Archive for July, 2020

Heading down U.S. 67

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020


U.S. 67 enters the state near Corning and heads toward the southwest, crossing into Texas at Texarkana.

“It passes through 13 counties, generally following the course of the road known as the Southwest Trail, which was established across Arkansas during territorial times,” Steven Teske writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “U.S. Highway 67 extends 1,560 miles, beginning in Presidio, Texas, at the border with Mexico, and ending near Sabula, Iowa. The Arkansas portion of the highway is roughly 280 miles.”

In Arkansas, the highway separates the Ouachita and Ozark mountains to the north and west from the Delta and the Gulf Coastal Plain to the south and east.

“This boundary is such a natural path of travel that even spring and summer thunderstorms frequently move along the same route,” Teske writes. “Undoubtedly, Native Americans frequently traveled portions of this route. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, as the U.S. government began improving travel through the territory, a military road was constructed from Missouri through Little Rock and south to Fulton on the Red River. … When the Cairo & Fulton Railroad began surveying a route to connect southern Illinois to the Red River across Missouri and Arkansas, the same route was used once again. The railroad became the Iron Mountain Railroad and was later acquired by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The route is still used by the Union Pacific Railroad.

“Federal and state funding became available for highways early in the 1920s as automobile and truck traffic was beginning to take the place of railroad traffic. The roads that would become U.S. Highway 67 were first designated part of the original Arkansas State Highway System in 1923. A joint commission of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads and the American Association of State Highway Officials created the first national system of highways with nine federal highways established in Arkansas, including Highway 67. Sections of the highway were gradually improved as funds became available. Much pavement was laid for the highway from 1928-31. The highway was 18 feet wide at that time. More improvements were made by federal projects such as the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.”

Travel patterns began to change with the construction of the interstates.

“Until the 1950s, highways existed to connect cities and towns to one another,” Teske writes. “The beginning of the interstate highway system caused drivers to begin traveling directly between large cities, bypassing the smaller cities and towns. Interstate 30, from Little Rock south to Texarkana and then into Texas, was one of the original interstate highways planned for Arkansas. The new interstate highway made travel to Texas easier but took business away from many of the communities that had relied on travelers’ income to support stores, restaurants and gas stations. Meanwhile, many segments of Highway 67 were widened or replaced with wider pavement between 1952-58. Highway 67 has continued to be used by Arkansans traveling shorter distances in the southwestern quarter of the state.”

On this trip to Texarkana, we’ll pass some segments of the old road that have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places: A bridge and a rest area in Clark County built by the National Youth Administration in 1936; a stretch of almost six miles in Miller County.

We drive through the community of Haskell, which has grown from just 239 residents in the 1970 census to an estimated 4,600 people today. White flight out of Pulaski County fueled growth in the Harmony Grove School District.

“Once recognized as a railroad town, located between the Missouri Pacific and the Rock Island tracks, Haskell is best known in the 21st century as the home of Harmony Grove,” Teske writes. “Southern Saline County, watered by creeks that flow into the Saline River, was a rugged wooded area when Arkansas became a state in 1836. One of the first to receive a land grant for the area that would become Haskell was Mabel Gilbert, who received grants dated 1837 and 1838. Other early settlers included Thomas Montgomery and William Washington White. Following the Civil War, railroads began to expand their operation in and across Arkansas. The St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad extended south from Little Rock in the 1870s.

“John White acquired land not far from the Iron Mountain track in 1883. However, the land didn’t become valuable until the Chicago, Rock Island & Southern built a route extending south to Louisiana that came within a mile of the Iron Mountain — soon to become part of the Missouri Pacific system — in 1908. The depot built to serve the Rock Island also was used by the Iron Mountain, making the community a railroad center for the region.”

The community reportedly was named for the first postmaster at the depot. Haskell was incorporated in 1910. A three-room school named Mount Harmony was built in 1912.

“Haskell achieved a brief moment of notoriety in May 1917 when a forged letter bearing the name of the road master for the Iron Mountain was received by the section foreman at Haskell,” Teske writes. “The letter ordered that all section men should immediately report for military duty, with half of them to leave in short order for fighting in France and Russia. The Saline County sheriff began an investigation, forwarding the letter to federal authorities in Little Rock. The culprit was never identified.

“By 1920, most of the workers in the city were involved in agriculture, with railroad work coming second and the timber industry third in importance. There were six teachers, four merchants, two blacksmiths, a physician and an insurance solicitor at Haskell at the time. A stave mill also operated there. Haskell had a jail that held people arrested for riding the train without paying a fare, as well as people guilty of selling whiskey, stealing, fighting or gambling. The town marshal collected $1 a day from the city government to house prisoners. He held them until the amount received matched their fine.”

In the late 1920s, the Mount Harmony School consolidated with the nearby Hickory Grove school to form Harmony Grove. There also was a school for black students known as Juniorville.

“The decline of the railroad industry led to harder days for cities like Haskell,” Teske writes. “Interstate 30 was built several miles to the west of Haskell. The post office closed in 1973 with mail being sent to Benton. However, by the end of the 20th century, the growing population of cities such as Benton and Bryant meant population growth for Haskell as well. Between 2000 and 2010, the population jumped from 2,645 to 3,990. Most of the population is white, although the 2010 census counted 263 African American and 114 Hispanic residents. The Harmony Grove School District serves more than 1,000 students in its elementary, junior high and high schools.”

In 1929, 3,000 acres were purchased along U.S. 67 to build what was later known as the Benton Unit of the Arkansas State Hospital. The Arkansas State Hospital had been established in 1873 as the Arkansas Lunatic Asylum in Little Rock. The daily population in 1917-18 was an average of 1,970 with a certified capacity of 1,964. It was obvious expansion was needed. Finally in 1929, the Arkansas Legislature passed a law authorizing a bond issue to provide funds for the new unit in Saline County. The first patients arrived in 1931. WPA workers completed additional buildings at the site in 1934-35. Those buildings were used as a filming site for the psychiatric hospital that was portrayed in the 1996 movie “Sling Blade,” which starred native Arkansan Billy Bob Thornton.

The Benton Unit eventually became the Arkansas Health Center, the only state-operated nursing facility.

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “In 1961, the facility was designated to receive all African American psychiatric patients from its section of the state. In July 1963, all African American psychiatric patients from Pulaski County, including those patients receiving treatment from the Arkansas State Hospital, were transferred to AHC. Although black and white patients were housed in separate buildings, AHC was one of the only facilities of its kind in Arkansas to accept such a large black population. In October 1965, AHC became racially integrated.”

We leave Saline County and enter Hot Spring County, which was carved by the Arkansas Territorial Legislature out of part of Clark County in 1829.

“Hot Spring County is bisected by the Ouachita River and includes landforms ranging from mountains to lowlands once covered in hardwood and pine forests,” Jennifer Atkins-Gordeeva writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The combination of rock types and fault lines is responsible for the hot spring that provides the name for the county. Ironically, the spring for which Hot Spring County is named is no longer within the county limits. Garland County was created in April 1873 in response to complaints from the citizens of the city of Hot Springs about the difficult trip to the county seat, which was then Rockport. As a result, both the city of Hot Springs and the hot springs themselves (except for one near Magnet Cove) are no longer found in Hot Spring County.

“The county’s mineral resources include iron, novaculite, titanium, barite, clay and lignite. Magnet Cove got its name from the magnetic iron ore deposits that sent compasses spinning in the 1880s. There are 42 distinct mineral species and mineral combinations near Magnet Cove, some of which are only found there, in the Ural Mountains and in the Tyrolean Alps. The spring at Magnet Cove is set on the eastern edge of a series of outcroppings of novaculite that act like a sponge, soaking rainwater deep into the earth. The novaculite of the area has provided a major source for knife-sharpening whetstones. It was mined from the 1880s until the 1970s.”

Hot Spring County was Arkansas’ 18th county. The original county seat at Hot Springs was moved to Rockport in 1846. There was a toll bridge across the Ouachita River at that point. It washed away in 1848.

“This region was an important cotton-growing area, and slaves were used until the end of the Civil War,” Atkins-Gordeeva writes. “Some of the first businesses were saloons and dry goods stores. Saloons were populated by the local timber workers and were the sites of rowdy behavior.”

We next pass through Glen Rose, where life has long been based on the local school district. Glen Rose was a longtime coach at the University of Arkansas. The school district was created in 1927 with the consolidation of six small schools in the county. A four-room building opened in 1928. The district now has almost 1,000 students and is known for its strong high school football teams.

“Malvern Lumber, established in 1880, was the first of several companies to make use of the trees in Hot Spring County,” Atkins-Gordeeva writes. “Unlike many of its competitors, Malvern Lumber practiced timber conservation measures, including limited logging and planting of new trees. The cheap land and cheap labor of Arkansas were appealing for purchase and development by Northern landowners. Ferry and steamboat travel had moved people and goods along the Ouachita River. The popularity of river travel later yielded to the efficiency of rail.

“In October 1879, fast-growing Malvern officially replaced neighboring Rockport as the county seat. A two-story courthouse was built in 1888, drawing upon one of the new local industries, brick making. With plants at Malvern and Perla, Atchison Brick Co. — later known as Arkansas Brick & Tile — produced bricks for local, national and international use. The Arlington Hotel at Hot Springs was built from brick made in the Perla plant. Arkansas Brick & Tile was acquired by Acme Brick Co. of Fort Worth in 1927.”

In December 1914, Malvern and Arkadelphia were connected by electric lines strung by Harvey Couch’s Arkansas Power & Light Co. It was the state’s first electric transmission line connecting two cities.

“Early prosperity was bound up in the timber industry,” Atkins-Gordeeva writes. “Once considered inexhaustible, the supply of hardwoods had been severely reduced by World War I. Many large timber mills closed in the 1920s. Local industry turned its focus to the marketable quantities of ores. Novaculite, vanadium and magnetic ore all were found to have commercial uses. Companies were formed to exploit other rare minerals available in the Magnet Cove area.

“In 1936, at a cost of $150,000, the present three-story brick courthouse was constructed. The jail stood on the top floor, above the courtroom and offices. In 2008, the Hot Spring County Detention Center replaced that jail. The courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hot Spring County Library was established in 1928 by the Women’s Club of Malvern, During the Great Depression, the library struggled to survive. The Women’s Club made frequent appeals to the public for donations of money or books. In 1939, voters approved a one-mill tax to support the library. Malvern’s city hall, meanwhile, was built in 1930 using WPA labor.”

During his 1936 visit to Arkansas to help celebrate the state’s centennial, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Hot Spring County. He had lunch at Couchwood, which was Harvey Couch’s family compound on Lake Catherine (it’s still used by his descendants), and then attended a service at Rockport Methodist Church. The president later boarded a train at Malvern to travel to Little Rock. Hot Spring County residents had spent months preparing for FDR’s visit. The road was paved from Hot Springs to Malvern. Private property was cleaned up along the president’s route, and trees and shrubs were planted.

“World War II brought an unprecedented demand for the barite found in Hot Spring County,” Atkins-Gordeeva writes. “The solid deposits of barite were useful in drilling oil wells. Following the war, various industries were established in the county. They included Baroid Drilling Fluids in 1950, Mid-State Construction & Materials in 1962, United Minerals Corp. in 1994, Malvern Wood Products in 1951 and Anthony Timberlands in 1969.”

Ouachita Vocational Technical School was established at Malvern in 1969 to offer occupational and technical training for residents of Hot Spring, Grant, Saline, Clark and Dallas counties. It took several years to get the school up and running, but it opened in January 1972 with 292 students.

“While a permanent campus was under construction, classes met in the former Wilson High School building, which had been the African American high school prior to integration,” Marvin Schultz writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “In 1985, the state Board of Education designated OVTS a high school vocational center to provide career-oriented training to students in the area’s 11 high schools. The vocational-technical school taught automotive technology, cosmetology, food service, small-engine repair, welding, classes designed to meet the specific needs of area businesses and post-secondary practical nursing. OVTS operated until 1991, when it became Ouachita Technical College.”

In the late 1980s, a group of Arkansas business leaders had begun calling for educational reforms, including the transfer of post-secondary vocational programs from the state Board of Vocational Education to the state Board of Higher Education. The group also called for converting vocational-technical schools into two-year colleges. A 1991 legislative act made most of those recommended changes. The first bill didn’t include OVTS, but state Sen. George Hopkins of Malvern introduced separate legislation to re-designate the Malvern school as Ouachita Technical College. The bill passed and was signed by Gov. Bill Clinton.

OTC worked with Henderson State University at Arkadelphia to offer college-level credits. Henderson officials developed a curriculum and provided faculty.

Malvern voters passed a one-cent sales tax dedicated to the college, and that allowed for the construction of a 35,000-square-foot facility in 1999 that provides library, office and classroom space. A building where nurses are trained was added in 2003. The name of the school was changed to College of the Ouachitas in July 2011.

In February 2019, the college signed a merger agreement with the Arkansas State University system. In September of that year, it was announced that the new name of the school will be Arkansas State University-Three Rivers.

Crossing the Saline

Monday, July 27th, 2020


Because parking was so difficult, I usually would walk with my grandparents to the Saline County Fair & Rodeo from their house at 111 Olive St. in Benton. It’s one of the oldest fairs in the state and was an event I always looked forward to when I was a boy. The fair’s roots go back to 1908.

“Since its inception, the Saline County Fair has grown to include a parade, a full rodeo, livestock sales, games, carnival rides, contests, live music and exhibits showing off locally made products,” Cody Lynn Berry writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The Saline County Fair has always been managed and funded by the Saline County Fair Association. The association was formed in the summer of 1908, and the first fair was held Sept. 29-30, 1908. The parade lined up at the corner of Narroway and Market streets in downtown Benton and proceeded to the fairgrounds, which were on East Street. There were 49 units in the parade, including 24 floats. George Zinn was parade marshal, and a reported 3,000 people attended.”

The fair was long known for its unusual exhibits. In 1931, for instance, 40 babies were examined at a clinic, and 11 of them were given blue ribbons. The only time the fair was held outside Benton was in 1932 when it took place on the grounds of the Harmony Grove school at Haskell.

“During World War II, the Saline County Fair blossomed,” Berry writes. “On Oct. 24, 1941, a reported 3,000 people attended the parade. … By 1942, the Arkansas Gazette reported that several counties would probably not have fairs for economic reasons. But on July 10, 1942, the Saline County Fair Association said ‘the show might be held if the people want it.’ In 1945, it was reported that 23 home demonstration clubs in Saline County had pledged to continue their programs at the fair despite the war.

“As the fair expanded, larger grounds were needed. In 1950, the fair was held in rented tents at Tyndall Park in Benton. On May 5, 1951, J.G. Gerard, chairman of the Saline County Fair Association, announced that the quorum court had appropriated $50,000 to purchase land and put up new buildings. On Aug. 29, 1951, the Arkansas Democrat announced that the Saline County Fair Association had purchased 30 acres of the Louis Thomas property on U.S. Highway 67 and 2.5 acres of Gerard’s property on which a livestock barn was located.”

In 1953, the Aluminum Company of America donated an aluminum-sided exhibits building. A new entrance for the fair was also constructed that year. The following year, a National Guard armory was built with those facilities available for the annual fair.

“Gov. Orval Faubus took part in the opening parade in 1955, and a concrete structure was added to house a rodeo,” Berry writes. “In 1958, Interstate 30 bisected Highway 67 in Benton. The Saline County Fairgrounds ended up alongside the new interstate. Every year, the opening of the fair is still marked with a parade through downtown Benton. Floats represent Saline County schools, clubs, churches and political candidates.”

My grandmother would enter items from her garden — flowers, vegetables, etc. She sometimes would enter them in my name, and I still have some of the ribbons. While attending the fair was the thing to do in early fall, our summer outings were to Peeler Bend on the Saline River in order to wade and gather mussel shells.

The river’s four forks begin in the Ouachita Mountains north of Benton and then converge near the city. The Saline enters the Ouachita River near Felsenthal in far south Arkansas.

“The river derived its name from a salty marsh located near its mouth, called by the French the Marais Saline, though some historians claim that a salt works started near Benton as early as 1827 gave the river its name,” Jann Woodard writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “At one time, these salt works supplied the bulk of salt used in the Arkansas Territory as well as surrounding states. Although the northern section of the river was popular for its salt works, the southern section was known for its large fields of lignite. Exposures of lignite were found in many areas of the river. The largest area was in Bradley County.”

The South Fork flows for 38 miles; the Middle Fork flows for 37 miles; the Alum Fork flows for 61 miles; and the North Fork flows for 29 miles. Once the four forks converge, the Saline River flows south through Saline, Grant, Dallas, Cleveland, Bradley, Drew and Ashley counties.

“The 204-mile stream has been called Merry Saline, Saline Bayou, Marie Saline, Marais Saline and Marais de Saline,” Woodard writes. “The watershed consists of about 3,350 square miles. Its bottom is gravel with an abundance of aquatic insects and other organisms. It includes a series of pools and fast-running shoals that contain many species of fish. When Native Americans gave up their land along the river, they left reminders of their sojourn. Although historical tradition states that the upper region of the Saline is closely associated with the Quapaw, excavated relics and pottery are of Caddoan origin. The Hughes mound near Benton is one of the largest Indian mounds along the river.

“The southern part of the river is rich with French history. In the late 1700s, many French families settled along the banks of the lower Saline. Among the early French settlers were the Fogle, LaBeouff, DuBose, Charron, Pevetoe, Ramsauer, De Ambleton, Carcuff and Bullet families. Several of the place names along the river derived from the French.”

In the Flood Control Act of 1937, Congress proposed that every major stream in the Ouachita River basin be dammed for flood control and hydroelectric power.

“Numerous studies were made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the initial plan included an earthen dam capable of generating hydroelectric power and offering water recreation. … Elected officials in several counties eventually opposed the structure while only minimal support surfaced for the project,” Woodard writes. “The only support for the dam seemed to be a few Benton residents. In 1973, Gov. Dale Bumpers asked the Corps to again study the feasibility of the dam because of the long-range need for water in central Arkansas.

“When what’s now the Central Arkansas Water System stated that Little Rock didn’t need any water from a new reservoir, the demise of the proposed project was assured. The enduring fight for the Saline’s survival as a free-flowing stream wasn’t easy, and the outcome wasn’t fully realized until February 1975 when Gov. David Pryor spoke out against the project.”

In August 1999, Charles Green found an Indian dugout canoe at Peeler Bend. The 24-foot canoe dated to the 1100s. I probably stepped on that canoe without realizing it when wading and swimming as a child.

I would beg my grandfather to drive us across what we called the Old Wagon Bridge, which is today called the Old River Bridge and is one of the oldest bridges in the state.

“The Old River Bridge spans 260 feet and is composed of iron beams, two large trusses and a wooden platform supported by iron columns,” Berry writes. “The bridge dates back to an act of the Saline County Quorum Court, which appropriated $5,000 ‘for the construction of an iron bridge over the Saline River at the Military Road crossing’ in 1889. Construction was completed in 1891 by Youngstown Bridge Co. of Youngstown, Ohio.

“The land around it is important, having been the site of William Lockhart’s settlement at what he called Saline Crossing in 1815. Lockhart was the first white man to build a permanent settlement in what’s now Saline County. The bridge was on the Military Road, which had been built along what was then called the Old Missouri Trail, or more commonly these days is called the Southwest Trail.”

The Old River Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“In 1974, a truck carrying concrete blocks damaged the bridge’s wooden platform, and local officials decommissioned the bridge,” Berry writes. “Access to the area around the bridge was restricted by the city of Benton. Concrete barriers blocked cars from entering, but it remained a common fishing spot.”

The Old River Bridge was featured in the 1996 Billy Bob Thornton movie “Sling Blade.” A silhouette of the bridge was used on posters promoting the film. The Old River Bridge soon will see new life as part of a hiking and biking trail from Little Rock to Hot Springs.

“Benton residents wanted to restore the bridge and its grounds, but no one had succeeded in doing so until a grassroots organization was formed in 2008 by local business owners and politicians,” Berry writes. “Bill White, the owner of White’s Furniture in Benton, donated five acres of land he owned around the bridge. Five more acres were purchased for a new regional park to be built at the end of River Street. The Saline Crossing Regional Park & Recreational Area Inc., led by Benton resident Lynn Moore, was formed with the goal of restoring the Old River Bridge and turning its grounds into a park.”

A $500,000 federal grant administered by the Arkansas Department of Transportation will allow the bridge to be disassembled, evaluated, restored and then reassembled for use by hikers and bikers.

The community known as Saline Crossing once vied for the position of county seat. In 1831, Lockhart was given permission to build a toll bridge over the Saline River at that point on the Southwest Trail. Lockhart had left North Carolina with his family to head west in 1815. He followed the Southwest Trail to where it crossed the Saline River.

“Lockhart built a cabin on the Saline’s banks,” Berry writes. “He stayed there for the remaining 32 years of his life. In 1817, Abner Herold and his stepsons, Isham and John Pelton, settled near Lockhart’s home at Saline Crossing. In 1819, Arkansas Territory was created by Congress, causing more white settlers to spill into the area. By 1820, the families of Robert and Valentine Brazil had settled there, along with those of James Buchan and Samuel Williams.

“The Rev. William Stephenson, a Methodist circuit rider, gave the first recorded sermon in Saline County at Lockhart’s cabin in 1817. Thomas Nuttall wrote that there were ‘nine or 10 families living at Saline Crossing’ and that the land was ‘fertile enough and healthy enough’ to attract new settlers, which it did. The Southwest Trail that crossed the Saline River at that point was regarded as little more than an obscure trail. By 1831, the road was widened and improved after the Indian Removal Act was passed by Congress a year before.”

A post office opened at Saline Crossing in 1831 with Lockhart as the postmaster

“During Indian removal, the area was on the route between Little Rock and Fort Towson in Indian Territory,” Berry writes. “On Jan. 4, 1832, the Arkansas Gazette reported that a party of Choctaws that had left Camp Pope in Little Rock ‘left the Saline, 30 miles south of this, on Saturday morning last, and were proceeding on very finely when last heard from.’ On Nov. 23, 1832, removal agent S.T. Cross recorded crossing the Saline River in his Journal of Occurrences with this line: ‘Left camp and traveled 12 miles, crossing Saline creek — but few cases of sickness.’

“In fact, that winter was one of the coldest on record, and a cholera epidemic quickly spread through the remaining groups. Many died from exposure and more from disease while crossing the Arkansas swamps to Indian Territory. British geologist George William Featherstonhaugh visited Saline Crossing on Nov. 27, 1834, where he reported being ’27 miles from Little Rock’ at a place ‘kept by a sort of she Caliban.’ The house was a tenement consisting of a single room with a mud floor. This is widely believed to have been an inn kept by Lockhart’s wife. Saline Crossing was considered for the county seat but ultimately lost to nearby Benton, which absorbed Saline Crossing’s post office.”

When Benton became the Saline County seat, many of the settlers at Saline Crossing moved there. The Saline Crossing post office was abolished in January 1836. In 1837, the Chickasaws began to leave their homelands in Alabama and Mississippi. They camped along the Saline River in August of that year

The Southwest Trail was a network of routes connecting the St. Louis-St. Genevieve area of Missouri with northeast Texas. In Arkansas, the trail crossed the Current River in Randolph County and moved from northwest to southwest, exiting along the Red River southwest of Washington.

“It followed the edge of the eastern terminus of the Ozark Plateau in northeast Arkansas and of the Ouachita Mountains in southwest Arkansas,” Scott Akridge writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The trail avoided the swamps, which covered much of eastern Arkansas, while skirting the foothills of the Ozarks and the Ouachitas. From Pitman’s Ferry on the Current River to the Fulton crossing on the Red, the trail traversed 300 miles. Since most streams in Arkansas arise in the northern and western highlands and flow in a south and east direction, the Southwest Trail crossed the state perpendicular to these streams and their river traffic. Thus travelers who chose not to move on the state’s many waterways found the Southwest Trail especially appealing.

“It isn’t known when the term Southwest Trail was first used. The phrase appears to be largely a 20th-century term. Travelers in the 19th century referred to the trail by different names, including Arkansas Road, National Road, U.S. Road, Military Road, Natchitoches Trace and Red River Road. Native Americans likely used the trail long before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The Hernando de Soto expedition may have traveled parts of the route as early as 1541. … The route was no more than a foot or horse path until 1819 when Arkansas became a territory. That year, the St. Louis Republican reported that 100 people a day passed through St. Charles, Mo., a third of whom passed south into Arkansas, distributing themselves along the trail all the way to the Red River in southwest Arkansas.”

The waves of immigration to Texas grew during the 1820s. Wagon trains were common.

“In the 1830s, during President Andrew Jackson’s administration, Congress attached funding to military appropriations bills that provided for improvements to the road,” Akridge writes. “Army Lt. Richard Collins surveyed the route and oversaw construction contracts. Improvements included cutting and pulling stumps, building bridges and, in some cases, leveling the road and digging ditches. The Military Road was a single roadbed, whereas the Southwest Trail was a network of routes. … The route that paralleled the Southwest Trail was prominently labeled by early surveyors as Military Road. Benton and Rockport were on the Military Road.”

Akridge notes that travelers on the trail usually spent nights in the homes of settlers and that those homes ranged “from dirt-floor log cabins to Jacob Barkman’s brick house near Arkadelphia. Because there were no restaurants or hotels in the modern sense, frontier settlers who lived along the trail often provided travelers a room, a meal and livestock feed for a fee. Accommodations and meal quality varied widely. Businessman and farmer William Wyatt noted in his 1836 travel diary that fees for room and board for one night generally ranged from 75 cents to $1.25 per traveler.

“Because there were few towns along the early trail, most travelers noted distances from stream to stream because streams were easy reference points and because they were hazardous to cross, especially in the spring. Drownings and lost property were common. … In a sense, there’s still a Southwest Trail. Interstate 30 and U.S. 67 parallel the route for automobile traffic, as does the Union Pacific Railroad.”

The walk downtown

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020


It has been almost half a century, but I still have fond memories of those walks to downtown Benton from my grandparents’ house at 111 Olive St. My grandmother didn’t drive, but the walks were always pleasant.

As the city has grown in recent years, there has been a renewed emphasis on restoring what’s known as the Benton Commercial Historic District.

“Its buildings cover a long span of the county’s history from the early 1900s to the present,” Cody Lynn Berry writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “It contains several properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Among its most historic buildings are the Royal Theatre, the Saline County Courthouse, the Odd Fellows Building, the Benton Masonic Lodge, the Ashby Building and the H.J. Gingles Building. … Only three buildings in the Benton Commercial Historic District were built after 1958. The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 24, 2008.

“What’s now Benton’s Commercial Historic District lies in the center of the original town plat, which dates back to 1836. When the city of Benton was laid out, it was done in a traditional grid pattern with a town square at its center, on which the courthouse sits. The present Benton Commercial Historic District surrounds the courthouse on three sides — directly in front on Sevier Street, to the left on Market Street and on its right side on North Main Street. Four of the 53 current buildings in the district were built between 1902 and 1908.”

The oldest building in the district is the courthouse, designed by noted Arkansas architect Charles Thompson and built in 1902. It was constructed in the Romanesque Revival style and was featured in the 1973 Burt Reynolds movie “White Lightning.” The courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in November 1979.

According to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program: “In 1836, William Woodruff, publisher of the Arkansas Gazette, offered 120 acres of land to Saline County for its first courthouse. The land was sufficient not only for a courthouse but also for the plat of the town of Benton. The county auctioned off surplus acreage in June 1836, and the receipts were used to fund the courthouse project. Sales netted $3,381.71. Jacob Hoover built the county courthouse in 1839, a two-story brick building costing $3,574. A jail, made entirely of logs, was also completed at a cost of $975. The courthouse stood until 1855, when it was condemned.

“The second courthouse was built partially out of materials from the first one. It was constructed in 1856 by Green B. Hughes and stood until the beginning of the 20th century. With the discovery of bauxite in the area in 1887, new economic development entered Saline County, and county services outgrew the courthouse in 1902. Thompson designed a two-story pressed yellow brick building with a clock tower. There are Romanesque Revival characteristics that include the use of rounded arches and multiple towers of different shapes and sizes. John Odum oversaw its construction, which cost $31,000. Construction started in 1902 on the site of the demolished 1856 courthouse, and the first session of court in the new building was held that September.”

A $24,000 renovation took place in 1939. It included the construction of one-story northern and southern wings. The jail was in the northern wing, and additional offices were in the southern wing. More jail space was added in 1983. A new jail southeast of downtown was built in 2007. The northern wing was remodeled for storage and offices.

According to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program: “A New Deal-era mural by artist Julius Woeltz hangs inside the courthouse. It depicts local bauxite miners drilling holes and filling train cars with the mineral. Benton’s post office, at the corner of Main and Sevier streets, originally housed the mural. It was commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Section of Fine Arts in 1941 and was completed the following year. On Dec. 7, 1941, the date of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, a Texas newspaper published a photo of Woeltz standing in front of the canvas as he sketched the miners in charcoal. Bauxite is a material necessary for the production of aluminum and would be needed to make planes, much of it provided by Saline County mines.”

The John L. Hughes building at 111 N. Main St. was constructed by Benton architect W.A. Atkinson and his son Bill in 1908. The Cash Store building and the Ashby building also were built in 1908. There were 16 buildings in the district constructed from 1910-17. When he was a boy during the Great Depression, my father worked at the H.J. Gingles Store at 145 W. South St. The building that housed the store, long a Benton shopping tradition, was constructed in 1915 to house J.M. Caldwell’s store.

Because capital was hard to come by during the Depression, only three buildings in the district were built during the 1930s. The post office at 129 N. Main St. was constructed in 1939.

The really special trips downtown were those days when my grandmother would take me to a matinee at the Royal Theatre. The Royal is nothing short of a landmark for Benton natives.

“It has been owned by a local family, a corporation, a celebrity and finally a group of locals who took their name, the Royal Players, from the theater’s marquee,” Berry writes. “What’s now the Royal began its life when Wallace Kauffman, a native of Princeton in Dallas County, started working for Alice Wooten, owner of Independent Motion Pictures Theater. The IMP theater had been built on the site of what’s now the Royal, opening on Jan. 14, 1922. Kauffman ran the film projectors at the IMP. There were two screens, one upstairs and one downstairs, allowing two films to be shown at one time.

“The IMP was an independent establishment until 1936, when the business was sold to the forerunners of what would become United Artists. Kauffman ran the business alone until 1949, when a new deal with the parent company allowed United Artists to handle all bookings and record keeping. Their own trained projection engineers ran the machines. Kauffman remained the theater manager. Theaters in Malvern, Arkadelphia and Magnolia signed similar deals with United Artists. After the marquee and large electronic Royal sign were added, the IMP became known as the Royal.”

Kauffman closed the theater for remodeling in 1949. The seating was increased from 590 to 800, and the lounge and foyer were doubled in size.

“The front facade was designed by architects Frank Ginocchio and Ed Cromwell, who also designed the Royal in Little Rock,” Berry writes. “The Royal in Benton reopened on May 12, 1949, with showings of the Jimmy Stewart classic ‘You Gotta Stay Happy.’ The Kauffman family continued to run the Royal for generations. In 1974, Wallace Kauffman died, leaving the Royal to his son, Warren, who managed it until his retirement in 1986. Warren’s son, Randy, then took over. Randy managed the family business for 10 years before it sold it to actor and comedian Jerry Van Dyke in the late 1990s.

“Van Dyke purchased a couple of shops around the theater, creating a candy shop on one side of the Royal and a restaurant called Jerry Van Dyke’s Soda Shop on the other. In 2000, Van Dyke turned control of the Royal over to a group of thespians known then as the Central Arkansas Community Players. The name was changed to the Royal Players. They began running and maintaining the theater, repurposing it for live theater. The Royal was added to the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 27, 2003.”

On our walks around town, my grandmother would point out sites such as the Shoppach House, the Gann House and Dr. Dewell Gann’s office.

The Shoppach House at 508 N. Main St. was the home during the Civil War of a Confederate soldier named James Shoppach. It was later used by occupying Union troops.

“The Shoppach House was built by German immigrant John William Shoppach in 1852,” Berry writes. “The bricks used to build the house and its well were made on site. Shoppach was born in Hessen, Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1834, eventually making his way to present-day Saline County, where he built his family homestead in Benton. Shoppach’s wife, Sibby Pelton Shoppach, was born in Illinois and had migrated to Arkansas in 1818. After building his home at Benton in 1852, Shoppach was elected county clerk of Saline County. He maintained his post until his death in 1861 when he was 52.

“The structure continued to house up to five generations of the Shoppach family until 1959, when the house and grounds were sold to David Demuth. The Saline County Art League organized fairs in which handcrafted items were sold to raise funds for the restoration and maintenance of the house and its historic grounds. In 1962, the Saline County Art League had the Pilgrim Rest Church building moved to the grounds of the Shoppach House. A sign above the church’s entrance says it was established in 1833. Pilgrim Rest Church had been located just west of Little Rock, where it had been a beloved landmark. On the Shoppach House grounds, the building was reused as the Saline County Art Center. The Art League used the Shoppach House and its outbuildings to showcase various items of historical value.”

Ownership of the home was transferred to the Saline County Art League in 1974 at a cost of just $10. The Shoppach House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 1975. By May 1980, renovations were finished, and the home had been furnished with period-accurate furniture.

“The Shoppach House is in the American Colonial style with the structure composed of brick-and-mortar walls and wooden window frames,” Berry writes. “The front features two multi-paned glass windows on each side of a front entrance made up of pained double doors and a small porch.”

The nearby Gann House reportedly had the first indoor bathrooms in the city. It was constructed in 1895 in the Queen Anne style as the residence of Dr. Dewell Gann Sr. and his family. Gann had been born in 1863 in Georgia. He graduated from Southern Medical College at Atlanta in 1886 and moved to Benton in 1889, where he married the daughter of Benton Courier owner Samuel Whitthorne.

“In Benton, Gann worked as a physician for multiple companies,” Berry writes. “Eight of them were industrial plants and four were railroads. In addition, he had his private practice in a small office built next to his home. The office was built by patients who couldn’t otherwise pay for their treatments. Gann was also a member of the Scottish Rite Masonic Order of Saline County. His wife Martha was one of 12 women chosen to represent Arkansas at the first inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. She died in 1940, and Dr. Gann died on Sept. 25, 1945, at age 82. He was credited by the Arkansas Gazette for organizing the Saline County Medical Society n 1903.

“The house was next owned by Gann’s son, Dr. Dewell Gann Jr., who was born on Sept. 14, 1890. … During World War I, Gann Jr. had received extensive training while serving as a captain and surgeon in the Panama Canal Zone, ultimately attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war, he worked as a surgeon for what are now Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Baptist Health Medical Center. He joined the faculty of what’s now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in 1914 as a professor of surgery. Gann Jr. remained there as a professor until his retirement from teaching in 1936.”

The younger Gann was chief of staff at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Little Rock from 1922-27 and the hospital’s chief surgeon from 1927-36. He was famous for inventing a medical device called the Gann Resuscitator, which was purchased by the federal government in 1940. He died in January 1960 at his home in Benton.

“In the late 1970s, Demuth, who was president of Benton’s Gingles Hardware & Furniture Inc., purchased the Gann House from Gracie Henry Smith of El Dorado for an undisclosed amount,” Berry writes. “Demuth’s widow sold the house in the early 1980s to Sam Gibson and George Ellis. On March 1, 1992, they sold the house to Doyle Webb and his wife Barbara. Renovations began at that time to help keep the original house accurate to its period and structurally sound.”

The Gann Museum of Saline County was established in the adjoining medical office in 1980 to house Quapaw and Caddo artifacts, Niloak pottery and other pieces of county history.

Gann Sr. constructed the building in 1893. It’s reportedly the only building in the country constructed of bauxite.

“Abundant deposits of bauxite were conveniently located nearby, and the soft ore could be hand-sawed into blocks, hardened for six weeks and then used for construction,” Shirley Parson Coppock writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “On an inside wall, which was an outside wall when Gann Sr. used the building for his office, is an imprint of Gann’s foot, made as he sat waiting for patients in a rocker with his foot propped against the wall.

“The building served as a medical office until 1946 when Gann Jr. gave it to the city of Benton to serve as a library and later a museum. Constructed in the Victorian style, it features a five-gable roof, stained windows and ornate wood trim with pastel-colored bauxite blocks. Notable are the separate entrances for men and women installed by Gann to assure his female patients that they could avoid exposure to any rough workmen (railroad or industrial workers) who were visiting the office at the same time.”

Whenever I see the downtown offices of what’s now the Saline Courier at 321 N. Market St., I think of the many times I would read what was then the Benton Courier at my grandparents’ house.

“The paper began its life as the Saline County Digest, established by Vermont native W.A. Webber in 1876 as the official mouthpiece of Saline County Democrats,” Berry writes. “It later lost that affiliation. The Digest was published weekly in a seven-column folio with an average circulation of 1,000. In November 1882, the Digest changed hands for the first time. It was purchased by B.B. Beavers, who renamed it the Saline County Review in November 1883. Col. Samuel Houston Whitthorne bought Beavers’ interest in the paper and renamed it the Saline Courier. Whitthorne was the father-in-law of Gann Sr. … A fire destroyed the Courier office and all of its contents in December 1883. The paper replaced its lost materials in 15 days.

“The paper changed hands a few times before landing back in possession of Whitthorne in August 1886. Whitthorne increased the Saline Courier’s size to nine columns and increased its circulation. He was bought out by A.F. Gardner in October 1887. Gardner then sold the paper to Col. T.C. Mays a year later. Mays sold it to J.J. Beavers in 1890. The paper changed hands several times before being purchased in November 1906 by L.B. White, who owned it for decades after that. Under White, the name was changed to the Benton Courier. … White used his own printing company to print the paper. After 1910, circulation rose to more than 2,000 copies per week.”

The L.B. White Printing Co. also published books. In 1953, White sold the newspaper to Sam Hodges, a Mississippi County native whose father had been the publisher of the Osceola Times. Hodges moved the newspaper from weekly to daily publication in 1970. He sold the newspaper in 1996. The newspaper’s name was changed back to the Saline Courier in August 2010 as more and more of its subscribers came from Bryant.



Starting at Benton

Monday, July 20th, 2020


We’ll take the old road — U.S. 67 rather than Interstate 30 — from Benton to Texarkana.

It’s the road we would often travel when I was a child since parts of the interstate were still being constructed. The most common trips back then were from our home in Arkadelphia to visit my grandparents at their small house at 111 Olive St. in Benton.

My father had been raised in Benton during the Great Depression, the youngest of three children.

Days spent with my grandparents, both of whom lived into their 90s, were magical times. My grandmother (who never learned to drive) and I would often walk downtown so she could shop, pay bills and maybe even take me to a movie at the Royal Theatre. Even more special were the early fall days when we would walk all the way to the Saline County Fair and the summer days when we would load into my grandfather’s old Chevrolet in order to wade and pick up mussel shells at Peeler Bend on the Saline River.

My father had graduated from Benton High School in the spring of 1942 and gone to work for the Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., which was working overtime to build aluminum plants at Bauxite that could aid in the war effort. He was paid union wages, making more at age 18 than his father, who worked for the city of Benton as the street superintendent and fire chief.

Due to those good wages and the promise that the next stop would be Brazil, my father decided he would stay with the company. Having been a football star for the Benton Panthers, he was being wooed by Ouachita coach Bill Walton. Neither of my grandparents had attended college. My grandmother insisted that he go to Ouachita that fall rather than staying on with Chicago Bridge & Iron.

Though the mining and aluminum production were centered in nearby Bauxite, the activities there shaped life for all of Saline County in those days.

“The Arkansas bauxite region covers about 275 square miles in the northern part of the West Gulf Coastal Plain and is divided into two mining districts,” J. Michael Howard writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “One area is in Pulaski County, south and east of Little Rock, and the other is in nearby Saline County, northeast and east of Benton. Much of the early-mined Arkansas bauxite deposits were exposed on the surface as outcrops or were beneath only a thin layer of sedimentary cover. Consequently, surface-mining methods were initially the most practical and economical.

“Before and during World War II, significant tonnages were mined underground. Some years after the war, surface operations resumed. Open-pit panel mining has been the normal surface method used since the early 1960s. A strip or block of bauxite is exposed and mined, and then another panel is exposed. The first panel is normally refilled with waste rock. Several panels typically were open at the same time to supply the proper blend of ores to meet mill specifications. Beginning in the early 1990s, major reclamation projects were begun to restore not only the recently mined land but much of the land that was disturbed before reclamation laws went into effect.”

Bauxite was first mined in Arkansas in 1896, nine years after state geologist John Branner identified its presence in Pulaski County.

“During the 20th century, Arkansas provided about 90 percent of all domestic tonnage mined,” Howard writes. “As aluminum became more widely available, many new uses of the metal (and of the byproducts of the aluminum industry) were discovered, and consumption increased rapidly. Tonnages of bauxite mined in Arkansas increased much more slowly than U.S. national consumption because larger deposits supplying higher-grade bauxite were readily available in the Caribbean region.

“In the early stages of World War II, merchant freighters carrying bauxite to the United States suffered major losses to enemy submarines. The tonnage of bauxite mined in Arkansas quickly increased to meet wartime demands for aluminum, which was especially critical to the military aircraft industry. During the war, the federal government essentially controlled national production of certain strategic and critical minerals like bauxite. In 1943, more than 6 million long tons (2,240 pounds per long ton) of bauxite were mined.”

The last year in which bauxite was mined in Arkansas for aluminum was 1982.

“Small tonnages continued to be mined and used in the production of a variety of alumina-based materials, including various chemicals, abrasives and propants — high-density spherical grains that are used in the oil and gas industry to fracture formations and maximize gas or oil flow,” Howard writes. “Two international companies continued major mining operations in the Bauxite area following the end of World War II. Alcoa and Reynolds Metals Co. had refineries located near Bryant. However, early in 1982, Reynolds closed and disassembled its Hurricane Creek Plant.”

Soon after Branner reported the presence of bauxite, large tracts of land in Saline County were purchased by Ernest Smith and Robert Perry, stockholders in the Southern Bauxite & Mining Co.

“In 1895, General Bauxite Co. acquired the lands of Southern Bauxite & Mining Co.,” Laura Harrington writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Because of his knowledge of the mineral and the land, Perry was placed in charge of General Bauxite, which mined and shipped the first ore in 1896. This area was known as Perrysmith until the name was changed to Bauxite in 1903 after the establishment of the first ore-drying plant.

“In 1899, the Pittsburgh Reduction Co. heard about Perry’s shipment of bauxite ore and sent John Gibbons and his son, J. Felton Gibbons, to Arkansas to learn more about the deposits there. After conducting various experiments, the two men concluded that the ore in Arkansas was of good quality, and they were instructed to buy as much of the remaining land as possible. In 1905, Pittsburgh Reduction was able to buy out General Bauxite, and in 1907, its name changed to Aluminum Company of America (later shortened to Alcoa).”

Bauxite was a company town from the start. The company built churches, a general store, the post office, a barbershop, the movie theater and more.

“Perhaps the most important thing the company built was a school, parts of which are still used today,” Harrington writes. “Services were reserved for workers and their families only. For example, employees paid a small amount into the hospital fund each month, but then the hospital would treat miners and their families at little to no additional cost. With the outbreak of World War I came a higher demand for bauxite ore, which was used to make a variety of war supplies, the most important being aluminum. More workers were brought into the mines, and this meant a need for more houses.

“The company built various housing settlements or camps for its employees with names such as Alabama Town, Church Row, Italy, Mexico and Africa. Like much of America at this time, the camps were segregated, so the inhabitants of Italy were Italian, those in Mexico were Mexican and the ones in Africa were African American.  The company treated its employees well during the turbulent years of the Great Depression. A company farm produced vegetables that were given to employees. One resident remembered the huge turnip patch the company provided. It covered four acres, and the turnips were free.”

Water was furnished at no cost, and so was electricity in some cases.

“The World War II era was the most important in the history of Bauxite,” Harrington writes. “The U.S. government needed aluminum to build airplanes and various other supplies, so the chairman of the War Production Board, Donald Nelson, wrote to Alcoa requesting that it mine bauxite ore three shifts a day. After initial hesitation, the chairman of Alcoa, Arthur P. Davis, brought in thousands of miners from across the nation to run the mines nonstop. Prior to the war, the average annual bauxite production was 371,000 long tons. By 1943, the average annual bauxite production was more than 6 million long tons.”

The Hurricane Creek plant opened in 1942, and housing became an issue.

“Existing residents often rented out garages or spare bedrooms to miners, and it was reported that in some houses, there was at least one worker sleeping at all hours of the day because of the odd hours of mining schedules,” Harrington writes. “In 1944, production began to slow as the end of the war drew near. Mining continued even during the postwar years because aluminum was still in demand. Internal problems such as unionization made it more difficult for Bauxite to continue as a company-run town, and Alcoa soon found it more profitable to mine bauxite ore in foreign nations.”

Residents were notified in 1967 that Bauxite would cease to exist as a company-owned town on July 1, 1969. Some facilities were abandoned. Some were sold. Others were moved to Benton.

“Since the town had been run by the company, it never incorporated,” Harrington writes. “There was no need. After all, the company built all the buildings, paid everyone’s salary and performed all maintenance. After the company stopped doing this, the town nearly disappeared. However, it was able to incorporate on Jan. 16, 1973, with West Bauxite.”

Due to white flight from Little Rock, the Bauxite School District has grown tremendously in recent decades. The town itself had a population of 487 in the 2010 census.

Meanwhile, Benton’s population tripled from 10,399 in the 1960 census to 30,681 in the 2010 census. Benton now has almost 38,000 residents.

It’s a far different town from the one in which my father was raised. Named after U.S. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of the Missouri Territory, the town started near the east bank of the Saline River in 1833.

“Rezin Davis deeded 80 acres to Benton and became its first mayor,” Patricia Laster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The first business, opened in 1834, was an in-house store owned by Joshua Smith. The next year, this neighborhood became Saline Township, and Green B. Hughes was appointed postmaster. He owned one of several area gristmills.”

Saline County was formed in November 1835 from part of Pulaski County. At the time, it included parts of what would become Grant, Perry and Garland counties. It was named for the Saline River, whose forks begin in the Ouachita Mountains of northwestern Saline County.

“After Arkansas became a state in 1836, local commissioners from the newly formed townships were elected to set a permanent county seat,” Laster writes. “There were three choices. Benton, which was situated on the road to Little Rock, had the advantage of being more populous, near the center of the county and more prestigious because of the long existence of Saline Crossing. Ezra Owen campaigned for Collegeville, which was also on the main road but lay several miles east. Charles Caldwell, representative for Saline County, wanted the county seat to be in Caldwellton, where he had settled. It was five miles northwest of the present town of Benton near the Kentucky community.”

In a November 1836 election, the five commissioners were selected. They decided on Benton. The first courthouse and jail were constructed in 1838.

By the 1880 census, Benton had 452 residents. Ashby Funeral Home (which is still around) was established in 1882 and what’s now Benton Utilities was established in 1916. Benton grew from 1,708 residents in 1910 to 3,445 in 1930 and 6,277 in 1950.

In addition to bauxite mining, the Benton area was once known for pottery.

“The county had small pottery works by the late 1800s, but this changed when John Hyten established Hyten Pottery Works,” Eddie Landreth writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “His son and successor, Charles ‘Bullet’ Hyten, renamed the company Eagle Pottery. Its pottery became renowned throughout the world. By the early 1900s, Charles Hyten was experimenting with a new pottery method that mixed colors of clay randomly on the potter’s wheel. This unique style became known as Niloak, which was ‘kaolin’ spelled backward (kaolin was the form of clay used in the process). This form of pottery came to be known as ‘mission swirl.'”

Niloak pottery continued to be produced until 1946. In the early years, the company had produced jugs, crocks and churns for local use. Two of Bullet Hyten’s brothers, Paul and Lee, left the business in 1901. That’s when Bullet entered into a partnership with Alfred Warren. An Ohio potter named Arthur Dovey moved to Arkansas in the early 1900s and began working for Ouachita Pottery in Hot Springs. He joined Hyten in 1909.

“Together, the two began production of Eagle Pottery’s Niloak Missionware line, using a process for mixing colored clays to achieve a swirled pattern in the finished product with a soft matte finish,” writes Arkansas historian Cindy Grisham. “While Dovey has long been credited as the creator of the swirling process, an undocumented claim exists that Niloak potter Fred Johnson invented the swirled design when he worked for Ouachita Pottery, bringing the process with him when he came to work for Niloak. Supporting that claim is a 1906 photograph of the interior of Ouachita Pottery that clearly shows several pieces of swirled pottery on display in the shop.”

Dovey is also in that photo.

“Whoever the creator was, the resulting product was an overwhelming success, although not without its setbacks,” Grisham writes. “Perfection of the swirled process took at least a year, and it was March 1910 before the first piece of Niloak was ready to be placed on the market. The pieces were first offered for sale in Benton at the Bush Drug & Jewelry Co. In July 1911, several Benton businessmen incorporated the Niloak Pottery Co. to produce the popular line. By 1915, the physical plant on Pearl Street in Benton had been expanded to cover two floors. Eagle Pottery continued to produce its more utilitarian line of churns, crocks and bowls until 1938.”

Niloak production ceased from 1918-21 but flourished later in the 1920s.

“The Arkansas Advancement Association had launched a massive campaign to promote the state’s economic benefits to the rest of the nation, and Niloak played a prominent role in that endeavor,” Grisham writes. “The quick pace of growth forced the company to move its production from individual potters to more standardized form just to keep up with demand. Sales slumped during the early years of the Great Depression, and Hyten believed the reason to be Missionware’s placement as a luxury item. In 1931, Hyten moved into a new phase of production, launching the Hywood Art Pottery line. Hywood was to be a more functional line of glazed pottery that would be accessible to a larger group of people.”

A group of Little Rock businessmen led by Hardy Winburn III purchased the company in 1934. Winburn streamlined production and improved marketing. During World War II, the company produced items such as porcelain electrical conductors for the government. It also produced more than a million clay pigeons for target practice.

“With the end of the war, military contracts ended, and the company re-entered the castware business,” Grisham writes. “But slumping sales called for a new direction. In the fall of 1947, Niloak was dissolved, and Winburn Tile Co. was born.”