Archive for May, 2019

From Cotter to Ash Flat

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019


In late 1902, an attorney named Walker Powell leased land along the White River to the White River Railway.

The company built a depot, an engine maintenance facility and a terminal yard. The city of Cotter was incorporated there on July 13, 1904, and the railroad’s division headquarters was officially established there in 1905.

“Early businesses included hotels, drugstores, a lumber company and a button factory that used mussel shells harvested from the White River,” Guy Lancaster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, a division of the Central Arkansas Library System. “As the local economy grew, so did antipathy toward African-Americans, many of whom were attracted to the area due to railroad work. As an Aug. 25, 1905, article in the Cotter Courier noted: ‘There’s a strong feeling against the Negro in Cotter and the county, and the feeling is growing. It is quite likely there will not be a colored person in Baxter County within a year. They are not wanted.’

“On Aug. 24, 1906, after a fight broke out between two black residents, public notice was served that all African-Americans were to leave town immediately. At the time, the African-American population numbered 10, though the Arkansas Gazette reported that seven African-Americans had been driven off in previous weeks.”

The Great Flood of 1927 did significant damage at Cotter. Another landmark event occurred three years later when the Cotter Bridge was completed across the river. The bridge is still there and is one of the most photographed bridges in this part of the country.

“It was the first in Arkansas to become a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and is one of only a small number of bridges designated as such,” Rebecca Nighswonger writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “East-west travelers through northern Arkansas often encountered problems crossing the White River. Although ferries operated at several places along the river, the river had a tendency to flood rapidly, grounding the ferries and hindering traffic, sometimes for several days. The fastest detour was to cross 100 miles north in Branson, Mo.”

Two companies, Henderson Bridge Co. and Denton Bridge Co., were granted franchises to build privately owned toll bridges over the river. Nothing, however, was built.

The Cotter Bridge is now officially the R.M. Ruthven Bridge, named after a former Baxter County judge. Legend has it that a study was done for the state in 1928 that concluded that a bridge at Cotter couldn’t be justified. Ruthven is said to have stolen the report.

“In the absence of a report, the Arkansas Highway Commission approved the site,” Nighswonger writes. “The Marsh Engineering Co. in Des Moines, Iowa, designed the bridge with its patented rainbow arches. Frank Marsh came to Cotter in May 1929 to survey the area where the bridge would be constructed. Bids were made for construction, and one was accepted. All were later rejected when plans changed, starting the process again. The final contract went to Bateman Construction Co. of Nashville, Tenn.”

Construction began in November 1929 and ended in November 1930. A ferry continued to operate until July 1931 when the state paid Joe McCracken $250 to destroy the ferry.

The name was changed to the Ruthven Bridge in 1976, and the landmark status was granted in 1986.

In 1990, the bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A new bridge to the north was meant to replace the old bridge, but public outcry saved it. The Cotter Bridge was renovated in 2004.

Cotter also has a water tower that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. The tower was constructed in 1935 with assistance from the federal Public Works Administration.

“As the United States struggled with the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration enacted the National Industrial Recovery Act to ease the effects of businesses closing,” writes Arkansas historian Mark Christ of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. “The act included an organization called the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (the Public Works Administration), which was created on June 16, 1933, to help finance federal construction projects and create jobs. The city of Cotter decided to seek funding for a badly needed public water system, and on Oct. 27, 1933, the Cotter Record reported success, writing that “the approval of the application for a loan from the Federal Administration of Public Works will make it possible for Cotter to have a public water system and will give employment to many of the unemployed in this vicinity for several months.”

On our trip across northern Arkansas on U.S. Highway 412, we have breakfast at the White Sands in Cotter, which is like stepping back in time. We then make our way through Gassville, which had a population of 2,158 in the 2010 census. The town was founded by P.A. Cox, a talkative sort who often was referred to as “a real gasser.” Thus Gassville.

We continue east on Highway 412 into Mountain Home, which we wrote about extensively in an earlier series on the Southern Fried blog.

Mountain Home changed dramatically with the construction of Norfork and Bull Shoals dams. The city’s population soared from 927 in the 1940 census to 12,448 in the 2010 census.

Clement Mulloy writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects on the White and North Fork rivers were intended to “provide flood control and hydroelectric power. The project was also intended to stimulate commerce and industry throughout the region. Norfork Dam was completed in 1944, and Bull Shoals, one of the largest dams in the nation, was completed in 1951. Both were dedicated on July 2, 1952, with President Harry Truman as the keynote speaker of the event.

“The construction of the dams was the most important event in the history of Mountain Home. The town was ideally situated about midway between the two projects. Formerly an isolated rural community with few businesses or paved streets and fewer employment opportunities, Mountain Home suddenly became a boomtown with workers attracted by high-paying government jobs moving into the area. New businesses were established and houses built, while farms that had been abandoned during the Great Depression were reoccupied, safe from the threat of future flooding.”

Soon after leaving Mountain Home and continuing east, we cross the bridge over Norfork Lake. Until 1983, those traveling the highway had to use a ferry to cross the lake. Funds were finally released in the early 1980s to construct the bridge and replace the ferry, which was operated by what then was known as the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

We soon find ourselves in Fulton County. The rural county had just 12,245 residents in the 2010 census, but that’s still almost double the 6,657 people who lived there at the time of the 1960 census.

The first known white resident of the county was William P. Morris, who used a land grant to acquire 160 acres near what’s now Salem in the 1830s. The Arkansas Legislature created Fulton County in December 1842. Morris donated the land for the county seat. The town first was known as Pilot Hill because of a large hill that overlooked flatlands in the South Fork River bottoms. The first courthouse was a one-room log cabin.

Loyalties in the county were sharply divided during the Civil War with settlers from the rocky uplands favoring the Union (those settlers rarely owned slaves) and slave-owning farmers in the river and creek valleys favoring the Confederacy.

“Fulton County residents lived in a guerrilla warfare state for three years,” Sarah Simers writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Bands of thieves known as bushwhackers and jayhawkers roamed the area, raiding local farms and terrorizing the citizens. They also burned the county courthouse, destroying land and census records. In 1868, Confederate veterans met at Bennett’s Bayou (now in Baxter County) in the western part of the county and formed a local Ku Klux Klan.”

Simers writes that farmers in the county “grew cotton and corn as cash crops, raised hogs and cattle for market and personal consumption, and relied heavily upon gardens to supplement their diets. When the Great Depression hit, many struggling farmers lost their farms. The Rural Electrification Act, a New Deal program, allowed local residents to form an electric cooperative, North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, in 1939. This organization not only provided electricity but also much-needed jobs to the county. Industrialization in other parts of the country attracted Fulton County youth as they left home in search of economic opportunities.

“Despite the arrival of the Tri-County Shirt Factory in the 1960s, the county population reached an all-time low in the middle of the 20th century. Desegregation wasn’t an issue in Fulton County. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were fewer than five African-Americans living there, all of them above the age of 21. … Fulton County remains a small, rural area in the Ozark foothills. Many of the residents are retirees who have returned to their childhood home. Other retirees are attracted by the scenic beauty and reasonable cost of living.”

We pass through the community of Gepp and then find ourselves at Viola.

Joe and James Wiseman opened a store at what’s now Viola soon after the Civil War. By the early 1870s, there was a log schoolhouse and a Methodist church. By 1890, there were two general stores, two cotton gins, a Masonic lodge, blacksmith shops and a flour mill.

“By 1905, the public school had outgrown its building and was meeting in the Methodist church,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Around 1909, a new schoolhouse was built and was also used as a teacher training academy. Viola’s first bank opened in 1913. … Five newspapers were published in Viola between 1884 and 1920, but none of them lasted more than two years.”

The Viola School District remains the heart of the town, which had a population of 337 in the 2010 census.

We make our way into Salem, the Fulton County seat. We park at the courthouse downtown and visit with the country treasurer. Salem is small, but its population has more than doubled from 713 in the 1960 census to 1,635 in the 2010 census.

The first telephone lines connected Salem with Mammoth Spring in 1890. Electricity, however, didn’t arrive until 1928. The power company was owned by brothers Ed and Wyatt Wolf, who turned off the power at 11 p.m. each evening and restored it at 6 a.m. the next day.

Highway 412 veers to the southeast as we leave Salem. We pass through the communities of Glencoe and Agnos and cross into Sharp County.

Like other counties in the state, Sharp County suffered from 1940-60 as Arkansans left home in search of work. Sharp County saw its population fall from 11,497 in the 1940 census to 6,319 in the 1960 census. The advent of the retirement industry industry changed all of that. By the 2010 census, Sharp County was at an all-time high of 17,264 residents.

Sharp County was established in 1868.

“The date when the first white settlers inhabited what’s now Sharp County remains disputed, though the earliest families were known to have been living in the Ash Flat area in the middle to late 1820s,” Nancy Orr writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Other towns such as Calamine were soon settled. The Williford area was settled in 1841. Evening Shade established the first school in 1847. In 1856, zinc was discovered in and around Calamine and was mined until the advent of the Civil War. … Some of the early settlers brought slaves with them.”

There were a few skirmishes but no major battles in the area during the Civil War.

“Sharp County was carved from Lawrence County in 1868 with parts of Independence County annexed in 1873,” Orr writes. “The newly formed county was named in honor of Ephraim Sharp of Evening Shade, who served as a state representative for Lawrence County. Sharp County was described at the time in a letter from H.L. Roberts to James M. Lewis, Arkansas’ first appointed commissioner of immigration and state lands, as being in a part of the state known for its bountiful fruit trees, abundance of timber, plentiful game, scenic grasslands and rivers.

“At first, the county had two courthouses. The first was built in 1870 in Evening Shade, while the second in Hardy was completed in 1894. It was necessary to have two because the county was divided by two rivers, the Strawberry River at the south end of the county and the Spring River at the north end.”

By 1890, there were 79 one-room schoolhouses scattered across the county.

Sharp County had just 93 black residents in the 2010 census. A Dec. 28, 1906, article in the Sharp County Record noted that blacks were fleeing Evening Shade following the posting of a notice “to the effect that these Negroes must leave the county at once.” Most communities in the county became known as sundown towns, places where blacks weren’t allowed after dark.

“The Great Depression hit Sharp County hard, but its residents were more fortunate than many living in the cities,” Orr writes. “Sharp County residents raised animals for meat and milk and had large gardens. Often cars were parked and put up on blacks so that the tires wouldn’t rot. Few had money to buy gasoline. World War II took many of the young men from the area, and families moved away to seek work. A number of people left for the state of Washington to pick fruit.”

The first town we reach in Sharp County is the current county seat of Ash Flat, which had a population of 980 in the 2010 census.

In 1967, the Arkansas Legislature passed a bill abolishing the dual county seats at Hardy and Evening Shade. Ash Flat was designated as the lone county seat.

“The relocation of the county seat improved overall business conditions,” writes historian Wayne Dowdy of Memphis. “Ash Flat also benefited economically from tourism to the Spring River area, though it doesn’t have any resort amenities like nearby Cherokee Village and Hardy. … The town remains a vital retail center with several stores that meet the consumer needs of area residents.”

The town dates back to 1856 when a post office was established here. Postmaster James McCord and a group of area residents based the name of the town on a grove of ash trees in the area.

“Isolated from Arkansas’ major commercial centers, Ash Flat evolved into an important trading destination for the surrounding farm communities,” Dowdy writes. “Ash Flat had a blacksmith shop, three stores, two saloons and a cotton gin in 1871. Thomas V. Stephens and R.J. Wilson put the cotton gin near Big Creek so the oxen that turned the wheel could have access to fresh water. By 1889, Ash Flat’s business interests had expanded to include a saddle-making operation, a grist and flour mill, a drugstore, a hotel and a sawmill. The town also had two churches and a physician.”

Ash Flat’s first high school opened in 1905.

David Mullins, who was the president of the University of Arkansas from 1960-74, was born at Ash Flat in 1906. Baseball pitcher Charles Elwin “Preacher” Roe was born at Ash Flat in 1915. He won 127 games from 1938-53 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.

We next pass through Highland, Cherokee Village and Hardy, towns that became dependent on tourists and retirees beginning in the 1960s.

Harrison to Cotter

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019


We cross Crooked Creek as we leave Harrison, continuing our trek across north Arkansas on U.S. Highway 412.

The stream, famous among those who fish for smallmouth bass, begins south of Harrison in Newton County. It flows north into Boone County and under the highway here before turning east. We’ll cross the creek again at Pyatt in Marion County.

Crooked Creek eventually enters the White River. Jerry McKinnis made the creek famous with numerous episodes on his nationally televised fishing show.

The website “Fishing the Arkansas Ozarks” describes the creek as one that flows almost 80 miles “through oak-hickory hardwood forests, cedar glades and pastureland until it converges with the White River below Cotter. Its streambed is composed primarily of limestone gravel, boulders, bedrock and sand. In few places does the stream exceed more than 80 feet in width. Influenced by numerous springs, the water is clear and cool. In most reaches, the gradient isn’t steep, and flows are usually mild.”

The most popular floating area is the 20-mile stretch from Pyatt to Yellville.

The website describes the creek as “one of the best smallmouth bass fisheries in America, and anglers from more than 20 states fish it regularly. It’s one of Arkansas’ two Ozark Blue Ribbon Smallmouth Streams (the other being the nearby Buffalo River). When various aspects of its smallmouth fishery were compared to those of other famous streams, it invariably ranked within the top three in all categories. These categories included density (number of smallmouth per mile), catch rates (fish per hour), growth rates, size structure of fish population, yield (pounds harvested per hour), fishing pressure (hours of fishing per acre) and others.”

Crooked Creek was compared to top smallmouth streams in Virginia, West Virginia, Missouri and Wisconsin.

“None of those streams ranked as high consistently in all categories,” the website states. “Smallmouth do so well because Crooked Creek has excellent habitat (many deep pools, deep runs, boulders, large woody debris and undercut banks), the water is cool and highly aerated by numerous riffles, the growing season is long, and forage (crawfish, sunfish and minnows) is abundant. Every year, a number of four- to five-pound smallmouth are caught on Crooked Creek. … It isn’t uncommon for an angler to catch more than 40 fish in a day. Catches of more than 100 in a day have been reported to creel clerks. Crooked Creek also contains an excellent fishery for Ozark bass in the one-pound class. Largemouth bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish and green sunfish are fairly common.”

The downside is that Crooked Creek is also a good source for sand and gravel.

According to the website: “Because of rapid population growth and attendant construction in the Ozarks, demand for these materials became high. Large-scale gravel mining became a serious threat to the quality of the stream.”

The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission operates the Fred Berry Conservation Education Center along Crooked Creek near Yellville. Fred Berry, a local teacher, gave stock in a Yellville bank worth almost $2 million to the Arkansas Game & Fish Foundation and the Nature Conservancy. A 421-acre tract along the creek was purchased, removing a 2.75-mile section of the stream from the threat of gravel mining. Buildings and trails were then constructed.

We leave the Harrison city limits and find ourself in Bellefonte, which was the first temporary county seat of Boone County.

“The first white settler at the site that would become Bellefonte was John Simms, who purchased 80 acres of land from the U.S. government in 1854,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, a division of the Central Arkansas Library System. “The land included a productive spring of fresh water. Simms was later joined by the Freeland, Laffoon and Williams families. Two stores and a saloon were built. The men of the community reportedly chose to name their settlement for the spring. One of them supposedly said that ‘belle fonte’ is Latin for ‘beautiful spring.’ In truth, the French ‘belle fontaine’ comes closer than any Latin expression for a spring.

“A post office was established in the settlement in 1848, but it was called Hussaw until 1852 and then bore the name Mount Pleasant until 1871. According to the 1860 census, the community included a Baptist minister, two physicians, an attorney, eight blacksmiths, eight merchants, a tanner, a wagon maker, two masons and two carpenters. The settlement was known as a market for cattle raised in the Ozark Mountains.”

The community produced both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War.

In 1869, Boone County voters chose to make Harrison the county seat. The post office at Bellefonte changed its name from Mount Pleasant to Bellefonte in 1871.

Bellefonte was incorporated in 1872.

“By this time, the town had dozens of businesses, including a drugstore, a millinery shop, a livery stable, two saloons, a cotton gin, a flour mill and a leather factory that manufactured saddles, bridles and shoes,” Teske writes. “It also had an academy called North Arkansas College. A grade school was built. … Fourteen buildings, including the academy, were destroyed by fire in 1882. This fire slowed the growth of the town.”

The Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad completed its line through Bellefonte in 1901.

“A railroad depot was built, a hotel opened and business increased at the cotton gin and flour mill,” Teske writes. “The school burned down in 1901 and was again replaced. Another fire in 1912 destroyed the hotel and several stores and residences. The town failed to grow due to these setbacks. Several small school districts were consolidated into the Bellefonte School District during the 1920s. In 1929, several new homes were built, and a lake was constructed near the spring for which Bellefonte was named. In 1936, a lumber mill was built.”

The railroad ceased operations in the early 1960s, the post office closed in 1965 and the school district consolidated with Valley Springs.

Bellefonte had a population of 454 in the 2010 census, up from 300 in the 1970 census.

We continue east on Highway 412, passing through the community of Harmon before entering Marion County.

“The first white person born in Marion County is believed to have been A.S. ‘Uncle Bud’ Wood, the son of William Wood,” Sherry Sanders-Gray writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “William Wood moved from Tennessee as a young man between 1815 and 1820. One of the earliest white families in Marion County consisted of Mike Yocum and his three brothers — Jess, Solomon and Jake. These four men came to America from Germany in the 1820s or 1830s and settled at the mouth of the Little North Fork of the White River. Mike Yocum owned a mill located there.”

What’s now Marion County was created by the Arkansas Territorial Legislature in 1835 and called Searcy County for a time. In September 1836, the year Arkansas became a state, the Legislature named the county for Gen. Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War hero. The first courthouse was in the home of Thomas Adams, but the county seat was later moved to Yellville. The city was in the center of the county and on a military road that connected Batesville and Fayetteville.

“A significant free African-American population existed in Marion County beginning with David Hall, who moved from Tennessee with his family and settled on the White River near the mouth of the Little North Fork around 1819,” Sanders-Gray writes. “The 1850 census listed 129 free blacks and 126 slaves in Marion County, meaning that African-Americans made up 12 percent of the county’s population. Until passage of the short-lived Act 159 of 1859, mandating the expulsion of free blacks from the state, there existed for three decades little discord between the white and black populations of the county. By late 1860, however, the free black population had shrunk to eight.”

Few Marion County residents owned slaves, and there was strong Union sentiment during the Civil War, though the county did supply solders to the Confederate Army.

“As more and more men were recruited and left home, the county saw an influx of men from other areas who sought to evade service and began to plunder the largely defenseless homes and farms,”  Sanders-Gray writes. “These bushwhackers, along with groups of Union soldiers invading the county after the Battle of Pea Ridge, wrought vast devastation. … Yellville was occupied at various times by both forces and was controlled during the winter of 1864-65 by a large band of bushwhackers. By the end of the war, Yellville had been almost completely destroyed by fire. Rebuilding Yellville and the rest of the county happened slowly during Reconstruction.”

The county’s population grew from 3,979 in the 1860 census to 11,377 in the 1890 census due to the start of mining for lead and zinc. The area was helped in the early 1900s by the arrival of the Iron Mountain Railroad, which stopped at Pyatt, Yellville and Flippin.

Marion County’s population fell during each census in the first half of the 20th century, however. It bottomed out at 6,041 residents in the 1960 census.

“When the mining industry declined, people began to leave Marion County, seeking jobs elsewhere,” Sanders-Gray writes. “The Great Depression increased the exodus from the county. Several banks in Yellville and Flippin closed, and some stores went out of business. The Civilian Conservation Corps was active at Buffalo State Park (land now occupied by the National Park Service’s Buffalo National River) and in a small soil conservation project in the community of Eros. … Money-making efforts included digging for mussel shells and even occasional pearls in the White River, as well as raising herbs. Cotton had been a principal crop of Marion County since steamboats first came up the river in the 19th century, but tomatoes and fruits replaced cotton as the primary crops.

“During World War II, tomatoes continued to be a main crop in Marion County. The federal government purchased tomatoes from several farmers to feed American soldiers. After the war ended, the industry faltered. An attempt to raise strawberries in the southern part of the county similarly failed. Eventually, most of the agricultural land was converted to pasture or to fields of hay to support a growing cattle industry.”

Things turned around with the construction of Bull Shoals Dam (1947-51) and the tourists and retirees the project later brought to the county. The population was back up to 16,653 by the 2010 census.

We pass through or near Pyatt, Snow and Summit before stopping to walk around downtown Yellville, best known statewide for its annual turkey festival and the live turkeys that once were dropped from planes as part of that festival.

“In 1817, the federal government declared parts of the White River and Arkansas River valleys in northern Arkansas a Cherokee reservation,” Teske writes. “The Cherokee invited other tribes to join them on their land, and the Shawnee of the Ohio River Valley were one group who accepted the invitation. One of their settlements was on Crooked Creek, about 20 miles from the White River. An estimated 300 Shawnee lived there until 1828 when a new treaty moved the Cherokee farther west, opening northern Arkansas to settlement by Americans of European descent. The Shawnee also left, moving to Texas and to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). White settlers began using the houses and farms that the Shawnee had built, calling the settlement Shawneetown.”

When this became the county seat, the settlement was renamed to honor Archibald Yell, the state’s first representative to Congress and second governor.

“A community legend states that Yell wanted the city to be named for him and offered city leaders $50 for the honor but he never paid them,” Teske writes. “In 2005, two of Yell’s descendants, David Yell from Michigan and Sonny Yell from Georgia, visited Yellville and gave the city a gift of $50 in the name of their ancestor.”

The current Marion County courthouse at Yellville — the fifth in the county’s history — was built in 1944 on the site of the courthouse that had burned in January 1943.

And what about that turkey festival?

Teske writes: “After World War II, the American Legion post in Yellville elected to hold a festival celebrating the wild turkey. Wild turkey hunting had been suspended in Arkansas because hunters had depleted the species. The National Wild Turkey Calling Contest and Turkey Trot was held every October in Yellville on the second Friday and Saturday of the month. … Part of the celebration traditionally included dropping live wild turkeys from low-flying planes in an effort to replenish the species. Reportedly, the effort has on occasion killed rather than freed the birds. National attention was given to the turkey drop, including a memorable 1979 episode of the sitcom ‘WKRP in Cincinnati.'”

We head east out of Yellville and then make a short detour to the north in order to visit Flippin. The town, which had a population of 1,355 in the 2010 census, is best known as the home of Ranger Boats.

“In 1968, Forrest L. Wood and Nina Wood established Ranger, a company generally credited with the introduction of the modern-day bass boat,” Eve West writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The first six boats produced by the company were built in Flippin’s present-day city hall. In 1971, the original plant was destroyed by fire, but it was rebuilt.”

During the construction of Bull Shoals Dam, rocks needed for the project came from a quarry on Lee’s Mountain between Flippin and Bull Shoals.

“A conveyor belt, four feet wide and seven miles long, carried rock blasted out of the mountainside to a site near Bull Shoals, where the dam was being built,” West writes. “The belt ran 24 hours a day, and the quarry and dam’s construction provided jobs for many. The completion of the dam in 1951 and the creation of Bull Shoals Lake caused tourism to flourish along the upper White River. Resorts and fishing guide services sprang up, and what was to become Marion’s County’s largest industry was established.”

The first white settlers in this part of the county established homes in an area known as the Barrens.

“Established sometime in the early 1800s, the Barrens was a small settlement that included a general store, flour mill and cotton gin,” West writes. “The name later changed, and local legend purports that the owner of the general store, a man named Johnson, wasn’t pleased with the wares being sold by a peddler and therefore sent him away. Johnson was assisted by a goat that butted the peddler’s backside, and the settlement assumed a second name that it retained for years thereafter — Goatville.

“The name Flippin Barrens originated with Thomas H. Flippin, who migrated to Arkansas from Tennessee in 1837. He married Elizabeth Baugh and had two sons, W.B. and Thomas. He and his wife were farmers, and Flippin also served as Marion County clerk. Flippin died in 1856, leaving many descendants.”

The community’s first post office opened in 1878. People later began to move closer to the railroad, and that town was incorporated as Flippin in 1921. The first mayor was James Keeter. The population was 325 residents in the 1930 census.

We get back on Highway 412 and head to Cotter, which was once an important railroad town and is now known for the trout fishing there on the White River.

From Huntsville to Harrison

Thursday, May 9th, 2019


When those of a certain age think of Huntsville, they still think of Gov. Orval Faubus, who served six terms as governor from 1955-67 and was one of the most famous (or infamous) people in the country following the 1957 Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis.

The Fay Jones-designed home that Faubus built during his final term as governor still overlooks the town from what’s known as Governor’s Hill. It was controversial because Faubus built the mansion despite having a salary of $10,000 a year as governor.

He would later say “his friends” helped out.

Huntsville has benefited from the growth in nearby Washington and Benton counties, having increased in population from 1,050 in the 1960 census when Faubus was in office to 2,346 in the 2010 census.

Madison County was established in 1836, and the first courthouse at Huntsville was built a year later.

“The town was also surveyed that year by county surveyor Thomas McCuistion (who also served as a schoolmaster at one of the county’s earliest schools just outside Huntsville),” Rebecca Haden and Joy Russell write for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “John Buchanan, the only postmaster in the region, moved his post office to the town at that time along with his home. He attempted to change the name of the town to Sevierville in recognition of Ambrose Sevier but was not successful. The post office was officially named Huntsville on Jan. 17, 1840.”

Haden and Russell report that Huntsville was the home of “numerous stores, saloons, blacksmiths, saddlers, mills, stables, lawyers and a newspaper” by the time of the Civil War.

Isaac Murphy, who would become the eighth governor of Arkansas, settled there in 1854. The courthouse and a number of businesses were burned during the Civil War.

“One incident known as the Huntsville Massacre took place on Jan. 10, 1863,” Haden and Russell write. “The Union Army under Gen. Francis J. Herron executed nine prisoners of war. A letter from Col. C.W. Marsh referred to this as ‘murder’ and ‘a great outrage.’ Most of these men were buried in Huntsville. In November of the same year, Union forces traveled through the area, killing and capturing guerillas. In September 1864, there was a skirmish at Rodger’s Crossing outside Huntsville.

“Most businesses were closed, the newspaper shut down and normal life was suspended. Following the war, the remaining residents began to rebuild their lives and businesses. Former slaves remained in the area with the African-American population growing until the 20th century.”

Once the 20th century arrived, however, there were successful efforts to ensure that black residents no longer lived in the area. Huntsville and other communities in this part of north Arkansas earned well-deserved reputations for being sundown towns.

Huntsville benefited from the harvest of virgin timber in the region from the 1880s through the 1920s.

“The 1920s were a time of prosperity for Huntsville,” Haden and Russell write. “A high school was built, electricity became available and automobiles began to be seen around town. Timber was still a profitable industry, and tomatoes and fruit were important cash crops. Bootlegging was also profitable, and Huntsville developed a reputation for wild living. … The Great Depression hit all of Madison County hard, though. The practices common in the timber industry had led to erosion, and the hilly soil was not suited to row crops such as corn or wheat. Even the small cash crops and subsistence crops that farmers had relied upon failed or became unprofitable.

“Madison County had cases of rabies, diphtheria and malaria as well as malnutrition. The population of the county declined, the railroads were dismantled and the timber industry collapsed. Without the support of surrounding agriculture, Huntsville had no customers for its businesses.”

The current courthouse was dedicated in November 1939.

The economy later improved in Huntsville and the surrounding area due to the growth of the poultry industry. Faubus also made sure that plenty of state projects found their way to Madison County during his 12 years as governor.

The Faubus mansion covers 14,778 square feet. As upkeep and property taxes took their toll, Faubus tried in his later years to convince the state to buy the house as a historic site. It was sold in 1989 to a couple from Delaware for $318,000.

“I would have been pleased to spend the rest of my life in the house, but that was not to be,” Faubus said that year. “My finances and obligations were in thousands instead of millions, but they are satisfied. And I can put on my tombstone: ‘His debts were paid.'”

Faubus died in December 1994.

Construction of the home had begun in 1965 during Faubus’ final two-year term as governor. He moved into the house in July 1967, six months after leaving office.

James O. Powell, the longtime editorial page editor of the Arkansas Gazette, once explained: “It wasn’t terribly complicated. It was done by a lot of gifts from a great range of friends of his. There was an open solicitation for funds. As I recall, we referred to them as ‘love gifts.’ They were large gifts from people he had done a lot of favors for, and at the time, he was still in a position to do more favors for them. It was just the baldest kind of conflict of interest to be a governor in office and receiving gifts — huge gifts — for the construction of a house.”

We head east out of Huntsville on U.S. Highway 412 and cross two of the state’s most beautiful streams, War Eagle Creek (some call it a river) and the Kings River. The streams have their headwaters in the same area, and both flow to the north.

The War Eagle begins in southern Madison County just west of the community of Boston. It flows to the northwest, passing the tiny communities of Witter and Aurora. It flows just east of Huntsville and crosses under Highway 412 northeast of Harmony. Withrow Springs State Park is along the creek. The creek eventually flows through the northeast corner of Washington County and into Benton County before entering Beaver Lake on the White River.

The Kings River, which I like to call the Buffalo River without the traffic, flows almost 90 miles through Madison and Carroll counties before entering Table Rock Lake on the White River. The river also begins near Boston in Madison County.

“The river divides Carroll County politically,” Scott Branyan writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “In 1883, the Arkansas Legislature recognized two judicial districts, at Berryville and Eureka Springs, on opposite sides of the river. … One of the first men of European ancestry to reach the Kings River was Henry King from Alabama. King, Thomas Cunningham and John J. Coulter made a prospecting expedition into the Boston Mountains in the summer and fall of 1827. Accounts differ as to King’s death.”

These settlers from Alabama along with settlers from Tennessee harvested timber along the river and opened up fields for small farms.

“Changes and decline accelerated in the 1940s when the poultry industry started to replace traditional subsistence farms,” Branyan writes. “More river corridor land was cleared to build poultry houses and to make room for cattle and hay pastures, which helped supplement poultry farmers’ incomes. By 1951, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had begun to make plans to dam the river near Grandview in Carroll County as part of flood-control efforts on the White River and tributaries, but a dam has never been constructed. Conservation gains over the years have written a different fate for the river.”

The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission maintains a state natural area along the river. In 2010, the Nature Conservancy purchased what’s known as the Kings River Preserve. The preserve includes almost 5,000 acres.

The Kings River has some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the country, attracting float fishermen from across Arkansas and from surrounding states.

We cross into Carroll County, a tourism magnet that saw its population more than double from 11,284 in the 1960 census to 27,446 in the 2010 census.

The county was created in November 1833 as part of the Arkansas Territory and named after Charles Carroll of Maryland, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. We’re in the sparsely populated southern part of the county, far from the tourism attractions in and around Eureka Springs in the north.

We cross another of the area’s scenic streams, Osage Creek. The creek starts in northern Newton County and enters the Kings River just below the U.S. Highway 62 bridge between Berryville and Eureka Springs. The Osage is also a fine stream for catching smallmouth bass.

We stop by the Osage Clayworks, where potter Newt Lale has been doing his thing for three decades. The pottery shop is housed in the building that was constructed in 1901 to house the Stamps General Store. The store operated until the late 1980s. It’s truly an Arkansas classic.

Highway 412 veers to the north at this point, and we soon find ourselves at Alpena on the line between Carroll and Boone counties. Highway 412 joins Highway 62 at Alpena. The two highways will run concurrently until we reach Imboden in Lawrence County.

I’ve also fished for smallmouth bass out of here on Long Creek. It was a wonderful float, and plenty of fish were caught.

Alpena was a product of the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad.

“The fertile land along Long Creek attracted John Boyd, who received a land grant in 1849,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “He was joined by William J. Estes in 1860 and Bailey Stone in 1861. As Carrollton, then the county seat of Carroll County, was only a few miles away, the residents couldn’t escape the upheaval caused by the Civil War. In 1862, about 3,000 Union troops camped in the area. After the Battle of Prairie Grove in December of that year, more than 20,000 Union soldiers were stationed at Carrollton. Skirmishes were fought in 1863-64, and guerrilla fighters controlled the area until the end of the war. The only structures surviving in Carrollton at the end of the war were two stables.”

The route of the railroad, which was three miles from Carrollton, spelled the end of that town. Alpena, which had been established as a camp for railroad workers, started to grow.

“Businesses began to relocate at the camp, sometimes disassembling their buildings in Carrollton to reassemble them at the camp,” Teske writes. “A post office was approved in 1901. It was briefly known as Estes before it was renamed Alpena Pass. When the town was incorporated in 1913, the name was shortened to Alpena. The town’s website claims that the name was that of one of the railroad cooks. Local farmers cut timber to sell ties to the railroad, and the town was platted in November 1900.”

Teske says that Alpena soon had “three general stores, two hotels, a drugstore, a poultry house, a livery stable, a school with 50 pupils, a lumber yard, two churches, three real estate agents, a restaurant, a barbershop, two blacksmith shops, a physician, a printing office and a population estimated at 450. By 1908, it had six general stores, a millinery shop, a bank and a flour mill as well as retaining most of the earlier features. A tomato-canning factory opened in 1910.”

By 1920, Alpena was a center for the timber operations that were clearing the virgin hardwood forests in the area. Timber and farm products were loaded onto trains that stopped there.

There was severe flooding along Long Creek in 1927, and many businesses closed during the Great Depression. The bank closed in 1931, and the railroad went out of business in 1961. Alpena’s official population hasn’t topped 400 since the 1920 census. It was 392 in the 2010 census.

The next stop is Harrison, which has long been the center of trade for this part of the state. The city saw its population triple from 4,238 in the 1940 census to 12,943 in the 2010 census.

What was known as the Crooked Creek post office was established in 1836, the year Arkansas became a state. A nearby settlement was named Stiffler Spring after owner Albert Stiffler. The two communities were part of Carroll County until Boone County was carved out of the eastern part of Carroll County in 1869.

“Determined to create a new town as the county seat, Henry Fick had Col. Marcus LaRue Harrison lay out the town with wide side streets and a courthouse square,” C.J. Miller writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Harrison and crew were in the area surveying for the railroad. In exchange for the survey, Fick named the town after the surveyor. In 1870, Crooked Creek’s post office was renamed Harrison. Newspaper editor Thomas Newman was elected mayor in 1882, and the U.S. Government Land Office moved to town in 1871.

“Harrison experienced opposition to its position as county seat. Civil War sentiment drove the Democratic, Confederate-leaning residents of Bellefonte to challenge the Republican, Union-leaning residents of Harrison for the designation of county seat. A hard-fought election ensued. Newspapers carried reports of murder attempts and corruption. Muskets were rumored to have been slipped into Harrison in boxes marked ‘records.’ However, a countywide vote resulted in Harrison winning the position of county seat.”

The year 1901 was a big one for Harrison. That was the year the Harrison Electric & Ice Co. brought electricity to town. It also was the year the railroad arrived.

“By 1912, the headquarters of the Missouri & North Arkansas line was in Harrison,” Miller writes. “Financial problems led to reduced wages. A strike by employees hit the line in 1921. Conflicts between those on strike and strikebreakers resulted in harassment and vandalism. The Protective League was established to prevent further damage . The line closed and later reopened with lower wages. Bridges were burned. The Protective League administered its form of justice with whippings and the hanging of Ed Gregor during what was called the Harrison Railroad Riot. The M&NA was granted permission to stop service in 1961.”

Harrison has long had to contend with a history of racial conflicts. In 1905, a vigilante mob burned homes and whipped residents in the black section of town. Many black residents fled the city at that time.

The rest of Harrison’s black residents left after a race riot that followed the 1909 trial of Charles Stinnettt, a black man accused of raping an elderly white woman.

After that, Harrison had a reputation of being a sundown town.

“The Ku Klux Klan was organized in Harrison in 1922 to fight what was seen as moral decline, including moonshine and prostitution,” Miller writes. “It played a role in fighting striking workers on the MN&A line. … Although the practice of not providing services to African-Americans ended in the 1970s, the stigma Harrison earned as a sundown town was reinforced by the reappearance of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1990s. Klan rallies led by local resident Thom Robb ceased in the mid-1990s, though the Klan maintained a compound in nearby Zinc and a presence on the Internet.”

Harrison was back in the news in 2013 when a billboard went up that read “Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White.” In December 2014, another billboard went up on which the KKK advertised its online radio station.

Harrison has experienced consistent growth, however. Publisher J.E. Dunlap of the Harrison Daily Times proclaimed it to be “the hub of the Ozarks,” and the nickname stuck.

Harrison native John Paul Hammerschmidt was elected to Congress in 1966 and worked during his 24 years in office to bring federal projects to the area.

A vote among Boone County residents in 1973 led to the creation of a community college now known as North Arkansas College. Harrison also benefited from the designation of the nearby Buffalo River as the nation’s first national river with large areas of the stream overseen by the National Park Service.

From Siloam Springs to Huntsville

Monday, May 6th, 2019


We leave Siloam Springs and head east on U.S. Highway 412, passing through a bit of bucolic Ozarks countryside before entering the congested confines of Springdale.

We cross the Illinois River twice. The river flows to the northwest and then to the southwest through Washington and Benton counties before entering Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Legislature declared the Illinois to be a State Scenic River in 1970. That set the stage for decades of litigation between the two states with Oklahoma claiming that the runoff of poultry waste along with pollution from wastewater treatment facilities in booming northwest Arkansas had sullied the stream.

We go from Benton County into Washington County, which saw its population almost quadruple from 55,797 in the 1960 census to 203,065 in the 2010 census. The current population is estimated at about 235,000 residents.

Washington County was established in October 1828 from Lovely County.

“Conflict between the Osage and Cherokee in what’s now Washington County led to intermittent raids, which Indian agents and U.S. Army leaders attempted to end, often without success,” Matthew Bryan Kirkpatrick writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “William L. Lovely was assigned as the agent to the Western Cherokee by the U.S. government and sought to settle the dispute between the two warring tribes and the white settlers. In 1816, Lovely made what was known as the Lovely Purchase through an unauthorized sale of land from the Osage. The actual western border of the Cherokee land, which included portions of Washington County, was vague and remained unsurveyed until 1825.

“On Oct. 13, 1827, the Arkansas Territorial Legislature created Lovely County. Present-day Washington County was within the borders of this county. The seat of Lovely County was established at Nicksville, Okla. Many early settlers to Washington County came to the area after the establishment of Lovely County. The county was formed after the Cherokee were removed and the area was deemed safe for white settlement.”

There were settlements at Cane Hill by 1827 and at Shiloh (now Springdale) and Fayetteville by the 1830s.

“Lovely County was abolished by October 1828, most of it ending up, when the border was drawn, in Indian Territory,” Kirkpatrick writes. “From much of what was left in Arkansas Territory, Washington County was formally created three days later. … Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, Washington County started to attract more affluent citizens. This is probably due to the good climate and availability of inexpensive land. Archibald Yell may be the most famous man from early Washington County. In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson appointed him a judge in the region. Yell built his home, Waxhaw, in Fayetteville and practiced law in and around Fayetteville. In 1836, he was Arkansas’ first congressman. In 1840, he became Arkansas’ second governor.”

By the late 1800s, this had become one of the nation’s top fruit-growing regions.

“As early as 1852, area farmers sent crates of their ‘striped Ben’ apples across the Boston Mountains to sell at settlements along the Arkansas River,” Kirkpatrick writes. “Orchard production remained small until after the Civil War. Agriculture received a great boost with the completion of the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railway. It was completed in 1882 and provided a quick, reliable mode of transportation for commerce. Washington County’s apple harvest was the highest in the state in 1890 with 211,685 bushels. By 1900, production had nearly tripled to 614,924 bushels. The Western Arkansas Fruit Growers & Shippers Cooperative Association was organized at Springdale in 1888. … By 1900, Washington County was also exporting fence posts, hardwood lumber, railroad ties, spokes and posts throughout the country.”

The fruit business waned in the 1920s, and the timber boom slowed with the virgin timber having been cut. Fortunately for Washington County residents, the poultry industry took off.

“The Aaron Poultry & Egg Co. created the county’s first modern poultry processing facility in 1914 at an old mill building on Dickson Street in Fayetteville,” Kirkpatrick writes. “In 1916, the Aaron Co. decided not to build a permanent plant in Fayetteville. But Jay Fulbright, the father of future U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, built a processing plant along with other investors on West Avenue in Fayetteville. The company improved local stock both in egg production and the quality of roosters. Chickens slaughtered in the Fayetteville plant were shipped to markets throughout the nation. The plant grew, changed owners and eventually was acquired by the Campbell Soup Co. in 1955. Feed mills dot the landscape up and down U.S. Highway 71.”

We reach the suburban sprawl of the Fayetteville-to-Bentonville corridor and find ourself in Tontitown, a historic Italian community that has seen its population soar from 209 people in 1960 to an estimated 3,800 people today. Father Pietro Bandini led a group of Italian Catholic immigrants across the state from the Lake Village area to settle Tontitown in 1898.

The town was named in honor of explorer Henri de Tonti.

“The Tontitown Italians were tenant farmers on a south Arkansas plantation known as Sunnyside,” writes Susan Young of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History at Springdale. “Groups from northern and central Italy arrived there in 1895 and 1897 and soon found themselves battling poor sanitation, disease, unfamiliar farming methods, language barriers and contract disputes. In early 1898, about 40 families chose to follow Bandini, the plantation’s resident priest, to the Arkansas Ozarks where the climate, terrain and small-scale agriculture were more similar to northern and central Italy. They settled on a parcel of rocky land west of Springdale. Abandoned cabins and outbuildings provided shelter until homes could be built. Horses and plows were bought on credit. Land was cleared, and vegetable gardens, vineyards, apple orchards, peach orchards and fields of strawberries were planted.

“At the end of June 1898, Tontitown settlers held a picnic in observance of the Feast of St. Peter, Bandini’s patron saint. The annual picnic, which was moved to August in 1913 to coincide with the grape harvest, was the forerunner of today’s Tontitown Grape Festival. Early on, a group of thugs tried to burn down Tontitown’s schoolhouse, which also served as the church and residence of Bandini. According to local tradition, a picture of St. Joseph hanging in the schoolhouse was untouched by the fire, and so the parish was named for the saint. A new church building was dedicated in 1900, a post office was established the same year and the first mercantile store was opened by John Pozza.”

Bandini, who died of a stroke in January 1917, was intent on creating a model community. St. Mary’s Academy, a boarding and day school operated by the Sisters of Mercy from Fort Smith, opened at Tontitown in 1906. The town was incorporated in 1909, and Bandini was elected the first mayor in 1910. The railroad arrived in 1912.

“Grapes became Tontitown’s signature crop, especially with the arrival of a Welch grape juice factory in nearby Springdale in the early 1920s,” Young writes. “Tontitown’s vineyards often produced three to five tons of grapes per acre. The Mantegani and Granata family wineries produced some of Tontitown’s most popular wines. … The Grape Festival expanded to multiple days in the 1930s. At the heart of it all is the spaghetti dinner prepared by members of St. Joseph Catholic Church. Beginning in July each year, volunteers prepare hundreds of pounds of homemade pasta and sauce. Thousands of festival-goers are served the spaghetti dinner, which also includes fried chicken, salad with homemade Italian dressing, homemade rolls and, of course, Concord grapes. Proceeds from the spaghetti dinner and the Queen Concordia contest go to support the parish.

“In 1932, Albina Mantegani was crowned as the first Grape Festival queen. The queen contest didn’t resume until 1942 when Elsie Mae Fiori was chosen as festival queen with the title of Queen Concordia. The contest has been held every year since then. … The queen’s coronation is presided over by a local dignitary. Those who have crowned the queen in past years include Congressman Claude Fuller, Gov. Orval Faubus and Gov. Bill Clinton.”

It’s a Monday, and that means we can’t get fried chicken and spaghetti for lunch at Tontitown. Both the Venesian Inn and Mama Z’s Cafe are closed on Mondays. And, alas, Mary Maestri’s is long gone.

We head to another Arkansas classic, the AQ Chicken House at Springdale. Roy Ritter opened the restaurant on July 20, 1947. He was one of the first people to build large poultry houses in the region and later constructed a poultry processing plant.

AQ stands for “Arkansas Quality.” There once were several locations across the state. Now there’s just the original here in Springdale, and it’s as good as ever. It’s somewhat fitting that we eat chicken in Springdale, the heart of the Arkansas poultry industry.

“In 1940, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized Arkansas as the largest producer of chickens,” Velda Brotherton writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Soon the Rural Electrification Administration began to supply electricity to farms, which revolutionized poultry production. Led by Tyson Foods Inc., poultry production increased by 333 percent between 1935 and 1950. It increased another 336 percent during the next 10 years. In 1962, Arkansas growers for all poultry plants raised 25 million broilers. The county soon became one of the five most heavily industrialized in Arkansas. Meanwhile, the cattle industry of northwest Arkansas grew out of the use of chicken litter to improve pastures.

“The poultry industry spawned other businesses. Tyson Foods opened a hatchery, as did many others. George’s Inc. and Jeff Brown built feed mills and increased the size of their hatcheries. Others followed. Locals, many of whom had left the area for work, found jobs that had not previously been available. Farmers, who were hacking out a bare existence, turned to raising poultry and cattle. The city’s population increased steadily. The trucking industry grew primarily out of growers’ needs to transport their birds. Harvey Jones went into the hauling business with a wagon and a team of two mules in 1918. That launched Jones Truck Lines. Others soon followed such as Joe Robinson, Lindley Truck Lines, Willis Shaw and J.B. Hunt.”

By 2005, there were 26 truck lines with operations at Springdale. There are more than 75 manufacturing and poultry-processing plants in the city.

We continue east on U.S. 412 and soon find ourselves crossing the lower part of Beaver Lake.

Beaver Dam on the White River is to the north in Carroll County, but the lake it creates is about 73 miles long and two miles wide at its widest point. The lake reaches from almost Eureka Springs to almost Fayetteville. It serves the water needs of one of the nation’s most rapidly growing areas.

“Beaver was one of the first U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs in the country to provide for municipal and industrial water supply,” Scott Branyan writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “This additional use was authorized by the Water Supply Act of 1958, provided a local sponsor could be found to pay for the extra storage capacity. The cities of Rogers, Bentonville, Fayetteville and Springdale agreed to buy water from the newly formed Beaver Water District, which paid a share of the cost of the project.”

The dam is 2,575 feet long and creates a reservoir that covers 28,200 acres.

“While the possibility of a dam on the upper White River was examined as early as 1911, the first feasibility studies by the Corps of Engineers for constructing such a dam were made in 1929 and 1930,” Branyan writes. “However, it was not until 1954 that Congress passed a flood-control act authorizing its construction. Several proposed sites for the dam were determined to be unsuitable. One of these was near Beaver in Carroll County, a town named after 1850s settler Wilson Ashbury Beaver. That led to the name of the project. The Corps of Engineers chose a final location a few miles upstream near Bush.”

The first construction funds were included in a 1959 bill, but the legislation was vetoed by President Dwight Eisenhower.

“Eisenhower had objected to Beaver Dam because of uncertainties over marketing the hydropower from the project,” Branyan writes. “The Southwestern Power Administration had reported that the project was only marginally justifiable. Congress, however, overrode the president’s veto, and bids for the project were received the following year. The actual construction process began in November 1960.”

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Nov. 22, 1960. Power generation began in May 1965. The reservoir was full by 1968.

“Unlike earlier projects in Arkansas, the Corps only acquired flowage easements around the White River,” Branyan writes. “As soon as the federal land office opened to acquire land for the reservoir in October 1959, developers began to buy and sell property around the proposed lake. Out-of-state investors were quick to buy large acreages that could later be subdivided. By and large, Beaver is known as a residential lake. Situated close to the cities of northwest Arkansas, the lake area is home to many people who commute to work.

“Enthusiastic fishing reports published in newspapers and national outdoor magazines contributed to interest in the new lake. One newspaper article dubbed Beaver the ‘queen of the White River lakes.’ Promoter Ray Scott first brought the lake to prominent attention as a fishing destination. Scott held the first modern bass tournament at Beaver on June 5-7, 1967.”

The suburban sprawl of northwest Arkansas begins to thin out after we cross the lake. We soon find ourselves in Madison County.

The earliest white settlers arrived in this area in the late 1820s.

“Settlers who migrated to the area from Huntsville in Madison County, Ala., named both Huntsville and Madison County,” Rebecca Haden and Joy Russell write for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The majority of the settlers came from Tennessee, traveling by flatboat and wagon. The name Madison honors the fourth president, James Madison. Huntsville, in the geographical center, has always been the county seat. The Legislature established Madison County during its first session in 1836. It was formed from parts of Washington, Carroll and Newton counties. Its northern boundary originally extended to Missouri.

“The boundaries were changed many times before being finalized in 1885. The odd rectangle that resulted is 38 miles from north to south and 22 miles from east to west. … Future Gov. Isaac Murphy settled in Huntsville in 1854, was appointed governor in 1864 and served until 1868. He returned to Huntsville at the end of his term and lived there until his death in 1882.”

The railroads opened up the area’s hardwood forests for harvest.

“In the southern part of the county, millions of feet of virgin hardwood trees were harvested to be sawed into lumber, railroad ties and barrel staves to be shipped to other states,” Haden and Russell write. “On Sept. 4, 1886, the state granted a charter to the Fayetteville & Little Rock Railroad. Within a couple of years, tracks were laid from Fayetteville to Pettigrew so that the timber could be easily shipped. The railroads also allowed the development of cash crops, including tomatoes and watermelons. There were small commercial canneries in several of the towns.

“Many small towns sprang up along the rails, St. Paul being the largest. In 1900, its population was more than 1,000, making it larger than the county seat of Huntsville. The timber harvest lessened, the Great Depression set in and the railroad ceased operation on July 31, 1937. Most of the boomtowns along the railroad tracks declined and became ghost towns. Madison County was particularly hard hit by the Great Depression. The methods used by those who had harvested the timber led to the erosion of topsoil, limiting the productivity of the county’s small farms. Diseases plagued the area. Malnutrition was a serious problem.”

The population of the county dropped from a high of 19,864 in 1900 to a low of 9,068 in the 1960 census. Things soon began to turn around, though.

“Livestock became a popular income source in the county, especially dairy cattle,” Haden and Russell write. “Later, beef cattle production increased. It remains one of the top income sources. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, northwest Arkansas became a major poultry-producing area. Chicken and turkey production became a significant source of income for many residents.”

The boom in nearby Washington and Benton counties bled over into Madison County. By the 2010 census, the county’s population had rebounded to 15,717.

Starting at Siloam Springs

Friday, May 3rd, 2019


We’re in the parking lot of the Cherokee Casino on the Oklahoma side of the state line, just west of Siloam Springs.

I’ve been joined by noted Arkansas historian Tom DeBlack and Paul Austin, the former head of the Arkansas Humanities Council. Our goal is to drive across north Arkansas from Oklahoma to the Missouri Bootheel on U.S. Highway 412.

Tom and Paul retired recently and have time for such adventures.


I call it work.

Even though it’s a Monday morning, there are plenty of cars in the parking lot. Back in 2008, the Cherokee Nation added an eight-story hotel with 140 rooms to an existing casino. The casino was expanded by almost 200,000 square feet as part of an $83 million project. About 1,600 new electronic games and 30 additional table games were added at that time to a casino that previously had 1,000 electronic games and 20 table games.

After getting a cup of coffee and a doughnut inside, we cross into Arkansas for our adventure. It’s an interesting contrast when you go directly from a casino to the campus of John Brown University, one of the most conservative institutions of higher education in the region. The private school was founded in 1919 by an evangelist named John Elward Brown.

“Brown was a self-educated evangelist, publisher and radio entrepreneur who grew up in rural poverty in late 19th-century Iowa,” Rick Ostrander writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “In July 1919, Brown, at that time a prominent evangelist in southern California with a family home in Siloam Springs, decided to establish a college that would offer practical vocational training in a Christian setting for poor, ambitious young people who couldn’t afford a college education. One month later, Brown returned to Siloam Springs and converted his 300-acre farm into a college campus.

“In September 1919, Southwestern Collegiate Institute began its first semester as a nondenominational Christian vocational school with 70 students and a handful of teachers. A few years later, the college changed its name to John E. Brown College and eventually to John Brown University in order to capitalize on the founder’s fame as an evangelist. In its first two decades, JBU functioned primarily as a school for the poor, combining religious and vocational instruction. The college initially sought to offer free education to all of its students. When this proved unfeasible, the college began charging nominal tuition and fees while relying on wealthy donors to cover the rest of the costs. Students attended classes half a day, spending the other half working in college industries such as a machine shop, a dress factory, a cannery and a dairy barn.”

There were mandatory Bible classes and required daily chapel attendance. Students had to be granted special permission to leave the campus.

“In the middle decades of the 20th century, JBU evolved both educationally and religiously,” Ostrander writes. “As academic expectations increased, students spent less time working in the college industries. At the same time, however, new vocational programs were added in engineering, broadcasting, publishing and home economics. In 1935, Brown purchased the rights to radio station KUOA, which formerly had been the radio station of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. The station became the voice of JBU.”

Ostrander notes that the school remained “firmly ensconced in conservative Protestant morality.” Students, for instance, campaigned successfully in 1944 to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages in Benton County.

“In other ways, however, the university’s religious character moderated in the mid-20th century,” Ostrander writes. “JBU gradually moved away from the strict fundamentalism of such institutions as Bob Jones University in South Carolina and joined the more moderate wing of American evangelicalism. This transformation was symbolized when Billy Graham, the leading evangelist of the 20th century, visited JBU in 1959.”

Brown died in 1957 and the school was taken over by his son, John Brown Jr. In 1962, JBU was accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities. Enrollment grew from 325 students in 1961 to 768 in 1969.

John Brown III became the school’s president in 1979 and grew enrollment to 1,044 students by 1991.

In 1994, Lee Balzer became the first president from outside the Brown family. Chip Pollard has been the JBU president since 2004.

JBU has benefited from the growth of northwest Arkansas and the school’s ties to the conservative business leaders in the region.

“In the 1980s, Walmart founder Sam Walton became acquainted with JBU through his company’s chief operating officer, Donald Soderquist,” Ostrander writes. “In 1985, Walton established a scholarship fund to enable students from Central America to attend the university. With other international students from Africa, South America and Asia, the university enjoys an international student population of about 15 percent. … Walton’s association with JBU led to a close relationship between the university and Soderquist. He served as chairman of the board of trustees and in 1997 he made a contribution that enabled the university to establish the Donald G. Soderquist Center for Business Leadership and Ethics.”

At the time John Elward Brown established the school in 1919, Siloam Springs was known as a health resort. “Siloam” refers to the healing waters of the Pool of Siloam in the New Testament.

The first white settlers in the area were believed to have been Simon Sager and members of his family in the late 1830s. A settlement known as Hico was established along spring-fed Sager Creek, and a post office opened there in 1855.

“In 1880, Hico merchant and former Union scout John Valentine Hargrove established Siloam City on land he owned in the valley along Sager Creek,” Don Warden writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Several factors led him to do this. The St Louis-San Francisco Railway (later known as the Frisco) in eastern Benton County led residents on the west side of the county to think that they too would soon have a railroad. The pure spring water flowing into Sager Creek was said to be medicinal, and testimonials about cures attracted health seekers even before Hargrove platted his land into a town. Trade with the Cherokee Nation and farming continued to be important parts of the local economy.

“Promotion of the new town was so successful that it was incorporated the next year as Siloam Springs. In 1882, the Hico post office closed and the Siloam Springs post office opened. The Hico post office reopened from 1885-94. Owners of land surrounding Siloam Springs platted their property to form commercial and residential additions to the town in 1880, 1881 and 1882. While there was still no prospect of a rail line in Siloam Springs by the mid-1880s, many of those who made up the town’s initial population boom began to leave. By 1890, the population was 821.”

In 1892, the Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf Railroad began building south from Sulphur Springs, which is near the Missouri border. The railroad line reached Siloam Springs the next year. The railroad was reorganized as the Kansas City Southern in 1900.

“To ensure that the line would pass through town, local businessmen led by Robert S. Morris of the Bank of Siloam pledged $20,000 to the railroad, half when the first passenger train arrived and the rest six months later. They also secured land for the depot and 10 miles of right of way for the track. On Dec. 20, 1893, the railroad reached Siloam Springs. Most of the buildings in the downtown historic district were built between this date and the beginning of the Great Depression.”

Siloam Springs annexed Hico in 1904.

In addition to bringing in those wanting to take the waters, the railroad allowed area farmers to ship out apples, peaches and strawberries. In 1908, the Arkansas, Oklahoma & Western Railroad was completed from Rogers to Siloam Springs. This made the area even more accessible.

In 1901, Benton County led the nation in apple production, producing 2.5 million bushels and becoming known as the Land of the Big Red Apple. Production hit 5 million bushels by 1919 before diseases in the early 1920s began devastating the apple orchards.

Farmers started switching over to cattle and poultry. By 1924, Benton County led the state in egg production. By 1938, Benton County was the largest broiler-producing county in the nation.

My mother would tell stories about going to what was known as the Arkansas Baptist Assembly near Siloam Springs when she was a girl growing up in east Arkansas during the 1930s. The assembly, now a retreat center known as Camp Siloam, was established by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention in 1923 and was operated by the ABSC until 2006 when it was given its own nonprofit status.

Other camps were established in the area.

Gypsy Camp, a private summer camp for girls, opened in 1921 along the Illinois River. Camp was held there until 1978.

In 1926, Earl Allen established Allen Canning Co. to produce canned tomatoes. The Siloam Springs company was a major employer for decades before going bankrupt.

Poultry processor Simmons Foods established its headquarters at Siloam Springs in 1952. It now has more than 1,000 employees in the area.

We head to downtown Siloam Springs, which is transforming itself into one of the best downtowns in the state.

We witness the construction of what’s known as Memorial Park. What was formerly Medical Springs Park is being transformed with the addition of a splash pad, an amphitheater and a new farmers’ market. In 2016, the city received a grant of $300,000 from the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program of the Walton Family Foundation to pay for design of the project. It’s on the former site of Siloam Springs Memorial Hospital.

Construction of the $3.23 million park began last May. The project is being funded by a local sales tax.

There’s also a project to make Broadway Street more pedestrian friendly. The initiative is adding angled parking, rain gardens and landscaping. According to Main Street Siloam Springs, there were 73 downtown events in 2018 and eight downtown building improvement projects.

Downtown Siloam Springs now has its own craft brewery (Ivory Bill Brewing Co.) and what I consider one of the best restaurants in the state in 28 Springs.

Visitors to downtown can also enjoy the Creekside Taproom, Fratelli’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria, Pour Jon’s Coffee & Vinyl, Pure Joy Ice Cream, Ziggywurst and the Cafe on Broadway.

A former newspaper office downtown has been renovated as the home of the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce. Downtown now has a building occupancy rate of more than 90 percent.

By the end of 2018, downtown Siloam Springs was the home of 12 restaurants or taprooms, 24 retail shops, seven salons/barbershops/spas and two dance studios.

Main Street Siloam Springs describes it this way: “Most of present-day downtown was built between the 1890s and early 1930s. In 1995, downtown Siloam Springs became a nationally registered historic district. With three parks, walking trails, notable architecture and graceful Sager Creek meandering throughout the downtown area, Siloam Springs is a beautiful destination for visitors, businesses and residents alike. The historic district is filled with retail shops, restaurants, professional services, residences, a bountiful farmers’ market and engaging community events.”

The springs that gave the city its name are also still there.

According to the Siloam Springs Museum: “Belief in the medicinal value of mineral water dates to ancient times. Spas devoted to bathing in or drinking mineral waters enjoyed their greatest popularity in the 19th century. Of the thousands of mineral springs in North America, about 800 at one time had resorts where people came to take the waters. One of these resorts was Siloam Springs. Of the dozen or more springs that emerged from the earth in the vicinity of the Hico settlement, eight came to be considered medicinal.

“The springs were usually described as pure water that would flush the disease-causing impurities out of a person’s body. On a list from 1898, one of the Twin Springs was said to have contained a small amount of arsenic, but on other lists it’s described as pure water. The only spring consistently listed as a mineral spring is Iron Spring. Signs at both the Two and Siloam springs threatened a $5 fine for washing in the springs. Today both the Siloam and Twin Springs are in basins, but these basins were built to keep Sager Creek out of the spring, not to hold spring waters for bathing. Though these springs were once considered medicinal, they have now been declared  unsafe for drinking due to high levels of bacteria in the water.”

On the nearby Illinois River, Siloam Springs has its own kayak park. The park opened in the spring of 2014 after the city of Siloam Springs received a grant from the Walton Family Foundation to purchase riverfront property adjacent to Fisher Ford Road and construct a city park. The flow of the river was engineered to create a series of whitewater rapids and standing waves. Other park amenities include a swimming area, a climbing boulder, walking trails, picnic tables, a changing station and rain gardens.

It’s time to head east on U.S. 412 to Tontitown, Springdale and on to Huntsville.