The phone calls and emails began coming in several weeks before that final day.
“Do you know that Joanna Taylor is closing the Georgetown One Stop?” everyone asked.
Last week, the One Stop served its final meal near the banks of the White River in White County. The place was packed for nights as the end neared.
Because I’ve written about the Georgetown One Stop before — here on the Southern Fried blog and in my Arkansas Democrat-Gazette column — a Democrat-Gazette reporter called me for a quote.
First, I told her that I understood that Joanna was tired and needed a break from the tough task of running a restaurant. No one should begrudge her the choice of retiring.
Second, I told the reporter that there were a couple of things that set the One Stop apart. One was the fact that Joanna continued to serve river catfish caught by commercial fishermen at a time when most restaurants serve pond-raised fish. Another was the fact that you don’t just pass through Georgetown. It’s literally the end of the road. You have to make an effort to get there. The drive along the Little Red River and then through those lowlands was an integral part of the overall experience.
Third, I said that the loss of the Georgetown One Stop was to catfish eaters what the loss of Shadden’s near Marvell was to barbecue eaters. I’m a catfish and a barbecue eater, so I mourn the demise of both places.
Again, though, I understand.
People die, people retire, towns lose their population base. We can’t expect even the classic places to last forever.
Here’s what we can do: We can patronize those restaurants that are special on a regular basis. We can tip well while we’re there. We can tell our friends about them.
In an increasingly urbanized culture, my hope is that Arkansas doesn’t lose too many of the rural, out-of-the-way spots like Shadden’s and the Georgetown One Stop, the places that make this state what it is.
I had feared the One Stop was history in 2011 following the devastating floods along the White River. But then something amazing happened. Area people pitched in and after extensive remodeling, the restaurant reopened in July 2011.
Earlier this year, I was going with two other men to Searcy to hear former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speak at Harding University. One of my guests was from Kansas. The other lives here in Little Rock. Neither had ever been to the One Stop.
We pulled out of Little Rock on that third Thursday in April, arriving in Georgetown shortly after 5 p.m. Joanna was smiling and gave her usual friendly greeting. My guests couldn’t stop talking about their meals. She asked to take our photo at the end.
Little did I know that would be my last trip to the One Stop.
Unfortunately, I had come to the One Stop late in life. After having heard about the place for years, I finally made my first trip in April 2010.
I wrote this here on Southern Fried: “Yes, I made it to the Georgetown One Stop, that end-of-the road citadel of fried catfish in the southeast corner of White County. People would constantly ask me if I had partaken of the catfish at the One Stop. Until last Thursday, the answer was ‘no.’ They wondered why. I had no real explanation. Now, I’ve remedied that.
“Just as she has been doing for every customer for more than a decade, Joanna Taylor made sure I was full. The catfish was great. But the trip was even better. Once I left U.S. Highway 67-167, it was like a step back into Arkansas’ past. On that lazy journey down Arkansas Highway 36, you feel enveloped by the past. It happens as soon as you reach downtown Kensett. This was, after all, the home of the A.P. Mills General Store and Wilbur Mills. It was where Mr. Mills was born, and it was where he came home to die.”
Some historians believe that the site of Georgetown was the second settlement established in the state by European explorers, surpassed only by Arkansas Post. That would make Georgetown the oldest exsiting town in the state since Arkansas Post is now a National Park Service site, not an active community.
French explorer Francis Francure received a land grant of 1,361 acres from the Spanish king in 1789 and settled in the area.
Georgetown got its current name in 1909 in honor of three men from Clarendon with the last name of George who purchased, sold and developed land there. The Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad built a bridge over the White River at Georgetown in 1908. The great flood of 1927 damaged the bridge, and it was never properly repaired. The railroad ceased operations to Georgetown in 1946.
In the 2000 census, Georgetown had a population of 126.
Joanna moved to Georgetown from Little Rock. Her sister, Jeannie, had bought the gas station and convenience store there, and Joanna went to work for her. She began serving lunch and later breakfast to area farmers. When word got out about the quality of the catfish she purchased from commercial fishermen on the White River and then trimmed by hand, patrons began demanding she add dinner. So breakfast became a thing of the past, as did the store and the gas pumps. The One Stop became solely a catfish restaurant. There was no menu.
Granted, Joanna would bring some buffalo ribs, also out of the White River, if you asked for them.
It was $9 for all you could eat.
When I was young, restaurants all over Arkansas still advertised “White River catifsh.” It’s hard to find actual White River catfish these days on a restaurant menu.
A month after that April 2010 post on the One Stop, I was writing about the death of Wayne Shadden and the closing of Shadden’s along U.S. Highway 49 in Phillips County.
Here’s part of what I wrote: “As I passed the venerable Shadden’s store west of Marvell, I noticed that one of my favorite places to eat barbecue in the Delta was closed. I remember hoping that nothing was wrong. I had no way of knowing that last Thursday would be barbecue impresario Wayne Shadden’s final day of life.
“Mr. Shadden died the following day at age 77 at his home near Marvell. The obituary in The Daily World at Helena simply said, ‘Wayne was a good cook and well-known for his barbecue. He was a Navy veteran, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.’
“What an understatement. Well-known for his barbecue. Wayne Shadden was much more than that. For true Delta barbecue aficionados, he was one of the masters. People heard about Shadden’s and came from across the country to try the barbecue. If you ate in the store, there was one table in the back you could share with others who were on their own barbecue pilgrimages.
“I hope the store survives. Too many places like this don’t. An owner dies, and in small town after small town across the Delta, all we’re left with are convenience stores selling fried chicken under heat lamps.”
Well, my worst fears were realized after writing that. The store didn’t reopen. Wayne Shadden’s wife was tired, and the kids all lived out of state — a son in Washington state, a son in California, a daughter in Texas and a daughter in Virginia.
The wooden building that housed Shadden’s is almost 100 years old. From the outside, it still looks like it did when it closed more than two years ago. I drive by now and sometimes see folks posing for photos out front.
Sadly, that trend of being left only with convenience stores selling fried chicken under heat lamps is not limited to the Delta. We’re seeing it all over rural Arkansas.
Ms. Joanna has retired, and the One Stop has closed.
Mr. Wayne died, and Shadden’s never reopened.
Like I said, patronize the really special places while they’re still in business. Once they’re gone, you’ll have only the memories.
P.S. The Southern Fried blog will be taking a one-month summer hiatus. I’m about to take a much-needed family vacation that will be followed by business travel and work on a couple of other projects. I’ll be back sometime in August with new posts. Have a wonderful rest of the summer.