The end of the road


We exit Newton County just north of Marble Falls on Arkansas Highway 7 and enter Boone County. It will be the final county on our Highway 7 trek.

Unlike some of the rural counties around it, Boone County has seen its population more than double since the 1960 census. There were 16,116 residents in 1960 and 36,903 in the 2010 census.

Following the Civil War, those who lived in the area asked the Arkansas Legislature to split up sprawling Carroll County. Boone County was created in April 1869 from pieces of Marion and Carroll counties. It was determined that the Missouri border would mark the county’s northern boundary.

“Although no documentation supports it, the most widely quoted belief is that the county was named for frontiersman Daniel Boone,” C.J. Miller writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “But some say the name is a misspelling of ‘boon’ because it was thought that the creation of a county would be a boon to residents. Lines drawn between residents during the Civil War often resurfaced in the new county. When the county seat was selected, it was not in the established town of Bellefonte but in the new town of Harrison, where Confederate beliefs were not as strong.

“Towns developed. Lead Hill grew up near the site of what had been Dubuque. Smelters were built to process lead from the area. With the popularity of the healing waters in Eureka Springs in Carroll County, Boone County’s Elixir Springs was promoted. The post-Reconstruction era began with the resurgence of conflict between the former Confederates and the Republicans who controlled Boone County. The ex-Confederates attempted to move the county seat from Republican-controlled Harrison to Bellefonte. After a countywide vote, it remained at Harrison.

“Lead and zinc mines began to appear. Fruit crops of peaches, pears, plums and the popular Boone County apples were grown. Cotton was a big cash crop until declining prices cut production in half.”

The coming of the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad and the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad in the early 1900s helped open up the county to new arrivals. Lumber mills and dairy farms opened.

Meanwhile, the small black population disappeared.

Miller writes: “The African-American population, which had shown limited growth in each census since 1870, decreased from 142 in 1900 to seven in 1910. The sudden change was attributed to race riots that occurred in Harrison, which were thought to have been caused by the arrival of workers constructing the new rail line. Also, the quick conviction of a young black man for the assault of an elderly white woman brought a rapid decline in the black population of the county. Soon establishments providing higher wages for black workers closed. By the time the convicted man was hanged, most black citizens had fled the county. No black residents were listed on the 1940 census.”

The race issue has continued to plague Boone County as Thom Robb, the head of one wing of the Ku Klux Klan, calls it home.

Harrison grew from 6,580 residents in the 1960 census to 12,943 in the 2010 census. J.E. Dunlap, the publisher of the Harrison Daily Times, declared the city the “hub of the Ozarks” and relentlessly promoted it across the state.

“Harrison today is far different from how it was in the past,” Miller writes. “A levee along Crooked Creek protects downtown from flooding. The old high school houses the Boone County Historical & Railroad Society, which displays three floors of city and county history. The Brandon Burlsworth Youth Center serves children and adults. The Ozark Arts Council purchased the 1929 Lyric Theatre in 1999. Plays, classic movies, art shows and concerts are presented in the historic building. In 2011, the first liquor store to operate in Harrison since 1941 opened its doors following an election that turned the county wet.”

We take a few minutes to get out of the car and walk around the Harrison town square. We read the monuments on the grounds of the Boone County Courthouse, which was built in 1909.

The trip is nearing its end as we leave Harrison and drive north through Bergman, South Lead Hill, Lead Hill and finally Diamond City. These are all places whose fortunes changed with the construction of Bull Shoals Lake.

Bull Shoals Dam is to the east of us, at the point where the White River divides Marion and Baxter counties. But the lake has played a key role in helping Boone County grow.

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

The Corps of Engineers completed the construction of Norfork Dam on the North Fork River, a tributary of the White, in 1945. Many of the same workers were involved in the construction of Bull Shoals, which began in 1947.

“The dam contains 2.1 million cubic yards of concrete,” Branyan writes. “At the time of its construction, Bull Shoals Dam was the fifth largest in the country, and its powerhouse was the largest building in Arkansas. Along with its 17 spillway gates, which are 40 feet by 29 feet, there are also 16 outlet conduits that can each discharge 3,375 cubic feet per second. The flow of one of these conduits is roughly equivalent to one of the powerhouses’s eight generators running at full capacity.”

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

Widespread media coverage accompanied President Harry Truman’s visit to Arkansas to dedicate Bull Shoals on July 2, 1952.

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

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

Before we reach the shores of the lake on Highway 7, we must pass through Lead Hill. Though it only had a population of 271 people in the 2010 census, it has a colorful history. It began as a mining town on the White River and had to be relocated to its current location when it was flooded by the lake.

“Several small smelters were established in the late 1860s, although the immediate surroundings of Lead Hill had only small deposits of lead and zinc that offered a modest return,” Steven Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “A store was established in 1868, and a water-powered mill and cotton gin were erected the same year. A second store was opened in 1869, the same year in which Boone County was established. A Masonic lodge was built in 1870 with school classes held on the first floor. Citizens filed papers to incorporate the town in 1873.”

In 1857, the Arkansas Legislature had authorized a geological survey of the state.

“Newly appointed state geologist David Dale Owen conducted a reconnaissance of north Arkansas in 1857-58, which located numerous indications of lead and zinc,” Robert Myers writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Owen found that the Independence Mining Co. of St. Louis was mining smithsonite for zinc ore at what’s now Calamine in Sharp County, making Calamine one of America’s early zinc mines. The company suspended operations during the Civil War.

“At the outbreak of the war, Confederate troops seized the rich Granby lead mines of southwest Missouri, then touted as able to provide all the lead needed for the Confederate cause. In 1861, 75,000 pounds of pig lead a month were being hauled overland to Van Buren to be shipped to the Memphis ordnance works. The loss of Missouri to the Union following the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas effectively meant losing this important source. The Confederate Nitre and Mining Bureau mined lead and saltpeter (an ingredient in gunpowder) in Newton, Marion, Pulaski and Sevier counties. However, these operations proved too close to enemy lines and were soon abandoned for more secure sources in Texas.

“Under Reconstruction, the development of Arkansas’ lead and zinc resources rebounded but later faltered. The American Zinc Co. renewed mining at Calamine in 1871 but soon closed. In 1882, the Carthage & Arkansas Mining Co. erected a smelter and platted the town of Boxley in Newton County. The company shipped lead from Eureka Springs, the nearest railroad point, to St. Louis. But the 95-mile wagon haul made mining cost prohibitive. The Morning Star Mine in Marion County, discovered on Rush Creek in 1880, provided a bonanza of remarkably pure zinc. … The Morning Star Mine produced a huge zinc carbonate boulder weighing 12,750 pounds that was appropriately named Jumbo. When exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Jumbo won the highest awards.”

Demand for both lead and zinc rose during World War I. Arkansas, however, didn’t benefit as much as some other states.

“Arkansas’ lead and zinc deposits were simply too limited and irregular to warrant significant industrial and infrastructure investments,” Myers writes. “Once the railroads finally extended through north Arkansas, companies experienced a series of bankruptcies and bailouts. Although lead mining ceased statewide by 1959, geologists now believe significant potential exists in north Arkansas for the discovery of deep (more than 1,500 feet) deposits of lead and zinc as the southern extension of the New Viburnum lead district in southern Missouri. The cultural legacy of lead and zinc mining includes place names such as the towns of Calamine in Sharp County, Galena in Howard County, Lead Hill in Boone County and Zinc in Boone County.”

The Kellogg Mine north of Little Rock had the state’s deepest mine shaft at 1,125 feet in 1940 when mining ended there.

Back to Lead Hill: Crippled by the Great Depression, the Bank of Lead Hill closed in 1931. Several stores, a flour mill, a cotton gin and a canning factory survived. Then came Bull Shoals.

“Some buildings were moved to higher ground, but many historic structures were abandoned and destroyed,” Teske writes. “The move occupied three years from 1949-51. The location of the new town was a hill northwest of the old town site, which was locally known as Ku Klux Hill because the Ku Klux Klan had burned a cross on that hill around 1930. Not all the relocated families and businesses chose to live at the new location of Lead Hill. South Lead Hill and Diamond City were also created at this time.”

Teske adds: “A few families chose a location a bit south of the relocated Lead Hill, and they named their town South Lead Hill. A dedication ceremony was held on March 9, 1950 to promote South Lead Hill. Free lots were offered to churches. Stores, theaters and residential areas were planned. The Baptist congregation of Lead Hill divided into two churches, one of which was built in South Lead Hill. A Pentecostal congregation built a church building between Lead Hill and South Lead Hill. The town of South Lead Hill was incorporated in 1970. The town has never had a post office. At the time of the 2010 census, the population of South Lead Hill was 102, all of whom were white.”

The last city as we head north on Highway 7 is Diamond City, which had a population of 782 in the 2010 census.

As Bull Shoals Lake began to fill, a community named Sugarloaf was formed on the site of a former settlement that had been known as Dubuque.

“Developer Henry Dietz converted the town of Sugarloaf into a second-class city in the 1960s,” Teske writes. “He succeeded in incorporating Diamond City on June 7, 1960, although Diamond City and Sugarloaf weren’t officially consolidated until May 5, 1966. Surrounded by Bull Shoals Lake on three sides (with Lead Hill to the south), Diamond City is best known from its many fishing spots. Several lakeside resorts draw tourists to the city, and the population is said to swell significantly during the fishing season.”

We stop the vehicle at the park where Highway 7 ends, walk to the shore of Bull Shoals and throw a few rocks in. We look north across the water toward Missouri and contemplate all we’ve seen on the trip up Highway 7.

Highway 7 has taken us through four of the state’s six distinct geographic areas — the Gulf Coastal Plain, the Ouachita Mountains, the Arkansas River Valley and the Ozark Mountains; everything but Crowley’s Ridge and the Delta.

From Hartwell Smith Jr. at Smith’s Liquor Store in the pine woods of Ouachita County in south Arkansas to Connie Hawks at the Hollis Country Store in the Ouachita Mountains of Perry County, we’ve visited with the type of rural Arkansans who give this state its soul. This trip has reminded us what a varied, fascinating place Arkansas is.

Reluctantly, we point our vehicle south and begin the trip home to Little Rock.

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