Archive for March, 2019

From Norman to Lake Ouachita

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019


What’s now Norman was known as Womble until 1925. It had just 378 residents in the 2010 census, down from a high of 552 people a century earlier.

“The town was created as a result of the building of the Gurdon & Fort Smith Railroad and grew because of the lumber mills that sprang up along its right of way,” Russell Baker writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “It was once the home of the Presbyterian Church’s Caddo Valley Academy. In 1905, plans were announced to extend the Gurdon & Fort Smith line from Glenwood, then its terminus, to Black Springs in Montgomery County. This announcement brought a large number of land speculators, including Walter E. Womble Sr., into the area.

“In 1907, a dispute over rights of way halted the project near the Caddo River, several miles short of its goal. The Black Springs Lumber Co. abandoned its plans to build a large lumber mill at Black Springs and chose a site at the railhead instead. It was soon joined by the Bear State Lumber Co. In 1907, Walter Womble, taking advantage of the situation, acquired land and staked out a new town in a corn field just north of the railhead. Its post office opened in July 1907 with Womble as postmaster.”

The town of Womble was incorporated in February 1910.

“In 1914, it became the location of the Ouachita National Forest’s Womble Ranger Station,” Baker writes. “In 1915, the citizens of Womble made the first of three unsuccessful attempts to have the county seat moved from Mount Ida to the new community. Walter Womble was the main backer of this proposal. In 1920, the Arkansas Presbyterian Church began an educational mission work, or mountain mission, at Womble under the care of a local minister, Dr. John T. Barr. The next year, a boarding school called Caddo Valley Academy opened to help educate the area’s ‘worthy but needy’ children. In 1924, the academy obtained a 37-acre site at Womble and began construction of a complex of buildings. For many years, the academy was a landmark in southern Montgomery County. During the 1930s, its operations were gradually consolidated with those of the Norman School District.”

Walter Womble was replaced as postmaster in 1922. Residents of the community voted to change the name of the town to Norman in 1925, and Walter Womble moved his family to Fort Smith.

“By the 1930s, most of the prime timber in the area had been cut, and the mills began to move elsewhere,” Baker writes. “A few small sawmills kept the town’s economy going on a reduced scale. Norman’s schools consolidated with those of nearby Caddo Gap in 1971, forming the Caddo Hills School District. In 1982, Norman lost its railroad connection, and its population dropped to 382 in 1990. Now it serves as a bedroom community for workers with employment in larger towns.”

The Norman Library once was listed in the “Guinness Book of World Records” for being the smallest freestanding public library in the country.

“A garden club was founded by a group of local women in 1936,” writes David Sesser of Henderson State University. “One of the first projects of the club was to replace the barbed-wire fence that surrounded the local park and town square with a native stone wall. By 1939, with the help of the Works Progress Administration, the wall was constructed. The club’s crowning achievement came to fruition in 1940 with the establishment of the library in the center of the park. The building was originally constructed to serve as the town’s pumping station, moving water from the Caddo River to the water tower on the other side of town. Measuring 170 square feet, the small building was rarely used. Even city workers infrequently entered the structure.

“Marie Pinkerton, the president and founder of the garden club, approached the city council to inquire about acquiring the use of the building for the establishment of a town library. The council agreed, and the club raised funds to furnish the building. Mission oak shelving was used to house the more than 500 books that the group gathered. Two librarians were hired, and the library opened to the public. It remained open intermittently during the next half century. During this time, it also served as a temporary office and jail. The building is a single-story masonry structure with a gabled roof. It is rectangular and features a Craftsman-style front porch over the northern entrance, while the southern entrance has a simple shed-roof porch. Two nine-paned windows are in both the eastern and western walls of the building.”

A group was organized to restore the structure in the 1990s. The park and the library were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.

“Throughout the 1990s, the library was open five days a week and served the community as the only point of internet access in the surrounding area,” Sesser writes. “Grant money was received to repair the stone wall around the park and to replace the roof of the library building. In 2006, the roof of the library was replaced, but it began leaking almost immediately. The library was closed.”

Near Norman is the CCC Company 741 Powder Magazine Historic District. It consists of two stone-and-concrete structures that were used to store powder and blasting caps used by the Civilian Conservation Corps during its work in the Ouachita National Forest.

“CCC Company 741, the oldest CCC company in the Arkansas District, was formed on May 1, 1933, at Camp Pike and moved to Crystal Springs Camp on May 17, 1933,” writes Arkansas historian Mark Christ. “Four side camps were established from the Crystal Springs Camp, including Crystal Valley Camp near Norman. The magazine structures were constructed to serve Crystal Valley, probably around 1936. The company constructed the powder magazine and blasting cap magazine to store explosives for use on projects such as road and bridge construction.

“The powder magazine is the larger of the two buildings. It sits just north of Forest Service Road 177M, about 370 feet southeast of the small blasting cap magazine, which is a 10-by-10 square building. Both buildings are about five feet high with four-inch-thick concrete tops and concrete floors. The cut-stone and concrete walls are about a foot thick. Though they are of simple, functional design, the structures are noteworthy for their association with the contributions of the CCC. They also are notable for their connection to Company 741.”

On the edge of Norman along the banks of the Caddo River is what’s known as the Caddo Indian Memorial. A quarter-mile path allows hikers to read signs explaining the Caddo culture. Unfortunately, several of the signs have been stolen and others are hard to read as maintenance at the memorial has been minimal through the years. The site was a Caddo burial ground where Huddleston Creek runs into the Caddo River.

“In October 1988, the city of Norman had begun excavation at this site for construction of a sewage treatment plant,” Mary Lysobey writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Digging was stopped when bones and artifacts were discovered. Subsequent archaeological excavations by Dr. Ann Early of the Arkansas Archeological Survey found evidence of significant Caddo Indian occupation from 1250-1500. Two burials and a small cluster of residential features and artifacts — including two small incised ceramic jars, a large chert biface and eight novaculite arrow points — were uncovered, indicating that Caddo Indians lived on this plot of ground. Earlier residential use of the site left the remains of a large circular house with a hearth and burned floor. Artifacts of the Archaic and Woodland Fourche Maline periods were also discovered.”

Leaders of the Caddo Indian Nation in Oklahoma asked the city of Norman to relocate the plant, and those wishes were followed. The remains and artifacts were reburied. Caddo Chairman Elmo Clark led a religious ceremony on the grounds in April 1989.

“The burial ground was then covered with a hard-to-dig material to thwart future pilfering and pot hunting,” Lysobey writes. “Grass was planted, and a wooden fence was added to keep vehicles off the premises. The city maintained the area, but nothing indicated that the fence encompassed a sacred place. In 2000, the Southern Montgomery County Development Council received a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council to create and display interpretive historical signage at the Caddo burial ground. … SMCDC funded and provided the labor to construct a pathway, which was made of natural materials as requested by the Caddo Nation. The path and the signs were in place by the summer of 2002.”

We leave Norman and take Arkansas Highway 27 through the Ouachita National Forest to Mount Ida.

Life traditionally was rough in this mountain community. Writing for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas about the years during and immediately following the Civil War, Debbie Baldwin and Betty Prince note: “With so many men away from their farming duties, citizens of Mount Ida began to suffer from inadequate food supplies even in the early stages of the war. In addition to this hardship, Mount Ida had very little protection from renegades such as jayhawkers and bushwhackers.”

The original Montgomery County Courthouse was dismantled in 1873 and replaced with a two-story frame building. A two-story schoolhouse was built in 1893. A short silver mining boom had brought new people to the area in the 1880s.

By 1920, there were nine general stores, a drugstore, two hardware stores, two blacksmith shops, a garage, two sawmills, a cotton gin, a stave mill, a flour mill and three hotels at Mount Ida. The city received national media attention in 1931-32 when its city council consisted only of women.

Mount Ida’s population was only 566 in the 1950 census, but the construction of nearby Lake Ouachita brought new residents. By the 2010 census, the population had almost doubled to 1,076.

The 1923 Montgomery County Courthouse has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976.

“The courthouse’s style is often described as Arkansas Adamesque,” Jared Craig writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Designed by Clyde Ferrel and built in 1923, the courthouse is constructed of random-patterned native stone. The structure’s restrained classical elements are reminiscent of courthouses across Arkansas, including pilasters and a stone arch over the principal entrance. The ceiling of the courtroom is made of pressed tin that has been painted white. As county demands grew, Montgomery County built an additional one-story building in 1975 as a courthouse annex.”

Much as is the case at the Stone County Courthouse in north-central Arkansas, music can be heard on the Montgomery Courthouse grounds on Saturday nights.

Craig writes: “In 2000, some Mount Ida residents started the Montgomery County Front Porch to showcase local musicians and others from around the state. A wooden stage, commonly known as the Front Porch Stage, stands on the outer edge of the square where concertgoers sit on the lawn and listen to music. Performances are free to the public. The music includes bluegrass, country and gospel. A concession stand, called the Back Porch Kitchen, serves refreshments. A sound system was donated by the Florida Power & Light Co. following the community’s warm reception to power crews working on downed lines in the area during an ice storm in December 2000.”

Lake Ouachita, which is the largest lake completely within the borders of Arkansas at more than 40,000 acres, changed this area of the state.

Congress had authorized surveys of the Ouachita River as early as 1870 to see if there were ways to prevent floods and improve navigability.

“Nothing was done until the 1920s when Harvey Couch and his company, Arkansas Power & Light Co., began searching for sites for hydroelectric dams along the Ouachita River,” Guy Lancaster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “AP&L built Remmel Dam and Carpenter Dam, which were in place by the early 1930s. Plans for a third, larger dam were announced in 1938 for the Blakely Mountain area. It was to be a joint project of AP&L and the federal government, which would fund $6 million and $2 million of the costs respectively. The following year, AP&L sought federal permission to delay the dam’s construction, but the Federal Power Commission terminated the utility’s permit and proceeded by itself.

“Preliminary core drilling was soon carried out, financed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, Congress didn’t appropriate any funds until 1946 when $1 million was appropriated to begin construction. Residents of the area that was slated to be inundated had been leaving since the 1930s, and the exodus accelerated as work began. The town of Buckville in Garland County was relocated to high ground, though little remains of it today. The relocation of graves was completed in 1952, and the clearing of the area for the reservoir took place in 1951-52. By 1952, the dam portion of the project was complete and already serving flood-control purposes. Construction on an electric power plant began. The power plant went online, generating its first electric power on July 17, 1955.”

The official dedication of Blakely Mountain Dam occurred on July 4, 1956, with U.S. Sen. John L. McClellan and Congressman William F. Norrell on the program.

“Blakely Mountain Dam is composed of about 4 million cubic yards of earth drawn from the surrounding area,” Lancaster writes. “This material proved to be high in clay content and thus suitable for a dam. It was constructed by Groves, Lundin & Cox, contractors based in Minneapolis, at a final cost of $31 million. The dam is 231 feet tall and 1,100 feet long. The generators in the dam’s power plant are capable of producing 75,000 kilowatt hours of power. Blakely Mountain Dam’s position on the Ouachita River, higher than Remmel and Carpenter dams, lessens the likelihood of those dams facing flood stage.”

The creation of Lake Ouachita State Park as a legal entity occurred in 1955, but the park wasn’t officially established or staffed until 1965. Many of the structures at the park were built in the 1970s. Park improvements since the 1990s have included a visitors’ center, cabins and additional campsites. The park’s location once was known as Three Sisters Springs.

According to the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism: “In 1875, homesteader John McFadden claimed that three springs on his property about 12 miles north of Hot Springs possessed healing properties. The springs’ collective name, Three Sisters, reputedly was derived from the fact that McFadden had three daughters. In 1907, W.M. Cecil and his partners bought the property. Cecil later bought out his partners and began developing McFadden’s Three Sisters Springs Resort. By the mid-1930s, its facilities included cottages, a springhouse and a bottling plant. Claiming each spring could cure a different set of diseases, Cecil distributed his bottled World’s Wonder Waters across the country. Analyses have since shown waters from all three springs contain the same elements — such as iron, potassium and sodium — in slightly different proportions.

“After the site underwent another ownership change in 1939, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acquired it in 1951 in conjunction with its Lake Ouachita construction project. The actual lake was completed in 1952 but wasn’t opened to the general public until 1955 when the nearby power plant was completed. The Corps approached the state that year about establishing the state park to preserve the Three Sisters springs and leased the state 360 acres, including the springs, for park development.”

There are a number of popular commercial ventures along the south side of the lake with access roads off U.S. Highway 270.

There’s Lake Ouachita Shores, the closest of the establishments to Mount Ida. It long was known as Denby Point Lodge & Marina. It offers motel rooms, cabins and a marina.

There’s Crystal Springs Resort, which the Tommy Trantham family (yes that Tommy Trantham, the former Razorback who was a three-time All-Southwest Conference selection at defensive back from 1965-67) operated for many years. Crystal Springs has a marina with a snack bar and gift shop, a restaurant that’s open during the summer months, a motel, several cabins overlooking the marina and a 14-bedroom lodge with meeting facilities.

There’s Brady Mountain Resort, which has a marina with more than 650 slips, a marina store, lakeside lodging and seasonal dining.

There’s Echo Canyon Resort, which long was known as the Spillway Resort & Marina. It also has a marina, lodging and a restaurant.

The largest and fanciest of the private developments along the lake is Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa. It has been owned and operated by the Barnes family since 1955 when Hal Barnes discovered a nice harbor near Hickory Nut Mountain. His son Bill Barnes, who earlier this year was inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame, later took over the operation. Bill is still active, but there’s also a third generation of the family involved in a development that offers not only what the other resorts along the lake offer (marina, lodging, restaurant) but also a full spa, three swimming pools, the most upscale condos on the lake and a large conference center.

The establishment on Lake Ouachita that really takes me back in time is Shangri-La Resort, where I would stay with my family when I was a boy. My father loved to fish for bass and crappie. DeGray Lake, near my hometown of Arkadelphia, had yet to fill up. So we would come to spend weekends at Shangri-La so my dad could fish and I could swim while my mother watched.

Longtime Arkansas food and travel writer Kat Robinson wrote in 2017: “Daniel Maurice and Louise Mowbray Hunter opened the Shangri-La Resort just after Blakely Dam was completed to hold in Lake Ouachita. They started out with six motel rooms and two cabins and expanded through the years. From what I’ve been told, Austin and Varine Carr came on about a month before the resort opened. Austin, as the carpenter, built many of the buildings at the resort. The Carrs became part owners of the resort in 1979 or 1980 and full owners in 2006.

“Varine Carr assisted in the kitchen, eventually taking over the cafe. Though Ida Todd and Rosemary Johnson started the legacy of making delectable pies at Shangri-La, it’s Mrs. Carr who has perfected them and become so well known for them. … It it wasn’t for the modern vehicles parked here and there, it would be hard to discern it from photos from long ago. Postcards from years past show the same idyllic scene — a series of small cabins and a long, single-story motor-court hotel spread along a peninsula into Lake Ouachita; a series of boat docks; lush vegetation of the forest separated from the deep blue waters of the lake by a tan strip of shoreline; the white-and-red aluminum awning that keeps the sun from shining directly into the cafe; the neon tubes over the red-and-white sign denoting the location of the cafe and office. … It’s a nostalgic wander down an asphalt lane to a different time when heading to the lake meant losing complete contact with civilization.”

I’m often asked who has the best homemade pie in Arkansas. The restaurant at Shangri-La gets my vote.

To the Cossatot and back

Friday, March 15th, 2019


There’s not much traffic on Arkansas Highway 84 as we head west through the northern part of Pike County, passing through the communities of Lodi and Langley.

At Langley, we head north up Arkansas Highway 369 to check out the Albert Pike Recreation Area on the Little Missouri River. During the night of June 10-11, 2010, a flash flood along the river killed 20 people. The river rose more than 20 feet in less than four hours. Dozens of other campers were rescued by emergency workers. I remember that I was getting out of the car in Memphis, where I had gone with friends to watch the St. Jude Classic professional golf tournament, when I heard the stunning news from back home on the radio.

“We started hearing children and women screaming and crying,” Crystel Hofer, who was asleep in her cabin, told reporters the next day. “So we went to the door and opened it, and they were trying to come up the hill to where our cabin was to escape the rising water. Within 10 minutes, the water rose and campers were floating down.”

The force of the water was so great that it overturned recreational vehicles and peeled asphalt off the roads. Most people were asleep when the flooding began.

The Little Missouri River in the area was at 3 feet that Thursday morning. After 7.6 inches of rain fell overnight, it was at 23.5 feet by Friday morning as National Guard helicopters flew over the area to survey the damage. A refrigerated truck was brought in to serve as a temporary morgue.

The U.S. Forest Service closed the campground and hasn’t allowed camping there since the flood. In May 2012, portions of the recreational site were reopened for day use. This stretch of the Little Missouri remains popular with hikers and those just wishing to picnic along the river, though it would be nice if the Forest Service did a bit more to clean up the grounds. I’ve been told that things are left in such disrepair in order to discourage people from trying to break the rules and camp out.

Starting here at Albert Pike, when the water is at the right level, canoeists can float 20 miles to the U.S. Highway 70 bridge near where the river runs into Lake Greeson.

The Little Missouri River begins in Polk County and flows to the southeast through Montgomery and Pike counties. The lower part of the river below Lake Greeson forms parts of the borders of Pike, Hempstead, Nevada, Clark and Ouachita counties before the river empties into the Ouachita River.

After walking around, we head back down Highway 369, take a right and continue west on Highway 84.

We’re soon in the northeast corner of Howard County. Like Pike County, Howard is a county with the Gulf Coastal Plain in the south and the Ouachita Mountains in the north. It was carved out of parts of Pike, Polk, Hempstead and Sevier counties in 1873.

The population of Howard County was 13,789 in the 2010 census, fewer people than had lived there a century before. The county had 16,898 residents in the 1910 census.

The highest population recorded was 18,565 people in the 1920 census. The county bottomed out in 1960 when there were 10,878 residents.

“This decline, combined with the hardships of the Great Depression, made life difficult for many residents,” Lauren White writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “Peaches became a big export in the early 20th century. The enterprises started with small farm plots having a few acres of land and evolved into a big-time industry. In 1915, Ozark Fruit Growers Association shipped 700 carloads of peaches. The peach industry became less prominent in the 1950s, and orchards eventually were converted from commercial ventures to pick-your-own operations.”

The last bale of cotton ginned in Howard County was in 1971 at Mineral Springs as timber management, poultry production and cattle grazing took over.

Highway 84 runs into U.S. Highway 278 at Umpire. I head west on 278 so I can spend some time at the wonderful visitors’ center at Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area.

The Cossatot River begins southeast of Mena and flows south through Howard and Sevier counties before emptying into the Little River north of Ashdown. The upper part of the river is considered one of the top whitewater streams in this part of the country.

“The area along the Cossatot River, especially in the Ouachita Mountains, remained sparsely populated until the 20th century,” Guy Lancaster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The hills weren’t amenable to large-scale agriculture, and only the southern portion of the river below an area dubbed Three Chutes proved useful for transportation, though the stream would on occasion dry up.”

Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area conserves a 12-mile section of the Ouachita Mountains along the river, which has been designated in its upper reaches as a National Wild and Scenic River. There are more than 30 rare plant and animal species in the park.

According to the state Department of Parks & Tourism: “The idea of establishing a natural area along the upper Cossatot surfaced in 1974, shortly after the Arkansas Environmental Preservation Commission was created. The panel later was renamed the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. In October 1975, its staff contacted the Weyerhaeuser Co., which owned the land, to discuss acquiring the Cossatot Falls area and other portions of the Cossatot’s corridor. In January 1976, the commission presented a written proposal to Weyerhaeuser. While generally positive, the company’s response was tempered by concerns about the commission’s ability to oversee such an intensively used public recreation area. It’s used by floaters, campers, hikers and swimmers. The Cossatot River is famous for its Class IV and V rapids.

“By 1984, the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism had joined the effort, and the two agencies prepared a joint proposal that addressed Weyerhaeuser’s concerns about the state’s ability to manage the property. Once a tentative sale agreement was reached, the Natural Heritage Commission asked the Arkansas field office of the Nature Conservancy to assist with negotiations and acquisition. The conservancy agreed to acquire and hold in trust the acreage identified for the proposed park/natural area until funding was available for state purchase of the land.”

On Nov. 19, 1987, the state Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission held at joint meeting with the Natural Heritage Commission. At that meeting, Gov. Bill Clinton announced that the state would join with the Nature Conservancy to acquire land along the river.

The Nature Conservancy acquired title to 4,144 acres on Dec. 23, 1987. Management responsibility was transferred to the state in July 1988, and a cooperative management plan was developed between the Parks & Tourism Department and the Natural Heritage Commission.

In 1990, Arkla Gas Co. acquired 160 acres in the Brushy Creek area and donated it to the park to compensate for crossing the park with a 36-inch gas line. Additional land acquisitions have increased the size of the park to 5,300 acres.

Using money from Amendment 75 to the Arkansas Constitution, which was approved by voters in November 1996, the state constructed a 16,304-square-foot visitors’ center. The center was dedicated on Oct. 21, 2004. It has a gallery of interpretive exhibits, two classrooms, an elevated wildlife viewing area, a gift shop and administrative offices.

After spending some time at the visitors’ center, we double back to Glenwood.

From there, we take Arkansas Highway 8 to Caddo Gap and Norman.

We cross from Pike County into Montgomery County soon after leaving Glenwood.

Montgomery County had only 9,487 residents in the 2010 census, far below the 12,455 who lived there a century earlier. Still, that’s well above the 5,370 residents recorded in the 1960 census.

The Ouachita, Caddo and Little Missouri rivers all pass through this sparsely populated county, which has the most registered sites on the Arkansas Archeological Survey site database.

“Modern historians no longer believe that Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto fought the Tula Indians in Caddo Gap, but the inscription on a nine-foot Indian statue erected there in 1936 by the Arkansas History Commission holds to an earlier viewpoint,” Mary Lysobey writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

The first recorded non-Indian settlers came to the area in 1812 when Martin and Mary Belle Collier from Kentucky began clearing land near what’s now Caddo Gap.

“Granville Whittington arrived in 1835, chopping out a road along the ridges from Hot Springs to his farm home across the South Fork of the Ouachita River about a mile north of the community of Montgomery,” Lysobey writes. “In 1837, he opened a general store that drew customers from the surrounding wilderness. In June 1842, he opened the Mount Ida post office from his home. Farther west on the Ouachita River, the community of Oden had its beginnings in 1849 when a wagon train wintered there and decided to stay.

“Montgomery County, named for Gen. Richard Montgomery, who died during the Revolutionary War, was included in land claimed by Spain and then France before becoming American property in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. … Arkansas was designated a territory in 1819, and Hot Spring County was created out of Clark County in 1829. Montgomery County and its county seat, Montgomery, were organized on Dec. 9, 1842, out of Hot Spring County. The earliest surviving records of Montgomery County are dated July 1845.”

The name of Montgomery was changed to Salem in July 1850 and then changed to Mount Ida in October 1850 to match the name on Whittington’s post office.

“Mount Ida was incorporated in 1854,” Lysobey writes. “In 1889, more than two-thirds of the county was still public land. Political maneuvers in 1873 and 1917 gave the Bear, Cedar Glades, Hickory Station, Crystal Springs and Buckville communities to Garland County. Montgomery County’s current borders were finalized in 1925.”

Caddo Gap began to thrive with the coming of the railroad in 1905. The county’s population reached an all-time high in 1910 because of the many lumber camps in the area. Foresters cut the virgin timber and shipped it out on the railroad.

“In 1918, the Caddo River Lumber Co. had begun a survey for building a railroad out of Womble (now Norman), but it took four years for the 15-mile main line to be completed to the Mauldin logging camp, the county’s logging center,” Lysobey writes. “In 1936, a commissary and post office served Mauldin’s 300 people. In 1937, Mauldin was dismantled and carried off by rail. The lumber company, picking up its tracks as it left, had depleted the virgin timber. This, together with the Great Depression, had a devastating economic impact on the county.”

When President Theodore Roosevelt created the Arkansas National Forest in 1907 (later renamed the Ouachita National Forest), much of it was cutover land that hadn’t been replanted.

“Priorities included curbing timber theft and wildfires and setting up ranger outposts with telephones,” Lysobey writes. “Stands of trees were upgraded by enforcement of rules for selective cutting. Sixty-three percent of the county ultimately became national forest land as bankrupt farmers and lumber companies sold their land. The Little Fir and Big Fir communities died but have been resurrected as popular recreation areas on Lake Ouachita.”

At the time Roosevelt created the national forest through an executive order, Gifford Pinchot, the head of the Forest Service, noted that it was the only major shortleaf pine forest under the protection of the federal government. The 1911 Weeks Law, which authorized the federal purchase of forest lands in areas other than the American West, was used to add thousands of acres of cutover land to the national forest. Some of the largest increases occurred from 1933-41 as struggling Arkansas farmers moved out of the state.

The national forest now consists of almost 1.8 million acres in 12 Arkansas counties and two Oklahoma counties. It is the largest and oldest national forest in the South.

Workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration built a number of facilities in Montgomery County during the Great Depression. The timber began to grow back, and local farmers gave up on trying to grow cotton in these rocky hills. They instead turned to cattle and poultry to make a living.

“George A. Jackson Jr. had left Mount Ida with his parents during the Great Depression,” Lysobey writes. “He used the G.I. Bill to further his education. Returning to Mount Ida in 1954, he became one of the first poultry farmers and was instrumental in getting farmers throughout the county to irrigate and fertilize farmland to increase crop yield. By combining cattle and chickens, farmers were finally able to make a living off the land. By the 1960s, the county’s population had stopped its descent, aided by the influx of senior citizens retiring near Lake Ouachita.

“Most miners lost money speculating on silver, gold and copper, but the first quartz mining claim in 1904 was a portent. Mining increased during World War II because suitable quartz for oscillators for radio communication was found at Fisher Mountain. Exploration proved that crystal veins were present at any depth in the right rock type. Mount Ida, in the middle of one of the few areas on earth having quartz crystal worth mining, is touted as the Quartz Crystal Capital of the World. In 1987, about 44,000 pounds were produced. The current mining of 6,000 pounds a year is geared to tourists.”

I loved traveling with my father when I was a boy as he sold athletic supplies to school districts across the state. If it were a warm spring day, Caddo Gap was a favorite stop. He would let me wade in the Caddo River, and we would visit the Indian statue.

By the 1830s, Caddo Gap had a gristmill, several stores, a Methodist church and a toll bridge.

“In 1863, Confederate Gen. Albert Pike arrived and purchased a nearby tract of land,” Hattie Felton writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Local tradition states that Pike built a two-story house and lived in the quiet community, reading and writing for almost a year. He left suddenly in 1864, fleeing bushwhackers who destroyed his home. After the Civil War, the post office officially changed its name from Centreville to Caddo Gap. The population grew to several hundred when the railroad came to Montgomery County. The community added a newspaper, a bank, hotels, a cotton gin, blacksmith shops, a school and a sawmill.”

Only about 100 people now live in the unincorporated community.

From Arkadelphia to Glenwood

Thursday, March 7th, 2019


It doesn’t take long to leave the Gulf Coastal Plain and enter the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains once you leave Arkadelphia and head west on Arkansas Highway 8.

We’ve decided to spend an entire Saturday poking around the Ouachitas.

When a community has a name like Alpine, you know you’re in the mountains.

“William Glover and his family, the first settlers of the area, arrived in 1848 in what would become Alpine, followed by several other families,” Jacob Worthan writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “It’s most commonly thought that the settlement received its name due to its location on the highest point in Clark County. However, several folktales also relay origins of the name. The original settlement was a mile east of the present community and was comprised of little more than a post office, a general store, a saloon and a few houses.

“According to ‘Goodspeed’s Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas,’ Alpine had about 50 inhabitants in 1890 and a post office, a general store, a hotel, a church that also served as a schoolhouse and a blacksmith shop.”

The first post office had opened in 1849. It closed after the Civil War and then was reopened in 1869.

The Works Progress Administration built a school building at Alpine in 1940. It was used until the 1957-58 school year.

The trip west through the rolling forests — which also features cattle pastures, plenty of chicken houses and some aging peach orchards — brings us to Amity, which had a population of 723 residents (fewer than it had a century before when there were 813 people living there) in the 2010 census.

A group of pioneer families led by William F. Browning began settling this area near the Caddo River in 1847.

“An abundance of water and rich bottomland drew them to the area,” Russell Baker writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Soon after his arrival, Browning built a two-story log house just west of Caney Creek. It soon became the center of an expanding community. According to Laura Scott, an early Clark County historian, Browning named his settlement Amity because he hoped to find it in ‘peace and brotherhood.’ In August 1848, Browning and a group of local citizens formed what would become the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, the first religious organization in the area. He built a large log church, which also served as Amity’s school. … The Amity post office was established nearby a few months later.”

Another sign that this is an upland part of the state is the fact that loyalties were sharply divided here during the Civil War. There was a strong Union sentiment in the hill country of Arkansas.

“After the war, the center of the community shifted to the south side of the Caddo River in an area that was first settled in about 1850 by John Hays Allen and a physician and Methodist minister named Amariah Biggs,” Baker writes. “Shortly afterward, the Amity post office was relocated to this area.”

By 1870, there was a store at the current location of Amity that was run by a Connecticut native named Philander Curtis. Baker describes him as “an old bachelor who wore a wig and kept a pet bear.”

Curtis, Riley Thompson and Jacob Lightsey purchased property from Allen in 1871 and laid out a town around a public square. A schoolhouse was built in the early 1870s, and the Amity Male and Female Academy operated from 1877-83. The rumor that gold had been discovered in the hills led to a short gold rush in 1887. Amity’s population grew from 140 in 1880 to 211 in 1890. A railroad was built through the area in 1900.

“The little town became a shipping and trade center,” Baker writes. “Large sawmills in nearby Rosboro and Glenwood provided employment for its labor force. The Bank of Amity was formed in 1905, and its old brick offices are now on the National Register of Historic Places. … In the years leading up to World War II, the worldwide shortage of cinnabar created a mining industry in the nearby Ouachita Mountains. However, with the end of the war and an increase in the world supply, the mines were abandoned.”

Continuing west on Highway 8, we leave Clark County and enter the northeast corner of Pike County. We find ourselves along the banks of the Caddo River at Glenwood. The Caddo has long defined this part of Arkansas.

“For centuries, this unique waterway has carved its way through sedimentary rock formations, creating a broad, shallow river valley and leaving miles of gravel along its path,” Brian Westfall writes for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “In some places, the nearly vertical beds of sandstone and novaculite create rapids. The Caddo, known for extremely clear water, originates from cold-water springs southeast of Mena. In this region, the springs flow from the Bigfork Chert Ridge, which sits atop the Ouachita Mountains Aquifer, known for its water quality. Bigfork Chert Ridge is often referred to as the Potato Hills due to uneven weathering that has left it looking like a potato patch.

“The stream flows generally from west to east through the Ouachita National Forest. After leaving the national forest, the Caddo meanders its way through the Athens Plateau, where the Corps of Engineers impounds it at DeGray Lake. From the base of DeGray Dam, the Caddo continues its trek southeasterly some seven miles before joining the Ouachita River.”

I’m biased since I grew up in this part of the state, but the Caddo has long been one of my favorite rivers. It’s an easy stream to fall in love with.

“Towering sycamore, sweet gum, cottonwood, ash, water oak, willow oak and river birch line the banks,” Westfall writes. “During the summer, cardinal flower, composites and other wildflowers give the river banks a colorful look. The woodlands are interspersed with pastoral settings. An old logging railroad tram parallels the river at times and gives it an added flavor. Deer, beaver, river otter, wild turkey, osprey and bald eagles are present. The Caddo Gap to Glenwood section is the most popular among canoeists. Generally, this section can be floated except during the very driest weather.”

While most other towns south of Little Rock were losing population in the early 2000s, Glenwood did well. Its population increased from 1,751 in 2000 to 2,228 in 2010. Growth slowed after 2010 with the closing of the Curt Bean Lumber Co. mill. The mill reopened under new ownership in 2017. The current population of Glenwood is about 2,100.

Construction of the Gurdon & Fort Smith Railroad through the area in the early 1900s had opened up its pine forests for harvest by wealthy families from Texas, Missouri and other states.

“In its wake, a number of new communities, most destined to be the location of large lumber mills, sprang up,” Baker writes. “Among these were Graysonia in Clark County; Rosboro and Glenwood in Pike County; and Caddo Gap and Womble in Montgomery County. In 1907, the Caddo River Lumber Co., led by Thomas Rosborough, built a large mill a few miles north of Amity at a site named Rosboro. Soon, a second company, the A.L. Clark Lumber Co. from Gilmore, Texas, purchased a former cotton field across the river from the village of Rock Creek and began construction of an even larger sawmill. It was a short distance from a newly opened railroad depot. About the same time, another timber company moved into the area from Louisiana.

“With these new mills under construction and the railroad in full operation, two local businessmen, Curt Hays and Will Fagan, laid out a new town on both sides of the depot. The business lots sold quickly, and a boomtown grew almost overnight. Because of the beautiful location of the new community, Glenwood was chosen for a name. By July 1907, Glenwood, with a population of about 250, had a post office. It replaced the post office at Rock Creek.”

Glenwood was incorporated in 1908. Its population increased from 768 in the 1910 census to 891 in the 1920 census to 1,310 in the 1930 census.

“In 1914, Glenwood received an additional economic boost when the Memphis, Dallas & Gulf Railroad opened tracks between Glenwood and Hot Springs, making the town a major rail junction as well as one of the centers of the lumber industry in the southern Ouachita Mountains,” Baker writes. “By 1916, the community included several churches, a number of new businesses, a telephone system and a new public dipping vat where farmers brought their livestock for dipping as part of the state’s tick eradication program.

“While Hays and Fagan were busy developing Glenwood proper, the Clark Lumber Co. was building its own residential community near its mill. It consisted of an area of large white frame houses for mill supervisors and office employees along Gilmer Street. Many of the smaller houses for workers, painted red and white, were built along nearby Clay Street, sometimes called Candy Street. In the fall of 1908, the company built a large frame community building near downtown. It was used for church services and a school.”

What’s now U.S. Highway 70 between Glenwood and Hot Springs was paved in the 1920s. That’s also when the peach industry began to develop in the area.

The Caddo River Lumber Co. purchased the Clark Lumber Co. in 1922 and expanded the mill. In June 1936, lightning started a fire that destroyed most of the mill. With the forests in the area cut out, the company moved its operations to Oregon.

Glenwood’s population fell from 1,310 in 1930 to 854 in 1940. It didn’t top 1,000 again until the 1970 census.

“The 1970s witnessed an aggressive campaign of industrial growth and annexation that brought the town’s population up to 1,402 by 1980,” Baker writes. “During this period, the Curt Bean Lumber Co., one of the nation’s largest independently owned lumber producers, located a lumber mill at Glenwood. During the 1990s, the Caddo River at Glenwood became one of the most popular canoeing streams in western Arkansas. The population stood at 1,354 in 1990. The Glenwood Country Club’s golf course was opened.”

A thriving poultry industry also brought a large number of Hispanic residents, who now make up almost a quarter of Glenwood’s population.

Leaving Glenwood, we travel about four miles west on U.S. Highway 70 and then continue west on Arkansas Highway 84. This route takes us across the northern part of Pike County, which was carved out of Clark and Hempstead counties by the Arkansas Territorial Legislature in November 1833 and named after explorer Zebulon Pike. Pike County is best known to Arkansans for the diamond mine near Murfreesboro and for Lake Greeson. Those attractions are to the south of us.

“In 1900, Martin White Greeson, who owned property in Pike County and also owned and operated the Murfreesboro-Nashville Southwest Railroad, started a campaign for a dam on the Little Missouri River to alleviate flooding,” Doris Russell Foshee writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Congress finally approved the project in 1941 and authorized $3 million for it. The construction began on June 1, 1948, and finished on July 12, 1951. The dam was named Narrows Dam because of its narrow site. The lake was named Lake Greeson in honor Martin Greeson.”

The southern part of the county is in the Gulf Coastal Plain with the northern part of Pike County in the Ouachita Mountains. We’re in what’s known as the Athens Plateau, the southernmost subdivision of the Ouachita Mountains.

“Although its topography is characterized by east-west ridges like most of the Ouachitas, the maximum elevations are under 1,000 feet,” Tom Foti writes for the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. “Despite the name, it isn’t a flat-topped plateau like those of the Ozarks. Rather it has been proposed that the entire set of ridges and valleys was lowered and raised as a unit after the ridges had formed. According to that scenario, the region was lowered below sea level and it rose again as a plain with the valleys filled with sediment. Streams such as the Cossatot River and Little Missouri River ran from north to south and crossed the ridges in their paths. At each crossing, they created a steep rapids or waterfall and emptied the valleys of their sediments. As a result, these streams have a much different character than those of the Ozarks, making them challenging for those in canoes and kayaks. Because of the waterfalls, this boundary has sometimes been referred to as the fall line. It has proven to be a prime location for dams that impound reservoirs built by the Corps of Engineers.

“Cities of the Athens Plateau — such as Bismarck in Hot Spring County, Wickes in Polk County and Amity in Clark County — are generally small with fewer than 1,000 residents. Larger cities such as Arkadelphia, Murfreesboro, De Queen and Glenwood are located along the boundaries of the subdivision. Some of these cities owe much of their economy to the timber produced within the Athens Plateau. The subdivision is still dominantly forested with much of it owned by the timber industry and managed for timber production.”

On the next leg of our trip, we’ll make it to the banks of the Cossatot River.