I was invited to address the Booneville Rotary Club on a recent Friday, a reason to head west on Arkansas Highway 10.
It was a pleasant morning on yet another scenic Arkansas route as I made my way past Lake Maumelle and through Perryville, Perry, Adona, Casa, Ola, Danville, Havana and Magazine.
Not much traffic. Beautiful scenery. A good day to travel through rural Arkansas.
Logan County is one of those counties off the beaten path for most Arkansans. It is, however, well worth a visit.
There’s Mount Magazine, of course, and the magnificent lodge at the state park there. There also are unique historic and cultural attractions such as the former Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium at Booneville, the Cowie Wine Cellars and the adjoining Arkansas Historic Wine Museum at Paris, the coal miners memorial at Paris, the Logan County Museum in Paris’ old city jail and the Subiaco Abbey and Academy.
I managed to hit them all in the course of one long day. For those wanting a more relaxed pace, the Cowies operate a small bed and breakfast inn in conjunction with their winery. You can spend the night there and take two days to explore Logan County.
Cowie Wine Cellars was established in 1967 by Robert Cowie, who had begun making wine as a hobby at age 15. He started the winery in a small metal building on the former property of St. Ann’s School just west of Paris at Carbon City.
Cowie began building a house on the property in 1972 and began construction of the current winery building in 1973.
The Arkansas Historic Wine Museum is the only museum in the country dedicated to preserving the wine culture of an entire state.
My host for the day in Booneville, Ron West, earlier had taken me to the former Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium grounds. The sanatorium had its beginnings in Arizona during the winter of 1907. Judge Joseph M. Hill of Fort Smith and Dr. C.P. Meriwether of Little Rock had traveled west in hopes of finding relief from their TB. They were joined there the following year by state Sen. Kie Oldham of Pulaski County.
Upon their return to Arkansas, the three men met with Gov. George Donaghey, who had lost several family members to TB. The governor presented a plan to the Legislature, and on March 31, 1909, a bill was approved calling for the construction of a TB sanatorium “somewhere in Arkansas.”
By the time the Booneville facility closed in 1973, it had treated more than 70,000 patients. During those years, the mortality rate for TB dropped from 80 percent to 10 percent.
Several offers of land came from across the state following the 1909 legislative session. A committee spent several months searching for the best location. By October 1909, members of the committee had decided on Potts Ridge just outside Booneville. Committee members were attracted by its scenery and clean mountain air.
The first patient was admitted in August 1910. By the end of the year, there were 64 patients.
The Belle Pointe Masonic Lodge of Fort Smith constructed the Mason’s Building for Children at the sanatorium in 1924. Three years later, a school was added for young patients.
In 1938, the Legislature approved the Nichols-Nyberg Act to fund the construction of a large hospital on the grounds. The act was named after Rep. Leo Nyberg of Phillips County, who had TB, and Rep. Lee Nichols of Logan County. The five-story hospital building, which still towers over the site, housed 511 patients, doctors’ offices, an employee cafeteria and a morgue. Nyberg died before the building was completed in 1941, and it was named for him.
The grounds also contained dormitories, a chapel, a laundry, a water treatment plant and a fire station. At one time, almost 300 staff members lived on the grounds.
It’s important to note that the Booneville facility was for white patients. Blacks with TB were housed at Alexander in Saline County. The final seven patients at Booneville were discharged on Feb. 26, 1973.
Logan County is among those Arkansas counties with two county seats. The two towns are about the same size. Booneville had 3,990 residents in the 2010 census, and Paris had a population of 3,532.
Booneville was founded in the late 1820s when Walter Cauthron built a log cabin and opened a store near the Petit Jean River in what was then Crawford County. He intended to name the settlement in honor of a friend, Capt. Benjamin Bonneville, an Army officer stationed at Fort Smith. Somewhere along the way, the spelling changed.
When Scott County was carved out of Crawford County in 1833, Booneville was made the Scott County seat. During the Civil War, the deeply divided county supplied troops to both the Union and Confederate armies.
In 1871, Sarber County was formed from parts of Franklin, Johnson, Scott and Yell counties. Sarber County, which included Booneville, was named after a Republican carpetbagger who had been a Union solder. Upon regaining control of the Legislature, Democrats renamed it Logan County in 1875.
A site near Short Mountain had been chosen for the Sarber County courthouse, and the city of Paris grew up around it. Paris remained the county seat of Logan County, which was named after early settler James Logan.
In 1901, Logan County was divided into two judicial districts. Booneville became the county seat for the southern district, and a brick courthouse was built at Booneville.
Six generals have come from Booneville through the decades. Gen. John Paul McConnell was the Air Force chief of staff from 1964-69. His personal and military memorabilia are displayed in the Booneville Public Library, which I visited before leaving town.
Leaving Booneville, I headed north on Arkansas Highway 23 and then east on Arkansas Highway 22 to Paris. After my stop at the Cowie Wine Cellars, I drove through downtown Paris and viewed its impressive Catholic church, St. Joseph.
There’s a stronger Catholic influence in Logan County than in most parts of Arkansas. The reason is that when a railroad line was being built from Fort Smith to Dardanelle in the 1870s, company officials embarked on a campaign to entice German-Catholic immigrants to settle along the line.
The railroad executives had heard that German-Catholic immigrants in other states worked hard and were excellent farmers. Farmland was offered to the immigrants at attractive prices. The railroad gave land to St. Meinrad’s Abbey in Indiana for a Catholic mission in Logan County.
German settlers arrived in droves, establishing towns such as Ratcliff, Subiaco and Scranton.
St. Joseph established a school at Paris in 1880 when Mrs. Levise Waddill, who was not Catholic, sold property to the parish for $1 provided that a school was built. The school was staffed by Benedictine sisters and lay teachers.
Nearby Subiaco Abbey and Academy had begun as St. Benedict’s Colony in 1877. Abbot Martin Marty of St. Meinrad’s had obtained the land from the railroad in December 1877. By late January 1878, there were almost 30 German families in the area.
In the spring of that year, Father Wolfgang Schlumpf, Brother Casper Hildesheim and Brother Hilarin Benetz left St. Meinrad’s in a mule-drawn wagon for Arkansas. They celebrated the first recorded mass in Logan County on March 19, 1878. By the end of 1878, there were 150 immigrant families at the colony.
Funds and personnel from St. Meinrad’s were supplemented by the Abbey Maria-Einsiedeln in Switzerland. Swiss monks would help staff St. Benedict’s for years.
Pope Leo XIII made St. Benedict’s an abbey in the summer of 1891, and it was renamed Subiaco Abbey. Seminarians from the Diocese of Little Rock were trained there from 1892-1911. A high school for boys was opened in 1902.
The town of Subiaco was born when a post office was located there in 1910.
The monks at Subiaco come from diverse backgrounds. In addition to operating the academy, they raise cattle, keep the vineyards and make a habanero pepper sauce known as Monk Sauce. Visitors to the abbey’s website (www.countrymonks.biz) can order not only the hot sauce but also abbey brittle, calligraphy products, rosaries, wood carvings and books.
After leaving Subiaco, I went back to Paris to visit the Logan County Museum in the old jail. Among other things, the museum tells the story of an incident that received statewide attention in 1914. A Logan County girl was murdered, and a boyfriend named Arthur Tillman was tried and found guilty of her murder. On July 14, 1914, Tillman was hanged on a gallows beside the jail. It was the last legal public execution by hanging in Arkansas.
My next stop was the coal miners memorial. Coal mining was never widespread in Arkansas, but it was a mainstay of the Logan County economy until the end of World War II. A small museum, which is open each day but Tuesday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., is adjacent to the memorial. Vistors can see artifacts such as coal cars and fresh-air fans.
A fine grade of coal had been discovered in the county in the 1880s. Next to a bronze statue of a miner with his shovel, bucket and carbide light are the names of those who worked in the coal mines of Logan County through the decades.
Other counties in Arkansas with a coal mining heritage are Sebastian, Johnson, Franklin, Pope and Scott. There’s also a statue of a coal miner at nearby Altus in Franklin County. Just east of the Sebastian County Courthouse in Greenwood on Highway 10, there’s a statue of a miner with a lunch bucket in his hand alongside a coal cart that came from a local mine.
“At first, convict labor was used in Arkansas coal mining, but increasingly the mines depended upon immigrants from central Europe,” John Ragsdale writes for the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “Coal miners were strongly recruited by labor organizations, and in 1903 every coal miner in Arkansas was required to belong to the United Mine Workers of America. Coal mines were, for a time, ‘closed shops’ in which non-union workers were forbidden.”
Having learned much about the coal mining heritage of west Arkansas, I left Paris and headed south on Arkansas Highway 309 to begin my trek up Mount Magazine. Dinner at the state park lodge awaited.