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From Huntsville to Harrison


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

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

He would later say “his friends” helped out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The current courthouse was dedicated in November 1939.

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

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

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

Faubus died in December 1994.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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