South Arkansas Historical Journal
Established 2001, Volumes 5-7 (2005-7)
South Arkansas Historical Journal
VOLUME 5 FALL 2005
Published by the South Arkansas Historical Society
John G. Ragsdale
The Honorable Edwin B. Alderson, Jr.
John B. Abbott
Arkansas Chapter, Trail of Tears Association
Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources
Chris Elia Printing
El Dorado News-Times
South Arkansas Community College
South Arkansas Historical Foundation
South Arkansas Historical Society
P. O. Box 10201
El Dorado, Arkansas 71730-0201
South Arkansas Historical Journal
VOLUME 5 FALL 2005
Published by the South Arkansas Historical Society
From the Editors:
We like to look at history as a matter of milestones, of humanity progressing from one stage to the next highest achievement. With this issue, the South Arkansas Historical Journal can boast its own milestone with our fifth anniversary. This anniversary issue is the biggest edition of the Journal yet with several special articles and features.
For the fifth edition, we remember the milestones, tragic and heroic, bitter and heartwarming, that have shaped our community. Phil Ballard reports on the centennial celebration of a historic El Dorado education landmark, the 1905 Junior College Building. Joan Hershberger tells the tale an organization that holds a special place in the hearts and taste buds of South Arkansas, Spudnuts. Judge Edwin Alderson remembers a remarkable local woman and colorful character, Blanche Parnell Wade. Kitty Sloan reports on the tragedy of the Trail of Tears as the Choctaws came through southern Arkansas on their exodus from their homes to the Indian Territory.
With the passing of all but a handful of World War I veterans, a chapter in history is nearly at a close. Before that chapter is closed, Bart Reed salutes the courage and sacrifice of a local World War I soldier, Frank L. Reed. Award-winning writer Caroline Kent commemorates one of the facilities that made the Allied victory in the Second World War possible with the story of El Dorado’s Ozark Ordnance Plant.
For an artistic perspective, Bill Crumpler provides us with a poem on the oil boom. We welcome you to share the recollection of these unique events in the shaping of a unique community. And we thank you for making these five years of sharing the past possible.
The South Arkansas Historical Journal, established in 2001, is an annual publication of the South Arkansas Historical Society made possible through the generous support of members and the South Arkansas Historical Foundation.
South Arkansas Historical Journal
VOLUME 5 FALL 2005
Uncle Sam Needs Your Resources: A History of the Ozark Ordnance
By Carolyn Kent……………………………….……………………4
100 Years of Public Service: The 1905 Junior College Building in El
By Phillip Ballard…………………………………………...…...…21
Spudnuts: A South Arkansas Breakfast Legend
By Joan Hershberger……………………………………….……....26
An Uncommon Woman: Remembering Blanche Parnell Wade
By Judge Edwin Alderson…………………………………...……...…29
“Wildcat: Over There: A Union County Doughboy in the 81st “Wildcat”
By Bart Reed……………………………………………..…...…..…33
The Choctaw Trail of Tears Across South Arkansas
By Kitty Sloan………………………………...…………………….….44
The Bringing in of “Busey One”
A Poem By Bill Crumpler…………………………………………..…47
South Arkansas Historical Notes ……………………………………….…...49
South Arkansas Historical Society…………………………………………..50
UNCLE SAM NEEDS YOUR RESOURCES:
A HISTORY OF THE OZARK ORDNANCE WORKS
By Carolyn Kent
The war in Europe that started in 1939 continued to accelerate and Uncle Sam began to get ready to defend the United States if necessary and to help his allies in Europe defend themselves. He needed places with natural resources and available manpower. He needed suitable land where war industries could be built. In 1941 members of the Arkansas congressional delegation and other interested Arkansas businessmen were in Washington to point out the benefits of locating war plants in Arkansas. Governor Homer Adkins announced to the public that “We are not only seeking defense industries for the period of national emergency; we are endeavoring to make them permanent.” He further reported that the “sour gas” of South Arkansas would have a place as a valuable fuel.
On October 9, 1941, the War Department in Washington notified US Representative Oren Harris of El Dorado that a $23,000,000 plant to produce anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate had been approved. The plant would be located near El Dorado and would be called the Ozark Ordnance Works. Harris stated that Colonel T. H. Barton, president of Lion Oil Refining Company, US Senators Hattie Caraway and George Lloyd Spencer and other Arkansas people had worked on obtaining the project. The anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate produced would be sent to other plants to be used in the manufacture of explosives. The OOW was to be government owned and would be operated by Lion Oil Refining Company.
Col. Barton had grown up in modest beginnings and had built up his company through the oil boom that sprung up in El Dorado in the 1920s. He was a veteran of World War I and had gained the rank of colonel while in the Texas National Guard. The natural gas reserves of South Arkansas would furnish the material needed to produce the anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate. Barton in an interview in 1947 stated, “When we were negotiating for this plant (OOW) during the war, the War Department told us flatly we couldn’t produce ammonia with natural gas. They didn’t know us Southerners. It took a lot of talk and argument, but we finally won out.”
Barton knew that the eleven combined oil and natural gas pools that were discovered in South Arkansas between 1937 and 1941 would be resources for the natural gas needed for the OOW. The natural gas in these pools was described as “sour gas” because it contained excessive amounts of hydrogen sulfide and was lethal and toxic. The practice of extracting the crude oil and gasoline distillate from the sour gas and letting the sour gas be vented to the air and burned was started. The sour gas was highly toxic and at least two deaths were caused from the practice. Several animals and birds were also found dead near where the sour gas was vented. People in Arkansas were very distressed over the situation and over the waste of this fuel source. The Lion Oil Refining company was a pioneer in developing a desulphurization plant in September 1941 to “sweeten” the sour gas and make the gas usable. The “sweetened” natural gas was then piped to a pumping station near El Dorado where it could be distributed. This gas would be used by the OOW when the plant became operational.
Two days after the announcement about the plant appeared in the newspapers a group of El Dorado businessmen who owned businesses that sold building supplies ran a full page ad in the El Dorado Daily News. The ad stated that with a huge defense plant assured, El Dorado would be facing a dire need for additional housing. People were encouraged to build, repair, remodel and report houses and rental units. The ad said 2,000 workers were expected for the construction phase and 450 to 500 would be on the permanent payroll. The Chemical Construction Company of New York was named the architect engineer on October 29, 1941. On November 4, 1941, Representative Harris said the site for the plant would be about two and a half miles north of El Dorado. He stated that a representative of the Army Ordnance Department had toured the site and contracts would soon be signed. Captain William C. Campbell, project engineer, announced on November 6, that the property of 84 land owners would be involved. On November 8, offices of the army engineers were established in the post office building in El Dorado. The estimates of the number of workers for the initial stages were 300 to 400 men and 3000 to 4000 required in later stages. On November 26, Campbell stated that the site appraisers were in town. The first items of construction were to clear the grounds and build a road. Local men would be given first choice. Applicants should apply at the United States Employment Services office.
The construction of the OOW was to be supervised by Campbell of the Army Corps of Engineers out of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Campbell was joined by six other officers to make up the army contingent. Thirteen civilians were employed to complete Campbell’s staff. The civilians included: George Eckelkamp, R. Leon Day, Miss Florentine Gammill, Mrs. Malfred J. Patterson, Mrs. Katherine G. Pyron, Miss Francis C. Gunn, Miss Dorothy H. Bounds, Thoral D. Broadus, Henry E. Muller, Carl Simpson, John S. Brooks, Mrs. Mary H. Lane, and Miss Helen V. Nugent.
While the army engineers were getting settled in, Barton made arrangements to incorporate the Lion Chemical Corporation to operate the OOW. Barton would be president of the chemical corporation. T. M. Martin would be vice-president and C. N. Barton, Barton’s son, would be assistant secretary. Jeff Davis, an El Dorado lawyer, was named as agent for the new corporation. The news of incorporation was carried in the Gazette, November 14, 1941.
The Lion Chemical company signed the contact to operate the plant on November 18, 1941. The amount of production expected of the plant was increased two times between November 18, 1941 and March 5, 1942. Those changes would double the size of the plant. The contracted output of the plant was set at 300 tons of ammonia to be converted to 300 tons of ammonium nitrate solution per day.
At first the atmosphere was casual and the officers and their staff wore street clothes. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, security became tight and the Army officers wore their uniforms and the civilian employees wore blue uniforms with the Ordnance insignia on them.
On December 10, 1941, a petition was filed with the United States district court, El Dorado division, civil action 134, condemning 3,250.41 acres of land situated in Union County, Arkansas, naming J. P. Pickering, et al. as land owners. That petition was heard by the court on December 29, 1941, and the United States of America was given possession of the land. The deed books at the Union County Court House, El Dorado, contain the names of the land owners that were required to sell their land to the government for the OOW. (Appendix A)
families that should be in the area in the next six months. On February 20, El Dorado was to be included in the Federal Housing Authority housing plan. March 21 brought news that 100 homes were to be built at the Parkview addition on the Smackover Highway. April 29 brought the news that rent control was going to be established and might be set as low as April 1, 1941, levels.
On March 22, 1942, the announcement was made that construction was to start in the next few days. Dirt moving equipment was to arrive. The contract for surveying of a spur railroad line to join the main Missouri-Pacific Railroad was signed. H. B. Deal Co. had signed the contract for construction and had set up offices in the Jones Building on Washington Street.
Hank Weiland, who was to be production superintendent for Lion Chemical, was given the task of recruiting young engineering graduates as shift foreman. In March Weiland visited southern engineering schools and was able to hire 17 seniors from 6 universities. Starting salary was to be $233 per month which was almost too good to be true as most staring engineers were started out at $150 to $165 per month. One problem for the seniors was a training trip was scheduled to start April 15, 1942, to Canada. Some of the universities allowed the seniors to take their exams early and graduate in 1942 but some universities did not and those seniors had to finish their courses by correspondence and did not graduate until 1943.
The 17 engineers were: Harry Backes, Bill Biggers, Fred Elliott, Bob Feser, Art Goodman, Stan Johnson, Matt Jones, Jess Little, Mac Lowe, Charles Mackey, Lonnie Payton, Ted Roden, Glen Rucker, Frank Simmons, Al Smith, Joe Walk and Jess Wilson.
The group arrived in El Dorado in April and then departed for training. Roden was sent to the Chemical Construction Company in New York. About half the group went to Calgary, Alberta, while the others to Welland, Ontario, for training. Walk’s notes from the training in Canada on the reforming of natural gas describe the complicated process of producing ammonia from natural gas, using air and water to complete the process. Details of a foremanship training course the group attended were also included in Walk’s notebook. After returning to El Dorado from Canada, the 17 men decided to form a formal club. Jones said he had been looking up a word in the dictionary and had seen the word “onager” meaning “a wild ass.” The name seemed appropriate and so the Onager Club was formed.
While the Onagers were in training, the construction of OOW was progressing. Temporary administration buildings were completed and on June 14, 1942, the area engineer and his staff as well the Deal Company staff were moved to the site. The access road from Highway 7 was to be paved in the next few days. The spur railroad was completed to the site and work to build the tracks inside the area was to be started. The communication building was nearing completion and a telephone switch board was installed. Work was progressing on the sanitary and sewage systems. Mrs. Lydia Whitehead of El Dorado was awarded a contract for food concessions and would serve box lunches, sandwiches, plate lunches and cold drinks from stands and wagons. A night shift was added and a call went out for more carpenters and labors. A public address system was installed. Stores in town started staying open to 8 p. m. to serve the workers. On July 5 the construction workers were honored for their participation in buying war bonds. The peak number of workers was attained on July 15 when more than 4,500 construction workers were employed on the site.
By July 10 the housing shortage was acute. An emergency housing bureau was established. It was reported that in the last three months 212 apartments, 107 houses and even several bedrooms had been rented. On July 19 the lumber freeze was lifted to allow for the building of another 75 houses. On September 1, rent control was set as of March 1, 1942. Trailer camps began to spring up around town. Many of the workers came bringing their trailers behind them. These were the construction workers that came from all over the country to wherever there was defense construction to be done.
July 12, 1942, brought the announcement that Major W. B. Tulley had been named commanding officer. Lt. Col. John J. Breen had been commanding officer and had had the responsibility of both the OOW and the Louisiana Ordnance Works. At that time there were thirty five employees of Lion Chemical Corp. and ten civilians and eight officers in the Army’s contingent at the plant in addition to the construction staff and crews. The railroad spur was in full operation. The barb wire fence was almost complete.
In September the gas generator engines began to arrive and presented some problems to move them into place because of their size. Two cranes could not lift the 50 ton engines and they had to be moved from the railroad cars on rollers. The gas engines filled a building the size of two football fields and would be used to generate the electrical power needed to run the OOW. Because of the equipment needed to produce the anhydrous ammonia and ammonia nitrate the OOW was a bigger construction task than any of the other ordnance plants in Arkansas. Safety was a major concern and a first aid station had been set up and two ambulances served the site. A fire station equipped with an engine and firemen was on the site. The plant was described as being 45 percent completed. Estimated cost of the project has been changed to 36,000,000. Mud was described as being the biggest enemy of the project as every time it rained the site became a sea of mud.
Although much of what was going on at the OOW site was shrouded in secrecy for national security, by January, 1943 a city began to spring up. A small hospital was completed and first aid stations were at other location on the grounds. Wells were dug for water and a purification plant was installed. Before that time drinking water was provided by trucks. A complete sewer system with waste disposal system was built. The cafeteria opened on January 2, 1943. 200 people could be served at one time and with staggered lunch hours all the workers could be served. A security force of guards protected the facility.
In January, 1943, recognition was given to Congressman Harris for his assistance in obtaining the OOW for El Dorado. It was noted that he had worked hand in hand with Col. Barton to introduce the resources of Arkansas and the ability of Arkansas people to get the job done. Harris was a native born Arkansan and during his life time he served 25 years in the legislative branch of government and 25 years in the judicial. He was elected to congress from El Dorado in 1940 and served from 1941 to February 1966 in congress. He resigned at that time to become a U. S. district judge.
The Lion Chemical Corp continued to put in place the people to take care of operations when the construction was complete. J. J. Allison was named as vice president in charge of operations. He had the same position with the Lion Oil organization. James M. Wadsworth was named as works manager and Milton Sprague was the assistant manager. These later two men would be in charge of all aspects of production but would work under the superintendence of the commanding officer, Major Tulley.
Construction continued at full pitch during the spring and in Walk’s words “the first smell of ammonia was made on May 13, 1943, only 18 months after the operating contract was signed.” Walk added that “today (1999) it would take that long to get an environment impact study completed and approved.”
The first plant newsletter was published June 1943. The issue was unnamed and a contest to name the “baby newsletter” was announced. The newsletter described some of the facilities for the comfort of the employees. There were three change houses, two large and one small one where employees could get a shower. Towels were furnished to the men and a janitor was on duty at shift change to give out towels and clean up. Lockers were provided in the change houses. The small change house was for the guards. There was a male staff house where men could rent a single bedroom. In the staff house was a large living room for the use of all the occupants. The manager had an apartment on the first floor and some rooms were set aside for men on official visits to the plant.
The next newsletter named the Ozark Lion was published July 1943. There were two employees that both submitted the name Ozark Lion, each was given a $10 prize. One suggestion for a name was “‘The Bawh Cat’ pronounced ‘Bear Cat.’ It contains the first letter of the names of all the important men connected with obtaining, building and maintaining OOW, B for Col. Barton, A for Allison, W for Wadsworth, H for Representative Harris, C for Major Campbell, A for Governor Adkins, and T for Major Tulley.” The photograph on the newsletter cover was named “Day’s End” and was dedicated to the men of the construction phase and of their earning of the Army/Navy “E” flag “for high achievement in war construction.” The flag had been presented to the construction staff at a ceremony at the plant on June 26, 1943.
By the spring of 1944 other TNT plants in the United States had been built and the ammonium nitrate operations were being phased out. The Onagers began to scatter. Six of the men went into the Navy. Pat Willis came to the plant from the Manhattan Project to recruit engineers. Willis said he could not tell the remaining Onagers what they would be doing but it was critical to the war effort. Willis cinched the deal by tell the Onagers that they could either transfer as civilians or be drafter and assigned to the project. The seven men that transferred to the new project did not know when they transferred that they would be working on the problem of producing pure hydrogen to be used in atomic bombs.
On May 5, 1944, the OOW was awarded the Army/Navy “E” flag for production. It was with great pride that this award had been received in less than a year of operation. The plant would be allowed to fly the “E” flag and the employees would receive pins to ware. A message was sent from the president of the United States to the operating staff.
“An Army-Navy Production Award emblem is a symbol of outstanding service in the greatest production force in the world today-a united and free army of American workers. Franklin D. Roosevelt.” A second “E” award added a star to the flag in October 1944. The plant was also able to fly the treasury “T’ flag. That “T” flag was a symbol that at least 90 percent of the employees had at least 10 percent of their wages deducted for war bonds each pay day. The third Army/Navy “E” award added a second star to the “E” flag on April 14, 1945.
During war operations, about 700 employees were needed to staff the facility. Some of the employees were paid by the ordnance department and the rest by Lion Chemical Corp. A secretary was paid .55 cents per hour. To get to work many of the employees had to car pool. Transportation was a major issue. A bus had run for about two months but the owner got drafted and services ended. People got to work the best they could, some came in Model A fords they had reconditioned and some in old school busses. Ralph Freeman stated service was established to run a trolley/tram that provided transportation to the plant over the rail lines. In the fall of 1942 hiring of the operators began, first class operators received $1.20, second class $1.10, and helpers $.90 per hour. Most of the workers had never worked in an industrial plant before and had to be completely trained.
On August 16, 1945, the Gazette, carried the news that many workers in war plants would be loosing their jobs. The newspaper announced that Major E. A. Moore the current commanding officer at OOW said the plant would be kept in production and no workers would lose their jobs. In February 1946 the OOW was still producing ammonia for the ordnance department but people in El Dorado wondered how long the U. S. government would keep the plant in production. The citizens of El Dorado did not have long to wait for the news. On March 15, 1946, the War Assets Corporation announced that the OOW was surplus to the government needs and would be offered for sale or lease. By April 2, 1946, the Lion Chemical Corp was granted a lease of OOW with options to purchase and would be manufacturing nitrogen fertilizer for commercial use. By May 16, 1946, Lion Chemical had taken over all operations at the plant.
In March 1948, Lion purchased the plant out right. Lion made improvements and additions at a cost of over $10 million in the 1940s and diversified the products. Nine 30-ton anhydrous ammonia tanks were added to replace the smaller tanks is use during the war years. An ammonium prilling plant was built and placed in operation in 1947. This was the first nitrate prilling plant in the USA. In 1955, Lion merged with Monsanto Chemical Company and operated the plant under the Inorganic Chemical Division. The plant operated under Monsanto until July 29, 1983. At that time the plant was sold to the El Dorado Chemical Company with assistance from LSB Industries. On November 28, 1984, LSB Industries bought the El Dorado chemical operation. In 2005 the plant continues to operate under the name of El Dorado Chemical Company with LSB financing.
Although the plant ceased as a service to the government in 1946, the OOW had one more job to do for Uncle Sam. In the 1950s, a 16mm movie of the plant was used as a training film for military air intelligence interpreters. Worth Camp, who was in the Naval Air Intelligence School in Washington, DC, remembers the film. He noted that the film opened with the L-I-O-N name appearing on the four tall square reformer furnace towers. One letter of Lion appeared on each tower. The film moved from ground level outside to all the various parts of the plant. The trainees learned to spot the features on the roofs, outlying buildings, storage containers, and piping to identify which chemical industry they saw from 20,000 feet in the air.
Several of the Onagers that had left for military service returned after the war to work at the plant. At first the group that went to the Manhattan project was not eligible for rehire as the returning service men had first choice. At least one of the Manhattan project group did return to work at the plant in later years. The OOW had special meaning to the Onagers it was their first job and seven of the men married female employees of the project. Gladys Biggers, Margaret Johnson, and Corrine Walk worked in the laboratory. Frieda Elliott, Floy Feser, Gene Lowe, Irene Smith, and Carolyn Smalling worked in the office. Frances Cofer worked at the Lion office.
A tour of the plant in May 2005 reveals that many of the buildings are still in use 62 years after the first ammonia was produced. The administration building continues to serve the operating managers and their staff. The tall square towers of the reforming furnaces still stand and two continued to be used. The fire station and laboratory buildings are still is use. The railroad repair shop maintains the plant’s railroad engine. The railroad system is in continued use both inside the site and to send and receive goods over the spur line to the main track. A pipeline brings natural gas under pressure onto the site and a vast network of pipes transfers the products to the various buildings for processing. Governor Adkins hope for permanent industries has certainly been fulfilled in regard to the continued production at the former OOW.
Kent has been a researcher and writer on Arkansas history since the 1960s. Her credits include a history of Jacksonville, Arkansas, and two previous articles published in the Pulaski County Historical Quarterly, one of which won the Hampton Roy award for the best article for 1984.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PETITIONER,
VS. Civil Action No. 134 In the district court of the United States
Western District of Arkansas
3,250.41 Acres of land, more or El Dorado Division
less, situated in Union County,
Arkansas: and J. P. Pickering, et al. Defendants.
Judgment Vesting Title in the United States
Of America upon Filing Declaration of taking
On Portion of Land Herein.
On this the 29 day of December, 1941, this cause comes on for the hearing upon the Petition and other documents and pleadings filed herein, the petitioner being represented by Clinton E. Barry, United States attorney, and John E. Harris, assistant United States Attorney, and from all of which the court finds:
That this cause of action was filed in this court on December 10, 1941 seeking to condemn, with other land, certain lands hereinafter described for the use and benefit of the United States of America under the acts of Congress set out in the original petition herein: …
(b) The public uses for which said lands are taken are as follows: The said lands are necessary adequately to provide for a site for an ordnance munitions plant, and for other military purposes incident thereto. The said lands have been elected by me for the acquisition by the United States for the use in connection with the establishment of the Ozark Ordnance Works, El Dorado, Arkansas, and for such others uses as may be authorized by Congress or by executive Order, and are required for immediate use. …
Henry L. Stimson
Secretary of War of the United States
Extracted from Union County records Deed Book 443 pp 576-582
Names of the land owners included in the petition Deed Book 443 pp. 576-582
J. P. and N. E. Pickering
Heirs of T. J. Head;
Mrs. Chaddie T. Head
J. D. Head
R. T. Head
Virginia and D. E. Whatley
Leroy and Blanche Head
L. M. Calhoun Jr.
C. B. Sherrouse
D. H. Allday
J. C. Fevey
C. I. Bacon
J. C. Young
C. G. Scott
Arthur Faison Estate:
Edna Mae Faison Richard and Leroy Richard
Jimmie D. Faison
Robert Lee Faison
Bessie Mae Dumas and Mose Dumas
A. D. Murphy and Birdie G. Murphy
R. A. Chiles
M. C. Clay
Ben T. Wright
Mrs. Mary Chiles
James H. Dugan
George M. LeCroy
L. H. Grey
Samuel S. Alexander
James Willard Goodwin and Ruby Goodwin
W. B. and Wyna Lee Combs
John M. Dumas
W. H. Hanna
W. T. McKinnon
W. S. Sloan
J. F. Warren
Naddie Warren Roper and Marion Roper
Ida Warren Jackson and Aylmer Jackson
O. G. Warren and Nora Warren
C. S. Warren and Ada Warren
Nellie Warren Perry and Jack Perry
First National Bank, El Dorado, Arkansas
Archie Mosley and Josie Mosley
Ernest Menser Estate:
Evelyn and Albert Massey
Julia Ann Menser
Mattie Ford and Bob Ford
Arlie Stokes and Ben Stokes
Cortez Menser Estate:
Addie Lee Menser
A. M. Fisher
Additional Names extracted from Deed Books, Union County Court House.
H. L. and Letha Bailes
Malissa Mae and Abner Bailey
S. D. and Disteen Bell
G. W. and Martha V. Chism
Mary and J. T. Coke
J. J. and Mattie Cottrell
John L. Henry Cowan and Luceal Cowan
Harry Jr. and Rose E. Ezell
Boyle T. and Anner Faison
Henry and Amy Lee Goodwin
Otis H. and Phyllis E. Goodwin
Sattie Virginia Goodwin
T. H. and Mabel Goodwin
T. O. and Pauline Goodwin
William and Susie Goodwin
Elnora and John Greenwood
J. A. and Ruth Haney
J. G. and Drucilla Johnston
Hardy H. and M. V. Leverette
J. R. and R. A. Leverette
Rebecca A. Leverette
F. M. and Pearline Massey
Herbert and Viola Massey
Jimmie Dee and Mozelle Massey
Peter and Emily Massey
Francis and Montee Matthews
Mrs. Blanch and J. B. Murphy
L. R. and A. D. Pope
B. W. Jr.and Ida Ruth Reeves
H. B. and Helen M. Reeves
J. A. and Kate H. Reeves
W. H. and Lena Reeves
Mrs. Pat Riley
S. C. and Bonnie Mabel Rogers
Jacob and Alsina Shinks
A. E. Slaughter
Reeves and Addie Thompson
T. D. and Lena G. Trimble
Mary E. McGraw Warren and Will Warren
Ruthey and Garland Watson
H. G. and Mozelle White
Sylesvester and Rosa Bell White
Margaret P. and T. F. Williams
I Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, AR, September 21, 1941, p. 4.
ii Ibid. October 10, 1941, p. 1.
iv Col. T. H. Barton, Temporary Exhibit, visited by the author May 5, 2005, Museum of Natural Resources, Smackover, AR.
v The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN., February 2, 1947, Sec IV, p. 3.
vi Edgar B. Chesnutt, Progress-From Poison, Arkansas Gazette, July 18, 1943 Sunday Magazine, p. 1.
Arkansas Gazette, September 21, 1941, p. 24.
vii Ralph Freeman, Engineering Manager, El Dorado Chemical Company, interview by author and tour of the former OOW, May 6, 2005.
viii El Dorado Daily News, El Dorado, AR., October 12, 1941, p. 12.
ix Joe Walk, The Onager Story, December 1999, p. 1. Book supplied by Austin Bollen, El Dorado.
x Arkansas Gazette, November 4, 1941, p. 2.
xi El Dorado Daily News, November 6, 8, & 26, 1941
xii Arkansas Gazette, November 14, 1941, p. 1.
xiii Walk, The Onager Story, p. 1.
xiv El Dorado Daily News: Oil and Industries Edition, January 30, 1942.
xv Union County, Arkansas, deed books, starting with book 443, p. 576.
xvi El Dorado Daily News, January 31, February 6, March 21, April 29, 1942.
xvii Ibid. March 22, 1942.
xviii Walk, The Onager Story, p. 1.
xix Ibid. p. 1, 2.
xx Walk, Original training notebook, 1942, In possession of the Museum of Natural Resources.
xxi Walk, The Onager Story, p. 5.
xxii El Dorado Daily News, June 7, 14, 28, July 5, August 10, 1942.
xxiii Ibid. July 10, 19, September 1, 1942.
xxiv Ibid January 31, 1943.
xxv Ibid. July 12, 1942.
xxvi El Dorado Daily News, Oil and Industries Edition, January 31, 1943.
xxvii Freeman interview, May 6, 2005.
xxviii The Arkansas Democrat, Little Rock, AR., September 6, 1942, p. 17.
xxix El Dorado Daily News, January 31, 1943.
xxxi http://thomas.loc.gov Accessed June 1, 2005.
xxxii El Dorado Daily News, January 31, 1943.
xxxiii Walk, The Onager Story p. 6.
xxxiv Unnamed OOW newsletter, June 1943 copy supplied by Richard Milliken, El Dorado.
xxxv Ozark Lion, El Dorado, Arkansas, July 1943. Copy supplied by Ralph Freeman.
xxxvi Walk, The Onager Story, p. 10.
xxxvii Ibid. p. 10, 11.
xxxviii El Dorado Daily News, Oil and Industry Edition, February 18, 1945.
xxxix WW II folder, Museum of Natural Resources.
xli El Dorado Daily News, January 31, 1943.
xlii Freeman interview May 6, 2005.
xliii Walk, The Onager Story, p. 7.
xliv Arkansas Gazette, August 16, 1945.
xlv El Dorado Daily News, February 24, 1946.
xlvi Ibid. March 16, April 2, May 16, 1946.
xlvii El Dorado News Times, El Dorado, Arkansas, Progress Edition, March 23, 2005, p. 2.
xlviii Worth Camp, El Dorado, e-mail to author June 16, 2004.
xlix Walk, The Onager Story pp. 7, 8, 9, 10.
l Freeman tour, May 6, 2005.
100 YEARS OF PUBLIC SERVICE: THE 1905 JUNIOR COLLEGE BUILDING IN EL DORADO, ARKANSAS
by Phillip Ballard
According to John Ruskin, “The Art of Building [is] the strongest, proudest, most orderly [and] most enduring of the arts of man. The art is associated with all civic pride and sacred principle; with which men record their power, satisfy their enthusiasm, make sure their defense, [and] define and make dear their habitation” (qtd. in Butcher-Younghans 3). One local building that exemplifies the “civic pride and principle” of which Ruskin wrote stands at 300 South West Avenue, and this year those who know it best celebrate the one hundredth birthday of what has become known as the 1905 Junior College Building.
Early in their history, the people of El Dorado were committed to providing a good education for the youth of the community. The construction of the Junior College Building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, proved this commitment in a tangible, enduring way. It was built on Lot 98 of the Newton Subdivision, which originally contained 160 acres. Lot 98 had already been used for educational purposes as early as the 1850s. Albert Rust had acquired this land on “January 5, 1852, for $3,000 and a $520.83 mortgage on a 17-year-old slave girl” (Arnold and Wilson 8). On May 7, 1858, the trustees of the El Dorado Female Institute—James W. Adams, Argrove Ammons, Hezekiah Bussy, William R. Clowser, Robert Goodwin, Hugh P. Marr, and Hamilton P. Smead—paid Rust $250 for five acres on which to build a school for young women. This first school building constructed on the site is described in the National Register nomination form as “a two story, eight room, frame structure with a long assembly hall in the rear” (Hammond). After the female academy closed in 1860, the Confederate Army used this building as a hospital during the Civil War, but its original educational purpose was restored when El Dorado’s first public school was created on October 12, 1869, with the formation of the El Dorado Special School District #15. “A ten months term was ordered for 1870 and school opened . . . on the site of the present Junior College quarters” (Whitten). In 1895, when grades nine through twelve were added to the public school system, the Chancery Court deeded the property to the El Dorado Special School District, who had been using the property for 20 years. The first class graduated from the newly formed public high school in June of 1896 (Hammond), effectively replacing the private academies that had served the community in previous years.
As the local population grew, additional space was needed; and in 1903, the School Board appointed a committee, with B. W. Reeves its chair, to begin planning the construction of a new brick school building. At its June 6, 1904, meeting, the School Board passed a motion to begin construction “as early the next spring as practicable” (Minutes). The building committee consisted of C. P. McHenry, B. W. Reeves, and Dr. J. M. Sheppard; and the Board selected as consultants Rev. J. F. McKinzie, a Presbyterian minister and brick mason, and Dr. W. J. Anson. Rev. McKinzie worked on the building and also helped in its design. The Board hired J. F. Hanson from Camden, Arkansas, to serve as general contractor. He used bricks from the El Dorado brick yard1 and pine timber from local forests to finish construction in 1905 (Hammond). No architect is mentioned in the school board minutes, leaving the origin of the building’s design in question (Minutes). A $40,000 bond issue to the Mercantile Trust Company of St. Louis was used to pay for construction costs (Hammond). Electrical wiring and indoor plumbing were added by 1911, and the building was apparently used for high school students until 1925 when the El Dorado Junior College was established. According to Whitfield,
The new (1925) El Dorado High School science laboratories
served both the high school and the college, but the majority
of the lecture classes [for the junior college] were held in the
older (1905) El Dorado School building. El Dorado School
Board minutes often refer to the 1905 building as the Junior
College Building, though that was never its official name. The
high school administrators also served as administrative
officers of the college and the El Dorado School Board served
as the Board for the college. The majority of the college’s
faculty was specifically recruited to teach in the college, but
some college and high school faculty members served in both
institutions. Apparently, no student enrollment data exist, but
recollections of students who attended the college would
indicate that the largest enrollment was probably less than
250 students.2 The college operated until the beginning of the
Second World War. The minutes of the El Dorado School
Board do not reflect exactly when the college closed; however,
in August, 1942, Superintendent McClerkin’s reporting to the
Board that all equipment had been returned from the Junior
College to the High School would indicate that the college no longer
According to Hammond, the NEA-accredited Junior College closed in 1937 after “matriculating many graduates from its liberal arts curriculum.” Regardless of when the college closed, the building apparently continued to be used for high school purposes until a new high school facility was built on Timberlane in 1964. From this time, the campus was used for junior high students until the 1970s when the junior high school moved into the old Washington High School facility on Quaker Street. In 1976, the El Dorado School Board leased the site of the 1905 Junior College Building to the El Dorado Branch of Southern State College. On August 8, 1983, the School Board deeded the property to the college and to “its successors and assigns” with the stipulation that the property continue to be used for educational purposes in perpetuity (Deed and Certificate of Record). When the local college merged with Oil Belt Technical College in 1992 to become a free-standing community college called South Arkansas (SouthArk) Community College, the Junior College Building became the new institution’s legal property according to the stipulations of the 1983 agreement.
Now serving as the administration building for South Arkansas Community College, the impressive three-story structure has 23,832 square feet and a full basement built 75% below grade (North Central Report 67). The wood-frame structure faces east and has a red-brick veneer and a gabled roof. Its architectural design is neo-classical, taking the basic form of a Greek cross with a gable on each of four sides and a portico at both front and back entrances, each decorated with four brick columns and topped with a low balustrade. The windows are decorated with concrete lintels and sills to match the concrete apron that runs around the foundation of the building. This apron is scored to resemble stone blocks, giving the wood-frame structure a more solid, stately appearance. The “cornerstone” is scored into the concrete on the northeast corner and contains the following inscription: “El Dorado Public School Erected 1905. J.F. Hanson, Builder.”
Wide wooden moldings decorate the eaves on the third floor, and two large brick chimneys — that provided ventilation for the furnaces located in the basement — jut high into the air above the building. Originally, a decorative balustrade that matched those above the front and back entrances ran along the roof line on the east and west facades but were removed when they became a maintenance problem (Abbott).
Inside, each above-ground floor is bisected by a central corridor from which classrooms and offices are accessible. The original 12-foot ceilings were decorated with pressed-tin panels and molding, much of which is still in place, and the rooms off the central corridors were connected through doors that measure three feet in width and almost eight feet in height. These large doors are decorated with six panels and topped with transom windows to allow air circulation. Aside from the fire escapes on the north and side sides of the building, two open, steep staircases provided the only access to the upper floors for many years; the first step of each staircase was set six feet from the front and back entrances to the first floor. In 1989, an elevator was installed in the center of the building; and in 1996, concrete ramps and steel banisters were built at both entrances and automatic doors were added, making the building handicapped accessible.
In 1999, South Arkansas Community College sought grant funding from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council to begin restoration work on the aging building. The ANCRC saw the value in preserving this historic building and provided $995,000 for the work Among other improvements, the structure was reinforced, the walls were repainted in colors appropriate to the period, the staircases were restored to their original appearance, the tin ceilings were exposed and repainted in several areas, and the wood floors were uncovered and refinished on the third floor. Local citizens were invited to donate period furniture, old photographs, and other memorabilia to decorate the lobby and corridors of the building, and many responded. On September 30, 2002, Gov. Mike Huckabee rededicated the newly restored property in a well-attended ceremony.
Presently, an additional ANCRC grant is funding restoration work on the outside of the building, including tuck pointing the mortar joint of the brick exterior, replacing the windows to duplicate the original design, and burying the utility lines. As the outside is restored, the inside still serves the educational needs of area students. Specifically, it houses most of SouthArk’s administrative offices, the Board Room, various faculty offices, and two classrooms — one for music and another for art. The staircases still creak with age as students and faculty come and go, and the general atmosphere evokes memories of a time in local history when public education was considered the cornerstone of the Republic and a steppingstone for personal success. After 100 years, this sturdy monument continues to serve the community and to remind all who use it of the importance of public education in a free society.
Phillip Ballard, a Hope native and currently an El Dorado resident, has taught in Arkansas schools since 1972. He has served as an English instructor at South Arkansas Community College since 1987.
1 According to John B. Abbott, local architect, “pressed” bricks—made by putting a dry clay mixture into molds and mechanically pressing them into a hard, consistent shape—were used. This made it possible to “butter” these extra durable bricks with only a thin layer of mortar.
2 According to its annual bulletin, the El Dorado Junior College grew from an enrollment of 22 in 1925 to 132 students in 1933-34.
Abbott, John B. Telephone interview. 27 June 2005. Mr. Abbott was born across Block
Street from the Junior College Building and remembers first visiting the structure as a boy when his father was superintendent of schools. He recalls that the original means of heating the building was an air transfer system from coal-fueled furnaces located in the basement. He also points out that the State of Arkansas did not require architectural records at the time the JC Building was constructed, making it difficult to determine which architect, if any, designed it.
Arnold, George and Shea Hutchens Wilson. Then and Now: A Guide to Historic Union
County. El Dorado, Arkansas: News-Times Publishing Company, 1994.
Burrow, Diane. “Schools Advance Since First Class in El Dorado in 1845.” El Dorado
News-Times. 12 Jan. 1971: 6. This source claims that construction began in 1903 and was not completed until several weeks into the 1906 fall term of the school year, delaying the beginning of classes. This contradicts the School Board minutes, which show that the Board did not approve construction until 1904.
Butcher-Younghans, Sherry. Historic House Museums. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.
“Community College in Full Swing.” El Dorado (AR) News-Times. 28 Mar. 1976: 16B.
This source introduces the newly formed El Dorado Branch of Southern State College, the current college’s mother institution, to the community and chronicles the transition of the Junior College Building from a junior high school facility back to its former college status.
Deed and Certificate of Record. 301 Summit in El Dorado, Arkansas. Page 990792. 8
El Dorado Junior College. Annual Bulletin. Information and Announcements 1933-34.
This is a brochure on file in the college president’s office that provides basic facts and figures of interest to prospective students. Annual tuition consisted of $100 plus lab fees, but valedictorians were enrolled tuition-free. Fifty courses are listed, including Composition and Rhetoric, General Psychology, Old Testament History, Advanced French and Spanish, Differential Calculus, and Zoology.
El Dorado School Board El Dorado, Arkansas. Minutes of Regular and Special
Meetings. 6 June 1904. This hand-written source provides a concise record of the transactions leading up to the construction of the Junior College Building.
Hammond, J. Parks. Nomination Form National Register of Historic Places Inventory. El
Dorado Junior College Building. 4 April 1977. This source provides a detailed architectural description of the building along with diagrams and photographs.
South Arkansas Community College. North Central Report. El Dorado, Arkansas: 1994.
This report contains a description of the college’s facilities on both campuses and contains details about the Junior College Building not found in other sources.
Whitfield, Ben. “El Dorado’s Two-year Colleges.” South Arkansas Historical Journal.
Volume I. Fall, 2001: 2-7. Dr. Whitfield was the chancellor/president of the college from 1975 to 1997; this article an interesting history of the facilities.
Whitten, Clayte. “El Dorado’s First Public School Established During October of 1869.”
El Dorado (AR) Daily News. 26 Mar. 1967: 6D. This article contains a lengthy excerpt of a history of the El Dorado Public Schools from the 1936 Arkansas Centennial edition of the El Dorado Daily News. The author and exact date of publication are not known.
SPUDNUTS: A SOUTH ARKANSAS BREAKFAST LEGEND
By Joan Hershberger
For more than half a century, Spudnuts have held a special spot in the hearts and stomachs of El Dorado doughnut devotees. Regularly, on Saturday mornings there will be lines of people waiting as employees work at high speed to cut, fry, glaze and sell the donuts, but nothing can cut short the 90 minutes to two-hour process for making each doughnut. The shop’s continued success and recognition as a locally owned family business originates in part from the loyalty of the shop’s first, and only manager, Bud McCann, according to Nancy Varnell, second generation co-owner of the shop. Varnell’s mother, Daisy Stringfellow, original owner of the local shop, discovered Spudnuts during a trip to visit relatives in Salem, Ore. En route, she stopped and ate at one of the original Spudnut Shops in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was impressed with the taste and the fact that Spudnuts were sold door-to-door in the city every morning.
Suddenly, going to business school in Fort Smith before her marriage in 1934 and working as a secretary at Lion Oil could not satisfy her business dreams – she wanted a business of her own. Stringfellow came home determined to fulfill her life-long dream of opening her own business – she would open a Spudnut Shop in El Dorado. Spudnut Shops began after the Pelton Brothers, Al and Bob, ate a potato-based doughnut in Germany and loved the unique flavor and texture.
Back home in the states, they began experimenting with a recipe for a doughnut that was not heavy or greasy and that was easy to digest. After throwing away many batches they struck on a winning formula with potato flour. They invented the dry Spudnut Mix and Mr. Spudnut came to life! By mid-1948, more than 200 Spudnut shops were located in more than 30 states. At that time, the average cost of a franchise – including equipment and floor plans was $1,750. Compared to $100,000 for a typical franchise today with no equipment, it was a bargain.
Under the tutelage of the Pelton brothers, young McCann learned how to make the Spudnuts and manage the business. Even though he has under went cancer surgery in early 2004 – by that fall he still went to work every morning, leaving around 6:30 - 7 a.m. Varnell said. The first Spudnut Shop opened on Oak Street in the little brick building near the former Rumph Mortuary.
In the beginning, the Spudnut Shop was open from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. and served hamburgers, sandwiches, breakfast and had a soda fountain. Because the nearby high school had an open campus during lunch, kids lined up by the front and back doors everyday – the back door was reserved for friends of the Stringfellow children. They sold hundreds of Spudnuts and hamburgers until they realized they could not keep up with the Spudnuts and the hamburgers – especially when McCann was out for any length of time. So the Stringfellows purchased a doughnut cutter.
“It takes two working every day just to keep up with cutting the doughnuts and keep them on the rack,” Varnell said. “You can only do so much.” Varnell has worked at the Spudnut Shop since she was a teenager, along with her brother, Benji Stringfellow. “Neither of us liked it too much, but that was the way it was,” Nancy Varnell said. Benji Stringfellow made sure he did not have to cut doughnuts as an adult – he became a dentist in Fort Smith. Both of his sons, Steve and Jay Stringfellow, also put in their hours at the family business during the summers, and both of them also became dentists. Marcie Varnell, William and Nancy Varnell’s daughter, also worked there some when she was in college. While Daisy Stringfellow kept the Spudnut Shop running from 1948 through the ‘50s and ‘60s, her husband, Benji Stringfellow maintained a day job with first Lion Oil Corp. and then Monsanto. When he retired in the early 1970s, he took a more active part in the business. At that time the shop moved to its current Faulkner Street address to accommodate a need for more space. McCann moved with them. Nancy Stringfellow Varnell, a teacher with the El Dorado School System, married William Varnell who originally worked with Arkansas Best Freight in New Orleans. They were transferred to Texarkana where he was the branch manager.
In 1975, Varnell’s mother asked William if he would like to buy the business and take it over. “When he told me we were moving to El Dorado, I thought, ‘there isn’t a branch there’,” Varnell said, thinking he meant a transfer. Initially, Varnell was opposed to the idea of buying the business from her parents. Her husband was used to the fast pace of an office with a secretary. She could not believe he would give all that up to run the Spudnut Shop. He would and he did. “We have been here ever since ... and Bud is still with us,” Varnell said.
Asked what goes into the recipe, she said, “Bud puts in potato flour, sweets and I don’t know what else,” shrugged Nancy Varnell, who helps on weekends as needed. The Spudnuts are still made from potato flour, but, “no, they do not peel potatoes every morning. The mix is still made from potato flour, but it has to be tweaked a little to insure the original Spudnut Quality. We were fortunate to have the original recipe which was been wonderful,” Varnell said.
Currently, there are only 37 Spudnut Stores in existence. All exist because they maintained their own original recipes – owners can no longer buy from the Pelton Brothers. The Peltons dissolved their corporation and the Spudnut Franchise was sold at their retirement to a company which proved unable to reliably provide the mix and supplies. It is impossible to purchase a Spudnut Franchise.
At one time, Varnell knew of Spudnut Shops in Texarkana, Pine Bluff, Magnolia and Bastrop, Louisiana. Only the Magnolia and El Dorado shops remain in business in this area. When one or the other shop runs low on Spudnut mix, they share with each other. William Varnell has been asked to use his franchise rights to open shops in other places, but he says that one is enough. “You have to have dependable employees and there are not that many Bud McCann’s around. This in itself prohibits more stores because a manager has to be there to always insure quality,” Nancy Varnell said.
During the lecture, Varnell showed some of the logos used through the years – the original Mr. Spudnut with arms and legs as seen in the shop today. The next logo was a doughnut with a bite taken out of it with the legend, “Spudnuts – the upper crust of the Donut World.” Through the years the tradition has spread. Even today the nephews in northern Arkansas meet folks who have visited El Dorado and mention the Spudnut Shop. Many visitors at the symposium mentioned taking Spudnuts to out-of-town relatives. Varnell said they have even traveled via Federal Express. Families always want them for holidays or when their families return for a visit. Some families have a tradition of ordering a couple dozen dinner rolls made from the frozen unglazed, un-baked dough for the holiday meals. The Spudnut tradition continues, shared and spread by those who love them best.
Joan Hershberger writes for the El Dorado News-Times.
Note: This article was originally published in fall 2004 in the El Dorado News-Times.
AN UNCOMMON WOMAN: REMEMBERING BLANCHE PARNELL WADE
By The Honorable Edwin B. Alderson, Jr.
Note: The following are the remarks of retired Judge Edwin B. Alderson as he dedicated the Blanche Parnell Wade Memorial Garden on May 1, 2005. This address was delivered at the site of the memorial garden at the historic John Newton Home in El Dorado.
For anyone who takes even a cursory look at history, it becomes obvious that throughout the ages all of humankind has endured the challenges of the unexpected: hardship, tragedy, and death itself. As we look back through history and study those individuals who have made a positive and meaningful impact on human progress, those who have brought us forward and inspired us to greatness, we find a common characteristic: in the darkest hour, in the face of sudden hardship, tragedy, and death, when dreams are shattered, and all hope seems gone, these individuals – through uncommon courage and fortitude – have taken the worst circumstances not as defeat but as inspiration to move forward and to make their lives and the lives of others survive and prosper on the soil of catastrophe.
One of these uncommon people was a lady named Lillie Fennel. Born of Irish carpenters, she grew up in Union County, and in the 1890s, married a handsome young man of a prominent Southwest Union County family named Walter Wayne Parnell. Lillie was 16. They moved to a little house out in the country, southwest of El Dorado, to work in the Parnell family enterprises. The Parnell family had lots of children; large numbers of farm workers, and a store on the square in downtown El Dorado. Their first child, Blanche, was born on September 29, 1897. A couple of years later, Harry was born.
The future looked bright for Lillie and her young family. Then tragedy hit on October 9, 1902. When little Blanche was 5 years old, her father was dead. Walter lay clenched to his friend, Constable H. L. Dearing, whom Walter had also killed, in a fierce gunfight on the east side of the square, the first of a series of tragedies that would become known as the infamous Tucker-Parnell Feud. Blanche remembered well the news of her father’s death. Her mother went outside and rang the bell to call in the field workers and tell them of the terrible news. Blanche remembered sitting on her mother’s lap at the funeral and at the Parnell Cemetery. Walter’s grave site, and those of his parents and siblings, are still well-preserved and can be located on the south side of Parnell Road.
Lillie, probably 18 or 19 at the time, refused to be defeated. Rather than to let herself and her two young children be victims of tragedy, she summoned all her courage and fortitude to move forward in life and to make a good life for her children. She continued to run the farm. Blanche said that her mother was a good shot and would ask her to watch Harry while she went out to kill squirrels for dinner. Lillie then married Frank Hill of the prominent Hill Family from Hillsboro. Lillie bore Frank a son and named him Jesse Proctor Hill. Blanche nicknamed him “Frip” and later said, “I have no earthly idea why . . . it just sounded cute.”
Frank Hill was a handsome man and came from a good family, but he turned out to be a poor father and a weak husband. He apparently liked the bottle more than he loved his wife and family. Lillie wasn’t about to put up with that. She divorced him and later married Judge Niel C. Marsh, who had a distinguished career as an attorney in the firm of Marsh and Flenniken and as a judge.
In the early 1920s, the first petroleum discovery took place on the Parnell land – the Constantine Well. Later discoveries on the Parnell land brought prosperity and Blanche said that her mother Lillie always said, “Blanche, your Dad is still taking care of you.” Blanche graduated from El Dorado High School and attended Meridian College in Meridian, Mississippi.
In the early ‘20s, she was asked by Attorney and Mrs. Almyr Flenniken to go aborad on what was then referred to as “The Grand Tour.” They spent six months abroad and traveled Europe, the Middle East, and the Holy Lands. She remembered being so homesick on that tour and so cold in Scotland that she “wrapped herself up in those fat feather beds and stayed for hours just to keep warm.” I asked her to tell me about her other trips abroad. She said, “I never went back . . . I didn’t need to. . . . I saw everything the first time.”
Blanche’s half-brother, Frip (who never shed the nickname that Blanche gave him), became an El Dorado High School and Henderson [now State University] football star and Chief Deputy Sheriff of Union County. He played on the famous Henderson State College football team with [future congressman] Oren Harris. Frip married a fine school teacher and wonderful lady, Lonena, and had one son, Blanche’s beloved nephew, Jesse Proctor Hill, Jr.
After the Grand Tour, Blanche came home and married Gordon Wade in about 1925. Gordon later became president of First National Bank. Blanche was never interested in business, but she was president of El Dorado Realty; but later, she said, “It was in name only.” They were never blessed with children.
There were three special loves of Blanche’s life:
1. Her mother, Lillie Mae Fennel-Parnell-Hill-Marsh, who
lived with Blanche after Judge Marsh died, and also lived to
be 97 years of age, without a gray hair on her head.
2. Her husband, Maxwell Gordon Wade, a community l
eader and president of First National Bank.
3. Her nephew Jesse Proctor Hill, Jr., known to us as
Proctor. He was like a son to her. I can still hear him calling
She educated and helped Proctor all of his life. She loved him, and he loved her deeply. They had an uncommon dedication to each other. He retired from his job at the Whitney Bank in New Orleans to be closer to his Auntie. They had some good times together; but then tragedy struck, and Proctor died suddenly of a heart attack.
It was a joy to know Proctor Hill. Proctor had a sense of humor and a dry wit. He was also very loving and generous and would give you the shirt off his back. Although it might not have been readily apparent to those who did not know him well, Proctor was very tough and had a brave inner spirit.
Our families were friends, and it was first from Proctor that I learned first-hand about The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. I was later to enroll at Sewanee and graduate. We were roommates during Proctor’s senior year. Proctor had a great love for the arts; and I am, therefore, particularly pleased that the University of the South named the new theater in the Tennessee Williams Drama Center after Proctor.
Not many months before Proctor’s untimely death, Proctor and I talked about his dreams and wishes for his estate. Proctor wanted to help the University of the South and also wanted to provide income for St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and the Union County Historical Foundation. He had accumulated a sizeable estate, but he also was the sole beneficiary of Blanche’s estate.
Who could have though that Blanche would outlive Proctor? In the face of unthinkable tragedy, Blanche, blind and 96 years of age, drew upon her own inner courage and made something permanent and very good grow out of tragedy. In order to carry out Proctor’s wishes, she structured, though the Union County Community Foundation, the Proctor Hill Memorial Fund that will provide income for the religious, cultural, and educational entities most dear to Proctor. Another important part of this fund is the Proctor Hill Educational Fund, which will provide scholarships to graduates of El Dorado High School for the University of the South as well as addressing other educational challenges. Now Blanche can send qualifying students to Sewanee in perpetuity just like she sent Proctor many years ago.
It was tough for Blanche to lose her beloved Proctor and Proctor’s many friends miss him very much. It is a comfort to us all that Proctor can continue to be honored and continue to make contributions to the things he loved. This could not have been done without the Union County Community Foundation.
Blanche had a spirit for life and she had a good life. She loved to play golf and was often the country club’s women’s champion. She once said, “The day I put up my clubs I cried and cried . . . I accepted it as part of my life . . . but I just cried and cried.” She was a member of a group of ladies with Mertyl Thelan, Hazel Alphin, and others called the Dirty Dozen, and they had lots of good times together. She loved the races in Hot Springs and she, Gordon, and her mother, Lillie Marsh, spent much time there.
She was a member of the First United Methodist Church, a member of the El Dorado Self-Culture Club, and participated in the Arkansas Pioneers Club, Daughters of the American Revolution, Arkansas Garden Club, Arkansas Society of Colonial Dames of the Seventeenth Century, and the South Arkansas Arts Center.
Blanche loved country food. She kept up the tradition of often eating pig’s feet and cracklin’ bread. She feasted on cornbread, turnip greens, and peas the day she died.
She never lost her zest for life. She loved my red Mustang convertible. She insisted that we put the top down. One day while going to lunch, her hair blowing in the wind, she said with her typical humor, “Let’s just keep going and going and going.”
She came to be a friend of Governor [Jim Guy] Tucker, the grandson of Marshal Guy B. Tucker. At their first meeting, Governor Tucker put his arm around Blanche and asked her, “Blanche, do you promise you don’t have a gun?” They became the first known descendants of the Parnell and Tucker families to have an open exchange about their families’ unique history.
So here we are at the dedication of the beautiful Blanche Wade Memorial Garden. We do so knowing that she took the untimely death of her beloved Proctor later in life not as a defeat, but as inspiration to create a permanent endowment in Proctor’s honor to assure that the Union County Historical Foundation and other good works will have a large endowment today and far into the future.
Let us thank God for the wisdom and the courage of Blanche Parnell Wade and dedicate this beautiful garden in her memory.
Judge Alderson served as Union County Municipal Judge from 1972 to 1991 and as Special Chief Justice of the state supreme court in 1991. He currently resides in El Dorado and serves on the state Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.
“WILDCAT” OVER THERE: A UNION COUNTY DOUGHBOY IN THE 81st “WILDCAT” DIVISION 1917-1919
By Bart Reed
No one who was born and has lived in the twentieth
century has been spared from war, from either the reality or
the constant thought and threat of war. This century has
seen wars fought with ever-increasing ferocity. Perhaps no
other war stirs the emotions more or exerts more lasting
interest than does World War I — the Great War of 1914-18,
the Great War for Civilization. Although a half century has
passed since the Armistice of November 11, 1918, not only in
the memories of the survivors, those who fought and those
who did not fight, but also in the imaginations of those who
were not living at the time, The Great War holds a place of importance which grows stronger as the events of the war
come gradually to belong to a distance in the past which gives
rise to legend and song and poetry, to the tale of the war: the mingling of romance and history into which war has emerged
from the earliest of times.
From George A. Panichas, Promise of Greatness: The War of 1914-1918 (1968)
In my life I have known American veterans who served in the Second World War, Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, and contemporary wars in the Middle East. However, I have known only one veteran of the First World War. This man served in the “Wildcat” 81st Division in France, 1918-1919. He was my grandfather, Frank Lacy Reed, Co. A 306 Military Police, 81st Division, American Expeditionary Force. He was from El Dorado, in Union County, Arkansas.
As a child, from time to time, I would visit my grandmother, Ray Murphy Reed, who lived on North Quaker Street in El Dorado. On many of these visits I would often gaze upward on a back room wall at an oval portrait of green-brownish tint, of my grandfather in his full uniform from World War I. It was an “official” photograph taken perhaps soon after he enlisted. As a ten year old, I knew he was a participant in some huge military event, but it was something faint and far away in time, almost beyond imagination. In later years, after his death in 1959, I became more acquainted with his war artifacts, such as his gas mask, a helmet that did not cover the ears, and a German canteen he managed to bring back home. Many years later, my academic interests in World War I were heightened by an excellent graduate course on the war taught in 1981 by one of my favorite professors, the late Dr. Frank E. Vandiver, then-President of the University of North Texas in Denton. The interest instilled from that graduate course continues and is a factor in the conception of this article.
Frank Lacy Reed’s Enlistment Record testifies that concerning “Battles, engagements, skirmishes, expeditions” he served in the “Occupation of St. Die Sector (defensive) Sept. 22 to Oct. 19, 1918.” The record also states he served in the “Occupation Meuse-Argonne (offensive) November 7 to 11, 1918.” On April 18, 1919, he mailed a “soldier’s mail” postcard from France to his wife Ray and the “homefolks” in El Dorado. It was an official card from the 81st Division and it summarized the division’s actions by stating: “The 81st Division better know as the “Wildcat’s”, is a National Army composed of North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and most States. Arrived in France Aug. 16, 1918. Activities: East of St. Die and Raon-l’Etape sector, Vosges Mts. Sept. 18 to Oct. 19 (brigaded with 20th French Division); Sommedieue sector between Haudiemen works and Benzee-en-Woevre Nov. 7-11, Argonne-Meuse drive, north of Verdun. Insignia: Wildcat of varying color. Selected in the belief that the division could emulate it in its fighting qualities. Which it did.” He signed the card, your “loving husband Frank.”
Training for combat is essential in modern industrialized warfare. According to his official Enlistment Record, Frank L. Reed joined the U.S. Army on October 23, 1917, at El Dorado, Arkansas. He had no prior military service. By October 24, he was assigned to 2nd Co. 312th Supply Train at Camp Pike, Arkansas. This was a mere four months after he was married June 10, 1917. The young bridegroom was off to war before he had been married a year. He was twenty-two years old.
Frank relates in his war journal that he “Transferred from Camp Pike”, a base in Arkansas, “to Camp Jackson” near Columbia, South Carolina, on November 15, 1917. By Dec. 1, 1917, he transferred to 16th Co. for “Special Duty.” He would see his wife, mother and father (James Meek Reed and Eugenia Lacy Reed) and sisters at the family home on Ripley Road while on furlough to El Dorado during Christmas 1917. His wife, Ray, would travel from El Dorado to Columbia, South Carolina in the spring of 1918 to visit him there during his military training. By the time he left for France, she would be expecting their first child.
It had taken six months to build Camp Jackson with construction beginning in June 1917. Just before Christmas 1917, Camp Jackson was a “city” of 1,519 buildings, including theaters, stores, kitchens, barracks, officers’ quarters, training facilities, stables, warehouses, garages, an airfield, roads, bridges, railroads, a reservoir and water lines, sewers, wells, heating plants, and a laundry. The 200 acres of Gill Creek Swamp were also drained. By Dec. 31, 1917, Camp Jackson had 1,501 officers and 40,997 other ranks for a total strength of 42,498. Frank’s hometown, El Dorado, Arkansas, had a population of about 5,000 in 1917.
So, Frank Lacy Reed and the rest of the 81st Division were trained at Camp Jackson. While at Camp Jackson, the 81st was noted throughout the Army for the smart appearance of its men, its efficiency, its splendid drills and excellent discipline. It was held up to other divisions as one of the model divisions. Frank was pleased to have his wife visit him at Camp Jackson before he had to leave for the front.
With basic training completed, Frank writes that he transferred to Camp Sevier May 10, 1918, for about two and half months then went on to Camp Mills. From there he boarded the transport ship Megantic for the trans-Atlantic voyage to Liverpool, England. Without encountering German U-boats, his transport arrived on a Sunday morning, Aug. 11, 1918. He says in his journal that he “Embarked Sunday afternoon Aug. 11, 1918 and hiked to Knotty Ash. Arrived at Mourners Hill, Winchester, England Aug. 12, 1918. Left Winchester Friday p.m. Aug. 16, 1918. Boared (sic) steamer at South Hampton Eng. and crossed English Channel Fri. night Aug. 16, 1918.” This 81st “Wildcat” was approaching the “Western Front”.
The 81st “Wildcat” Division insignia shoulder patch has a unique history. During early involvement in the “Great War” it was not possible to identify an American soldier’s division because his uniform had no distinctive divisional insignia. One account relates: “A military uniform tradition was established at Camp Jackson by the 81st Division. Men of this unit, training on the southeast corner of the reservation near Wildcat Creek, began to wear crude cloth emblems of wildcat heads on their sleeves. The emblem was designed by Corporal Dan Silverman of Company 1, 321st Infantry Regiment.”
Colonel Robert E. Wyllie of the General Staff told it this way in 1918: “The 81st Division showed up at the port of embarkation at Hoboken one fine day last summer with every man wearing the wildcat on his left shoulder. General Shanks, commander of the port, immediately informed Washington army headquarters of the novel distinguishing mark of the Carolina Wildcats and asked if the insignia were authorized to be worn.
Before a reply, which was in the negative, had reached General Shanks the 81st Division had sailed.”
Still another account describes the arrival of the “Wildcat” Division in France:
“In 1918 as divisions were deployed to France for
commitment against the Central Powers, personnel of
the 81st Wildcat Division arrived on French turf
sporting the first shoulder patch worn by any division
in the United States Army. The patch design
consisted of a black wildcat against a circular olive
drab background. The insignia and nickname were
inspired by a tiny stream called Wildcat Creek, which
flowed through Ft. Jackson, SC, the 81st Division
training camp. As quickly as the Wildcat Division
arrived on the European continent, personnel of other
divisions already in France questioned the right of the
81st to distinguish itself in that manner. When the
matter was brought to the attention of General John J.
“Black Jack” Pershing, American Expeditionary Force
(AEF) Commander, he not only authorized the Wildcats
to wear their patch, but encouraged all other divisions to
design a distinctive insignia of their own. Many
interesting and colorful designs emerged. Many had
geographic connections, some had patterns related to
numerical designations and others were modeled after
eventful experiences or important persons.”
With the 81st “Wildcat” Division now in France, Frank recorded in his journal: “Arrived Cherbourg France 1 a.m. Aug.17. Left Cherbourg Sunday 18th and boarded boxcars and arrived at Tonnerre France Aug. 20. Wednesday afternoon Sept 18th hiked from Tonnerre to Ervy. Left Ervy 1 a.m. Sept. 19, arrived Bruyeres 9 p.m. Sept. 19. Left Bruyeres Sept. 23 arrived St. Die Sept. 23, 1918. Left St. Die Sept. 24th. Arrived Raon-Letape Sept. 24, 1918. Left Raon Le Tape by trucks Oct. 26th and arrived at Rambervillers Oct. 26th 1918. Left Rambervillers Sun morning Nov. 1st by truck went through Luneville, Toul, Nancy, St. Mihiel and arrived at Dieue Nov. 3rd 1918.”
Meanwhile, back in El Dorado, Arkansas, a concerned father, James Meek Reed, wrote a letter of encouragement to his only son, Frank, on September 9, 1918:
“Dear Frank, I just received your card that you wrote
when you first landed in England. It seems so strange
to think of my boy being in far off England—and on
his way to the world’s greatest war but we know that
all things work for the good of those who love the Lord
and we know that we are in the right and know that the
Allies will surely win this war and I am going to trust the
Lord to bring my boy back some day. All you can do is
to do your duty and you will surely come out all right.
From all reports we are surely (beating ?) the Germans
now and I hope they will continue the good work until
complete victory is with the Allies. We are all in the
best of health and dead broke so why worry….Well I
will close for this time. Ray seems to be getting along
just fine. (She) has been with us most of the time since
she got back. So don’t worry about her. We will do for
her the best we can. Good by for this time. My heart is
with you and all the brave boys that are fighting the Huns.
I have bought three $50.00 Bonds and $65.00 in war
saving stamps. And intend to buy every time they make a
new drive. Your Dad September 9, 1918.”
On November 6, 1918, the 81st replaced the 35th American Division on the front line. On the night of November 8, they received orders to attack the Germans in the Woevre Plain the next morning. Frank recorded: “81st Boys went over the top Nov. 9th advancing 17 kilometers.” They went up against three German divisions. The Germans had held their positions since early in the war. Their lines were filled with concrete pill boxes and were strong centers of resistance. In addition, the low marshy plain was filled with barbed wire entanglements. There was little artillery barrage preparation for the Wildcat’s attack due to lack of heavy guns and horses for the 75’s. Nonetheless, the enemy was driven back. On November 10, the 81st again attacked and drove the Germans back still farther.
“Firing ceased as agreed by Armistice 11 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918,” said Frank in his Even though word of the Armistice was spreading among the troops during the morning of November 11, the 81st and other American units fought up to the last minute. And the fighting was fierce. It was reported that the 81st Division took the severest blow that morning. One of its regimental commanders had told his men to take cover during the last hours, only to have his order countermanded. With forty minutes left in the war, the troops were ordered to “Advance at once.” The division reported 461 casualties that morning, including sixty-six killed. Frank survived.
After the Armistice, Frank Lacy Reed remained in France with the 81st Division for six months at St. Columbe until May 3, 1919. The troops had long been ready to return home. Frank was finally aboard the ship “Chicago” in Bordeaux, France, on May 25, 1919, on his return trans-Atlantic voyage. As he left the coast of France he remarked: “into the waters and waves of Biscay the most beautiful scenery imaginable.
"5:30 p.m. Just finished supper feeling fine and enjoying the sea breeze from the Bay. Dear God, France is still in sight.” He was coming home at last. On June 11, 1919, he received an Honorable Discharge from the United States Army and was headed to El Dorado, Arkansas, to see his beloved wife and his new four- month old son Frank Jr., for the first time.
As mentioned, Frank kept a brief journal of his military service in World War I. He included places he had seen and friends he had made. One army buddy, Robert E. Kirby, of St. Louis, Missouri, never forgot his wartime friendship with Frank. Kirby’s name and address was among many listed in the journal. Almost forty years after the war, Kirby drove to El Dorado to see Frank on July 15, 1955. It was a mini-81st “Wildcat” reunion.
After the war, several veterans groups were organized in the United States and around the world to commemorate service in World War I. Following the war and until the year of his death in 1959, Frank was a member of at least three such groups: Veterans of World War I of the United States, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, and the American Legion. The Roy V. Kinard American Legion Post Number 10 was named for a young man from El Dorado that lost his life in the last months of the war. In 1962-63, Frank’s wife, Ray Murphy Reed, was elected president of the local Ladies Auxiliary of World War I that boasted forty-nine members.
In the year 2005, the scarce remnants of veterans from around the world who served in the Great War of 1914-1918 have nearly all perished, but I can still recall one young man from El Dorado, Arkansas, who honorably served in the 81st “Wildcat” Division “over there” 1917-1919. On a postcard home to Union County he wrote, “Citizen, father, son, brother, and husband to the ones at home. Oh may the Lord have mercy on us. Love to all for now and always yours, Frank.” He speaks to us still:
“And men will not understand us—for the generation
that grew up before us, though it has passed these years
with us already had a home and a calling; now it will
return to its old occupations, and the war will be
forgotten — and the generation that has grown up after
us will be strange to us and push us aside. We will be
superfluous even to ourselves, we will grow older, a few
will adapt themselves, some others will merely submit,
and most will be bewildered; -- the years will pass by and
in the end we shall fall into ruin.”
From Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet On The Western Front (1929)
Reed, an El Dorado native, teaches at El Dorado High School and is also co-editor of the Journal.
Clark, Walter. “North Carolina in the World War,” Documenting the American South
“Doughboy Center,” www.worldwarI.com.
“81st Division,” www.thedigitalbookshelf.com
Fort Jackson, South Carolina, United States Army Training Center,
“History of the 80th Blue Ridge Division in World War I A.E.F.,”
Keegan, John. The First World War. London: Hutchinson, 1998.
Mead, Gary. The Doughboys: America and the First World War. London: Allen Lane, 2000.
Panichas, George A., ed. Promise of Greatness. New York: John Day, 1968.
Reed, Bart. Personal Papers.
Reed, Frank Lacy. Journal.
Reed, Louis and Jean Reed. Personal Papers.
Reed, Ray Murphy Reed. Personal Papers.
Reed, Walter and Kay Reed. Personal Papers.
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet On The Western Front. Boston: Little, Brown, 1929.
“Wasted Lives On Armistice Day,” www.historynet.com.
THE CHOCTAW TRAIL OF TEARS ACROSS SOUTH ARKANSAS
By Kitty Sloan
Note: This summary was prepared for the Spring 2005 program meeting of the Arkansas chapter of the Trail of Tears Association at Camden’s First United Methodist Church. It was written by Kitty Sloan, chapter president. Ecore Fabre, as Camden was then known, was a significant site on the early Choctaw Trail of Tears during the winters of 1830-31 and 1831-32 where many Choctaws died.
In November 1831, four steamboats loaded with Choctaws left Vicksburg, Mississippi. The passengers were heading to the new Choctaw Nation along the Red River and its tributaries in what is now southeast Oklahoma. Many of them would pass through Washington, Arkansas, getting there by two very different routes. From Washington, they would travel west to Fort Towson and other emigration depots.
Two of the four steamboats traveled north to the Arkansas River. Choctaws wanting to avoid the influences of Christian missionaries would travel along the river all the way to Fort Smith and beyond. Others would head south at Little Rock, taking the Southwest Trail to Washington.
Two of the four steamboats, the Cleopatra, with a reported 600 Choctaws aboard, and the Talma, with 564, traveled south from Vicksburg, heading to the Ouachita River under the supervision of special agent Samuel T. Cross. Their leaders were some of the most prominent men in the Choctaw Nation: George W. Harkins and Joel H. Nail, who both returned to Mississippi to lead other groups west. Also on the Talma was chief Greenwood Leflore, who would return to Mississippi to stay. The Talma also carried a large contingent of Choctaw Methodists. The ship’s captain later commented that “he never saw any people conduct better or appear more devout. They had morning and evening prayers and spent much of their time on board the boat reading and singing hymns.”
Leaving Vicksburg at the same time were about 300 Choctaws heading overland with horses and cattle.
On December 9, 1831, the Cleopatra and the Talma arrived at Ecore Fabre, then the head of steamboat navigation on the Ouachita River. The plan was to continue by wagon to Washington and then Fort Towson.
But the Choctaws refused to proceed without the friends and relatives who were coming overland with the livestock. Concern about these others had prompted frequent stops along the river to inquire of their whereabouts. The weather had turned brutal with temperatures near zero. A Lake Providence, Louisiana, resident named Joseph Kerr, who later wrote two scathing letters critical of removal provisions, said it was the worst weather he had ever seen, with heavy sleet bowing and breaking even large trees. He also observed that most Choctaws were scantily clad.
From Ecore Fabre, Cross and a search party headed back south on the Talma. By the time he found the overland travelers stranded in the Louisiana swamps, these Choctaws had gone six days without food. Many had already died. Cross brought 265 Choctaws and the surviving livestock to what is now Monroe. At about the same time, a larger steamboat, the Walter Scott, with about 250 Choctaws, was stranded there, unable to ascend any further. The Walter Scott passengers, the swamp survivors, and 44 others found along the road were taken north on the Talma.
All of these Choctaws, by now almost 1,800, ended up at Ecore Fabre in December 1831, awaiting the 46 wagons that would take them west. On New Year’s Day 1832, they finally left, reaching Washington in mid-January and two weeks later arriving at the official emigration depot “east of Fort Towson at McCann’s old place on Clear Creek.”
While camped at Ecore Fabre, many more perished. “We have had very bad weather,” tribal leader George W. Harkins wrote on December 28, 1831, in a letter that was later published in the New York Observer. “Since we landed at this place about twenty of Nail’s party have died and still they are continuing to die. Two of my party have died.”
At the time, Elizabeth Nunn, widow of John Nunn, was operating the ferry across the Ouachita at Ecore Fabre. Ferriage payments to her are among the invoices in the removal records. In addition, she sold the government at least five cords of “wood for Indians while at the landing.”
These were to be the last official removal groups to travel the Ouachita River route. Lack of good roads, bridges and ferries through the sparsely-settled region made overland transportation difficult. Plus, there were allegations of price-gouging, with removal agents paying $2 a bushel for corn when it could be purchased elsewhere for 50 cents a bushel. Later government-sponsored groups would take steamboats to Rock Roe on the White River and travel overland from there.
But small, non-government groups continued to travel through Ecore Fabre. Thousands of Choctaws removed themselves independently of U.S. agents in what came to be called commutation groups. Those who did so were promised $10, later $13, to be paid at the end of the journey. These groups often crossed the Mississippi River at Point Chicot and traveled overland through Ecore Fabre.
In fact, Special Agent Cross’s first assignment after leaving Ecore Fabre in January 1832 was to go to Point Chicot to issue “commutation tickets to those Indians who are moving on their own resources.” These travelers were expected to feed themselves by hunting along the way. Many of these groups encountered problems. Now they are also the most difficult to document.
Choctaws had been coming to the Ouachita River basin to hunt and live for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. But earlier American efforts to get the tribal government to move west of the Mississippi River had failed.
In January 1830, however, Mississippi adopted legislation to abolish tribal status within the state. Choctaws pleaded with the federal government to protect their treaty rights. Instead, on May 28, 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. This led to the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, signed by a small group of tribal leaders on September 27, 1830. Even before ratification by the U.S. Senate on February 24, 1831, individual groups of Choctaws began moving west, totaling perhaps as many as 1,000.
The first of these groups left Mississippi in November 1830 and passed through Ecore Fabre, led by Methodist minister and physician Alexander Talley and Thomas Myers, a Methodist schoolteacher and interpreter. They arrived in Fort Towson in February after camping in 42 places and spending five weeks building a ferry to cross the Saline River. Later, the U.S. government refused to reimburse Talley for money he spent to prevent these Choctaws from starving.
In April 1831 a Washington, Arkansas, resident reported through the Arkansas Gazette, “Small parties of Choctaws are almost daily passing through to their country on our west.”
A tribal census in 1830 counted 19,554 Choctaws, including 467 slaves. By 1834, when official removal ended, 12,500 Choctaws were in the West and 6,000 still in Mississippi. But Choctaws would continue to move west for decades. Choctaw Removal spawned numerous congressional investigations and tribal lawsuits, creating documentation that continues to help researchers today.
Sloan is the president of the Arkansas Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association, based in Paragould. The nine-state Trail of Tears Association is a support network for the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail and a clearinghouse for research on the removal involving the five major tribes of the Southeast, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole, in the 1830s. Learn more about the association at www.nationalTOTA.org.
Learn more about Indian Removal Through Arkansas at the website of the American Native Press Archives, University of Arkansas at Little Rock – www.anpa.ualr.edu. ANPA has been collecting Indian Removal documents and posting many of them online. Some of these documents are otherwise available only at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Another important online source is A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. Posted at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/, it is a feature of the American Memory project of the Library of Congress and includes such information as the $10 paid to Elizabeth Nunn for five cords of firewood while the Choctaws were at the Ecore Fabre landing. U. S. Senate Document No. 512 was compiled because of a congressional investigation into possible fraud. It contains many details of the Choctaw Removal through south Arkansas.
The best place to find primary documents relating to Choctaw Removal is the American Native Press Archives at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. ANPA has copied or purchased many records otherwise found only at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Learn more at www.anpa.ualr.edu.
To review the scope of records available, consult Guide to the Records in the National Archives of the United State Relating to American Indians, by Edward E. Hill, National Archives and Records Administration, 1981.
U. S. Senate Document No. 512 was compiled for an 1833 congressional investigation. Find it with other Choctaw documents at www.memory.loc.gov.
Among the secondary sources useful for understanding Choctaw Removal and related activity west of the Mississippi River:
Akers, Donna L. Living in the Land of Death: The Choctaw Nation, 1830-1860. East
Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2004.
Debo, Angela. The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Nation. Norman, OK: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1934.
DeRosier, Arthur H., Jr. The Removal of the Choctaw Indians. Knoxville, TN:
University of Tennessee Press, 1970.
Foreman, Grant. Indians and Pioneers: The Story of the American Southwest Before
1830. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, revised 1936.
__________. Indian Removal. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1932,
Kidwell, Clara Sue and Charles Roberts. The Choctaws: A Critical Bibliography.
Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1961.
Kidwell, Clara Sue. Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818-1918. Norman,
OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
Wiltshire, Betty C., ed. Register of Choctaw Emigrants to the West, 1831 and 1832. n.c.:
Olde Times Publishing Co., 1993.
Wright, Muriel H. “The Removal of the Choctaws to the Indian Territory,” Chronicles of
Oklahoma (June 1928), also available online at http://digital.library.okstate.edu/Chronicles.
Young, Mary Elizabeth. Redskins, Ruffleshirts and Rednecks: Indian Allotments in
Alabama and Mississippi, 1830-1860. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.
THE BRINGING IN OF "BUSEY ONE"
A Poem By Bill Crumpler
On Monday, January ten,
in nineteen twenty-one,
the women, children, dogs, and men
were gathered in the sun
to watch a derrick made of wood
that stood above the ground
in hopes that where that derrick stood
oil would soon be found.
Southwest of El Dorado town
stood "Busey Number One."
Multitudes from miles around
would see what would be done.
With Dr. Busey standing by,
by drillers, rig, and all,
they eyed that derrick in the sky,
so sturdy and so tall.
From half a mile below the ground
they raised the drilling bit.
The bailer was six times let down
through mud and sand and grit.
The clock had reached four-thirty-two.
A rumble rocked the ground,
and all the men who heard it knew
the meaning of the sound.
The drilling crew retreated quick
to safety by the trees.
Their sweat grew heavy, cold, and thick,
and terror shook their knees
when once again from down below
they felt the forest rock.
They braced themselves, the young and
old, preparing for the shock.
Then suddenly, a mighty blast!
A gust of rushing wind!
A bursting forth of oil and gas,
and "Busey One" was in!
A mammoth column filled the sky
above old "Busey One"--
"A gusher!" was the common cry.
The boom had just begun!
Crumpler was born and raised in
Camden and now lives in McKinney, Texas.
South Arkansas History Notes
Historical Society Announces New Website
The South Arkansas Historical Society has established a website, hosted through South Arkansas Community College. The website is a virtual archive of past journal issues and a research tool for both students and historians to research the rich history of the South Arkansas region. The site includes links to museums and historic attractions throughout the region, links to the new Arkansas Encyclopedia of History and Culture, and locations of other museums and sites. In addition, the site provides the articles from previous editions of the South Arkansas Historical Journal. Bound editions and illustrations are still available exclusively to members of the South Arkansas Historical Society.
-- Ken Bridges
In Memoriam: Hazel S. Guyol
Teacher and writer Hazel Sample Guyol passed away on June 14, 2005. Guyol, among her many talents, had been a friend of the South Arkansas Historical Society. She wrote a touching memoir of her experiences in South Arkansas in the 1920s, “Roaring Twenties,” for the first edition of the South Arkansas Historical Journal, published in 2001.
Born in 1910 in El Dorado, she came to know the region intimately in her remarkable life. In 1927, she began her teaching career, which she interrupted only to pursue her own education. She graduated form Ouachita Baptist College (present-day Ouachita Baptist University) in Arkadelphia in 1931 and proceeded to earn a masters degree at Ohio State University.
Her teaching career took her to Paris, Blytheville, Pratt Lease, and then to Columbus, Ohio; Norris, Tennessee; Concord, New Hampshire; and Dearborn, Michigan. Along the way, she married Philip Nelson Guyol, a marriage which produced a son and a daughter. The Guyols retired to Arkadelphia in 1973.
She wrote articles extensively, with publications in The New York City Tribune, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkadelphia Siftings-Herald, El Dorado News-Times, and Pine Bluff Commercial. Several of her articles were compiled into a book in 1995, Wrecking Crews-Salvage Squad. She continued publishing articles just weeks before her death at age 95.
-- Ken Bridges, compiled from El Dorado News-Times
South Arkansas Historical Society
John and Jennifer Baine
Peter G. Buletza
Maylon T. Rice
Lance L. Larey
Worth O. Camp
Jack and Janet Ryan
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Arkansas State Library
Warren Branch Library
Clark County Historical Association
Ouachita Baptist University Library
Mr. and Mrs. John G. Ragsdale
A special thanks to our members and the South Arkansas Historical Foundation for their support in preserving the history of South Arkansas.
South Arkansas Historical Journal
VOLUME 6 FALL 2006
Published by the South Arkansas Historical Society
John G. Ragsdale
John B. Abbott
Bob Lee Rimmer
El Dorado News-Times
El Dorado Water Utilities
South Arkansas Community College
South Arkansas Historical Foundation
South Arkansas Historical Society
P. O. Box 10201
El Dorado, Arkansas 71730-0201
South Arkansas Historical Journal
VOLUME 6 FALL 2006
Published by the South Arkansas Historical Society
From the Editors:
This issue of the South Arkansas Historical Journal features an article of architectural history by the venerable El Dorado architect John B. Abbott. His legacy remains in numerous buildings and structures still in use in El Dorado and across South Arkansas. There are plans for additional articles by Mr. Abbott in future issues.
Also, a Civil War article by David Sesser describes the clothing used by Confederate troops in Arkansas during the War Between the States. And in a timely article, as water issues have proven of high public interest lately, an article on the history of the El Dorado Water Company is included by David Holmes, Bob Lee Rimmer, and Worth Camp. The El Dorado Boy’s Club and a long-time employee, Cecil Kellum, is included in an article prepared by SouthArk student David Wood.
Our sixth edition also includes tributes to the Journal’s founder, Mr. John G. Ragsdale, and in remembrance of the late educator, Dr. Ben Whitfield. We hope you enjoy these remembrances of people and events of the past.
Cover Photograph: Royal Crown Cola Building on South Madison in El Dorado, circa 1950. The building was designed by John B. Abbott. Photograph courtesy of John B. Abbott.
The South Arkansas Historical Journal, established in 2001, is an annual publication of the South Arkansas Historical Society made possible through the generous support of members and the South Arkansas Historical Foundation.
South Arkansas Historical Journal
VOLUME 6 FALL 2006
Editors’ Note ……………………………………………………..…………2
A Survey of Architecture in Union County, From the Mid-1800s to World
By John B. Abbott…………………………………………..………..4
Clothing Confederate Arkansas
By David Sesser………………………………………………….…14
Water, Water Everywhere: A History of the El Dorado Water Company
By Bob Lee Rimmer, Glenn Holmes, and Worth Camp…………...21
A Living Tribute to the Journal’s Founder: John G. Ragsdale
By Phil Ballard……………………………………………………...27
Cecil Kellum: A Place in Time, The El Dorado Boy’s Club
By David Wood……………………………………………………...28
South Arkansas History Notes………………………………………….…32
South Arkansas Historical Society……………………………………..…34
A SURVEY OF ARCHITECTURE IN UNION COUNTY, FROM THE MID-1800s TO WORLD WAR I
By John B. Abbott
Note: This is the first article of a three-part series on the development of architecture in Union County. The second and third articles will describe architectural changes in the county from World War I to 1950.
It is the purpose of this article to trace the development of architecture in Union County and show how economic, social, legal, environmental, and scientific discoveries influenced its development. It is not intended to be an exhaustive and complete history of the buildings but rather an overview of architectural trends and transitions. Various buildings will be used to illustrate a point or type of architecture, and the person or persons responsible for designing the buildings will be identified, if known to the compiler.
NATIVE AMERICANS AS ARCHITECTS
By the mid-1850s, the white settlers were just beginning to come into Union County. Prior to that time, it had been populated mostly by Native Americans and a few trappers. The Indians were pretty good architects. They used materials which were available at their sites to build teepees for their homes as well as larger buildings for ceremonies and worship. The teepees were usually built by standing slender poles cut from the surrounding forest, with the base of the poles in a large circle and the tops of the poles tied together in a bundle with ties made of vines or skins. This framework was covered with skins from the deer, bears, and other animals they had killed. They left a flap, which could be opened and closed for an entrance. A fire pit was dug in the center of the teepee where they would build a fire. They did not close the top of the teepee, leaving space for the smoke to exit. By opening and closing the entrance flap, they could control the draft, making the teepee draw like a fireplace. They also used caves for shelter, where available.
Their ceremony and religious buildings were a little more elaborate. They usually were square or rectangular with walls and roof made of poles and covered with brush to keep out the weather.
EARLY TRAPPERS AND SETTLERS
The early trappers built temporary lean-to shelters of slanting poles and brush. More permanent shelters were built of poles and brush. These shelters had dirt floors. They also built log cabins when they expected to stay for a period of time.
The early settlers who began to come into Union County by the 1840s built homes of logs. They were usually built with squared up hewn logs for the foundation, with the upper part being constructed of round or hewn logs. If the house was to have a wood floor rather than a dirt floor, the foundation logs were set on piers of rock or wood; and the floor framing between was made of poles or hewn beams with crude floor planks cut with a broad axe. Many of these homes were “dog-trot” houses in which two rooms, known as pens, were placed opposite each other with an open hallway between them. The two pens and the hallway were covered with a pitched roof. Such homes were usually placed so as to benefit from the prevailing breeze to provide natural “air conditioning” through the breezeway.
Later homes built generally in the last half of the 17th century were of two general types. Most people lived in a simple one-story rectangular structure, built of logs and later with sawn lumber as the sawmills moved into Union County. These houses usually had a long porch, the full length of the house, with a gabled roof over the house and porch. They were built similar to the houses the settlers had left in the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and elsewhere. A few of the more affluent settlers built more elaborate homes, usually with two stories; some were brick and others post and beam braced frame with clapboard siding. These homes were usually Greek revival or Georgian colonial in style, similar to the homes their owners had left on the east coast.
From about 1790 until World War I, many houses were built in the Victorian style, usually two-story frame structures with wood siding, steep gabled roofs, and galleries and porches decorated with ornamental wooden bric-a-brac, some quite elaborate. Some local examples of these houses (not intended to be a complete list) are as follows.
HEWN AND ROUND LOG CABINS
Very few, if any, of these houses exist in Union County today. The last one I remember was at Mt Holly. Colin L. McRae’s home was a two-pen “dog trot house” about a half-mile from the present post office at Mt. Holly. The dog trot was later closed in and the hewn logs covered with siding until some time in the 1990s when the house was dismantled, removed to the Fort Smith area, and re-assembled by a McRae descendent. This house contributed greatly to the history of Mt. Holly and Arkansas. The Mt. Holly Presbyterian Church was organized at the house, and it served as the meeting place in its early days. In addition, Arkansas’ distinguished governor, Thomas C. McRae, was born and raised here. The late Dr. Ralph Hale, a well known Methodist minister in South Arkansas, had a lifelong interest in the preservation of log and other pioneer buildings of the area. During his lifetime, he searched this area and collected many examples of these buildings, including homes, a school house, and barns. He had some fifteen or more of them disassembled and reassembled at his family home farm at Cullendale (South Camden).
EARLY COUNTRY FARM HOUSES
The Ragsdale House on Midway Road about two miles south of Highway 82 in western Union County is an example of the early country home that followed the log cabin. This house is still standing. One of the Ragsdale descendants, John G. Ragsdale of El Dorado, is working to restore this building. John Robert Ragsdale built the original house in 1898. It was a two-pen dogtrot frame house. John Robert left Union County before 1903, heading west. William Franklin Ragsdale, his brother, took over the house, added several rooms, closing the dogtrot, and added some Victorian trim. William Franklin is the father of Judge J. G. Ragsdale, a well-known attorney of El Dorado and the grandfather of John and Bob Ragsdale of El Dorado. Sadie Ragsdale Primm, sister of John Robert and William Franklin, lived in the house from 1926 until 1969. It is now vacant.
GREEK REVIVAL HOUSES
THE JOHN NEWTON HOUSE: John Newton, an early settler who became quite prominent in the affairs of the area, built this house in the 1840s on the site where the Murphy Oil building stands. It was moved a few hundred feet in the early 1900s to a site on North Jefferson Street to make room for the construction of the Rufus Napoleon Garrett house. This is a good example of a post and beam braced frame two-story Greek revival home. It has been restored by the Union County Historical Society.
I researched the history of this building to determine, as closely as possible, its original plan. I then prepared plans for the restoration which were done under my observation. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A Dr. Purifoy, who came to El Dorado from Chidester in Ouachita County, lived in the house a
THE B. W. REEVES HOME: The only brick and masonry homes I recall in El Dorado before World War I are the B. W. Reeves home and the Rufus Napoleon Garrett home. .Mr. B. W. Reeves selected the center of the block formed by Oak, Washington, Elm, and Cleveland streets as the site of his home. It was a fine two-story brick home facing east, with a two-story portico about half as wide as the house in the center of the east façade. Mr. Reeves and his wife raised their family in this house. It was demolished some time after World War II to make room for a parking lot.
THE B. W. REEVES DEPARTMENT STORE: As a young man, Mr. Reeves opened a general store in a brick building at the corner of Washington and Elm Streets in El Dorado about 1880. He handled dry goods and general merchandise and staples a farm family would need. Much of his merchandise was shipped up the Ouachita River to Camden, where it was transported to El Dorado by wagon. In the early 1920’s, during the Oil Boom, the Reeves Store was said to be the largest distributor of Stetson Hats in the country. The store remained a family business until it closed around 1975. It was operated for many years by a son, Harry Bryant Reeves; and after he retired, a grandson, Thomas Reeves, managed the store until it closed. The Reeves family was also involved in the Banking Business in El Dorado through the National Bank of Commerce, now Simmons First.
B.W. REEVES STORE BUILDING: This building was typical of the brick store buildings being built in the late 1800s until World War I. It was about 40 to 50 feet wide with a row of wood columns down the center, dividing the space into two areas. I remember that the north half of the building was for ladies’ items, dry goods, sewing supplies, shoes, and so forth; and the south side was the men’s department with suits, pants, hats, shirts, and so forth. The brick building faced the east side on the square. As I remember it in the 1930s, the front consisted of two cast iron or steel columns supporting cast iron or steel beams, which supported a decorative brick wall above. A brick gable rose from this wall at the center, and the brick was laid in recessed panels with brick corbels at the top and some dividing pilasters between panels. There was a sheet iron awning across the entire front. Glass show windows were across the front in which merchandise was displayed. About fifteen or twenty years ago, the building was converted into offices. The exterior was faced with new red brick. The only thing that reminds one of the old building is the brick panels and corbels, which are similar to the original building.
Mr. Reeves was prominent in many community affairs, having served on the school board, a committee to build the present court house, and many other activities.
RUFUS NAPOLEON GARRETT HOUSE: Mr. Garrett was an early settler in El Dorado. He became involved in banking and other interests. Mr. Garrett built a large two-story brick Colonial house with two-story columns across the front on Peach Street between Jefferson and Jackson Streets. The house was in the center of the block and faced south. This is the same site where the John Newton House, mentioned earlier, was built and later moved nearby to Jackson Street. About 1960, the house was severely damaged by fire. It was soon torn down to make room for the Murphy Oil Company headquarters building.
THE GARRETT HOTEL: Mr. R. N. Garrett built the hotel at the northwest corner of Washington and Cedar Streets, probably before 1900. This was a two-story and basement brick building. It was built as a hotel and served as such through World War I, the Oil Boom, and the Depression. Many fortunes were made and lost with deals made at the Garrett during the Oil Boom. Those old walls could have told many interesting and unbelievable stories. The hotel was demolished after World War II to make room for expansion of the First National Bank, now BancorpSouth.
VICTORIAN HOUSE ON PEACH STREET: A good example of a Victorian house of this period is on the North side of Church Street where Jackson Street dead-ends into Church Street. This house was probably built in the 1880’s. It is still being used as rental property. It was made into several small apartments.
THE DR. R. W. WILLIAMS HOUSE: Dr. R. W. Williams, a veterinarian, built a large Georgian Colonial house in the east part of the County, in the Hillsboro community, probably, before 1900. In the 1930s, it was dismantled, the parts being moved to El Dorado where it was re-erected at the top of a hill on the south side of Business 82, just after the highway crosses under the railroad trestle going east. The house is two stories high with high ceilings. It is built of red brick on frame construction. A porch extends across the entire east front, the roof of which is supported by square red brick columns two stories tall across the entire front. The work of re-building the house was done under the advice and direction of J. Cheshire Peyton, a Shreveport architect who was related to the Williams Family. Mr. Peyton spent about a year in El Dorado in the early 1840s, working in the engineering department of McGraw Construction Company, which had the contract to design and build a plant at the Lion Oil Refinery for the government to make a component for synthetic rubber.
EARLY BRICK SCHOOL AND STORE BUILDINGS
The El Dorado School district built two masonry school buildings in the early part of the 20th century. The design of these buildings was apparently influenced by buildings in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama, from where most of the settlers of that time came.
EL DORADO PUBLIC SCHOOL: Known as the Junior College Building, this is a three-story building with full basement built in the center of the block formed by South West Avenue, Block Street, Summit Street, and Wesson Street. It was built in 1905. The school board appointed a committee headed by B. W. Reeves to begin planning for a new brick school house .The building was built in 1905. The corner stone shows the following: “El Dorado Public School - Erected 1905 - J.F. Hanson, Builder. Building Committee: J. M. Sheppard, B. W. Reeves, and C. P. McHenry.”
The design of the building is generally square, with a wide hall down the center. Entrance is into the hallway from a one-story portico about as wide as the hall, on both the north side and the south side. Columns on each side of the portico support a balustrade entablature above the double entrance doors. A balustrade to match the ones above the entrance doors was around the building at the roofline when originally built. The balustrades at the roofline were reminiscent of many English renaissance buildings. It has disappeared over the years, probably for maintenance reasons. The building has been altered and restored, particularly on the inside, but it retains its grandeur—ornamental pressed steel ceilings in most areas, beautiful staircases with balustrades, tall doors with transoms over and much of the original wood floors. The floor space, except for the halls, has been re-arranged to suit the needs of the administrative staff and faculty of South Arkansas Community College. It was necessary to install an elevator serving the basement and the three floors and a ramp at the west entrance to meet handicapped persons access requirements.
The members of this building committee were long time leaders of the community and many of their descendants still live in and contribute to El Dorado’s needs. El Dorado should be proud of the fine old building, for what it is and for what it represents.
SMITH AVENUE SCHOOL: This building was built about 1908 by the El Dorado School District. It was built in the center of a block bounded by Smith Avenue, Block, Lee, and Wesson Streets. It was originally known as Smith Avenue School and later as Retta Brown School until another Retta Brown school was built. It was a two-story solid brick building similar to the 1905 building, but not as large or decorative. It was square with a corridor through the center with stairways to the upper floor. The building was torn down about 1975 to make room for a school bus parking lot and repair shop.
THE HALL DRUG STORE AND NEW YORK STORE: The Reeves building was typical of one-story buildings in the period from the late 1800s to World War I. At least two two-story buildings of this age and type are still standing on the Court House Square in El Dorado, the former Hall Drugstore building and the former New York Store building. Mr. Lewis owned and operated the New York Store for many years. It was a popular place for the women of El Dorado to purchase the latest in female finery. The corner half of the lower floor is now occupied by a branch office of Timberland Bank. - Usually, the two-story buildings had retail shops on the ground floor and office space on the upper floor.
EARLY CHURCHES AND SCHOOLS
The Rev. Aaron Williams, a domestic missionary and state evangelist of Arkansas, organized THE MOUNT HOLLY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH on May 14, 1845, at the private home of Colin L. McRae, popularly known as “Squire McRae.” This historic house was described earlier in the log cabins section of this article. This home was situated on the Spring Hill Road about half a mile west of the present post office (2006). Fourteen persons joined in this original band to worship the God of their fathers, all of them in seven families, five of these in this neighborhood and two in the central and eastern portions of Union County. The name chosen was “McRae Church.” The first families represented in the membership were those of Christopher McRae, Colin L. McRae, Edward W. Wright, Charles Chester, and Samuel L. D. Strain, of the Mount Holly neighborhood as well as John R. Hampton from near El Dorado and George A. Phifer from the eastern portion of the county. They were received by letter. It is said that Mr. Hampton gave El Dorado its name. They had no regular place to worship, so meetings were held in their various homes until they built a small log cabin on a ridge just east of Rhinehart’s mill site, about a mile down the creek (north) from where the Mt. Holly-Smackover Road crosses Beech Creek. This log building was probably on the west side of the Silver Hill Church Loop with Rinehart’s Mill on the creek a little farther west. This building must have been in place by 1846-1847, as at that time, the Rev. W. S. Lacy was preaching there. The Rev. Mr. Lacy came from Missouri and settled in El Dorado, where he was very active in the El Dorado Presbyterian Church as well as Mount Holly and many other small churches in the County. He is buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery on South Washington Street in El Dorado.
The third place of worship, and the second building, was a log house probably near Mr. Dick Payne’s place. Capt. A. C. Jones, a Confederate veteran, erected a new church building in 1879. This was typical of the wood frame church buildings the settlers had left back east. The building was one big rectangular room with a high-pitched gabled roof. A steeple sat on top at the front. The entrance door was protected from the weather by a gabled portico supported by two wood columns. The building was painted white. It is said to have had a separate balcony at the back for the African-American members of the church.
This building served from 1879 until 1957 when a new red brick veneer church with Sunday School rooms was dedicated on the site of the old white wood-framed building. It is said that they were “replacing the deteriorating building, bringing it up to the standard of modern homes of the members.”
The homes in the Mount Holly area in 1957 were generally modest cottages of Craftsman or Ranch style, one story, mostly frame construction, with some being brick veneer.
BETHEL METHODIST CHURCH: This building is about three miles south of Mt. Holly on the east side of Highway 57. A large well kept cemetery adjoins the building. The building is still standing, but it is in a bad state of repair. It follows the same general plan as so many of the rural churches built in the South in the last half of the 19 century. It is a one-room rectangular building with a high-pitched roof, gabled at both ends, and a small steeple tower on top. The double front doors are protected by a gabled wood portico supported by wood columns. It was painted white.
PLEASANT HILL METHODIST CHURCH: This church was on the south side of the road from Wesson to Highway 15. The first church building was probably built before the Civil War. It was said to be a simple, small, frame structure. It is said that the second church building was built about 1880. Capt. A. C. Jones, a Confederate veteran, is thought to have built been the builder. He is the one who built the Mount Holly Presbyterian Church building about the same time. It was very similar to the Mount Holly building. I remember seeing both buildings. The building has been gone for many years. There is a nice well-kept cemetery at the site. Many old settlers of the area are buried here. There are several generations of the Cameron and Brown families as well as others buried at this cemetery. Mr. Charles D. Cameron , who grew up nearby, has been responsible for the care and maintenance of the cemetery for the past thirty or so years. Before that Charles’s father saw to this project.
THE MT. HOLLY ACADEMY: The Rev. J. M. Hoge founded the Academy in 1848. A building of hewn logs was built to house the Academy on the ground just east of the home of Richard E. Payne. Desks were crudely constructed. Seats were made by cutting blocks of wood of logs about 15 inches in diameter of varying heights to fit the children. A notch was cut in the back of the block in which a plank was fitted to a slant and securely nailed thereto for a back.
In summary, architecture in Union County, Arkansas, before World War I was simple and practical, built from local materials for the most part, and designed to meet the necessities of first the Native Americans and later the European settlers who moved here. Only a small number of wealthy individuals could afford more elaborate buildings for their homes and businesses, but some communities pooled their resources to build substantial schools, churches, and public buildings—a few of which still exist today as reminders that life was hard and resources scarce in the early history of our county. Much of the early architecture has been lost to the ravages of time or the wheels of progress.
Note: Most of the data about the Mt. Holly Presbyterian Church and Mt. Holly Academy is from A History of Mt. Holly Presbyterian Church 1845 – 1975 by Rev. J. W. Marshall and Mrs. Walter F. Smith.
John B. Abbott is a local architect who was born in El Dorado and spent almost 50 years designing local buildings. His father was El Dorado’s superintendent of schools for five years and then moved his family to Camden in 1914 and later to Paragould and then to Little Rock, where Mr. Abbott finished his public education as part of the first graduating class at Central High School in 1927. He received his training in architecture at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and then returned to El Dorado in 1936 to start his own architectural firm with an office in the Lion Oil Building downtown. During his career, he designed or re-designed almost every school building in Union County. He still owns an interest in CADM Architects but has not worked full-time with the firm since 1980.
CLOTHING CONFEDERATE ARKANSAS
By David Sesser
When studying the military operations of the Civil War, the area of quartermaster and clothing issues always plays a major part in explaining why the Confederacy lost the war. The popular line of thought follows post war exaggerations of the lack of even the most basic items of clothing, creating the myth of the “ragged rebel” who valiantly held off the hordes of Northern invaders for four years before finally succumbing. But, by examining period photographs, quartermaster reports, journals and letters, as well as other primary sources, it can be determined that actually the Confederate quartermaster system was extremely effective and supplied troops until the very end of the war. By focusing on one state, it becomes easier to see how the quartermaster system came into being at the beginning of the war and grew until it rivaled the U.S. Army’s own quartermaster system, on which it was based.
In Arkansas, troops stationed in the state, as well as Arkansans were supplied by manufacturing centers in the state. As the war progressed and Little Rock fell, troops began to receive clothing from other depots in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. Troops in Arkansas and from the state were well supplied throughout the war, contrary to popular belief. This is especially true in southern Arkansas, as troops were stationed there throughout the war and launched several attacks, as well as defended Arkansas and northern Louisiana. Without the steady stream of well made and numerous garments and other equipment, southern Arkansas would have been abandoned and the entire state would have fallen under Union control.
With the start of the American Civil War in 1861, the newly formed Confederate States of America faced two major challenges: organizing a civil government and infrastructure, while at the same time mobilizing for war without an existing military. After creating an army, the second most important component of mobilizing the military is the clothing of troops in the field. This mission fell to the newly created Confederate Quartermaster Department. Not only did they have to issue the uniforms, the department was responsible for the manufacture of them and even the procurement of the raw materials that went into the construction.
In the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederacy, the quartermaster system met this overwhelming task head on, accomplishing it to the best of its abilities. The actual accomplishments of the department are greater than could have ever been imagined and are much greater than popular thought.(1) Overall, the Confederate Quartermaster Department in the Trans-Mississippi Department of Arkansas was a well managed and effective operation that surpassed expectations. It produced enough clothing to adequately outfit the Confederate troops who fell under its jurisdiction throughout the war, and it came realistically close to meeting the standards set forth by the Confederate War Department. The department only ceased operation once it was captured, but Arkansas troops and other troops stationed in Arkansas were continually supplied throughout the rest of the war by other Trans-Mississippi depots. Clothing issues in southern Arkansas were particularly important, especially during the Camden Campaign of 1864.
The first uniforms the troops had when they entered Confederate service were simply the civilian clothes that they had on when they reported for duty. Some pre-existing militia units in the South also wore the uniforms of the previous organizations when they reported for service.(2)
In some regiments, each company had a different uniform. For instance, when the
6th Arkansas Infantry was organized in June 1861, all ten companies wore different uniforms. Company A, the “Capital Guards,” wore gray nine-button shell jackets with red trim, duck trousers, and gray forage caps. Company H, the “City Guards” from Camden, wore gray shell jackets, pants trimmed in red, and glazed Mexican War era caps.
Company K, the “Ouachita Greys,” wore grey shell jackets and pants trimmed in green with glazed caps.(3) Texas, Missouri, and Louisiana units all faced the same type of problems with uniformity. The Confederate national government soon devised a short- term solution to the clothing problem it was facing by placing a “commutation” system into effect. Under this system, the Confederate War Department paid each soldier an allowance of $25 a year and each individual soldier was responsible for purchasing his own uniform and other clothing. This system lasted until the summer of 1861, when the Arkansas Military Board transferred its units to Confederate command. Now that the units were under national control, supply issues were passed on to the Confederate War Department. At this time, it was decided by the War Department that each state would begin to furnish its regiments with uniforms and other clothing. The state would then
receive the $25 that was originally appropriated for each individual soldier.(4) This system would not only provide for the troops; it also avoided creating large stockpiles of clothing that would be very expensive to the national government and completely worthless if the war were to come to a quick end.
A Confederate congressional committee was assigned the task of determining what the actual uniform issued by the War Department would look like. The regulation uniform was based on an example worn by the Austrian Army in the 1850s. The tunic consisted of a double breasted gray tunic for all ranks, with seven buttons in each row. It was to have pointed cuffs and a standing collar, all to be trimmed in the branch color. Sashes were to be worn by all officers, commissioned and non-commissioned alike. Light blue trousers were to be worn by enlisted men and regimental officers, while dark blue trousers would be worn by senior officers. A shako was originally adopted as a cover but was soon replaced by a kepi, a short crowned cap. Buttons were to indicate each man’s service branch, and stars, bars, and braid would indicate commissioned rank. The same chevron system of the United States Army was used for non-commissioned rank as well.
These regulations remained unchanged until the end of the war except for the replacement of the tunic in favor of a longer skirt, transforming the item into a frock coat.(5)
At this time, the only clothing factory in the entire state was at Nashville in
Howard County. For several months, the Military Board sent circulars to each county asking for clothing to be sent to the troops in the field. Civilians made new pieces of clothing or gathered up old clothes which were no longer used. Each county judge, clerk, or sheriff collected the clothing and the Board paid for it with Arkansas State or
Confederate bonds.(6) While this system was being used, the Military Board set up a manufacturing center for making uniforms and accoutrements. In Arkansas, the manufacturing center was established at the Arkansas State Penitentiary in Little Rock where the present-day State Capitol now stands. Production began immediately and the department was soon able to report its accomplishments to the state Legislature.
On November 18, 1861, it was reported that the penitentiary produced 3,000 complete uniforms, as well as 8,000 pairs of shoes, 500 drums, 200 tents, 600 knapsacks, and 500 cartridge boxes.(7)
The uniforms produced at the Little Rock workshop can be studied through pictures and by examining the one surviving sample. The uniform consisted of a grey frock coat, trousers, and a forage cap, which were all constructed from jean-cloth. The frock coat had either an eight or nine button front, with dark blue trim on the collar and sometimes the cuffs.(8)
The Little Rock Manufacturing center supplied all of Arkansas’ troops during the first two years of the war, regardless of where the troops were stationed. Some of the first uniforms were sent to Virginia to clothe the 1st Arkansas Infantry. Clothing was also issued from the Little Rock Department to the troops from other states who were stationed in Arkansas. For instance, Texas units stationed at Arkansas Post and Fort Hindman drew clothing from Little Rock.(9)
By September 1861, the Confederate government set up a Quartermaster Department in Richmond, Virginia, which in turn set up a Clothing Bureau to actually manufacture uniforms. Major manufacturing depots were set up throughout the south and specifically in the Trans-Mississippi, Monroe, Shreveport, Louisiana; Houston, San
Antonio, and Austin, Texas; and Little Rock, Arkansas, were established as depots. These depots were operated differently than those run by the states. Instead of prisoners sewing uniforms, tailors cut pieces of uniforms and would send them out as bundles for local seamstresses to sew together for a fee when the completed garment was returned. This system was based on a similar system used at the U.S. Army’s primary clothing depot at Schuylkill, New York.(10)
This system began producing all kinds of clothing for issuance to the troops in the field. Short jackets were the most popular type that was manufactured. Overshirts and jackets were made throughout the depots in Louisiana, while the depots in Texas manufactured several kinds of jackets. Some of the clothing produced in Texas used cloth that was run through the blockade or by bringing European goods through Mexico. In the fall of 1862, the Confederate Quartermaster in charge of the Houston Depot, Captain
Edward C. Wharton, received 12,000 yards of coarse grey cloth through the blockade.(11) He used this cloth through the rest of the war as he received shipments on a regular basis.(12)
The uniform that was produced at the Houston Depot was called a “winter” uniform. It consisted of a short jacket, cap, and trousers. The jacket was single breasted with seven buttons, made of cadet grey cloth and sewn with flax thread. The sleeve lining was made of bleached domestic, while the body lining and the pockets were made of unbleached domestic. This lining was usually woven cotton material from the Huntsville Penitentiary. The jackets also had colored facings on their collar and cuffs. These colors, blue, red, and yellow, stood for Infantry, Artillery, and Cavalry, respectively.(13)
Several different buttons were used on the jackets. Two different English and
Irish imported buttons have been identified as being on Houston jackets, as well as quite a few locally made buttons. Chevrons were made using worsted binding and were issued to non-commissioned officers for wear.(14)
Trousers were also constructed at the Depot for issue to the troops. When available, Huntsville Penitentiary cloth was used in the manufacture of the “trowsers.” This was done to save the more expensive and durable cloth for use in the manufacture of jackets. Cavalry trousers were reinforced in the seat and legs to provide extra durability. The trousers had five buttons and were sewn with flax thread like the jackets. The pockets and waistband were made out of unbleached domestic. A cloth belt and buckle were added to the back of the trousers to expand and constrict the waistband. Stripes in branch service colors were sometimes added to the outside of the legs.(15)
Caps were usually constructed to top off the outfit. They were made out of scraps of the cadet grey cloth left from the construction of the jackets. A narrow band at the base of the cap indicated the branch of service of the wearer. Bleached domestic was used for the lining and plain leather visors were added. Sometimes chinstraps were added, more than likely not.(16) Caps were made out of necessity as wool hats, which were much preferred by the troops and Wharton, were unavailable for most of the war.
The Houston Depot also provided shoes for troops in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. Starting in December 1862, Wharton began producing shoes using locally collected leather. Two main types of shoes were produced, “soldier’s shoes” and “ brogans.” Calf hides were used for the uppers and mature hides were used for the soles.
This cut down on the weight of the shoe, as well as increasing its life. Wharton also contracted local shoemakers to produce shoes for the army.(17)
While the Confederate Quartermaster system produced large amounts of clothing and shoes on its own, the continued commerce with England through the blockade opened another source to supply the troops. In the fall of 1863 alone, 2400 jackets and 2916 pairs of trousers came through the blockade and were sent to Houston to be distributed to the troops in the field. In 1864, the Peter Tait Company of Limerick, Ireland sent 10,000 “Suits Infantry Uniforms” to Texas. Buttons used exclusively by the Tait Company have been found at several different Trans-Mississippi sites. 5525 other sets of uniforms were brought through the blockade by the same ships, but it is unsure if these were manufactured by the Tait Company.(18) Shirts were also run through the blockade, as were drawers. Some shirts are believed to be British Army issue clothing.(19) Shoes of English manufacture were also brought through the blockade and issued to troops in the Trans-Mississippi. They were usually British Army shoes that were made by the same companies that supplied the British Army.(20) The shoes arrived in Texas beginning in 1863 and continued throughout the war. In addition, shoes were obtained from Mexico when other sources were dep1eted and from Northern manufacturers.(21) A small number of cavalry boots were also brought through the blockade and issued to the men.(22)
The Houston Depot carried on the mission of the Little Rock Depot of supplying the Arkansas troops in the field. Not only did the staff and men of the Depot go to great lengths to obtain supplies and clothing, they made them in great enough numbers that the troops in the field were adequately supplied. A study of one year’s clothing returns supports this claim. From January 1, 1863 to January 30, 1864, troops in the Trans-Mississippi Theater, which included Texas, Arkansas, western Louisiana, and the Indian Territory were issued the following: 20,925 jackets, 13,691 caps and hats, 40,293 pairs of trousers, 39,407 shirts, 35,057 pairs of drawers, and 43,657 pairs of shoes. Troops from Arkansas were serving in all of these areas at the time and countless troops from other states were serving in Arkansas at the time. The 3rd “Arizona” Texas Cavalry received new uniforms at Holly, Arkansas, in the winter of 1862-1863. These uniforms meet the descriptions of the uniforms manufactured at the Houston Depot. Sketches also show that in Louisiana in 1863, the 3rd as well as its sister units, were uniforms that match those made at the Houston Depot. (23) It is thus likely that other troops who were stationed in Arkansas and Louisiana at this time were also issued clothing made at the Depot. Arkansas units were at this time drawing clothing from Confederate Quartermasters and thus were likely to get clothing from Houston.
Houston Depot clothing was also sent throughout the Trans-Mississippi Theater for issue. These shipments were issued at Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana, as well as throughout Texas.(24) In 1864, Churchill’s Arkansas Division stopped in Shreveport for several days before engaging Nathaniel Banks’s army at Pleasant Hill. While resting in Shreveport, the entire division was outfitted with clothing from the Shreveport Depot. Uniforms constructed at Houston were issued through Shreveport. Churchill’s entire division had around 3500 men present for duty at the time, and if all enlisted men as well as some of the officers received clothing then the depot system was extremely efficient. The system was able to handle the normal amount of troops that would be stationed in the area, as well as Churchill’s division and two other Confederate divisions that passed through the area at the same time.
With this information, it is almost certain that Churchill’s division, as well as the other units in the area were clothed in a majority of Houston Depot manufactured clothing. This is especially important to southern Arkansas, as Churchill’s division was
resupplied and engaged in the repulse of General Nathaniel Banks during the Red River Campaign. After the Battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, these Confederate units reentered the state and engaged General Steele at the Battle of Jenkins Ferry. Without the uniforms and other equipment that these units received from the Houston Depot, it is unlikely that they would be in any shape to engage two enemy forces in the field over a period of more than a month, as they did. Without this supply of clothing, the Union forces would have been more likely to withdraw back to Little Rock without fear of meeting a large Confederate force in open battle.
All of the clothing that was produced throughout the war and was issued to Arkansas troops and to other troops stationed in Arkansas met or exceeded the Confederate regulations. The clothing in the Trans-Mississippi theater during the Civil War, especially the clothing issued to Arkansas troops and the troops in southern Arkansas, was in large enough numbers and of superior quality, significantly influencing the war in Arkansas.
1. W.W. Blackford, War Years with J.E.B. Stuart (New York, 1945) p.99; Leslie D.
Jensen, “A Survey of Confederate Central Government Issue Jackets, Parts I, II, and III,” Military Collector & Historian (Fall and Winter 1989): pp.1-7.
2. “Photograph of Company H, 3rd Regiment of Arkansas State Troops as they are
mustered in at Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas, June, 1861,” in Bobby Roberts and Carl Moneyhon, Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Arkansas in the Civil War (Fayetteville, 1987) pp. , Bobby Roberts and Carl Moneyhon, Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Louisiana in the Civil War (Fayetteville, 1989) pp., Time Life Books, Echoes of Glory: Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy (Alexandria, 1991) pp. 86-97 ; Thomas Ezell “Uniforms of Arkansas’s Confederate Soldiers,” The Capital Guards Sentinel (January 1999): 3-6.
3. Photograph of Private William Shores, Company H 6th Arkansas Infantry, in Thomas
Ezell “Uniforms of Arkansas’s Confederate Soldiers,” pp. 3-6, James Willis, Arkansas Confederates in the Western Theater, (1998), Calvin Collier, First In, Last Out- The Capitol Guards, Arkansas Brigade (1961), Nathaniel C. Hughes, Jr., Sir Henry Morton Stanley: Confederate (2000).
4. Confederate States of America War Department, “An Act to Provide for the Public
Defense,” 1861, The Statutes at Large of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States Of America, From the Institution of the Government, February 8, 1861, to its termination, February 18, 1862, Inclusive (Richmond, 1864) pp. 45-46., Thomas Ezell, “Uniforms,” Sentinel, p. 4.
5. Confederate War Department, Army Regulations (Richmond, 1861).
6. Thomas Ezell, “Uniforms,” Sentinel, p. 4, 1860 U.S. Census, State of Arkansas.
7. Thomas Ezell, “Uniforms,” Sentinel, pp. 3-4, Records of the Legislature of the State
of Arkansas, November thru December 1861.
8. Photograph of James and George May of the 23rd Arkansas Infantry and 2nd
Arkansas Mounted Rifles, respectively; Photograph of L. Yates, 18th Arkansas Infantry; Bobby Roberts and Carl Moneyhon, Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Mississippi in the Civil War; Thomas Ezell “The Little Rock Arsenal Frock Coat,” The Capital Guards Sentinel, Vol. 3, No. 6, June 1999; Photographs taken by John Schwartz of a Little Rock Penitentiary coat in the Stephen E. Osman collection in St. Paul, Minnesota. This coat was brought to Minnesota after the war by a sergeant in the 3rd Minnesota Infantry, the first federal unit to enter Little Rock after its fall.
9. Thomas Ezell, “Uniforms,” Sentinel, pp. 4-5.; Roger E. Coleman, The Arkansas Post
Story, (National Park Service, 1987) pp. 103-104.
10. Col. Meyers, Quartermaster of the Confederate Army, to Gen. John B. Floyd, July
20, 1861, Echoes of Glory: Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy, p.8.
11. Captain Edward C. Wharton, Chief Quartermaster of the District of Texas, Records
of 1862-1864: National Archives, Record Group 109, M935, roll 8,89-J.41 through 158-J.41.
12. Wharton Microfilm, Report of February 29, 1864.
13. Wharton Microfilm, Expenditure Report of November 1863.
14. Wharton Microfilm, Report of February 29, 1864.
15. Wharton Microfilm, Expenditure Report, November 1863
16. Wharton Microfilm, Expenditure Report, November 1863 and Report of October 16,
17. Wharton Microfilm
18. Wharton Microfilm; Jensen “Confederate Issue Jackets” pp.162-164; Echoes of
Glory, p. 139; Author’s personal conversations with Thomas Ezell and Keenan Williams.
19. Wharton Microfilm; Echoes of Glory, pp. 154-155.
20. National Achieves, Confederate Contracts: Shoe Contracts- October 1862,
November 1862, and January 1863.
21. Wharton Microfilm.
22. Wharton Microfilm.
23. Jerry D. Thompson, From Desert to Bayou, The Civil War Journal and Sketches of
Morgan Wolfe Merrick (El Paso: 1991) pp.12-94.
24. Wharton Microfilm.
Adoiphus, Fredrick “Confederate Clothing of the Houston Quartermaster Depot,”
Military Collector and Historian 48 (1996): 171-180.
Berberon, A.W. The Civil War Reminiscences of Major Silas T. Grismore, CSA. Baton
Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.
Moneyhon, C. and Roberts, B. Portraits of Conflict (Arkansas). Fayetteville: Arkansas
University Press, 1987.
Moore, Michael R. “The Texas Penitentiary and Textile Production in the Civil War
Era.” Austin: University of Texas BA Thesis, 1984.
Wharton, Edward C. Records of the Houston Depot. National Archives, Record Group
David Sesser is a graduate student at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE: A HISTORY OF THE EL DORADO WATER COMPANY
By Bob Lee Rimmer, Glenn Holmes and Worth Camp
Note: This article is a modified version of a presentation on the El Dorado Water Company first given by General Manager Bob Lee Rimmer in 1964 and a similar presentation given by Glenn Holmes in 2006, with added research and photographs by Worth Camp.
HOW TO GROW A CITY . . . EL DORADO!
The water service that enjoyed by El Dorado had its beginning in 1907 or 1908. Ross Morgan installed the first water system, which consisted of shallow wells and a meager distribution system. It likely carried the name of El Dorado Water Company from the beginning. This name was chiseled in the concrete ground tank retainer/reservoir wall on Miles at South Jackson streets in 1950.
At that time, the company offered both water and electric service to the community officially as El Dorado Light & Water Co. A 1909 advertisement asked El Doradans: “Use water from the deep wells of the Eldorado Light and Water Co.”
Morgan sold the property to the Arkansas Power and Light Company in 1915. AP&L received a fifty-year franchise agreement from the El Dorado City Council to continue to provide utilities to the city, though neither the water company nor the electric company would be controlled by the city.
Well sources, pipelines, and reservoirs were gradually added to the water company infrastructure. In 1921, the first Sparta (Sand/Aquifer) water well was drilled near the old Rock Island Depot behind the Presbyterian Cemetery on Pony Street. Known as the Rock Island Well, it was later abandoned and subsequently used by the United States Geological Survey as an observation well for the Sparta Aquifer for many years. In 1924, a 500,000-gallon concrete storage reservoir with a wooden roof was built behind Hays Iron Works (Spencer Iron Works since 1969) on South Jackson Street. The same year, the water company started metering selected large water users. In 1935, the Hillsboro Street Viaduct was built adjacent to and overlooking the water company properties by the Arkansas Highway Department.
The serviceman at that time was J.L. Caldwell, first employed in 1921. His vehicle for rendering service was a wagon with a team of horses. He rose to the position of Superintendent of Distribution in his 43 years of service with the water company before his death in 1964.
In 1936, the Federal Power Commission ordered AP & L to divest itself of all utilities except one. Ice plants and natural gas distribution systems were the first to be sold, however, it was not until 1942 that the remaining eighteen water properties were sold to a bond house firm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These properties later became known as General Waterworks Corporation, headquartered in Pine Bluff, also the headquarters of AP & L.
Prior to 1942, Arkansas Power and Light offered all cities where they operated water properties a chance to buy their water systems at the appraised price. The asking price was approximately $500,000 for El Dorado in 1942, but the El Dorado City Council did not elect to buy the water company at that time.
By 1946, the price had increased to $600,000, and local proponents for purchase of the water system requested the city council pass an ordinance to allow the sale. The council agreed, and the measure was placed on the ballot. It was defeated in the election.
Nevertheless, improvements continued to be made to the city’s water systems to meet the population and industrial needs of the community. In 1949, General Waterworks Corporation started and completed the following improvements to the El Dorado water system:
1. A downtown pumping plant on South Jackson with a 7,000 gallon per minute capacity achieved with three pumps with the following gallons per minute capacity; 3,000 GPM, 2,500 GPM, and 1,500 GPM.
2. A ground storage tank for one-half million-gallon capacity.
3. A 500,000 gallon elevated storage tank near the downtown Post Office on Elm Street. This tall downtown tank was the first El Dorado high-rise since the Lion Oil Building. It was on the highest ground in El Dorado and could be seen from great distances in the air and from all around.
For several years, some like resident Paul Hyde had a hard time getting used to the new tank. He had a house, wife, four daughters, and a wholesale dry goods business at the base of the tank. Hyde referred to El Dorado as Tank Town, and reportedly influenced many in the local Lion’s Club to do the same.
A fully automatic delivery system was in operation when this project was completed in 1950. Probes were installed in the ground storage tanks to turn the four wells on and off. High-pressure service pumps refill an elevated tank. A pressure gauge at ground level indicates when the elevated tank needed to be filled back up to maintain the required system water pressure.
By 1951, the Gas, Water, and Power & Light business offices were all in a row on the East Side of North Washington Street, North of East Oak. The corner office had a pot- bellied stove for heating in the middle of the large room. Customers could pay all three utility bills in one convenient location for many years.
General Waterworks Corporation continued to operate the utilities until December 9, 1952, when the property was sold to Stephens Investment Company, a municipal bond house in Little Rock, for $1,600,000. Under this new ownership, a 12-inch water main was constructed on the Strong Highway (US 82 East) with a 10-inch main extended into the Industrial area to a point just beyond the new Prescolite Plant.
Stephens Investment Company operated the utility until July 31, 1959, at which time the city of El Dorado purchased it for $2,728,000. The bond issue was passed for $3,300,000. This price included the purchase price of both the water system property, and $172,000 for Stephens's improvements to the water system, together with an additional $400,000 for a sewer treatment plant.
The El Dorado City Council put the city’s newly purchased water system under the control of the El Dorado Water and Sewer Commission. At the request of the General Manager, Bob Rimmer, the word sewer was dropped out of the title of the utility. The El Dorado Water and Sewer Systems have been operated since 1959 by the El Dorado Water Utilities.
On April 1, 1959, the city created the Water and Sewer Commission to help oversee the operations of the utility. The members of the El Dorado Water and Sewer Commission were appointed by the mayor with the approval of the city council. Members serve five year terms, with one coming off or being reappointed every year. Of the five members, one would serve as chairman. M. C. Hoover, E. W. Gaston, W. Louis Pratt, L. E. Tinnell, and Russell Marks served as the original members.
In 1960, the State Department of Health advised the El Dorado Water Commission that their emergency equipment was not large enough in case of emergency to meet requirements in a city as large as El Dorado. At this time the Commission required the water company to install chlorinators, and by 1964, all water was chlorinated.
Also in 1960, the city installed the second one-half million gallon elevated water tank off North College past 19th Street. This tank is located in the northwest part of the city, at the same elevation as the downtown tank. A new well was drilled by the side of the tank, with its own chlorinator, to help meet the residential growth on the west and north side of El Dorado.
In 1964, five acres of land was purchased on Mt. Holly Road for a second water pumping plant. Well #17 was completed with a capacity of 1,000 gallons per minute. A new one million gallon ground storage tank was constructed with a new brick pump house with one pump with a 1,500 GPM capacity with space to install another pump at a later date. This plant was connected back to town with a 16-inch cast-iron main to Timberlane and Mt. Holly.
In 1967, a one million gallon steel tank was constructed inside the old 1942 reservoir at the downtown plant.
Under the same contract, both pumping plants and both elevated tanks were connected with twelve inch or larger mains. The 16-inch line at Mt. Holly and Timberlane was extended back up Mt. Holly to College and north on College Street to 5th Street. A 12-inch was extended North on College to an existing 12-inch water main at College and 8th Street. Another twelve inch took off from College and 5th and went east to Madison and 5th streets tying into an existing twelve inch line.
Under this same contract, a twelve-inch line was constructed from South Quaker (now Martin Luther King Drive) and East Main Street, east to Industrial Road, and south to Prescolite Drive. This gave the industrial area a looped system with a large capacity reserve for future growth. By 1970, 1,438,000,000 gallons were pumped for the entire year. This was an average of 3,940,397 gallons daily. The peak day was July 1, 1970, with 6,765,400 gallons pumped. The most ever pumped in one day was 9,080,000 gallons. By comparison, capacity by 2006 stood at 11,000,000 gallons per day.
By 1971, the second million-gallon ground storage steel tank was constructed at the downtown plant. This gave the El Dorado Water Utilities a ground storage capacity of 3,000,000 gallons and met the Arkansas State Department of Health suggested criteria of storage equal to the average daily usage at that time.
Between the time the city purchased the water company and its properties in 1959 and 1970, some $1,657,562 was spent on new construction to modernize the system and $313,258 spent on replacements -- a capital improvement over 11 years of $2,000,000.
These improvements created a better distribution system, more fire protection, and better service to the consumers. This gave the city a fifth-class rating by the Arkansas Inspection and Rating Bureau, among the other factors which are used by the Rating Bureau in determining a city’s class for insurance purposes. By 2006, the City of El Dorado had moved up to a Class Three rating.
Rimmer died suddenly in 1981 and was succeeded in the general manager position by Camden native and University of Arkansas graduate Jack C. Godwin, Jr. Godwin had served as the engineer for the water company for a number of years earlier. Godwin retired from this position in 1987, to be succeeded by Glenn Holmes.
During his career, Rimmer encouraged the building of Rural Water Association systems. He had a consulting service on the side to work with the early Associations. He believed every person should be able to have a clean glass of water. He considered the Sparta Aquifer to be like pure cold spring water, and El Dorado’s early years were free of chlorination. He anticipated the damage that eventually came to the Aquifer but was unable to convince others that the city needed to expend time and money on conservation measures. Because of his outstanding service and dedication to the Arkansas water and wastewater industry, Rimmer was inducted into the Glen T. Kellogg Water and Wastewater Hall of Fame. The Arkansas Water and Wastewater Managers Association also chose him as the Water Manager of the Year.
In 2003, the water company completed a new Northeast Well Field with 5 wells spread out in the Champanolle Road area, each capable of producing 1,000 gallons per minute. The new 2003 Champanolle Plant is at the corner of Commerce Drive just past the El Dorado – Union County Softball Complex. The new plant has two two-million gallon ground storage tanks with four high pressure service pumps. Two of the pumps have 4,000 GPM capacity and two pumps with 2,500 GPM capacity. The pumping plant has its own generator for power failure.
In 2003, the 1964 Mt. Holly Plant, the 1967 and 1971 Downtown Pumping Station ground tanks, and the new 2003 Champanolle Plants were all connected with 12-, 16-, and 24-inch water lines.
The 1949 elevated Downtown Tank (East Elm Street) “Tank Town” holds 500,000 gallons. It is painted silver with no sign painted on it. In the 1950s, El Dorado High School students succeeded in climbing the tank at homecoming and labeling it with their particular class number.
The elevated 1960 North College Tank and well site is painted off-white with no signage and holds 500,000 gallons.
In 1994, the two million gallon Hoover Tank on the south side of town on Beech Street. It is painted with a very big “EL DORADO” that can be seen over the tall pine trees from the US 82 Bypass at its intersection with the old Junction City Road.
In 1994, El Dorado Water Utilities began working with other Union County groups for a save the Sparta Sand/Aquifer plan. State legislation provided for the organization by countywide election of the Union County Water Conservation Board. The new conservation board’s settled water system in conjunction with the new Entegra power plant on US 167 North draws water from the Ouachita River near the U.S. 167 North river bridge.
In 2005, the utility pumped 2,402,615,000 gallons of water with an average daily use of 6,583,000 gallons. In 2006, we added an elevated two million gallon Westside Tank on the north side of US 82 just past the new Social Security Office and Stars movie theater. It is white with a big “EL DORADO” that can be seen from the US 82 Bypass and along US 82 West where they intersect at El Dorado’s newest highway retail, motel, and office commercial zone.
By 2006, the average daily use stood at seven million gallons. The city possessed 5 million gallons of elevated storage and seven million gallons of ground storage and a pumping capacity of 13,000 gallons per minute into the distribution system. The water and sewer system can both be controlled at the Downtown and Champanolle water plants by computer.
Two wastewater treatment plants serve the City of El Dorado. The north plant off North Smith has a 5 MGD capacity, and the South Treatment plant off the US 82 bypass has a 7 MGD capacity. The plants are Dissolved Air Flotation plants. The City of El Dorado was one of the first treatment plants to use this dissolved flotation treatment. The utility can provide over one million gallons per day of Grey Water (treated wastewater) from the North Wastewater Treatment Plant to water the fairways and greens of the Lyon’s Club and El Dorado Country Club Golf Courses.
El Dorado Water Utilities sells water to six rural water associations that surround the city. With the subsequent independent construction of over twenty new rural water associations, that produce their own water, most all of Union County is receiving potable water. Everyone is able to get a clean glass of water. Also rural communities have formed rural fire fighting associations, and there is a greater degree of fire protection and disaster relief though out the county.
An average of five million gallons of settled water per day is piped to El Dorado Chemical, Lion Oil Refinery, and the Great Lakes Plant, now owned by Chemtura. This major grow El Dorado project has substantially reduced the strain on the El Dorado Water Utility’s eleven in-town water wells.
The early test results by the U.S. Geological Survey indicate the Sparta Aquifer in the El Dorado area is beginning to recover after years of environmental damage. The Northeast Well Field was drilled to further relieve pressure on the many older Sparta wells located within the city limits.
Bob Lee Rimmer served as general manager of El Dorado Water Utilities from 1959 to 1981. Glenn Holmes has served as general manager from 1987 to the present. Worth Camp is a retired El Dorado attorney and history enthusiast.
A LIVING TRIBUTE TO THE JOURNAL’S FOUNDER:
JOHN G. RAGSDALE
By Phil Ballard
Every good history journal needs a driving force to bring it into existence and to set it on the right course, a person who knows the importance of preserving the past for future generations. John G. Ragsdale has served that function for this journal; and because he has moved to Little Rock and we do not enjoy the pleasure of his company as often as before, we take this opportunity to express our gratitude for gently prodding us seven years ago into helping with this project. His vision to provide a regular print outlet in which the custodians of South Arkansas history may publish their memories, research, photographs, maps, and other bits and pieces of the past flourishes today, thanks to Mr. Ragsdale’s tenacity and hard work. When the rest of us were skeptical about
the feasibility of establishing and maintaining this journal, Mr. Ragsdale kept reminding us of the benefits of such a publication, helped us arrange funding through his contacts with the South Arkansas Historical Foundation, contributed articles, and guided us as we organized to publish the first volume.
In her nomination of John Ragsdale for El Dorado’s 2003 Five Who Care Award, Sherrel Johnson rightly called him a “standard bearer for preserving Arkansas history in word and deed.” She goes on to say, “He cares enough to volunteer hours of his time, significant financial resources, unlimited energy, and visionary intelligence to insure that our stories are told and documented.” This accurately describes his involvement with the South Arkansas Historical Journal and is only one of many tributes paid to this extraordinary man.
As this journal’s founder, Mr. Ragsdale has reminded us in a variety of ways that where we came from and how we arrived here are just as important as the pressures of today and our plans for tomorrow.
Phil Ballard has taught English at South Arkansas Community College since 1987 and has served on the Journal’s editorial board with John G. Ragsdale since its inception in 2001.
CECIL KELLUM: A PLACE IN TIME, THE BOY’S CLUB OF EL DORADO
By David Wood
Note: The following is an oral interview of Cecil Kellum, a popular figure at the El Dorado Boy’s Club since 1952, a man looked up to by generations of young men in El Dorado. Interviewer David Wood includes a few personal remarks about the club and what it has meant to him and others in the community.
My memories of the El Dorado Boy’s Club go back to the summer after I was in the third grade. I started playing little league baseball then, which was my reason for joining the club. That summer, and for several summers after that, my mother would drop me off at the Boy’s Club on her way to work, then pick me up later in the afternoon, on her way home from work. I quickly learned that there was more to the Boy’s Club than baseball. There was basketball, billiards, or pool as we call it, table tennis, and a huge trampoline.
Most everyone’s favorite activity during the day was “free swim”, an hour before lunch that Boy’s Club members could swim in the city pool that was located between the “A” league and “B” league baseball fields. Though my friends and I looked forward to that hour everyday, we had no trouble passing time both before and after “free swim”. We got to be pretty good at pool, learning how to play 8-ball early in life. We were pretty good ping-pong players too, considering that we were only eight or nine years old at the time. We even learned how to do flips and other tricks on the trampoline. My recollection is that there was never a dull moment at the Boy’s Club.
There was also a library in the club, and now it seems that we probably had to spend a certain amount of time in there, but even that was made enjoyable. That was because there was an excellent staff there. The director of the club was Mr. Alva Waddell. My memories of him are that he was an older man, more the grandfather type. Everyone there respected Mr. Waddell, but Mr. Cecil Kellum was the man that we all looked up to. He treated us all like we were one of his own. He had an influence on a lot of kid’s lives, and I still hear some of them talk about that frequently. He treated everyone with dignity and respect, and was able to keep us in line whenever it was necessary. I consider myself privileged to still have some contact with Mr. Kellum. His son Mark, who is my age, was a best friend back then and he still is today. I thought it would be a great tribute to Mr. Kellum to have some of his history archived at the local college. Listed below are some responses to some questions that he recently allowed me to ask.
David Wood: Mr. Kellum, can you tell me when and where you were born, and a little bit about your parents?
Cecil Kellum: I was born on November 25th, 1924, in Marietta, Texas. My parents were Herbert and Susie Kellum, and my mother’s maiden name was Anthony. They moved to Smackover when I was five. My father came here during the oil boom, hoping to find work. He did find oil work, but eventually decided to be a barber.
DW: What was the reason you stayed in El Dorado?
CK: I went to Ouchita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, then I coached in Hope, Arkansas, for one year. Then I decided to go the University of Texas to get my masters in administration, but after a year the G.I. bill money ran out, so I came back to Smackover. I worked at Lion Oil for less than a year, and that’s where I met my wife, Betty Maroney. We’ve been here ever since.
DW: Was there anything similar to the Boy’s Club when you were a young boy?
CK: No, we used to swim in a creek at Smackover when I was a boy.
DW: What is your earliest memory of the El Dorado Boy’s Club, and when did you start working there?
CK: It was in the summertime of 1952 because I organized a baseball league, especially for the older boys. We didn’t have that many younger boys then. When they were building the current building, I put in an application to be Athletic Director. They hired me in the summer of 1952 and the new building opened in 1953. There was a white building behind the new one. That’s where it was until the new one opened. I was the Athletic Director for seventeen years, and was the Executive Director for three years after that.
DW: I know you were involved in a lot of things there. What was your favorite program?
CK: Baseball. At first we had a chicken wire backstop, and I was the umpire. All I had for protection was a catcher’s mask and chest protector. After about two weeks of getting beat up by foul balls, I went to H & B Sporting Goods and Mr. Smith, who was the manager, ordered me some official protective equipment for umpires to call behind the plate. When it finally came in I tell you, it was a real lifesaver, and it greatly reduced the number of bruises I had been getting. We could reach a lot of boys who never really had a chance to participate in organized sports because of school activities, When they got out for the summer they could come to the Boy’s Club so they could enjoy days with other boys.
DW: How many baseball teams were there in those days?
CK: Through the early years, after building up the program, we had churches that would sponsor teams, and civic clubs, and I guess at the time we had thirty teams or more total, in different age groups.
DW: What was the hardest part of your job?
CK: The parents. They would have different views of how they wanted to the club to be run. We did have parents that really cooperated, but all in all, the parents were the most difficult part of it. I did make a lot of friends, and possibly a few enemies.
DW: I know you influenced a lot of kid’s lives. Can you name many that went on to be successful?
CK: Schoolboy Rowe was there before my time. He went on to be a major league pitcher at Detroit. In my time we had Jim Mooty and Wayne Harris, both All-Americans that played football for the Razorbacks and went on to the pros. Glen Ray Hines and Jim Gaston, those are some that come to mind on the football field. We had a number of boys in baseball that got scholarships to colleges. Stowe and Herb Delone, Bob Cheatwood and Lamar Drummond and several more that I can’t think of. Tommy Murphree was one of the best athletes around, and they overlooked him for a scholarship. There were also some well known business people, several young men that became outstanding lawyers, Jodie Mahoney, his brother Mike are a couple of them. Some that became doctors were John Henry Moore and Larkus Pesnell just to name a couple, I can’t think of them all. Bill Rainer was very successful, in fact he became a millionaire. The Sheppard boys, Jim and Drew and Courtney became outstanding citizens. That’s just a few. Dr. Clifton Parnell, who’s still our buddy.
DW: Can you give me some of your thoughts about being inducted into the Boy’s Club Hall of Fame?
CK: They were going to induct two men, which was all I knew, Alva Waddell and Jolly “Hap” Hanry, and it so happened that after those two were announced, I was called up front to uncover another portrait, or something, I didn’t know what it was. My wife, Betty, was sitting by me, so I went up there and uncovered that thing and there was me. I looked back over at Betty and there was my son Mark, who I bad seen earlier all dressed up, just looked nice and made me proud as everything. They knew it was going to happen. I had no inkling whatsoever. I was involved with the ceremony, but had no idea I was going to be honored. It took me by complete surprise. I was speechless.
DW: Before we conclude the interview, is there anything else you would like to add on a personal note, or any other stories or comments?
CK: During those years at the Boy’s Club, I came in contact with rich and poor boys, and it didn’t make any difference to me what side of the tracks they came from. I tried to treat them all as equal. Over the years, I made friends with these young men; and to this day, there are grown men that I see, and their response to me is, “Mr. Kellum, if it weren’t for you and the Boy’s Club, my life might not have been the same, I might be elsewhere.” To hear those remarks makes me feel that I contributed somewhere along the line to help a young man grow into manhood, which in turn helps other young people as they grow older in sports, or whatever they feel like they need to pursue.
DW: Mr. Kellum, thank you very much for your time, and thanks for the memories as well.
The Boy’s Club of El Dorado was established in 1939 at 310 West 2nd St., across from the current location of Immanuel Baptist Church. It was moved to Rowland Field, the current location of Barton Middle School, in 1946. In 1949, it was moved to Northwest Avenue, to the building that Mr. Kellum speaks of in the interview. The present building opened in June 1953. The Boy’s Club was a great place in those days for boys and their mothers. The boys had a great time and the mothers didn’t have to worry about them while they were there. I don’t think it would have made as big an impact on people as it did if Cecil Kellum hadn’t been there. In my mind, and in the mind of many others from that time, Cecil Kellum was the El Dorado Boy’s Club.
David Wood is a student at South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado.
South Arkansas History Notes
In Memoriam: Dr. Ben Whitfield
Dr. Ben Whitfield, noted scholar and supporter of the Journal, passed away on October 8, 2005. He was most well-know in the area for being the first president of South Arkansas Community College when it was formed out of a merger between Southern Arkansas University-El Dorado Branch and Oil Belt Technical College. Dr. Whitfield also wrote the first article for the South Arkansas Historical Journal in 2001, a history of South Arkansas Community College titled "El Dorado's Two-Year Colleges."
Born Benjamin Thomas Whitfield in Perry, Florida, in 1933, Whitfield showed an aptitude for leadership early in his life. When he graduated high school in 1951, his classmates had elected him president of their class. He served for a time in the US Navy before returning to Florida and continuing his education. He attended Florida Southern University, majoring in education. He eventually earned a doctorate in higher education from Florida State University.
In 1955, he married Jewel Adell Kennedy. Together in marriage for fifty years, they had four children. Tragically, two daughters died of cystic fibrosis at young ages. A third daughter and a son survived and live in Georgia and Pennsylvania, respectively.
He rose steadily through the administrative ranks at various colleges. Whitfield served as dean of students at College of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, before becoming academic dean at West Arkansas Community College (present-day University of Arkansas at Fort Smith) in Fort Smith. In 1975, he received an appointment as the chief executive of a new community college opening in El Dorado. Oil Belt Technical College had already existed on the east side of El Dorado since 1967, but primarily concentrated in skilled trades and allied health education. But Southern State College (currently Southern Arkansas University) had decided to open a branch college in the nearby community, concentrating in liberal arts education. Up to that point, the city had not had a liberal arts junior college since El Dorado Junior College closed during World War II.
With a paltry budget, small staff, and almost no equipment, Whitfield started the new college from scratch at an abandoned wing at the Warner Brown Hospital in El Dorado. Known formally as Southern State College-El Dorado Branch, staffers warmly referred to the college as “the twig.” Enrollment grew steadily, as did the reputation of the school, and the college soon moved to the site of the old El Dorado High School, which had also housed the original junior college. In 1992, then-Gov. Bill Clinton signed legislation officially merging El Dorado's two colleges as South Arkansas Community College. Whitfield served as the president of the college until his retirement in 1997. Upon his retirement, the college christened the classroom building the Ben Whitfield Classroom Building as a special tribute.
Whitfield devoted himself to service wherever he went. While in Florida, he served one term in the Florida House of Representatives. In El Dorado, he served as a deacon at First Baptist Church and served as president of the El Dorado Rotary Club. He also served on the Board of Directors for the South Arkansas Arts Center and the South Arkansas Symphony. After his retirement, Whitfield and his wife traveled extensively around the globe.
Whitfield had made a number of controversial decisions while president of the college, but those who worked with Whitfield almost all remarked on his kind nature, fairness, dedication, and willingness to listen to others. The community reacted strongly to news of Whitfield's passing, with memorial services being held in both Florida and El Dorado.
-- Ken Bridges, with information compiled from reports from the El Dorado News-Times
Arkansas Marks Centennial of Diamond Discovery
This year, Arkansas has been commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of diamonds in the Natural State. In the late 1800s, geologists suspected that the area near Murfreesboro in Pike County may have diamonds. In August 1906, local farmer John Wesley Huddleston discovered two diamonds (one weighing 1 3/8 carats and the other 2 5/8 carats) on his 160-acre farm. The discovery touched off a frenzy as perhaps thousands of speculators and fortune-seekers descended on Pike County in search of diamonds. But the diamonds were localized only to Huddleston’s property, which he later sold for $36,000.
Arkansas is still the only state in the nation known to have deposits of diamonds. The unique fact was later incorporated into the state’s first official flag in 1924 with the familiar blue-and-white diamond shape on the field of red.
The State of Arkansas has run the area as a state park since purchasing the land in 1972. The park is open to the public and visitors are allowed to dig for diamonds.
More than 25,000 diamonds have been found in the state park since that time, with 719 weighing more than one carat. In 2005, almost 52,000 people visited the park.
For the centennial, the State of Arkansas redesigned the license plate for 2006 with a diamond drawn on the middle of the plates. Murfreesboro residents celebrated the centennial of the find during its annual Diamond Festival in June. More information on the park can be found at: www.craterofdiamondsstatepark.com.
-- Ken Bridges
South Arkansas Historical Society
Maylon T. Rice
Lance L. Larey
Worth O. Camp
Barton Library, El Dorado
Warren Branch Library
Clark County Historical Association
Arkansas History Commission
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Ouachita Baptist University History Department
Magale Library, Southern Arkansas University
Mr. and Mrs. John G. Ragsdale
A special thanks to our members and the South Arkansas Historical Foundation for their support in preserving the history of South Arkansas.
South Arkansas Historical Journal
VOLUME 7 FALL 2007
Published by the South Arkansas Historical Society
John G. Ragsdale
John B. Abbott
Jacqueline B. Holmes
Richard H. Mason
Chris Elia Printing
South Arkansas Community College
South Arkansas Historical Foundation
South Arkansas Historical Society
P. O. Box 10201
El Dorado, Arkansas 71730-0201
South Arkansas Historical Journal
VOLUME 7 FALL 2007
Published by the South Arkansas Historical Society
From the Editors:
Volume 7 of the South Arkansas Historical Journal continues its look at the architecture, lives, and events that help make up the fascinating story of South Arkansas. Each person who lives in this area has a “story” and the Journal is pleased to provide four such stories as well as a history of lost colleges in South Arkansas and a feature of local architectural history.
The lead article by local architect John B. Abbott is a continuation of his history of architecture in Union County. This article covers the inter-war period between World War I and World War II. Abbott’s work as an architect includes such local features as Memorial Stadium, the TAC House, and the Goodwin Field terminal.
Local musician Bobby Bird’s “story” is provided by Bobby Griffith. The Bird Brothers, as well as their cousin, Mickey Davis, are well-known for their bluegrass music. The story of World War II veteran Miles C. Hogan is provided by SouthArk student Jessica Pepper. Another SouthArk student, Jacqueline B. Holmes has submitted a biographical sketch of the Rev. E. A. Porchia. The articles by Bobby Griffith, Jessica Pepper, and Jacqueline B. Holmes are derived from the ongoing Oral History Projects by Bart Reed’s history students at South Arkansas Community College.
A goal of the South Arkansas Historical Journal is to relate to its readers the fascinating stories and lives that are a vital part of our local history. The Journal appreciates the contributions of articles, photographs, documents of anyone interested in preserving the history of South Arkansas.
The South Arkansas Historical Journal, established in 2001, is an annual publication of the South Arkansas Historical Society made possible through the generous support of members and the South Arkansas Historical Foundation.
South Arkansas Historical Journal
VOLUME 7 FALL 2007
Editors’ Note ……………………………………………………..…………2
A Historical Survey of Architecture in Union County: After World War
One to World War Two
By John B. Abbott…………………………………………………....4
The Lost Colleges of South Arkansas
By Ken Bridges…………………………..………………………….13
The Life of Miles C. Hogan
By Jessica Pepper…………………………………………….……..20
The Bobby Bird Story
By Bobby Griffith……………………………...……………………22
An Interpretive Essay by Richard H. Mason…..…………………..26
The Wondrous Porchia Family
By Jacqueline B. Holmes …………………………………………..30
South Arkansas History Notes…………………………………………….32
South Arkansas Historical Society Membership Roster……………….…34
South Arkansas Historical Society………………………….………….…35
A HISTORICAL SURVEY OF ARCHITECTURE
IN UNION COUNTY: AFTER WORLD WAR ONE
TO WORLD WAR TWO
By John B. Abbott
Note: This is the second of a three-part series on the development of architecture in Union County. The third part will describe developments since World War II.
World War One had ended. Soon something happened in Union County. Almost over night, Union County was changed from a sleepy agriculture-based town to a fast moving, wheeling-dealing community. On January 1, 1921, a cold January day, the Busey well blew in --- OIL!!! OIL!!! OIL!!! The boom that followed has contributed greatly to the development and growth of this area.
With the almost instant arrival of thousands of additional people, the available hotel rooms and restaurants were unable to handle the crowds. Some of the entrepreneurs of the time who were not busy in the oil business devoted their architectural abilities to building “Hamburger Row” along South Washington and shotgun houses to provide food and shelter for the new residents.
The Hamburger Row buildings were small makeshift buildings built of anything that was handy. They were usually ten or more feet long along the sidewalk and about ten feet deep. There was a front counter parallel to and along the edge of the sidewalk where the customers were served. They stood at the counter to eat. There was a back counter where the cooking equipment was placed. Storage was below the counters and above the back counter. The space between the counters, three to four feet wide, was where the cook worked, preparing the food on the back counter, turning around and serving it on the front counter. The front along the street was provided with varying types of doors and or shutters to close up the front when the business was closed. Could these establishments be the forerunners of the fast food restaurants in El Dorado?
One of these businesses was still in operation in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It was located on the southwest corner of Washington and Locust Streets. It was not as rustic as the early ones. It extended for fifteen or twenty feet, more or less along Locust Street from the corner and was built as described above. This business was owned and operated by a gentleman named Paul Bratsos. Most people who were here during Paul’s operation remember the good hamburgers he made. They cost only ten cents, as I remember.
The shotgun houses were hastily erected to help relieve the housing shortage. They were one room wide with or two or more rooms, one behind the other. The front door was usually on the narrow end of the building. A small front porch with a shelter overhead protected the door. They seldom had time to paint them. These houses were placed as many as possible on a lot, reminiscent of some of our present day trailer parks.
I do not know of any of these houses that have survived to the present time, but in the late 1930s, I am told that the late Mr. Hindrix Alphin, a well-known Union County man, anticipated a demand for temporary shelter due to expected influx of construction workers to build Ozark Ordinance Works and a synthetic rubber component plant at Lion Oil Refinery for the Government. He built several, possibly as many as six, shotgun houses on a lot at the corner of West First and School Streets. Mr. George Crosley tells me that when he married, he and his wife rented one of these houses from Mr. Alphin. Two of the houses built by Mr. Alphin are still standing at the corner of West First and School Streets. These later versions of the shotgun houses were upgraded from the oil boom time with exterior painting and a limited amount of plumbing and wiring.
SOME MAJOR BUILDINGS BUILT IN UNION COUNTY IN THE 1920s DURING AND FOLLOWING THE OIL BOOM
The discovery of oil in Union County led to some remarkable changes in the sophistication of local architecture, including civic, commercial, educational, and church buildings. These buildings were constructed because of the large increase in population and additional money generated by the oil boom.
The United States Court House and Post Office was built about 1929. The General Service Administration of the United States Government was the designer. W. B. Smith, an El Dorado contractor, built it. Mr. Smith took another GSA contract for a Federal Building in Texas. He lost a great deal of money in this venture, after which he returned to El Dorado and spent the rest of his life building mostly smaller commercial buildings in Union County.
Very little was done to this building other than general maintenance until the early 1960s when the GSA contracted with Rawland E. Blaylock, Mechanical and Electrical Engineers of Little Rock, Arkansas, to plan and supervise an extensive modernization of the building. This included adding central air conditioning, re-wiring and lighting the building, and extensively altering the post office to make it fit with operational changes. Spacious offices for Oren Harris, former U. S. Congressman from the Southern District of Arkansas and newly appointed Federal Judge, were provided. The adjoining Federal Court Room was renovated. Special care was taken so as not to destroy or change any of the existing character of the room. It was a beautiful room and still is after the modernization. Since the majority of the work was mechanical and electrical, Mr. Blaylock’s Contract required that he provide a registered architect suitable to the GSA to handle the architectural work, as a sub-contractor to his primary contract. John B. Abbott of El Dorado was selected to handle the architectural work. Havard Construction Company, a contractor from Mississippi, was the contractor for this work.
The Union Country Court House was erected in 1928. Eugene John Stern, an architect from Little Rock, designed the building. It was designed in a Greek Temple style. William Peterson, a contractor from Little Rock, was the builder. George S. Tatum was County Judge; and the Commissioners were Charles H. Murphy, George W. James, and J. M. Wallace.
Very little has been done to the building except general maintenance. The building was not air conditioned, so in the 1950s after air conditioning became practical, each department of government air conditioned its space with individual systems. Over the years, some of the interior space has been re-arranged to accommodate changes in operation. The county jail was on the fourth floor. In the 1990s, it was moved, along with a court room or two, to a new city-county jail built on the east side of El Dorado.
The building has a basement and four floors with an atrium in the center. The exterior is limestone.
The El Dorado City Hall was designed by Eugene John Stern, a Little Rock architect. It is a reinforced concrete and masonry building in the Art-Deco style. The exterior is limestone. The building has a basement and two floors with a decorative tower rising from the center of the building some twenty to twenty-five feet above the roof of the main building. It provided space for the city officials, the police department, and the city jail.
Some time about the 1960s, the federal government declared the jail facilities inadequate. Provisions for women prisoners had to be made and the kitchen facilities upgraded and enlarged. John B. Abbott, El Dorado architect, was engaged to prepare the plans and observe the construction. Preston Dennis of Hargett Construction was the contractor.
About five to ten years later, the federal government issued a new set of regulations again condemning the El Dorado Jail, as well as the Union County Jail. They joined forces and built a new jail for both the city and the county to be run by the county. A Little Rock architect was employed to design the building.
Exchange Bank Building. In the late 1920s, George W. James and his associates formed the Exchange Bank. They were J. C. Wilson, President; George W. James, Chairman of the Board; and Ike Felsenthal, Vice President. They soon started planning a permanent building. Eugene John Stern, a Little Rock architect, was selected to design the building. The bank was on the first floor with five floors above for rental offices. Eugene John Stern, a Little Rock architect, was selected to design the building. The exterior walls are of masonry faced with limestone and are supported by a reinforced concrete frame and floor system. The design is Art Deco, with small concrete balconies with concrete balustrade railings at the top floor windows.
A row of large geometric figures is just below a frieze at the top of the building.
The building was completed in 1927 and opened with a staff of seven people.
The Lion Oil Company, headed by Col. T. H. Barton, occupied most of the upper floors. The company bought the building, I think, in the late 1940s or early 1950s. They installed a central, chilled-water air conditioning system in the building about 1950. The building now belongs to the First Financial Bank. Their main offices occupy the first floor and one or two upper floors. The balance is rental space.
EL DORADO MASONIC TEMPLE. The cornerstone for this building was laid on April 28, 1923. The Trustees were J. H. Pinson, Chairman, and members J. A. Rowland, J. A, Moore, G. A. Crosley, and H. D. Bowers. Charles S. Watts was selected as architect. The contractors were: Blythe & Durson, general; L. H. Koon, plumbing; and H. B. Crabb, electric. The Temple was dedicated on April 1, 1924. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Only the street front is finished with limestone. Egyptian Temple motifs are carved into the stone. The building is reinforced concrete and masonry construction. It consists of the ground floor, which is for retail store rental; the second floor, which is for rental office space; and the top floor for the Masonic Lodge meeting and ceremony rooms. Stairs lead to the upper floors. No elevators or air conditioning was provided. A mechanized seat holding one person has been installed on the stairs for use of handicapped persons. The building was air conditioned, probably about 1950.
ARMSTRONG BUILDING. D. E. Armstrong built this building in 1922. It replaced a wooden store building that had just burned on the site. It is made of reinforced concrete or steel frame with masonry walls. Terra Cotta trim is around the windows, cornice, and entrance. The ground floor is used as retail store space. The upper floors are used as office space. Steam radiators heated the building. At first, there was no air conditioning. Later, air conditioning was installed, probably around 1950. Mr. Armstrong is the ancestor of several El Dorado families, including the Little, Mahoney, and Alphin families.
RANDOLPH HOTEL. George W. James built the hotel in about 1924 at a cost of $200,000. It was located on the block bounded by Washington, Cedar, Locust, and Cleveland Streets. It was named for one of Mr. James’s sons, Randolph. It had brick masonry walls and a wood frame interior. A modern sprinkler system was included to help control fires, and heat was provided with a central steam boiler with radiators in the various rooms. The ground floor was designed for retail rental space. This included a large room on the corner of Cleveland and Locust Streets that was used for banquets, dances, and large meetings. According to D. R. James, grandson of George W. James, the upper two floors were originally designed to be office space, but before the building was finished, the demand for hotel rooms was greater than the demand for offices, so they were converted into hotel rooms. The floors in the bathrooms were raised about six inches to allow the plumbing pipes to be laid on top of the original floors. The occupant of the room had to step up about six inches to get into the bathroom. The building was demolished in 1964 to make room for a parking lot for the First National Bank. Descendants of George W. James still live in El Dorado and are active in the real estate, banking, and other interests.
RIALTO THEATER BUILDING. The McWilliams family built the Rialto theater building in the late 1920s to get in early on the coming motion picture boom. The building is elegant, both inside and outside. It followed the general design of the theatres being built around the country, led and promoted by the big Hollywood movie studios. I do not know if they could show talking movies at the time the theatre was built, but I do know that it was not air conditioned, as we know it today. It had an air-cooling system that consisted of an ice room that was filled with large blocks of ice. A large fan, or fans, connected to a duct system, blew chilled air into the building, as desired. There was no humidity control so it was sweaty and uncomfortable at times. However, it was better than the l00 degrees plus outside!
The rapid population growth experienced by Union County, particularly in El Dorado and in the oil field areas, created a demand for more school buildings. In response, El Dorado built a new high school and three elementary schools. At least two major schools, probably more, were built in the county. The Sandy Land and the Standard-Umstead districts erected nice buildings. These two districts were said to be by far the richest districts in the state, because they were located in the Smackover Oil Field.
EL DORADO HIGH SCHOOL. The school population had grown so much in the early 1920s, because of the discovery of oil, that the old building built in 1905 was no longer adequate. Donald McQueen was Superintendent of Schools. A new building was built south of the 1905 building, facing Summit Street.
Charles Thompson, an architect from Little Rock, designed the building. It consisted of a half basement with three upper floors. This portion was built of reinforced concrete frame with concrete floors and a flat roof. The walls were constructed of red brick masonry with cast concrete stone trim around the windows, doors, and other trim.
This classroom building was attached to an auditorium seating about 1500 people. It had a large stage. The stage was used for plays and concerts as well as a gymnasium and basketball court. The front faced Summit Street. A typical Greek Revival design with a gabled portico supported by tall columns was used. The columns and the portico were made out of reinforced cast concrete stone. A community-related Concert Association used the Auditorium to bring nationally known artists and concerts to El Dorado.
The School Board named the building for the Superintendent, Donald McQueen, A bronze plaque was placed at the front of the building so stating, together with the other usual names and date. Several years later, Mr. McQueen lost the confidence of the people and the board. His services were terminated. The bronze plaque was removed and placed in a closet at the front of the auditorium. What happened to it is not known. A prominent El Dorado citizen was a leader in opposition to Mr. McQueen. It is said that he took out full page adds in the local paper and led rallies on the Court House Square.
YOCUM ELEMENTARY. It is on College Street between Wesson and Cedar Streets. It was built about 1926. The original building was rectangular with a basement and two floors. It was built of masonry walls with reinforced concrete pan joist floors and roof deck. The roof is flat with build-up tar and gravel waterproofing. The exterior is red brick. Stone trim was used around the entrances. The top of the wall is capped with stone. Steam radiators heated it. Because no air conditioning was available at that time, the classrooms had large windows to provide ventilation and some cooling and light. Electrical wiring was minimal.
After World War II, air conditioning and electrical lighting technology had improved drastically. By closing most of the large windows in the classrooms with insulated panels, the cooling load necessary would be reduced as well as eliminate the large variation of light from the outside between dark, cloudy days to bright, sunshiny days.
John B. Abbott, architect of El Dorado, was engaged to prepare plans to make the following improvements to the building: 1) add air conditioning, 2) completely re-wire and add fluorescent lighting, 3) upgrade the restrooms, and 4) make other minor improvements as seemed advisable. Rowland E. Blaylock, Mechanical and Electrical Engineer of Little Rock, handled the mechanical and electrical work under the direction of Abbott.
HUGH GOODWIN ELEMENTARY. The old Hugh Goodwin School was built at about the same time as the Yocum School. It was built in the center of the block bounded by East Fifth, Madison, East Sixth, and Eculid Streets. The construction was similar to that of Yocum, previously described herein.
The building was built with a basement under the west half. This made the footing of the west half bear on soil some nine to ten feet deeper than the footing on the east half. There were several dry years in the 1950s. The building cracked in two and had to be replaced. There will be more about this later in this article when construction of the new Hugh Goodwin School is described.
SOUTH SIDE ELEMENTARY. This building was built in the late 1920s. It is a two-story building similar to Yocum and Hugh Goodwin, but it was not quite as large. The exterior walls were brick masonry, and the building had wood floor and roof framing. It was also remodeled in the 1950s, adding air conditioning, partially closing the large windows and rewiring and lighting the building to eliminate the dependence on the variable daylight and provide a more constant level of lighting.
STANDARD-UMSTEAD. This building was built in the late 1920s, a few miles north and east of Smackover, in the middle of the Smackover Oil Field. It was a one-story red brick building very much like the Yocum School in El Dorado without air conditioning or modern lighting. When the district was later consolidated with the Smackover School District, the building was no longer used as a school. Subsequently, one of the oil companies acquired the building and used it as their field office.
SANDY LAND. This building was also built in the late 1920s, a few miles south east of Smackover on the south side of the old El Dorado Highway. It was a one-story red brick structure, similar to the Standard-Umstead School. The district was later consolidated with the Smackover School District and the building demolished.
The major churches in El Dorado experienced rapid growth in the late 1920s, making it necessary for them to build larger buildings than they had previously occupied.
THE FIRST METHODIST CHURCH. According to A History of the First United Methodist Church of El Dorado, Arkansas 1833-1988 by Frances W. Cordell, author, and Virginia Greenhaw Harper, Church Historian:
The county’s first Methodist church was erected in 1845 on the present
site of El Dorado’s First United Methodist Church. Constructed entirely of logs, it was built on land purchased from Warner Brown for the sum of thirty dollars. At the time, Mr. Brown gave additional land for a cemetery adjoining the church on the south and donated a bell. This bell, one of the church’s most prized possessions, still rings on Sunday mornings to summon members to worship.
In 1871, the log building was replaced with a one-room frame structure typical of the church buildings of that time. It was built on the site of the log building. This wood frame church served until 1902 when it was replaced with a larger red brick church.
A committee of seven men was formed to plan and supervise the construction. Headed by the Reverend J. A. Sage, the committee included C. P. McHenry, W. H. Goodwin, W. J. Miles, W. J. Pinson, H. C. Norris and A. P. Thompson. Upon completion of the building, the board of trustees reported, “The building, grounds and furniture are valued at $7,000 during the year we have paid $3,700 toward liquidating the indebtedness on this property. The amount of indebtedness still remaining on the property is approximately $2000. The building is insured for $5000.
“Few cities have had their economy changed so abruptly
as did El Dorado on that cold January afternoon in 1921 when the Busey
well blew oil over the countryside and the west end of town. And few
churches have been faced so suddenly with so many unexpected and
unusual adjustments as were those in which pre-boom residents of El
Dorado worshipped. First Methodist Church was no exception. Indeed, it
was in the forefront of established institutions soon tailoring their
activities to meet the needs of the ever-growing number of “strangers
within the gates.”
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH. The oil boom caused the church to build a new and larger building to accommodate the rapid increase in membership. The Trustees selected a design, probably from a plan book furnished by the Southern Baptist Association. This is not known for sure. The plan selected is an octagonal auditorium covered by a dome from which a bell tower extends. The front has a gabled portico, trimmed with white limestone and supported by round white limestone columns, reminiscent of some Roman Temples. A two-story classroom building was attached to the rear of the auditorium. The building is of buff brick masonry and concrete construction with limestone trim and a red tile roof. Two additions have been made to the educational facilities since 1950.
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. Charles Thompson, architect of Little Rock, designed the building. It was built in the 1920s. It consists of an auditorium with a two-story classroom attached at the rear of the auditorium. The building is of red brick with concrete floor construction. It has a prominent bell tower at the junction of the sanctuary and the classroom building. The roof was originally covered with green tile. They were replaced with asphalt shingles, some time probably in the 1950s.
This building replaced a white frame sanctuary, which was reminiscent of many churches built in Union County in the 1870s. It was on the northeast corner of Elm and Jefferson Streets and across Elm Street from the present building.
There were probably two buildings dating before 1875 built in the same neighborhood as the present building. The Rev W. S. Lacy came from Missouri to Union County about 1845, settling near El Dorado. He was one of the main organizers of the Presbyterian Church here at that time, being involved with the Mount Holly and Scotland Churches as well as the El Dorado Church.
HOLY REDEEMER CATHOLIC CHURCH. This church was built on the northwest corner of Main and Berry Streets, probably in the 1920s. The design was of Modified Mission Architecture with stucco finish and consisted of mainly a Sanctuary for worship services. Later a frame building was erected at the rear of the building, consisting of a large activities room with some smaller rooms.
In 1998-99, this Sanctuary was repaired and a large addition with various activity rooms was added in the same modified Mission Style. The architect was Connelly, Abbott, Dunn, and Monroe of El Dorado (CADM Architects), the successor firm to the firm started in 1936 by John B. Abbott.
WARNER BROWN HOSPITAL. A two-story brick and concrete building was erected in the 1920s to house a 40 to 50 bed General Hospital at the northeast corner of west Elm and Thompson streets. It was named for Mr. Warner Brown, who was instrumental in its construction. It was staffed and run by the Sisters of Mercy until some time around 1960. Dr. Arley Cathey, the leading surgeon in El Dorado, was chief of staff at Warner Brown for many years. Many of the young doctors learned much about surgery when assisting Dr. Cathey.
ROSEMOND HOSPITAL. This was a small two-story building had 15 to 20 beds and was built and operated by a local doctor. It was primarily for the doctor’s private patients. The building is still standing but has been converted to apartments.
DOCTORS. There were probably not over ten to fifteen medical doctors in El Dorado from the beginning of the Oil Boom to World War II. Probably three or four were surgeons.
THE GREAT DEPRESSION
The Great Depression started in 1929 and lasted until World War II, approximately ten years. During this time, very little major construction was done in Union County. Most of the building needs of the county in the way of schools, office buildings, churches, government buildings, and others had been done earlier than in other areas of the State due to the influence of the Oil Boom.
During this time, money was hard to come by. The federal government set up programs through the New Deal to provide jobs in public works for out-of-work people. Two of the main such programs were the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The CCC funded new county rural roads, bridges, and country parks; and Union County received a number of the CCC projects. The WPA was involved with a few new buildings and the painting and minor repairs to others.
EL DORADO HIGH SCHOOL GYMNASIUM. The basketball games were played on the stage of the auditorium. The spectators had to sit in the auditorium. These seats were on only one side of the court and were lower that the court. The stage was not large enough for a standard court.
The School Board decided that they needed a standard court in order to be competitive with most schools of their size, as well as to make provisions for the fans to follow the games in more comfort. In 1938, application was made to the WPA for funds to build a gymnasium. The application was approved. John B. Abbott was selected to design the building. The building has masonry walls. The roof is supported by five three-hinged wood arches having a span of 100 feet. Two-by-ten roof joists span the arches and the outside end walls. They are covered with one-inch wood decking and roofing materials. McKeon Bros. Company of Chicago made them of laminated wood. It is believed that these arches were the first laminated wood structural items used in Arkansas.
The arches and roof are supported by reinforced concrete columns designed as vertical cantilever beams, which are kept from tipping over by the weight of the concrete bleachers on each side of the playing area and reinforced concrete tie beams in the concrete sub floor. The concrete sub floor is covered with a wood sub-floor finished with a maple-playing floor.
The building now belongs to South Arkansas Community College. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and was restored and updated in 2004.
Thanks to D. R. James, Richard K. James, and William L. Cook.
Abbott is a local architect who was born in El Dorado and spent almost 50 years designing local buildings. His father was superintendant of El Dorado schools for five years before moving his family to Camden in 1914 and later to Paragould and then to Little Rock, where Mr. Abbott finished his public education as part of the first graduating class of Central High School in 1927. He received his training in architecture at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and them returned to El Dorado in 1936 to start his own architectural firm with an office in the Lion Oil Building downtown. During his career, he designed or re-designed almost every school building in Union County. He still owns an interest in CADM Architects in El Dorado but has not worked full-time with the firm since 1980.
THE LOST COLLEGES OF SOUTH ARKANSAS
By Ken Bridges
Communities for generations have looked to their local institutions of education as a source of pride and hope for a better future. Since the 1830s, colleges have operated across Arkansas attempting to bring higher education opportunities to students. Until the founding of the University of Arkansas in 1871, all colleges in Arkansas were run by churches or other private organizations. These early colleges, however, were often very limited in the curricula they offered, often being little more than high schools or college preparatory schools, and also limited in the resources by which to run their schools. While many of these institutions succeeded in providing an education and molding young minds across southern Arkansas, many did not see bright futures themselves. Colleges thrive today across the southern half of the state, but many others faltered in the face of declining enrollment, failing economies, and changing times.
Some colleges operated as finishing schools for women, teaching schools, or parochial schools. And some colleges opened and closed so quickly that little more remains of them than a name in a dusty history book. Among those were the Lewisville Academy, which opened in Lewisville in 1843 and operated for only a few short years, the Camden Female College opened in 1868 and closed soon afterward, and the Jefferson Female College in Pine Bluff operated briefly before the Civil War. Likewise, the Phi Kappa Sigma College in Monticello opened and closed quickly before the Civil War.
Other institutions, though unable to survive themselves, had more profound impacts on their communities and on higher education in southern Arkansas.
Commonwealth College was started as an attempt to combine the principles of organized labor and cooperative economics and set out to train a new generation of labor leaders. It began in Leesville, Louisiana, in 1923, and eventually moved to Mill Creek Valley, some 13 miles west of Mena and near the Oklahoma state line, in April 1925. The potent mixture of labor politics and strong personalities running the college plagued its growth and administration for years. Enrollment at the college reportedly never rose past 55 students, but eventually some 22 buildings were constructed on the college campus, all by students.
From the beginning, the politicized nature of Commonwealth College brought criticism from many quarters. In 1926, shortly after moving to the Mena area, the Arkansas Convention of the American Legion charged the college with being communist and urged the school’s closing. Though the anti-communist hysteria of the Red Scare of 1919-1920 had faded somewhat by this time, anti-communist feelings remained quite intense in some quarters. Only FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s denial that the college had any communist ties saved the college. The Great Depression radicalized many students and faculty members, and founder William Zeuch was ousted in 1931 as too moderate. College leaders then proceeded to more actively align themselves with the Socialist Party in Arkansas. The Socialist candidate for Arkansas governor in 1932 was, in fact, Commonwealth instructor Clay Fulks. Fulks, however, lost in a landslide to Democrat J. Marion Futrell. By the mid-1930s, the college began openly aligning itself with the radical socialist Southern Tenant Farmers Union. This brought widespread condemnation from across the state, and local churches began loudly condemning the college for its socialist leanings. In 1940, the college was convicted in a Polk County court for refusing to fly the American flag during school hours and flying the Soviet communist hammer-and-sickle symbol instead. Fined $5,000, the college was unable to pay the fine and was unable to overturn the conviction on appeal.
By 1940, the college, struggling for students and money, closed its doors. After the college’s closure, it became most well-known in the annals of Arkansas History as being the college attended by Gov. Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas from 1955 to 1967 who had fought to prevent school desegregation. His father, Sam Faubus, had been an outspoken Socialist in Madison County. The future governor, apparently on his father’s suggestion, attended Commonwealth College briefly, though accounts from Faubus and other sources vary his time there from less than a semester to more than a year. As Faubus ran for governor in 1954, his association with the college was raised, and in the heated Cold War anti-communist atmosphere of the time, threatened his campaign. He condemned the college and said that he left as soon as he understood the nature of the college’s teachings. Years after his political career, however, Faubus reportedly spoke quite favorably of the students and teachers at the college.
El Dorado Junior College
El Dorado’s first foray into higher education began in 1928 with the establishment of El Dorado Junior College. It was established as a preparatory school for students hoping to enter universities and operated on the campus of El Dorado High School. The facilities for the high school and El Dorado Junior College remained separate, with the high school using the newer auditorium building and the college using the adjacent classroom building. This building had actually been constructed in 1905 as a then-state-of-the-art three-story brick high school for El Dorado. Because of its use as the home of the junior college, local residents began referring to old high school building as the “Junior College Building.”
J. I. McClerkin served as the college’s president, answering to a board of trustees comprised of a president and five board members. McClerkin was widely respected among college students as the 1935 yearbook, Carcajou (the French word for wolverine, the college mascot), dedicated its edition to him as “a true friend and has helped foster and maintain the true Junior College spirit.”
The college had seven faculty members in the 1930s, many teaching multiple subjects or serving in multiple administrative capacities for the college. The college boasted courses in German, Latin, English, public speaking, mechanical drawing, economics, math, and education. An advertisement in the yearbook boasted the college as the “largest unendowed municipal junior college in Arkansas” and the “oldest municipal junior college in Arkansas.” The advertisement also urged parents to have their children enroll in the college to “Keep your children at home two more years” and “save $1500.” Student life remained quite active as El Dorado Junior College began both men’s and women’s basketball teams in 1935 in addition to having a drama club, a student council, and an award-winning debate team. A choral club, an international relations club, and a tennis club would later be added.
Women played an active role in the college in both administration and student leadership. By 1941, Eleanor Gillian was serving as dean of the college, taking over for W. C. Ware, and two more instructors had been hired by the college. The college had added an aeronautics course in 1941, accredited by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. The aeronautics course employed Chester Lacy as a flight instructor as well as a mechanic. Ten students had enrolled in the course as they learned the basics of flight at the downtown municipal air field.
But the college had been struggling with enrollment as the 1940s began, with enrollment dipping below 100 students with the 1940-41 school year. Enrollment estimates ranged from just over 100 students to less than 250 at various points in the college’s career. In spite of the support the college enjoyed in the El Dorado community, students were hoping that a piece of legislation on the statewide ballot for November 1942 would provide much needed funding for the college’s survival, as evidenced by a notation in the 1941 Carcajou.
With the American entry into World War II with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, most of the male students enlisted in the military, leaving the college unable to operate. Reluctantly, the college shut down in 1942. By August 1942, McClerkin reported to the school board that all the equipment used by the college had been returned to the high school, effectively closing the institution.
The site, however, continued to operate as a high school until the 1960s and then for a few more years as Rogers Junior High School. In 1976, the year-old Southern State College-El Dorado Branch (the present-day South Arkansas Community College) moved to the site of the old high school, using the 1905 building for both administrative offices and classrooms, as it has ever since.
Arkadelphia: “The City of Colleges”
Arkadelphia remains well-known as a center of higher education in the state, boasting itself as the home of two widely-regarded universities, Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University. One of the earliest Arkadelphia colleges was Arkansas Synodical College, a seminary that operated very briefly before the Civil War. At one time, however, many other colleges dotted the cityscape of the Clark County community, prompting city leaders to call their city “the Athens of Arkansas” or “the City of Colleges.”
The Bethal Institute was an Arkadelphia college operated by the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The church organized the college primarily as a technical trade school in 1891, and it opened in 1892. The Presbyterian Church opened the Colored Presbyterian Industrial School in Arkadelphia in 1896 for African-Americans and specialized in domestic economy programs as they were called (essentially home economics), carpentry, and agriculture. Both of these schools had closed by the Great Depression, but they had offered invaluable education opportunities for African-Americans in a time when such opportunities were almost non-existent because of the oppression of segregation.
In 1891, Draughon’s Business College opened in Arkadelphia. It was designed as a co-educational business school, specializing in banking and accounting. Draughon’s Business College had been founded in Texarkana, and the Arkadelphia campus was an attempt to franchise the college. The Clark County campus was soon bought out, however, and renamed the Arkadelphia Practical Business College. A few years later, the college closed.
The Arkadelphia Female College opened in 1891, and, according to Dallas Herndon’s 1922 Centennial History of Arkansas, was taken over and reorganized as co-educational Arkadelphia Methodist College by church leaders in order to begin a Methodist school in the southern part of the state. The Methodist church was unable to continue supporting the college financially by the late 1920s, however. Rather than see the college fall to bankruptcy, Arkadelphia residents rallied and arranged for the college to be taken over by the state in 1929 under Act 46 of the state legislative session that year. The State of Arkansas then renamed the college Henderson State Teachers College, the present-day Henderson State University.
Chester Ashley, an early US Senator from Arkansas (1844-1848) as well as a prominent land owner and slave owner in southern Arkansas, freed some of his slaves. One freedman, William Wallace Andrews, had been given a parcel of land in Helena by Ashley and had started a church and school on the land. During the Civil War, a group of Quakers came to Phillips County and bought the site from Andrews. Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, have a long connection with civil rights in the United States and had been ardent leaders in the abolitionist movement in the years leading to the Civil War. By 1864, the Quakers had a school and an orphanage in operation for African-Americans at the site, a refuge for freedmen and the most innocent victims of the war. By 1873, the Quakers moved the school outside Helena and added a teaching program for African-Americans, renaming the school Southland College in the process. Within 15 years, the college had five buildings and more than 300 students, clearly becoming one of the most successful private African-American colleges in the state. By the early twentieth century, however, money problems had hit Southland College, forcing it to close down by 1925.
The prestigious Yale University in Connecticut also played a role in Arkansas higher education. In 1912, Charles Watzek, a graduate of the Yale School of Forestry brought a class to Crossett to study the forests of Ashley County and the Crossett Lumber Company, co-founded by Watzek’s father, Dr. John Watzek, in 1899. As development and expansion of the southern lumber industry continued in the 1910s and 1920s, Yale recognized the need to study sustained management of forests and timber harvesting. Yale professors and Yale forestry students continued to study Crossett lumber operations and serve as consultants to area lumber companies through World War II.
In 1946, the Crossett Lumber Company offered a permanent site at its mill to the Yale forestry program for student classrooms, dormitories, and a student cafeteria. The university established an 11-week program for its students to continue to gain hands-on education examining all aspects of the timber industry and timer processing in addition to field experience studying the local forests. In effect, Yale had opened an extension campus in Ashley County. By the 1960s, however, the program began to falter, and the Yale Camp, as it came to be called, was closed in 1966.
Forest Echoes Technical Institute
Some years after the closure of the Yale extension school, a new local college was opened in Ashley County. Forest Echoes Technical Institute opened in North Crossett in September 1975 as part of a wave of new community colleges and trade schools opening across Arkansas that included Southern State College – El Dorado Branch, Great Rivers Technical Institute in McGehee, and Ozarka College in northern Arkansas. Forest Echoes offered forestry programs and a variety of other skilled trades programs. The college, however, struggled, as the timber industry and the economy of southeastern Arkansas in general struggled throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s.
In January 1988, the college was dealt a heartbreaking setback as a tornado ripped through the area and destroyed the main building. Undeterred, the community rallied back, pouring money into rebuilding the campus and securing state funds for the rebuilding effort. Within ten months, a new building was opened for Forest Echoes. By 1993, a second classroom building was added to the campus. By the beginning of the new century, the college offered a variety of programs, including licensed practical nursing, electromechanical technology and maintenance, and computer networking.
But the college was facing sobering economic realities as enrollment remained weak and money problems mounted. By 2002, facing the possibility of closure, the college began looking at options to keep the doors open. Negotiations began with the nearby University of Arkansas at Monticello to merge Forest Echoes with UAM. On February 7, 2003, the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board officially approved the absorption of Forest Echoes into UAM, now rechristened as the University of Arkansas at Monticello College of Technology – Crossett, offering the same array of trade programs to the Ashley County community.
Great Rivers Technical Institute
The story of Great Rivers Technical Institute is all-too familiar to the southeast Arkansas region. Great Rivers opened in September 1975 in McGehee in southern Desha County with great hopes from the community. Plagued by economic decline and population decline, the college struggled to stay afloat in spite of popular support within the community and a variety of technical programs. By the 1990s, the college offered agricultural technology, early childhood education, automotive technology, welding, nursing, and a paramedic program. By fall 2002, Great Rivers had only 121 full-time students, and like Forest Echoes, began discussing a merger program with UAM. The merger was approved by state officials in February 2003 and remains open today as the UAM College of Technology-McGehee.
Bridges is a professor of history and geography at South Arkansas Community College and is an El Dorado resident.
Arkansas Department of Higher Education, “Meeting of the Higher Education
Coordinating Board,” August 6, 2004.
Beauchamp, J. D. II, ed. Carcajou, 1935. El Dorado: El Dorado Printing Co., 1935.
Cobb, William H. “Commonwealth College,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and
Conklin, E. P. “Higher Education,” in Arkansas and Its People, A History, 1541-1930, David Y. Thomas, ed. (New York: American Historical Society, 1930): 483-495.
Darling, O. H., Jr., and Bill Norman, “Yale Camp,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History
and Culture, www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net.
Dillard, Tom W. “Remembering Arkansas: Tiny colleges wanted students insulated and educated,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 8, 2007.
_________. “Remembering Arkansas: Mena’s Commonwealth College had socialist ideas,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 15, 2007.
Franklin, John Hope and Alfred A. Moss. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of
African-Americans, 8th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999.
Herndon, Dallas T. A Centennial History of Arkansas, 3 vols. Little Rock: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922.
Miller, Marjorie Rae, ed. Carcajou, 1941. El Dorado: Bell Printing Co., 1941.
Reed, Roy. Faubus: The Life and Times of an American Prodigal. Fayetteville:
University of Arkansas Press, 1997.
Richter, Wendy, ed. Clark County, Arkansas: Past and Present. Arkadelphia: Clark County Historical Association, 1992.
Stanford, Barbara. “Religious Society of Friends,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net.
“University of Arkansas College of Technology-Crossett, Institution and Merger
“University of Arkansas College of Technology-McGehee, Institution and Merger
Whayne, Jeannie, ed. Arkansas: A Narrative History. Fayetteville: University of
Arkansas Press, 2003.
Whitfield, Ben. “El Dorado’s Two-Year Colleges,” South Arkansas Historical Journal 1 (Fall 2001): 4-14.
“Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies,”
THE LIFE OF MILES C. HOGAN
By Jessica Pepper
Note: This article is adapted from an interview with World War II veteran Miles C. Hogan. Writer and interviewer Jessica Pepper offers her observations of a unique individual and his life from the 1920s through the new century.
Mr. Miles C. Hogan graciously agreed to share highlights of his life. Gracious is a good description of this gentleman. I experienced a walk back in time that made me aware that everyone has an interesting history if we only take the time to listen.
He told of his grandfather, Sandy Hogan, who was born in 1864 to slave parents. His grandfather chose the name Hogan for his family in the years following the Civil War. His wife came from a family of two girls and one boy had been slaves for the Coleman Family in the Bernice-Ruston, Louisiana, area, not far from the Arkansas state line. They settled in the same area and farmed for their livelihood. Sandy Hogan and his wife reared their children on the farm. They had a daughter, Della, and a son, Shadrach Meshach Abednego, who was the father of Miles C. Hogan. Eventually, Shadrach Hogan would drop the Abednego from his name and kept the rest.
Della Hogan would play a major role in the life of Miles Hogan. She was born in Caledonia, Arkansas, on July 20, 1905. She worked hard and eventually made her way to college, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree from AM&N College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff). She would make her way back to Union County and work as a school teacher for 35 years.
Miles Hogan himself would be delivered by a midwife, Sallie Ward, on February 28, 1918. His Aunt Della was his first grade school teacher; she taught all the lower-grades in a one-room school. A two-mile walk to the school in the Caledonia area seemed very short compared to the five-mile walk to the Junction City school attended by the upper-grade students. Hogan developed a love of reading from the beginning. His eyes gleamed with amusement as he remembered the story in the primer of the Little Choo-Choo who chugged up the hill with the load of coal and down into the valley. Some of his favorite books were Moby Dick, The House of Seven Gables, The Scarlet Letter, and Gone with the Wind.
He had a busy life on the farm. He recalled his chores with a smile. He plowed, hoed, drew water from a well he helped dig, chopped wood, milked, and churned. He had a special mule named Rollie that he enjoyed working with. But the smile disappeared as he remembered the chore he liked the least: picking cotton. "It ruined my back and was so very painful to my hands."
They never knew hunger on the farm. It was a very different lifestyle from the one I know, a slower pace caused by time taken to raise and prepare all their food. Wonderful memories of pinching mouth-watering bites of the cured meats hanging in the smoke house, dry salt meat, dried beef, and the great variety of greens, cabbage, turnip greens, collards -- all cooked and served with hot cornbread. They had plenty of milk and fresh-churned butter. Happy times of playing with homemade toys such as bean shooters made from worn tire tubes, Tom Walkers, and toy trucks were such a contrast to Toys “R” Us.
Hogan left the farm at the age of 15 and attended Washington School in El Dorado. His favorite subjects were history, science, and algebra. He loved to put numbers in place of the letters in algebra but found English to be his hardest subject. He participated in all the sports at school: sandlot baseball, sandlot football, and basketball. He served as treasurer of his class.
He developed a love for music at school where he participated in singing with an all-boy chorus and also a mixed chorus. The school chorus won numerous awards for their performances. A highlight of his chorus memories was being a part of the all-boy chorus which was asked to perform at the grand opening of the KELD radio station. This love of music remains with him today as he can play drums and marimba and owns his own piano and keyboard. He was all smiles as he recalled all the big bands and singers he had the privilege of hearing during his years in New York.
He gave his Aunt Della, along with a teacher named Mr. Meadows, a graduate of Grambling University, the credit for being the role models who influenced his life during his school years. Lots of memories of those days, from the duck cloth britches and feed sack shirt, handmade by his grandmother, to the fad of the older boys had of growing their hair long and slicking it down straight back with what they called “axle grease” surfaced as he shared special times with friends. One special friend, Hugh Watson, remained a close friend after their school years were over. They had a love of sports and a desire for education in common.
During his high school years, Hogan wrote the historic Wilberforce College in Ohio for acceptance and received permission to enroll. This done, he interviewed with the president of First National Bank, Mr. Charlie Murphy. He applied for the job of assistant janitor and got it. The janitor, a Mr. Humphrey, trained him. Hogan remembered that he was hard to work for, but he followed his instructions, and they got along fine. In the summer before college, he worked as a Red Cap for the Tri-State Bus Co. that ran from El Dorado to Shreveport, Louisiana. It was located in what is now a shoe shop building behind the Rialto Theater. He saved all his nickels, dimes, and quarters which were placed in a savings account which didn't pay a whole lot of interest!
In relating his story, I saw the unfolding of events that carried him to Ohio for a year of general business courses and across the state line to Indiana where he enlisted in the army after his college money ran out. Enlisting in 1939, he should have served until 1942, but World War II broke out and he remained until 1945. He was sent from Ft. Benjamin, Indiana, to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. Lt. Col. John W. Duffield of Oakland, California, would play a major role in his life at this point. “He was very exacting and could be very hard, but you learned how to soldier under him.”
Working his way up through the ranks, he performed various duties from drill sergeant, squad leader, and section leader, listing the progression from buck sergeant, supply sergeant, and master sergeant. I could see how he had been prepared at an early age by his teachers, the janitor, and his bus station employer to accept instruction for learning to do your best. He had the task of requisitioning everything for the men: vehicles, guns, tanks, trucks, uniforms, shoes, typewriters, to everything else that would be needed to outfit the troops and getting it aboard the ship, Santa Poleta, that carried him to an unknown world in North Africa. Long hours went into seeing that everything needed was crated for the trip. He sealed the crates himself.
His honorable discharge, dated July 6, 1945, listed his citations: Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, European African Middle Eastern Theater Campaign Ribbon. Dedication to his division was evident when he shared that he had appendicitis and had to stay behind for six months. But he wrote a letter to General Dwight D. Eisenhower requesting that he be allowed to rejoin his division. He was all smiles as he reported that he was allowed to catch up with them.
When asked if he had ever met any famous people, he proudly announced, “I served under General Patton at Casablanca. He was a hard, tough man, but if you soldiered under him, you could get along; and I did. I met General Omar Bradley, Eisenhower, Whitman, Clark, and English General Wilson. They all played major roles in World War II.”
Our time together flew as he shared the beauty of Venice, the wonder of Rome, Florence, and Casablanca -- and the happy-to-be-alive feeling when he set foot back in the USA after the war.
Shortly after Hogan returned home from World War II, his father died at age 77. He went to work for the government and lived in Boston, Massachusetts, for ten years and Syracuse, New York, for forty years. He retired in 1983 when he made the decision to return to El Dorado to care for Aunt Della, who was widowed. He dutifully cared for this lady, who played such an important role in his life up until her death. She died Sunday, December 17, 2000, at the age of 95.
I thank Mr. Miles C. Hogan for allowing me to share his memories. I have a deep respect for this gentleman who is proof that our life is what we make of it and we can never start too early to prepare ourselves for the future.
On a personal note, I want to thank Mr. Miles C. Hogan for allowing me to share his memories. I have a deep respect for this gentleman, who is proof that our life is what we make of it, and we can never start too early to prepare ourselves for the future.
Pepper is an El Dorado resident and a student at South Arkansas Community College.
THE BOBBY BIRD STORY
By Bobby Griffith
Note: This story was taken from an oral interview of musician Bobby Bird in 2006.
Bobby Bird's career in music spans 50 years, and during this 50 years he has had many different bands and musicians who played with him. His group is a family affair. Bobby has two brothers, Dwight and Gary who are also musicians. They have all played together from the beginning; more than 50 years together in the music world. Bobby plays the guitar and is the emcee of the group, and the lead singer in harmony and vocals. Gary plays fiddle and is in harmony and vocals. Dwight plays banjo and is in harmony and vocals. This group plays on the Blue Grass style, and is considered to be one of the most outstanding groups in the whole country that plays this type of music. Their tapes and CDs consist of gospel songs in the main; however, they are not strangers to country music. They have had other musicians and singers who played and sang with them, sometimes as lead singers and players who were backups.
Their music has led them all over the country, and to play and sing with some of the biggest stars in the country music field. They have won many awards, and have been nominated for many more.
They began their musical careers in a small farming community in South Arkansas. Their first band was called “The Chitlin’ Switch Roadrunners.” They were very young boys when they first started playing, singing and performing publicly, Bobby's youngest brother “Gary” had to stand on a bucket to reach the microphone, thereby acquiring the nick-name "Bucket." Gary plays the fiddle. Gary's late wife who also played the fiddle was one of the band's musicians and singers, and had played many duets with Gary; however, Dorothy passed away before the latest CD was cut. Their musical career started in the late 1940s and 1950s, and have spanned more than 50 years and is still going strong. Though the name of their band has changed to "Union Kun-Tree", the style of their music has not changed. They are continuing a family tradition, being inspired by their father, and grandfathers, who had a band in the 20's and 30's called "The Champagnolle String Band." They passed on a great musical heritage from generation to generation for over one hundred years.
As Bobby and the band excelled in their music, they were able to have their own radio show on local station KDMS for four and a half years. They were booked on the Louisiana Hayride Show in Shreveport, Louisiana, which was similar to another great show in Nashville, Tennessee, The Grand Ole Opry. Many Opry stars such as Little Jimmy Dickens had their beginnings on the Hayride. This is also where Elvis Presley performed in the beginning of his career, he also becoming a legend. Bobby and the band's opportunity to go on the Hayride put them with numerous Country/Bluegrass and Rock -a-Billy legends.
They were able to win the biggest band contest west of the Mississippi at the Salt Creek Park Festival in Hugo, Oklahoma. They won first place over 27 other bands. They received a trophy and an album recorded live at the festival, pressed out and ready for sale in 72 hours. The album is called The Salt Creek Park Winners.
worldwide. This led to the group being booked on the Louisiana Hayride. Also they were booked on The Jack Bowles Show on WSM in Nashville, Tennessee, home of the famous Opry radio program. They were also booked on The Martha White Radio Show, also on WSM.
They signed with Smiley Wilson Talent Agency in Tennessee and recorded their fourth album Stretchin’ Out on the Ridge Runner record label.
They are also mentioned in The History of Country Music USA, Volume #3 by Doctor Bill C. Malone, a foremost authority in Country Music history.
Bobby's wife, Kathy, whose father was a conductor on the Rock Island Rail Road, was inspired to write a song called Daddy’s Train, cut as a single and was recorded by Bird and Davis. This piece was used in a movie made for television in Spain. A second single, Legend of Fayetteville, received recognition from the Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, in a proclamation and a day in their honor. They were also honored with a special citation by The Arkansas Legislature and special Congressional recognition from the United States Congress and the United States Senate. They were nominated for the National Heritage Fellowship Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award. Bobby Glen Bird, nick-named "Bob" was born in El Dorado, Arkansas on June 29, 1940. He is the first son of Walter and Sue Bird. Bobby never met his grandparents, but a great grandfather was a farmer and fought in the Civil War. He says he remembers his parents discussing world events and politics.
Bobby says he does not remember not having enough food to eat, but does remember not liking the chores he had to do around the house.
His favorite toy, of course, was a guitar his dad gave to him. It seems now it was the best toy he could ever receive, he has not stopped playing it yet.
When Bobby remembers his school days, he says there was discipline, and good social activities. He had to ride the school bus. He liked playing football and track; however, he did not like all that practice.
Bobby relates that a good friend that he has known for the longest is Mickey Davis. They have enjoyed each other for 66 years and have played music together all their lives. Davis is a legend in his own time. He has played the fiddle all his life and holds a masters degree in music. He has played for the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, President Ronald Reagan, governors, and for many people of distinction, as well as plain old country folks, and now plays with Bobby and the band which includes all of Bobby's brothers. Bobby goes on to say that Davis is like a kindred spirit or soul mate and a brother.
Bobby's first wife having passed away left him alone until he met Kathy Lloyd through his aunt Margie Davis. He describes Kathy as being a petite, kind hearted, dark haired, beautiful girl, who he married on August 9, 1984. His brother, Dwight Bird, who is a Baptist Minister, performed the wedding. They have been married 22 years and have two daughters, Anita Lynn Murphree and Dusti Carol Wyrick. Bobby says if he had to do it all over he would not raise his family any different. Each child had a different personality and had to be treated differently.
Bobby's first job was painting houses and carpentry work, and his dad taught him the art. He continued to do this work and says he made enough money to live comfortably. He usually worked eight hours a day. Due to a hurt back he had to retire at age 52.
The hardest choice he ever had to make was to join the United States Air force or not, he did join, and says it was the right choice.
Most people are influenced by someone, either for good or bad. Bobby says his parents were the good of his life. His dad, Walter Bird, was a Baptist minister, he and Bobby's mother, Sue, taught him the Bible and respect for God. They also taught him right from wrong. He says they changed the course of his life, and made a big impact on how he lived his life.
He says he remembers many wars like, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and the present wars.
Bobby describes himself as being about five and one half feet tall with graying hair and blue eyes. He says his general health is fair to good, but he has a back problem. He also has diabetes, which he believes is hereditary. He does exercise sometimes.
He has never been the victim of a crime; but, has been in a serious accident, this happened while the band was on the road and a big snow storm had blown in. He says no one has ever had to save his life, but Jesus Christ did. Bobby did save someone's life, a boy had an accident on a motorcycle and Bobby helped put a tourniquet on his leg that was cut off at the knee. He says if he could change anything about himself, it would be his temperament, that he would like to be more easygoing. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and the local New Testament Church and its' doctrines. He believes in heaven and hell, and an after life.
His most stressful experience was the death of his parents and grandparents.
The scariest thing that has happened to him, is when he almost drowned as a child, and one time when he cut his hand.
The most amazing thing that has happened to him is becoming a grandparent to six grandchildren.
Favorite style of music: Traditional Bluegrass and Gospel and this sets Bobby and his brothers and their band apart from other forms of music. They have been playing and singing it for close to sixty years.
Favorite musical instrument: Guitar, Banjo, Fiddle. Favorite song: He says he likes all of them.
Favorite television program: The Grand Ole Opry. Favorite season: Fall.
Favorite tree: He likes all the trees.
Favorite flower: Rose.
Favorite color: Black.
Favorite animal: He says he likes all animals.
Bobby says the best cook when he was at home was his mother, and she was also the best story teller; and the hardest worker was his dad. renowned musicians. They have played and sang for presidents, governors, congressmen, senators and just about every type of person you could name. They have played and sang with the biggest stars in country and gospel music, and also played and sang with the rock and roll king Elvis Presley. They have played their music and sung their songs over a large part of the United States and if they had gone over seas they would have performed for kings and queens.
Looking back over his life, if Bobby had any advice to give his children; it would be like King Solomon of old told his children: love God, keep His commandments, love one another, and respect your elders.
Griffith is an El Dorado resident and a student at South Arkansas Community College.
An Interpretive Essay
By Richard H. Mason
OIL IN ARKANSAS:
On January 10, 1921, shortly after 4:00 PM on a cold winter’s day, a deafening roar from a drilling rig one mile west of El Dorado announced the discovery of oil in Arkansas. Dr. Samuel Busey brought in the Armstrong # 1 as an earthshaking, roaring oil well. The plume of oil could be seen from downtown El Dorado, a small farming and lumbering village of 3800. The town would never be the same.
Church bells rang, the sawmill whistle sounded, and people streamed out of town to see oil spewing up through the 75-foot wooden derrick, and the next day a special five coach train, chartered from Shreveport, with two white flags flying from the engine, pulled into El Dorado's Rock Island station. The following day five charter trains arrived from Little Rock, and within a year, twenty-two trains daily were arriving and departing from the two El Dorado stations.
Excitement surged through the little town as rumors spread of poor farmers being made millionaires overnight. Oilmen and promoters rushed in from Texas and Louisiana with drilling equipment, and within a few weeks rigs were busy drilling offsets to the Busey well. Landmen scoured countryside, buying up leases, and the oil fever spread like wildfire.
The Garrett Hotel lobby became the center of oil lease trading, and the influx of people was so great the hotel put up cots in the lobby. The Busey well lasted only forty-five days, but it kicked off the oil boom: within six months over 275 wells had been drilled in South Arkansas and only 26 were dry holes. As soon as these new wells confirmed the presence of additional oil fields, the boom was on, and oh, what a boom it was.
OIL IN ARKANSAS --- CHAOS
Within a few short months El Dorado's population doubled, and, before the year was out, it doubled again before peaking two years later at over 40,000.
With the population explosion came oilmen from Louisiana and Texas, but along with them, on the trains that arrived daily, were thousands of bums, promoters, and crooks. Within weeks of the discovery barrelhouses with prostitutes, gambling, and whisky sprouted up across from the railroad station on South Washington Street, which became known as Hamburger Row because of the hamburger stands on the streets. During the first two years of the oil boom Hamburger Row reverted to the lawlessness of the old West as El Dorado's small police force was unable to handle the chaos. On street corners young boys sold moonshine in six-ounce Coca Cola bottles for $1.25; prostitutes walked the streets, and dope peddlers like Smiling Jack and Weasel tugged at people's sleeves. Hamburger Row was filled with characters like Barrelhouse Sue, who had come up from Homer, Louisiana, following the boom and sang, danced, and solicited in places like Dago Red's, Pistol Hill, and Shotgun Valley. Two Shot Blondie, another madam, imported prostitutes and made moonshine deliveries and was well-known on Hamburger Row and Jake's Place, the biggest and most notorious of the barrelhouses and the one that boasted the prettiest girls in town. Big Ed, a giant of a man, was a gang enforcer for the infamous Silvertop, who made door-to-door deliveries. Teams of oxen and mules, some as long as 20 pairs, pulled oil field equipment through the streets, and after a heavy rain, the iron-wheeled wagons turned most of the streets in town into quagmires so dangerous some mules actually drowned in the potholes.
OIL IN ARKANSAS --- THE SMACKOVER FIELD
A little over a year after the initial oil discovery by Dr. Busey, the Oil Operators Trust-¬Murphy # l, a wildcat well staked on a geologic feature called the Norphlet dome, drilled into the gas-cap of what would become the huge Smackover Oil Field. The well blew out and made a crater 500 feet across and 150 deep, which swallowed up the rig, the derrick, and all of the drilling equipment. The well caught fire and created a 300 foot high natural gas flare, which made night seem like day in downtown El Dorado ten miles away. This well would lead to the discovery of the giant Smackover Oil Field, and later that summer the first oil well, the Reverend Charlie Richardson #1 was completed. The oil boom accelerated with the discovery of this huge oil field, and the populations of towns like Norphlet and Smackover grew to over 10,000 in only a few weeks. Many of the Smackover Field oil wells came in at over 50,000 barrels of oil a day, and one, the # 1 Burton, gauged at 74,500 barrels a day. At the peak of the boom Arkansas was one of the leading oil producing states in the nation. During the first five years of the boom, more money flowed into El Dorado than the total appraised value of all the property in the state and boasted the largest concentrations of millionaires in the country, and allowed the citizens of El Dorado to construct the biggest and most elaborate county courthouse in the state, three magnificent churches, and a downtown full of fine buildings, including what was at that time one of the tallest buildings west of the Mississippi, the Lion Oil Building.
OIL IN ARKANSAS --- THE WILDCATTERS
During the oil boom numerous individuals, or wildcatters, made their mark on the South Arkansas scene. H. L. Hunt, at one time the richest man in the world, opened a barrelhouse on Hamburger Row, made his financial stake there, and then started investing in drilling ventures in the Smackover Oil Field as the Hunt Oil Company. C. H. Murphy, the founder of Murphy Corporation, was a successful businessman in El Dorado, and his timber and land holdings allowed him to start Murphy Corporation, now a Fortune 500 company. Pat Marr, a Texas oilman, staked a well near the Smackover Field and offered a money-back guarantee to his investors, promising them he would bring in a gusher, and he did. J. D. Nantz, a Fort Worth, Texas, oilman, formed the Smackover Company and predicted his investors would be receiving $75,000 a day in income within a few weeks. Colonel T. H. Barton started with a gas gathering system, and later purchased a small refinery, expanded it into the Lion Oil Company, which at one time had several thousand gasoline stations across the mid-South. Other South Arkansas businessmen who invested in the oil boom and became successful were Joe Mahony, Emon Mahony, Sr., H. C. Berry, and Dr. J. S. Rushing. Charles Murphy, Jr., the son of C. H. Murphy, took over Murphy Corporation in 1947 and over several decades built the Corporation into an international oil giant. Chesley Pruet expanded an interest in a single drilling rig into a multi-million dollar oil and gas exploration company. O. C. Bailey and Boyd Alderson, former chairmen of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, were responsible for the orderly development of the industry during this formative period.
It was quite a boom, all right, and the small town of El Dorado, which boasted a population of 3,800 in 1920, came out of the boom with a population of over 25,000 and for many years was the richest town in the state.
Mason is an El Dorado businessman and historic preservation enthusiast who has helped revitalize many of the historic buildings in downtown El Dorado. Mr. Mason has led the effort to preserve the Oil Boom heritage of El Dorado with his construction of the new Oil Heritage Park in downtown El Dorado, located at the corner of Cedar and Jefferson Streets. More additions to the park detailing the history and impact of the 1920s in South Arkansas are planned in coming years. Photographs of the Oil Heritage Park courtesy of Worth Camp.
THE WONDROUS PORCHIA FAMILY
By Jacqueline B. Holmes
Note: This article adapted from a 2006 interview with preacher and community activist Edgar Allen Porchia and his wife, Mamie Jo Porchia.
Edgar Allen Porchia was twelve years old when he noticed eleven-year-old Mamie Jo Moore at school. She was “courting” another young man at the time, but Edgar Porchia was determined for her to notice him. It was the winter of 1937 while she was helping to collect wood for the wood-burning stove used for heating the schoolhouse, which was a one-room building. She finally started talking to him, and they began courting. It was the beginning of their long and fruitful life together.
Three years later, on April 23, 1941, they were married. He had to lie about his age to get married because he couldn't get a job otherwise. Back then, you had to be at least eighteen to work at the local logging company in Camden. He worked there for a few years and then at a local furniture store for a short time before devoting himself fully to the ministry, as he said, “I was called by God to preach.”
His wife didn't want a preacher for a husband, so he had fought his calling for several years in order to please her. He didn't want his wife to work because he said, "I'll work and bring home the money to support us if you'll stay at home and raise our children." That's exactly what she did; however, she did work for about a month at the local school. "I worked long enough to buy me and Phyllis a pair of boots," she smiled. She is a sweet, soft-spoken lady who obviously has a great deal of respect for her husband and his role as the head of the family because she allowed him to do most of the talking during the interview.
The Porchias moved to El Dorado in 1968 just before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (his personal note on the date), and right after their youngest child, Cynthia, was born. Their first child, William, was born in 1945. Between the births of the first and last Porchia child, there were amazingly fifteen other births – a total of eight sons and nine daughters. Their children became successful teachers, preachers, and businessmen. After William Porchia, now a retired school teacher, Russell was born, now an accountant. Verdia Anderson Porchia was born next and was a teacher as well; unfortunately, she died at age thirty-six after having received her masters degree and left one son, Derrick.
Of the Porchia family, Shadrach was born next as is a pastor as well as principal of the Alternative Learning Center in Camden. Shadrach Porchia also serves as Dean of the State Congress of Baptist Churches. Bobbie Porchia Massey and Emanuel Porchia are both retired school teachers. Edgar, the next oldest, is an art teacher. Naomi Porchia Johnson is currently a homemaker but has a teaching degree. Carolyn Porchia Waller is also a teacher. Ronnie Porchia is a captain in the US Army and is a retired pastor. JoAnn Porchia Washington works at a local bank but also has a teaching degree. Roy Lee Porchia is a car dealer in Little Rock. Vivian Porchia Manning is a radiologist. The next oldest were twins, Phyllis, a teacher, and Phillip, a preacher. Tonya Porchia Green works as a cosmetologist. The last Porchia daughter, Cynthia Wallace, works as a real estate agent.
With so many educators, pastors, and other professionals as their very own children, the Porchias are very proud parents. They raised their seventeen children to be independent and reliant only on their family. Mrs. Porchia wouldn’t whoop her children if they did anything wrong while her husband was out; she just waited on him and let him handle the discipline. While he would be whooping one of the children, Carolyn Waller remembered her mother would say, “That’s enough, Rev.”
They were taught not to ask anyone for anything, no matter how small it was, even a pencil. It is the result of proper raising that the group turned out so well because Mrs. Porchia said that they didn’t encourage any of them to become what they chose but that the children made their own decisions and they supported them.
Daughter Carolyn Waller, who was present during the interview, reflected that after each of them were born, their father made their mother stay in bed for a month and wouldn’t let her do anything. Obviously, they were wonderful parents because all their seventeen children turned out remarkably well despite the hardships they faced over the years.
Mr. Porchia remembers that as he and his wife were busy raising their children, times were changing over the years. As their older children were being born, the schools were not yet integrated, and they encouraged their children to do well in school despite what was happening around them. They witnessed racially motivate acts such as having to drink out of separate fountains, sitting at the back of buses, and being called all sorts of racial slurs. He said that was before Mrs. Rosa Parks did what she did and things got better for “coloreds,” as he stated that he prefers to think of himself.
Edgar Porchia preached his first sermon on October 10, 1950, at age 25, in Camden and has been preaching ever since that time. He is retired but continues to devote himself to his life work in the ministry. At eighty years old, he is still active in the church, the community, and within his own family. He cares for his wife when she is sick and serves as the Dean of the National Baptist Convention among holding other positions of equal importance. Rev. Porchia has pastured seven churches, built five other churches, and in 2005, re-built his current church, Greater Paradise Missionary Baptist Church in El Dorado, which had burnt in 2001.
The Porchias have thirty-two grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. They are a close, loving family that spends every holiday together and as many days throughout the year as possible. On April 1, 2005, all the children gave their mother $80 to celebrate her seventy-ninth birthday, which they celebrated with a birthday dinner prepared by Carolyn at the Porchia home. They did the same for their father on December 3, when he celebrated his eightieth birthday at Ryan’s Family Steakhouse, once of the Porchias’ favorite places to eat. They also enjoy riding around and taking an occasional trip to Camden.
The remarkable Porchia family is an asset to our community and a shining tribute to Arkansas history.
Holmes is an El Dorado resident and a student at South Arkansas Community College.
South Arkansas History Notes
2007 List of Endangered Arkansas Historic Sites Announced
The Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas has announced its annual list of the most endangered historic sites in Arkansas.
Eight sites across the state were listed:
The Woodruff House in Little Rock, home of the founder and longtime editor of the Arkansas Gazette William Woodruff, who founded the newspaper in 1819 and also printed the first book in the state in 1821; the Mountainaire Apartments in Hot Springs dating from the 1950s; the landmark Berger-Graham House in Jonesboro; the Pitman’s Ferry site in Randolph County, which is the site of four Civil War engagements; the Salem Community School in Fayetteville, one of the few remaining one-room schools in Northwest Arkansas; the Dunbar Historic Neighborhood in Little Rock, a traditional African-American neighborhood which had been home to six members of the Little Rock Nine during the Central High School desegregation crisis in 1957; Carlson Terrace at the University of Arkansas; Campbell Cemetery in Randolph County; and the 40 remaining forest fire lookouts built in the state in the 1920s and 1930s of the original 120 built, mostly by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
Most sites are already listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the US Department of the Interior. Sites chosen in previous years include the boyhood home of the late country music legend Johnny Cash at the Dyess Colony in northeast Arkansas from the 2006 list; the Centennial Baptist Church in Helena-West Helena which was the home church of the Rev. Dr. Elias Camp Morris, president of the National Baptist Convention from 1895 to 1922, and the only known example of an African-American church in Arkansas designed by African-American architects, also from the 2006 list.
The list has been chosen annually since 1999 from nominations submitted by the public to highlight the danger to historic places across the state from destruction and damage by neglect or development. More on the Endangered Places List can be found at www.preservearkansas.org.
Historical Foundation Marks 35th Anniversary
The South Arkansas Historical Foundation will celebrate its thirty-fifth anniversary November 1 in El Dorado, foundation president Diane Alderson has announced. The foundation was founded in 1972 for preservation and education about El Dorado’s past. It regularly donates historic projects across the city, including the African-American Historical Museum and the South Arkansas Historical Journal. The foundation also operates the John Newton Home, an 1843 home that has become both a museum and a centerpiece for meetings and El Dorado social events.
Ben Johnson named SAU Dean of Liberal Arts
Ben Johnson, a popular historian and author, has been promoted to Dean of Liberal and Performing Arts at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia. The announcement was made by the university this summer. He had been serving as a professor of history at SAU since 2002 after having taught at South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado for a number of years.
The College of Liberal and Performing Arts offers 18 majors in the fields of art and design, music, history, political science, and behavioral and social sciences. The college includes more than four dozen professors, departmental chairs, and archaeologists.
Johnson is the author of three books on Arkansas history, including: Fierce Solitude: A Life of John Gould Fletcher (1994), Arkansas in Modern America, 1930-1999 (2000), and John Barleycorn Must Die: The War Against Drink in Arkansas (2005) and holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
South Arkansas Historical Society
Peter G. Buletza
Maylon T. Rice
Lance L. Larey
Worth O. Camp
Barton Library, El Dorado
Warren Branch Library
Clark County Historical Association
Ouachita Baptist University History Department
Magale Library, Southern Arkansas University
Mr. and Mrs. John G. Ragsdale
El Dorado Historic District Commission