Archive for August, 2019

College football: Week 1

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

Another college football season begins in earnest this week.

Normally, a kickoff time of 3 p.m. on an August afternoon in Fayetteville would be brutal. But it looks as if the weather is going to give University of Arkansas fans a break with temperatures and humidity levels falling late in the week.

The attitude of Razorback fans coming into the 2019 season can best be described with this word: Cautious.

Not “cautious optimism,” mind you. I sense going into this season that fans are being careful not to get too high or too low following that 2-10 debacle in the first year of the Chad Morris regime. They’re pragmatic for a change, telling themselves: “This is a team that plays in the SEC West, and there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Mark this down, however: The Razorbacks need to get to at least five or six victories this year or there will be serious questions being asked about Morris’ ability to get it done.

The Razorback fan base has been beat down. Consider that:

— Arkansas has had just one winning season since Bobby Petrino left following the 2011 season.

— The Razorbacks have the worst SEC record of any of the 14 conference teams since then — 13-43. The next worst in the SEC West is Ole Miss at 23-33. The next worst in the conference as a whole are Tennessee and Kentucky at 17-39.

The facts speak for themselves. With an overall record of 35-52 the past seven years and home losses to teams such as Louisiana-Monroe and Toledo, it’s evident that Arkansas has the worst football program in the SEC.

That doesn’t mean Arkansas — with its facilities and tradition — will stay there. The road back to respectability can begin Saturday against Portland State.

Let’s get to the picks:

Arkansas 49, Portland State 20 — Even given the current state of the program, this should be a relatively easy Hog victory over an FCS squad. Portland State was 4-7 overall and 3-5 in Big Sky Conference play a year ago. The Vikings were 0-11 the previous season. We now know that Ben Hicks will start at quarterback for the Razorbacks, though you can expect Nick Starkel to get plenty of work. The goals in this game are to iron out the first-game kinks, build a big enough lead early to allow lots of substitutions and avoid major injuries in advance of the Sept. 7 Ole Miss game in Oxford. The Rebels will have their hands full Saturday against a good Memphis team. That contest will be telecast at 11 a.m. on ABC.

Arkansas State 31, SMU 30 — It promises to be an emotional night in Jonesboro as the Red Wolves play for the first time since the death of Wendy Anderson, the wife of head coach Blake Anderson. ASU was 8-5 overall and 5-3 in Sun Belt Conference play last year, which didn’t meet the high expectations of Red Wolf fans these days. ASU won back-to-back Sun Belt championships in 2015-16. Anderson, who now has a 39-25 record at the school, cleaned house on his coaching staff following last season. With 13 returning starters, the Red Wolves should be better. SMU brings in a team that was 5-7 last year but had a quality win over Houston.

Western Kentucky 29, UCA 27 — The FCS Bears open the season on the road against against an FBS team, but it’s a winnable game on Thursday night. Western Kentucky was just 3-9 in 2019 and finished the season 2-6 in Conference USA play. In their first year under Nathan Brown, the Bears struggled to a 6-5 record. The previous two seasons under head coach Steve Campbell (now at South Alabama) had seen UCA post back-to-back 10-win seasons. Two of UCA’s losses in 2018 were by a combined five points. Brown, who is just 33, has eight starters back on offense. UCA is picked to finish second in the Southland Conference.

TCU 59, UAPB 12 — The Golden Lions go to Fort Worth to collect a check in a game that’s sure to get ugly early. TCU was 7-6 last year, which was not up to the high standards of recent seasons. The Horned Frogs won their final three games, beating Baylor and Oklahoma State in Big 12 play and then defeating California in overtime in bowl play. UAPB was 2-9 in its first season under head coach Cedric Thomas. UAPB had a combined record of 21-46 the six seasons prior to that. The school hasn’t had a winning season since 2012.

Rex’s Rankings: The preseason

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Another high school football season has arrived.

Thank goodness.

I realize that I’m one of the lucky ones.

My father, whose first job out of college in 1948 was at Newport High School as the Greyhounds’ football coach, sold sporting goods to schools across the state when I was growing up. His big Oldsmobile was filled with footballs, helmets, shoulder pads and other samples that he would take from school to school. He sometimes would allow me to tag along on those sales calls and meet the coaches.

Those colorful characters were the legends of my youth.

Early each August, my father would take me with him to the state coaches’ clinic for several days. It marked the unofficial end of summer at our house. I would hang out in the Southwest Sporting Goods Co. hotel suite at night and listen to legendary coaches such as Curtis King of Augusta, Sonny Gordon of Holly Grove, Buddy Harding of Clarendon and Joe Hart of McCrory swap stories.

As a boy who loved high school football, I grew up in the right place at the right time.

And I still love the sport.

I plan to be at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium on Monday and Tuesday nights for the first games of the season.

Friday, Aug. 30, will mark the first of 13 consecutive Friday nights that I will spend in a radio studio, hosting a scoreboard show that runs from 10 p.m. until midnight. The show airs on more than 50 stations across the state.

That radio program allows me to stay connected to the sport I love. I’ve never met most of the correspondents who call us, but I feel as if I know them. I look forward to their calls each week. I consider them my fall family.

Here in Arkansas, high school football is the tie that binds many of us together.

Each week on that show, I come up with new rankings. We call them Rex’s Road to the Rock Rankings.

Here are the preseason rankings. There will be upsets as there always are. The rankings will change each week as they always do. In the end, the cream will rise to the top.


  1. North Little Rock
  2. Bryant
  3. Greenwood
  4. Conway
  5. Bentonville
  6. West Memphis
  7. Pulaski Academy
  8. Arkadelphia
  9. Fayetteville
  10. El Dorado


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


  1. Greenwood
  2. West Memphis
  3. El Dorado
  4. Benton
  5. Russellville


  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Morrilton
  3. Little Rock Christian
  4. Harrison
  5. L.R. McClellan


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


  1. Prescott
  2. Rison
  3. Osceola
  4. Booneville
  5. Camden Harmony Grove


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

From Montrose to Wilmot

Friday, August 16th, 2019


Montrose is the place where two U.S. highways — 165 and 82 — meet.

The town’s population was 354 people in the 2010 census, down from a high of 641 in the 1980 census. Like most small towns in this part of southeast Arkansas, Montrose struggles to remain relevant.

Timber companies cleared the virgin hardwood trees during the period of Arkansas history known as the Big Cut (which lasted from about 1880 to 1930), and men such as W.T. Cone and Sam Wilson bought up the land to raise cotton.

“Cone had been a merchant in Hamburg before acquiring farmland in the Montrose area,” Steve Teske writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “In 1922, with the national decline in cotton prices, Cone sold his land to Wilson and left the area. Cotton remained the main crop throughout the 20th century. Around the beginning of the century, the Iron Mountain Railroad built a line that extended into Louisiana. It established depots at regular intervals where train engineers could obtain additional fuel and water. Many of these depots were named for railroad executives and employees. This is probably the case for Montrose, although no record of the namesake has been preserved.

“A post office was established at the Montrose stop in 1898. The Montrose depot became more significant when a team of investors created a short-line railroad called the Mississippi River, Hamburg & Western Railway. It connected the Crossett area to Luna Landing on the Mississippi River. This line intersected the Iron Mountain line at the Montrose depot. Both lines became part of Missouri Pacific later in the century. Homes and businesses were quickly built around the depot, and Montrose incorporated as a second-class city in 1904.”

The area was ravaged by the Great Flood of 1927 and the Great Depression.

“By the middle of the century, the combination of mechanized agriculture and social changes brought about a decline in population as many farm workers sought better-paying jobs in the larger cities of Arkansas as well as in Northern states,” Teske writes. “Due to school consolidation, all the schools in the area are now part of the Hamburg School District, which doesn’t have any school buildings in Montrose. In 1986, Bill Jones opened a business in Montrose based around the barbecue sauce recipe of his grandfather, Jasper Jones of Mississippi. Sassy Jones Sauce & Spice Co. makes and distributes various foods, including sauces, jams, jellies and syrups.”

The next town headed south is Portland, which was once a steamboat port on the Bayou Bartholomew.

“The earliest known settlers were John P. Fisher and William Brady, who were there in the 1830s,” writes Rebecca DeArmond-Huskey, the author of two books about life along the Bayou Bartholomew. “Fisher arrived in 1833, established a plantation and constructed a two-story house on the west side of the bayou. A short distance down the bayou from Fisher’s house, a small settlement emerged on the opposite side. Steamboat captains called this stopping place ‘the port.’ Upon establishment of a post office in 1857, it was named Portland.

“The bayou village consisted largely of mercantile stores that received their goods from steamboats and served the plantations and smaller farms. Brothers John Cicero Bain, James Oliver Bain and their half-brother Dolphus Leroy Bain installed a steam gin and traded in cotton and cottonseed. A Mr. Culpepper operated a sawmill. He cut the lumber for Fisher’s house. A one-room school and a church stood on a bluff facing the bayou.”

The railroad reached the area in 1890, and many merchants moved almost two miles so they would be by the railroad rather than the bayou.

“Three stores opened the next year and two more in 1892,” DeArmond-Huskey writes. “The town incorporated in October 1893. Instrumental in incorporation were Robert Aaron Pugh, Joseph Cicero Bain and Edward J. Camak. Agriculture continued to be the basis of the economy, but the railroad soon attracted the timber industry. William Harrell Wells was in the barrel stave business in 1896, and the Stell & Boothby Stave Mill was open by early 1897. The first Northern-based concerns were American Forest Lumber and Wheeler Cypress Lumber Co.”

By the early 1900s, there were four large hardwood mills operating in or near Portland.

“When most of the timber was cut by the end of World War I, the mills began to close,” DeArmond-Huskey writes. “Despite the loss of the timber industry, agriculture thrived, and the town continued to grow until the Great Depression. Many small businesses closed, and small farmers began to sell their land in the 1930s. This continued through World War II. With the loss of tenant labor during the war and the emergence of farm mechanization, the surviving large mercantile businesses gradually closed.”

Some of the largest, most prosperous farms in the state traditionally have been in this area of Arkansas. Planters built homes in Portland that reflected their wealth. Noted architect Charles Thompson of Little Rock was hired to design the Joel Wilson Pugh house and the Jess Dean house. The Pugh house, the Dean house and the Henry Naff house all were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I continue south to Parkdale. Folks my age might best remember Parkdale as the little school that won the state’s Overall Basketball Tournament. It was our state’s version of the movie “Hoosiers.”

I was there that night in March 1979 on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas when the Class B school (which was consolidated with Hamburg in 1994) won it all.

I was a young sportswriter looking to see history made as the Parkdale Dragons beat Marmaduke. The Dragons had earlier defeated Osceola and Pine Bluff in the tournament. Ronald Claiborne scored 32 points for Parkdale in the championship game.

Parkdale originally was known as Poplar Bluff.

“Once a busy, prosperous and even violent city, Parkdale has become a relatively quiet community in the 21st century,” Teske writes. “John Tillman Hughes built a store at the present location of Parkdale in 1857. Some farmers were already working the land near the bayou, including William Morris, John Harris and William Butler. Morris’ son, John William Morris, worked as a clerk in Hughes’ store and later opened his own store.”

The Bayou Bartholomew steamboat landing derived its original name from a grove of poplar trees along the bayou. Union troops raided Poplar Bluff in January 1865, burning a gristmill, a distillery and a large amount of corn and cotton.

“Following the war, the settlement was rebuilt with stores, saloons, mills, a post office and the Baptist church,” Teske writes. “A public school was established in 1884. Poplar Bluff incorporated as a town in 1889. The railroad through Poplar Bluff was completed in the early 1890s. Because the railroad also served the larger city of Poplar Bluff, Mo., railroad officials named the depot Parkdale. The name of the post office and of the city followed. Sawmills were built to process timber, and the city grew rapidly.”

The Bank of Parkdale was established in 1905. A new schoolhouse and bridge across the bayou opened in 1908. There was a telephone exchange by 1912.

“In the early part of the 20th century, Parkdale became notorious for violent crimes, including murders,” Teske writes. “Historian Y.W. Ethridge described Parkdale as a ‘boisterous community’ due to the railroad, sawmills and saloons. One citizen later said: ‘Parkdale was terrible. There were a bunch of outlaws. It was a shoot-up town. … There was a rough and rowdy white element here. It was wild.’

“One of the most unusual crimes in Parkdale was the lynching of Ernest Williams, an African-American man, in June 1908. A group of African-American women had organized a league to enforce better moral conduct, and Williams had evidently not complied with their standards. Consequently, they seized him one evening, dragged him to a telegraph pole on the outskirts of Parkdale and hanged him. His body wasn’t discovered by local authorities until the next morning, and no one was ever charged with the crime.”

Parkdale’s population peaked at 471 people in 1980. A 1910 Baptist church, a 1926 Methodist church and the homes of two doctors (the M.C. Hawkins home built in 1912 and the Robert George Williams home built in 1903) are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wilmot is the last community headed south before crossing into Louisiana. It’s along Lake Enterprise, an oxbow of the Bayou Bartholomew.

The community once was known as Enterprise, but the post office was called Bartholomew when it was established in 1880. The name Wilmot eventually was used in honor of a surveyor for the railroad, which arrived in 1890.

“J.W. Harris anticipated the coming of the railroad and bought large portions of land, reselling the parcels after the surveyor had planned the city surrounding the depot that bore his name,” Teske writes. “Edward O. McDermott, a physician and the son of inventor Charles McDermott, was hired by the railroad as a tie contractor. He made his home in Wilmot ¬†and opened a store in the growing city.”

A theater opened in 1911, the same year a two-story school building was finished. A newspaper was established the following year. Edward McDermott even built a hotel on the banks of Lake Enterprise. A golf course was constructed in the 1920s.

“The businesses of Wilmot were largely agricultural,” Teske writes. “Several plantations shipped out cotton, corn and other produce. Cypress trees were harvested from the lake and made into shingles. The city also had a stave mill and a furniture store. A cottonseed oil mill was built in 1902.

“Following the Great Depression and World War II, the population of the area dropped as agriculture became more mechanized and as industry attracted workers to cities in Arkansas and in Northern states. Historians estimate that half the black residents of eastern Ashley County emigrated in the middle of the 20th century. Remaining farmers, with financial support from the federal government, diversified their crops, adding rice, soybeans and cattle.”

Wilmot now has almost four times as many black residents as white residents.

This is the Delta part of Ashley County, far different from the pine woods of the Gulf Coastal Plain that surround Crossett and Hamburg.

Ashley County was formed in November 1848 out of parts of Chicot, Drew and Union counties. It became the sixth-largest county in terms of area. It was named for Chester Ashley, the third Arkansan elected to the U.S. Senate.

“When U.S. surveyor Nicholas Rightor entered the Arkansas Territory in 1826, he found settlers who had come to a land that they found to be abundantly fertile and in which game and fish were plentiful,” Deirdre Kelly and Bill Norman write for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The area abounded with timber, especially hardwood. As the hardwood was cleared for cultivation, pine took over. … By 1855, many farms were producing cotton, corn, wheat, potatoes and livestock. … Both rafting and timber were profitable, though rafting stopped when the railroads arrived.”

The population of Ashley County soared from 2,058 residents in the 1850 census to 8,590 residents in the 1860 census.

Like most south Arkansas counties, Ashley County is losing population these days. The population fell from 26,538 in the 1980 census to 21,853 in the 2010 census.

The most Southern place in Arkansas

Thursday, August 8th, 2019


In 1992, historian James C. Cobb from the University of Georgia came out with a book titled “The Most Southern Place on Earth.”

The book is about the Mississippi Delta, a region like none other.

Plumerville native Rupert Vance, who became a noted sociologist at the University of North Carolina, described the region in 1935 as “cotton obsessed, Negro obsessed. Nowhere but in the Mississippi Delta are antebellum conditions so nearly preserved.”

I’m driving south on this summer day on the stretch of road that I consider the most Southern place in Arkansas — not only geographically but also historically and culturally. I’m on U.S. Highway 165, traveling from Dermott in Chicot County to the Louisiana state line just below Wilmot in Ashley County.

Cotton and other row crops remain king in this part of the state.

Along the route are things that have come to represent the Delta in the minds of Arkansans — the well-kept homes of farm owners, the rundown homes of laborers, the flat landscape, a man selling produce alongside the highway, empty buildings in decaying downtowns whose businesses once catered to sharecroppers who no longer live here, Spanish moss dripping from the cypress trees in Lake Enterprise.

About 20 miles to the east is the Mississippi River.

Just to the west of the highway is the Bayou Bartholomew, the longest bayou in the country. The bayou begins in Jefferson County near Pine Bluff and then heads south through Lincoln, Desha, Drew, Chicot and Ashley counties before entering Louisiana and emptying into the Ouachita River.

“Bayou Bartholomew was, until the construction of railroad lines in the area in 1890, the most important stream for transportation in the interior Delta,” writes Rebecca DeArmond-Huskey, who in 2001 was the author of a book titled “Bartholomew’s Song: A Bayou History.”

She writes: “While the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers served their adjoining areas, it was the bayou that provided a transportation route into an otherwise landlocked area. This route allowed the development of one of the richest timber and agricultural tracts in the Delta. The present bayou bed was formed by the waters of the Arkansas River during a period when it was constantly changing courses. About 1,800 to 2,200 years ago, the river diverted from the present area of the bayou, and the leisurely bayou began to develop in the old river bed.”

It’s likely that the bayou was named after a man known as “Little Bartholomew, the Parisian.” He was part of Henri Joutel’s 1687 band of French explorers who crossed the bayou before finally reaching Arkansas Post.

“Spanish colonists also took note of the bayou,” DeArmond-Huskey writes. “Don Juan Filhiol, commandant of the District of Ouachita in the 1780s, was impressed with its navigation potential as well as the agricultural land around it. The colonists used the bayou for transportation as there were no good roads in the area. They used flat-bottom barges, propelled by poling, rowing, cordelling (towing with ropes) or by sails if the wind was favorable.

“The advent of the steamboat made the bayou a major thoroughfare for exporting cotton, timber and other goods as well as for importing supplies. These boats were on the bayou in Morehouse Parish in Louisiana before 1833. All such commerce halted when the Civil War began but resumed soon after it was over. With the advent of the railroad, steamboat activity began a slow decline, though it continued in Ashley County until some point between 1906 and 1912. … All steamboating was a treacherous business, but according to Ben Lucian Burman, who boated on both large rivers and bayous, ‘bayou steamboating was steamboating at its worst.’ The bayou was more narrow and shallow than the river, and pilots had to avoid sharp bends, shoals, snags and overhanging trees.”

There were ports along the bayou at Point Pleasant and Lind Grove in Morehouse Parish.

In Arkansas, there were ports at Poplar Bluff (now Parkdale), Portland, Thebes, Boydell and Baxter.

“Although steamboat trade was put on hold during the Civil War, the bayou remained, for the duration of the war, a significant transportation route for steamboats carrying troops and supplies,” DeArmond-Huskey writes. “In 1865, Union cavalrymen under the leadership of Col. Embury D. Osband carried out a raid to impede this supply route. They reached the bayou in Chicot County and continued down it to Portland and Parkdale, where they captured the Confederate steamer Jim Barkman, which was loaded with corn. After using the Barkman at Point Pleasant in Morehouse Parish to transport their own troops across the bayou, they burned the boat.

“After the war, cotton was the primary export shipped through the bayou until the railroad prompted the development of an extensive timber industry, backed primarily by Northern capitalists. Although locals had used the bayou for log rafting since the 1830s, shipment by rail was much more expedient. The timber companies devastated the timber stands and then moved out. Farmers followed by clearing the cutover timberlands for farms, which today remain the dominant enterprise along the bayou.”

DeArmand-Huskey notes that the bayou played a major role in the lives of those who lived along it.

She writes: “They swam and fished in it, held barbecues and picnics by it, and were baptized in it.”

In 1995, Curtis Merrell of Monticello organized the Bayou Bartholomew Alliance to restore the natural beauty of the stream following decades of neglect. He secured the help of state agencies, federal agencies and nonprofit groups such as the Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited.

Dermott thrived in the early 1900s as a railroad and timber town, growing from 467 residents in 1900 to 1,602 in 1910. It reached its highest population of 4,731 residents in the 1980 census but had fallen to 2,316 by 2010.

“The first settlers chose the rich and heavily timbered land along the bayou,” DeArmand-Huskey writes. “John Smith and his wife, Sarah Bowden, arrived in 1811 and opened the first settlement in the vicinity. The town was named after Dr. Charles McDermott, who first visited in 1834. He bought land and established a plantation. He moved there in 1844, and the settlement began to progress.”

In the early 1870s, the Mississippi, Ouachita & Red River railroad line was constructed from Gaines Landing in Chicot County to the Mississippi River. It would later become part of the Iron Mountain line. In 1887, the north-south line of the Houston, Central Arkansas & Northern Railroad intersected with the Iron Mountain at Dermott. A depot, general merchandise store, cotton gin and saloon sprang up. As the town became busier, drugstores and grocery stores were added to the mix.

Dermott was known for its wide, tree-lined streets. J. Tom Crenshaw, the first mayor, and city recorder C.H. VanPatten had oak trees planted along major streets in the 1890s.

“The French Oak Stave Co. opened in 1891, employing more than 150 people,” DeArmand-Huskey writes. “William Henry Lephiew Jr. established shingle mills in the early 1900s. The Leavitt Land & Lumber Co. installed a mill in 1908 and cut more than 28,000 acres of timber west of the city limits. Around 1907, the Schneider Stave Co. built a slack barrel stave mill that could produce 45,000 staves a day.

“The Bimel-Ashcroft Manufacturing Co. was in existence by about 1910. It produced oak and hickory products such as single trees for plows, tool handles, yokes and spokes. In 1912, W.B. Bynum established Bynum Cooperage, which made whiskey barrel staves. The Burleigh family of Scotland owned a handle mill, managed locally by Sherer Burleigh. Two other mills, Mark’s Veneer and Frecration, produced hardwood flooring.”

In addition to having a growing timber industry, Dermott was doing well as a railroad town. Several hotels were constructed. The town even had a bottling plant and an ice cream factory. The Exchange Bank, the Dermott Bank & Trust Co. and the Bank of Dermott opened between 1916-22.

“Jewish and Chinese families contributed to the town’s economy,” DeArmand-Huskey writes. “Many Jewish families owned clothing stores. Having come to the town as peddlers, several Chinese families established grocery stores. Descendants of these families still live in Dermott. African-American families worked primarily in the agriculture and timber industries, but the town had several black doctors as early as 1887.

“The town was booming at the outbreak of the Great Depression. Most business concerns were locally owned, and the timber industry was still strong with five mills in operation. During the decade, many smaller businesses closed, but the town survived and struggled onward just as it did after the Civil War. During World War II, Dermott remained a thriving town. The stave mills and three gins continued to operate. Camp Dermott housed German POWs. After the war, several new businesses opened.”

In 1940, the Benedictine Sisters opened St. Mary’s Hospital. It operated until 1971.

Traveling south on U.S. 165, I pass into a corner of Drew County and enter the community of Jerome, which had just 39 residents in the 2010 census. A sawmill town called Blissville was established at the spot where the railroad tracks met the bayou. The town was incorporated in 1908.

Like nearby Dermott, Jerome benefited from the railroad and the timber companies that had come to southeast Arkansas to clear the virgin hardwood forests.

“In 1835, Moses Upshard Payne of New Orleans purchased several tracts of land near the bayou as an investment,” Steve Teske writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Some cotton was grown on the clearer patches of land, but much of the land was swampland. … The land was frequently rented or sold during the remaining years of the 19th century with little development taking place. In 1886, J.M. Waddell of New Orleans, along with at least two partners, acquired an interest in the land. The group of investors conveyed a right of way for a railroad line to E.P. Reynolds & Co. in 1890. The company was building a rail line for the Houston, Central Arkansas & Northern Railroad. The line through Jerome would eventually become part of the Missouri Pacific system, which later folded into the Union Pacific Railroad.

“In 1900, interest in the land was acquired by the Chicot Lumber Co. of Chicago, which sold the same interest in 1905 to Aaron Bliss, who began the Bliss-Cook Oak Co. at that time. … At the time the town was incorporated in 1908, it consisted of 25 men living on 260 acres. Herman Moehler, the secretary of the company, owned the sawmill in the town and began to refer to the company as the Jerome Hardwood Lumber Co. in honor of his son, Jerome Moehler. In 1919, Moehler officially incorporated the company under the name he had chosen, and the next year the town also reincorporated as Jerome, though its incorporation would later lapse.”

In the 1920s, Jerome had a pharmacy, three doctors, several hotels and a school. Things began to go downhill as timber cutting wound down in the area. A major sawmill burned in 1927 and wasn’t replaced. The hardwood lumber company sold its land and buildings to Sam Wilson of Montrose in 1937. Two years later, Wilson sold the property to the federal government for $100,000.

“The government received 3,508 acres of land, all the houses in Jerome, a cotton gin, a general store, 65 mules and three tractors,” Teske writes. “Under the guidance of the Farm Security Administration and the National Youth Administration, Jerome became a resettlement colony, populated by 36 families who were moved from the Sunnyside Plantation near Lake Village. A different group of Americans was resettled into the Jerome area after the United States entered World War II. Japanese-American citizens were removed from their homes in the western states of California, Oregon and Washington and resettled inland based on fears that these Americans might cooperate with the government of Japan during the course of the war.”

These days, Jerome is best known statewide for having been the site of one of the two Japanese-American relocation camps in the state. The other camp was at nearby Rohwer in Desha County. The Jerome Relocation Center operated from Oct. 6, 1942, until June 30, 1944. The peak population of the camp was 8,497.

The camp at Jerome was the last of the 10 relocation camps across the country to open and the first to close. The A.J. Rife Construction Co. of Dallas built it for about $4.7 million. It covered more than 10,000 acres between Big Bayou and Crooked Bayou. Once the Japanese-Americans were sent to other camps in June 1944, the structures were used until the end of the war for German POWs.

“After the war, the government began selling the land it had acquired,” Teske writes. “The town of Jerome was purchased by John Baxter, who then sold the land to Charles Clifford Gibson Sr. Gibson and his son used the town as a headquarters for their extensive farming operations, running both the general store and the cotton gin. The Jerome School District was consolidated with that of Dermott in 1950, and the main school building was moved to Dermott, where it was used exclusively for black students until the end of segregation. In 1954, the Alice-Sidney Dryer & Seed Co. built a large drying plant along the railroad tracks in Jerome. The dryer has a storage capacity of 267,000 bushels of grain.”

Russell Bearden described the relocation camp this way for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “The compound eventually became nearly 500 acres of tar-papered, A-framed buildings arranged into specifically numbered blocks. Each block was designed to accommodate about 300 people in 14 residential barracks with each barrack (20 feet by 120 feet) divided into four to six apartments. This was the traditional military style for barracks, though the internees rebuilt or remodeled the insides. Each block also included a recreational building, a mess hall, a laundry building and a building for a communal latrine.

“All the residential buildings were without plumbing or running water and were heated during the winter months by wood stoves. The camp also had an administrative section that was segregated from the rest of the camp to handle camp operations, a military police section, a hospital section, a warehouse and factory section, a segregated residential section for barracks for white War Relocation Authority personnel, barracks for schools and auxiliary buildings for such things as canteens, motion pictures, gymnasiums, auditoriums, motor pools and fire stations. The camp itself was partially surrounded by barbed wire or heavily wooded areas with guard towers situated at strategic areas and guarded by a small contingent of soldiers.”

The route south out of Jerome on U.S. 165 takes me into Ashley County. I drive through Boydell and into Montrose, which is where the highway I’m on meets U.S. 82.

When most Arkansans think of Ashley County, they picture the vast pine forests and timber industries near Crossett and Hamburg. But as Teske notes: “This eastern part of the county belongs to the Mississippi Delta region, which was home to numerous cotton plantations before and after the Civil War. Dugald McMillan was the first landowner who registered a patent for the land where Montrose now stands. His plantation, like others in the region, employed a large number of slaves, many of whom remained after the war working as tenant farmers for the same landowners. Consequently, African-American citizens have outnumbered white citizens in the area from the time slavery ended up to the present time.”

We’ll continue south in the next part of the trip. We’ll remain in Ashley County until we reach the Louisiana line and pass through four small communities. In the 2010 census, Montrose had 354 residents while Portland had 430, Parkdale had 277 and Wilmot had 550.