Archive for October, 2020

Home of the Hoo-Hoo

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

THIRTEENTH IN A SERIES

It was Jan. 21, 1892, when six men formed a fraternal organization of lumbermen with a unique name: The Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.

The birthplace of the organization was Gurdon, which we pass through on our trip toward Texarkana on U.S. 67.

“The men saw a need for an organization to promote unity and fellowship among lumbermen and to combat a possible split brought on by the lumbermen’s broad range of pursuits,” Rachel Bridges writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The six men — Bolling Arthur Johnson, a journalist for the publication Timberman in Chicago; George Washington Schwartz of the Vandalia Railroad in St. Louis; William Starr Mitchell of the Arkansas Democrat at Little Rock; William Eddy Barns of the publication St. Louis Lumberman; George Kimball Smith, secretary of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers Association; and Rudolph Strauss of the Malvern Lumber Co. — began discussing the idea of an organization for lumbermen.

“In Hotel Hall at Gurdon, the men set up the basic tenets of the order. Hoo-Hoo was to be an organization comprised of men with high ideals, and the order’s motto became Health, Happiness and Long Life. The group, led by Johnson, decided that the board of directors would be called the Supreme Nine.”

The directors were given these names:

— The president was the Snark of the Universe.

— The chaplain was the Bojum.

— The secretary was the Scrivenoter.

— The sergeant at arms was the Gurdon.

— At-large members were Senior Hoo-Hoo, Junior Hoo-Hoo, Custocacian, Arcanoper and Bandersnatch (later changed to Jabberwock).

“Some of the names were derived from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Hunting of the Snark,’ which one of the founders had recently read,” Bridges writes. “The name Hoo-Hoo also had a unique origin. In Kansas City, about a month before the founding of the order, Johnson had used the term to refer to an unusual tuft of hair on the head of Charles McCarer, who became the first Snark of the Universe and was given membership No. 1.

“Consistent with their unconventionality, the group chose as its mascot a black cat with its tail curved into the number nine. Membership in Hoo-Hoo was to be limited to 9,999 members. As the order increased in popularity, this number was changed to 99,999. Meetings were held on the ninth day of the ninth month at nine minutes after the ninth hour. Annual dues were $9.99, and the initiation fee was 99 cents.”

The organization would grow to include more than 13,000 members.

“The first club established outside the United States was founded in Canada in 1924, and other groups sprouted up in places as far away as Australia,” Bridges writes. “Though the Hoo-Hoo experienced a slump from 1929-38, when membership dropped to around 700, the order recovered and membership began to rise again. Two U.S. presidents have had membership. Theodore Roosevelt was given the reserved membership No. 999 for his work promoting the importance of forests. Warren Harding was No. 14,945 and was ‘concatenated’ in 1905.”

In 1981, the organization moved its headquarters from Boston back to Gurdon.

In the southeastern corner of the parking lot for Gurdon’s depot, there’s a granite-and-bronze Hoo-Hoo monument by artist George Zolnay. The monument was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 1999.

“In 1891, there were many local and state associations of lumbermen but no national order had been established,” writes Arkansas historian Mark Christ. “In order to promote communications, foster cooperation and create a shared code of ethics for the lumber industry and its workers, Johnson aspired to create a fraternity of lumbermen.”

The men who formed the association had been in Camden for a meeting of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers Association. A delayed train stranded them in Gurdon for five hours.

“The organization borrowed some concepts from historical Egyptian lore for the titles, symbols and rituals of the fraternity,” Christ writes. “The theme of ‘nine’ came from the legendary number of a cat’s lives. In 1909, five of the founding members of the order — Johnson, Barns, Mitchell, Schwartz and Smith — gathered in Gurdon to dedicate the Hoo-Hoo monument. The plaque, cast from the copper in pennies donated by Hoo-Hoo members, was affixed to the building that stood on the site of Hotel Hall.

“In 1927, the building holding the Hoo-Hoo monument was scheduled for demolition, and the bronze plaque was moved across Main Street to its current location adjacent to the Missouri Pacific Railroad depot. There, it was affixed to a permanent barre granite base and dedicated for a second time. The bronze plaque inset on the northwestern side is divided into three horizontal levels and is decorated with Egyptian revival-influenced reliefs and engravings, as well as a small relief of Hotel Hall. The names of all Hoo-Hoo presidents — or Snarks of the Universe — were engraved on the opposite sides of the monument, and two statues of cats, as they appear on the Hoo-Hoo logo, were placed atop the new monument.”

Zolnay had been born in Hungary in July 1863. He moved to the United States in 1892 after having studied at the Imperial Academy in Vienna and the National Academy in Bucharest. He was a member of artists’ unions in Europe and the United States.

“Zolnay specialized in large memorial sculptures and architectural sculptures,” Christ writes. “In addition to the Hoo-Hoo monument, he’s known to have executed other small-scale bronze works, including the relief panel on the monument for Gen. Richard L. Hoxie and his wife at Arlington National Cemetery. Zolnay died on May 1, 1949, in New York City. The identities of the sculptor of the cats and the fabricator of the granite monument on which the Zolnay plaque is set are unknown. However, these elements have been a part of the monument since its 1927 relocation and contribute to the overall integrity of the Hoo-Hoo monument.

“After its move to the current location, the monument remained a center point of the group’s identity. The names of succeeding generations of Rameses — the title given to Snarks of the Universe after their tenure as president of the organization ended — were engraved on its reverse side, providing additional historic and traditional importance to the monument in its 1927 location and manifestation. In fact, the monument was utilized by the organization continually until 1988, when there was no additional space to inscribe the names of Snarks. Two smaller granite monuments were purchased to carry the names of future Snarks. Those monuments flank the original monument.”

The first white settlers had arrived in the Gurdon area shortly before 1820.

“Capt. Robert Tate, his siblings and other family members were the first group to travel up the Ouachita River and arrive in the area,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University. “Each purchased several hundred acres of land from the government land office at Washington in southwest Arkansas. This initial purchase included the land where Gurdon now stands. The population grew slowly. In 1836, Meriwether Lewis Randolph, grandson of Thomas Jefferson, arrived in the area. He bought several thousand acres near the present-day location of Gurdon but died of malaria in 1837 before much work was completed on his holdings.

“Settlers continued to slowly enter the area in small numbers during the next several decades. The area next experienced a large influx of settlers in 1874 when the Cairo & Fulton Railroad was constructed. On July 12, 1875, a post office was opened but closed that same year on Oct. 18. On March 15, 1876, the post office at Tate was renamed Gurdon. A small depot was constructed, and by 1880 the town had been laid out. That year, 33 citizens petitioned the court to incorporate the city of Gurdon, which was approved.”

Gurdon appears to have been named for Gurdon Cunningham, who surveyed the right of way for the railroad in the area. Gurdon became an important center of both the railroad and timber industries.

“The number of mills operating in the area reached a peak of 10 in the late 19th century,” Sesser writes. “The combination of people passing through town on the railroad and the rough nature of the timber business brought many unsavory characters to Gurdon. When the first minister arrived in 1881, he found a community of 500 people with three saloons and no churches. The situation changed by 1887 when all saloons were banned. Several churches were founded during this period.

“The first newspaper was founded at Gurdon in 1886 and was called the Gurdon Advocate. After several changes in both name and ownership, it became the Gurdon Times. In 1892, an African American known only by his surname of Bowles was lynched for the alleged rape of a young white woman, Nellie Wilkes. In 1903, an African American man named Alex Thompson was lynched for allegedly attacking a local doctor.”

Gurdon has always been an interesting place. Not only do you have those cats curled atop the Hoo-Hoo monument, its high school athletic teams are known as the Go-Devils (which is actually a type of equipment used to drag heavy logs).

And then there’s the Gurdon Light.

Staci Morrow writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “The Gurdon Light is a mysterious floating light near Gurdon. It was first sighted during the 1930s. Many theories exist to explain the light, including one which connects it to the 1931 murder of William McClain, a railroad worker. The popular local legend drew national attention in December 1994 when NBC’s ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ documented the phenomenon.

“The light is said to appear along a stretch of former railroad tracks outside of town. Some people believe the light originates from the reflection of headlights of cars off Interstate 30. However, the site is more than two miles from the interstate, and people began seeing the light decades before Interstate 30 was built in the 1970s. Others believe that swamp gas creates the light, though the light appears in all kinds of weather. A somewhat popular story is that a railroad worker was working outside of town one night when he accidentally fell into the path of a train and was killed. Since his head was severed from his body, many locals say the light is the lantern his ghost uses while looking for his head.”

McClain was a foreman for the Missouri Pacific Railroad in December 1931 when he got into a heated argument with employee Louis McBride regarding how many days McBride was being allowed to work.

“During the Great Depression, the company didn’t have the option of giving McBride more hours on the job,” Morrow writes. “McBride became angry, hit McClain on the head with a shovel and beat him to death with a railroad spike maul or a spike hammer. The Gurdon Light was first sighted shortly after this murder, and many have come to believe that the light is actually McClain’s ghostly lantern glowing.”

The site is a popular place for college students from Arkadelphia to visit, especially around Halloween.

We leave Gurdon and continue toward the southwest on U.S. 67 and soon find ourselves in the Little Missouri River bottoms. The river begins in the Ouachita Mountains of Polk County and flows to the southeast through Montgomery and Pike counties. Narrows Dam on the river was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The dam was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1941 and built in 1950 about six miles from Murfreesboro.

Below the dam, the river leaves the Ouachita foothills and enters the Gulf Coastal Plain. We cross it a bit to the west of where it empties into the Ouachita River.

We exit Clark County as we cross the river and enter Nevada County. The Legislature formed the county in 1871 from parts of Hempstead, Ouachita and Columbia counties.

“The reason for the selection of the county’s name has been lost,” Peggy Lloyd writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Sierra nevada, as in the Sierra Nevada in California, means ‘snowy range’ in Spanish. The county has no snowy mountains, but one theory holds that the shape of the county resembles that of the state of Nevada. Another perhaps more plausible theory is that the county was named for the silver-rich state of Nevada. The name may have been chosen in the hope that it would suggest riches comparable to those from Nevada’s famed Comstock mines. However, the county’s name isn’t pronounced like that of the state, featuring instead a long ‘a’ sound for the middle syllable.”

Stephen Vaughan and his wife Polly came up the Ouachita and Little Missouri rivers in about 1812, settling at a place on the Little Missouri later known as Janes Ferry.

“Vaughan was the first person in the county to be granted a federal land patent,” Lloyd writes. “He bought four tracts along the Little Missouri from the public domain. But he had been dead for two years by the time the patents were granted on Dec. 5, 1823. His widow established her claim to his estate and for years ran a ferry and an inn for travelers heading north to Hot Springs. Land patents in the county were few in the 1820s. Statehood in 1836 and the opening of the Red River to steamboat navigation spurred land sales in the late 1830s. Small farmers, larger planters with slaves and land speculators began to buy land out of the public domain. The flood of immigration in the 1850s accelerated the trend, which continued to the brink of the Civil War.

“Many settlers were Southerners and brought their slaves to establish cotton as a major cash crop. Larger slaveholders were especially prevalent in a band across southern Nevada County. Thomas Mendenhall of Jackson Township (then in Ouachita County) was a North Carolina native who spent years in Alabama before moving to Arkansas. With 99 slaves, he was the largest slaveholder in his township in 1860. Many African Americans in the region still bear the names of these early planters. In this mix were smaller farmers who owned few slaves, if any. Many of the planters and farmers moved to Prescott after the railroad arrived in 1873 to pursue careers as merchants, businessmen, professional men and public officials.”

The northern part of the county had fewer large farms and slaveholders. At the time of the Civil War, there were no towns of any size in what would become Nevada County.

“The first county court convened on May 8, 1871, at Mount Moriah, a country church that served as a temporary county seat since no incorporated cities or towns existed in the new county,” Lloyd writes. “Mount Moriah is still an active Methodist church between Prescott and Rosston. In 1872, a governor-appointed commission established Rosston as the county seat. On May 19, 1877, voters elected to move the government to the newly created railroad town of Prescott, where it has remained since July 2, 1877.

“The building of the Cairo & Fulton Railroad in 1873 shifted the focus to the new railroad towns of Boughton, Prescott and Emmet. By early 1874, the railroad was completed to Texarkana. In May 1874, it was reorganized as the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern. The railroad attracted merchants from nearby counties such as Pike and Ouachita. Immigrants from other Southern and Midwestern states, as well as those from Canada and Europe, were in Nevada County by the 1880s.”

The population of the county grew from 12,959 in the 1880 census to 21,934 in the 1920 census. It has been falling ever since. There were just 8,997 Nevada County residents in the 2010 census.

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Rex’s Rankings: After nine weeks

Monday, October 26th, 2020

There are two weeks remaining in the regular season in high school football. Then we’ll try to have playoffs in this year of the virus.

What we call the Big Three in Class 7A all won easily last week — No. 1 Bryant beat Cabot, 42-14. No. 2 North Little Rock beat Fort Smith Northside, 45-7. No. 3 Bentonville beat Rogers, 74-21.

We’ll learn a lot more this Friday when Bryant and North Little Rock square off.

In the Class 6A showdown last Friday, Greenwood downed Benton by a final score of 42-28.

Pulaski Academy posted an easier-than-expected 60-28 victory over Little Rock Christian in the Class 5A showdown.

Here are the updated rankings after nine weeks of the season:

OVERALL

  1. Bryant
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Pulaski Academy
  5. Greenwood
  6. Conway
  7. Wynne
  8. Lake Hamilton
  9. Cabot
  10. Shiloh Christian

CLASS 7A

  1. Bryant
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Conway
  5. Cabot

CLASS 6A

  1. Greenwood
  2. Lake Hamilton
  3. Jonesboro
  4. Benton
  5. Little Rock Parkview

CLASS 5A

  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Wynne
  3. Harrison
  4. Texarkana
  5. Little Rock Christian

CLASS 4A

  1. Shiloh Christian
  2. Stuttgart
  3. Arkadelphia
  4. Nashville
  5. Joe T. Robinson

CLASS 3A

  1. Harding Academy
  2. Prescott
  3. Hoxie
  4. Newport
  5. Rison

CLASS 2A

  1. Fordyce
  2. Gurdon
  3. Des Arc
  4. Junction City
  5. Bigelow

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South toward Gurdon

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020

TWELFTH IN A SERIES

We leave Arkadelphia and continue our trip down U.S. 67.

Five miles from Arkadelphia, we pass through Gum Springs, a community with a population of just 120 people in the 2010 census.

“Gum Springs is thought to have received its name due to a spring located near a gum tree on the original plot of land,” Jacob Worthan writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “In the mid-20th century, the town rose from a farming community to become an industrial center in Clark County. Today, Gum Springs has dwindled to a small rural community, as have many of the neighboring towns. Little is known about the origins of the town, other than the fact that the Clark County poor farm was established near the eventual site in 1887, and a post office was established in February 1889 under the direction of postmaster Henry Gerrell.

“In the early 1900s, the town — which was established along the Missouri Pacific Railroad — was primarily a small agricultural community composed of farmers and sharecroppers. The white Baptist church burned in about 1925, never to be rebuilt. In 1922, the post office closed in favor of a rural mail carrier. Several years later, the train depot closed. In 1949, the white school was consolidated with the Arkadelphia School District. The African American school consolidated into Arkadelphia’s schools later.”

Like many Southern communities, Gum Springs was split by race.

“The west side of the town was primarily populated by African Americans while whites occupied the eastern part,” Worthan writes. “This changed in the 1950s with the establishment of the Reynolds Metals Co. aluminum plant along the eastern side of the railroad in Gum Springs. This forced several families, primarily black families, to move their homes to other areas of town. Shortly after the establishment of the plant, Gum Springs was incorporated, cementing the cooperation between the two sides of town under one central government.

“The Reynolds plant began production of aluminum in February 1954 and continued aluminum production until its closure in June 1984. Combined with the 5,000-acre farm, also owned by the company, Reynolds provided much of the employment and economic stability for Gum Springs residents.”

Clark County built an industrial park at Gum Springs in 1979. For the past several years, area residents awaited construction of a giant Chinese-owned pulp mill that was to have been the most expensive industrial project (at a cost of almost $1.8 billion) in state history. With the breakdown in U.S.-Chinese relations, though, plans for the plant, to be built by a company known as Sun Bio, were abandoned.

In the Gum Springs area, one can still see stretches of pavement from the old highway that was constructed in the 1920s and the remains of tourist courts and other businesses that were in operation when this was the main route to Texas.

The next community we pass on our way to Texarkana is Curtis.

“Originally used as a refueling stop for trains along the Iron Mountain Railroad, it became a timber community heavily dependent on the surrounding forests,” Worthan writes. “During the mid-1900s, the community became home to a successful semi-professional baseball team. Curtis was established in the 1870s, largely due to promotional brochures distributed by the railroad, advertising the area and encouraging people to settle there.

“Curtis started as a fuel chute along the Iron Mountain. At first, the fuel chute only supplied wood to the railroad traffic. The chute was later converted to dispense coal. The first train stopped on June 20, 1873, with a small celebration by local residents and friends of the railroad. The community had not yet been named. When it was suggested that one be given, the engineer of the first train to refuel asked that it be named for him. Thus it was named Curtis in his honor. By 1880, the railroad had also established a depot at Curtis.”

Several lumber mills were established in the area. Thomas Brothers Mill at Curtis operated until a large fire in 1952. A fire destroyed the Curtis cotton gin at about the same time.

A number of Welsh families moved to the area in 1881. Swedish families also moved here.

“During the 1940s, baseball became a favorite pastime for the citizens of Curtis and the surrounding area,” Worthan writes. “In the post-World War II era, Curtis was home to an amateur team composed primarily of local players, as well as a semi-pro team. The semi-pro team was managed by R.W. ‘Witt’ Stevenson. It won at least two state championships and played in a national championship tournament. The baseball field built for the two teams was surrounded by a wooden fence and contained a grandstand.

“During the summer of 1940, a detachment of U.S. Army personnel was bivouacked at Curtis for several weeks at three locations. While stationed in the community, the unit established a warehouse on the school grounds. During this time, Lt. Gen. Ben ‘Yoo-Hoo’ Lear made visits to the area to inspect the troops. During the 1950s, Curtis suffered several natural disasters. On Sunday, March 26, 1950, a tornado struck Curtis. There were no reported fatalities, but one person was seriously injured.”

The school at Curtis was consolidated into the Arkadelphia School District in the early 1960s.

Leaving Curtis, we cross Terre Noire Creek and what are known as the boat ditches. Ron Deaton, who graduated from Arkadelphia High School in 1962 and Ouachita Baptist University in 1966, wrote a lengthy article in 2016 for the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, telling how the boat ditches got their name.

The article also outlined the history of the Ross Drainage District, which Deaton described in a letter to me as “one of the most successful drainage districts in the history of Arkansas in that the Ross governing structure is still in existence and operating while most others have ceased to exist as legal entities. The law creating the district was passed in 1917, and the canals were dug in 1919-22.”

Deaton taught history at Prince George’s College in Maryland and also worked for several members of Congress and President Jimmy Carter before retiring.

Dozens of drainage districts across the state were created by the Legislature and local governments from 1907-27.

“Many of them ultimately failed to create workable drainage programs,” Deaton writes for the Arkansas Historical Quarterly. “Such efforts were usually led by local elites, especially more established planters and merchants seeking to protect their properties and crops from flooding. The controversy over drainage in Clark County began in 1908 when a plan was proposed for controlling flooding on Terre Noire Creek. Terre Noire is a French term that means black earth or black land. The creek’s fertile floodplain had become an important site for cotton and grain production by the middle of the 19th century.

“Terre Noire Creek (often spelled Terre Noir in older sources) traverses the entire county, generally flowing southeast. Its valley is thus a formidable watershed draining much of the land surface within Clark County, though the county itself is bounded on the east by the much larger Ouachita River and one the west by the Little Missouri River and its tributary, the Antoine River. All these streams originate in the Ouachita Mountains north of Clark County and have historically been prone to flooding. The terrain in the creek valley varies significantly. Elevations are over 600 feet above sea level at the top of Chalybeate Mountain at the north end of the county, dropping to 120 feet in the southeast portion.”

The creek leaves the mountains and enters the Gulf Coastal Plain, where it becomes a slower, sometimes swampy stream.

“The steep decline of the creek bed from a higher elevation into this lowland greatly accelerates the intensity of flooding there, making farming a risky endeavor,” Deaton writes. “Despite this threat, the rich soil and level land of the creek bottom made it one of the most desirable locations for crop production in south Arkansas. Jacob Barkman, who arrived in the area from Kentucky in 1811, established Arkadelphia beside the Ouachita River. As other settlers moved in, they were drawn to the alluvial plains of the local streams, especially Terre Noire Creek. The village of Greenville was established near the creek, becoming the first county seat in 1823. By the 1850s, farmers in the county, some using slave labor, grew hundreds of bales of cotton each year and transported them down the Ouachita, Red and Mississippi rivers to markets in New Orleans.

“One of the county’s antebellum settlers would eventually help lead the effort to control flooding on Terre Noire Creek. Jesse Arendall Ross was born in Alabama on Oct. 26, 1838, but his family relocated by wagon train to Clark County, arriving in 1846. His name first appeared on the 1850 census record as a resident of the Shiloh community 10 miles southwest of Arkadelphia, where his family had acquired land and began farming in the bottomlands of Terre Noire Creek. ”

Ross served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and was known by friends as Major Ross after the war. He was elected Clark County clerk in 1880, served two terms in the state Senate and was appointed in the 1890s by President Grover Cleveland as the registrar of federal lands for south Arkansas.

“Despite his military and public service positions, Ross remained primarily a planter and businessman,” Deaton writes. “Like most who owned land or farmed in the Terre Noire Creek bottomlands, he experienced regular flooding of his crops and took various actions to deal with the situation. The Arkadelphia historian Farrar Newberry reported that Ross ‘set up a plant on one of his farms to manufacture drainage tiles, and came to enjoy a lucrative business. In fact, making of tile occupied much of his time in the years following his tenure in the clerk’s office, and his product was widely used in Clark and surrounding counties.’ These drainage tiles were intended to control flooding, but Ross and other landowners soon needed a more effective method for draining their wetlands.

“By the end of the 19th century, steam engine dredges, often called steam shovels, came to be widely used for improving drainage by digging ditches and canals up and down rivers and their tributaries that could divert overflow. These early experiments with ditching and dredging for drainage would accelerate the development of Southern agriculture by opening wetlands for cultivation. A number of states established drainage districts. Arkansas’ ‘ditching act’ of 1902 conferred authority on counties to create drainage districts for dredging, subject to feasibility studies.”

In a letter to the editor of the Arkadelphia newspaper Southern Standard in November 1907, attorney R.W. Huie stated that a plan was under discussion “whereby the swamp land and overflow district of Terre Noir Creek and its tributaries can be successfully drained and fully reclaimed, thereby making them the most valuable lands in Clark County, for agricultural purposes, and at a reasonable cost, extending over a period of 30 years.”

In January 1908, the newspaper reported that the drainage district had been organized. Opposing creation of the district were two Chicago attorneys who had become involved in timberland speculation in the area. The attorneys were Charles Thornton and Justus Chancellor, whose firm was described as one of the most prosperous in Chicago.

“As they became increasingly prosperous in their law practice, the partners began investing in the untapped natural resources of the South, especially timberlands, which were becoming more accessible with the expansion of railroads,” Deaton writes. “A major sawmill and lumber industry had emerged in Arkansas in the 1880s as railroads made it possible for speculators (including the railroads themselves) to reach previously inaccessible timberlands and ship out lumber.

“Northern economic interests usually provided the necessary capital and economic expertise, which was often not otherwise available in the post-Civil War South. Based in Chicago, Thornton and Chancellor had access to these resources and, when allied with a railroad, they also were well positioned to oppose the creation of a drainage district. … By 1900, a significant amount of timberland in Clark County had come into the possession of Thornton and Chancellor, aided by advantageous state law. At that time, it was not uncommon for poor homesteaders and squatters to lose their land because of unpaid taxes.”

Thornton and Chancellor hired the law firm of J.H. Crawford in Arkadelphia. In June 1905, Crawford filed notice that the two men from Chicago were paying taxes on 20,514 acres of tax-delinquent land in the county. The court granted them ownership in December 1908, putting them among the state’s largest landowners.

“These 1908 timberland acquisitions occurred in the very year that Jesse Ross and the planters upstream on the creek initiated their plans for a drainage district to protect their farms from flooding,” Deaton writes. “A prolonged struggle soon ensued as some of the lands that Thornton and Chancellor had acquired were proposed for inclusion in the district. The pair had little interest in paying taxes to drain land they wanted simply to cut, rather than cultivate. As historian Jeannie Whayne notes, in examining such controversies in northeast Arkansas, ‘many speculators and lumber companies opposed drainage as they had no intention of incurring the taxes required to fund construction.'”

The Southern Standard was editorially supportive of Ross and other planters. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the planters in January 1910, but additional legal challenges followed. Cost studies were still incomplete when Ross died on Feb. 4, 1913. In 1917, the planters asked the Legislature to approve the district and named the district in honor of Ross.

Speaker of the House Lee Cazort declared: “If the United States is forced into war, we all know that the farmer will assume additional importance. … I believe that it is a part of preparedness to adopt every measure that will increase the production of our farms.”

Bonds to finance dredging and construction of canals on either side of Terre Noire Creek were sold in November 1918. A contract with the J.S. Sternberg Co. of St. Louis called for removing 170 million cubic yards of earth. The Southern Standard reported in February 1919 that Sternberg “is here, and getting his forces ready. The ditches, which are to be 10 feet deep and 20 feet wide, will be run close to the hills on either side” of the creek.

The dredged material would be deposited to form levees.

In July 1919, the newspaper reported: “The steam shovel began moving dirt last week on the big ditches to be dug in Terre Noir bottom. Work has been going on for some time getting ready for the shovel, which had to be placed on a large boat, to be floated downstream as the work progresses. A hole was first dug by hand large enough to float the boat.”

A second boat provided housing and cooking facilities for the dredging crews. The canals thus became known as the boat ditches. The U.S. Geological Survey later would name them the North Boat Ditch and the South Boat Ditch.

In 1921, the district sold additional bonds to the St. Louis Union Trust Co. The bank secured a lien on the taxable properties of landowners.

“By 1932, during the depths of the Great Depression, the district board proved unable to make the interest and principal payments due on the bonds,” Deaton writes. “The St. Louis bank responded with a foreclosure suit against the Ross Drainage District in federal court in Little Rock. The court placed the Ross Drainage District into receivership. … Receivership ended in April 1937 when a new refinancing agreement was reached between the district and Union Planters National Bank & Trust Co. of Memphis, giving a new start to the district. Refinancing the debt owed by the district allowed it to narrowly avoid failure.”

The last of the so-called refunding bonds from 1937 were retired by the Ross Drainage District in 1980.

“The decades after World War II saw a transformation of the farm economy in Arkansas with a decline in sharecropping and an increase in mechanization, resulting in larger farms and fewer farmers,” Deaton writes. “Cotton lost its primacy as many farmers turned to other crops. The last cotton gin in Clark County closed in the early 1960s, reflecting the overall shift to soybean cultivation. As farms were consolidated, fewer members owned larger portions of land in the district. Many of them turned to raising timber, creating pine plantations that did not require intense management.

“Cattle raising also expanded because hay production had become mechanized, too. All these changes reduced the role of traditional planters in the Ross Drainage District and gradually changed its emphasis as well. Maintenance of the levees rather than enlargement of the district became the primary goal of the district board.”

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service provided $100,000 for levee repairs, with the district contributing another $26,000.

Deaton writes: “While drainage efforts in south Arkansas have been little studied, the story of the Ross Drainage District in Clark County reflects broad developments in the state’s history — the arrival in the late 19th century of railroads and extractive industry often dominated by out-of-state capital; the emergence of a fractious politics in the districts and planters wielding their influence in state government to overcome local opposition; the state’s increasing dependence on federal aid for improvement and maintenance of its waterways; and the shift away from cotton to other staple crops and, in south Arkansas, pine plantations. More than a century after its first conception, the Ross Drainage District is still providing drainage protection to the lands between the canals, even if the future of its levees remains uncertain.”

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Where history lives

Monday, October 19th, 2020

ELEVENTH IN A SERIES

When I was young, my father and uncle purchased the old post office building at Arkadelphia to house their sporting goods business. That building, constructed downtown in 1916-17, was the place where my friends and I would play. It was quite a structure.

In June 2011, the Arkadelphia Commercial Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The borders of the district are Main Street between Fifth and Seventh streets and Clinton Street between Sixth and Ninth streets.

The old post office is at Sixth and Clinton.

“Arkadelphia grew westward, away from the Ouachita River, which is about a half mile away from the district,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University. “The buildings in the district evolved through the years. The earliest buildings are free standing or in a row and are frame or brick constructed on a brick or concrete foundation. Many have recessed entries and display windows. Neoclassical revival elements are visible in the post office building. The Royal Theater at 625 Main St. is constructed in an Art Deco style and later began serving the Clark County Arts Council. The oldest confirmed building in the district is at 614 Main Street. A former jewelry store, it later became a coffee shop.

“The arrival of automobiles in Arkadelphia prompted a heavy investment in service stations, and it was noted in the 1930s that the town supported more service stations than churches. The Johnson Service Station opened at 716 Clinton St. in 1920. Shepherd Auto Sales at 612 Clinton St. opened in 1948. South Sixth Street, which passes through the district, is also U.S. Highway 67, which helped drive business to the area in the early and mid-20th century.”

J.C. Penney opened a store at 605 Main St. in 1929 and stayed there until 1984. There were four drugstores downtown when I was a boy. Dew Orr Department Store operated downtown from 1946-84. I can still remember how Bill Deaton’s radio ads for Dew Orr sounded on KVRC-AM.

A tornado destroyed part of downtown on March 1, 1997, but thankfully many of the oldest buildings survived. In addition to the old post office that still houses Southwest Sporting Goods Co., I spent time at the nearby Clark County Library, which was constructed at 609 Caddo St. in 1903 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in November 1974.

A group known as the Women’s Library Association was formed in November 1897 to establish a library. A collection of books was stored in various locations around town.

“By 1899, the group was unable to find a rent-free location,” Sesser writes. “The association began working to build a permanent facility to house the library. A number of fundraising events were held, and the group had collected $1,000 by 1903. The association borrowed an additional $3,000 so construction could begin. After the library opened, the group continued to raise funds to retire the debt, meeting this goal in 1913. The building was designed by Little Rock architect Charles Thompson and constructed by James Pullen.

“The building faces north and is fronted by an Ionic portico. The portico is supported by four columns topped with an entablature, with two columns on each side. The portico is reached by climbing three concrete steps, and a set of double wood-and-glass doors is centered on the porch. The doors are flanked by sidelights and are topped with an arched transom. … The interior of the original building includes 15-foot ceilings and heavy molded trim throughout. The original building was square and a single story. Through the years, wings were added to the east and west ends of the building, and a second story was added at the rear.”

The Women’s Library Association was in charge from 1903-39. The library was then donated to the city. The county took over in 1974. The Women’s Library Association still exists and continues to hold its meetings in the historic structure.

I would spend hot summer afternoons in the library’s cool, spacious Arkansas Room, reading stories on local history that had been written by Farrar Newberry, one of the most interesting and successful people to hail from this part of Arkansas.

Newberry was born in July 1887 at Gurdon. His family moved to Arkadelphia in 1894. Newberry graduated in 1906 from Arkadelphia Methodist College (now Henderson State University) and received his master’s degree from Vanderbilt University two years later. He served in the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1915-16 and sponsored what was known as the Newberry Act, a prohibition bill.

In 1915, Newberry began working for the giant fraternal benefit society known as Woodmen of the World. He became the president of that Omaha-based organization in 1943 and served in the role until 1955. He then retired and moved back to Arkadelphia.

“Newberry devoted much of his time to research and writing,” prominent Arkansas historian Wendy Richter writes. “He composed dozens of articles on Arkansas history topics and was responsible for placing markers at many historical sites around Clark County. In particular, Newberry’s newspaper columns brought local history to the attention of area residents. Active in many civic organizations, Newberry also served as president of the Arkansas Historical Association. Newberry Hall on the Henderson campus was named in his honor.

“Newberry donated his colonial-style home at 11th and Henderson streets in Arkadelphia to Henderson, and the university utilizes the structure as the president’s residence. Newberry died July 31, 1968, and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Arkadelphia.”

Those interested in the area’s history can visit a museum that’s operated by the Clark County Historical Association in the former Missouri Pacific Depot (which still serves as an Amtrak stop). The depot was constructed in the Mediterranean style in 1917 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Sitting outside that building in my parents’ Oldsmobile and looking at the sign that said “Arkadelphia,” I learned to spell the name of my hometown.

“In 1873, river transportation was replaced by rail when the Cairo & Fulton connected the city with Little Rock,” Sesser writes. “The line was acquired by the Missouri Pacific in 1917, and the company constructed a number of new depots to serve communities along the tracks, including Gurdon. The Arkadelphia depot was constructed south of downtown and sits to the northwest of the rail line. Constructed of red brick and with a red clay tile roof, the single-story structure is rectangular with a telegraph operator’s office jutting out toward the tracks. The southwest end of the building is an open platform.

“The northeast end originally included an open platform but was enclosed to house freight and other large items. The enclosed portion of the structure is clearly visible, as the bricks are a slightly different shade of red. It has an off-center wooden double door at the end that opens onto a small platform that is accessible from the street. This end of the building includes four six-paned windows on each side. The side of the train depot facing the tracks features a door that was added when the freight area was enclosed, as well as two large freight doors.”

The Boy Scout Hut is another historic Arkadelphia structure. When I would play in the woods around it as a boy, I didn’t realize that one of the most historic buildings in town was that log structure. It was constructed in 1938-39 by members of the National Youth Administration, a New Deal agency created to offer job opportunities during the Great Depression to those between the ages of 16 and 25. The Boy Scout Hut was added to the National Register of Historic Places in January 2002.

“Construction of the hut was supervised by Edwin Dean, the district supervisor from Camden, and Edward Wyate, the supervisor from Hope,” Sesser writes. “The local foreman was A.F. Bishop of Arkadelphia, who supervised the 30 local young men who worked on the project. The city, chamber of commerce and school district all provided workers. Local businesses and the Arkadelphia Rotary Club provided equipment and materials. The state’s highway department and the city provided trucks, while the NYA provided cement and use of a truck.

“Work began in September 1938 and continued intermittently until the structure was completed the following June. … The building is constructed of pine logs stripped, stained and treated with creosote. The logs were then chinked with concrete. The hut faces southeast and is fronted by a gabled front porch. The porch roof is supported by a large log post at either end. Two doors are centered on the porch.”

The focal point inside the Boy Scout Hut is a stone fireplace. Two Boy Scout troops began using the building as soon as it was completed. Girl Scout troops started meeting there in the 1950s on land that’s part of Arkadelphia’s Central Park.

One can find a great collection of historic homes and buildings by driving around Arkadelphia and the surrounding countryside. One of my favorite houses, which is about six miles west of town, was built by Georgia native Michael Bozeman in 1847. Bozeman was born in 1808 and moved to Alabama in 1819. He came to the Arkansas Territory in 1835.

“Bozeman farmed a number of crops but focused on cotton,” Sesser writes. “The family lived in a log cabin after arriving in Arkansas. Construction on a new house began around 1847 at a cost of ‘$1,500 and one slave,’ according to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The building is one and a half stories with double pile and a central hall. The structure has two chimneys and two interior staircases. The staircases lead to separate rooms on the second floor, and access between the rooms wasn’t possible. This allowed males and females to be separated at night.”

By the 1850s, Bozeman owned more than 9,000 acres and served in the state Senate. The Bozeman family helped found nearby Mt. Bethel Baptist Church. Bozeman died in 1883 and is buried in a cemetery behind the house. His wife died three years later. The Ross Foundation renovated the home and owned it (it later reverted to private ownership) at the time it was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

The nomination states: “According to his biographer, Farrar Newberry, Bozeman was worth in excess of a quarter of a million dollars, impressive figures for antebellum Arkansas. A more intimate picture of Bozeman’s plantation is revealed in an 1857 plantation journal, which was discovered in the Bozeman house. The journal lists a variety of crops grown on the plantation, and Newberry says that it ‘reveals the meticulous care he gave to every detail of the management of his growing enterprise.’

“Bozeman’s position of importance both as an early settler and as a land proprietor is revealed in a listing of his civic ventures. He was a charter member of his church in 1836 and in the same year he represented his church in the establishment of the Saline Baptist Association. It was the first such association south of the Arkansas River. In 1847, he helped found Oakland Academy, which was in perhaps the first painted, frame schoolhouse in Clark County.”

The house was constructed of oak timbers cut by a mule-powered, two-tooth saw.

The nomination form notes: “The Bozeman House was known as a center of social and community activity. Croquet was played on the lawn, church and school groups assembled at the house, and in times of dread, such as the Civil War, neighbors would gather for mutual condolences.”

East of Arkadelphia on the other side of the Ouachita River, one can find the Hudson-Jones House in the Manchester community, which was constructed in about 1840 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 1982.

“The land around Manchester was purchased by the Somerville Land Co. in 1836, the same year Arkansas became a state,” Sesser writes. “The next year, Thomas Hudson, a member of the company, moved to the area. He built a two-story log cabin and began to operate a farm. In 1840, Hudson began construction on a new home. A carpenter known only as Mr. Pryor was hired to lead the construction project.”

There are several historic outbuildings, including a combination smokehouse and storage facility, a shed, a hay barn, a well and a cellar.

“Hudson lived on the property until 1859, when he sold it to Nat Kimbrough Jones, who was also a member of the Somerville Land Co.,” Sesser writes. “James Kimbrough Jones, the son of Nat, lived in the House from 1859-67 except during his service in the Civil War. Jones later served in the Arkansas Senate and both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. The Hudson and Jones families gave the house its name. The land was sold to the Hunter family in 1909.”

Other historic structures in the area include:

— The W.H. Young House in Arkadelphia, constructed in 1921 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 2006. The land on which the house sits was purchased by John S.T. Callaway in 1836 and lost at a sheriff’s auction in 1842. The auction was held to pay a legal judgment in favor of Benjamin Duncan. The neighborhood later became known as Duncan’s Addition. The house was constructed by William Hatley Young, a salesman for Fones Brothers Hardware Co. of Little Rock. It was built in the Craftsman style. The Young family owned the home until 1952. It remains a private residence.

— The Nannie Gresham Biscoe House in Arkadelphia, constructed in 1901 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in January 2004. Nancy “Nannie” Caroline Gresham was born in Georgia in 1847 and married John Basil Biscoe in 1871. She moved to Arkadelphia in 1883 (her husband had died earlier that year) to be near her brother and his family. She began teaching courses in the preparatory department of what’s now Ouachita Baptist University when the school began in 1886. She later bought two adjoining lots a few blocks from the college at 227 Cherry St. and began construction of the house. Biscoe was the first president of the aforementioned Women’s Library Association. She died in 1931, and the house passed to her widowed daughter. The house is still a private residence.

— The C.E. Thompson General Store and House, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 2001 and now serves as a barbecue restaurant. Sesser writes: “When constructed, the business was located at the western edge of Arkadelphia. The Thompson family lived in the back of the building, while the front served as the store. Serving a rural part of the county, the business was successful due to its location at the intersection of two state highways. The store sold a number of staple foodstuffs and necessities, as well as gasoline and related automotive items. A set of gravity-fed pumps was installed near the front of the store in 1936. … The Thompson family also operated a sawmill located across Arkansas Highway 8 from the building. The construction of Interstate 30 and the growth of Arkadelphia to the west brought more businesses to the area. The sale of gasoline was discontinued in the 1980s due to new environmental regulations, and the store closed a short time later.”

— The Domestic Science Building on the campus of Arkadelphia’s Central Primary School. It was constructed in 1917 and added ┬áto the National Register of Historic Places in December 1982. Sesser writes: “A public school board was formed in Arkadelphia in 1870 and operated school intermittently for more than a decade. Faced with uncertain finances and several private schools operating as competitors, the public schools had difficulty remaining in operation. A permanent school building was constructed in 1888, and regular sessions began to be offered. The enrollment at Arkadelphia High School grew during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, forcing the local school board to expand the campus. The largest class to graduate in this period was in 1912 when 32 students received diplomas. Early in 1917, the board added three departments to the school: commercial, expression and domestic science. While the other two new subjects could be taught in existing classrooms, the domestic science department required a purpose-built structure. The school board voted to move the home that had been provided to the principal down the block and construct a new building on that location east of the main high school building. The board worked to ensure that the facility would be open by the start of the fall term in 1917 but missed that date by a few weeks. The building opened in October and was filled with $1,000 of equipment designed to help teach domestic science skills.”

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Rex’s Rankings: After eight weeks

Monday, October 19th, 2020

We continue to limp toward the end of the regular season in this year when games are canceled due to the virus and new contests are scheduled on the fly.

Eight weeks down; three to go until the playoffs.

Only one of our Top 10 teams — No. 7 Cabot — wasn’t in action last Friday. The other nine teams played, and all won big.

The margins of victory for the nine teams that played were 70, 39, 45, 25, 38, 36, 28, 29 and 23 points. So it wasn’t a Friday night for drama, at least as far as the Top 10.

Here are the updated rankings:

OVERALL

  1. Bryant
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Pulaski Academy
  5. Greenwood
  6. Conway
  7. Cabot
  8. Benton
  9. Wynne
  10. Lake Hamilton

CLASS 7A

  1. Bryant
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Conway
  5. Cabot

CLASS 6A

  1. Greenwood
  2. Benton
  3. Lake Hamilton
  4. Little Rock Parkview
  5. Jonesboro

CLASS 5A

  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Wynne
  3. Little Rock Christian
  4. Texarkana
  5. Harrison

CLASS 4A

  1. Shiloh Christian
  2. Stuttgart
  3. Arkadelphia
  4. Nashville
  5. Joe T. Robinson

CLASS 3A

  1. Harding Academy
  2. Prescott
  3. Hoxie
  4. Newport
  5. Rison

CLASS 2A

  1. Fordyce
  2. Gurdon
  3. Des Arc
  4. Poyen
  5. Junction City

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Rex’s Rankings: After seven weeks

Monday, October 12th, 2020

Seven weeks down and four to go in the regular season in high school football.

How far we’ll get in the playoffs in this “year of the virus” is still very much anyone’s guess. Numbers rise and teams continue to cancel games.

Neither of our top two teams — Bryant and North Little Rock — played last week.

The game of the week was Conway’s 52-49 victory over previously undefeated Cabot. That vaulted the Wampus Cats to No. 6 in the Top 10 while dropping the Panthers one spot to No. 7.

Benton also moved into the Top 10 following its 30-20 victory over previously undefeated Little Rock Parkview, which dropped out of the ranking after having been No. 7 the previous week.

Here are the updated rankings:

OVERALL

  1. Bryant
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Pulaski Academy
  5. Greenwood
  6. Conway
  7. Cabot
  8. Benton
  9. Wynne
  10. Lake Hamilton

CLASS 7A

  1. Bryant
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Conway
  5. Cabot

CLASS 6A

  1. Greenwood
  2. Benton
  3. Lake Hamilton
  4. Little Rock Parkview
  5. Searcy

CLASS 5A

  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Wynne
  3. Little Rock Christian
  4. Texarkana
  5. Harrison

CLASS 4A

  1. Shiloh Christian
  2. Nashville
  3. Joe T. Robinson
  4. Stuttgart
  5. Arkadelphia

CLASS 3A

  1. Harding Academy
  2. Prescott
  3. Hoxie
  4. Newport
  5. Rison

CLASS 2A

  1. Fordyce
  2. Gurdon
  3. Des Arc
  4. Poyen
  5. Junction City

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Rex’s Rankings: After six weeks

Monday, October 5th, 2020

Somehow we’ve made it through six weeks of the regular season in high school football in this year of the virus. There are five weeks still to go.

Whether the Arkansas Activities Association will be able to hold playoffs is still anyone’s guess.

But it does seem reasonable to think that we’ll make it to the end of the regular season with school administrators being creative in scheduling games on the fly when opponents cancel due to the virus.

Take Paris, for example.

Its game with Two Rivers was canceled on Friday morning. By Friday afternoon, Paris had scheduled a game with Hector for that evening.

Cabot went to Collierville, Tenn., last week in order to get in a game. Booneville bused all the way to Warren a day after Danville canceled.

“No one has seen film, no one has done any scouting,” says Paris superintendent Wayne Fawcett. “From a scheduling standpoint, it’s like organizing a Saturday afternoon pickup game. The goal is to get the students as many games as you can. Schools have shown a willingness to schedule anyone, anywhere on short notice. This is absolutely the craziest time I’ve experienced in decades of doing this.”

The big three teams at the top of our rankings remain undefeated.

No. 1 Bryant cruised to a 31-3 victory over Little Rock Catholic in a game at War Memorial Stadium.

No. 2 North Little Rock struggled but held on to defeat a talented Conway team by a score of 39-37.

No. 3 Bentonville rolled over Fort Smith Southside, 35-7.

Here are the updated rankings:

OVERALL

  1. Bryant
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Pulaski Academy
  5. Greenwood
  6. Cabot
  7. Little Rock Parkview
  8. Lake Hamilton
  9. Wynne
  10. Little Rock Christian

CLASS 7A

  1. Bryant
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Cabot
  5. Conway

CLASS 6A

  1. Greenwood
  2. Little Rock Parkview
  3. Lake Hamilton
  4. Benton
  5. Van Buren

CLASS 5A

  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Wynne
  3. Little Rock Christian
  4. Texarkana
  5. Magnolia

CLASS 4A

  1. Shiloh Christian
  2. Joe T. Robinson
  3. Nashville
  4. Arkadelphia
  5. Crossett

CLASS 3A

  1. Harding Academy
  2. Prescott
  3. Hoxie
  4. Newport
  5. Rison

CLASS 2A

  1. Fordyce
  2. Gurdon
  3. Junction City
  4. Des Arc
  5. Poyen

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