Archive for August, 2020

Rex’s Rankings: After one week

Monday, August 31st, 2020

Well, we got the first week in.

It’s going to be week-to-week in this year of the virus.

If you go to a game, keep your masks on and stay socially distanced. If you don’t, the governor will pull the plug.

What did we learn?

We learned that Bryant is again going to be something special. We had Benton ranked first in Class 6A coming into the game, but the Hornets made the Panthers look like a Class 2A squad en route to a 48-7 victory. Bryant is 13-0-1 in the Salt Bowl since 2006. Buck James is 5-0 as a coach in the series.

Pulaski Academy won a 48-34 against Joe T. Robinson in a shootout between the defending Class 5A and Class 4A state champions. Both teams are going to be good again.

And keep an eye on Conway in Class 7A. The Wampus Cats were impressive in a 38-21 victory over a quality Fayetteville squad.

Here are the updated rankings after one week of the regular season:


  1. Bryant
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Pulaski Academy
  5. Greenwood
  6. Cabot
  7. West Memphis
  8. Conway
  9. Little Rock Christian
  10. Shiloh Christian


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


  1. Greenwood
  2. West Memphis
  3. Jonesboro
  4. Little Rock Parkview
  5. Benton


  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Little Rock Christian
  3. Harrison
  4. Wynne
  5. Texarkana


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


  1. Harding Academy
  2. Prescott
  3. Newport
  4. Hoxie
  5. Rison


  1. Fordyce
  2. Gurdon
  3. Magnet Cove
  4. Junction City
  5. McCrory

Rex’s Rankings: The season begins

Friday, August 28th, 2020

It’s going to be an adventure with the pandemic still raging. Coaches and players are taking it week to week.

And so will we as the high school season begins with games this weekend.

In a year like no other, here are our rankings going into the season:


  1. Bryant
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Benton
  5. Pulaski Academy
  6. Greenwood
  7. Bentonville West
  8. Cabot
  9. West Memphis
  10. Little Rock Christian


  1. Bryant
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Bentonville West
  5. Cabot


  1. Benton
  2. Greenwood
  3. West Memphis
  4. Jonesboro
  5. Little Rock Parkview


  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Little Rock Christian
  3. Harrison
  4. Texarkana
  5. Wynne


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


  1. Harding Academy
  2. Prescott
  3. Osceola
  4. Rison
  5. Newport


  1. Junction City
  2. Gurdon
  3. Fordyce
  4. Foreman
  5. Magnet Cove

The rival colleges

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020


Only three cities in Arkansas — Little Rock, Conway and Arkadelphia — have multiple four-year institutions of higher learning.

Little Rock now has more than 200,000 residents. Conway now has more than 65,000 residents. Arkadelphia has fewer than 11,000 residents.

In that sense, Arkadelphia is the closest thing we have in Arkansas to a true college town — a place where colleges dominate the economy and every other aspect of the town. What are now Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University began as Baptist and Methodist schools, respectively.

Ouachita was founded on April 8, 1886.

Henderson began in 1890 as Arkadelphia Methodist College.

“Samuel Stevenson and James Gilkey established the first in a string of Baptist schools in Arkadelphia,” writes Ouachita historian Ray Granade. “It and what’s now the Arkansas School for the Blind preceded the Civil War, followed by the Arkadelphia Baptist High School (later Red River Baptist Academy). Ouachita Baptist College was the first of four institutions of higher education (two for whites and two for blacks) begun between 1886 and 1896 in a town that locals liked to promote as the Athens of Arkansas and the City of Colleges.

“OBC was advertised as an institution created not ‘as a financial speculation, but solely upon an educational basis.’ Free tuition for all ministers ‘irrespective of denomination’ (until 1937), a tuition waiver for ministers’ children and another for siblings simultaneously at school exacerbated the financial situation and led one historian to estimate that more than a third of OBC students between 1886 and 1933 paid no tuition at all.”

Residents of Arkadelphia put up 13 acres, a building and $10,000 to attract the school at a site overlooking the Ouachita River that had been left vacant when the School for the Blind moved to Little Rock.

“Founding president John William Conger and his wife made up a third of the initial faculty,” Granade writes. “OBC began with instruction at all levels — primary, preparatory and collegiate. Primary disappeared by about 1900. Enrollment grew from the original 166 to averaging in the 300s under Conger, and the school maintained a low teacher-student ratio, 17 to 1 in 1907. Initially, women lived on campus while men boarded in town. Student life centered on literary clubs (two for females and two for males) while sports stirred deep passions. The curriculum, standard for colleges of its day, contained a few surprises (like bookkeeping) and featured compulsory military training consistently until 1991.

“Continuing financial difficulties led Arkadelphia citizens to pay the institution’s debt in 1914 and again in 1936 in return for the promise to keep OBC in Arkadelphia permanently. Presidents and supporters began endowment drives several times, but the institution accumulated little until World War I. Since 1925, the institution has been a regular part of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention annual budget, which has helped stabilize its finances. Being included in the state convention’s budget came at a price, one which demonstrated the tension between the convention and the school over academic freedom on the issue of evolution.”

The Arkansas Baptist State Convention adopted an anti-evolution position in 1924 that was stronger than that adopted the previous year by the Southern Baptist Convention.

“The man who guided OBC through this clash between Christian fundamentalism and modern science, Dr. Charles Ernest Dicken, informed OBC trustees that he and every faculty member would sign the SBC statement, which initially satisfied the trustees,” Granade writes. “At a called meeting that roughly coincided with John T. Scopes’ arrest in Tennessee, the trustees rescinded their earlier position and found only the fundamentalist statement acceptable. Dicken resigned, effective June 1, 1926.

“Seven of the 24 faculty members also refused to sign the anti-evolution statement, and all seven forfeited employment. Twelve signed with a caveat. Only five signed outright. One trustee observed that the convention’s action would keep the school from hiring ‘the highest type of educator,’ a fear borne out as the school endured three new presidents during the next seven years.”

Ouachita had hired its first faculty member with a doctorate in 1913.

“That chemist began a tradition of terminal degree holders teaching science,” Granade writes. “In 1921, the institution began encouraging faculty without terminal degrees to pursue them and hired its first woman PhD holder in 1929 (in mathematics).”

The Methodists in Arkadelphia saw what the Baptists were accomplishing at Ouachita in the late 1880s and decided they wanted their own school.

“Local members of the Methodist state convention decided to start a college to serve students in southern Arkansas and to compete with Ouachita,” writes Henderson historian David Sesser. “Arkadelphia Methodist College was the third Methodist college in the state, joining male-only Hendrix College in Conway and Galloway Female College in Searcy. Arkadelphia Methodist College was the first co-educational school in the Methodist state convention.

“Methodist citizens of Arkadelphia originally tried to secure Hendrix College when its location was moved in 1889 from Altus to Conway, but they were unsuccessful in their efforts. With $30,000 and a location already pledged to the school, the people of Arkadelphia set out to create their own institution. After receiving the blessing of the board of education of the Little Rock Conference of the Methodist Church, a 15-member board of trustees was selected and immediately set out to create a school. On April 19, 1890, a nine-acre campus, located north of Arkadelphia, was purchased from Harriet Barkman.”

A couple of ravines separated the new campus from Ouachita. Architect Thomas Harding was hired, and the first term was scheduled to begin the first Wednesday in September of 1890. There were 110 students enrolled on Sept. 3 of that year.

“The classes were held in the public school building, and the students were housed in private homes around Arkadelphia,” Sesser writes. “Students took classes in mathematics, natural and physical sciences, mental science, English, history and reading. Upon completing the required courses, men were awarded the bachelor of philosophy degree while women received the mistress of English literature degree. Bachelor of science, bachelor of arts and artium magister (MA) degrees were also awarded. A preparatory department was established, and children of local residents attended classes during the day.

“The college grew slowly through the 1890s, adding a kindergarten and education classes in 1896. Participation in debate and oratory competitions led to the adoption of the original school colors, cream and pink. In 1893, the main building was finally ready to be occupied. Housing everything from the library and classrooms to the women’s dormitory, the new building quickly became the center of campus. Housing for men didn’t open until 1903, when a former private residence was converted to that use.”

Sidewalks linking Ouachita and Henderson were completed in the early 1900s. The school yearbook started in 1905, and the school newspaper was established in 1908.

“With the campus’ growth, the size of the student body also grew through the 1890s,” Sesser writes. “By 1905, the number of students taking collegiate-level classes began to drop. By 1909, the school was debt free largely due to the work of prominent Arkadelphia citizens and, to a lesser extent, the Little Rock Conference of the Methodist Church. In 1904, the name of the institution was changed for the first time. In honor of Captain Charles Christopher Henderson’s service on the board of trustees and his continued financial support of the college, the name of Arkadelphia Methodist College was changed to Henderson College at the annual commencement. In 1911, the name of Henderson College was expanded to Henderson-Brown College in honor of Walter William Brown, business partner of Henderson and a member of the board of trustees.”

Henderson had been born in Scott County in March 1850. He was the third of eight children. The family lived in both Scott and Sebastian counties when he was a boy. Henderson was just 14 when his father died.

“Around 1870, Henderson’s mother moved to Arkadelphia to be near her brother and sister, who lived in the community,” Sesser writes. “Henderson worked for a livestock company based in St. Louis and followed his mother to Arkadelphia in 1879. It was around this time that he began to be called Captain Henderson. He married Laura Bell Hall in 1880 and constructed a home in Arkadelphia the same year. The couple had two daughters and a son. Henderson worked in a number of industries after arriving in Arkadelphia, including cotton and dairies.

“Henderson began investing in timber and sawmills in the early 1880s and became a partner in a number of firms, including the Arkadelphia Lumber Co., the Nashville Lumber Co. and the Brown-Henderson Improvement & Timber Co. These investments in timber led to additional interests in 10 railroad companies, including the Memphis, Paris & Gulf Railroad. In turn, Henderson became active in banking in order to finance various projects and served as president of Elk Horn Bank from 1905-16.”

Henderson had been heavily influenced by a Methodist minister who lived with his family during the Civil War and remained active in the church for the remainder of his life. He raised funds to build a new Methodist church at Arkadelphia and was often a delegate to Methodist gatherings.

“As Henderson prospered, he built a large home on the north side of the city, directly across the street from Arkadelphia Methodist College,” Sesser writes. “Henderson was appointed to the board of trustees of the college in December 1891. Henderson’s wife was active in the movement to establish the college and took classes there. Henderson served on the board for more than a decade before he began to make large donations to the college. The school was chronically short of funds and for almost 14 years operated under a lease with the first president, George Jones.

“The board repeatedly tried to buy out Jones’ lease but was unable to do so until Henderson found a solution. In 1901, he donated $11,000 to pay off the existing debts of the institution and during the next three years led efforts for the board to gain complete control. This was completed in 1904 when Jones left the college. In honor of Henderson’s efforts, the college was renamed Henderson College.”

Captain Henderson was chairman of the board from 1903-22.

“After the departure of Jones, the board created a three-member committee to run the operations of the college,” Sesser writes. “Committee chair John Hinemon took the responsibility of overseeing daily operations, but Henderson and fellow committee member Eli McDaniel remained heavily involved in all financial decisions. Henderson continued to make large donations and purchases for the college. In 1905, he paid $5,250 to settle a claim for the college. In 1909, he gave $10,000 to pay off additional debts.”

Brown gave an additional $10,000 at that time.

“After a fire in 1914 destroyed the main building on campus, Henderson donated $5,000 to the rebuilding effort,” Sesser writes. “In 1913, Henderson moved to El Paso in Texas, where he operated banking institutions. He continued his service on the board. In failing health, he resigned as chairman of the board in 1922 but continued to serve. He was replaced as chairman by Harvey Couch, the founder of Arkansas Power & Light Co. Henderson died on June 4, 1923.”

Athletics were important on both sides of the ravine from the start.

“The most popular game quickly became football,” Sesser writes. “In 1907, the Battles of the Ravine began to be played on an annual basis (there had been a game in 1895 followed by a long break in the series). By then, Henderson’s school colors had changed to red and gray. The athletic teams were first known as the Red Jackets or the Red Men, but by 1908 were simply the Reds. Soon, that name evolved into the Reddies (and Lady Reddies), the name that remains to this day. The school also remains without a traditional mascot.”

Henderson-Brown was lucky to survive the big fire of Feb. 3, 1914, and may not have without Captain Henderson’s support.

“The fire broke out in the main building and quickly engulfed the entire structure,” Sesser writes. “Thanks to the efforts of the male students of both Henderson-Brown and Ouachita, the entire library, several pianos and countless personal effects were saved. The building itself was a total loss. Subsequently, the entire student body met in a pine grove near the remains of the building and discussed the next step in the future of the college. Out of an enrollment of nearly 300, only seven students decided to leave. The decision of most of the students to stay and rebuild their school is known as the birth of the Reddie Spirit.

“New structures were built to replace the main building, and classes continued in tents and in classrooms at Ouachita. The first men’s dormitory was built in 1920, and a new academic building known as College Hall was finished in 1915. By 1929, enrollment stood at 153, a drop of 50 from just the year before. The Little Rock Conference decided after much debate to consolidate Henderson-Brown and Hendrix and create one co-educational institution of higher learning in Little Rock. The move to Little Rock never occurred. Hendrix remained in Conway.”

Henderson-Brown students, faculty members and Arkadelphia business leaders were incensed.

“After negotiations with state lawmakers, it was decided to turn control of Henderson-Brown over to the state rather than close its doors,” Sesser writes. “In 1929, the institution became known as Henderson State Teachers College. The name of Hendrix was changed to Hendrix-Henderson College and remained so for about two years before once again becoming Hendrix College.”

Across the ravine, Ouachita continued its work.

“Associations that were formed through Baptist mission work, particularly that done by graduates, attracted international students from Latin America, Africa and Asia, starting with Charles Pong from 1922-26,” Granade writes. “Enrollment averaged about 300 until better financial times, and the GI Bill helped swell enrollment to average in the 500s after World War II. Literary clubs were replaced by social clubs, and the beginning of national honor societies. … The Preparatory Department disappeared by World War I, as did an early MA program in all disciplines. The military training program expanded with the advent of the Students’ Army Training Corps and the Reserve Officer Training Corps program, with such success than an Army magazine article dubbed Ouachita the ‘West Point of the Ozarks.’

“During World War II, the institution housed the 67th College Training Detachment Aircrew. The college achieved accreditation for the first time in 1928 and standardized its curricular structure in the 1940s. The postwar economic boom and Great Society spending on higher education provided growth and relief to the financial picture and led to expansion in Ouachita’s size and programs. Enrollment averaged about 1,300 during the 1950s and 1960s (when it reached its greatest enrollment ever at 1,881 students in 1966).”

The first black students were admitted in 1962. They were Michael and Mary Makosholo from what was then known as Rhodesia. Two years later, the trustees opened admission to students from all races. Carolyn Jean Green became the first African American to enroll in the fall of 1964.

“In 1959, the institution added a graduate program in history and religion, which narrowed solely to education after a few years (abandoned in 1991) and a nursing school in 1965 (abandoned two years later),” Granade writes. “That provided justification for assuming university status. Holders of PhD degrees became vital when the North Central Association pressed for terminal degrees in all fields, and the institution’s success allowed it to sustain accreditation after 1953, at which time 96 percent of students were Baptist and 80 percent were from Arkansas.”

At Henderson, the move to become a state institution was a good thing for the school.

“Henderson State Teachers College began to expand at a rate never envisioned while it was a Methodist college,” Sesser writes. “Six major buildings were built during the Great Depression. Accreditation was attained in 1934. After World War II, enrollment more than doubled to 500. In 1929, only 153 students had attended. Graduate classes were first offered in 1951 through the University of Arkansas. In 1955, Henderson’s first graduate degree program began.

“To reflect the change in the focus of the institution, the name was changed to Henderson State College in 1967 and to Henderson State University in 1975. Under the leadership of President D.D. McBrien, the college integrated, admitting its first black students in 1955. One of them, Maurice Horton, went on to become the first African American to earn an undergraduate degree at a primarily white institution in Arkansas, graduating in 1957. Henderson has an excellent academic record. It has produced several Rhodes, Fulbright and Rotary International scholars.”

Ouachita was growing in size right along with Henderson.

“Through gifts and purchases, the campus extended northward along the river until it encompassed more than 200 acres,” Granade writes. “Over time, the campus accumulated a variety of buildings, including former residences and barracks along with World War II-era structures in a hodgepodge of sizes and styles. In the early 1970s, the school developed a plan to provide a unified architectural style and to envision campus growth. Renovating and retrofitting the institution’s first freestanding library building (built in 1949 and then expanded in 1987) — as well as transforming the oldest remaining campus building, former women’s dormitory Cone Bottoms (built in 1923), into an administration building in 1994 — departed from the plan.

“Initially, the institution named buildings to honor exemplary service. More recently, building names generally honored significant donors. By 2008, nine buildings housed all on-campus academic activities. In 2014, Ouachita dedicated a new football stadium, Cliff Harris Stadium, and broke ground on the Ben Elrod Center for Family and Community.”

The Athens of Arkansas

Monday, August 24th, 2020


When I was growing up at Arkadelphia, the Southern Standard newspaper proclaimed on its masthead that the city was the Athens of Arkansas.

I always took pride in that moniker.

“Arkadelphia’s greatest asset has been an enduring commitment to education that began with general private and denominational efforts, as well as the Arkansas School for the Blind prior to the Civil War, and blossomed with public education, a business college and denominational colleges for black and white Arkansans in the 1880s and 1890s,” writes Ouachita Baptist University historian Ray Granade. “Of the five colleges founded in Arkadelphia in the decade between 1885 and 1895, two (Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University) continue to operate. Two more (Shorter College and Draughon’s Business College), like the Arkansas School for the Blind, moved to Pulaski County.”

William Blakeley built his blacksmith shop and home in 1808 on a bluff overlooking the Ouachita River. Many considered the salt works that was established a few years later on the other side of the river to be the first industry in the Arkansas Territory. A trading post was opened near the boat landing on the river.

“A decade later, Blakeleytown was thriving,” Granade writes. “At the end of the 1830s, the first lots were plotted, and Blakeleytown became Arkadelphia. The name’s originator and precise date of origin are lost. Later accounts agree that early settler James Trigg reported, without attribution, that when Arkadelphia became the county seat and thus needed a more dignified name, locals combined two Greek words for ‘arc of brotherhood’ and changed the third letter. However, many settlers came from Alabama and perhaps borrowed the name of Arkadelphia from a town north of Birmingham.

“In 1842, Arkadelphia became the Clark County seat, and a brick courthouse and jail were completed in 1844. Incorporation was initiated in 1846, though it languished for a decade. In 1850, the first official census counted 162 whites and 86 slaves. By that point, the town included a saloon, the Arkadelphia Male and Female Institute, Methodist and Baptist churches and a newspaper, The Sentinel. A decade later, this town, which served as the market for the surrounding river floodplain farms as well as those smaller upland ones, had the state’s seventh largest population.”

Henderson State University historian David Sesser notes that efforts to open a school began in 1843. An election was held to select three trustees to create a school. One of the trustees died before taking office, and progress stalled.

“A Baptist minister, Samuel Stevenson, arrived in Arkadelphia as a representative of the American Bible Society,” Sesser writes. “Stevenson was a native of Philadelphia and a graduate of Georgetown College in Kentucky. Arriving in Clark County around 1848, he first operated a school at Oakland, eight miles from Arkadelphia. He constructed a two-story frame building with a cupola and opened the Arkadelphia Institute in 1850 with help from his nephew, James Gilkey.

“Gilkey served as the principal for male students, and Elizabeth Ann Webb took a similar role over the female students. By 1852, the school had an enrollment of 97. The school was known by a variety of names during its operations, including Arkadelphia Institute, Arkansas Male and Female Institute and Arkadelphia Female Seminary. With the start of the Civil War, the school continued to operate for a time but soon closed. Federal troops ransacked the building during their brief occupation of Arkadelphia during the Camden Expedition.”

Stevenson reopened the school after the Civil War. He sold it in 1869 to Mary Connelly, who had once taught there.

“Connelly worked as a teacher in Camden and in other states before the war and moved to Arkadelphia in 1866,” Sesser writes. “She renamed the school Arkadelphia Female College, and the school offered a variety of secondary and college-level courses. Classical language courses and art courses were popular offerings. The students also held concerts at the local Baptist church to raise money to establish a library at the school. Enrollment numbers for the institution do not survive, but numerous girls from the local community attended.

“The organization of Arkadelphia High School by local Republicans as a free institution open to members of the community signaled the end of the private, tuition-driven school. Connelly closed Arkadelphia Female Academy in June 1874. The building was later used to house Arkadelphia Female High School, which was organized along with Arkadelphia Male High School in 1875.”

What’s now the Arkansas School for the Blind at Little Rock was organized at Arkadelphia by a blind Baptist minister in 1859. The Institute for the Education of the Blind campus was along the Ouachita River where Ouachita’s campus is now located. Otis Patten was the school’s first superintendent. The school was moved to Little Rock in 1868. The first Little Rock campus was at 1800 Center St. The institute was renamed Arkansas School for the Blind in 1877 and moved to its current campus on West Markham Street near the state Capitol in 1939.

“After the Cvil War, the railroad and education changed Arkadelphia,” Granade writes. “The Cairo & Fulton Railroad line, following the Military Road, joined Arkadelphia and Little Rock for the first time in 1873. Once the railroad appeared, short-line spurs spread out into the surrounding pine forests and promoted the growth of sawmills just across the river in what was briefly called Daleville as well as in sawmill towns like Graysonia. Since the railroad touched the river at Arkadelphia, the town became even more of a transportation nexus and therefore a farm market and trading center. Good transportation and education-minded community leadership encouraged another kind of growth in Arkadelphia.”

That was the growth of schools.

Arkadelphia Presbyterian Academy was a co-educational elementary and secondary school for black children operated by the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen, part of what typically was known as the Northern Presbyterian Church.

“The board began opening schools for freed slaves as early as the 1860s, but the movement arrived late in Arkansas,” Nancy Snell Griffith writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “It wasn’t until 1889, when a new presbytery was organized in the state and large numbers of blacks from the Eastern states were settling in Arkansas, that the board felt confident to begin its work there.

“The academy in Arkadelphia had earlier roots, however. According to historian Inez Moore Parker, it was founded by an unknown man who in 1882 began teaching black children under a tree on what was later to become the school’s campus. The academy was operated independently until it was taken under care by the Board of Missions for Freedmen in 1889. At that time, the board purchased 38 acres, including a frame building, to house the institution. There’s very little known about the next decade in the academy’s history. By 1900, Rev. W.H. Smith was serving as pastor of the West End Church, and his wife was teaching 135 students in the parochial school. They left the academy in 1901.”

The 1904 report of the Missionary and Benevolent Boards and Committees noted that Rev. B.M. Ward was the principal of the school, which had an enrollment of 105 students.

“By 1906, enrollment had dropped to 77 students, but there was a new two-story classroom and administration building, which also served as a boys’ dormitory,” Griffith writes. “Ward left in 1906 and was replaced by Rev. and Mrs. W.D. Feaster. The school was revitalized. By 1908, enrollment had reached 127, and Mrs. Feaster was being assisted by a Miss A. Nelson. A new building was constructed in 1910 at a cost of almost $5,000. By 1913, enrollment had increased to about 300, and there were eight faculty members. When Thomas Jesse Jones visited the academy in 1914 and 1915 in order to prepare a report for the U.S. Department of the Interior, he found an elementary school and only a few students in the secondary grades. Only a small number of these were boarding students.

“Jones’ attendance figures differ significantly from Parker’s figures. Although the school reported an enrollment of 377 students, Jones indicated there were 195 elementary and five secondary school students. He says there were six black teachers — two male and four female — and that four of these teachers did most of the teaching with occasional assistance from the Feasters. In addition to classroom work, some training was offered in sewing and cooking. Some of the boys helped to pay their expenses by working on the farm and the school’s grounds. There was also a small concrete shop where several pupils worked.

“The classrooms and dormitories were furnished with what Jones described as crude furniture. Half of the school’s funding came from the Board of Missions for Freedmen, with the other half coming mostly from the boarding department. Jones valued the plant at $8,300, $3,800 of which was the value of the farm. He suggested that the academy be reorganized to ‘furnish secondary, industrial and teacher training facilities to supplement the training in the county schools.'”

C.W. Black of Malvern, Iowa, contributed $25,000 to the school in 1920. That funded the construction of Black Memorial Hall. A dining room, kitchen and housing for female students were in the new building. The combined administration building and dormitory for boys burned in 1922. It was replaced in 1924, the same year a cottage was built for the principal.

Parker wrote: “Dr. Feaster — industrious, courageous and determined — was successful in guiding the school to a point of respectability, locally and at the national level of the church.”

Feaster died in March 1926. His replacement, Rev. Elmo Hames, died in September of that year. Rev. L.W. Davis then took over. A fire in 1931 destroyed the main building and Black Memorial Hall.

“During this period, the temper of the campus and community was tense and filled with many misgivings,” Parker wrote. “The uncertainty of coming events was too frustrating for the mission to thrive in a town the size of Arkadelphia.”

The Board of Missions decided in 1933 to merge the school with the Cotton Plant Academy in Woodruff County.

There was also a Baptist school for black students at Arkadelphia.

Arkadelphia Baptist Academy was founded by the American Baptist Home Mission Society of New York.

“Beginning in 1865, Northern Baptists joined other denominations in the effort to educate the recently freed slaves across the South,” Griffith writes. “In an article published in The New York Times in 1897, the society’s corresponding secretary, Gen. Thomas J. Morgan, noted that after the Civil War ‘the problem presented itself of the intellectual elevation of 4 million human beings, just emerging from a degrading bondage.’

“During the 32-year period between the end of the war and Morgan’s statements, the Home Mission Society had spent about $3 million, and its more than 30 institutions were providing education for more than 5,000 students, from primary school to colleges and universities. Arkadelphia Baptist Academy at 18th and Caddo streets was organized as Arkansas Industrial College by F.L. Jones on Aug. 15, 1890. In 1892, the college’s name was changed to Arkadelphia Academy, and it became associated with Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock. The academy was originally founded to train workers for church work, and the Bible was the foundation of all coursework.”

There was an enrollment of 92 students by 1892. The next year, the school reported 26 male and 60 female students. There were 26 students preparing to teach and three preparing for the ministry.

“The academy faltered during the next several years as enrollment dropped to 50 by 1899,” Griffith writes. “By 1905, this number had dropped to 26, all but two of whom were female. That year, Samuel P. Nelson, a graduate of Butler College and the University of Chicago, took over leadership of the academy. He remained until 1919. Enrollment rose to 80 by 1913. Thomas Jesse Jones visited the academy for the Interior Department in 1914 and 1915 and described it as ‘an elementary school with some pupils in secondary subjects.’ It was owned by the local Baptist association, and the board of trustees was composed of members of the association.”

Jones said that because of “inadequate support, the work is ineffective. … Some instruction in sewing is provided. … The garden is cultivated but without regard for educational values.”

There were four black teachers, three of whom were female, on a campus valued at $3,200. The 10-acre campus had a frame building in need of repair and some equipment. Jones recommended that the school be moved to “some section of the state where it’s more needed, or combined with one of the larger Baptist schools.”

The school lived on for some time, however.

Griffith writes: “It was still in existence in 1929 when the Daily Tribune and Evening Times of Ames, Iowa, reported that the academy’s football team had defeated the black team from Conway by a score of 156-0. In September 1930, the academy’s main building was destroyed when fire broke out in one of the upper stories. The academy may have still existed in some form in 1940 when it was enumerated in a separate census district in Caddo Township.”

What’s now Shorter College in North Little Rock, an HBCU operated by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, also operated for a time at Arkadelphia.

“Classes were first held at what was known as Bethel Institute in the basement of Bethel AME Church and Ninth and Broadway in Little Rock on Sept. 15, 1886,” Cary Bradburn writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Rising enrollment led to acquisition in 1888 of a two-story frame building at 11th and Gaines streets in Little Rock. In 1891, Bethel relocated to Arkadelphia. The college was renamed in 1892 in honor of Bishop James A. Shorter, who organized the Arkansas Annual Conference of AME churches in 1868. Shorter University was chartered on May 18, 1894.

“In 1896, Shorter purchased land in Argenta, which was then the Eighth Ward of Little Rock. Shorter maintained campuses for a year in both Argenta and Arkadelphia until it moved all operations in 1898 to Argenta (now North Little Rock). Shorter changed its name to Shorter College in 1903.”

Draughon’s, meanwhile, had opened as a business college for white students at Arkadelphia in 1891. The Colored Presbyterian Industrial School opened in 1896 and operated for a short time. The town was thriving.

“Between the mid-1880s and the early 1900s, Arkadelphia acquired public utilities and facilities,” Granade writes. “In 1891, a public telephone system and water mains were introduced. Wilson Water & Light Co. provided electricity. Baseball games, first played in Arkadelphia in 1874, took place after 1887 in a grand 500-seat ballpark. The Arkadelphia Bottling Co. provided portable versions of fountain drinks. A cotton mill and Elk Horn Bank opened in 1884, and Citizens National Bank opened in 1888.

“By the era’s end, the community was a farm market and trading center for the surrounding area, an educational center and even more of a center for light industry, both extractive and manufacturing. Lumber, textile and flour milling replaced salt production, while gunsmithing remained. At the turn of the century, Arkadelphia was home to one of the state’s largest lumber mills (Arkadelphia Lumber Co. at Daleville), as well as one of its first successful large industries, the Arkadelphia Milling Co., which produced flour, meal, livestock feed and staves on an around-the-clock schedule. … A natural gas pipeline was completed in 1911, and the fledgling Arkansas Power & Light Co., which initially connected Arkadelphia and Malvern, took over the local system in 1914.”

Busy U.S. 67 led to a number of gas stations and motels being built.

“Between the public schools and the colleges, education rivaled wood products as the area’s largest employer,” Granade writes.


Malvern to Arkadelphia

Wednesday, August 19th, 2020


We leave Malvern and continue our trip down U.S. 67, passing through the Hot Spring County community of Central.

When we would drive this old highway from Arkadelphia to my grandparents’ house in Benton when I was a boy, my father would always mention having played basketball games at Central. He had graduated from Benton High School in 1942 and later played basketball (along with other sports) at the college level at what’s now Ouachita Baptist University.

“The Central showers had dirt floors,” he said. “They had boards in there. But if you slipped off the board, your feet got muddy.”

“Several one-room schools operated in the area, and the school boards of these institutions worked together to consolidate into one larger school to offer more classes and expand the curriculum to include high school,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University. “The site for the school was selected due to its central location to each of the schools being consolidated. Included in the original consolidation were the Hickory Grove, Happy Hollow, California No. 1, California No. 2, Elmore Primary and Ebenezer schools. Later, the school at Harp and perhaps one additional school also consolidated with Central.

“The first year of operation of the new school was 1916. The area where the new school was located had been served by the Happy Hollow school. A bus was used to transport children from the surrounding area. The first school at Central was a two-story wood-frame building painted white, with a spring nearby. The school had a large enrollment, quickly outgrowing this building. In 1928, the school board took bids for a new brick building with a gymnasium. The school sponsored several sports, including women’s basketball. Dedicated on Nov. 15, 1928, the new building served the community until Central consolidated with the Malvern district in 1949.”

An elementary school operated at Central until 1985. All students in the area now attend school at Malvern.

The next community we pass through is Donaldson, a center of the area’s timber industry at one time and also a stop on the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

“John Easley was appointed the first postmaster in 1876,” Ronna Pennington writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “There are two local stories regarding the town’s naming. One version suggests that the town was named for a Mr. Donaldson who owned a sawmill there. According to another story, there was a railroad superintendent named Donald in the 1870s. His son opened a store for railroad employees. When people went shopping, they went to ‘Donald’s son.’ A third possibility is that the community was named after Williams Rhind Donaldson, the son-in-law of Thomas Allen, president of the Cairo & Fulton Railroad.

“Donaldson enjoyed the prosperity of the 1920s as a community built on railroad shipping, agriculture and the lumber industry. Donaldson had one of the largest excelsior mills in the state, a facility that supplied wood shavings used for shipping and packing. The Ohio Lumber Co. planing mill at Donaldson served several area sawmills. The Hot Spring County Bank served Donaldson from 1924-30. J.H. Beerstecher of Malvern was the publisher of the Donaldson Enterprise newspaper. The community even enjoyed concerts from its own 35-piece brass band twice a week.”

The state constructed a concrete viaduct over the railroad tracks at Donaldson in 1934 since U.S. 67 was so busy in those days. A new viaduct was completed in 2018. Students from Donaldson, which had a population of 301 in the 2010 census, attend school in the Ouachita School District. The district’s facilities are along the highway, just on the other side of the Ouachita River at Midway.

Though there are several communities that use the name Midway in Arkansas, this is the only incorporated town with that name. Midway had a population of 389 in the 2010 census.

“A network of routes known as the Southwest Trail extended across the state from Randolph County through Little Rock and south to Fulton on the Red River,” Steven Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “One of those highways passed through the Midway area, and it’s likely that the town was named because it was roughly halfway between Little Rock and Fulton. A post office opened in Midway in 1850. The Midway Cemetery was established during the Civil War. A stagecoach stop was also a prominent landmark of the community in the 19th century.

“After the Civil War, development of the Cairo & Fulton Railroad bypassed Midway in favor of Donaldson. The railroad and timber industry led Donaldson to prosper. The Midway post office closed in 1878. By the time the Goodspeed histories of the area were written in the late 1880s, the community of Midway wasn’t large enough to merit even a passing mention in the history of Hot Spring County.”

Midway residents voted to incorporate as a city in 2000.

The final community before leaving Hot Spring County is Friendship, which had 176 residents in the 2010 census. Students from here also attend the Ouachita School District.

“Explorers William Hunter and George Dunbar passed through the area during their survey of the Louisiana Purchase in 1804,” Pennington writes. “With documented stops at Arkadelphia and Rockport, the expedition certainly passed through the area known as Friendship. The community was established in the early 1850s when settlers from Hot Springs, Tennessee and Virginia moved to the area. G.M. Russell of Tennessee, W.P. Riland of Virginia and Thomas H. Hammons of Hot Springs were the first three settlers. As the area grew in population, residents decided to assign a name to their community. Russell is credited with suggesting the name of Friendship, a reflection of the close relationships forged among settlers of the community.

“A salt spring along the nearby Ouachita River proved to be important to residents of Friendship during the Civil War. With most of the men serving in the Confederate Army, women were left to do their own salt mining. Women traveled to the river in pairs or groups on horseback to get salt. The long cloth sacks they used for transporting the salt were filled with 100 to 150 pounds in each end of the sack and saddled across a horse to distribute the weight. The horses were often scalded by the irritating salt when their sweat soaked into the bags. The salt burns sometimes kept the horses from working for several days, which affected food production for the families.”

The first post office at Friendship opened in October 1886. The town didn’t officially incorporate until 1938, however.

“Friendship resident Gus McDonald donated two plots of land for a jail and town hall,” Pennington writes. “On the smaller plot, a two-cell jail was constructed in 1937 out of native stone. The larger piece of land donated by McDonald was eventually sold in order to purchase the lot across from the jail. Friendship’s town hall was built on this site in 1960. Friendship had its own high school until 1950 when it merged with Donaldson. The new consolidated school was constructed at Midway.

“The Friendship school building housed only elementary students after the consolidation. The building had been constructed in 1932. The new Ouachita Elementary School on the Midway campus opened in September 1966.”

As the trip continues to the southwest, we cross DeRoche Creek (sometimes called DeRoche Bayou) and enter Clark County, which was created in December 1818 as part of the Missouri Territory. When the Arkansas Territory was established in 1819, Clark County was one of the original five Arkansas counties.

“Clark County included all or parts of at least 15 counties in present-day Arkansas and parts of six counties in what’s now Oklahoma,” writes Wendy Richter, the former director of the Arkansas State Archives. “The county was named for the Missouri territorial governor, William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The county is part of two of Arkansas’ natural regions — the Ouachita Mountains and the Gulf Coastal Plain. Its physical characteristics made the area ideal for farming and hunting. Before Europeans arrived, Native Americans, particularly the Caddo, inhabited the land containing heavy forests, abundant game, rich soil, clear streams and salt. Archaeological evidence attests to the lengthy presence of the Indians in the area.

“In the 16th century, Hernando de Soto was the first European known to explore the Ouachita Mountain region. He was followed more than a century later by the French, who named many of the county’s topological features. By the late 1700s, Indians had largely vacated the area as the Europeans continued to explore and occupy it. Permanent settlement by Americans occurred soon after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. In 1809, William Blakely established a blacksmith shop on the west bank of the Ouachita River at a site called Blakelytown (later Arkadelphia). Across the river to the east, John Hemphill began operating a salt factory, one of the state’s earliest manufacturing concerns.”

Despite the accomplishments of Blakely and Hemphill, Jacob Barkman is the man often known as the Father of Clark County. Barkman opened river traffic from Arkadelphia all the way to New Orleans, first by pirogue and later by keelboat. In 1830, he initiated steamboat transportation.

“Barkman’s home served as the site of the first county court, the first post office, a stagecoach stop, a racetrack and an ill-fated textile mill,” Richter writes. “Blakelytown’s first general store opened in 1817, operated by J.S.T. Callaway. Jonathan O. Callaway is credited with having built the town’s first hotel in 1843. Shortly thereafter, the Spence Hotel was constructed and became a well-known stopping place in the region. Moses Collins arrived in the county in 1830 and built a sawmill and gristmill on Terre Noir Creek. A brickyard was established the same year.

“Reflecting the emphasis on the region’s abundant natural resources, agriculture dominated antebellum Clark County’s economy. As in much of Arkansas, cotton’s importance grew throughout the antebellum period, and slavery was common throughout the county. In the 1830s, the Military Road was constructed along the Southwest Trail through Clark County and passed near Barkman’s home. This road became the county’s main land transportation artery. Today, U.S. 67 and Interstate 30 cross the Caddo River within a few hundred yards of Barkman’s former residence.”

Another notable settler was Meriwether Lewis Randolph, the grandson of Thomas Jefferson. He was Arkansas’ last territorial secretary. His wife was a grand-niece of Rachel Jackson, the wife of Andrew Jackson. Randolph moved to southern Clark County in 1836. He died the next year and was buried on the grounds of his plantation near Gurdon.

“The early county seats were in or near the homes of Barkman on the Caddo and of Adam Stroud near Hollywood,” Richter writes. “The county seat was also at Biscoeville. In 1831, the seat of government was established at Greenville, where it remained until 1842, when it moved to Blakelytown. The community was renamed Arkadelphia, and a courthouse was constructed. The present courthouse was built in 1899. Churches and schools were priorities for early settlers. William Frederick Browning settled in northwest Clark County in 1841 near present-day Amity and had established a church and school there by 1848. Oakland Academy opened in 1847 as a result of the efforts of Michael Bozeman, who settled west of Arkadelphia in 1835 and began a large farming operation. His Greek Revival home is considered the county’s oldest residence.

“By 1859, three churches, the Arkansas Institute for the Blind and several academies operated in Arkadelphia. Ouachita Baptist College was founded in 1886, followed by Arkadelphia Methodist College in 1890. Today, public schools have been consolidated into three major districts — Arkadelphia, Gurdon and Centerpoint — and Arkadelphia’s two universities make education an important component of the county. Arkadelphia has even been called the Athens of Arkansas because of the number and prominence of its educational institutions.”

Before entering Arkadelphia, we pass through Caddo Valley, the home of many restaurants and motels that serve travelers on Interstate 30.

“In 1968, the Arkansas Children’s Colony — now the Arkadelphia Human Development Center — was opened in the community,” Sesser writes. “Never numbering more than a few hundred in population, the area wasn’t formally organized into a city until 1974. Incorporation was quickly followed by the construction of a city hall and creation of a police department and fire station. This move was brought on by construction of Interstate 30 in the area, with an exit placed in Caddo Valley connecting it with Arkansas 7.

“Always a transportation hub, Caddo Valley is also served by U.S. 67. The creation of the interstate led to a boom in the construction of gas stations, motels and restaurants. The slow growth exhibited during the previous century was replaced with a much faster rate of expansion, in both the economy and population. The city quickly grew into a place for travelers to stop between Little Rock and Texarkana with several restaurants and motels. It also served the visitors to the newly created DeGray Lake. Thousands of visitors to the lake each year pump money into the Caddo Valley economy.”

We cross the Caddo River as we leave Caddo Valley. It’s one of the most beautiful streams in a state filled with scenic rivers and creeks.

Here’s how the Encyclopedia of Arkansas describes it: “The Caddo, known for extremely clear water, originates from cold-water springs southeast of Mena. In this region, the springs flow from the Bigfork Chert Ridge, which sits atop the Ouachita Mountains aquifer, known for its high-water quality. Bigfork Chert Ridge is often referred to as the Potato Hills due to uneven weathering that has left it looking like a potato patch. The stream flows generally from west to east through the Ouachita National Forest. After leaving the national forest, the Caddo meanders its way through the Athens Piedmont Plateau, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impounds it at DeGray Lake. From its origin to DeGray, the Caddo flows about 45 miles and drains almost 453 square miles. From the base of DeGray Dam, the Caddo continues its trek southeasterly for seven miles before joining the Ouachita.

“The upper Caddo above Norman in Montgomery County is designated as wild and scenic. Development hasn’t affected this section of the stream as much as the rest of the river. This section of the Caddo is accessible from U.S. Forest Service Road No. 73, northwest of Norman off Arkansas 8. This stretch can be navigated only after considerable rainfall, primarily during the spring months. The channel is narrow, and the river drops steeply, averaging 29 feet per mile. This section ends at Norman, seven miles downstream. Norman to Caddo Gap, the next section of the Caddo, is also scenic. This area has long been popular with wade and float fishermen because it’s an ideal smallmouth bass habitat. Numerous creeks enter the river along this section. Limestone rock limbs and gravel shoals produce eddies that hold large numbers of smallmouth bass.

“Road construction has begun to affect the Caddo along this stretch. Some cabins and portions of Norman can be spotted from the river. Gravel mining above Norman has caused some of the deeper holes to fill in with gravel. For the most part, however, the river corridor is still natural in appearance. Towering sycamore, sweet gum, cottonwood, ash, water and willow oak and river birch line the banks. During the summer, cardinal flower, composites and other wild flowers give the river a colorful look. The woodland appearance is interspersed with a pastoral setting. Even an old logging railroad tram parallels the river and gives it an added flavor. Deer, beaver, river otter, wild turkey, osprey and bald eagles are present in the Caddo River drainage area. This section ends at the old swinging bridge near the town of Caddo Gap, about eight miles from Norman.”

The most popular stretch for those in canoes is from Caddo Cap to Glenwood. Thermal springs are in the riverbed near a low-water bridge. They average 95 degrees and can be felt by swimmers. Below Caddo Gap, the south fork of the stream (which originates near the Albert Pike Recreation Area in the Ouachita National Forest) enters the main river. Barite mining during the 1970s hurt water quality in the fork, but it has since recovered. The river passes Glenwood and enters DeGray Lake near Amity.

It’s time for us to make our way into Arkadelphia, my hometown.



Brick City USA

Monday, August 3rd, 2020


There were dozens of brick plants in Arkansas during the early 1900s. Little Rock, Fort Smith, Clarksville, El Dorado, Hope, Jonesboro, Malvern, Pine Bluff, Mansfield, Pocahontas and Wynne were among the cities with brick-making operations.

By the 1980s, there were only plants in the Malvern area, Jonesboro, Hope, Fort Smith and Clarksville.

By 2009, there were just four plants in the state, and they were all owned by Acme Brick Co.

“Malvern is by far the leading city in brick production in Arkansas and at one time claimed to be the Brick Capital of the World,” Randall Wheeler writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “It has been the home of Acme, Arkansas Brick & Tile, Atchison Brick, Clark Pressed Brick Co. (sold to Arkansas Brick & Tile in 1916) and Malvern Brick & Tile. Acme first purchased property in 1919 and began negotiations to purchase Arkansas Brick & Tile.

“Malvern Brick & Tile was started in 1925 and, at one time, had a line of bricks in colors such as blue, green, pink and yellow. Other companies sprayed the color onto the face of the brick, but Malvern Brick used stains that colored the whole body of the bricks. It’s not likely that any other company produced bricks with the through-the-body colors. Malvern Brick was purchased by Acme in the late 1970s.”

Acme began in Texas in 1891. Illinois native George Bennett had arrived in Dallas in 1876 and later purchased 480 acres in Parker County for the first Acme plant. The Acme headquarters was moved to Fort Worth in 1911, four years after Bennett died. By the 1970s, Acme was the largest American brick manufacturer.

Land for a brick plant was purchased at Perla in 1919, and the first bricks were being made two years later. The fully automated Perla East Gate Plant opened in 1967. Meanwhile, the original Malvern plant was replaced by what’s known as the Ouachita Plant in 1980.

We pass through Perla (which had a population of just 241 residents in the 2010 census) before entering Malvern during our trip on U.S. 67.

Though it has long been known for bricks, it was the timber industry that led to the establishment of Perla.

“Malvern Lumber Co. was established in 1880 by Adalbert Strauss, who had been born in Berlin in 1848,” Ronna Pennington writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “He graduated from the College of Preceptors and moved to St. Louis in 1864. He worked in the lumber industry there as well as in Little Rock and Shreveport. On a train headed to the spas in Hot Springs, Strauss noticed the abundance of timber. He bought 45,000 acres of timberland along the railroad tracks, paying 50 cents an acre. Strauss started a sawmill and planer mill and then built houses to accommodate his employees. He named the community after his oldest daughter, Perla Marie Strauss.

“The lumber company also constructed a small private railroad to Lonsdale called Perla Northern. At one time, the lumber company employed 150 laborers. Industries in Perla later included a factory that made ammunition boxes used in World War I, the Owasso screen door factory and Atchison Brick. The biggest development for Perla in the 20th century was the opening of Acme’s Perla East Gate plant in 1919. Acme bought the Atchison plant in 1926, making it Perla Plant No. 2.”

A Rosenwald school for black students opened at Perla for the 1925-26 school year. The school for whites was torn down in 1939 when those students became part of the Malvern School District.

“The Great Depression was hard for Perla,” Pennington writes. “In many cases, workers exchanged their labor for housing and groceries with no paychecks being given. Strauss’ sawmill burned in the early 1930s, and he didn’t rebuild it. The planer mill closed in 1938 due to a lack of timber.”

An annual festival known as the Malvern Brickfest is held to celebrate the importance of bricks to the area. The festival began in 1981.

“In 1980, three companies were manufacturing bricks in Malvern and Perla with Acme having just upgraded its operation by opening a new plant in Malvern,” Marvin Schultz writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “At that time, the Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce declared the city to be the Brick Capital of the World. The following year, members decided to sponsor a festival that commemorated the importance of the product to the region. Roy Renfro, the chamber director at the time, was considered the guiding force behind the celebration. Throughout its existence, Brickfest has benefited from the service of many volunteers.

“The festival was initially held early in July, but the chamber rescheduled the event to avoid conflicting with the Fourth of July holiday. Since then, Brickfest has occurred on the last full weekend of June with activities beginning on Thursday evening and running through Saturday night. The event is free and attracts from 8,000 to 10,000 people every summer. The chamber depends on shirt sales, corporate sponsors and donations to fund the festival. When it began, Brickfest offered a variety of activities downtown at the county courthouse. In 2010, Brickfest moved to Malvern City Park to accommodate more people. Concerts featuring local talent take place daily with regional acts headlining evening shows.”

Malvern was established in 1873 as a stop on the Cairo & Fulton Railroad line.

“Tradition holds that the hilly terrain reminded one railway official of his native Virginia near Malvern Hill,” Schultz writes. “At his urging, the company gave the name to the new town. Residents of the young community attempted to incorporate in January 1875. That effort failed, as did a second one in October of that year. The following year, however, the county court issued a decree of incorporation. The city of Malvern came into existence in July 1876. Samuel Henry Emerson, a former resident of Rockport and owner of the first dry goods store in Malvern, was elected mayor.

“Rockport, located at the head of navigation for the Ouachita River and at the river crossing for the Military Road, had long been the economic center of the region. At the time of Malvern’s incorporation, it served as the Hot Spring County seat. The railroad spurred rapid growth in Malvern, and the city soon moved to become the seat of government. The initial vote in February 1877 proved unsuccessful, but another election took place in July 1878. At that time, a majority of 176 voters cast their ballots in favor of the change.”

On Oct. 15 of that year, the county judge ordered the county seat removed from Rockport. The first courthouse at Malvern was constructed in 1888.

“Malvern gained political and financial prominence in the area,” Schultz writes. “With railroad access to national markets, Malvern benefited as the region developed. From early on, agricultural and forest products provided the foundation for economic activity. In 1889, the Bank of Malvern was chartered. Malvern’s premier product proved to be brick. Abundant clay deposits in the area, especially in Perla, made the location ideal for production. Among the earliest plants was Atchison, which began operation in the 1890s. The company quickly found a strong market for its product. When fires in 1896-97 destroyed virtually all of downtown Malvern, the city took advantage of the opportunity to rebuild the business district with brick structures.”

The Clem Bottling Works began at Malvern in 1907. Clem soft drinks became a well-known product in this part of Arkansas. Clem drinks continued to be produced until 1972.

“Clem Bottling Works was started by J.M. Clem and his son Dock,” Darrell Brown writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The Clem family produced and bottled soft drinks in a small building behind their home. In May 1914, the Clem family built a bottling plant and warehouse at 937 S. Main St. in Malvern. The first bottles the company used were embossed with ‘J.M. Clem Bottling Works’ and were sealed with a wire and an inner seal. In the early 1920s, the company converted to bottles sealed with metal caps. The bottles at this time were also covered with paper labels. Starting in the 1950s, the bottles were labeled with applied coloring labels.

“J.M. Clem died on Sept. 22, 1931. Dock Clem’s son Harold joined the business in 1933. After Dock Clem’s death on May 21, 1942, his widow Jewell Clem and her son continued to operate the business until 1972, when the family sold the company to Dr Pepper. The purchase included the rights to the soft drink formulas and the trademarks but not the bottling equipment. Harold Clem joined Dr Pepper and worked there until he died on April 23, 2004.”

Clem Bottling Works produced about a dozen kinds of soft drinks. They were distributed in Arkansas, northern Louisiana, eastern Texas and western Mississippi.

“For years after Clem Bottling Works closed, the bottling machinery remained in the building,” Brown writes. “The machinery was purchased in the early 1990s by the Mountain Valley Spring Water bottler in Hot Springs. Cases of glass bottles used by Clem were purchased in May 2011 by the Excel Bottling Co. of Breese, Ill., which also trademarked the name R-Pep and is producing the original beverage formula for the first time since Clem closed in 1972. The Clem plant stood vacant for years. In 2018, it was announced that Teale Dentistry was moving into the historic structure.”

Malvern saw its population double from 5,290 in the 1940 census to 10,318 in the 2010 census.

“Malvern witnessed significant activity during the 1940s because of production associated with the war effort,” Schultz writes. “Barium, which is used in drilling for petroleum, was mined extensively in Magnet Cove. Demand for aluminum led the federal government to construct a massive reduction factory at Jones Mill in Hot Spring County. The Lake Catherine Steam Generating Plant was built to meet the resulting need for electrical power. Those projects marked the largest federal expenditure in Arkansas during the war.

“Reynolds Metals Co. purchased the Jones Mill facility in 1946 and operated it until the 1970s. Reynolds also built a continuous rolling plant in Hot Spring County that was later purchased by Alcoa. The war industries, Reynolds’ presence and the early years of the post-war baby boom stimulated growth in Malvern.”

Malvern is also home to a member of the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame, the iconic Keeney’s Grocery. Charles and Maureen Keeney opened a grocery store 64 years ago at the same location where the store still sits, hidden from most traffic in a residential area. Charles Keeney is 84 but is young at heart. He even drives a Corvette.

In 2000, with competition from Walmart and other big retailers hurting the business, Charles Keeney thought about retiring. With only $45,000 in the bank, though, he decided he needed to keep working.

Here’s how Wayne Bryan told the story in a 2011 feature for the Tri-Lakes edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: “Rather than just carry on business as usual in a small grocery store that seems to fit more in the 1950s than the new millennium, Charles decided to latch onto what’s still the fastest-growing segment of the supermarket industry, cooking for customers (or, as it is called in the grocery business, home meal replacement). Starting in the late 1990s, many supermarket operators discovered that preparing and serving food in their stores was a good way to bring in new customers, gain greater loyalty from existing customers and increase checkout sales and profits.

“Today, in-store restaurants aren’t unusual. Charles had the same idea for his small store on Mill Street in Malvern. The couple, along with several employees, prepare and serve breakfast and lunch six days a week at the back of their store.”

The man employees refer to simply as CK says: “I just pushed some of the groceries back and put in a kitchen and some tables. I did it because I had to make a living. We stumbled through the menu for a while. But I was raised country so we fix things in the old home-style way.”

On certain days, he sells so much sausage at breakfast that he doesn’t have time to make it to sell by the pound in the grocery section of the store. On Thursdays, he sells dozens of rib-eye steaks. People eat them in the restaurant for lunch while others come in during the afternoon to get steaks to take home for supper. Charles arrives at the store at 4:30 a.m. and begins serving breakfast at 6 am.

Charles was 20 and Maureen was 17 when they bought the store in 1956.

I spent a day last fall with Hot Spring County Judge Dennis Thornton to talk about issues that affect rural America. We traversed the county from the Ouachita Mountains in the west to the Gulf Coastal Plain in the east. The day had started with an event in Malvern at which dozens of business, government and civic leaders gathered for the unveiling of a 10-year action plan for the county. Gov. Asa Hutchinson was the keynote speaker and spent his time at the podium praising the quality of life in this part of the state, its natural resources and the advantages of having Interstate 30 slice through the middle of the county.

Thornton, who became county judge after a long career with the grocery store giant Kroger, saw the need for a countywide strategic plan.

“I came into this office with the idea of forming an intergovernmental council that would bring county and state officials together,” he told me. “In the process, it became clear that we really had no consensus on what the needs of the county are. We had to find a way to reach out to all of our residents and get their input.”

Thornton contacted the Center for Community and Economic Development at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, and a meeting was held in Malvern in November 2017 to kick off the process.

“What we heard from people across the county is that they’re tired of losing their children to jobs in other counties and states,” Thornton said. “We have five school districts in this county, and we had community meetings at each of them. We averaged from 75 to 100 people per meeting. We had almost 200 show up at Bismarck.”

“The decline in manufacturing has created tremendous challenges,” said well-known Arkansas historian Tom Dillard, who lives near Glen Rose in Hot Spring County. “But the county still offers lots of opportunities if people will set their priorities and then begin a formal process of achieving their goals.”

Despite the decline in manufacturing noted by Dillard, the county’s population grew from 21,963 in the 1970 census to 32,923 in the 2010 census. Dillard praised Thornton for taking a systematic approach to addressing the county’s problems while bringing new people into the decision-making process.

“People have been wanting something positive to happen here for years,” Dillard said. “This action plan gives them a way to address those issues that are holding us back.”

Jon Chadwell of the Newport Economic Development Commission addressed those in attendance that day in Malvern. Thornton has relied on Chadwell for advice on how to get a county moving economically following Chadwell’s success in Jackson County.

“You have trained for the marathon,” Chadwell said that day. “Now, you are at the starting line and ready to begin the race.”

At the first meeting in November 2017, online surveys were used to collect information. Hot Spring County residents then gathered in February 2018 to discuss survey results. That meeting was followed by sessions in each of the five school districts.

The five primary areas that will be addressed during the next decade are education and workforce development, job creation, family recreation and youth activities, health and public safety, and housing and real estate (including downtown development).

“If we can create the proper opportunities for them, our young people will stay here,” Thornton said. “I come from a background in which you have to sell yourself every day. So I’m going to be out there selling Hot Spring County as long as it takes.”