Archive for February, 2019

From Calico Rock to Mountain View

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

FOURTH IN A SERIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Norfork to Calico Rock

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

THIRD IN A SERIES

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

Izard County once was much larger than it is today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Mountain Home to Norfork

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

SECOND IN A SERIES

The North Fork River begins near the town of Mountain Grove in southern Missouri. It flows south for almost 110 miles before entering the White River in Arkansas.

The first of the big U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams in the White River basin of Arkansas — Norfork Dam — was built on the North Fork during World War II. It forever changed this part of the Arkansas Ozarks.

“Names for the river have included Big or Great North Fork of White River, North Fork White River and North Fork of White River,” Scott Branyan writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “Below Norfork Dam, the remaining 4.8-mile stretch of river is referred to as the Norfork tailwater. There is an upstream tributary of the White River farther west called the Little North Fork of the White River, but the lower third of it is now encompassed by Bull Shoals Lake in Marion County.”

Explorers Henry Schoolcraft and Levi Pettibone followed the North Fork in 1818 as they explored this area.

“Schoolcraft describes the limestone and dolomite geology, springs, clear water and abundant game he saw along the river,” Branyan writes. “At times, they had to travel parallel to the river at some distance from it because of the steepness of the terrain and the thickness of the vegetation. The Missouri section of the river has an average gradient of 12.8 feet per mile. Jacob Wolf’s house at the confluence of the North Fork and the White established an early trading influence. However, actual settlements on the North Fork were relatively few. In Arkansas, a notable one was Henderson in what’s now Baxter County. The large tributaries of Big Creek and Bennett’s Bayou also saw some settlement.

“By the end of the 1800s, small subsistence farms grew cotton, corn, wheat and livestock throughout the river valley, but periodic floods made life hard for these settlers and their families. Economic prosperity came to the area only after lake impoundments, road improvements and rural electricity created tourism and real estate activity.”

The federal Flood Control Act of 1938 authorized a dam on the North Fork. Construction began in 1941. Lake Norfork now covers parts of Baxter and Fulton counties in Arkansas and Ozark County in Missouri.

“The Corps noted the North Fork River was a primary contributor to flooding in the White River because of its steep banks and big feeder streams, which frequently swelled during periods of runoff,” Branyan writes. “For a number of years, the Corps and private entities had studied the site for potential hydropower use as well.”

Congressman Claude Fuller of Arkansas was a leading advocate for a system of dams on the White River and its tributaries to control flooding. Fuller served in Congress from 1929-39. In 1938, Clyde Ellis defeated Fuller by 109 votes in the Democratic primary. Ellis immediately took up the fight for the construction of Norfork Dam.

“Securing funding for Depression-era projects at a time of impending war was difficult,” Branyan writes. “Ellis argued that a dam with a power plant was immediately needed for possible wartime production demands. He succeeded in obtaining funding and additional authorization for hydropower in the Flood Control Act of 1941, and the Little Rock District of the Corps of Engineers awarded the construction contract to the Utah Construction Co. and Morrison-Knudsen Co.

“The length of the dam is 2,624 feet. … Initial plans called for two generators, although the project included four 18-foot-diameter penstock tubes (conduits that carry water to the turbines), which would allow the installation of up to four generators at a later date. The World War II-era War Production Board cut this to one generator in the summer of 1942. The dam and powerhouse were operational by 1944. A second generator was installed and in use by February 1950. Two extra penstocks remain plugged with concrete.”

The dam was built entirely of concrete after a location less than five miles upstream from the confluence with the White River was chosen. A spur railroad line was built from Norfork to move equipment and materials. A total of almost 27,000 railroad cars moved along the spur during construction.

“When completed, Norfork Dam reduced 18 of the highest flood crests from February 1945 until April 1947 by an average of 3.31 feet on the White River at Calico Rock,” Branyan writes. “Several hundred small farms had been abandoned in Baxter County and left in foreclosure. Construction of a dam in the area meant prospects for work during the Depression. As soon as word of the approval of Norfork Dam appeared in the newspaper, locals began contacting Ellis to inquire about jobs. During the four-year course of the project, the average number of workers employed on the dam and powerhouse was 815.”

As the water began to rise, about 400 landowners in the Henderson area had to relocate. Twenty-six cemeteries were moved. The lake began to fill on Feb. 1, 1943.

The cold water released from the dam killed native fish populations downstream. In 1955, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service approved construction of the Norfork National Fish Hatchery so trout could be stocked in the North Fork and White rivers. A 43.9-acre site just below Norfork Dam was chosen for the hatchery.

Hatchery employees began stocking trout in 1957. The hatchery was doubled in size in 1964. It became the largest trout hatchery in the country. Fish are raised to a length of nine inches before being released. Rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout are raised there.

The nearby town of Norfork is among the oldest settlements in the state.

“Before permanent Anglo-American settlement occurred, the juncture of the White and North Fork rivers was the site of early fur-trading activities,” Joan Gould writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “From 1819-28, numerous Native American villages were located nearby. … Izard County was created in 1825. New counties had been created out of Izard County by 1835.”

Wolf was the leading citizen in the area.

“Wolf was one of the earliest homeowners in what would become Norfork,” Steven Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “He is sometimes identified as an Indian agent, although no record exists of his appointment or activity in this vocation. Some local historians have claimed that Wolf arrived in Arkansas as early as 1811, but his presence isn’t mentioned in official records until the mid-1820s. In 1825, Wolf entered a claim to 76 acres on high ground near the confluence of the White and North Fork rivers.

“Wolf had a log house built by slaves and Native American workers. There he raised a large family (he was married three times and fathered 16 children, as well as raising several stepchildren) and served as a major in the territorial militia. His home became the center of county government when Izard County was created in 1825. The next year, a post office was established in his home. Known as Izard Court House until 1844, the post office then changed its name to North Fork. The trading community that arose around the Wolf House was called Liberty by residents and visitors. Liberty was a flourishing settlement with stores, houses and farmland. It was also the jumping-off point for many travelers heading into the western wilderness. With the creation of new counties from parts of Izard County, the Izard County seat was moved from the Wolf House to the community of Athens. Steamboats continued to land at Liberty, and it remained a prominent settlement well into the 19th century.”

The post office at Norfork closed after the Civil War, but a ferry across the White River continued to operate there.

“The community sprang to life again in the first years of the 20th century with the arrival of the Missouri Pacific Railroad,” Teske writes. “A line built to connect Newport to Joplin, Mo., crossed the North Fork River with a new bridge at Liberty. Many of the construction workers temporarily made their homes in the community. It was renamed Devero, apparently after a railroad engineer named Devereaux. The named changed again a few years later to Norfork, a blending of the North Fork name. One source claimed that the name change resulted from Devereaux leaving the area with company funds.

“A post office was re-established in 1902 with the renaming of Devero to Norfork made official in 1906. The city was incorporated in 1910. Norfork was a center for the timber industry, which supplied the railroad with wooden ties. By 1910, Norfork had a hotel, a blacksmith, a gristmill, a barber, a butcher, a bank and several stores. Many sawmills operated in Norfork until the 1920s. As trees were harvested and not replaced, the timber industry declined. But the button blank industry grew as freshwater mussels were harvested from the riverbeds. A movie, ‘Souls Aflame,’ was filmed in Norfork in 1927, using many residents as extras and as minor characters in the Civil War drama.”

Norfork’s population was 224 in the 1920 census. In the most recent census in 2010, it had a population of 511 residents.

During the Great Depression, National Youth Administration and Works Progress Administration workers built four school buildings, which were used until the 1980s. A new bridge was constructed over the North Fork River in 1937.

Through it all, the Jacob Wolf House continued to stand. The house came under public ownership in the late 1930s, and local residents kept in up.

In the 1960s, Gerald L.K. Smith’s Elna M. Smith Foundation in Eureka Springs restored the house. Former Congressman Fuller spoke at the dedication ceremony on May 8, 1966.

Further restoration took place after the state awarded a courthouse restoration grant to the property in 1999. That restoration effort was completed in 2002.

On Oct. 4, 2016, the Baxter County Quorum Court transferred the property to the Department of Arkansas Heritage. It’s now operated as a state historic site.

It’s time to continue our trip south on Highway 5. Izard County and the historic White River community of Calico Rock beckon.

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The Baxter County boom

Friday, February 8th, 2019

FIRST IN A SERIES

There has been a town of Mountain Home for decades. The city’s newspaper, The Baxter Bulletin, dates back to 1901.

For all practical purposes, however, the current version of Mountain Home is a youngster.

In the 1940 census, there were just 927 residents.

By 1960, the population had more than doubled to 2,105.

By 1980, there were 8,066 residents.

The current population is estimated at about 12,400 people.

“The fortunes of Mountain Home and the surrounding area dramatically changed in the 1940s and early 1950s with the building of the Norfork and Bull Shoals dams,” Clement Mulloy writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “These dams were part of a federal project to dam the White River basin to provide flood control and hydroelectric power. The project, a smaller version of the Tennessee Valley Authority, was also intended to stimulate commerce and industry throughout the region. Norfork Dam was completed in 1944. Bull Shoals Dam, one of the largest dams in the nation, was completed in 1951. Both were dedicated on July 2, 1952, with President Harry Truman as the keynote speaker of the event.

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

Suddenly this remote mountain town was a draw for visitors from across the country, especially trout fishermen.

“The building of one of the largest fish hatcheries in the world at the base of Norfork Dam in 1957 has produced millions of trout, attracting countless fishermen,” Mulloy writes. “The area soon became known as the trout capital of the world. Many people vacationed in the area, taking advantage of the excellent fishing, hiking, water sports and beautiful scenery of the Ozarks. … As the largest community in the county, Mountain Home became the main beneficiary and soon became a vacation resort. Beginning in the 1950s and continuing into the 1960s, Mountain Home found a new role as a retirement community.”

What’s now Mountain Home first was known as Rapp’s Barren or Talbert’s Barren. When a post office was established in 1857, the name Mountain Home was used. Orrin Dodd and John Howard founded the Male and Female Academy there in the late 1850s.

“It quickly became the centerpiece of Mountain Home, and the town essentially grew up around it,” Mulloy writes. “The academy attracted students from the surrounding area, including southern Missouri.”

Mountain Home was officially incorporated in 1888. It continued to be known as the education center for this part of the Ozarks.

“In the late 19th century, a number of small Baptist colleges were established throughout Arkansas,” Mulloy writes. “Among these was the Mountain Home Baptist College, sometimes called the Gem of the Ozarks. Under the sponsorship of the White River Baptist Association, the college aimed to provide a ‘healthful and Christian’ education. Land and buildings were donated by local residents, and the school opened in 1893. During the 40 years of its existence, the college offered a variety of courses including history, French, Greek and vocational classes such as shorthand and typing. Its main focus was on teacher training, particularly after the Arkansas General Assembly passed a teacher certification act in 1893. Funding collapsed during the Depression, and the college closed in 1933.”

The combination of the Great Depression and the Great Drought of 1930-31 had a devastating effect on this area of Arkansas.

“Many people lost their farms and moved in search of jobs,” Mulloy writes. “Hobos hitching a ride along the local railroad in search of work became a common sight. Federal intervention in the form of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal launched a number of programs that marked the first encounter many had with the national government. In particular, the Federal Emergency Relief Agency and the Civilian Conservation Corps saved many from starvation. One of the most important New Deal programs for Mountain Home was the Works Progress Administration. The WPA helped alleviate much of the unemployment in the area. Local WPA projects included the Henderson Bridge over the North Fork River, the Arkansas Highway 5 bridge at Norfork and the current courthouse in Mountain Home.”

What’s now Arkansas State University-Mountain Home, a two-year- college, can be tracked back to evening classes that were offered at Mountain Home High School in 1974 by the community college at Harrison.

“These classes were offered in the wake of the defeat of a five-mill tax for the construction of a community college in Mountain Home in 1973,” Mulloy writes. “As enrollment grew, permanent facilities were needed. With funds provided by the state and local community, the former First Baptist Church and adjoining McClure Chapel & Funeral Home were purchased in 1985. In the same year, the Baxter County Vocational-Technical Center was established as a satellite campus of North Arkansas College. The center later became the basis for the Mountain Home Technical College, founded as one of 13 two-year colleges created by the Arkansas General Assembly.”

The Mountain Home college became part of the ASU system on July 1, 1993.

“A special election was held on Oct. 19, 1993, to establish a tax district for the college,” Mulloy writes. “The two-mill property tax was passed with overwhelming support. ASU-Mountain Home was established on July 1, 1995, and Ed Coulter was hired as chancellor. The main question confronting the college was whether to remain in downtown Mountain Home or move to a different location. Although the interiors of the college buildings had been thoroughly renovated, the exteriors were unchanged. Due to congestion, a lack of parking and the difficulty of expansion, the decision was made to relocate the college.

“The search for a new location ended in 1996 with the purchase of 78 acres of pastureland on the edge of Mountain Home. This initial purchase was supplemented with adjoining property, and today’s campus sits on 135 contiguous acres. An official groundbreaking ceremony was held on April 8, 1998. Before construction began, a special committee composed of community leaders, faculty and students was formed to consider plans for the new campus. The committee visited about a dozen universities in the East, incorporating elements they liked into the campus master plan. The architectural design of the campus is modeled after the University of Virginia with the administration building, Roller Hall, taking its inspiration from the Rotunda.”

More than 1,000 people participated in a January 2000 march from the old campus to the new one. The first four campus buildings were fully endowed before construction began.

Baxter County was established in March 1873 and is named after Gov. Elisha Baxter. Its growth has paralleled that of the city of Mountain Home. The county’s population soared from 9,943 in the 1960 census to 41,513 in the 2010 census.

“Gov. Baxter formed Baxter County on March 24, 1873, in an election year when the outcome was in doubt because he wished to leave a lasting legacy,” Jane Andrewson writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “He chose a day when most of the legislators were at home. As a result, the representatives whose counties the new county would affect were unable to vote on the proposed new county or to veto the legislation. Baxter County was formed by taking a large part of Marion and Izard counties and smaller parts of Fulton and Searcy counties. The present-day boundary was fixed in 1881.

“Mountain Home was selected as the county seat at the time Baxter County was formed. Attempts to move the county seat to Cotter or Gassville in the early 1900s failed. An attempt was made again in the mid-1940s, but Cotter lost that battle too. The first attempt in 1910 was foiled by some missing ballot boxes. The city fathers in Mountain Home also found an Arkansas law stating that a courthouse with three floors cannot be moved. Mountain Home immediately added a third floor to its courthouse, though the building was torn down in the early 1940s and a new one was built by the WPA. When there was no longer a three-story courthouse in Mountain Home, another petition drive sought to move the county seat to Cotter, but it failed.”

The current courthouse, designed by Fayetteville architect T. Ewing Shelton, opened in August 1943. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1995. Baxter County taxpayers footed about $51,000 of the $105,000 cost of construction with the WPA picking up the rest.

The White River has long played a role in the county’s development.

“Several severe floods occurred in the 1910s and 1920s,” Andrewson writes. “Dams were suggested by the people in the county, and various legislators discussed them for years before Norfork Dam was begun in 1941.”

The 722-mile-long White River begins in the mountains of northwest Arkansas and flows east toward Fayetteville before turning north. It enters southern Missouri and then flows southeast back into Arkansas. It transforms from a mountain stream into a slow Delta stream at about Batesville.

“The river’s meandering course lends itself to a variety of environments — from the seasonal, fast-flowing headwaters of the upper White to the wide, slower-moving stretches farther down the river,” Aaron Rogers writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Trout aren’t native to the White River, of course. Those came with the construction of the dams, which release cold water.

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

“After the wartime construction of Norfork Dam by the Corps of Engineers on the tributary North Fork River in southern Baxter County from 1941-45, the construction of Bull Shoals Dam began in 1947. The dam length is 2,256 feet with a maximum height of 256 feet above the streambed. The spillway length is 808 feet. The dam contains 2.1 million cubic yards of concrete. At the time of its construction, Bull Shoals Dam was the fifth largest in the country, and its powerhouse was the largest building in Arkansas. Along with its 17 spillway gates, which are 40 feet by 29 feet, there are 16 outlet conduits that can each discharge 3,375 cubic feet per second. The flow of one of these conduits is roughly equivalent to one of the powerhouse’s eight generators running at full capacity.”

Construction of the powerhouse began in September 1950, and generation started two years later. The final two generating units were installed in 1963.

During his July 1952 visit, Truman took a shot at the politically powerful Arkansas Power & Light Co. for its long opposition to the federally subsidized rural electrification project.

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

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

One of those early entrepreneurs was Al Gaston, who created Gaston’s White River Resort at Lakeview in 1958. His son Jim Gaston inherited the business at age 20 in 1961. There were 20 acres, six small cottages and six boats at the so-called resort at the time. Jim Gaston would go on to become a legendary figure in the state’s tourism industry.

“Gaston expanded the operation significantly until it covered 400 acres with two miles of river frontage,” writes Arkansas historian Nancy Hendricks. “The complex includes 70 boats, 79 cottages and a 3,200-foot airstrip as well as a nationally famous restaurant. Gaston’s White River Resort also operates a conference lodge that seats up to 125 people. There’s a duck pond, game room, gift shop, playground, private club, swimming pool, tennis court and two nature trails. The resort has been recognized nationally.

“Gaston was an early advocate of tourism as an economic engine for the state of Arkansas, as well as a champion of conservation. He was an early supporter of Dale Bumpers, who became a lifelong friend. After Bumpers was elected governor in 1970, Gaston was Bumpers’ first appointment to the Arkansas Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission. Gaston served on the commission for many years before being named commissioner emeritus. … Gaston served as president of the Arkansas Tourism Development Foundation and president of the Arkansas Hospitality Association.”

Gaston died in July 2015, but Gaston’s White River Resort is going strong.

On the other side of the White River from the resort, the James A. Gaston Visitors Center for the Bull-Shoals White River State Park is one of the finest facilities of its type in the country.

In 1955, the state leased property along the lake and river from the Corps. Little was done with the property until 1975 when a wastewater treatment plant, bathhouses, paved roads and campsites were added. A section along the lake has picnic tables, a playground and a trail. The main section along the White River below the dam has campsites for tents and recreational vehicles, bathhouses, picnic areas, pavilions, playgrounds, a boat ramp and a trout dock.

The Corps’ six-lake White River system consists of four dams in Arkansas — Beaver on the White River, Bull Shoals on the White River, Norfork on the North Fork River and Greers Ferry on the Little Red River. It also consists of two dams in Missouri — Table Rock and Clearwater. It’s safe to say that no county in the White River basin has benefited more from these investments than the once rural, poor Baxter County.

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