corps of Engineers proposal to build a $2.5 million levee with pumps to protect the plant, along with plans to relocate a railway servicing the plant, allayed the resistance of the latter. However, the Little River Valley Improvement Association maintained its objections, especially the point that the dam would be sited in profitable bottomland, used for both farming and lumber rather than hillier areas upstream, and that it would leave too little free-flowing water for the development of industry in the area. The governments of Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma argued about who had the right to dam the tributaries of the Red River. The government of Louisiana expressed concern that Millwood Dam would hinder a navigation project on the lower Red River.”

Congressman Oren Harris broke the deadlock during a 1956 meeting of the Red River Valley Association.

Harris, who was born in rural Hempstead County in 1903 and graduated from what’s now Henderson State University at Arkadelphia in 1929, picked peaches and played semi-professional baseball to pay for college. He received his law degree from the Cumberland Law School in Tennessee in 1930 and practiced law at El Dorado before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1940. Harris served in Congress for almost 25 years before being appointed by President Lyndon Johnson as a federal judge in 1965. Harris died in February 1997 at age 93.

“Harris presented a plan whereby the proposed dam was reduced in size by 25 percent and redesigned to provide a stable water supply as well as flood control,” Lancaster writes. “A provision was made for the construction of smaller dams elsewhere in the Little River basin — three in Oklahoma and three in Arkansas — making Millwood Dam the centerpiece of a seven-dam system. The compromise was accepted and written into the Flood Control Act of 1958.”

Construction began in September 1961. The dam was dedicated in December 1966. The lake covers 29,200 acres. Timber was left standing in much of the reservoir, which made it one of the hottest fishing lakes in the country in its early years.

“Millwood Lake provides drinking water to a number of nearby communities, including Texarkana,” Lancaster writes. “Companies such as Domtar use water from the lake for their operations.”

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Heading up U.S. Highway 71

Friday, December 21st, 2018

FIRST IN A SERIES

The goal is to spend two days exploring west Arkansas as we drive north on U.S. Highway 71 from Texarkana to Fort Smith.

It’s pouring rain as I pull into Texarkana. I’m accompanied by Paul Austin, who recently retired as head of the Arkansas Humanities Council, and David Stricklin of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. These are the same two people who accompanied me a year earlier when we took Arkansas Highway 7 from the Louisiana border to where it ends on the shores of Bull Shoals Lake near the Missouri line.

We check into our hotel on the Arkansas side of the state line and then head to one of my favorite restaurants in Arkansas, the Cattleman’s Steak House. Yes, it’s in Arkansas — barely. It sits on the Arkansas side of State Line Avenue.

When Roy Oliver opened the restaurant more than 50 years ago, State Line was a two-lane road. The restaurant was surrounded by woods. The road is much wider now and the woods are gone, but this place is like stepping back in time. That’s why I like it. It looks like a steak house should look with heavy wood paneling, green chairs and a red carpet.

As far as I know, it’s also the only restaurant in the state where you can order calf fries and turkey fries as an appetizer. If you have to ask what they are, don’t bother ordering them. Paul, David and I get them, of course.

You can also order a quail here on the side with your steak. Like I said, it’s truly old school.

I grew up about halfway between Little Rock and Texarkana. We usually went to Little Rock when we wanted to visit the “big city,” but my parents occasionally took me to Texarkana as a change of pace.

Downtown Texarkana was hopping in those days. Lunch was always at Bryce’s Cafeteria when it was still downtown.

I write a lot about places in Arkansas that are revitalizing their downtowns. There are some efforts along those lines at Texarkana, but it has a long way to go.

There’s potential here — Union Station, the former Grim Hotel, etc.

“Interstate 30 was completed through the area in the early 1960s, and it was a double-edged sword,” Beverly Rowe writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “It brought many new businesses because of increased traffic and more efficient transportation of products to market. On the other hand, it took business away from Texarkana’s downtown. … Since 1968, downtown buildings in Texarkana have deteriorated and businesses have closed. Perhaps the most vibrant businesses are the jails, law offices and bail bondsmen’s shops.

“Smaller towns in Miller County such as Doddridge, Fouke, Garland and Genoa have continued to shrink while Texarkana’s city limits are pushing out on all sides. … Interstate 30 also negatively affected passenger railroad traffic. In past decades, as many as nine railway companies served the area, using Texarkana’s Union Depot as the main station. Today, freight trains provide most of the traffic.”

Union Station was built in 1928-29 by the Union Station Trust, a joint effort of the Missouri Pacific, Cotton Belt, Kansas City Southern and Texas & Pacific railroads. E.M. Tucker, the chief Missouri Pacific architect, used the same style he had used in rebuilding the Little Rock depot following a 1921 fire.

A formal dedication ceremony was held on May 12, 1930. The building straddles the state line with entrances and exits in both states. The station, which needs a lot of work, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.

Another landmark downtown is the U.S. post office and federal building, which also straddles the state line. It serves as a courthouse for the Western District of Arkansas and the Eastern District of Texas. The structure was built in 1933 and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2000. The first courthouse at this location served Arkansas and Texas from 1892 until 1911. A courthouse entirely in Texas was built at that point. The Western District of Arkansas continued to use the building on the border until it was torn down in 1930.

The current structure features a base of Texas pink granite and walls of Arkansas limestone.

For years, the Hotel Grim (one of my favorite business names; it’s right up there with the old Gross Mortuary at Hot Springs) housed many of those coming in and out of Texarkana by train.

After spending the night in Texarkana, I picked up a copy of the Texarkana Gazette and was greeted by this headline on the front page: “Hotel Grim developer expects a spring start: Sale expected to close in February.”

Tom Anderson, the managing director of the Cohen-Esrey Development Group, told the newspaper that the project will convert the hotel’s upper floors into more than 90 apartments. Cohen-Esrey will be the general contractor and the building’s property manager. Developer Jim Sari brought on Cohen-Esrey as a partner this summer.

According to the news story: “Certain areas of the building have been identified as having high historical significance and will be restored to their original condition as much as possible. They include the hotel’s lobby, Palm Room ballroom and roof garden. Restoring and relighting the large Hotel Grim sign on the top of the building is also in the budget. … Sari floated several different start times for the project in recent years — at one point, renovations were forecast to be completed by the end of 2018 — only for those dates to come and go without work beginning. But Cohen-Esrey’s involvement seems to have jump-started the process.”

The hotel, which opened in 1925, was named after William Rhoads Grim. He was a banking, timber and railroad magnate.

“Construction cost almost $1 million, and the 250-room hotel was luxuriously appointed in marble and other elegant decor,” the newspaper reported. “The hotel served the many train passengers who in the course of their travels spent a night or longer in Texarkana. Through the years, many Texarkanians visited the Palm Room and roof garden — popular venues for special events — as well as the beauty parlor, barbershop, coffee shop and bookstore that were there.

“A restaurant called Sue and Carol’s Kitchen was the most recent resident of the hotel, which closed in 1990. Since then, only homeless squatters and a group of feral cats have occupied the crumbling building, now widely considered an eyesore.”

Texarkana was a product of the railroads. The Cairo & Fulton Railroad completed its tracks to the Texas border in 1873. The site for a town was established on Dec. 8, 1873, at the point where those tracks met the Texas & Pacific Railroad tracks.

“There’s evidence that the city’s name existed before the city,” Nancy Hendricks writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Some say that as early as 1860, it was used by the steamboat Texarkana, which traveled the Red River. Others say a supposed medicinal drink called Texarkana Bitters was sold in 1869 by a man named Swindle who ran a general store in Bossier Parish in Louisiana. The most popular version credits a railroad surveyor, Col. Gus Knobel, who was surveying the right of way from Little Rock to southwest Arkansas for the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad in the late 1860s. Knobel later became chief engineer for the Texarkana & Northern Railroad. When Knobel came to the state line between Arkansas and Texas — and believing he was also at or near the Louisiana border — he reportedly wrote the words TEX-ARK-ANA on a board and nailed it to a tree with the statement that ‘this is the name of a town which is to be built here.'”

A meeting was held in December 1873 to formally organize a town on the Texas side. That town was granted a charter in June 1874.

“In 1880, 21 citizens met and petitioned to incorporate Texarkana, Ark.,” Hendricks writes. “Public sentiment was divided. An opposing group gathered 15 names of citizens who opposed organizing a government on the Arkansas side. Texarkana, Ark., was granted a charter on Aug. 10, 1880.”

By 1890, there were more people living on the Arkansas side (3,528) than the Texas side (2,852). The Miller County Courthouse was built at Texarkana in 1893. It was torn down in 1939 to make way for the current courthouse.

“Both cities grew throughout the 1890s, installing streetcar lines, gas works, an electric light plant, an ice factory and sewer lines,” Hendricks writes. “At the time, four newspapers served Texarkana.”

In a history of his family for the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter E. Hussman Jr. wrote: “In 1909, my grandfather, Clyde Eber Palmer, was taking a train from Fort Worth to Florida with his new bride. They got off the train in Texarkana, Ark., to spend the night and while they were there, they decided they liked the town and decided to stay. My grandfather paid $900 for one of several newspapers in Texarkana at the time, the Texarkana Courier, which he renamed the Four States Press. He eventually prevailed against other competitors in the Texarkana market, and he ended up as publisher of the Texarkana Gazette.”

Palmer’s daughter Betty was born at Texarkana in 1911. She attended college at the University of Missouri, where she met Walter E. Hussman Sr. The couple married in 1931. After selling insurance for a time, Hussman Sr. went to work for his father-in-law in the newspaper business. After working in Texarkana for several years, he moved to Hot Springs to serve as publisher of the newspaper there.

By the early 1900s, the Texas side was growing faster than the Arkansas side. Growth on both sides of the line slowed during the Great Depression.

“The city’s economy rebounded with the coming of World War II in the 1940s, primarily because of the creation of the Red River Army Depot and the Lone Star Ammunition Plant,” Hendricks writes. “Along with being an important junction of railroad lines, Texarkana built a strong economy based on timber and minerals such as rockwool (an inorganic substance used for insulation and filtering).”

Sand and gravel were mined in area streams. Cotton, soybeans, rice, corn and pecan trees thrived in the Red River bottoms. With the ability to draw customers from four states (Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma), Texarkana became a regional retail and entertainment center. It also attracted distribution and logistics jobs.

Texarkana had more than 40,000 residents by 1952 with almost 16,000 of those living on the Arkansas side. The Arkansas side reached 20,000 population shortly after the 1960 census. In the 2010 census, the Arkansas side had 29,919 residents.

Texarkana is the county seat of Miller County, which the Arkansas Territorial Legislature created on April 1, 1820. The county was named for a territorial governor, New Hampshire native James Miller.

“At the time, it included most of present-day Miller County and parts of Bowie, Cass, Delta, Fannin, Franklin, Hopkins, Hunt, Lamar, Morris, Red River and Titus counties in Texas,” Rowe writes. “Miller County was part of the disputed Horse’s Head area of northeast Texas and southwest Arkansas, too far north for Mexico to control well and too far west for the United States to control well. While it was technically under Mexican jurisdiction, it truly wasn’t under any country’s control. … The county’s establishment was problematic because Mexico claimed much of east Texas.

“Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836, and the first Miller County was abolished two years later. Gov. James Conway said the easiest solution would be to abolish the county and remove its records to a ‘more patriotic’ area — that is, the United States. Until 1874, area settlers found themselves included in Lafayette County.”

Miller County was re-established in 1874 with Texarkana as the county seat.

“From 1874 until 1900, the county’s population boomed, mainly in response to the railroad and the influx of immigrants and settlers,” Rowe writes. “By 1900, the population was 17,558, but it remained a predominantly rural county. It had 1,967 farms in 1900.”

Those of a certain age remember Texarkana for a series of murders in which five people were killed and several others were injured from February until May in 1946.

“Newspapers dubbed them the Texarkana Moonlight Murders,” Hendricks writes. “The victims were couples parked on back roads and lovers’ lanes around town. The only description of the killer was that he wore a plain pillowcase over his head with eyeholes cut out. The case was never solved, and the killing spree ended as suddenly as it began. Three decades after the crime, the murders inspired the 1977 movie ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown.’ It was directed by Charles B. Pierce of Hampton.”

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Good times in West Memphis

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

SEVENTH IN A SERIES

The good news keeps coming for West Memphis.

In November, Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment that will allow four full-fledged casinos across the state. One of those casinos will be at Southland Park Gaming & Racing in West Memphis.

Officials at Delaware North, Southland’s nationally known and well-financed parent company, say they will build a $200 million hotel and convention center. A Delaware North official has called it “a priority of the company to get it up and going.”

West Memphis once had the reputation of being the place where residents of Memphis and the Delta came to play. At a time when the Bluff City had a curfew, dozens of bars, juke joints and technically illegal but wide-open gambling establishments flourished 24 hours a day on the Arkansas side of the river.

Greyhound racing began in Crittenden County in 1935. Southland Park has been at the same location since 1956. The dogs first raced at the Riverside Kennel Club, which was at the Arkansas end of the bridge crossing the Mississippi River. When Southland was established in the 1950s, it was the only legal gambling venue in the Mid-South. It drew patrons from Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri and even western Kentucky and southern Illinois. Delaware North bought the track in the 1970s.

“At its high point, Southland was said to be the top dog track in the country,” Nancy Hendricks writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “Through the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s, a typical Saturday night at Southland might see the parking lots full with 20,000 people in attendance. Annual wagers on the greyhound races at the time generally exceeded $200 million, and more than 600 people were employed at Southland. All that changed in 1992.”

That’s when casino gambling came to nearby Tunica County in Mississippi.

“Southland fell on hard times with daily attendance ebbing to about 500,” Hendricks writes. “Its annual revenues dropped from $200 million in the 1980s to less than $35 million in the 1990s. More than half of its employees lost their jobs.”

Southland was on the verge of closing when the Arkansas Legislature voted in 2005 to allow what it called “games of skill” at Southland and at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. Thanks to those electronic games, a $40 million facility was being built at the dog track by late 2006. It included a 55,000-square-foot gaming room, a 400-seat event center and additional restaurants.

The next big thing to happen at Southland was the Mississippi River flood of 2011. It caused the Tunica casinos to close for weeks. Memphis residents began crossing the bridge to Southland instead, and business has been booming ever since.

Additional renovations followed. Delaware North has now invested more than $100 million since 2006. There are about 765 employees.

Southland soon will be able to add dealers, big-name entertainment, a sports book, a luxury hotel, additional restaurants and more to the mix. That should take the employment level past 1,000. Regardless of what one thinks about casino gambling, it seems destined to help the West Memphis economy.

The other good news at West Memphis concerns health care. Construction has been completed on Baptist Memorial Hospital-Crittenden County. The $43 million facility has 115 employees.

West Memphis had been without a hospital since Crittenden Regional Hospital closed in August 2014. The new hospital will have 65,000 square feet of patient rooms, operating suites and more. Crittenden County voters approved a 1-cent sales tax in 2016 to pay for the facility. Baptist Memorial Health Care, which also operates a medical center at Jonesboro, has a 10-year lease with a 10-year renewal option.

West Memphis has long lived in the shadow of Memphis. The first river bridge for a railroad opened in May 1892. The Harahan Bridge, which still stands, opened in 1916 for rail traffic. Two narrow automobile lanes were added in 1917 and a toll was charged.

Floods and the construction of levees brought an end to the first West Memphis, which was on the banks of the river. The second West Memphis developed near the intersection of three railroad lines that served the timber industry.

“During the summer of 1862, Memphis fell into the hands of Union forces,” writes historian Rachel Patton. “Most Confederate soldiers were ferried across the river to Hopefield and surrounding farms. Many of these soldiers were moved to other locations, but some remained to harass the Union forces at Memphis and disrupt river traffic. This became such a problem that on Feb. 19, 1863, four companies of Union forces burned Hopefield to the ground. The town of Hopefield was rebuilt after the war but never regained the prominence it once held in Crittenden County.

“In 1871, the Memphis & Little Rock Railroad was completed, aiding Hopefield’s economic recovery. Hopefield was eventually destroyed by floodwaters in 1912 when the Mississippi River changed course. Today the supporting piers of the Interstate 40 bridge rest atop the old location of Hopefield.”

The Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad was completed in 1883 through northeast Arkansas to the Mississippi River south of Hopefield. The railroad built a depot, roundhouse and terminal yard at the ferry landing. A sidewheeler known as the Charles Merriam then transported railcars to the Tennessee side of the river.

“A settlement known as Garvey grew near the ferry landing,” Patton writes. “By 1885, the village had more than 200 residents as well as a grain elevator, hotel and two sawmills. Gen. George H. Nettleton, chief executive officer of the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad, changed the name of the settlement to West Memphis in order to bring a higher price for lumber. … Floods and the construction of levees brought an end to the first West Memphis, which was built right on the river.”

Michigan native George Kendal and William Johnson of Memphis platted the second West Memphis in 1912. The area consisted at the time of thick canebrakes and swamps. One surveyor reported seeing a black bear at what’s now the corner of Eighth and Broadway.

Zack Bragg moved to West Memphis in 1904 and opened a large sawmill. In 1914, P.T. Bolz of St. Louis opened the Bolz Slack Barrel Cooperage Plant.

It was the importance of the automobile, however, that truly spurred growth in West Memphis.

“Before the Harahan Bridge was built, most vehicles had to ferry across the Mississippi River,” Charlotte Wicks writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The Harahan Bridge was damaged by fire in 1928, and it reopened after 18 months of repairs. In 1927, West Memphis was incorporated. The first mayor was Zach Bragg. … In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Eighth Street was often called Beale Street West, reflecting a music and nightlife scene to equal that in Memphis.

“Some places in West Memphis have been associated with famous entertainers. The Square Deal Cafe, which was often referred to as Miss Annie’s on South 16th Street, was where B.B. King began his public entertaining. … Other popular nightspots along Broadway were the Willowdale Inn, the Cotton Club and the supper club known as the Plantation Inn.”

The population of West Memphis increased from 895 people in 1930 to more than 9,000 residents by 1950.

The 1938 Sanborn Fire Insurance map showed that West Memphis had four lumber companies, four cottonseed oil companies, three cotton gins, a cotton compress, a feed mill, a distillery and an ice plant.

Before the construction of Interstates 40 and 55, Broadway (which doubled as U.S. Highway 70) had an abundance of tourist courts, hotels and restaurants. Thanks to voters statewide, West Memphis again appears primed to be the place where the Mid-South comes to play.

Those driving down Broadway these days can see buildings built during the boom period from the 1930s through the 1950s.

Fred and Zell Jaynes built the 1,025-seat Joy Theater at the southeast corner of West Broadway and Rhodes where a Sonic now stands. In 1953, it was leased by Malco and renamed the Avon. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, theaters such as this one were hosting burlesque shows and prize fights that were banned in Memphis.

“The city’s rapid population increase in the 1930s created a demand for better municipal services and led to the construction of a city administration building that would house the city hall, fire station and jail,” Patton writes. “Prior to 1938, city council meetings were held in various local businesses, and fire protection was weak at best. In 1930, West Memphis still relied on Memphis for its fire protection, and by 1938 there was one fire truck in West Memphis with a part-time crew. City Hall was built during the Great Depression when President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs were distributing mass amounts of federal aid to put people to work on projects that would benefit the general public and stimulate the local economy. The June 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act established the Public Works Administration.

“The PWA initially approved a $16,500 loan and a $13,500 grant for the West Memphis City Hall project and later approved another $14,000 grant. A city ordinance was passed to issue bonds for the remaining construction costs. R.D. Eberdt was the architect and engineer for the project. Construction began on July 29, 1938, with a crew of 50 people. The building was completed on June 13, 1939, and officially opened on July 18, 1939. The jail for ready to be occupied in August.”

A new City Hall was built in 1975 at 205 S. Redding Street. The old building is now known as the O.I. Bollinger Building in honor of a 33-year city council member. It houses the municipal court.

“Highway 70 in West Memphis had started off in about 1917 as a two-lane dirt road,” Patton writes. “It was graveled in 1918-19 and paved in 1926. Because Highway 70 stretched from North Carolina to California, it was called the Broadway of America. U.S. Highway 61 (Missouri Street) was also cleared in 1917. It was graveled in 1921 and paved in 1922. Both roads have gradually gone from two- to four-lane roads. In 1936, West Memphis adopted the street names Broadway and Missouri.

“Missouri Street serves as the dividing line between West Broadway and East Broadway. West Broadway was sparsely developed before 1950. In fact, a man named James Thomas was living in a houseboat moored in a drainage ditch on the north side of Broadway just west of Missouri Street as late as 1919. Sanborn maps from 1949 only show West Broadway as far as Redding.”

The Wonder City Cafe opened on Broadway in 1937 and became a popular stop for those traveling along Highway 70. Bill Abernathy purchased the restaurant in 1960, and it later became the Wonder City Cafeteria. It was destroyed by fire in the early 1970s.

KWEM radio went on the air in West Memphis in 1947 with studios on Broadway.

“In 1948, Chester Arthur Burnett, better known as Howlin’ Wolf, moved to West Memphis and worked in a local factory,” Patton writes. “But he was really drawn by the city’s blues clubs. He played the clubs at night and had his own show on KWEM. His radio show caught the attention of record producer Sam Phillips in Memphis, and Howlin’ Wolf soon signed with Chess Records. He moved to Chicago in 1952 and went on to perform throughout the United States and Europe. He died in 1976. In 1980, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and then was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

“Local merchant and musician Danny Craft also had a connection to KWEM. His father, also named Danny Craft, had a radio show on KWEM with his band Delta Dan & The Swamp Riders. This was during the same time period that Howlin’ Wolf was there. The elder Danny Craft later played in a band called Danny Craft & The Craftsmen.”

When the Federal Compress & Warehouse Co. opened in 1923 on the south side of the 600 block of East Broadway, it was the largest compress in the state. The company even had its own water and electrical plants. There were major fires in 1939 and 1972. Most of the buildings were demolished in 1980.

Turn off Broadway onto South Eighth Street, and you enter a neighborhood that was known as Little Chicago (in addition to the aforementioned Beale Street West moniker) due to its numerous black-owned clubs, restaurants and hotels. The street was hopping from the late 1930s until the early 1960s.

“On weekends, it was so crowded that you couldn’t drive down the first few blocks of South Eighth,” Patton writes. “Cars also were parked along East Broadway for several blocks in either direction. There was a 9 p.m. curfew in Memphis during part of this time, so musicians would come to Arkansas to play late at night. The West Memphis police chief was paid to look the other way. There were often illegal activities going on in the beer joints like gambling and prostitution. The bagmen collected fees to pay off city officials. Some of the businesses on South Eighth Street were Andrew & Louise Bass’ Be-Bop Hall, Lois Knight’s Little Brown Jug, ‘Pimpy’ Jones’ Pool Hall, the Silver Moon Cafe, Samuel ‘Tub’ Irvin’s Brown Derby, Jack Butler’s Busy Bee, Bubba Wright’s Doll House, Miss Sweet’s Cafe, the Dinette Lounge, the Blue Goose and the Cozy Kitchen.”

The Harlem Theater in the 900 block of Broadway was built by Jack Rhodes for black patrons.

J.H. Horton of Memphis built the Hotel Crittenden for white patrons on what’s now Broadway in 1925. It was purchased by L.E. Turner in 1934 and called the Turner Hotel. Ben Wever demolished the hotel in 1941 to make room for Buck’s Cafe and Wever-Riehl Motor Co.

In 1935, J.H. ‘Spec’ Horton built the Plantation Inn supper club for wealthy white patrons who came from across the Delta. It offered gambling on the second floor. It was demolished in September 1965.

Elvis Presley ate his first breakfast at the Coffee Cup on East Broadway after joining the U.S. Army. The Coffee Cup was known throughout the region for its country ham, fried chicken and steaks. The building was demolished in 1965 to make way for a new restaurant.

One of the last ice plants still in operation in the state is along Broadway. It was built about 1930 and later sold to Arkansas Power & Light Co., which operated 17 ice plants across the state before getting out of the business in 1945. The plant was purchased from AP&L by Roy Morley and Vance Thompson, who renamed it Delta Ice Co.

The whites-only Crittenden Theater on the 100 block of North Missouri was built in 1938. Ushers wore tuxedos and people could win cash prizes at the weekly Bank Night. The building no longer stands.

“Construction on Interstate 40 and Interstate 55 began in 1950, and a small section from the Mississippi River levee to Missouri Street opened in June 1951,” Patton writes. “By December 1963, Interstate 55 was open all the way north to Blytheville. As motorists began using the new interstate highways, commercial and residential development shifted toward the interstates. Businesses along Broadway suffered as big-box retailers constructed stores several blocks to the north. But Broadway remains a major thoroughfare in West Memphis, and it has lots of potential.”

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From Forrest City to West Memphis

Friday, December 14th, 2018

SIXTH IN A SERIES

With a population of 15,371 in the 2010 census, Forrest City is by far the largest town between North Little Rock and West Memphis as we continue our trip east on U.S. Highway 70.

Located on the western slope of Crowley’s Ridge, it has been a center of commerce for the area since the 1870s and has served as the St. Francis County seat since 1874. The city is now home to more than half of the county’s residents.

If time allows, the St. Francis County Museum, a block off the highway on Front Street in the Rush-Gates Home, is worth a stop.

It’s also worth a stop for barbecue at Delta Q.

A recent review of Delta Q in the Arkansas Times read in part: “The stereotypical Southern U.S. barbecue joint, especially in the Delta, is in a rundown shack with a decades-old provenance. Perhaps some of us take quiet delight at the gasps on newcomers’ faces when they see some of the more dilapidated versions out there. But bad news for those looking to shock visiting relatives from states with stricter building codes: Forrest City’s Delta Q is tidy outside, clean inside and came of age during President Obama’s second term. … While the architectural rules of barbecue restaurants may vary, it is pretty standard that a barbecue place is first judged on its barbecue sandwich. In Arkansas, it will be pulled pork. Delta Q does brisket and ribs and smokes chicken, but this restaurant’s tagline is ‘fine Southern swine.’ And that’s where we found Delta Q — in addition to everything else it does — has a different take on pork ‘cue. … Delta Q is presenting a style in barbecue and beyond all its own; we like that. Long may it run, until it has a lengthy history and a rustic patina all its own.”

Forrest City, named for Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, has produced such well-known Americans as singer Al Green and professional baseball player Donnie Kessinger through the decades.

By the early 1800s, white settlers were attracted to the high ground of Crowley’s Ridge, which was free of the flooding found on either side of the ridge. The Civil War interrupted construction of the Memphis & Little Rock Railroad in the area. After the war, Forrest (the former general) contracted with the railroad to lay tracks across Crowley’s Ridge. He hired almost 1,000 Irish laborers, and they began work in 1866.

“The founding of Forrest City is traced to the commissary established by Forrest,” Mike Polston writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “Local businessman U.B. Izard proposed a survey for a town, and on March 1, 1869, a 36-block town site was marked off by county surveyor John C. Hill near the old commissary site. The name Izardville was considered, but with the founding of a post office that same year, the name of Forrest City was recorded. The town began to develop rapidly. By the end of 1869, the first freight train arrived, and passenger service was available within two years. The first mercantile, Izard Brothers & Prewitt, was open before 1870. With its connection to the railroad, Forrest City was becoming the commercial center for local cotton farmers.”

Following an 1874 election, the county seat moved from Madison to Forrest City.

Forrest City continued to grow along with the area cotton industry, though growth was slowed by a major fire in the winter of 1874, a yellow fever outbreak in 1879, the Great Flood of 1927, the Great Drought of 1930-31 and the Great Flood of 1937.

“By the late 1940s and early 1950s, the city began to experience significant economic growth,” Polston writes. “The area was an attractive site for industrial growth due to its railroad connections and U.S. Highway 70. Shortly after World War II, an industrial park was established by the city government with Forrest City Machine Works being the first industry to build. The opening of the Hamilton Moses Power Plant in 1951 four miles west of Forrest City stimulated growth, as did the construction of Interstate 40. Even before its completion in the 1960s, the city began to expand toward the interstate.”

Forrest City has, however, been beset by racial problems through the decades. What was known as the Forrest City Riot of 1889 resulted in four deaths. The event — a dispute between black and white voters over a school board election — received national media attention. The 1960s were also tumultuous.

Polston writes: “During the 1960s, the city played a role in the civil rights movement as one of three Delta communities to serve as a headquarters for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a national civil rights organization. The quality of the schools quickly became an issue. In September 1965, 90 percent of the black student body staged a school boycott protesting the conditions. Almost 200 protestors were arrested.

“Four years later, a boycott of white-owned businesses and a march on Little Rock were organized to protest the firing of a black teacher by the all-white school board. By the 2010 census, the percentage of black residents was 67 percent.”

The aforementioned St. Francis County Museum opened in 1995 at 419 Front St. It reopened in the Rush-Gates home in August 1997. The house was built in 1906 by Dr. J.O. Rush.

“The home was used as his residence and housed his medical practice until his death,” Stephanie Darnell writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Rush started collecting Native American and prehistoric artifacts in 1912 when he helped a patient who was unable to pay him for his time. As he was leaving, he noticed some pottery in the patient’s yard and accepted it as payment. Over his lifetime, he collected and cataloged more than 3,700 pieces. Much of his personal collection was donated to the museum by his descendants.”

I leave Forrest City, head east and find myself in Madison on the west side of the St. Francis River. The town, named for President James Madison, was once a stopping point for steamboats.

“It flourished because of its location on the St. Francis River, which at the time was large enough to accommodate riverboats,” Darnell writes. “Some of the larger steamboats had ballrooms and orchestras. When the boats were anchored overnight, people came from miles around to attend balls on board.

“The St. Francis County seat was moved from Franklin to Madison in 1841, where it remained until about 1855 when the county seat was moved to Mount Vernon. Madison regained the seat the next year after the Mount Vernon courthouse and records burned. … Following the Civil War, the Arkansas Delta attracted migrants from the Midwest and other regions outside the South. The city was able to re-establish itself when lumber companies such as Griffith & DeMange took an interest in the area. By the 1880 census, there were 210 recorded households in Madison, making it the largest community in the area. The town was incorporated in 1914.”

Scott Winfield Bond of Madison likely was the wealthiest black businessman in the state by the early 1900s. He was born into slavery in Mississippi in 1852. Bond’s mother died during the Civil War, and Bond moved with his stepfather to Madison.

“Around the age of 22, Bond began renting a portion of the 2,200-acre Allen farm,” writes Fon Louise Gordon of the University of Central Florida. “The next year, Bond increased the amount of acreage he rented and hired one man. He established himself as a farmer and married Magnolia ‘Maggie’ Nash of Forrest City in 1877. They had 11 sons during their long-lasting marriage. … Bond engaged in business opportunities that facilitated his farming and gained a reputation for prudence. He opened a store in Madison in partnership with his stepfather and Abe Davis, with Bond operating the store. Undercapitalized, he closed the store after several months. Eventually he bought the Madison Mercantile Co. as sole proprietor and maintained the store to supply his farms. He also purchased four additional town lots.

“By 1915, he owned five cotton gins, a sawmill and a gravel pit that supplied the Rock Island Railroad. The number of farms he owned had increased to 21 with a total of 5,000 acres. The farm on which the Bond family resided was called The Cedars.”

Three sons — Ulysses, Theophilus and Waverly — joined him in managing the businesses. Scott Bond died in March 1933 after being injured by a bull he owned. He owned almost 12,000 acres at the time of his death. Bond was 81.

Madison had 769 residents in the 2010 census.

Leaving Madison, I cross the St. Francis River. Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Co. constructed the Highway 70 bridge in 1933. It was the main bridge for traffic traveling between Little Rock and Memphis until Interstate 40 opened. The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

The St. Francis River is wide, slow and often muddy at this point. The river originates in Missouri as a clear, fast-flowing stream until it reaches the Mississippi Alluvial Plain near Poplar Bluff. It forms the boundary between the Missouri Bootheel and northeast Arkansas and then flows between Crowley’s Ridge and the Mississippi River. The St. Francis flows into the Mississippi just north of Helena.

The St. Francis Levee District was created in 1893 and began constructing levees and drainage canals in the region. There are numerous diversion ditches along and near the St. Francis River that have been constructed since Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928.

If you head south off U.S. 70 for a couple of miles, you can visit Widener. The town, which had 273 residents in the 2010 census, is the birthplace of famous blues musician Luther Allison. A railroad depot and post office were established here in 1888. The name of the community was changed from Mead to Widener in 1895 to honor John Widener, who had major farming and timber interests in this part of the state. The town was incorporated in 1909.

Headed east, I cross into Crittenden County. The county was named for Robert Crittenden, the first secretary of the Arkansas Territory. It’s a county where row-crop agriculture rules.

“Because of the county’s location, levees and drainage districts have been essential to its development,” Grif Stockley writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “An act of Congress in 1850 created the first organized efforts toward levee construction as well as the donation of about 8.6 million acres of swampland to Arkansas to be sold to make levee and drainage systems possible. By 1852, a three-foot levee had been developed along the Mississippi River for most of the county’s border. It was not until 1893, however, that major flood-control efforts resulted in the Arkansas Legislature’s creation of the St. Francis Levee District. Bonds were issued, and a levee had been constructed almost from the Missouri state line into Crittendent County in 1897. … Completion of the ditches — eliminating swamps and brakes — allowed thousands of acres to be used for agricultural purposes.”

A short detour south will take you to Horseshoe Lake, a large oxbow lake that long has been the site of weekend homes for well-to-do residents of Memphis and the Arkansas Delta.

Meanwhile, juke joints in this area once attracted the likes of B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf.

“During the early 20th century, hunters and lumbermen discovered the lake,” Nikki Walker writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “It was dammed at Lost Lake Bayou, raising the water level by more than six feet. This made it possible to float timber directly from the area to the Mississippi River, where a sawmill was built to process the lumber. Russell Gardner of St. Louis — maker of the Banner buggy and Gardner automobile — purchased 1,200 acres along the river for his private hunting reserve. It was named Bruin for the many bears in the area.

“Five Lakes Outing Club was established by Memphis residents as a hunting club on the land in the middle of the horseshoe of the lake. They purchased the land from Gardner and the Fritz family and established an immense hunting and fishing reserve for the club’s 45 members. The Horseshoe Recreation Club was established around the same time. J.O.E. Beck purchased land on the western side of the lake stretching to Hughes. He cleared the land of trees and drained the swampland, putting in more than 9,000 feet of drainage tiles some 10 feet deep. Bob Snowden purchased 1,000 acres on the northwestern side of the lake and established a commissary known as Baugh Store, which had the first frozen food lockers in the area. Gus Zanone purchased land on the northeastern side of the lake on which to build cabins, and E.H. Clarke Sr. purchased land east of the lake.”

There were numerous court cases through the years concerning the lake’s depth.

During World War II, German prisoners of war were held near the lake and used as labor on plantations. A developer named Jack Rich created Horseshoe Lake Estates in 1965 and sold more than 400 lots. Homeowners became members of what was known as the Surf Club, which had a clubhouse, marina and pier. Residents of the subdivision voted to incorporate in 1983.

“Huxtable Pumping Plant near Marianna, completed in 1977, stopped the flooding but also prevented runoff, keeping the lake from replenishing itself,” Walker writes. “Droughts brought the lake to new lows and canals dried up, diminishing access to the lake. A vote was taken in 2007, and the Horseshoe District was formed, taxing homeowners around the lake in order to fund the installation of 10 pumps to maintain the water level. The drainage canal once built by Beck and Snowden was cleared of brush and widened, and a gate was installed across the bayou to keep the water level constant and prevent flooding. … Summer brings an influx of people from Memphis to the lake. The owners of the property surrounding the lake have sold many lots for summer and retirement homes, renovating or replacing the cabins and tenant houses that once stood there.”

I head back to Highway 70, which closely parallels Interstate 40 until reaching the edge of West Memphis. The road then takes me downtown. Just as was the case in North Little Rock at the start of this trip, the highway is Broadway Avenue as it passes through the city.

And just as was the case in North Little Rock, used car lots and surplus stores mark much of the route.

The Memphis skyline is visible across the Mississippi River, and it’s time for a meal at an Arkansas classic. Louis Jack Berger’s father, Morris Berger, surprised him with a trip to Mexico as a high school graduation gift. Their enjoyment of the food there inspired them to open Pancho’s in 1956.

The original restaurant featured packed dirt floors and a live tree that was saved during construction. A large truck destroyed that building, but a new structure was built, and people still come from throughout the Arkansas Delta to eat there. This is also the area where the famous Plantation Inn, a club that had live music nightly, once stood.

Instead of music and dancing, a plate of enchiladas will have to suffice as the trip east on Highway 70 comes to a close.

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