Archive for November, 2020

From Washington to Fulton

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

NINETEENTH IN A SERIES

My mother, who died five years ago this week at age 90, loved attending the annual Jonquil Festival at Washington in Hempstead County.

And I enjoyed taking her.

While she liked the arts and crafts, I was fascinated by the history of this place.

The festival, which normally (at least when there’s not a worldwide pandemic) takes place the third weekend of March, attracts people from across Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. It began in 1966 with a small tour around town that coincided with the blooming of thousands of jonquils.

By the late 1960s, the weekend event was known as the Jonquil Trail. What was then Old Washington Historic State Park was created in 1973 and took over management of the event.

“It has continued to grow and expand into a festival that offers arts and crafts, food, music and carriage rides to visitors,” Jade Fitch writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “There are also activities such as games, tours and candle making. The Jonquil Festival relies on the state park staff, staff members from other state parks and volunteers. The Jonquil Festival is committed to teaching Arkansas history through the events at the festival.

“The setting itself is educational because it’s part of Historic Washington State Park. Exhibit tours are available for visitors to learn more about the history of the area, and historical interpreters are available to display the 19th-century clothing relative to the sites where they’re stationed. The flowers are the highlight of the festival. As visitors make their way into the event, they’re able to see yellow, white and orange jonquils. In the early years of the festival, park staff would order jonquils to increase the number of flowers on the grounds. Now there is an adequate number of flowers. Larger groups are divided, and the bulbs are relocated to various areas of the park.”

Historic Washington State Park includes more than 50 buildings on 101 acres. Thirty of those buildings are considered historically significant. Several of them are open for tours. The story of how most of this once important town became a state park is an interesting one.

“In the late 1870s, Hope began to promote the idea that the county seat should be relocated from Washington,” Bryan McDade writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “For 60 years, and several elections, Hope tried to gain the county seat. Unethical behavior abounded on both sides, consisting of lies, cheating, mudslinging and election fraud. Finally, the Arkansas Supreme Court intervened and in a May 1939 ruling declared that Hope was the Hempstead County seat. The historic preservation movement centering on Washington had begun a decade earlier. Members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy were able to secure money from the Legislature in 1929 to fund restoration of the 1836 Hempstead County courthouse.

“In 1958, a group of Washington residents formed the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation to preserve the town’s structures and interpret its history. They operated tours of some historic homes for 15 years and were able to get the Washington Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 1972. In 1973, they invited officials from what’s now the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism to help preserve and interpret the town. The foundation donated buildings and antiques. Old Washington Historic State Park became the 34th state park when it opened July 1, 1973.”

There are now 52 state parks. In September 2006, the state Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission voted to change the name of the park to Historic Washington State Park.

McDade writes: “Among the many notable structures are the 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse; the Works Progress Administration gymnasium; Pioneer and Presbyterian cemeteries, where many notable early Arkansans are buried; the Washington post office; the James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades, a project of the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana; and the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives. The Royston Magnolia on the park grounds, which was planted in about 1839, is part of the Arkansas Famous and Historic Tree Program. The American Bladesmith Society’s Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing, the world’s first college dedicated to teaching the art of making knives and swords by hand, operated at the park from 1988-2019 when it relocated to Texarkana.”

We leave Washington, make our way back to U.S. 67 and head to Fulton, which had 201 residents in the 2010 census, down from 647 a century earlier.

Steve Teske of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies notes that some people claim that Fulton is “the oldest continually settled community in the state. Located at a convenient crossing of the Red River, Fulton has long been a transportation hub of southern Arkansas. Due to floods and river erosion, none of the early historic structures have survived into the 21st century. The Caddo tribe inhabited the Red River valley of Arkansas long before European explorers reached the area. A party of French explorers passed through the region in 1687 and noted several Caddo villages, one of which may have been at the site of contemporary Fulton.

“The network of footpaths used by Native Americans and early American settlers known as the Southwest Trail ran through the area. A boat landing and ferry across the river were established early in the 19th century. According to a 1938 Arkansas Gazette article, records as early as 1807 referred to ‘the little town of Fulton on the Red River.’ White settlements on both sides of the river relied on Fulton for food, merchandise and other necessities of life.”

Robert Stone received a land deed from Juan Dulac of the township of Little Prairie in 1808 for the land where Fulton is now located. Another early investor in the town was Amos Wheeler of St. Louis.

“On Dec. 11, 1819, notices appeared in Arkansas and Missouri newspapers that James Bryan (an agent of Stephen F. Austin) was selling lots in Fulton at an auction scheduled for April 29, 1820,” Teske writes. “The Treaty of Doaks Stand, made between the federal government and the Choctaw in 1820, recognized Fulton as a landmark on the line that separated Choctaw land from land open to American settlers. Many American pioneers already had established themselves west of Fulton on land the treaty granted to the Choctaw.

“The military highway that improved the Southwest Trail made Fulton the gateway to Mexico and later the American Southwest. Most of the pioneers from the United States who settled in the northern part of Mexico known as Texas crossed the Red River at Fulton on the way to their new homes. In 1834, a group of investors that included Roswell Beebe and Edward Cross surveyed and platted a larger settlement for Fulton with streets, homes, a hotel and warehouses. George Featherstonhaugh visited the town on Dec. 10, 1834, and wrote about it in his travel diary.”

A post office was established in 1838 and was first called Red River. That was changed to Fulton in 1840. A school and church were operating at Fulton by then.

“During the Mexican War, American soldiers entered Mexico from several directions, but at the conclusion of the war, many of the returning soldiers came home by way of the crossing at Fulton,” Teske writes. “Meanwhile, steamboats regularly landed, unloading passengers and supplies and then receiving cargoes of cotton. One of the first rails planned for Arkansas was to have its southern terminus at Fulton. Beebe, Grandison Royston and Cross incorporated the Cairo & Fulton Railroad on April 1, 1852, planning to link southern Illinois with the Red River crossing by way of Missouri and Arkansas.

“Surveyors had  already planned a route across Hempstead County before the incorporation of the railroad. A second railroad, planned to cross southern Arkansas from the Mississippi River to the Red River, was planned. The Mississippi, Ouachita & Red River Railroad was surveyed from Gaines Landing on the Mississippi River to Fulton. In December 1852, the federal government approved legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Solon Borland to fund both railroads as well as a third line connecting Memphis to Little Rock. Some rails were laid during the 1850s, but the Civil War delayed construction of these planned railroads for several years.”

There was a Confederate supply depot at Fulton during the Civil War. Both Confederate and Union troops on their way to Texas passed through the town.

“In 1868, Elijah Smith laid out an addition to Fulton, seeing that much of the original town was in danger of being washed away by the Red River,” Teske writes. “The railroad finally arrived in 1874. The Cairo & Fulton had by this time become the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad. A railroad bridge across the Red River opened March 20, 1874. The railroad affected many parts of Arkansas, creating new cities like Hope while older cities faded. Fulton neither prospered nor disappeared. For a time, it thrived as a lumber town while remaining a center for shipping cotton.

“According to a 1936 Hope Star article, Fulton had African Americans during its days as a timber center serving as postmaster, school board member, city council member and constable. There were also two black justices of the peace. As Smith had foreseen, the older section of Fulton was removed by the Red River. The current town now encompasses his addition. In the 20th century, railroads began to give way to automobile and truck traffic. A 22-mile road was completed in 1922, linking Fulton with Emmet. U.S. 67 was completed in 1934, and construction began on Interstate 30 in the 1960s, each with its own bridge over the Red River. The interstate bridge was opened in 1966, but the full interstate highway wasn’t finished in the area until 1972.”

We cross the river into Miller County and continue to Texarkana, which we wrote about extensively in our previous series on U.S. 82.

This concludes our series on the stretch of U.S. 67 from Benton to Texarkana.

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A day in Washington

Tuesday, November 24th, 2020

EIGHTEENTH IN A SERIES

Some of the most famous figures in the history of the Republic of Texas spent time at Washington in Hempstead County before making their way west.

Stephen F. Austin, known as the Father of Texas, lived in Arkansas after leaving Missouri. Austin, who was born in November 1793 in southwest Virginia, grew up in southeast Missouri in a lead mining region.

“Austin’s father not only mined, smelted and manufactured lead but also established a general store that young Austin managed after finishing school,” Susan Martinez Heinritz writes for Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Austin’s father wanted him to receive a good education so he sent him at age 11 to the Bacon Academy in Colchester, Conn., from 1804-07. Austin continued his education at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., for another two years. After finishing school at age 17, Austin worked in business with his father, first running the general store in Potosi, Mo., a town Moses Austin had helped create. Stephen F. Austin later managed his father’s mines.”

The younger Austin later was a director of the Bank of St. Louis. The failure of that bank led him to live on a tract of land along the Red River in southwest Arkansas in what’s now Lafayette County.

“Although he didn’t stay in Arkansas long, he established a farm with some of the merchandise he brought from Missouri,” Heinritz writes. “Having experience in politics in Missouri, Austin ran for election as a delegate to Congress from the new Arkansas Territory in November 1819. He was defeated by James Woodson Bates. Austin then was appointed circuit judge of the First Judicial District of the territory by Gov. James Miller in 1820. He only held the position in July and August of that year before heading to Natchitoches, La., and then to New Orleans in December.”

During his time in southwest Arkansas, Austin spent a number of days at Washington, which was the leading town in that part of the state.

Sam Houston, who was twice the president of the Republic of Texas, lived among the Cherokee in Arkansas from May 1829 until November 1832.

Houston, who had been born in Virginia in March 1793, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee and then was elected governor of that state. When his marriage to Eliza Allen fell apart, Houston resigned as governor in April 1829 and headed to Arkansas.

“Traveling in disguise by the steam packet Red Rover, by flatboat and by steamboat to Arkansas Territory, Houston arrived in Little Rock on May 8, 1829,” Samuel Pyeatt Menefee writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Houston apparently had heard rumors that he was contemplating a filibustering expedition (an unauthorized military incursion to foment or support a revolution) to Texas and obliquely denied them in a letter. He was, however, in good enough spirits to try to mend bridges between Andrew Jackson and Robert Crittenden, the acting governor, and to report that he intended to engage in a summer buffalo hunt.”

Houston then went up the Arkansas River to what’s now Oklahoma to visit John Jolly’s band of Cherokee, with whom he had once lived.

In a September 1829 letter to Jackson, Houston said of living in Arkansas: “I have concluded that it would not be best for me to adopt the course. In that Territory there is no field for distinction — it is fraught with factions; and if my object were to obtain wealth, it must be done by fraud, and peculation upon the Government, and many perjuries would be necessary to its effectuation!”

Houston received citizenship in the Cherokee Nation the following month. He wore native dress and often refused to speak English.

In December 1829, he traveled to Washington, D.C., as a Cherokee representative. Between June and December 1830, Houston wrote five articles for the Arkansas Gazette about the removed tribes and the activities of federal Indian agents. Menefee says these articles represented “the first defense of Native American rights and exposure of government corruption written by a well-known Westerner.”

Houston spent the summer of 1833 at Hot Springs, hoping the mineral waters there would help him recuperate from an old shoulder wound. He often would spend time in Washington, Ark., on his trips to and from Texas.

In their 1967 book “Sam Houston with the Cherokees,” Jack Gregory and Rennard Strickland said many Houston’s ideas were formulated during his time in the Arkansas Territory.

Another visitor to Washington was the legendary frontiersman Davy Crockett, who stayed there on his way from Tennessee to Texas in 1835.

It was at a banquet in Little Rock that Crockett stated: “If I could rest anywhere, it would be in Arkansas, where the men are of the real half-horse, half-alligator breed such as grow nowhere else on the face of the universal earth but just around the backbone of North America.”

Crockett had served in Congress from Tennessee from 1827-31 and 1833-35. He published an 1834 autobiography titled “A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee” and became a popular figure across the young country.

“To derail Crockett’s political plans, Andrew Jackson and William Carroll, governor of Tennessee, engineered Crockett’s defeat in his bid for re-election to Congress,” Jeff Bailey writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Crockett was defeated by 252 votes. Crockett hoped to revive his political career in Texas and left Tennessee for good in November 1835. Crockett and his party were well received during a stop in Little Rock.

“After leaving Little Rock, Crockett was toasted and celebrated for several days while in Washington, Ark. He then continued the journey to Texas with numerous unconfirmed exploits along the way adding to the Crockett legend. Once in Texas, Crockett and his men joined Col. William B. Travis in the fight for Texas independence. Crockett was killed by the Mexican Army during the last day of the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, adding a final chapter to his colorful life.”

Jim Bowie, who also was killed at the Alamo, had earlier earned notoriety in Arkansas for fraudulent land claims. It’s believed that Washington blacksmith James Black made what would become the famous bowie knife for Bowie at Washington in 1831.

In addition to Anglo settlers heading to Texas, members of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations traveled through Washington as part of the Trail of Tears Indian removal.

“Residents of Hempstead County began petitioning for a new road in 1821,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “By 1828, the Camden to Washington Road was having additional work done. A new courthouse was built in 1836, and many of Arkansas’ most prominent attorneys practiced in Washington during the following 25 years. The Washington Telegraph began to be printed in 1840. It was the oldest weekly newspaper west of the Mississippi River until it ceased publication in 1946.

“A Presbyterian church was established in 1836, and a Baptist church was built in 1845. Washington had both a male and female academy, as well as several smaller schools. In the summer of 1846, 870 volunteers gathered in Washington to form a cavalry unit to serve in the Mexican War. By 1860, Washington included seven dry goods stores, two drugstores, a tailor shop, a watch repair shop and other businesses. Wealthy families built mansions, some of which have been restored and are preserved in Historic Washington State Park. The area had many slaves who served as household servants and worked in the cotton fields surrounding the city.”

Washington was important since the Camden to Washington Road met the heavily utilized Southwest Trail there.

“The first effort to create the Camden to Washington Road began in 1821 when residents of Hempstead County petitioned the Court of Common Pleas to construct a road linking their county with a point on the Ouachita River,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University at Arkadelphia. “This would allow farmers to transport their crops to the nearest navigable river. A map drawn that same year showed a road leaving Ecore Fabre (now Camden), running to the northwest in the direction of Washington. Additional work was done around 1828, and the road had several overseers assigned to it, each responsible for the maintenance of a section of the route.

“The road was constructed by connecting existing roads with new routes. Feeder routes branched off the road to the north and south, but the Camden to Washington Road served as the major transportation route for the area. It’s possible that some members of the Choctaw Nation used the road in the 1830s during Indian removal. The road also appears on a map created by the Confederate Army in 1865. It likely was used by Confederate forces during the Camden Expedition.”

Twelve companies of Confederate soldiers were raised in Hempstead County. A Washington physician named Charles Burton Mitchel had been chosen by the Arkansas Legislature in 1860 to serve in the U.S. Senate. He resigned from the U.S. Senate and served in the Confederate Senate until his death in 1864.

Mitchel had been born in Tennessee in 1815. He received his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1836 and moved to the new state of Arkansas later that year. He was elected to the Legislature in 1848. He lost his race for the state Senate in 1850.

“Mitchel was active in the Masonic lodge and also farmed in the Ozan and Bois d’Arc townships of Hempstead County,” Teske writes. “In 1860, Mitchel ran for Congress from Arkansas’ Second District but was defeated by Edward W. Gantt. More than 30,000 votes were cast in the district, and the margin of victory for Gantt was roughly 2,500 votes. Shortly thereafter, the Legislature met to fill the Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Robert Ward Johnson. With the question of secession weighing on the minds of most government officials, Gov. Henry Rector suggested that the position of U.S. senator not be filled.

“The Legislature chose not to follow Rector’s suggestion and invited five candidates, including Mitchel, to address the assembly. All five spoke of acting cautiously in regards to the idea of secession. Mitchel said the election of Abraham Lincoln was a reason for alarm but not a reason for division. He was elected senator on the ninth ballot on Dec. 20, 1860. His term of office began March 4, 1861. He was in Washington at that time but had returned home to Arkansas by the end of the month. His resignation from the Senate didn’t become official until July 11.”

Mitchel later headed to Richmond to serve in the Confederate Senate. He died at his home in Washington on Sept. 20, 1864, and is buried in Presbyterian Cemetery at Washington.

The Confederate government of Arkansas fled Little Rock just before the city fell to Union forces in September 1863. The Confederate Legislature met at the Hempstead County Courthouse in Washington until the war ended in 1865. That building is now one of the attractions of Historic Washington State Park.

“In 1824, Washington was designated the Hempstead County seat,” Kayla Kesterson writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “By 1835, local officials recognized the need for a new county courthouse. The circuit court had previously met in a one-room building constructed by Tilman L. Patterson, who also supervised the construction of the new two-story courthouse. It was built in 1836 for $1,850. Between the time of its construction and the advent of the Civil War, the building was used not only for circuit court meetings but also hosted meetings of the Freemasons and held the office and records of the county clerk until a separate building for the clerk was constructed in 1839 by Daniel Alexander.

“The 1836 courthouse served as the county seat of justice for almost 40 years. During that time, the condition and size of the courthouse called for a new building. As early as 1859, Judge Milton Holt was urged by citizens to construct a new courthouse. He appointed Robert Gibson, John Ely and R.W. Price as commissioners to inquire into the possible cost of construction of a courthouse, clerk’s office and county jail. They presented their first plan for the buildings in 1860. In January 1861, the country court discussed the need to fireproof the clerk’s office. Before any significant changes could be made, Arkansas seceded from the Union.”

Confederate Gov. Harris Flanagin of Arkadelphia had heard that Union troops were advancing on Little Rock in 1863 and ordered state documents to be gathered and moved out of the city. They wound up in Washington.

“In September 1864, the Arkansas General Assembly, under Confederate authority, met at the courthouse under the pretense that it was important to hold special sessions to show the world that the refugee state government was still active,” Kesterson writes. “It met only a few more times before the end of the war. In 1866, Holt was appointed commissioner of public buildings and ordered to carry out suitable repairs on the courthouse and clerk’s office, which had undergone considerable damage from the 12th Michigan Infantry occupying Washington after the surrender. After the war, the building returned to use as a courthouse until a new one was built in 1874.

“The building served as a schoolhouse from 1875-1914, as a justice of the peace office and residence, and then as a museum. In 1922, the first unsuccessful attempt to preserve the structure was made, followed by a more successful venture by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1928. From that time forward, the building was used as a museum and a place to hold meetings. In 1973, the building became part of the state park.”

The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 1972.

One of the state’s leading figures at the time of the Civil War was a Washington resident, Grandison Delaney Royston. Royston was born in December 1809 in Tennessee and moved to Arkansas in April 1832. He first settled at Fayetteville, where he practiced law and taught school. Later that year, he headed to Washington and spent the rest of his life there.

Royston was appointed prosecuting attorney in 1833. He served in that role until 1835, when he was elected as a delegate to the state’s first constitutional convention in 1836. Royston later served as a member of Gov. Thomas Stevenson Drew’s administration and was a general in the state militia.

“In 1861, Royston was elected to the first Confederate Congress in Richmond and served one term before losing a re-election bid to Rufus K. Garland,” writes Len Pitcock of Hot Springs. “He, like many prominent Southerners of the day, had initially opposed secession but supported the institution of slavery. On July 17, 1865, Royston and fellow former Confederate lawmaker Augustus Hill Garland traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive a postwar pardon from President Andrew Johnson. Garland went on to serve as governor and later became the first Cabinet member from the state, serving as U.S. attorney general under President Grover Cleveland.

“The final chapter of Royston’s public life came in 1874 when he was elected to preside over the constitutional convention in Little Rock. He was the only member to have served in both this gathering and the first convention of 1836. Royston, a staunch Democrat, served as a national convention delegate in later life and briefly considered a run for the U.S. Senate before deciding against it.”

Royston, who died in August 1889 at age 79, is buried at Old Washington Cemetery. His home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 1971.

A Freedmen’s Bureau was established at Washington after the Civil War to help freed slaves.

“Washington remained an important city in south Arkansas after the war, building a new courthouse in 1874,” Teske writes. “When the Cairo & Fulton Railroad was constructed through Hempstead County that same year, it bypassed Washington and ran instead eight miles south through the city of Hope. Businesses began to relocate to Hope, especially after Washington’s business district was devastated by fire in 1875 and then again in 1883. Proposals to move the county government from Washington to Hope were heard as early as 1879, but the move didn’t happen until 1939.

“Even before the county government was moved, the demise of Washington was visible. Work to restore and preserve historic buildings began in 1929 with a grant of $5,000 from the Legislature to restore the 1836 courthouse. A 1947 tornado damaged parts of the city, destroying the historic Baptist church. Aside from its historic buildings, Washington consisted of only a handful of businesses and a few homes by 1958. The Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation was organized that year and began collecting money to preserve the city’s many historic buildings. What was originally known as Old Washington State Park was created by the state in 1973 to continue the restoration work.”

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Slice of the good life

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

SEVENTEENTH IN A SERIES

Long before it was known as the birthplace of President Bill Clinton, Hope was known for its big watermelons.

One of my best assignments in recent years has been to emcee the celebrity watermelon-eating contest at the Hope Watermelon Festival. The event was canceled this year due to the pandemic.

“The festival originated in 1926 and has been ongoing, though not continuous, since 1977,” writes southwest Arkansas historian Mary Nell Turner. “There’s no admission fee for the four-day event, usually held the second week in August at Hope’s Fair Park. Activities include watermelon-eating and seed-spitting contests, fiddling, arm-wrestling contests and as many as 200 vendors displaying their wares. The competition for growing big melons was a creation of John S. Gibson. In 1916, he began to offer modest prizes for the largest vegetables and watermelons.

“Local farmers Hugh and Edgar Laseter developed a seed line in an attempt to win the contest. Hugh grew Arkansas’ first giant watermelon. The 136-pound melon was harvested Aug. 12, 1925, and generated so much excitement that the first watermelon festival was held the next year. The first five festivals drew large crowds. The crowd was estimated at 30,000 people in 1928. Visitors traveled on Missouri Pacific, Frisco and Louisiana & Arkansas special trains from Little Rock, Shreveport and towns in Oklahoma.”

Events were filmed by Fox, Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and other studios to be shown in newsreels in theaters across the country. Large speakers were borrowed from Arkansas Power & Light Co. so the crowds could hear.

“The program included a parade with floats, bands and decorated cars,” Turner writes. “At Fair Park, a coronation ceremony was held. Introduction of the maids and the crowning of a queen was followed by a speech from a visiting dignitary. Visitors were served free iced watermelon. The day ended with dances in the Elks Hall, a skating rink or in the streets. In 1928, two trains were stopped at noon so passengers could be served slices of watermelon. The first queen was Laurine Lewis of Hope, who was chosen from the festival maids. The maids, in turn, had been selected by a vote in each political township.

“Speakers also attracted visitors. Congressman Tilman B. Parks crowned the first and second queens. The Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Joe T. Robinson of Arkansas, was the guest speaker at the third festival in 1928. He returned to speak and crown the queen in 1930. Oklahoma Gov. William J. Holloway spoke in 1929, and Arkansas Gov. Harvey Parnell crowned the queen. In addition to problems caused by the Great Depression, the handling of the large crowd became too much for the small town.”

Oscar Middlebrooks briefly revived watermelon fever in the area when he grew a 195-pound watermelon in a field near Patmos in Hempstead County in 1935.

“The melon was shipped to movie star Dick Powell, an Arkansas native,” Turner writes. “President Calvin Coolidge was another recipient of a big melon from Hope.”

By the 1970s, Pod Rogers of the Hope Star was traveling across the country promoting Hope watermelons. He urged officials at the local chamber of commerce to start the festival again, and they did in 1977.

Meanwhile, the Bright family began receiving nationwide attention for the big melons being grown on the family farm just east of Hope. Lloyd Bright wrote a 1978 book titled “Producing Giant Watermelons.”

With the 1992 election of Clinton as president, Hope had another reason for people to pull off the interstate. Clinton had spent the first four years of his life in his grandparents’ house at 117 S. Hervey St. The house opened to the public as a museum in June 1997.

“The house was built in 1917 for Dr. H.S. Garrett, who evidently designed it to imitate his previous dwelling in France,” the late Bill Norman wrote for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The 2,100-square-foot home contains six rooms, including a kitchen, living room, bedroom and the nursery where Clinton slept. The house was purchased in 1938 by Eldridge Cassidy and Edith Grisham Cassidy, Clinton’s grandparents. Their daughter, Virginia Cassidy Blythe, made her home with them after the death of her husband, William Jefferson Blythe III, while she was still expecting their only child.

“Clinton was born at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope. The building no longer stands, but a plaque marks the spot where it once existed. Clinton’s grandparents raised him in their home while their daughter studied nursing in New Orleans. When he married Roger Clinton, the Clintons acquired a house at 321 E. 13th St. in Hope in 1950. They moved to Hot Springs in 1953. The Cassidy family continued to own the house on South Hervey Street until 1956. The house passed through other owners and was vacant after 1992, when it was damaged by an electrical fire.”

After Clinton became president in January 1993, a foundation was formed to acquire the house and restore it.

“The Clinton Birthplace Foundation sought to raise $1.5 million over five years, 40 percent of which was intended to create an endowed fund to maintain the house for perpetuity,” Norman wrote. “Controversy was ignited when accusations were made that wealthy donors, some from other nations, hoped for favors from the president’s administration because of their gifts. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 1994, bypassing the usual rule that a structure must have achieved significance more than 50 years before being registered.

“An exception to the 50-year benchmark was granted because the home was ‘the single property most significantly and exclusively associated with President William Jefferson Clinton’s humble beginnings, the inner strength that he learned from his mother and the dedication to purpose that has sustained him through his distinguished career.'”

The foundation had to repair the roof while adding new siding. It later acquired furniture to make the house look like it had in the late 1940s.

“The president’s mother and former neighbors described the house as they remembered it, and some residents of Hope contributed furniture and other articles for the museum,” Norman wrote. “A visitors’ center was added outside the house, and a rose garden was dedicated to Clinton’s mother. The museum opened to the public on June 1, 1997. In December 2010, it was designated a National Historic Site by the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

A Christmas Day fire in 2015 damaged the home. It reopened to the public on July 30, 2016.

One of the things that helps Hope retain its viability as a regional center these days is the presence of a community college, the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana. The school was founded as the Red River Vocational-Technical School in 1965. As part of a statewide effort to transform technical schools into two-year colleges, it was renamed Red River Technical College in 1991.

In March 1996, Hempstead County residents approved a quarter-cent sales tax to support the college. The school became an affiliate of the University of Arkansas System and was renamed the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope in July 1996. A branch campus opened at Texarkana in the fall of 2012. In early 2019, the college changed its name to University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana as the number of college students at Texarkana grew.

For those interested in history, a trip to nearby Washington is a must. I’ve always considered Historic Washington State Park to be our state’s version of Colonial Williamsburg.

Washington, which had a population of 730 in the 1880 census, was down to just 180 residents by the 2010 census. The community is now dominated by the state park.

“The Southwest Trail was built during Arkansas’ territorial period, linking St. Louis to Texas and crossing Arkansas from the northeast corner to the southwest corner,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “William Stevenson, a Methodist preacher, established Ebenezer Campground for revival meetings on a sandy hill that would soon become the site of Washington. Elijah Stuart built a log house on the same hill, perhaps as early as 1818, and his house also served as an inn and tavern. Hempstead County was organized in December 1818 and designated Stuart’s tavern as its first permanent seat of government in 1824 because of its central location.

“The land around the tavern was surveyed and laid out in square blocks oriented along the Southwest Trail. A land auction in 1826 created the structure of the city, and merchants began to conduct business there soon thereafter. Washington applied for incorporation in 1830. Incorporation lapsed following the Civil War and wasn’t reinstated until 1880. Important early settlers in the city included John Johnson, Ephraim Mirick and Abraham Block. James Black established a blacksmith shop in which he reportedly fashioned the first bowie knife for James Bowie in 1831.”

Stevenson, a circuit-riding preacher, is the person credited with bringing Methodism to Arkansas.

“Swept into the enthusiastic Methodism of the Second Great Awakening, he felt a desire to spread the faith that led him into sparsely settled areas,” Michael Johnson writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Stevenson, who was born in October 1768 in South Carolina on the border of Cherokee territory, had Presbyterian parents. His mother later converted to the Baptist faith. Stevenson heard a Methodist preacher for the first time at age 20. He converted at age 31.

Stevenson and his wife moved with their eight children to Missouri in 1809. He wrote one of the earliest accounts of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12. He also ran unsuccessfully against Stephen F. Austin for a seat in the Missouri Territorial Legislature in 1815.

Stevenson moved to Hempstead County in 1816.

“In 1817, he was appointed by the Methodists’ Missouri Conference as a circuit rider, along with John Harris, for the Hot Springs Circuit,” Johnson writes. “The circuit included all of Arkansas south of the Arkansas River. From 1818-25, Stevenson served as a presiding elder in Arkansas, except for a couple of years when he suffered from poor health. His ministry reached out to frontier families over a large area of Arkansas, often traveling through difficult conditions. Most of his work was with white settlers, though he did record small numbers of black and native American converts.

“Stevenson’s leadership of Arkansas Methodism was highly energetic. Methodist ministries in Arkansas shrank after Stevenson relocated to Louisiana in 1826. Stevenson was also involved in early Arkansas politics. He was elected as the representative from Hempstead County to the first General Assembly of the Arkansas Territory in 1820. He was chosen to serve as speaker but resigned the position after one day for reasons that are unclear. … It was Stevenson who proposed the motion to make Little Rock the capital of the territory.”

The territorial capital moved from Arkansas Post to Little Rock in 1821.

Washington became quite cosmopolitan for its time. In addition to Methodists attracted by Stevenson, there were Jews such as Block, who was the patriarch of the first documented Jewish family to come to Arkansas.

Block was born in either 1780 or 1781 in Bohemia. He came to Virginia at about age 12. He served with the Richmond Light Infantry Blues in the War of 1812. He and his wife had 14 children.

“In 1823, Block began to liquidate property inherited from his father-in-law and began the process of moving the family westward toward Arkansas,” David Markus writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “This move was probably brought about by limited economic opportunities in Richmond, as well as the influx of capital from his wife’s inheritance. While his wife Fanny was pregnant with the couple’s seventh child, Block left for New Orleans to begin establishing economic ties to the area. By 1825, he had started a business in Washington and summoned his family west. With seven young children in tow, Fanny left for Arkansas via New Orleans in 1826. As was family custom, she and the children didn’t join Block in Washington until a suitable house was built in 1827.

“Although the Blocks had strong ties to the Jewish community in New Orleans, they were unable to attract others in that community to join them in Washington. As a result, their only connections to the broader American Jewish community were periodicals and occasional business trips to New Orleans. This lack of community did not, however, diminish the family’s ties to the Jewish faith. When the first congregation, Shangrai Chesed (Gates of Mercy), formed in New Orleans in 1827, Block joined as a founding member. This limited contact with other Jews did, however, restrict the manner in which the Blocks practiced their faith in the home. As a consequence of their religious isolation in Arkansas, the family did not keep kosher, and the majority of the Block children married and left the faith.”

Along with his sons, Block established businesses not only at Washington but also at Fulton, at Paraclifta in Sevier County, at New Orleans and at several stops along the railroad that ran from Houston to Dallas. The family home was restored and became part of Historic Washington State Park.

Block died in March 1857 on a trip to New Orleans and is buried there.

Meanwhile, James Black, who was born in May 1800 in New Jersey, ran away from home at age 8 and went to Philadelphia. He became an apprentice to a silverplater there. His apprenticeship expired when Black was 18, and he headed west. He first settled at Bayou Sara in Louisiana and set up a blacksmith shop.

“Some think that Black met Jim Bowie for the first time there in 1822,” writes Josh Williams of Historic Washington State Park. “In late 1823, after battling disease and major floods, Black decided to move. He went up the Red River to Fulton and settled in the vicinity of Washington. Around 1824, Black was hired by local blacksmith William Shaw. While working for Shaw, Black made a reputation for himself in the community as a skilled craftsman and blacksmith, and Shaw offered to make Black a partner in his business. Shaw had nine children. The eldest daughter was Anne, age 16. Black and Anne Shaw fell in love, but her father objected to the relationship. Black decided to move from Washington to western Arkansas Territory.”

Black settled along the Rolling Fork River just west of Paraclifta. He built a dam on the river and established a gristmill along with a blacksmith shop.

“James and Gilbert Clark also settled in the vicinity and set up a salt works,” Williams writes. “Not long after they were settled, the U.S. government declared that the land they settled was part of Indian Territory. Black, the Clark brothers  and other settlers had to move to other lands. Black moved back to Washington. He hadn’t forgotten Anne Shaw. There were married June 29, 1828, at the Hempstead County Courthouse in Washington without the consent of William Shaw. There were married for seven years and had five children.”

Black set up his blacksmith shop and became known for the quality of his knives. An article in the Washington Telegraph on Dec. 8, 1841, said he had made Bowie’s famous knife in late 1831.

Bill Worthen, the former director of the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock and an expert on frontier knives, writes: “The bowie knife, made popular in the 1830s, has evolved into a specific form in current use. The bowie knife was worn for defensive purposes. Its primary function was for personal combat. It was designed to be part of a gentleman’s attire, and the key difference between the bowie knife and a hunting knife, a dagger or a dirk was initially the quality of finish of the bowie. Bowie knives came in a variety of forms — with or without guards, with differently shaped blades — and often were adorned with silver and other decoration, sometimes including etching or engraving on their metal surfaces.

“The knife got its name from a pioneer family who settled in early Arkansas and Louisiana. Jim Bowie, the best known of the brothers, killed one man and seriously injured another with a ‘big knife’ in what was known as the Sandbar Duel on Sept. 19, 1827, upriver from Natchez, Miss. Bowie later moved to Texas and died at the Alamo. In the early 1830s, the term ‘bowie knife’ began to be used — possibly shorthand for ‘knives like Bowie’s’ — for the Mississippi River Valley region. Jim Bowie’s brother Rezin promoted the knife’s association with the Bowie name by giving away several presentation knives and attributing the design of the first bowie knife — the one wielded by Jim at the Sandbar Duel — to Rezin himself.”

Early Arkansas leaders Daniel Webster Jones and August Garland said they heard stories from James Black stating that he had made the knife for Bowie at Washington.

“Black’s knives, embellished with silver plating on the ricasso (the part of the blade immediately above the handle) and silver around the distinctive, coffin-shaped handle, became the most copied of all bowie knives,” Worthen writes. “Many Sheffiled, England, cutlers produced knives with the coffin handle and/or elements of the silver wrap around the handle. The connection of these knives to Arkansas, and the state’s reputation for the use of the blade, inspired an alternative term to ‘bowie knife.’ The ‘Arkansas knife’ and then ‘Arkansas toothpick’ were used synonymously for the bowie knife in the antebellum period. Only a few references from that period make a distinction between an Arkansas toothpick and a bowie knife.

“In the 1830s, several states passed laws establishing sanctions against the use of the bowie knife and the Arkansas toothpick. The state’s reputation suffered because of its association with violence and the toothpick, and some people called Arkansas the Toothpick State. By the time of the Civil War, the term ‘bowie knife’ had come to be used for any large knife, and many soldiers went off to war with such knives. Today, ‘bowie knife’ usually is defined as a large knife with a cross guard and a blade with a clipped point, while the ‘Arkansas toothpick’ is a knife with a double-edged blade coming to a point.”

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Rex’s Rankings: Moving on

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

We move on to another week of the high school football playoffs in this year of the virus, hoping to make it to the state championship games at War Memorial Stadium in December.

This will be our final ranking of the year. When we get to this few teams, it’s time to let them do the talking on the field.

We had one of the biggest upsets of the season last Friday when Cabot downed a previously undefeated Bentonville squad by a final score of 38-34. Bentonville had been ranked No. 2 overall.

No. 1 Bryant continued to roll with a 48-22 victory over Springdale Har-Ber.

Pulaski Academy moved up to No. 2 overall with its 51-21 victory over Farmington.

Greenwood moved up to No. 3 overall with its 49-13 win over Mountain Home.

The No. 1 teams in the six classifications are Bryant in Class 7A, Greenwood in Class 6A, Pulaski Academy in Class 5A, Shiloh Christian in Class 4A, Harding Academy in Class 3A and Fordyce in Class 2A.

Here are the updated rankings as we head into Thanksgiving:

OVERALL

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

CLASS 7A

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

CLASS 6A

  1. Greenwood
  2. Lake Hamilton
  3. Sylvan Hills
  4. Little Rock Parkview
  5. Marion

CLASS 5A

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

CLASS 4A

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

CLASS 3A

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

CLASS 2A

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

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A place called Hope

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

SIXTEENTH IN A SERIES

The Harry Thomason film that introduced nominee Bill Clinton to the Democratic National Convention in 1992 made Hope famous.

For those of us who grew up in Arkansas, Bill Clinton was from Hot Springs. After all, that’s where he came of age and graduated from high school. But he was born at Hope and lived there through kindergarten.

And “I still believe in a place called Hope” has a better ring to it than “I hail from the loose buckle on the Bible Belt.”

What’s now Hope was part of a blackland prairie known as the Prairie De Roan.

“The town developed as the Cairo & Fulton tracks were being laid from Argenta (now North Little Rock) to Fulton,” writes southwest Arkansas historian Mary Nell Turner. “The first passenger train pulled into what was known as Hope Station on Feb. 1, 1872. By the time the railway offered lots for sale, the wood-frame depot was almost complete. James Loughborough, the railroad company’s land commissioner, named the workmen’s camp in honor of his daughter, Hope. The company drew a plat of the town and sold the first lots on Aug. 28, 1873. The state had given the land to the company to defray building expenses.

“Walter Shiver built the first house near the depot in 1873. The town was incorporated April 8, 1875, and the first officials were elected May 14 of that year. The Barlow Hotel opened in 1886, seeking to fill the need for lodging and dining. Three more railways arrived in Hope by 1902, and passenger service continued until 1971. By 1900, the town had begun to produce electricity, an idea promoted by retired steamboat captain Judson T. West, who had moved to Hope in 1875. An artesian well supplied water for the city.”

The Barlow Hotel operated until 1964 and became well known throughout the region.

“The Barlow was built as the Lamar Hotel by local merchant J.C. McKee,” writes former Hope resident and Arkansas historian Revis Edmonds. “It initially sought to attract a clientele dominated by railroad passengers, as Hope was built around what would become two major railroad lines — the north-south Louisiana & Arkansas line (now Kansas City Southern) and the east-west Cairo & Fulton (now Union Pacific). In 1886, M.H. Barlow, a hardware merchant who hailed from Cory, Pa., was persuaded that the hotel in a growing railroad town was a good investment and began almost eight decades of family ownership.

“Barlow had four children, three of whom went into the hotel business. John D. Barlow took over the operation of the Hope hotel in 1904. R.P. ‘Dick’ Barlow took over a Malvern hotel in 1928. Henry Barlow operated the Barlow Hotel in De Queen from 1931 until poor health forced his retirement 10 years later. M.S. Barlow’s daughter, Dr. Alice Barlow Brown, served many years as a medical missionary in China.”

John Barlow announced plans in 1930 for a 10-story replacement for the hotel, but those plans never came to fruition due to the Great Depression.

“Barlow, however, continually upgraded the popular establishment,” Edmonds writes. “It was the first facility in the city to have hot and cold running water and was said to be the first customer of Hope Water & Light in about 1910. For years, the hotel’s strawberry shortcake was popular with both local and traveling diners. William Jennings Bryan visited the Barlow in the early 1920s. The hotel became the hub of community meetings and banquets in the community. In time, the hotel accommodated retail businesses such as Middlebrooks Grocery, Singer Sewing Machines, Ladies’ Specialty Shop and Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co.

“Arkla president Witt Stephens was close friends with Barlow, and Barlow was an initial investor in Arkla when Stephens purchased the firm from Cities Service Oil Co. Witt Stephens’ younger brother Jack worked several summers at the Barlow Hotel as a busboy. Barlow sold the hotel in 1943 to the Lampkin estate while still remaining a leader in hotel trade associations. Ben Owen, a Hope businessman with department stores in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, purchased the hotel in 1960 and made long-awaited upgrades such as a standalone coffee shop and an enlarged 250-seat banquet room.”

On Sept. 14, 1964, an electrical fire began in the kitchen and destroyed the hotel. Three guests were killed in the fire.

An 1888 article had stated that the growing railroad town of Hope included lumber mills, a wagon factory, a cotton compress, two banks, a newspaper, a public school and an opera house in addition to the hotel. U.S. 67 was sometimes known as the Broadway of America, and its route through Hope later brought additional businesses.

“The Arkansas Supreme Court declared Hope the county seat on May 11, 1939, after five bitterly fought elections to move the courthouse from Washington to Hope,” Turner writes. “An act of Congress in May 1824 had named Washington the county seat, but Hope citizens believed their town had become the commercial center of the county. The federal Public Works Administration built Hope’s courthouse in 1939. On July 1, 1941, the government announced a land condemnation order and work began on the Southwestern Proving Ground. The government built the Army ordnance plant on 50,000 acres of farmland just north of Hope.

“Four dozen Army officers directed the activities and were assisted by an Army Air Corps detachment of about 150 men. Civilian employees — more than 750 daily — were transported by bus from Hope and surrounding counties. The plant was completed and the first ammunition was tested Jan. 1, 1942. Work continued until the end of the war in 1945. Some of the employees, both civilian and Army, remained in Hope.”

One of those employees was Paul W. Klipsch, who had been born in March 1904 in Elkhart, Ind.

“As a boy, he enjoyed music and was fascinated with sound,” Nancy Hendricks writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “At age 15, he built a radio receiver a year before the first scheduled commercial U.S. radio broadcast in 1920 at station KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh. Klipsch attended college at New Mexico A&M (now New Mexico State University), graduating with a degree in electrical engineering in 1926. He joined the radio division of General Electric. In 1928, his passion for trains led him to Chile, where he was a locomotive maintenance supervisor for three years. Returning to the United States in 1931, he entered Stanford University and received an engineering degree.

“For the next seven years, he worked in oil exploration in Texas, researching the design of audio speakers in his spare time and submitting his first patent application for speaker horn design. With the coming of World War II in 1941, Klipsch was stationed at the Southwestern Proving Ground at Hope. After the war, he remained in Hope and devoted his career to designing and building superior loudspeakers. He rented a tin shack behind a dry cleaner in Hope and manufactured components for his first Klipschorn.”

Klipsch registered the name Klipsch & Associates in 1946 and hired his first employee in 1948. He was granted 12 patents in acoustics, eight in geophysics and three in ballistics.

“The high-frequency section was granted a patent in 1951,” Hendricks writes. “The Klipschorn as a complete system never received a patent for acoustical or electrical properties but was granted a patent for ornamental design in 1951. It’s considered one of the finest loudspeakers ever made and is the world’s only speaker to be in continuous production for more than 70 years. The sound moves from the speaker, using the walls of the corner of the room as part of the speaker to create a rich audio quality similar to an orchestral setting.

“Klipsch’s many awards and recognition include being chosen 1985 Citizen of the Year in Hope, which named its municipal auditorium in his honor in 1995. In 2001, the Little Rock Arts and Humanities Promotion Commission recognized Klipsch with its Award of Distinction. … His national honors include the Silver Medal from the Audio Engineering Society, induction into the Audio Hall of Fame in 1984 and his 1997 induction into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame, where he was recognized along with fellow members Thomas Edison, Jonas Salk and the Wright Brothers.”

Klipsch sold the company to a distant cousin named Fred Klipsch in 1989. Audiovox purchased the company in 2011. Paul Klipsch died at age 98 in May 2002.

The Klipsch Museum of Audio History was later established. Work began last year to restore a 1921 house that had been empty since 2008 into a vistors’ center for the company. The house is adjacent to the Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site, which is operated by the National Park Service.

“The Southwestern Proving Ground Airport was deeded to the city and dedicated as the Hope Municipal Airport on April 27, 1947, with an air show,” Turner writes. “In June of that year, the government deeded 750 acres near the airport to be leased in support of the airport. The War Assets Administration turned over to the city the deeds for 2,500 acres of the Southwestern Proving Ground land for an industrial area. … The federal government sold much of the original 50,000 acres of proving ground land to former owners.”

The final section of Interstate 30 in the area was officially opened in November 1972. That led to a shift of businesses from downtown Hope to the interstate exits.

An extensive effort to bring life back to downtown Hope has been taking place in recent years. Hope became part of the Arkansas Downtown Network in 2018. Since that time, downtown has:

— Welcomed nine new businesses with a couple of more expansions

— Seen four building rehabilitations

— Seen the placement of a large “Welcome to Historic Downtown Hope” sign

— Seen all streetlight poles painted and LED lighting installed

— Seen the formation of a beautification committee that has transformed flower beds along the perimeter of the historic district

— Celebrated the opening of Pavilion Park

— Seen the relocation of the Hope Chamber of Commerce offices

— Seen the placement of three statues, red trash receptacles and black benches along with the purchase of new Christmas decorations

— Seen an increased interest in upper-level living in downtown buildings along with an increased number of events downtown

The Hempstead County Courthouse is being relocated to a former bank building downtown.

The Cairo & Fulton depot, built in 1912, served as a freight depot for 53 years and then spent more than three decades as the offices of the Stephens Grocer Co. In 1999, the Harold Stephens family donated the building to the city. It now serves as a visitors’ center.

As noted, President Clinton was born at Hope. Gov. Mike Huckabee was born and raised at Hope. So was Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty, Clinton’s first White House chief of staff and now an internationally known business leader and consultant.

In addition to those raised at Hope, some interesting people such as Klipsch moved there through the years. One of the most interesting was Alex Washburn, the editor and publisher of the Hope Star for 54 years.

Washburn was born in Toronto in 1899 to parents from Pennsylvania and Illinois. The family later relocated to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Washburn graduated from a Pennsylvania Methodist prep school known as Wyoming Seminary in 1917. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio for two years, spent a year in the journalism school at Columbia University and then graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri in 1923.

“The day after graduation, Washburn began his carer in a university-arranged job at the El Dorado Daily News,” Edmonds writes. “Three years later, he was promoted to editor, the youngest in Arkansas at that time. A year after Washburn’s promotion, Clyde Palmer of Texarkana purchased the Daily News, and Washburn began seeking an opportunity to strike out on his own. In 1929, after obtaining a loan from his father, Washburn purchased the evening Star of Hope and the morning Hope Daily Press and consolidated them into the Hope Star.

“At the last moment, Palmer and Washburn entered into a half-interest in the paper, which lasted until Palmer’s death in 1958. Palmer’s capital was reportedly critical to updating the newspaper’s technology, but Washburn long remained displeased at the necessity of the partnership.”

In 1948, Washburn formed the Hope Broadcasting Co. and put KXAR-AM on the air. Federal regulations forced the sale of the station in 1976.

“The Star under Washburn was noted for its crusading conservative editorial stance in both local and state affairs, and a limited-government philosophy at the national level, all consistent with Washburn’s well-known frugality and insistence on efficiency,” Edmonds writes. “His one-man editorial page — ‘Our Daily Bread: Sliced Thin by the Editor, Alex H. Washburn’ — was a smorgasbord of opinions on topics such as government waste, reform, liquor prohibition and the misdeeds of local politicos. In the Saturday edition, editorial contributions from other papers were shared in a section titled ‘With Other Editors.’

“Washburn was vehemently opposed to urban renewal and revenue sharing, and he continually blasted federal planning. However, he considered one of his chief victories to be the extension of a municipal water supply from Millwood Lake to Hope, an action for which he had lobbied in the lake’s initial planning process in the 1950s. The Hope water facility was dedicated two weeks before his death.”

Washburn died May 16, 1983. He had never married or had children. The paper was sold a year after his death and no longer exists.

“Hope’s economy long depended on farming,” Turner writes. “Cotton was the chief crop until the 1920s. More than 30,000 bales a year were produced in the mid-1930s. So many buyers had offices on Second Street that it was known as Cotton Row. The United Cotton Seed Oil mill was a successful industry as long as cotton was grown. More diversified farming began to be encouraged when the University of Arkansas established an experiment station near Hope. The poultry industry in the area began when Freda R. Greenan moved her business from Illinois in 1951, helping to revive the economy by encouraging farmers to raise chickens. She sold Corn Belt Hatcheries of Arkansas in 1964.

“Hempstead County’s hardwood forests provided timber for lumber companies and manufacturers. The Ivory handle factory, incorporated in 1901, produced hardwood handles that were shipped worldwide. It became Bruner Ivory handle factory in 1933, was sold to a Tennessee company in 1980 and closed in 2004. The clay soil of land south of Hope was used to make pottery and bricks for many years. Norris P. O’Neal came to town in May 1901 to establish Hope Brick Works. The last bricks were made there in November 2000.”

Hope’s population soared from 1,644 in 1900 to 7,475 in 1940. The city continued to grow, hitting 10,290 residents in the 1980 census.

Like most towns in south Arkansas, it has struggled to prevent population losses during the past 40 years. The population is now estimated at 9,700.

“Hope had a dual educational system until desegregation was accomplished in 1969,” Turner writes. “Hope’s first public school for white children began in a small former Presbyterian church in 1880. The first teacher, Charles Bridewell, had operated a private school the previous four years. The school board’s first building venture was a two-story red frame building in 1888. Its ad for a design was answered by 15-year-old Willis Jefferson Polk, an Illinois architect’s apprentice. The building was used for 20 years for the entire school. When increased enrollment demanded a new facility, what was described as a dream school was built in 1908. It was named Garland Grammar School and became Garland High School in 1922. It was condemned in 1930 because of poor construction.

“With the sale of its property to the county and revenue from consolidation of several rural schools, a modern three-story brick building was constructed at the south end of Main Street in 1931. It has been used as a high school since then. The first school for black children was in a one-room building on South Hazel Street that opened Oct. 1, 1886, with Henry Clay Yerger the only teacher. A few years later, Yerger built Shover Street School. Later, Yerger was instrumental in securing funding for his educational projects from the General Education Board, the Rosenwald Foundation and the Smith-Hughes and Slater Funds.”

Yerger built a dormitory in 1918 to accommodate girls who wanted to attend high school. He also established a teacher training summer school for black teachers that operated from 1895 until 1935. Yerger was honored in October 1935 when the high school for black students was named Henry Clay Yerger High School.

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Headed toward Hope

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

FIFTEENTH IN A SERIES

The population of Prescott more than tripled from 1,287 in the 1890 census to 3,960 in the 1950 census as the town became the center of timber operations in this part of southwest Arkansas.

Timber companies built small railroad lines across the region to haul out logs. One of the most famous short lines was what became known as the Reader Railroad.

Debbie Fenwick Ponder writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “Sayre Narrow Gauge, the railroad’s original name, was constructed in 1889 to move the virgin timber that was being harvested south of Reader, which is on the Nevada County-Ouachita County border, for a sawmill in Gurdon. In 1910, the line was purchased by the McVay Lumber Co. In 1913, it was taken over by the Valley Lumber Co., which extended it to tracts of timber in lower Nevada County. A.S. Johnson purchased the sawmill in 1921. In 1925, he organized Reader Railroad, named after the small community and postal stop of Reader. He also used the railroad to transport freight to and front newly discovered oilfields near Waterloo in Nevada County.

“Reader Railroad continued to work the river bottoms and creek valleys, hauling timber and freight until the 1950s when the parent company was dissolved. Tom Long purchased the railroad and began an upgrade. He promoted it for passenger and freight traffic, but the energy crisis of the early 1970s closed the refinery in Waterloo. Declining tourist traffic couldn’t sustain the little railroad. Long abandoned his plans, and the railroad was sold to a group of businessmen who worked to preserve it. They, in turn, sold it in 1980 to R.A. Grigsby, who emphasized the history of Reader Railroad and the role it played in the development of south Arkansas.”

Parents would bring their children for the trip through the pine woods.

“At the end of the track, the engine was turned by hand on a turntable,” Ponder writes. “The engine then picked up the train while the caboose was placed on the rear for the return trip. In 1985, ABC and Warner Brothers came to south Arkansas and used the railroad cars and stations for the filming of the miniseries ‘North & South.’ Equipment from Reader Railroad was also used in filming the 2007 movies ‘3:10 To Yuma’ and ‘There Will Be Blood.’ The railroad operated until 1992, when it couldn’t meet new federal safety regulations.”

Back in Prescott, visitors can see the old buildings that make up the Prescott Commercial Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in December 2008. Many of the buildings are empty since Prescott has been losing population for the past 40 years.

“Prescott was founded after the railroad passed through the area, and an active line still runs through the historic district in the 21st century,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University at Arkadelphia. “Many of the businesses in town were located near the tracks for easy access receiving and shipping goods. A row of 11 buildings is on West First Street South. Facing the railroad tracks, the single-story structures were constructed between 1900-05. The buildings are good examples of commercial properties constructed in this period. The majority of buildings in the district are single story, though several two-story buildings are present.

“Most of the structures are of simple design, constructed from brick with little or no ornamentation. Notable exceptions to this include the post office at 206 East Elm St. Constructed in 1926-27, the building is designed in a Colonial Revival style. The First United Methodist Church and associated education building include some Gothic Revival details. The two-story church has a corner tower and is connected by a covered walkway. It’s the only church included in the district.”

The Nevada County Bank building at 100 West Main St. was constructed in 1912 in the Classical Revival style. Two stone columns flank the front door. The red-brick Gilbert Lumber Co. building was constructed in 1924. The brick building that once housed Logan Grocery was built in 1912.

Prescott has one of the newer county courthouses in Arkansas. It was built in 1964.

“Three permanent purpose-built courthouses have served the county,” Sesser writes. “The first was constructed in Prescott in 1884. It was razed in 1911 and replaced by a structure the same year with a county investment of about $60,000. The condition of the 1911 courthouse deteriorated through the decades. By the 1950s, the county was considering options to replace it. An effort to pass a bond issue to support construction of a courthouse failed in 1961. During the next two years, Prescott experienced significant growth and investment, leading to another vote in September 1963. This time, the bond issue was approved by voters, and demolition of the 1911 courthouse began in January 1964.

“Construction of the new building on the same site was completed by Oct. 31, and most of the county offices were occupied in early November. The building was dedicated on Dec. 4. 1964. The courthouse was designed by the Weaver & Hiegel firm of Little Rock and constructed by the E.W. Johnson Construction Co. of Texarkana. The flat-roofed building is designed in the New Formalism style and constructed from red brick with cast-stone accent. The courthouse sits on a continuous cast concrete foundation. The structure faces northwest and measures 12,850 square feet.”

We leave Prescott and continue toward the southwest on U.S. 67, crossing Terre Rouge Creek and passing through Emmet, which had 518 residents in the 2010 census.

Emmet was established as a railroad stop along the Cairo & Fulton

“Nevada County wasn’t created until 1871,” writes Steve Teske of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. “Before the arrival of European explorers and settlers, the land was home to the Caddo until it was acquired by the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Dominated by pine forests, the land was only gradually cleared for cotton and other crops. Larger plantations were built to the south while northern Nevada County consisted mostly of small farms. In 1837, Martin Edwards acquired the land on which Emmet would be built. A Methodist church was organized in the area around 1855. Until the construction of railroads after the Civil War, the region attracted little attention.

“The Cairo & Fulton was established in 1853 with a plan to create a line that would run from the Arkansas-Missouri line across Arkansas and into Texas. After several name changes, the line eventually became part of Union Pacific. The line that ran through southwest Arkansas bypassed important cities such as Washington while creating new cities such as Prescott and Hope. Edwards’ farm was halfway between Prescott and Hope and became the location of a depot. It reportedly was named for one of the railroad employees. Robert F. Elgin was the first depot agent.”

A post office was established in 1871 with the name Burkville. The name was changed to Emmet in 1874. Alfred Eaves was the first postmaster.

The oldest burial date in Ephesus Cemetery at Emmet is 1876. The city was incorporated in 1883.

“During an election in 1890 when many parts of Arkansas, including areas of Nevada County, voted to prohibit the sale of alcohol, Emmet voters decided to remain wet,” Teske writes. “High prices for cotton during World War I brought brief prosperity. The timber industry and truck farming also provided jobs. Among the crops shipped from Emmet during the 1920s were cantaloupes, peas, beans, radishes, mustard plants, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries and watermelons.”

By the 1950s, row-crop farming had almost disappeared from northern Nevada County.

In 1959, Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co. opened Arkla Village as a tourist attraction along U.S. 67. It was a pet project for Arkla boss Witt Stephens.

“It featured a saloon and general store, a livery stable and a museum,” Teske writes. “Connected with the village was a factory that built horse-drawn carriages. Employing 34 workers, the factory included Amish farmers and Hollywood movie makers among its customers. Both the village and the factory had closed by 1970.”

The construction of Interstate 30, causing traffic to abandon U.S. 67, spelled doom for attractions such as Arkla Village.

I will always remember where I was in 1980 when the United States defeated the Soviet Union in hockey — the so-called Miracle on Ice — during the Winter Olympics. Okolona High School had a basketball sensation named Ricky Norton, and I was calling Okolona’s postseason games that season for KVRC-AM in Arkadelphia. I was at a district tournament game in the old Emmet gymnasium when L.D. Hoover, working back in the studio, interrupted me and said: “Rex, there has probably never been a hockey score given on KVRC. But you might be interested to know that the U.S. just beat the Russians.”

I’m in Hempstead County after leaving Emmet. I pass through Perrytown, which had 272 residents in the 2010 census. Named for businessman Perry Campbell, Perrytown was incorporated in 1963.

“Robert Carrington, James Cantley, William Easley and David Mouser all received land patents in this area in 1837,” Teske writes. “Carrington owned the largest portion of land. By this time, the Southwest Trail had been established through Arkansas, running through Washington and Fulton. The Cairo & Fulton, intended to connect southern Illinois with towns along the Southwest Trail in Missouri and Arkansas, was first surveyed in the 1850s. When tracks were finally laid in Hempstead County in the 1870s, they swung to the south of Carrington’s land but helped to create the city of Hope. The land continued to produce cotton and other crops into the 20th century.

“U.S. 67 was created, following the route of the Southwest Trail and parallel to the railroad. The highway crossed the area that would become Perrytown. Campbell established a truck stop next to the highway in 1955. During the next eight years, he added a garage, a restaurant and a motel he called Perry’s Congress Motel. By 1963, Campbell had competition from a second motel. The area also supported a cabinet shop, a grocery store, a gift shop, a clothing store, a shoe store, two greenhouses and two watermelon stands.”

Residents voted to incorporate in 1963. They decided to name the community Perrytown, against Campbell’s wishes. An October 1963 story by Wick Temple in the Arkansas Gazette was headlined “New State Municipality Spawned by Thriving Truck Stop and a Dream.”

Campbell served as mayor. He died in 2005 and was honored in a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Mike Ross from Prescott.

Hempstead County was established in December 1818 before Arkansas even became a territory.

“The Missouri Territorial Legislature had created additional counties from Arkansas County,” writes southwest Arkansas historian Mary Nell Turner. “The county was named for Edward Hempstead, the first delegate to Congress from Missouri Territory. It has been home to four Arkansas governors — Augustus Garland, Daniel Webster Jones, Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee.”

Settlers came up the Red River and also down the Southwest Trail into to this area, beginning in the early 1800s.

“Mound Prairie, their first settlement, was not far from the Red River on rich black land,” Turner writes. “Some grew wealthy from cotton production, but no town developed. Nearby Columbus became the trading center. Three days after the county was organized, commissioners reviewed, marked and laid out a road for the crossing of the Southwest Trail at the Little Missouri River. … Washington was established as the first county seat in 1824. It was on the Southwest Trail and, because of its proximity to the border, was a stopover for those traveling west. Sam Houston and Davy Crockett were two of those travelers. Washington was on the Trail of Tears for Indian removal from 1832-38. It was also the rendezvous point in 1846 for volunteers to be mustered in for the Mexican War.

“Before Arkansas statehood, wealthy Virginians with plantations on the Red River were building their homes in Spring Hill for educational and social advantages. They established the Spring Hill Female Academy in 1837 and later added a male academy. Also during this time, families with few slaves came from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and the Carolinas. Some rented small farms until they could purchase land. They started neighborhood schools and churches. Hempstead County ranked fifth in slave-owned counties in Arkansas. The 1850 census showed 296 owners and 2,394 slaves.”

The economy of Hempstead County continued to be based on cotton and timber after the Civil War.

“Steamboats moved up and down the Red River, transporting cotton to be sold in New Orleans and returning with merchandise for stores,” Turner writes. “The first roads had been cut out under the supervision of the county courts, which kept them passable with landowner overseers. Railroads crisscrossed the county beginning with the Cairo & Fulton, for which the laying of tracks was completed by 1873 with the first steam engine arriving at Fulton. The Cairo & Fulton was reorganized as the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern, then became the Missouri Pacific and finally the Union Pacific. A branch later ran from Hope to Nashville in Howard County. The Louisiana & Arkansas also ran from Shreveport to Hope for many years. The Frisco ran from Hope to Oklahoma.

“By 1880, the rich earth near Columbus was producing 1,120 pounds of cotton per acre. Total production of cotton for the county was 13,985 bales, worth an estimated $1,425,000. By 1890, cotton production had increased to 15,985 bales. Cotton continued to be king until after World War I. With the development of the automobile, good roads were in demand. In 1922, the road from Emmet to Fulton was improved as part of the Bankhead Highway. It ran on the north side of the railroad tracks. In 1934, the first cars drove on the south side of the tracks on paved U.S. 67. Interstate 30 was completed in 1972.”

Hope replaced Washington as county seat in 1939. Fulton also declined in importance as river traffic ceased. A ferry there remained in operation until the U.S. 67 bridge was completed in 1930. In 1941, the federal government constructed the Southwestern Proving Ground on more than 50,000 acres in the center of the county. Ammunition was tested there. The facility closed in 1946. Some of the land was then used for industrial sites.

“Army Maj. Paul W. Klipsch was in the ballistics department at the proving ground from 1942-46,” Turner writes. “He stayed in Hope and eventually began to manufacture audio speakers. He became known internationally for his products, making some of the world’s finest concert-quality loudspeakers, speaker systems and electronic audio products. … From the beginning, the county’s timber was a source of income. Capt. Judson Timothy West, who retired to Hope from steamboating in 1876, organized the Hope Lumber Co. in 1890. It was one of the largest in the area, shipping lumber throughout the country. Ivory Handle Co., incorporated in 1901, used hickory. Small sawmills dotted the county. Most of the hardwoods are now gone, and pine is grown for harvest.

“The University of Arkansas Southwest Branch Experiment Station was founded in 1929 as a fruit and vegetable station near Hope. In the 1950s, work changed to beef cattle, forestry and crops other than vegetables. Poultry has become the leading part of the agricultural sector in Hempstead County. The county rates in the top 10 of broiler growers in the state. Many farmers raise poultry and cattle while growing timber part time.”

The Rick Evans Grandview Prairie Conservation Education Center was established by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission in 1997. It includes almost 5,000 acres on the site of Mound Prairie and its former plantations.

“This land represents one of the largest tracts of blackland prairie in public ownership in the nation,” Turner writes. “The land is being allowed to return to its original condition. Recreation is also provided by the Lester Sitzes Bois d’Arc Wildlife Management Area south of Spring Hill. The Grassy Lake and Yellow Creek clubs near Saratoga are privately owned and are known for their virgin cypress trees and alligators. Millwood Dam and Millwood Lake are on the northwest edge of the county and in adjoining Little River County.”

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On to Prescott

Monday, November 16th, 2020

FOURTEENTH IN A SERIES

Before reaching Prescott, I turn off U.S. 67 and take a county road to the banks of the Little Missouri River. I want to see where the Engagement at Elkin’s Ferry was fought during the Civil War.

Confederate troops attacked a Union column there during what was known as the Camden Expedition.

“The battle site is commonly known as Elkin’s Ferry because that’s how the name was printed in the official records of the Civil War, but the Elkins family owned the ferry at the time so the name is more properly rendered Elkins’ Ferry,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University at Arkadelphia. “After capturing Little Rock and Fort Smith in September 1863, Union forces were in control of much of the state. From these two occupied cities, Union troops could launch an attack into southern Arkansas, northern Louisiana or eastern Texas. In March 1864, an attack on northwest Louisiana and eastern Texas was launched from both Arkansas and New Orleans.

“Leaving Little Rock on March 23, Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele set out to help the Union column from New Orleans capture Shreveport, then the headquarters for the Confederate Trans-Mississippi. Arriving in Arkadelphia on March 29, Steele remained for three days, waiting for reinforcements from Fort Smith under the command of Brig. Gen. John Thayer. Thayer’s Frontier Division’s progress was hampered by bad roads and a lack of provisions. After three days, Steele was forced to continue his mission without the extra men.”

Steele reached the Little Missouri River on April 3. He was running short on supplies and decided that the best strategy would be to capture Camden and get supplies there.

“Camden was rumored to have a large supply of food, but it was occupied by the main body of the Confederate Army in Arkansas, led by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price,” Sesser writes. “Steele decided to move toward Washington — then the Confederate capital of Arkansas — and draw Price’s army from Camden, leaving the town open for the taking. To move toward Washington, Steele needed to cross the Little Missouri. Leaving one brigade of infantry on the north bank of the river near Okolona to act as a rear guard and look for Thayer, Steele moved most of his 8,500 men to the river. Price, meanwhile, had dispatched Brig. Gen. Joseph Shelby to harass the column from the rear and Brig. Gen. John Marmaduke to stop the enemy’s advance.

“Each commander had a brigade of cavalry under his command. Price was unable to send any infantry because both of his divisions were sent to Louisiana to counter the Union thrust from New Orleans. Shelby decided to attack the Union rear guard while it was still isolated. At 9 a.m. on April 3, he attacked with his cavalry. Soon, a hailstorm moved into the area. Amid lightning and thunder, Union and Confederate forces continued their fight. The Confederates weren’t driven off by Union troops or even the weather. After three hours, Union artillery fire upset several beehives near the Confederate positions, forcing a hasty retreat.”

While Shelby was launching his attack on the Union rear guard near Okolona, Marmaduke went after the head of the column on the south bank of the Little Missouri. He was driven back, but Marmaduke’s forces resumed the attack at 6 a.m. the next day.

“Marmaduke’s attack succeeded at first, pushing Union troops back toward the river,” Sesser writes. “As more Union troops crossed the river, it became harder for the Confederates to continue their attack. They fell back to their original positions by 11 a.m. The rest of the Union Army crossed the river April 4. The next day, Steele resumed his march. He halted his army again only six miles from the Little Missouri when word reached him of Thayer’s approach. Marmaduke and Shelby had withdrawn 16 miles to Prairie D’Ane, where they went into camp and awaited the Union forces.”

Sesser calls the Engagement at Elkin’s Ferry “the Confederates’ best chance of containing the Union advance into southwest Arkansas, but the lack of infantry units and the piecemeal use of the available cavalry units hindered their efforts. The lack of commitment exhibited by the Confederate forces let the Union advance continue.”

We continue our trip down U.S. 67 to Prescott, where the Prairie D’Ane battlefield is within sight of Interstate 30.

“Price’s main objective was to protect Washington,” Sesser writes. “Two cavalry brigades under Col. Richard Gano reinforced Shelby and Marmaduke on April 6. On April 7, the rest of the Confederate forces in Camden further reinforced the units in the field. When the units from Camden arrived, Price took control of the entire army. Federal troops were also receiving long-awaited reinforcements. … On April 9, Thayer finally reached Steele, and the combined armies continued their march.

“Thayer’s men were short of food, and Steele had to request that rations be sent immediately from Little Rock. On April 10, Steele’s men reached Prairie D’Ane. The Confederates had been building earthworks for six days, and the Union troops immediately began building their own defensive positions about a mile away. Prairie D’Ane consists of about 30 square miles of open, rolling land surrounded by forests. For the next two days, the Union and Confederate armies exchanged an occasional artillery shell and engaged in limited skirmishing. Neither side wished to force a major engagement, and the bulk of the two armies received a short respite from the war. The men were able to relax and do everything from hunt rabbits to write letters home.”

There were several small attacks. The last fighting occurred about midnight on April 11.

“On April 11, Steele formed his army into a battle line that stretched more than two miles but didn’t move on the Confederate positions until the next day, when he found them abandoned,” Sesser writes. “Price had withdrawn under the cover of darkness to positions near Washington, where he prepared to defend the capital. With the Confederate Army defending Washington and leaving Camden undefended, Steele turned his troops to the east and moved on the city. His men entered Camden on April 15 despite Confederate attacks along the column.

“The skirmish at Prairie D’Ane allowed Steele to confuse the Confederates and force them to defend Washington while Union troops moved into Camden. Little loss of life resulted from the skirmish, but it was the turning point of the Camden Expedition. Without provisions, the Union advance into southwest Arkansas had been stopped and turned away. There was little hope of Steele reaching his ultimate objective of Shreveport and east Texas.”

The battlefield at Prairie D’Ane still looks much as it did at the time of the Civil War. On Feb. 23, 2018, an acquisition ceremony was held to present the deed for 808 acres of the battlefield to the Nevada County Depot & Museum.”

The museum at Prescott, which was founded in 1976, is a good place to learn more about the history of southwest Arkansas. It’s located in a 1912 depot. Passenger service to Prescott was suspended in 1968.

According to the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “The city of Prescott purchased the building and its adjoining parking lots from Missouri Pacific in 1970 for $1. During the next two years, the building was used for a variety of purposes, but the noise of passing trains soon forced the city simply to use the depot for storage. During the 1972 Prescott centennial celebration, several museum exhibits were set up in the depot, and excursion trains stopped in Prescott for the first time in years. It was during the centennial that a group of local citizens formed an organization to create a state park at the Prairie D’Ane battlefield. The depot served as the headquarters of the Nevada County State Park Association, as the group was known.

“In 1976, the Prescott Chamber of Commerce moved into the building. John Teeter became the first curator as several exhibits were installed. A replica of a pioneer cabin and some Civil War artifacts were among the first exhibits. In 1977, the Nevada County Historical Society successfully nominated the depot for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, and it was placed on the register on Nov. 17, 1978. The Nevada County State Park Association was also incorporated in 1978. In 1982, it became a nonprofit organization tasked with keeping the museum open to the public while at the same time furthering its goal of bringing a state park to Prairie D’Ane.”

No state park ever came to Prescott. In 1992, the depot received a grant from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program for renovations. Another grant came in 2000 from the Arkansas Highway Commission. The name of the association was changed to the Nevada County Depot & Museum.

When I was a boy growing up in Arkadelphia, people often would travel to Prescott to view Old Mike, the name of a traveling salesman who died there in 1911. The body was embalmed and open for public viewing for more than 60 years.

“Mike visited Prescott about once a month to sell pens, paper and thread to homes and businesses near the railroad tracks in the center of town,” Sesser writes. “He would arrive on the southbound 3 p.m. train and stay overnight. The next day, he would board the 3 p.m. train and continue his journey. On April 11, 1911, Mike probably attended an outdoor revival in the city park. The next day, his body was found underneath a tree in the park, where he had apparently died of a heart attack or stroke. The body was taken to Cornish Funeral Home, where it was embalmed. A search of Mike’s belongings didn’t turn up any identification.

“What was known about Mike was that he was 40 to 45 years old, spoke English with little accent, was probably Italian, had suffered some type of injury to his right arm and left leg (possibly the effects of a stroke) and had had elaborate dental work done. The body was placed on display at the funeral home in hopes of someone identifying it. No one came forward to identify or claim the body. As the years passed, it became more unlikely that Mike would ever be identified. The body turned into somewhat of a tourist attraction. People traveled from surrounding areas to view the remains. In 1975, the Arkansas attorney general’s office asked Cornish Funeral Home to bury the body. On May 12, 1975, a quiet ceremony was held at the DeAnn Cemetery, and Old Mike was put to rest.”

Prescott’s population has declined from 4,103 in the 1980 census to an estimated 3,000 residents today.

The land that is now Nevada County was sparsely populated for much of Arkansas’ history as a territory and state.

“It remained wilderness with a few cotton plantations introduced to the area in the first half of the 19th century,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “An important transportation corridor traversed the area, connecting Camden and Washington. This route, which ran several miles south of present-day Prescott, was part of the Indian removal route and also served as a major corridor for shipping goods and transporting people from the Washington area to the navigable head of the Ouachita River.”

The Cairo & Fulton Railroad was constructed across the north end of Nevada County in the early 1870s. Robert Burns moved from Little Rock to the Nevada County town of Moscow, two miles south of the tracks.

“He persuaded railroad surveyors to place a town on the line near Moscow,” Teske writes. “In August 1873, four surveyors, including W.H. Prescott, laid out 24 blocks on each side of the rails. Within two weeks, Burns had constructed a frame storehouse. A second store, a restaurant and a hotel quickly followed. The railroad had established a depot in the city by November. On Nov. 24, Prescott received a post office. Burns was named postmaster. Prescott was said to resemble an oil boom town in the speed of its growth.

“Controversy exists surrounding the name of the town. Most historians assume that it was named for the surveyor, but others note that railroad executives Thomas Allen and Henry Marquand had a friend of the same name for whom the city might have been named. A Methodist preacher led services in Burns’ store. The first church was a Cumberland Presbyterian church built in 1875. The first newspaper, called the Banner, was published in January of that year.”

A charter for the city was granted in October 1874, but the first election wasn’t held until 1876. E.A. Warren was the first mayor.

In 1877, Nevada County voters decided to move the county seat from Rosston to Prescott. A school district also was established that year. The Nevada County Picayune began publishing in 1878, and the first bank was established at Prescott in 1880.

“Prescott continued to grow and thrive as the 20th century approached,” Teske writes. “Ozan Lumber Co. was established at Prescott in 1891 to harvest the timber of southwest Arkansas. The Reader Railroad was created to link timber operations to the Cairo & Fulton line. Various crops, including peaches, were raised in the Prescott area. Icehouses in the city helped to preserve the fruit while it awaited shipping. Hines Trucking, an early transportation company, was established at Prescott in 1936.”

James Bemis and Benjamin Whitaker opened a sawmill in Prescott in April 1891. In July of that year, it was incorporated as Ozan Lumber Co. with the name apparently taken from the nearby town of Ozan in Hempstead County.

“Whitaker remained a part of the business for only a short period before selling out and embarking on other ventures,” Sesser writes. “The lumber business proved to be successful with timber shipped on the company-owned Prescott & Northwestern Railroad. The company opened a wholesale land office in 1901 under the control of Bemis and his sons, William N. Bemis and J.W. Bemis. The company continued to grow and began harvesting timber in the southern Ouachita Mountains in 1905, building a rail extension into the area that was known colloquially as the Pea Vine.

“Thomas Rosborough began working for the company around 1905. The brother-in-law of William Bemis, Rosborough had experience in the lumber industry, holding positions in Kansas and Louisiana. The company owned timberland in the Ouachita Mountains, but the terrain made it difficult to access. With the support of the Bemis family, Rosborough organized financial backers from Kansas City and founded the Caddo River Lumber Co. Rosborough built a mill about four miles northwest of Amity for Ozan Lumber Co. and began harvesting timber in the area. The area surrounding the mill was named Rosboro in honor of Rosborough. In 1908, Caddo River Lumber Co. purchased the mill and associated timberland from Ozan Lumber Co.”

In December 1915, Ozan Lumber Co. merged with the Grayson-McLeod Co. to form the Ozan-Graysonia Lumber Co.

“James Bemis died in 1918, and his sons continued to operate the company together until J.W. Bemis died in 1922,” Sesser writes. “J.R. Bemis, the son of William Bemis, joined his father in a partnership to operate a new company as a wholesale lumber company in St. Louis under the name Ozan Lumber Co. This company moved to Prescott in July 1929 and formally incorporated. Starting as a wholesale lumber business, the company expanded into manufacturing the next year. This mill was replaced in 1933 by a two-story mill on the same site. It burned in 1936. A second mill operated during the same period at Whelen Springs in Clark County and a third was constructed at Delight in Pike County.”

The Delight mill opened in 1937. The Whelen Springs mill closed in 1938, but a mill opened at Rosboro the following year.

“Rough lumber from the Rosboro mill was placed onto flat railcars and transferred to the Delight mill, where it was dried and finished,” Sesser writes. “With the death of William Bemis in 1935, the Ozan-Graysonia Lumber Co. and the Ozan Lumber Co. merged under the latter’s name. Four retail lumber yards and about 52,000 acres of land were transferred to the new company. The lumber yards were sold by 1941, but the company continued to purchase additional land. It focused on selective harvesting of timber, moving away from large-scale clear cutting. By 1956, the company owned more than 132,000 acres of timber.

“The company cut smaller second- and third-growth timber, as the large virgin forests had almost disappeared. This business model led the company to invest in education programs in nearby schools to teach children the importance of replanting trees after a harvest. The mill at Delight was destroyed by fire in March 1952. In order to continue to supply other operatons of the company, including a planing mill at Delight, the Rosboro mill was moved from one shift to two shifts. This second shift remained until November 1953. The company focused on other businesses outside of the timber and rail industries. Ozan Lumber Co. even owned automobile dealerships at Prescott and Smackover.”

What was then the Potlatch Corp. purchased the company in 1964. With the housing industry battered by the Great Recession, Potlatch closed its Prescott mill in 2008.

 

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Rex’s Rankings: The playoffs continue

Monday, November 16th, 2020

We’ve made it through the first week of the high school football playoffs in this year of the virus.

As expected, some good teams — teams such as Bentonville West and Benton — had to forfeit games.

In 2020, it will be as much about staying healthy as it is about playing well for those teams that make it to state title games.

No. 1 Bryant did just as expected, winning easily by a final score of 34-7 over Rogers Heritage.

No. 2 Bentonville had the week off. In fact, many of our ranked teams had last Friday night off.

Here are the updated rankings as we head into the second week of the playoffs:

OVERALL

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

CLASS 7A

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

CLASS 6A

  1. Greenwood
  2. Little Rock Parkview
  3. Lake Hamilton
  4. Sylvan Hills
  5. El Dorado

CLASS 5A

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

CLASS 4A

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

CLASS 3A

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

CLASS 2A

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

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Rex’s Rankings: The playoffs begin

Monday, November 9th, 2020

There were plenty of fits and starts — just as we knew there would be in this year of the virus — but we have somehow made it to the playoffs in high school football.

Brackets were released Saturday with 28 teams listed on that day as having opted out of the playoffs.

There will be games in all six classifications this Friday.

Class 7A, 6A and 2A will play first-round games.

There will be what are known as play-in games in Class 5A, 4A and 3A.

Last Friday, Bryant continued to make its mark as one of the best teams in the state’s history with a 70-33 victory over Conway.

The six No. 1 teams in the various classifications are familiar names in high school football in this state: Bryant, Greenwood, Pulaski Academy, Shiloh Christian, Harding Academy and Fordyce.

Here are the updated rankings as the playoffs commence:

OVERALL

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

CLASS 7A

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

CLASS 6A

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

CLASS 5A

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

CLASS 4A

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

CLASS 3A

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

CLASS 2A

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

 

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Rex’s Rankings: After 10 weeks

Monday, November 2nd, 2020

We have just one week remaining in the regular season.

It was supposed to be the game of the year last Friday, but it wound up being a blowout as No. 1 Bryant destroyed No. 2 North Little Rock by a final score of 58-21.

North Little Rock drops to No. 5 in this week’s Top 10.

Lake Hamilton also took care of business in the Class 6A showdown with a 51-34 win over Benton. Lake Hamilton stays at No. 2 in Class 6A while Benton drops out of the Top 5 in that classification with its fourth loss of the season.

Here are the updated rankings as the regular season comes to a close with games on Thursday and Friday of this week:

OVERALL

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

CLASS 7A

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

CLASS 6A

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

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. McGehee
  5. Rison

CLASS 2A

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

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