A Real Satisfaction

"A Real Satisfaction"

Online Exhibit
Essie Ward at her home near Marshall (Searcy County), Arkansas, 1970s.

Essie Ward at her home near Marshall (Searcy County), Arkansas, 1970s. Jeanne Hofer-Tucker Collection (S-96-10-3)

Folk artist Essie Treat Ward has been called the “Grandma Moses of the Ozarks.” Born in the Searcy County community of Nubbin Hill in 1902, Essie began drawing when she was a young girl. Throughout her life, she created drawings, paintings, toys, and sculptures—all without the benefit of formal training.

Hers was the life of a traditional Ozark woman. Essie married Jesse Ward in 1922. The couple raised chickens, hogs, vegetables, fruit trees, and seven children on a small farm near Marshall. Much of the farm work fell to Essie when Jesse was diagnosed with diabetes.

In 1959, Essie was diagnosed with cancer. After an operation, doctors sent her home with orders to slow down. That’s when Essie put down the plow and picked up a paint brush.

Most of Essie Ward’s paintings show the adventures of Miranda and Hezzakiah, an old Ozark pioneer couple. Essie was inspired to create these characters when a friend came to her with a photograph of a woman churning butter in the doorway of a log cabin. “He had carried that picture in his billfold for thirty years trying to find somebody to paint it,” Ward said. She tried her hand at it, and as she recalled, “it turned out real good.”

Miranda and Hezzakiah find themselves in all sorts of predicaments. They are joined by a cast of characters, including farm animals, wildlife, and even ticks. The Miranda and Hezzakiah paintings became so popular that orders came in faster than Ward could fill them. She painted on masonite, holding the board in her lap, with oil paints straight from the tube. She usually finished one picture a day.

Although each painting is original, Ward developed a series of fifty-five different Miranda and Hezzakiah scenes, complete with landscapes shaded correctly for the season of the year. Customers selected one of the scenes when they placed their order. Ward’s trademark appears in every painting: two tiny white marks that resemble rabbit or mule ears.

Fame came to Essie Ward in 1970, when she was invited to participate in the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C.

Through the years, Essie Ward sold hundreds of paintings. In a 1971 interview she remarked, “[Painting] is all I’ve ever wanted to do, yet I never studied anything about painting. I guess you could say I just paint as I see it—actually, or in my memory. Others like what I do. That’s a real satisfaction.”

Essie Ward lived all of her seventy-nine years in the hills of Searcy County. She died in 1981, and is buried at Canaan Cemetery in Marshall.

To learn more about the life and work of Essie Ward, watch a vidcast by Shiloh Museum outreach coordinator Susan Young (also available on YouTube and iTunes).

We often receive questions from folks asking us to estimate the monetary value of their Essie Ward painting. As a matter of best museum practices, the Shiloh Museum does not provide or estimate values for any antiques or collectibles. Regarding Essie Ward, some years back we checked with a qualified folk art appraiser and he reported that Essie Ward paintings “have no presence in the folk art market and therefore no estimated market value.” If you are interested in contacting an art appraiser about your painting(s), qualified folk art appraisers can be found at the American Society of Appraisers website. Under “Appraisal Expertise/ASA Specialty, select “American Folk Art.”

Essie Ward at her home near Marshall (Searcy County), Arkansas, 1970s.

Essie Ward at her home near Marshall (Searcy County), Arkansas, 1970s. Jeanne Hofer-Tucker Collection (S-96-10-3)

Folk artist Essie Treat Ward has been called the “Grandma Moses of the Ozarks.” Born in the Searcy County community of Nubbin Hill in 1902, Essie began drawing when she was a young girl. Throughout her life, she created drawings, paintings, toys, and sculptures—all without the benefit of formal training.

Hers was the life of a traditional Ozark woman. Essie married Jesse Ward in 1922. The couple raised chickens, hogs, vegetables, fruit trees, and seven children on a small farm near Marshall. Much of the farm work fell to Essie when Jesse was diagnosed with diabetes.

In 1959, Essie was diagnosed with cancer. After an operation, doctors sent her home with orders to slow down. That’s when Essie put down the plow and picked up a paint brush.

Most of Essie Ward’s paintings show the adventures of Miranda and Hezzakiah, an old Ozark pioneer couple. Essie was inspired to create these characters when a friend came to her with a photograph of a woman churning butter in the doorway of a log cabin. “He had carried that picture in his billfold for thirty years trying to find somebody to paint it,” Ward said. She tried her hand at it, and as she recalled, “it turned out real good.”

Miranda and Hezzakiah find themselves in all sorts of predicaments. They are joined by a cast of characters, including farm animals, wildlife, and even ticks. The Miranda and Hezzakiah paintings became so popular that orders came in faster than Ward could fill them. She painted on masonite, holding the board in her lap, with oil paints straight from the tube. She usually finished one picture a day.

Although each painting is original, Ward developed a series of fifty-five different Miranda and Hezzakiah scenes, complete with landscapes shaded correctly for the season of the year. Customers selected one of the scenes when they placed their order. Ward’s trademark appears in every painting: two tiny white marks that resemble rabbit or mule ears.

Fame came to Essie Ward in 1970, when she was invited to participate in the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C.

Through the years, Essie Ward sold hundreds of paintings. In a 1971 interview she remarked, “[Painting] is all I’ve ever wanted to do, yet I never studied anything about painting. I guess you could say I just paint as I see it—actually, or in my memory. Others like what I do. That’s a real satisfaction.”

Essie Ward lived all of her seventy-nine years in the hills of Searcy County. She died in 1981, and is buried at Canaan Cemetery in Marshall.

To learn more about the life and work of Essie Ward, watch a vidcast by Shiloh Museum outreach coordinator Susan Young (also available on YouTube and iTunes).

We often receive questions from folks asking us to estimate the monetary value of their Essie Ward painting. As a matter of best museum practices, the Shiloh Museum does not provide or estimate values for any antiques or collectibles. Regarding Essie Ward, some years back we checked with a qualified folk art appraiser and he reported that Essie Ward paintings “have no presence in the folk art market and therefore no estimated market value.” If you are interested in contacting an art appraiser about your painting(s), qualified folk art appraisers can be found at the American Society of Appraisers website. Under “Appraisal Expertise/ASA Specialty, select “American Folk Art.”

Shiloh Museum’s Jeanne Hoffer-Tucker Collection of Essie Ward Paintings

Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap

Online Exhibit
Trestle construction on the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway, Brightwater (Benton County, Arkansas), 1881.

Trestle construction on the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway, Brightwater (Benton County), 1881. Robert G. Winn Collection (S-84-199-70)

When was the last time you crossed a bridge and paid attention to it? Really paid attention? It’s probably been a while. Most times we tend to tune out bridges. But to the early settlers and later residents of Northwest Arkansas, bridges were important. They opened up new areas of settlement, connected communities, allowed goods to be traded and marketed, and offered a safer, easier means of travel.

In order to cross a river or creek in the early days, residents established fords (low-water crossings) to walk across or drive a horse and buggy through. Enterprising individuals set up ferries, floating travelers and their wagons across a stream for a fee. Swinging footbridges were also built, but they weren’t for the faint of heart.

Passage through the hills was equally daunting. In order to go from one mountain to the next folks walked or rode up and down steep slopes, along narrow, rocky, rutted roads. It wasn’t a matter of taking the shortest, straightest path, but of following the easiest trail.

Big bridges were expensive, so whether directly or indirectly, they had to be profitable and meet a well- established need. Railroads needed them to further their business interests. Counties and states needed them for commerce and government.

The era of big bridges came to Northwest Arkansas in the early 1880s with the coming of the railroad, which brought new opportunities for commerce. A growing economy led to a growing population. Both meant progress and progress meant bridges. The railroad helped out there as well, transporting construction materials. It would have been almost impossible to bring huge, heavy steel girders by oxcart over long distances through rugged hills.

Baptism at the White River bridge, West Fork (Washington County, Arkansas), about 1922.

Baptism at the White River bridge, West Fork (Washington County), about 1922. Washington County Observer Collection (S-85-111-138)

Besides the obvious aspect of travel and commerce, public safety is also a concern. Sometimes bridges fail and need to be rebuilt. Other times a new need is defined. In 2002 an overpass was built over the Kansas City Southern railroad tracks in Gravette. The project resulted from a terrible incident—a man died on the way to the emergency room when a stalled train blocked traffic.

At one time bridges played a big role in the community. Folks posed on them for photographs, stood on them to watch river baptisms, and fished from them. Bridges were used to make statements too, often with tragic consequences. In 1923 striking workers on the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad (M&NA) burned eight bridges near Eureka Springs and Harrison. A striking M&NA employee was later hanged from the Crooked Creek bridge, probably in retaliation.

Today the bridges of Northwest Arkansas are as important as ever. New ones are being built to meet increasing transportation demands. But some of the grand old bridges are in trouble. High maintenance and restoration costs have endangered many of them including the War Eagle bridge near Rogers and the “Little Golden Gate” bridge by Beaver. So far preservation-minded folk have managed to convince officials of the need keep to them, but for how long?

In 2001 the citizens of Wyman Township near Fayetteville faced a painful decision—keep their historic bridge or replace it with a new one. Safety was a concern, as was money to preserve the old bridge. It might have been possible to build the new bridge nearby and still keep the old bridge, but it meant a longer delay in building the new structure. In the end, the bridge was torn down.

Bridge collapse on Highway 112 over Clear Creek at Greathouse Springs (Washington County, Arkansas), July 31, 1974.

Bridge collapse on Highway 112 over Clear Creek at Greathouse Springs (Washington County), July 31, 1974. Springdale News Collection (SN 7-31-1974)

Trestle construction on the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway, Brightwater (Benton County, Arkansas), 1881.

Trestle construction on the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway, Brightwater (Benton County), 1881. Robert G. Winn Collection (S-84-199-70)

When was the last time you crossed a bridge and paid attention to it? Really paid attention? It’s probably been a while. Most times we tend to tune out bridges. But to the early settlers and later residents of Northwest Arkansas, bridges were important. They opened up new areas of settlement, connected communities, allowed goods to be traded and marketed, and offered a safer, easier means of travel.

In order to cross a river or creek in the early days, residents established fords (low-water crossings) to walk across or drive a horse and buggy through. Enterprising individuals set up ferries, floating travelers and their wagons across a stream for a fee. Swinging footbridges were also built, but they weren’t for the faint of heart.

Passage through the hills was equally daunting. In order to go from one mountain to the next folks walked or rode up and down steep slopes, along narrow, rocky, rutted roads. It wasn’t a matter of taking the shortest, straightest path, but of following the easiest trail.

Big bridges were expensive, so whether directly or indirectly, they had to be profitable and meet a well- established need. Railroads needed them to further their business interests. Counties and states needed them for commerce and government.

The era of big bridges came to Northwest Arkansas in the early 1880s with the coming of the railroad, which brought new opportunities for commerce. A growing economy led to a growing population. Both meant progress and progress meant bridges. The railroad helped out there as well, transporting construction materials. It would have been almost impossible to bring huge, heavy steel girders by oxcart over long distances through rugged hills.

Baptism at the White River bridge, West Fork (Washington County, Arkansas), about 1922.

Baptism at the White River bridge, West Fork (Washington County), about 1922. Washington County Observer Collection (S-85-111-138)

Besides the obvious aspect of travel and commerce, public safety is also a concern. Sometimes bridges fail and need to be rebuilt. Other times a new need is defined. In 2002 an overpass was built over the Kansas City Southern railroad tracks in Gravette. The project resulted from a terrible incident—a man died on the way to the emergency room when a stalled train blocked traffic.

At one time bridges played a big role in the community. Folks posed on them for photographs, stood on them to watch river baptisms, and fished from them. Bridges were used to make statements too, often with tragic consequences. In 1923 striking workers on the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad (M&NA) burned eight bridges near Eureka Springs and Harrison. A striking M&NA employee was later hanged from the Crooked Creek bridge, probably in retaliation.

Today the bridges of Northwest Arkansas are as important as ever. New ones are being built to meet increasing transportation demands. But some of the grand old bridges are in trouble. High maintenance and restoration costs have endangered many of them including the War Eagle bridge near Rogers and the “Little Golden Gate” bridge by Beaver. So far preservation-minded folk have managed to convince officials of the need keep to them, but for how long?

In 2001 the citizens of Wyman Township near Fayetteville faced a painful decision—keep their historic bridge or replace it with a new one. Safety was a concern, as was money to preserve the old bridge. It might have been possible to build the new bridge nearby and still keep the old bridge, but it meant a longer delay in building the new structure. In the end, the bridge was torn down.

Bridge collapse on Highway 112 over Clear Creek at Greathouse Springs (Washington County, Arkansas), July 31, 1974.

Bridge collapse on Highway 112 over Clear Creek at Greathouse Springs (Washington County), July 31, 1974. Springdale News Collection (SN 7-31-1974)

Bridge vs. Trestle

Jordan Creek bridge, Cane Hill (Washington County, Arkansas), 1930s. Washington County Historical Society Collection (P-208)

Jordan Creek bridge, Cane Hill (Washington County), 1930s. Washington County Historical Society Collection (P-208)

A BRIDGE is made up of long spans (lengths) which rest on piers and abutments (support structures in the middle of the bridge and at either end, respectively). Bridges come in many designs and materials.

Frisco Railroad trestle #1, Winslow (Washington County, Arkansas), 1900s

Frisco Railroad trestle #1, Winslow (Washington County), 1900s. Mary Lucille Lewis Yoe Collection (S-2002-51-16)

A TRESTLE is made up of short spans supported by splayed vertical elements also known as trestles (individual rigid frames).  Railroads often built trestles in mountainous areas and in floodplains as part of the approaches (access points) to a bridge over a river.

Types of Bridges

The choice of bridge is determined by many factors including length of span, available materials, cost, geographical terrain, geology, available work force, and weight needs. Truss bridges are made up of small pieces that are easily transported and put into place. They are very economical to build because they make efficient use of materials.

Suspension bridges make long spans possible. They can be as simple as ropes and wood planks hanging over a creek or as elaborate as a concrete and steel cable structure spanning a wide river. Concrete girder bridges are the most common bridges built today in Northwest Arkansas.

Arch bridge, Highway 16, White River, Fayetteville (Washington County, Arkansas), 1940s.

Arch bridge, Highway 16, White River, Fayetteville (Washington County), 1940s. Marion E. Brown Collection (S-95-161-15)

An ARCH BRIDGE has one or more arches as the main support and abutments at either end.  It is one of the oldest types of bridges.

Pratt through-truss bridge, Illinois River, Siloam Springs (Benton County, Arkansas), 1940s.

Pratt through-truss bridge, Illinois River, Siloam Springs (Benton County), 1940s. Bob Besom Collection (S-82-170-21)

A TRUSS BRIDGE is made up of many beams connected together and placed on abutments and piers.

Girder bridge, Highway 68, Osage Creek (Carroll County, Arkansas), 1950s-1960s.

Girder bridge, Highway 68, Osage Creek (Carroll County), 1950s–1960s. Carroll County Heritage Center Collection (S-84-211-112)

A GIRDER BRIDGE has long horizontal beams placed on abutments and piers. The roadway deck is built on top of the girders.

Suspension bridge, White River, Beaver (Carroll County, Arkansas), November 6, 1994.

Suspension bridge, White River, Beaver (Carroll County), November 6, 1994. Northwest Arkansas Times Collection (NWAT 11-6-1994)

In a SUSPENSION BRIDGE, the roadway hangs from cables suspended from the main cables which are held up by towers. The cables are anchored on either end of the bridge.

Types of Trusses

A TRUSS is a rigid framework structure made of metal bars or wood beams which provides support.

Deck truss bridge, St. Louis & North Arkansas Railroad, Kings River, Grandview (Carroll County, Arkansas), February 2, 1901.

Deck truss bridge, St. Louis & North Arkansas Railroad, Kings River, Grandview (Carroll County), February 2, 1901. Carroll County Heritage Center Collection (S-84-211-91)

A DECK TRUSS BRIDGE has framework below the deck.

Pony truss bridge, Sager Creek, Siloam Springs (Benton County, Arkansas), about 1908.

Pony truss bridge, Sager Creek, Siloam Springs (Benton County), about 1908. Bob Besom Collection (S-82-170-20)

A PONY TRUSS BRIDGE has framework on either side of the deck, but not overhead.

Parker through-truss bridge, White River, Woolsey (Washington County, Arkansas), May 22, 1935.

Parker through-truss bridge, White River, Woolsey (Washington County), May 22, 1935. Bertha Reed Collection (S-93-125-6)

A THROUGH-TRUSS BRIDGE has framework above and below the deck and is cross-braced at the top.

There were two common through-truss bridges in the Ozarks. A PRATT TRUSS BRIDGE has diagonal members which form a “V” shape. The members slant down and towards the center, except for the members on the ends. The truss has a flat top.

A PARKER TRUSS BRIDGE is a modified Pratt truss. The top part of the structure is somewhat curved.

Photo Gallery

Railroad Trestles and Bridges
Frisco Railroad trestle #1, Winslow (Washington County, Arkansas), about 1900.

Frisco Railroad trestle #1, Winslow (Washington County), about 1900. John D. Little Collection (S-92-109-42)

The St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad (the “Frisco”) came to Northwest Arkansas in 1881. The Delaware Bridge Company built three trestles for the railroad near Winslow, including the longest one, #1, in 1882. That trestle is 780-feet long and, at its highest, rises 115 feet over the valley floor. The original iron trestle was replaced with a steel trestle in 1907. Deck plate girders were added to allow heavier steam engines and longer freight trains. The trestle is still in use by the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad. Passengers on the railroad’s excursion train to Van Buren have a bird’s-eye view of the rugged, spectacular valley.

Frisco Railroad trestle #1, Winslow, Arkansas, circa1909.

Frisco Railroad trestle #1, Winslow, circa 1909. Mrs. Kenneth Tillotson Collection (S-90-91-18)


Kansas City & Memphis Railway trestle, Elm Springs (Washington County, Arkansas), March 1911

Kansas City & Memphis Railway trestle, Elm Springs (Washington County), March 1911. Marion Mason Collection (S-2001-70-17)

The cut timber and peeled-log trestle at Elm Springs was built in 1911 over a wide floodplain bordered by hills. At 1,116 feet in length, it was probably the longest trestle in Northwest Arkansas. The railroad faced financial difficulties because its main line paralleled that of its rival, the Frisco. There wasn’t enough business. In 1918 the railroad ceased operation. During World War I the steel track was removed for the war effort. The trestles were likely left in place.


Engine #3 pushing a lumber car during the construction of the St. Louis & North Arkansas Railroad bridge, Kings River, Grandview (Carroll County, Arkansas), 1901.

Engine #3 pushing a lumber car during the construction of the St. Louis & North Arkansas Railroad bridge, Kings River, Grandview (Carroll County), 1901. Carroll County Heritage Center Collection (S-84-211-87)

This deck truss bridge with trestle approaches was built in 1900–1901 by the Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company, builders of many steel bridges in Northwest Arkansas. In February 1901 it was reported that about two miles of track were being laid every day. This railroad line changed hands several times, eventually becoming the Arkansas & Ozarks Railway before being abandoned in 1961.


St. Louis & North Arkansas Railroad bridge, Long Creek, Alpena (Boone County, Arkansas), 1901.

St. Louis & North Arkansas Railroad bridge, Long Creek, Alpena (Boone County), 1901. W. P. Shumate, photographer. Carroll County Heritage Center Collection (S-84-211-92)

The Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company built this deck truss bridge with trestle approaches in 1900–1901. The steel members for the bridge were brought from Eureka Springs by wagon. A Swede by the name of Ole Loken was the supervisor for both the Long Creek and Kings River bridges. He was especially proud of their handsome deck truss spans. The bridge was situated in the middle of an S-curve making for a picturesque scene for travelers. A large portion of the trestle was burned in 1920 by striking railroad workers. Financial difficulties caused by a bridge collapse and the switch to transporting goods by truck led to the abandonment of the railroad in 1961.


Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad bridge, White River, Beaver (Carroll County), circa 1910.

Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad bridge, White River, Beaver (Carroll County), circa 1910. Frank O’Donnel Collection (S-83-157-44)

When the bridge was first built in 1882–1883 for the Eureka Springs Railway, it was able to support the standard axle loading of the day (the weight supported by each axle). Later locomotives and cars were heavier. As it was impractical to strengthen the existing bridge, the Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company built a new, heavier bridge and moved the spans into place in 1907. The bridge and the deep cut through a limestone bluff just beyond it, known as “The Narrows,” was a popular excursion trip for tourists staying in Eureka Springs. On the Fourth of July fireworks were shot off the bluff. Planks placed between the rails of the bridge allowed visitors to walk across it to a rocky beach or to the little town of Beaver. Today the bridge is abandoned. The steel spans are still in place, but the decking and approaches are gone.

Road Bridges
Arkansas Highway 7 bridge, Little Buffalo River, Jasper (Newton County, Arkansas), circa 1925.

Arkansas Highway 7 bridge, Little Buffalo River, Jasper (Newton County), circa 1925. Bob Besom Collection (S-82-213-12)

The bridge over the Little Buffalo River was built in 1924-1925. The two-span, Parker through-truss bridge was replaced in 1974.


War Eagle Craft Fair visitors, War Eagle (Benton County, Arkansas), October 16, 1987.

War Eagle Craft Fair visitors, War Eagle (Benton County), October 16, 1987. Springdale News Collection (SN 10-16-1987)

Several small fords used to cross the War Eagle Creek in the 1800s, but floods washed them out, preventing area residents from traveling to town. In 1907 about 100 residents signed a petition asking for a permanent bridge. Construction began later that year on the $4,790, Parker through-truss bridge built by the Illinois Steel Bridge Company.

As the 304-feet long bridge aged, structural problems developed and maintenance costs grew. At one time there was talk of replacing it, but concerned citizens argued for its preservation. After several months of work, in October 2017 the bridge reopened, ahead of schedule and under its $1.4 million budget.  The bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.


White River bridge near Rogers (Benton County, Arkansas), circa 1912.

White River bridge near Rogers (Benton County), circa 1912. Bob Besom Collection (S-82-170-3)

In 1904 a steel Parker through-truss bridge was built east of Rogers over the White River. It became obsolete during the construction of Beaver Lake.

The old bridge was torn down in 1963 as its replacement was on the rise nearby. When area residents were told the new concrete girder bridge would span from one hill to the next, they couldn’t believe it. It was hard to imagine a huge lake in their valley. Folks traveled to the construction site to take photos and home movies.

In 2008 travelers saw water lapping just below the deck of the bridge as record rains flooded the lake.

Highway 12 bridge near Rogers (Benton County, Arkansas), August 1964.

Highway 12 bridge near Rogers (Benton County), August 1964. Springdale News Collection (SN 8-1964)


“Little Golden Gate” bridge, White River, Beaver (Carroll County, Arkansas), November 6, 1994.

“Little Golden Gate” bridge, White River, Beaver (Carroll County), November 6, 1994. Scott Flanagin, photographer. Northwest Arkansas Times Collection (NWAT 11-6-1994)

The wire suspension bridge at Beaver is one of a handful of such bridges left in Arkansas. It was built in 1949 by the Pioneer Construction Company of Malvern for $107,785. It replaced a concrete bridge that washed out in the early 1940s.

Although it has a weight limit, this single-lane, 554-feet long bridge is still in use. Because of the bridge’s arch, drivers can’t see if a car is coming from the opposite side. When two cars meet the one furthest along has the right-of-way; the other car must back up. The rippling motion of the bridge can be unnerving.

This picturesque bridge is a favorite of automotive and motorcycle clubs and was seen in the 2005 film Elizabethtown. At one time scheduled for demolition, the bridge is now on the National Register of Historic Places.


Lafayette Street bridge (with Maple Street bridge in background), Fayetteville (Washington County), circa 1909.

Lafayette Street bridge (with Maple Street bridge in background), Fayetteville (Washington County), circa 1909. Speece & Aaron, photographers. Mrs. Kenneth Tillotson Collection (S-90-91-1)

A bridge was first built in this location just north of the Frisco depot in 1884. It was later replaced by another wood bridge before a $30,000 Art Deco-style concrete bridge was built in 1938.


Bridge construction, War Eagle Creek, Withrow Springs (Madison County, Arkansas), 1914.

Bridge construction, War Eagle Creek, Withrow Springs (Madison County), 1914. May Markley Reed Collection (S-84-155-63)

This 280-feet long steel Pratt through-truss bridge was the first big bridge in Madison County. It was built 1914–1915 by the Leavenworth Bridge Company of Kansas for $6,462. P. B. Reed of Huntsville, builder of the swinging bridge at Marble, served as construction foreman.

The bridge was paid for in part by a one mill tax levied on county residents. Citizens near the new structure also contributed $700, a portion of which was used to build the approaches. The bridge is still in use as part of Highway 23, but in need of costly repairs.


Bridge construction, Osage Creek, Berryville (Carroll County, Arkansas), 1901.

Bridge construction, Osage Creek, Berryville (Carroll County), 1901. Carroll County Heritage Center Collection (S-86-211-9)

Some of the equipment used to build this two-span, Pratt through-truss bridge can be seen, including a winch and the rigging used to raise the metal supports. The piers which hold up the deck are poured concrete. The pier on the farther edge of the creek bed appears broken and unused.

The bridge collapsed in March 1999, causing a man in a pickup truck to plunge into the creek. Prior to his crossing, a concrete truck that was too heavy for the posted weight limit on the bridge had traveled across it, likely weakening the bridge.


Tilly Willy bridge, West Fork of the White River, near Fayetteville (Washington County), 1980s.

Tilly Willy bridge, West Fork of the White River, near Fayetteville (Washington County), 1980s. Joe Neal, photographer. Joe Neal Collection (S-88-247-35)

Although used as a bridge, the structure was built in 1928 as the fourth dam in Fayetteville’s Water Improvement District #1. Over a period of about 20 years a series of dams were built along the White River to impound water for the growing city of Fayetteville, during a time when the area was facing drought. In 1930 a fifth and final dam was built, creating Lake Wilson.

Tilly Willy may owe its interesting name to Matilda Wilson who lived in the area and likely had a ford named after her. The 160-feet long concrete and rock bridge was replaced in 2012.


Bridge construction at Lake Wedington (Washington County, Arkansas), circa 1937.

Bridge construction at Lake Wedington (Washington County), circa 1937. C. B. Wiggans, photographer. Ann Wiggans Sugg Collection (S-91-74-66)

The rock and mortar bridge was built around 1937 by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps under the direction of C.B. Wiggans of Fayetteville, project manager. While some mechanized equipment was used to build park structures, most of the work was accomplished with the use of mule teams, pickaxes, and shovels. The construction materials came from the land itself.

Lake Wedington was built by the Works Progress Administration to show farmers how their worn-out or eroded fields could be developed for beneficial use. The project also offered much-needed jobs to an area suffering the financial woes of the Great Depression. Salaries ranged from twenty-five to fifty cents an hour for a ten-hour day.


White River bridge, Highway 68 (now Highway 412), near Sonora (Washington County, Arkansas), circa 1961.

White River bridge, Highway 68 (now Highway 412), near Sonora (Washington County), circa 1961. Vince Little Collection (S-2001-57)

The 617-feet long steel and concrete girder bridge was built in 1961 by the E. E. Barber Construction Company of Fort Smith. It replaced an old through-truss bridge that was considered inadequate by 1945. Nearby Springdale was a growing town and there was too much traffic for a one-lane bridge built for horse-drawn wagons.

In the late 1940s the roads on either side of the White River were finally paved, but the Korean War and other difficulties kept the bridge from being built. When construction finally began, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped with building costs since the waters of Beaver Lake, then under development, would back up in the White River and cover nearby property.

Sometime around the turn of the 21st century the bridge was blown up, following the construction of two double-lane replacement bridges further north.


Twin Bridge #1, Baron Creek Ford, near Morrow (Washington County), 1970s.

Twin Bridge #1, Baron Creek Ford, near Morrow (Washington County), 1970s. Washington County Historical Society Collection (P-4755)

In 1922 the Luten Bridge Company of Tennessee built this concrete arch bridge located on Washington County Road #3412. The company’s founder, Daniel B. Luten, was a civil engineer who specialized in reinforced concrete bridges, patenting a number of innovations and designs. For many years his company held a monopoly on such bridges.

Twin Bridge #2 is smaller and located a few hundred feet away. Both bridges are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Foot Bridges
Swinging footbridge, Kings River, Marble (Madison County, Arkansas), about 1915

Swinging footbridge, Kings River, Marble (Madison County), about 1915. William H. Chenault Collection (S-2005-37-39)

The 3-feet wide, 200-feet long cable footbridge was built by P. B. Reed of Huntsville. The contract stated that the bridge would be no more than 15 feet above the low-water level of the river. The builder provided all materials except the rock needed for the foundation and anchors. The cables used for the bridge were three-quarter inch in diameter. Turnbuckles allowed the cables to be tightened so that the sag was no more than five-and-one-half feet overall. A sign on the bridge states, “Five dollar fine for any one to add any extra strain on bridge.”


Swinging footbridge, Cincinnati Creek, Cincinnati (Washington County), May 16, 1909.

Swinging footbridge, Cincinnati Creek, Cincinnati (Washington County), May 16, 1909. Suttle, photographer. Ruth Ann Wilson Collection (S-83-324-41)

Before the footbridge was built, folks had to cross the creek by foot. G. W. Bond remembered a time in his youth when he spied Brother Hanks removing his shoes and socks and rolling up his pant legs to ford the cold waters of the creek. Definitely not a dignified look for a preacher!

Credits

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. “Illinois River Bridge at Phillips Ford, Savoy Vic., Washington County.”

Benton County Daily Democrat. “War Eagle Bridge Protected.”12-17-1985.

Benton County Pioneer. “The ‘Gravette Overpass.’” Vol. 47, No. 3 (2002).

Branham, Chris. “Venerable Victory.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 4-16-2006.

Bridges and Tunnels of Alleghany County and Pittsburgh, PA. “Bridge Basics.”

Brotherton, Velda. “Bridging Streams and Rivers Once Only for the Adventurous at Heart.” Washington County Observer, 3-18-1999.

Dempsy, David Frank. “Little Golden Gate Bridge is Unique Crossing.” Carroll County News, March 1996.

Fair, James R. Jr. The North Arkansas Line: The Story of the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroads. Howell-North Books, 1969.

Harrison News. “Local News” [SL&NA bridge at Grandview]. 1-26-1901.

———. “Local News” [SL&NA track laying], 2-29-1901.

“Historic Bridges of the United States.” BridgeHunter.com

Huntsville Republican. “Madison County’s First Bridge.” 2-4-1915.

Hutcheson, Harold. “The Frisco Bridge Gang.” Washington County Observer, 12-8-1983.

Jones, Herman. Interview with Shiloh Museum staff regarding the Tilly Willy bridge, Fayetteville, April 2009.

Kelly, Leonard. Interview with Shiloh Museum staff regarding the Tilly Willy bridge, Fayetteville, April 2009.

Madison County Record. “Old War Eagle Bridge 1925.” 9-28-2000.

Matsuo Bridge Company, Ltd. “The Basic Bridge Types.” 1999.

Patton, Susannah. “The Legend of the Tilly Willy.” Northwest Arkansas Times, 11-25-2007.

Rogers Historical Museum. White River: A Valley and its People exhibit publication. 2000.

Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. Land, Labor, Legacy: The History of Lake Wedington exhibit outline. 1996.

Sissom, Tom.  “War Eagle Bridge opens ahead of schedule.” Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 9-21-2017.

Trent, Sandra. “Wyman Residents Vote to Destroy Historic Bridge.” White River Valley News, 10-18-2001.

Wilson, Jaunita. History of Cincinnati, Arkansas. 1986.

Winn, Robert G. “Tilly Willy Bridge.” Washington County Observer, 3-17-1983.

———. Railroads of Northwest Arkansas. Washington County (Arkansas) Historical Society, 1986.

Building Beaver Lake

Building Beaver Lake

Online Exhibit

What would Northwest Arkansas be like without Beaver Lake? Would we be as economically prosperous? Would we be able to support a large population? Would as many tourists visit? Probably not. The landscape and community of Northwest Arkansas changed with the coming of Beaver Lake.

Today many of us think of Beaver Lake as a water source and as a place to enjoy recreational activities, but its original purpose was for power generation and flood control. Tremendous floods in the 1920s and 1930s prompted Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take action against future disasters. Many areas across the nation were recommended for improvement, including the White River Basin. And so began the struggle to secure the authority—and the funds—to build a series of reservoirs along the White River and its tributaries.

The White was a strong, clear river, home to big catfish and lined with huge walnut and cherry trees. Native Americans first benefited from the river, and later homesteaders settled along its banks, raising families, farming land, and operating businesses among the forested hills, limestone bluffs, and deep valleys. Much of this land came to be covered by the waters of Beaver Lake.

The lake’s name comes from the town of Beaver in Carroll County, originally homesteaded by Wilson Beaver. At first the dam was to be built near Beaver, until it was determined that the area’s geography and geology weren’t suitable. Instead the dam was built six miles northwest of nearby Eureka Springs.

The Beaver Lake project cost over $43 million. The money was used to purchase property, relocate cemeteries, roads, and utility lines, clear the reservoir area, build the dam, powerhouse, and auxiliary embankment dams, and engineer and supervise the entire project. The contract for the dam was awarded to the T.L. James & Co. of Ruston, Louisiana, and the J.A. Jones Construction Co. of Charlotte, North Carolina, which together submitted a bid of $15.9 million.

The Corps of Engineers operates the five reservoirs that make up the integrated water resource system in the White River Basin: Beaver, Table Rock (in Missouri), and Bull Shoals (near Mountain Home) on the White River; Norfork on the North Fork River; and Greers Ferry (near Heber Springs) on the Little Red River.

The original purpose of the reservoir was for flood control and power generation. It was only later, around the time that the lake was built, that the lake’s use as a municipal and industrial water supply and as a recreational resource began to take shape. The lake was one of the first in the nation to include these benefits as part of its mandated purpose.

Many of the images in this exhibit were donated by Thomas E. Petermann, project engineer in charge of building Beaver Dam and powerhouse. He also wrote a synopsis of the project that serves as an invaluable resource for historians.

To learn more about the big picture that Beaver Lake is a part of, take a look at these resources:

What would Northwest Arkansas be like without Beaver Lake? Would we be as economically prosperous? Would we be able to support a large population? Would as many tourists visit? Probably not. The landscape and community of Northwest Arkansas changed with the coming of Beaver Lake.

Today many of us think of Beaver Lake as a water source and as a place to enjoy recreational activities, but its original purpose was for power generation and flood control. Tremendous floods in the 1920s and 1930s prompted Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take action against future disasters. Many areas across the nation were recommended for improvement, including the White River Basin. And so began the struggle to secure the authority—and the funds—to build a series of reservoirs along the White River and its tributaries.

The White was a strong, clear river, home to big catfish and lined with huge walnut and cherry trees. Native Americans first benefited from the river, and later homesteaders settled along its banks, raising families, farming land, and operating businesses among the forested hills, limestone bluffs, and deep valleys. Much of this land came to be covered by the waters of Beaver Lake.

The lake’s name comes from the town of Beaver in Carroll County, originally homesteaded by Wilson Beaver. At first the dam was to be built near Beaver, until it was determined that the area’s geography and geology weren’t suitable. Instead the dam was built six miles northwest of nearby Eureka Springs.

The Beaver Lake project cost over $43 million. The money was used to purchase property, relocate cemeteries, roads, and utility lines, clear the reservoir area, build the dam, powerhouse, and auxiliary embankment dams, and engineer and supervise the entire project. The contract for the dam was awarded to the T.L. James & Co. of Ruston, Louisiana, and the J.A. Jones Construction Co. of Charlotte, North Carolina, which together submitted a bid of $15.9 million.

The Corps of Engineers operates the five reservoirs that make up the integrated water resource system in the White River Basin: Beaver, Table Rock (in Missouri), and Bull Shoals (near Mountain Home) on the White River; Norfork on the North Fork River; and Greers Ferry (near Heber Springs) on the Little Red River.

The original purpose of the reservoir was for flood control and power generation. It was only later, around the time that the lake was built, that the lake’s use as a municipal and industrial water supply and as a recreational resource began to take shape. The lake was one of the first in the nation to include these benefits as part of its mandated purpose.

Many of the images in this exhibit were donated by Thomas E. Petermann, project engineer in charge of building Beaver Dam and powerhouse. He also wrote a synopsis of the project that serves as an invaluable resource for historians.

To learn more about the big picture that Beaver Lake is a part of, take a look at these resources:

Timeline

1927. Great Flood devastates six southern states, including Arkansas

1929. Corps begins flood-control study of White River Basin

1937. More flooding causes Congress to approve national flood-control plan

1938. Passage of Flood Control Act authorizing Corps to build six flood-control lakes in White River Basin

1941. Passage of Flood Control Act authorizing Norfolk and Bull Shoals Dams

1944. Passage of Flood Control Act allows Southwest Power Administration to market power generated by lakes

1949. Beaver Dam Association incorporates

1954. Passage of Flood Control Act authorizing addition of Beaver Lake for flood control and power generation to White River plan

1957. Beaver Water District incorporates

1958. Passage of Water Supply Act approving municipal and industrial water storage in federally constructed reservoirs

1959. Corps completes first land purchase

1960. Construction begins on dam; Beaver Water District contracts for water rights

1963. Construction begins on powerhouse and switchyard

1964. Dam complete and water impoundment begins

1965. Passage of Recreational Act allows for federally constructed reservoirs to include recreation as a project purpose; power generation begins

1966. Beaver Lake complete; Beaver Water District goes on line; Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Committee incorporates to strategize for growth in Beaver Lake area

Fun Facts

Amount of Arkansas underwater during 1927 flood: 6,600 square miles

Number of counties affected: 36 of 75

Percentage of Arkansans who get their drinking water from the lake: 14% (over 420,000 people)

Number of cemeteries relocated: 39

Number of graves moved: 1,584

Amount of water Beaver Water District can produce daily (as of 2014): 140 million gallons

Length of White River affected by project: 70 miles

Number of visits in 2016 to Corps of Engineer-run parks at Beaver Lake: over 2.6 million

Amount of cement used: 600,000 barrels

Height of mixing plant: 120 feet

Height of crane operator above trestle: 80 feet

Length of trestle: 1,150 feet

Size of aggregate: 6 inch, 3 inch, 1½ inch, ¾ inch

Distance apart of gantry rails: 32 feet

Weight of four-cubic-yard bucket of concrete: 11 tons

Amount of concrete produced per hour: 150 cubic yards

Estimated cost of project: $51 million

Actual cost of project: $43 million

Dimension of lift: 48-feet wide by 7½-feet high

Amount of concrete used in dam: 133,000 truck loads

Number of monoliths: 28

Height of dam: 228 feet

Amount of concrete in dam: 780,000 cubic yards

Length of concrete dam: 1,333 feet

Width of dam at base: 180 feet

Width of dam at top: 32 feet

Capacity of water storage tanks: 16,000 gallons

Length of cooling conveyor: 350 feet

Length of embankment: 1,242 feet

Amount of rock and soil in embankment: 1.7 million cubic yards

Amount of water in one acre-foot: 325,850 gallons

Dimensions of each gate: 40 feet wide by 37 feet high

Length of spillway: 328 feet

Bid for construction of powerhouse: $3.7 million

Diameter of penstock: 20½ feet

Capacity of each turbine: 77,400 horsepower (about 553 average-sized cars)

Dimensions of sluice gate: 6 feet by 10 feet

Amount of time to go from zero-power generation to full load: 3 minutes

Length of shoreline: 450 miles

Number of people projected to be living in area by 2055: 1.2 million

Photo Gallery

Before the Lake, A River
The White River as seen from Panorama Point near Monte Ne, circa 1920.  W. B. Grabill Collection (S-86-210-4)

The White River as seen from Panorama Point near Monte Ne, circa 1920. W.B. Grabill Collection (S-86-210-4)

The White River starts near Fayetteville and flows north into Missouri before returning to Arkansas. In 1926 and 1927 heavy rains throughout the Midwest and South dumped an enormous amount of water into the White and other rivers that flow into the Mississippi River. The Great Flood of 1927 began on April 16 when a levee broke in Illinois. As the water flowed downstream, more levees broke.

The floodwaters devastated the South. Over 27,000 square miles of land were flooded in Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Nearly 1,000 people lost their lives, one million people were displaced, and 130,000 homes were destroyed.

It was because of this flood that the Federal government began looking into ways to manage the nation’s rivers. In 1929 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a $61,000 flood-control study of the White River Basin, concluding that a series of dams was needed.

  Residents watch the flooding of the West Fork of the White River, near Brentwood (Washington County), April 15, 1927.

Residents watch the flooding of the West Fork of the White River, near Brentwood (Washington County), April 15, 1927. Bertha Cartmell Reid and George Cartmell Collection (S-89-105-241)

The Vision
Members of the Beaver Dam Association, circa 1950.  Front row, from left: Willis Shaw (Elm Springs), Claud Morsani (Tontitown), vice-president Joe Robinson (Springdale), president Earl Harris (Rogers), secretary-treasurer Courtney Crouch (Springdale), Mace Howell (Springdale), Paul Young (Fayetteville), unidentified.  Back row, from left:  Elbert Graham (Lowell), State Senator Russell Elrod (Siloam Springs), J.J. Neil (Springdale), Albert Price (Eureka Springs), unidentified, unidentified, Shelby Ford (Springdale), Carl Shores (Cave Springs), unidentified.

Members of the Beaver Dam Association, circa 1950. Front row, from left: Willis Shaw (Elm Springs), Claud Morsani (Tontitown), vice-president Joe Robinson (Springdale), president Earl Harris (Rogers), secretary-treasurer Courtney Crouch (Springdale), Mace Howell (Springdale), Paul Young (Fayetteville), unidentified. Back row, from left: Elbert Graham (Lowell), State Senator Russell Elrod (Siloam Springs), J. J. Neil (Springdale), Albert Price (Eureka Springs), unidentified, unidentified, Shelby Ford (Springdale), Carl Shores (Cave Springs), unidentified. Springdale Chamber of Commerce Collection (S-77-9-294)

Northwest Arkansas lobbied for the construction of Beaver Lake. In 1949 area leaders formed the Beaver Dam Association to study such things as erosion and flooding on the upper White River and to look into irrigation, municipal water, and hydroelectric power, all in order to promote the lake’s construction.

The Beaver Water District was formed in 1957 by the cities of Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, and Springdale to secure a long-term supply of water for Benton and Washington Counties. The District paid for five additional feet of dam height for water storage.

One of five aerial maps produced by the Corps of Engineers illustrating the area to be cleared for the reservoir, July 1960.  The future footprint of the lake is marked in white.  Rogers is on the left.

One of five aerial maps produced by the Corps of Engineers illustrating the area to be cleared for the reservoir, July 1960. The future footprint of the lake is marked in white. Rogers is on the left. Joe Neal Collection (S-89-14)

The Corps of Engineers had to purchase over 40,000 acres of land to make way for the reservoir.  It was a difficult task because land titles back in the hills were informal or non-existent and owners or their heirs were scattered.

Because the White was a meandering river, the lake took on an irregular shape as the impounded waters backed up into the hills and valleys of the river basin.

Not only did the lake change the geographical landscape of the area, it changed the historical and cultural landscapes.  Families whose ancestors homesteaded along the White were forced to move their homes and cemeteries as the lake rose to cover farms, small towns and communities, Native American archeological sites, and historical sites such as the resort at Monte Ne.

U. S. Representative James W. Trimble at the groundbreaking for Beaver Dam, November 22, 1960.  The men to his right are, from left: Governor Orval E. Faubus, Clarence Byrnes, and Joe Robinson, president of the Beaver Dam Association.

U. S. Representative James W. Trimble at the groundbreaking for Beaver Dam, November 22, 1960. The men to his right are, from left: Governor Orval E. Faubus, Clarence Byrnes, and Joe Robinson, president of the Beaver Dam Association. Springdale News Collection (SMN pre-65-23)

It was fitting that U.S. Representative James W. Trimble of Berryville was the first to break earth at the dam site, because he was a leading advocate for Beaver Lake. Although there was opposition to the reservoir in Congress, by adding water supply to the reservoir’s purpose he was able to secure the necessary funds in 1954. At the ceremony Trimble envisioned a day when “…family groups with children will enjoy outings on the shores of the emerald lake to be created here, when young lovers will make plans for a brighter future, and older folks will look in increasing numbers to our beautiful Ozarks as an ideal place for retirement in their golden years.”

Governor Faubus declared, “Nature has given to the Ozarks their unmatched beauty. Now Beaver Dam will help this hill country grow into one of the most prosperous areas of our nation.”

Prepping the Dam Site
Preparing a bluff ledge for the concrete mixing plant, early 1961.

Preparing a bluff ledge for the concrete mixing plant, early 1961.
Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-53)

The best site for the dam was found about six miles northwest of Eureka Springs, where the White River flowed past a 350-feet-tall bluff on one side and a more gradual rise of 250 feet on the other.

To bring machinery and supplies to the dam site, the Frisco Railroad built a 20-car spur near Gateway on the Arkansas-Missouri border. Materials traveled down Highway 62 and then onto a newly built three-mile-long access road.

Bluff with the trestle and mixing plant under construction, June 1961.

Bluff with the trestle and mixing plant under construction, June 1961. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-67B)

The contract to build the dam was awarded on November 16, 1960. For the next four years tremors, noise, dust, and diesel fumes filled the sleepy little valley.

Two electric whirley cranes were used to build the dam. Each crane revolved 360 degrees on its base, allowing the operator to move heavy construction materials and concrete in all directions. The cranes were mounted on 75-feet-tall gantries, movable steel towers perched atop a steel trestle (bridge) spanning the length of the dam.

A whirley crane places a second crane, June 1961.

A whirley crane places a second crane, June 1961. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-57)

Care had to be taken to keep the crane from overextending and toppling over. The heavier the load hanging from the end of the long boom, the closer it needed to stay to the center of the crane.

A used mixing plant was purchased from the Niagara Falls Power Project in New York in 1960. It was taken apart and shipped by rail to Gateway.

The concrete mixing plant (front) and the trestle for the whirley cranes (back) under construction, August 1961. The White River flows below the concrete plant.

The concrete mixing plant (front) and the trestle for the whirley cranes (back) under construction, August 1961. The White River flows below the concrete plant. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-62)

Cement and aggregate (crushed stone) were stored in the plant above a structure which sorted the aggregate into various sizes. From there the materials went into batching hoppers to be measured and weighed and then into one of four mixers, each capable of holding four cubic yards of concrete.

Along with the tracks for the whirley crane gantries, two sets of railroad tracks were installed on the trestle, allowing for the coming and going of the flatcars hauling giant buckets of concrete.

 

Rock Crushers and Concrete
Part of the rock-crushing plant, December 1961.

Part of the rock-crushing plant, December 1961. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-100)

Concrete is made of aggregate, sand, water, Portland cement, and sometimes flyash, a filler material that is a by-product of coal-burning plants. To keep costs down, the aggregate quarry was located at the top of the bluff.

The concrete mixing plant, December 1961.  A railroad flatcar with buckets of concrete is seen in front

The concrete mixing plant, December 1961. A railroad flatcar with buckets of concrete is seen in front. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-105)

Rock was blasted to a depth of 90 feet and hauled to the rock-crushing plant near the bluff’s edge. After it was crushed and screened into various sizes, the rock was stored in recovery tunnels and moved by conveyor belt to the mixing plant.

The finished trestle, January 1962.

The finished trestle, January 1962. Bettye Mohney Collection (S-86-124-38:3)

The project was a joint venture between the T. L. James and J. A. Jones construction companies. As contractor they oversaw all phases of the work including scheduling and delivery of supplies and equipment, securing electrical power to the site, and letting out subcontracts for preparing the foundation and operating the quarry. The contractor also hired the work crew. Some were seasoned professionals who traveled from project to project, but most were local workers.

The contractor built warehouses, fueling depots, equipment maintenance sheds, project offices, temporary roads and a bridge across the river, a carpentry shop, an inspection building, parking areas, lay-down areas for materials and equipment, and an electrical substation. In the end, the dam and powerhouse were completed ahead of schedule and under budget

Monoliths on the Rise
Whirley cranes moving buckets of concrete to a monolith, December 1961.

Whirley cranes moving buckets of concrete to a monolith, December 1961. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-104)

A gravity dam is made up of monoliths, giant concrete blocks built on top of and next to each other. To create the monoliths, cantilevered steel lifts (forms) are used to hold and shape the concrete until it is hardened. Chilled concrete, shallow lifts, and a precisely calculated cure time prevent the concrete from cracking.

After steel reinforcing rods were put into position, concrete was poured onto the sandblasted surface of the hardened monolith below the lift. The concrete mix was so stiff when it was poured that workers were able to walk on it and use a six-inch vibrator to consolidate the concrete and remove air pockets.

The worksite behind an earthen cofferdam, December 1961.

The worksite behind an earthen cofferdam, December 1961. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-101)

Three cofferdams made of earth or steel sheet piling were erected at different stages of the project. They served as temporary barriers to keep the White River from flooding the worksite.

Monoliths under construction, December 1961.

Monoliths under construction, December 1961. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-98)

Beaver Dam is not made of solid concrete. Tunnel-like access galleries run along the length of the dam. To make an opening in the concrete, a wood-and-plywood form was built and positioned inside the monolith. The concrete was poured around the form and once hardened, the form was removed.

Equipment is housed in the operator’s gallery.  Below it is the lower gallery which follows the bottom of the dam. To prevent water seepage, the foundation rock is pressure-grouted through holes in the gallery floor. Any seepage that does occur flows down drain holes to a sump pump. To monitor tilt in the dam caused by the water pressure of the reservoir, a tilt meter (a large plumb bob) hangs in a vertical gallery and measurements are taken quarterly.

Monoliths on the rise, July 1962

Monoliths on the rise, July 1962. Bettye Mohney Collection (S-86-124-38:7)

A number of problems had to be overcome at the dam site. To transport heavy Portland cement to the mixing plant, a temporary bridge across the White River and a road to the high bluff were built.

To make best use of the quarry atop the bluff, the concrete mixing plant was placed on a ledge halfway down the bluff face. The height of the plant determined the height of the trestle and the whirley cranes. But the cranes couldn’t reach the part of the dam next to the bluff, so a stationary stiff-leg derrick was mounted on the dam.

Because the first monoliths were constructed opposite the bluff, the entire trestle had to be completed to move the concrete from the mixing plant to the worksite. This meant that some of the trestle footings had to stand in the flowing river. Holes were drilled into the bedrock and reinforced concrete footings installed.

The southern monoliths under construction, July 1962

The southern monoliths under construction, July 1962. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-113)

Beaver Dam is a concrete gravity dam. It uses its massive weight to hold back the water in the reservoir. Roughly triangular in shape, the dam has a wide base which counteracts the enormous horizontal water pressure found at the bottom of the lake. At the top of the triangle, where there is little water pressure, the dam is narrow.

In order to anchor the dam to the limestone bluff, deep notches or keyways were blasted into the rock face. The leftover rock was used to build the earthen embankment anchoring the other side of the dam, opposite the bluff.

The Spillway and the Powerhouse
Slip forms used to construct the narrow, arched walls of the spillway, April 1963.  Below the gantry the dinkey locomotive hauls a flatcar of concrete.

Slip forms used to construct the narrow, arched walls of the spillway, April 1963. Below the gantry the dinkey locomotive hauls a flatcar of concrete. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-117)

When water is added to the dry ingredients that make up concrete, it causes it to harden, releasing heat which can make the concrete crack. To prevent this at Beaver Dam, concrete was poured at a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit or less.

On the bluff above the mixing plant were several operations designed to keep the concrete and its ingredients cool. A 1,200-ton refrigeration plant made chilled water to mix into the concrete. Chilled water was also sprayed onto the crushed rock as it moved along the conveyor, and then the water was vibrated out before it went into the mixing plant. To cool the coarse aggregate in the storage bins, cold air was forced through it.

Ammonia refrigeration plants made flaked ice, which was stored in an insulated storage house. The ice was moved along a screw conveyor into the ice batcher in the mixing plant. During hot weather more ice than water was added to the concrete mixture to keep it cool.

The spillway under construction, June 1963.  Part of the embankment is seen at right.

The spillway under construction, June 1963. Part of the embankment is seen at right. Bettye Mohney Collection (S-86-124-38:13)

An earthen embankment spans the gap between the concrete dam and the sloping countryside around it. To build the embankment a keyway was blasted into the bedrock. Then a cutoff wall made of impervious (non-porous) clay was built to resist water seepage from the lake. Pervious (porous) rock from White River gravel bars was piled against the clay core to equalize water pressure.

Rock-and-earth fill material forms the massive sloping sides of the embankment. Fill came from the dam excavation itself and from several nearby pits, some of which contained human graves that first had to be relocated by the Corps of Engineers before the fill could be removed. Riprap (large rocks) was placed on top of the embankment’s slopes to control erosion.

The spillway under construction, April 1963.  The earthen embankment is seen at top right.

The spillway under construction, April 1963. The earthen embankment is seen at top right. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-116)

The lake is divided into two parts. The conservation pool, at 1,200 feet above sea level, holds water for power generation and municipal and industrial use. At its normal water level, about 28,000 acres of land are covered by the lake. The ten feet above the conservation pool is reserved for the flood pool. Often empty, it can hold up to 300,000 acre-feet of floodwater.

When the flood pool fills and the Corps of Engineers determines that floodwater needs to be released from the reservoir, seven steel, curved, tainter gates at the top of the dam’s spillway are raised electrically. Water flows down the arched spillway away from the base of the dam and into the concrete stilling basin where large baffles (blocks) disperse the energy of the water being released downstream.

The spillway gates have been opened several times over the years to regulate floodwaters. The sight of millions of gallons of water rushing down the spillway is a spectacular event and always draws a crowd.

Building the turbine barrel in the powerhouse, February 1964.

Building the turbine barrel in the powerhouse, February 1964. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-140)

Not only were the T. L. James and J. A. Jones construction companies awarded the contract for the construction of the dam, they were asked to take on the powerhouse and switchyard project as well, after the company that originally won the bid was disqualified.

Although the James and Jones companies came to the project late, the milestone dates—dates by which certain portions of the project had to be completed—weren’t adjusted to reflect the delay. The contractor scrambled to begin the project in April 1963, finishing it one year later.

It helped that the contractor was using the critical path method (CPM), a newly developed system for scheduling a variety of activities in the least amount of time. Today such work is done by computer; in the early 1960s the monthly CPM chart was created manually.

One of two turbines, May 1964.

One of two turbines, May 1964. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-155)

To generate electricity, an intake gate on the lake side of the dam is opened. Water flows into the penstock, a long tube that travels downward and ends in a spiral scroll case. The mass of the water and the acceleration it achieves by falling and circling pushes against the turbine buckets, forcing the turbine to spin. A generator connected to the turbine shaft creates electricity which is sent to transformers in the switchyard and converted to a usable voltage. The power is delivered over high-voltage lines to an electric substation.

Beaver Dam’s powerhouse contains a small, in-house generator for its own use and two large generators, each of which can produce 56,000 kilowatts of electricity, enough for 25,000 homes. The decision to generate power is made by remote radio control from Table Rock Dam. Hydroelectric power from Beaver Dam is sold through the Southwest Power Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Energy, to electric companies in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.

A scroll case under construction, before its connection to the penstock, Summer 1964.

A scroll case under construction, before its connection to the penstock, Summer 1964. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-141)

Under full-load conditions, the dam’s generators can produce 128 megawatts of electricity per hour (enough to supply power to a town of 100,000), although this rarely happens. Beaver Dam is a peaking plant, generating much of its power during the summer when demand is heaviest.

Once the water has spent its energy by rotating the turbines that turn the generators, it passes through the draft tube and out of the powerhouse. The concrete training walls of the tailrace guide the water into the White River. The water flows downstream to Table Rock reservoir in Missouri, where once again it is stored and used to generate electricity.

The powerhouse tailrace area, February 1964.

The powerhouse tailrace area, February 1964. Thomas E. Petermann Collection (S-2005-89-137)

Federal law requires that a steady flow of water moves through the dam each day to make up the flow of the White. Water may flow through the draft tube or through the hydraulic sluice gate at the base of the spillway. The released water is very cold, making it a perfect temperature for the trout stocked by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Completion
The nearly complete dam and White River, 1964.

The nearly complete dam and White River, 1964. Springdale Chamber of Commerce Collection (S-85-287-6)

With the completion of the dam in March 1964 the waters of the White River began to fill the reservoir. Commercial power generation began in May 1965 and Beaver Lake was pronounced complete in June 1966. Since then millions of people have enjoyed fishing, swimming, and boating in the lake and camping along its shores.

The completed dam and Beaver Lake, circa 1966.  The switchyard is seen to the right of the spillway and powerhouse.

The completed dam and Beaver Lake, circa 1966. The switchyard is seen to the right of the spillway and powerhouse. Springdale News Collection (S-84-13)

What does the future hold? Growing, water-thirsty and power-hungry cities and industries are impacting the lake as do prolonged droughts. Will the lake meet our needs in the coming decades?

Bumper Crop

Bumper Crop

Online Exhibit

John and Martha Hann, Friendship Community southwest of West Fork, about 1908. Elsie Cress Young Collection (S-85-129-32)

About Apples

Johnny Appleseed’s mission of planting apple seeds wasn’t about growing apples for pies, but for cider making. That’s because apple seeds don’t grow true. A seed from a Granny Smith apple doesn’t grow into a tree bearing Granny Smiths.

Apples grown from seed are often bitter or sour. But every now and then a seed grows into a tree which produces a flavorful apple. In order to replicate the fruit, a scion (prepared twig) from the desired tree is grafted onto a sturdy rootstock. That is, the plant tissue from one tree is “fused” into the plant tissue of another tree. The resulting tree is a clone of the parent tree. Trees grown from seed are considered “seedling varieties.” Trees grown from grafts are considered “propagated varieties.”

During the 1700s and 1800s most people in the U.S. drank apples, rather than ate them. They turned their apple crop into cider (what we now call hard cider) a more popular drink than water, wine, beer, or coffee. A mildly alcoholic beverage, cider was easier and safer to make than corn liquor. Apple juice could also be distilled into high-proof apple brandy and applejack. In Northwest Arkansas folks probably made cider at home, but there isn’t evidence of commercial cider mills like there were in the East or Midwest. It may be that folks better trusted the water in the Ozarks.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that apples were primarily considered a food crop. Around the turn of the 20th century groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union began fighting alcohol and the evils associated with it. When Prohibition came into effect in 1920, distilleries across the nation closed. In order to distance themselves from any association with alcohol, the emerging apple industry began heavily promoting the phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Apples Come West

Early settlers to Northwest Arkansas traveled light. They could bring only the necessities to their new home—tools, livestock, furniture, clothing, bedding, cooking vessels, and plants and seeds. Apples were an important food source on the frontier. Apples were consumed fresh of course, baked, fried, or eaten straight from the tree. Firm late-season apples could be kept all winter long. But in an era before electric refrigeration, apples had to be processed if they were going to be kept for a long time. They could be cooked down into apple butter (a thick, sweet paste) or they could be sliced, dried, and later rehydrated in hot water for pies and cobblers. Their juice could be turned into vinegar, fermented into cider, or distilled into alcohol.

The First Nurserymen

When the first settlers arrived in the 1820s and 1830s they found that the area’s fertile soil, good climate, and high elevations were just right for growing fruit. They planted their seeds and young apple trees and began taming the land. Soon nurserymen set up shop, developing and testing new varieties and selling their product to new settlers. Some of the first commercial growers in Northwest Arkansas were James B. Russell and Earls Holt, both of Boonsboro (later known as Cane Hill), one of the earliest settlements in Washington County. Legend has it that the first commercial apple orchard in the state was planted near Maysville by a Cherokee woman and her enslaved Africans. After the Civil War she couldn’t afford to pay for labor so the orchard went into decline. H. S. Mundell purchased her land and began tending the neglected trees. Goldsmith Davis started his nursery business near Bentonville in 1869 with apple seeds planted by his mother. He began grafting the seedlings and built up his stock so much that at one point he had over 1,000,000 young trees (many of which were probably Ben Davis variety), which he shipped to almost every state.

Why So Many Varieties?

It was important for the home orchardist to grow a variety of apple trees to spread the harvest from early summer to late fall. Different apples had different qualities. Some were good for cooking, some kept a long time, and some made flavorful cider.

Even though nurserymen propagated trees, many folks planted apple seeds. It was a very democratic process. Anyone who planted a seed had a chance of discovering the perfect fruit in their orchard. Everybody wanted to develop a great apple, the apple that would make them rich. In 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair, Arkansas won awards for “a collection of sixty new and unnamed seedling varieties, many of which show considerable merit.”

It’s thought that over 300 varieties were grown in the area with such fanciful names as Nickerjack, Sheepnose, Brightwater, August Red, Mammoth, and 80-Ounce Pippin. Over 50 varieties were developed locally.

“The climatic conditions are so superior for the production of fruit that it is estimated that if all the orchards in Benton county . . . were consolidated into one, it would cover . . . ten square miles. . . . To all who are honorably inclined, industrious and desirous of happy home, Bentonville extends a cordial welcome.”

Bentonville Democrat, August 26, 1899

John and Martha Hann, Friendship Community southwest of West Fork, about 1908. Elsie Cress Young Collection (S-85-129-32)

About Apples

Johnny Appleseed’s mission of planting apple seeds wasn’t about growing apples for pies, but for cider making. That’s because apple seeds don’t grow true. A seed from a Granny Smith apple doesn’t grow into a tree bearing Granny Smiths.

Apples grown from seed are often bitter or sour. But every now and then a seed grows into a tree which produces a flavorful apple. In order to replicate the fruit, a scion (prepared twig) from the desired tree is grafted onto a sturdy rootstock. That is, the plant tissue from one tree is “fused” into the plant tissue of another tree. The resulting tree is a clone of the parent tree. Trees grown from seed are considered “seedling varieties.” Trees grown from grafts are considered “propagated varieties.”

During the 1700s and 1800s most people in the U.S. drank apples, rather than ate them. They turned their apple crop into cider (what we now call hard cider) a more popular drink than water, wine, beer, or coffee. A mildly alcoholic beverage, cider was easier and safer to make than corn liquor. Apple juice could also be distilled into high-proof apple brandy and applejack. In Northwest Arkansas folks probably made cider at home, but there isn’t evidence of commercial cider mills like there were in the East or Midwest. It may be that folks better trusted the water in the Ozarks.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that apples were primarily considered a food crop. Around the turn of the 20th century groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union began fighting alcohol and the evils associated with it. When Prohibition came into effect in 1920, distilleries across the nation closed. In order to distance themselves from any association with alcohol, the emerging apple industry began heavily promoting the phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Apples Come West

Early settlers to Northwest Arkansas traveled light. They could bring only the necessities to their new home—tools, livestock, furniture, clothing, bedding, cooking vessels, and plants and seeds. Apples were an important food source on the frontier. Apples were consumed fresh of course, baked, fried, or eaten straight from the tree. Firm late-season apples could be kept all winter long. But in an era before electric refrigeration, apples had to be processed if they were going to be kept for a long time. They could be cooked down into apple butter (a thick, sweet paste) or they could be sliced, dried, and later rehydrated in hot water for pies and cobblers. Their juice could be turned into vinegar, fermented into cider, or distilled into alcohol.

The First Nurserymen

When the first settlers arrived in our area in the 1820s and 1830s they found that the area’s fertile soil, good climate, and high elevations were just right for growing fruit. They planted their seeds and young apple trees and began taming the land. Soon nurserymen set up shop, developing and testing new varieties and selling their product to new settlers. Some of the first commercial growers in Northwest Arkansas were James B. Russell and Earls Holt, both of Boonsboro (later known as Cane Hill), one of the earliest settlements in Washington County. Legend has it that the first commercial apple orchard in the state was planted near Maysville by a Cherokee woman and her enslaved Africans. After the Civil War she couldn’t afford to pay for labor so the orchard went into decline. H. S. Mundell purchased her land and began tending the neglected trees. Goldsmith Davis started his nursery business near Bentonville in 1869 with apple seeds planted by his mother. He began grafting the seedlings and built up his stock so much that at one point he had over 1,000,000 young trees (many of which were probably Ben Davis variety), which he shipped to almost every state.

Why So Many Varieties?

It was important for the home orchardist to grow a variety of apple trees to spread the harvest from early summer to late fall. Different apples had different qualities. Some were good for cooking, some kept a long time, and some made flavorful cider.

Even though nurserymen propagated trees, many folks planted apple seeds. It was a very democratic process. Anyone who planted a seed had a chance of discovering the perfect fruit in their orchard. Everybody wanted to develop a great apple, the apple that would make them rich. In 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair, Arkansas won awards for “a collection of sixty new and unnamed seedling varieties, many of which show considerable merit.”

It’s thought that over 300 varieties were grown in the area with such fanciful names as Nickerjack, Sheepnose, Brightwater, August Red, Mammoth, and 80-Ounce Pippin. Over 50 varieties were developed locally.

“The climatic conditions are so superior for the production of fruit that it is estimated that if all the orchards in Benton county . . . were consolidated into one, it would cover . . . ten square miles. . . . To all who are honorably inclined, industrious and desirous of happy home, Bentonville extends a cordial welcome.”
Bentonville Democrat, August 26, 1899

The Heyday of the Apple Industry
Apples grown by Dave Eicher, Springdale, 1900s-1910s.

Apples grown by Dave Eicher, Springdale, 1900s-1910s. Sydney D. Aaron, photographer. Dr. Roy C. Rom Collection (S-82-34-41)

The Railroad Comes Through

Transportation played a major role in the growth of the apple industry. At first few apples were grown for market because Northwest Arkansas didn’t have a railroad line or major navigable river. Apples had to be hauled by wagon great distances before they could be shipped. With the coming of the railroad in the 1880s, growers began planting apple trees by the thousands.

Not only did the railroad ship apples, it bought huge tracts of land, promoting the acreage in brochures with such titles as “Fruit Farming Along the Frisco.” While every county in Northwest Arkansas grew and shipped apples, Benton and Washington Counties were the major players. Arkansas apples won top prizes at expositions from the 1870s to the 1910s.

Scientific Orcharding

With orcharding becoming a big business, growers sought ways to increase their crop yield. As a 1908 Springdale News article saw it, the “era of scientific orcharding” had begun. National and state agricultural agencies set up research and experimental stations to test new practices, teach, and spread practical information to farmers. At the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, researchers began studying and improving techniques for grafting, pruning, and spraying.

Apples were so important in Northwest Arkansas that in 1906, with the help of Senator James Berry of Bentonville and the state horticultural society, a first-class U.S. Weather Bureau opened on the Bentonville square. Not only did it offer daily forecasts, it sent notices to fruit farmers regarding when to spray their trees for insects and disease.

This intensive planting of orchards and attention to scientific growing methods paid off. Bumper crops of apples were reported year after year. Accounts vary but in 1919 the total apple crop in Benton County was valued at almost $5.5 million. There were over 3,100 railroad cars of fresh apples, 250 cars of dried apples, and 618 cars of apples for vinegar. About 90,000 bushels of apples went to the canning factories.

New Businesses Develop

With the growth of the apple industry came a number of specialty businesses. Apple trees were propagated and grown at area nurseries. Barrels made from locally grown timber were used to ship high-grade fruit when it was green (not fully ripened) and better able to resist bruising. Ice from ice plants helped cool down refrigerated railroad cars. Cold storage plants overwintered apples before shipping them out in the spring.

Medium-grade apples were sent to the canneries for canning or to the evaporators to be sliced and dried. Low-grade fruit was sold in bulk and turned into vinegar or alcohol at the distillery. The Kimmons, Walker and Company evaporator in Springdale was said to have been the biggest plant in the area. In 1907 over 1,500 bushels of apples were processed daily. The women working at one of the company’s 18 peelers were paid from 75¢ to $1 a day, depending on their skill.

Wholesalers and fruit brokers bought fresh fruit from the growers or processed apple products, selling these items to distant markets. During the busy season thousands of men, women, and children were employed in the orchards picking apples and in the packing sheds, distilleries, vinegar plants, and evaporators. So many people benefitted from “King Apple” that in 1901 the apple blossom became the state flower.

To celebrate the crop that put Northwest Arkansas on the map, in the mid 1920s Rogers held spectacular Apple Blossom Festivals complete with pageants, orchard tours, and the crowning of the Apple Blossom queen. Many communities and organizations sent crepe paper blossom-covered parade floats filled with pretty girls. One year over 50,000 attendees enjoyed the show. The last festival was held in 1927. Several years of unexpected rainy, cold weather had put a damper on the proceedings. The shifting weather patterns didn’t help the apple trees, either.

“. . . acres of [apple trees] in such long rows one can not see the end of them, just long streaks of vivid red and green. . . . They will surely bring to the farmers a mint of money. You remember our mother used to say to us girls . . . “dollars don’t grow on every bush, my dear.” But dollars do grow on every apple tree in this country.”
Martha A. Warren, September 1, 1907
(quoted by Erwin Funk, Rogers Daily News, July 1, 1950)

The Heyday of the Apple Industry
Apples grown by Dave Eicher, Springdale, 1900s-1910s.

Apples grown by Dave Eicher, Springdale, 1900s-1910s. Sydney D. Aaron, photographer. Dr. Roy C. Rom Collection (S-82-34-41)

The Railroad Comes Through

Transportation played a major role in the growth of the apple industry. At first few apples were grown for market because Northwest Arkansas didn’t have a railroad line or major navigable river. Apples had to be hauled by wagon great distances before they could be shipped. With the coming of the railroad in the 1880s, growers began planting apple trees by the thousands.

Not only did the railroad ship apples, it bought huge tracts of land, promoting the acreage in brochures with such titles as “Fruit Farming Along the Frisco.” While every county in Northwest Arkansas grew and shipped apples, Benton and Washington Counties were the major players. Arkansas apples won top prizes at expositions from the 1870s to the 1910s.

Scientific Orcharding

With orcharding becoming a big business, growers sought ways to increase their crop yield. As a 1908 Springdale News article saw it, the “era of scientific orcharding” had begun. National and state agricultural agencies set up research and experimental stations to test new practices, teach, and spread practical information to farmers. At the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, researchers began studying and improving techniques for grafting, pruning, and spraying.

Apples were so important in Northwest Arkansas that in 1906, with the help of Senator James Berry of Bentonville and the state horticultural society, a first-class U.S. Weather Bureau opened on the Bentonville square. Not only did it offer daily forecasts, it sent notices to fruit farmers regarding when to spray their trees for insects and disease.

This intensive planting of orchards and attention to scientific growing methods paid off. Bumper crops of apples were reported year after year. Accounts vary but in 1919 the total apple crop in Benton County was valued at almost $5.5 million. There were over 3,100 railroad cars of fresh apples, 250 cars of dried apples, and 618 cars of apples for vinegar. About 90,000 bushels of apples went to the canning factories.

New Businesses Develop

With the growth of the apple industry came a number of specialty businesses. Apple trees were propagated and grown at area nurseries. Barrels made from locally grown timber were used to ship high-grade fruit when it was green (not fully ripened) and better able to resist bruising. Ice from ice plants helped cool down refrigerated railroad cars. Cold storage plants overwintered apples before shipping them out in the spring.

Medium-grade apples were sent to the canneries for canning or to the evaporators to be sliced and dried. Low-grade fruit was sold in bulk and turned into vinegar or alcohol at the distillery. The Kimmons, Walker and Company evaporator in Springdale was said to have been the biggest plant in the area. In 1907 over 1,500 bushels of apples were processed daily. The women working at one of the company’s 18 peelers were paid from 75¢ to $1 a day, depending on their skill.

Wholesalers and fruit brokers bought fresh fruit from the growers or processed apple products, selling these items to distant markets. During the busy season thousands of men, women, and children were employed in the orchards picking apples and in the packing sheds, distilleries, vinegar plants, and evaporators. So many people benefitted from “King Apple” that in 1901 the apple blossom became the state flower.

To celebrate the crop that put Northwest Arkansas on the map, in the mid 1920s Rogers held spectacular Apple Blossom Festivals complete with pageants, orchard tours, and the crowning of the Apple Blossom queen. Many communities and organizations sent crepe paper blossom-covered parade floats filled with pretty girls. One year over 50,000 attendees enjoyed the show. The last festival was held in 1927. Several years of unexpected rainy, cold weather had put a damper on the proceedings. The shifting weather patterns didn’t help the apple trees, either.

“. . . acres of [apple trees] in such long rows one can not see the end of them, just long streaks of vivid red and green. . . . They will surely bring to the farmers a mint of money. You remember our mother used to say to us girls . . . “dollars don’t grow on every bush, my dear.” But dollars do grow on every apple tree in this country.”
Martha A. Warren, September 1, 1907
(quoted by Erwin Funk, Rogers Daily News, July 1, 1950)

The End, and the Revival, of the Apple Industry in the Ozarks
Fred Vanzant at his farm stand, Lowell, August 17, 1984.

Fred Vanzant at his farm stand, Lowell, August 17, 1984. Charles Bickford, photographer. Springdale News Collection (SN 8-17-1984)

End of an Era

Although folks didn’t see it at the time, by the early 1920s the apple industry was in decline in Northwest Arkansas. Many factors were responsible. Lots of people got into the apple business thinking they’d get rich, but most didn’t know much about controlling pests and disease or replenishing soil nutrients. Some growers and packing houses also shipped poor quality fruit, giving area orchards a bad name. With the advent of the automobile, independent sellers could drive a truckload of fruit to a distant town to make a sale. Not only did they cut into the fruit shipper’s business, but the product quality was often poor.

Too many apple varieties meant that commercial buyers couldn’t buy enough volume of one variety. And many of the varieties weren’t the best, including the Ben Davis, one of the area’s most planted apples. As apple-growing regions out west grew in prominence, the public began to favor the new varieties. Northwest Arkansas’ growers didn’t keep up with the changing tastes. The area’s orchards were also aging.

The weather brought late freezes, droughts, or too much rain. The narrow genetic base of local apples meant that trees were more susceptible to insects and disease. San Jose scale, the coddling moth, and the oriental fruit moth wreaked havoc, as did diseases like fire blight and bitter rot. Apples were sprayed with such things as lead arsenate and “Bordeaux mixture” (lime and copper sulphate), but these treatments left a residue.

Dried apples began losing popularity in the early 1900s. Part of their decline was due to the increasing ability to preserve and transport fresh apples. Also, newly enacted federal laws like the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 placed stiff regulations on a largely unregulated business. Should inspectors find bits of peel or seed in a dried apple shipment, the load was confiscated, the shipper arrested and fined, and the fruit reprocessed in order to conform to the law. Other regulations required growers to wash apples in a weak hydrochloric acid solution before shipping to remove pesticide residue. Treated apples didn’t keep as long as untreated fruit. All of these extra steps cut into profits.

With help from the economic toll of the Great Depression, the number of apple-growing acres declined in the 1930s and 1940s. Rather than relying on apples, the area’s agricultural economy began to focus on an up-and-coming industry—poultry.

The Apple’s Revival

A few orchardists held out. In the 1950s and 1960s growers like Forrest Rodgers of Lincoln and Fred Vanzant of Lowell believed in the future of Arkansas apples. They had new products for insect and disease control and newly developed tree stock that came to maturity more quickly. In 1984 Vanzant had 60 acres of Red Delicious and Jonathan apples. Today the family still runs the farm stand.

Apple research continues at the University of Arkansas. Along with many others, Dr. Roy Rom and his son, Dr. Curt Rom, have spent decades researching and improving apple varieties. Today modern growers reduce pesticide use by using integrated pest management programs to prevent and control insect damage. Computer programs can measure temperature, humidity, and rainfall and alert a farmer to when the trees need irrigation. Smaller trees have been developed to allow more trees to be planted per acre. They’re also easier to pick.

Today’s consumers are faced with limited apple choices. Grocery stores across the nation generally offer the same varieties—Granny Smith, Jonathan, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Macintosh. Gone are the choices of yesteryear. Northwest Arkansas was once the biggest apple growing region of the country, but today we can’t compete with major apple-growing regions such as Washington or Oregon. Instead, small orchards are seen as the future. Consumers are increasingly interested in organic foods, heirloom plants, farmers’ markets, and the “Eat Local” movement. As these trends grow, so too does the interest for homegrown apples.

“The big, red apple will never be King in Northwest Arkansas again. That era is gone forever but its reign, in retrospect, was benign. The countryside was beautiful with trees that blossomed in the spring and were crimson with fruit in the fall. The air was clean; the water was clear.”
Thomas Rothrock
Benton County Pioneer, Summer 1974

The End, and the Revival, of the Apple Industry in the Ozarks
Fred Vanzant at his farm stand, Lowell, August 17, 1984.

Fred Vanzant at his farm stand, Lowell, August 17, 1984. Charles Bickford, photographer. Springdale News Collection (SN 8-17-1984)

End of an Era

Although folks didn’t see it at the time, by the early 1920s the apple industry was in decline in Northwest Arkansas. Many factors were responsible. Lots of people got into the apple business thinking they’d get rich, but most didn’t know much about controlling pests and disease or replenishing soil nutrients. Some growers and packing houses also shipped poor quality fruit, giving area orchards a bad name. With the advent of the automobile, independent sellers could drive a truckload of fruit to a distant town to make a sale. Not only did they cut into the fruit shipper’s business, but the product quality was often poor.

Too many apple varieties meant that commercial buyers couldn’t buy enough volume of one variety. And many of the varieties weren’t the best, including the Ben Davis, one of the area’s most planted apples. As apple-growing regions out west grew in prominence, the public began to favor the new varieties. Northwest Arkansas’ growers didn’t keep up with the changing tastes. The area’s orchards were also aging.

The weather brought late freezes, droughts, or too much rain. The narrow genetic base of local apples meant that trees were more susceptible to insects and disease. San Jose scale, the coddling moth, and the oriental fruit moth wreaked havoc, as did diseases like fire blight and bitter rot. Apples were sprayed with such things as lead arsenate and “Bordeaux mixture” (lime and copper sulphate), but these treatments left a residue.

Dried apples began losing popularity in the early 1900s. Part of their decline was due to the increasing ability to preserve and transport fresh apples. Also, newly enacted federal laws like the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 placed stiff regulations on a largely unregulated business. Should inspectors find bits of peel or seed in a dried apple shipment, the load was confiscated, the shipper arrested and fined, and the fruit reprocessed in order to conform to the law. Other regulations required growers to wash apples in a weak hydrochloric acid solution before shipping to remove pesticide residue. Treated apples didn’t keep as long as untreated fruit. All of these extra steps cut into profits.

With help from the economic toll of the Great Depression, the number of apple-growing acres declined in the 1930s and 1940s. Rather than relying on apples, the area’s agricultural economy began to focus on an up-and-coming industry—poultry.

The Apple’s Revival

A few orchardists held out. In the 1950s and 1960s growers like Forrest Rodgers of Lincoln and Fred Vanzant of Lowell believed in the future of Arkansas apples. They had new products for insect and disease control and newly developed tree stock that came to maturity more quickly. In 1984 Vanzant had 60 acres of Red Delicious and Jonathan apples. Today the family still runs the farm stand.

Apple research continues at the University of Arkansas. Along with many others, Dr. Roy Rom and his son, Dr. Curt Rom, have spent decades researching and improving apple varieties. Today modern growers reduce pesticide use by using integrated pest management programs to prevent and control insect damage. Computer programs can measure temperature, humidity, and rainfall and alert a farmer to when the trees need irrigation. Smaller trees have been developed to allow more trees to be planted per acre. They’re also easier to pick.

Today’s consumers are faced with limited apple choices. Grocery stores across the nation generally offer the same varieties—Granny Smith, Jonathan, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Macintosh. Gone are the choices of yesteryear. Northwest Arkansas was once the biggest apple growing region of the country, but today we can’t compete with major apple-growing regions such as Washington or Oregon. Instead, small orchards are seen as the future. Consumers are increasingly interested in organic foods, heirloom plants, farmers’ markets, and the “Eat Local” movement. As these trends grow, so too does the interest for homegrown apples.

“The big, red apple will never be King in Northwest Arkansas again. That era is gone forever but its reign, in retrospect, was benign. The countryside was beautiful with trees that blossomed in the spring and were crimson with fruit in the fall. The air was clean; the water was clear.”
Thomas Rothrock
Benton County Pioneer, Summer 1974

Locally Developed Varieties

Arkansas (aka Mammoth Black Twig)—propagated in 1869; the scion was cut from a tree grown from the seed of either the Black Twig or Limber Twig in the 1840s by John Crawford of Rhea’s Mill near Prairie Grove; exhibited at the New Orleans Exposition in 1884

Arkansas Black—conflicting origin; some say first fruited in 1879 on Mr. Braithwait’s farm near Bentonville; others say DeKalb Holt produced it near Lincoln; firm flesh harvested in late fall; excellent for overwintering; won first place at the 1900 International Exposition in Paris

Black Ben Davis (aka Reagan’s Red)— originated from a seedling found in 1883 by John Reagan on a waste pile near an apple evaporator on Alexander Black’s farm; gained acclaim at the International Exposition in Paris

Collins’ Red (aka Collins, Champion Red, Champion, Reagan’s Red)—found by chance in a field near Lincoln; commercially propagated around 1886; a good-colored fruit which keeps well, if kept properly

Etris—discovered by Jack Etris near Gentry in the late 1800s; a tart, red-striped fruit which keeps well; reaches its full flavor in late November

Highfill Seedling (aka Highfill Blue)—discovered by Hezikiah Highfill at his nursery in Highfill; a dark red fruit with a “blue frost” and a tart “whang;” won a medal at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis

Howard Sweet—the seedling is thought to have come from Earls Holt’s Cane Hill nursery after the Civil War; grown near Cincinnati by Mr. Howard; a sweet, highly colored dessert apple; the tree has a heavy bloom

King David—originated on Ben Frost’s Durham-area farm about 1890; a yellow-skinned fruit washed with red

Oliver Red (aka Oliver, Senator)—originated in Washington County; a yellow-skinned fruit washed with bright red; harvested in early September; a good dessert apple

Shannon Pippin—brought from Indiana in 1833; a yellow-skinned fruit with a faint blush, it had a sweet aroma and made for a good dessert apple; it wasn’t suitable for commercial growing because not many apples grew on the tree

Springdale—predicted to go far in 1890, it never gained prominence; a yellow-skinned fruit washed with mixed red and bright crimson splashes

Summer Champion—from W.T. Waller’s farm near Lincoln; originally from Abraham Tull’s farm in Grant County, Arkansas; a yellow-skinned fruit washed with red; sold to Stark Brothers Nursery for $45

Wilson June—one of 1,000 trees found at the Earles Holt nursery after the Civil War and transplanted to the Lincoln area by Albert and  A. J. Wilson; a sweet, yellow-skinned fruit with dark crimson stripes

Locally Developed Varieties

Arkansas (aka Mammoth Black Twig)—propagated in 1869; the scion was cut from a tree grown from the seed of either the Black Twig or Limber Twig in the 1840s by John Crawford of Rhea’s Mill near Prairie Grove; exhibited at the New Orleans Exposition in 1884

Arkansas Black—conflicting origin; some say first fruited in 1879 on Mr. Braithwait’s farm near Bentonville; others say DeKalb Holt produced it near Lincoln; firm flesh harvested in late fall; excellent for overwintering; won first place at the 1900 International Exposition in Paris

Black Ben Davis (aka Reagan’s Red)— originated from a seedling found in 1883 by John Reagan on a waste pile near an apple evaporator on Alexander Black’s farm; gained acclaim at the International Exposition in Paris

Collins’ Red (aka Collins, Champion Red, Champion, Reagan’s Red)—found by chance in a field near Lincoln; commercially propagated around 1886; a good-colored fruit which keeps well, if kept properly

Etris—discovered by Jack Etris near Gentry in the late 1800s; a tart, red-striped fruit which keeps well; reaches its full flavor in late November

Highfill Seedling (aka Highfill Blue)—discovered by Hezikiah Highfill at his nursery in Highfill; a dark red fruit with a “blue frost” and a tart “whang;” won a medal at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis

Howard Sweet—the seedling is thought to have come from Earls Holt’s Cane Hill nursery after the Civil War; grown near Cincinnati by Mr. Howard; a sweet, highly colored dessert apple; the tree has a heavy bloom

King David—originated on Ben Frost’s Durham-area farm about 1890; a yellow-skinned fruit washed with red

Oliver Red (aka Oliver, Senator)—originated in Washington County; a yellow-skinned fruit washed with bright red; harvested in early September; a good dessert apple

Shannon Pippin—brought from Indiana in 1833; a yellow-skinned fruit with a faint blush, it had a sweet aroma and made for a good dessert apple; it wasn’t suitable for commercial growing because not many apples grew on the tree

Springdale—predicted to go far in 1890, it never gained prominence; a yellow-skinned fruit washed with mixed red and bright crimson splashes

Summer Champion—from W.T. Waller’s farm near Lincoln; originally from Abraham Tull’s farm in Grant County, Arkansas; a yellow-skinned fruit washed with red; sold to Stark Brothers Nursery for $45

Wilson June—one of 1,000 trees found at the Earles Holt nursery after the Civil War and transplanted to the Lincoln area by Albert and  A. J. Wilson; a sweet, yellow-skinned fruit with dark crimson stripes

A Nursery Story
Parker Brothers Nursery Co., letter, April 21, 1921

Parker Brothers Nursery Company letter, 1921. Ruth Morris Collection

Part of the strength of the apple industry in Northwest Arkansas was due to the many nurseries that sprung up, beginning in the early 19th century. A few of the larger nurseries included Crider Brothers Nursery (Greenland), Benton County Nursery Company (Rogers), Stark Brothers Nursery (Farmington), and Parker Brothers Nursery Company and its offshoot, John Parker and Son Nursery Company.

Lewis Parker began a home nursery business in Aurora (Madison County) in 1887. As the business grew his elder sons James and John helped with the nursery and began selling stock further afield. A flowery 1922 account in the Fayetteville Democrat recounts the nursery’s early years:

“As a result of these labors, hundreds of home and commercial orchards have been established. . . . Who will say that these patient, plodding men labored only for the price brought by their trees? No, these men had a vision and as they worked and helped to lay the foundation of our great fruit industry this vision lured them on. They could see in the future vast orchards, vineyards and berry farms. They sensed afar the day that is now dawning when well developed fruit lands is bringing a flow of golden wealth to good old Northwest Arkansas.”

Eventually younger sons George and Elmer joined the business. After Lewis’ retirement in the early 1900s, his sons established their own nurseries. Elmer stayed in Aurora while James went to Oklahoma. George started the Parker Brothers Nursery Company in Fayetteville, with acreage for growing stock in Greenland. John worked for the company for 20 years as salesman and “Orchard Adviser.”

Early in 1922 John established John Parker and Son Nursery Company, “a clean little nursery” in Fayetteville. His split with brother George might have been acrimonious, as John’s early letterhead included the phrase, “Not connected in any way with ‘so-called’ Parker Bros. Nursery Co.” In 1922 John recounted his business philosophy:

“Father tried to grow the best trees possible. He was a firm believer in the ‘Golden Rule’ and applied it in his business dealings. I shall never forget the few sound principles which he tried to impress on us as we were getting our first years of experience with him in the Nursery work. . . . First, learn your business so that you will know a good tree and how to produce it. Be sure that you never put a tree in a man’s order that you would not plant yourself. Be absolutely honest with everybody you deal with.”

Certificate authorizing E. L. Morris of Lincoln, Arkansas, as a sales representative for Parker Brothers Nursery.

Certificate authorizing E. L. Morris of Lincoln, Arkansas, as a sales representative for Parker Brothers Nursery Company. Ruth Morris Collection

The following excerpts come from letters written to Emmett Lee Morris of Lincoln, who served first as an agent for the Parker Brothers Nursery Company before working for John M. Parker and Son Nursery Co. in 1922. Morris and his fellow agents worked on commission and were constantly being told to sell more stock, to write up orders correctly, to not promise something that couldn’t be delivered, and to follow through and get the payment due the company. The first few letters were written by George Parker; the remainder by John.

April 16, 1921
“We wish to offer here a little bit of advice to our salesmen and to stress the importance of starting early on Monday morning and to keep busy with hammer and tongs for the full six days of the week. We are lead to believe that Monday is the most important day of the week. . . . Week end vacations are all very well for retired business men, but you can’t indulge in this extravagance and stay in the business race. . . . Benjamin Franklin could not afford to waste a minute. Edison works eighteen hours a day. The men who win are the men who make every day stand on its own feet. They are Six Day Men. Are You?”

April 26, 1921
“Our letter of the 16th . . . evidently brought results as 26 men reported last week against the 14 the week before. Now men, this makes us feel optimistic. We are only two reports behind a year ago. This is fine, considering the cold, rainy, backward spring we have had, but summer is now here. . . . Remember, the more you work the more you get. Here are the ten high ones of this week. Are you a top notcher? . . . Morris $935.80, Gingles $513.75, Chamblin $340.50, Gilbert $237.94 . . . Each one of our salesmen should consider it his duty right now to suggest to his prospective customer that he plant and raise what he consumes . . . He will be apt to bring up the subject of canned fruit. Here is your opportunity. Make the best of it, and be an optimist all the time. Always read the optimistic parts of the news papers. Never read the pessimistic side.”

February 1, 1922
“Upon looking over our Sales Ledger this morning, I notice that you are not reporting, and wonder what our firm has done, or has not done, that this should be. Good opportunities and valuable time is fast passing away. I trust that the fact that you are not representing us now is not due to any discourteous or unsatisfactory treatment from this end. …It is now a desirable time to take up the work, there never was more money in circulation and more business activity in our history than at the present time, and I would like to have you represent us in your locality. Your name will be held on my desk, awaiting your prompt answer.”

October 30, 1923
“Sorry to hear you have not been able to work. . . . We can furnish the Summer Champion in the 3-4 ft. grade, but have no Shannon in stock. . . . One thing we want to avoid: Do not make a fellow believe that they will be 3-4 ft. and if the order is written is written up 2-3 ft. that is the grade we will send him. We guarantee the roots to be absolutely No. 1. . . .”

March 11, 1924
“We wish to thank you for the $108.10 and will say that we think you are handling that business very nicely, at least we are perfectly satisfied with your work.”

August 27, 1924
“You do not need a permit to sell trees in Oklahoma. However, we will guarantee to get you out of jail, and if you get in trouble we will pay the expenses. . . . We are very glad to hear that you have a car and that you are going to work at once. I believe the month of September and October will be the best two months in this year.”

December 4, 1924
“Please find enclosed our check for $3.12, the 10% advance commission due on your last report which amounted to $31.28.”

February 10, 1925
“I do not know just how the packing crew happened to leave C.E. Phillips order out. It was shipped out by C.O.D. express direct to him Feb. 7th. Roll in the orders as fast as possible. We will deliver the goods.”

February 10, 1925
“I wish that you were in the office so I could take my hat off to you. I would willingly expose my marble top to the man that gets one hundred cents on the dollar. . . . We are glad to know that you have prospects for more good business. Hit while the iron is hot. We all know we are giving the farmer the best deal he has ever had from any nursery company.”

February 18, 1925
“We sold over $700.00 cash business from the office that day, and got the money. About $300.00 yesterday. Get in the ring and tell the boys they had better close the deal now.”

December 4, 1925
“We note what you say in regard to Mr. Glidewell’s order. In regard to replacing, we will stand one-half the loss, but we really believe the dry weather was responsible for most of this loss.”

February 18, 1926
“We received a notice from the P.M. [postmaster] at Summers, that G.E. Hall had refused to accept his bill of nursery stock which we shipped out a few days ago. We would like for you to see what is the matter with him, and try to deliver it if possible. We cannot understand why he does not want it now, as this is fine weather for planting. We have written him telling him to call and get his stock at once, but we believe you had better see about it too, as he may be a pretty hard one to convince.”

March 12, 1926
“Just received your letter, and are glad to know you had 100% collections, and we always know that you will get the money when we ship to your customers. Will be glad to see you whenever you can come up with the money.”

January 21, 1928
“Don’t let anybody get by if they want to buy apples, peach, plum, pear or cherries.”

March 15, 1928
“We are wondering why it is you have not sent in some orders. You surely are not working very hard, as I am sure there is a number of people not far from where you live who want to buy some of our good trees. . . . Please put in at least 1 or 2 days and get some orders and rush them to us.”

March 19, 1929
“I was very much disappointed that I failed to meet you in the office this afternoon. I gave your boy samples of Stayman Winesap and we have a big surplus in Stayman, Red Delicious and Black Ben Davis in this extra fine 2 year old tree. Sell them at $20.00 per hundred if you can. If they take 50 or more sell them at 20¢. We will give you ¼ of all the money we collect. . . . We would like for you to go out and work a few days and see how much you can make. Rush the orders to us and if you have to give a fellow a Golden Delicious to buy, tell him we are making him a present of the same kind of tree that Stark Brothers sell for $1.50. Anything to get the business and we always appreciate your business because we have never failed to get the money on your orders.” Yours for More and Better Fruit, John Parker

A Nursery Story
Parker Brothers Nursery Co., letter, April 21, 1921

Parker Brothers Nursery Company letter, 1921. Ruth Morris Collection

Part of the strength of the apple industry in Northwest Arkansas was due to the many nurseries that sprung up, beginning in the early 19th century. A few of the larger nurseries included Crider Brothers Nursery (Greenland), Benton County Nursery Company (Rogers), Stark Brothers Nursery (Farmington), and Parker Brothers Nursery Company and its offshoot, John Parker and Son Nursery Company.

Lewis Parker began a home nursery business in Aurora (Madison County) in 1887. As the business grew his elder sons James and John helped with the nursery and began selling stock further afield. A flowery 1922 account in the Fayetteville Democrat recounts the nursery’s early years:

“As a result of these labors, hundreds of home and commercial orchards have been established. . . . Who will say that these patient, plodding men labored only for the price brought by their trees? No, these men had a vision and as they worked and helped to lay the foundation of our great fruit industry this vision lured them on. They could see in the future vast orchards, vineyards and berry farms. They sensed afar the day that is now dawning when well developed fruit lands is bringing a flow of golden wealth to good old Northwest Arkansas.”

Eventually younger sons George and Elmer joined the business. After Lewis’ retirement in the early 1900s, his sons established their own nurseries. Elmer stayed in Aurora while James went to Oklahoma. George started the Parker Brothers Nursery Company in Fayetteville, with acreage for growing stock in Greenland. John worked for the company for 20 years as salesman and “Orchard Adviser.”

Early in 1922 John established John Parker and Son Nursery Company, “a clean little nursery” in Fayetteville. His split with brother George might have been acrimonious, as John’s early letterhead included the phrase, “Not connected in any way with ‘so-called’ Parker Bros. Nursery Co.” In 1922 John recounted his business philosophy:

“Father tried to grow the best trees possible. He was a firm believer in the ‘Golden Rule’ and applied it in his business dealings. I shall never forget the few sound principles which he tried to impress on us as we were getting our first years of experience with him in the Nursery work. . . . First, learn your business so that you will know a good tree and how to produce it. Be sure that you never put a tree in a man’s order that you would not plant yourself. Be absolutely honest with everybody you deal with.”

Certificate authorizing E. L. Morris of Lincoln, Arkansas, as a sales representative for Parker Brothers Nursery.

Certificate authorizing E. L. Morris of Lincoln, Arkansas, as a sales representative for Parker Brothers Nursery Company. Ruth Morris Collection

The following excerpts come from letters written to Emmett Lee Morris of Lincoln, who served first as an agent for the Parker Brothers Nursery Company before working for John M. Parker and Son Nursery Co. in 1922. Morris and his fellow agents worked on commission and were constantly being told to sell more stock, to write up orders correctly, to not promise something that couldn’t be delivered, and to follow through and get the payment due the company. The first few letters were written by George Parker; the remainder by John.

April 16, 1921
“We wish to offer here a little bit of advice to our salesmen and to stress the importance of starting early on Monday morning and to keep busy with hammer and tongs for the full six days of the week. We are lead to believe that Monday is the most important day of the week. . . . Week end vacations are all very well for retired business men, but you can’t indulge in this extravagance and stay in the business race. . . . Benjamin Franklin could not afford to waste a minute. Edison works eighteen hours a day. The men who win are the men who make every day stand on its own feet. They are Six Day Men. Are You?”

April 26, 1921
“Our letter of the 16th . . . evidently brought results as 26 men reported last week against the 14 the week before. Now men, this makes us feel optimistic. We are only two reports behind a year ago. This is fine, considering the cold, rainy, backward spring we have had, but summer is now here. . . . Remember, the more you work the more you get. Here are the ten high ones of this week. Are you a top notcher? . . . Morris $935.80, Gingles $513.75, Chamblin $340.50, Gilbert $237.94 . . . Each one of our salesmen should consider it his duty right now to suggest to his prospective customer that he plant and raise what he consumes . . . He will be apt to bring up the subject of canned fruit. Here is your opportunity. Make the best of it, and be an optimist all the time. Always read the optimistic parts of the news papers. Never read the pessimistic side.”

February 1, 1922
“Upon looking over our Sales Ledger this morning, I notice that you are not reporting, and wonder what our firm has done, or has not done, that this should be. Good opportunities and valuable time is fast passing away. I trust that the fact that you are not representing us now is not due to any discourteous or unsatisfactory treatment from this end. …It is now a desirable time to take up the work, there never was more money in circulation and more business activity in our history than at the present time, and I would like to have you represent us in your locality. Your name will be held on my desk, awaiting your prompt answer.”

October 30, 1923
“Sorry to hear you have not been able to work. . . . We can furnish the Summer Champion in the 3-4 ft. grade, but have no Shannon in stock. . . . One thing we want to avoid: Do not make a fellow believe that they will be 3-4 ft. and if the order is written is written up 2-3 ft. that is the grade we will send him. We guarantee the roots to be absolutely No. 1. . . .”

March 11, 1924
“We wish to thank you for the $108.10 and will say that we think you are handling that business very nicely, at least we are perfectly satisfied with your work.”

August 27, 1924
“You do not need a permit to sell trees in Oklahoma. However, we will guarantee to get you out of jail, and if you get in trouble we will pay the expenses. . . . We are very glad to hear that you have a car and that you are going to work at once. I believe the month of September and October will be the best two months in this year.”

December 4, 1924
“Please find enclosed our check for $3.12, the 10% advance commission due on your last report which amounted to $31.28.”

February 10, 1925
“I do not know just how the packing crew happened to leave C.E. Phillips order out. It was shipped out by C.O.D. express direct to him Feb. 7th. Roll in the orders as fast as possible. We will deliver the goods.”

February 10, 1925
“I wish that you were in the office so I could take my hat off to you. I would willingly expose my marble top to the man that gets one hundred cents on the dollar. . . . We are glad to know that you have prospects for more good business. Hit while the iron is hot. We all know we are giving the farmer the best deal he has ever had from any nursery company.”

February 18, 1925
“We sold over $700.00 cash business from the office that day, and got the money. About $300.00 yesterday. Get in the ring and tell the boys they had better close the deal now.”

December 4, 1925
“We note what you say in regard to Mr. Glidewell’s order. In regard to replacing, we will stand one-half the loss, but we really believe the dry weather was responsible for most of this loss.”

February 18, 1926
“We received a notice from the P.M. [postmaster] at Summers, that G.E. Hall had refused to accept his bill of nursery stock which we shipped out a few days ago. We would like for you to see what is the matter with him, and try to deliver it if possible. We cannot understand why he does not want it now, as this is fine weather for planting. We have written him telling him to call and get his stock at once, but we believe you had better see about it too, as he may be a pretty hard one to convince.”

March 12, 1926
“Just received your letter, and are glad to know you had 100% collections, and we always know that you will get the money when we ship to your customers. Will be glad to see you whenever you can come up with the money.”

January 21, 1928
“Don’t let anybody get by if they want to buy apples, peach, plum, pear or cherries.”

March 15, 1928
“We are wondering why it is you have not sent in some orders. You surely are not working very hard, as I am sure there is a number of people not far from where you live who want to buy some of our good trees. . . . Please put in at least 1 or 2 days and get some orders and rush them to us.”

March 19, 1929
“I was very much disappointed that I failed to meet you in the office this afternoon. I gave your boy samples of Stayman Winesap and we have a big surplus in Stayman, Red Delicious and Black Ben Davis in this extra fine 2 year old tree. Sell them at $20.00 per hundred if you can. If they take 50 or more sell them at 20¢. We will give you ¼ of all the money we collect. . . . We would like for you to go out and work a few days and see how much you can make. Rush the orders to us and if you have to give a fellow a Golden Delicious to buy, tell him we are making him a present of the same kind of tree that Stark Brothers sell for $1.50. Anything to get the business and we always appreciate your business because we have never failed to get the money on your orders.” Yours for More and Better Fruit, John Parker

Prunings of Apple History
E. B. Littlefield orchard east of Springdale, circa 1910.

E. B. Littlefield orchard east of Springdale, circa 1910. Dr. Lloyd O. Warren Collection (S-82-214-4)

“The apple is the king of fruits, and the mountains of Arkansas form its throne. Hurrah for Arkansas, for our fine flavored apples . . .”
Springdale News, October 30, 1894

“Verily, as the poet says, “God dreamed of apple trees” when his hand created these delightful hills and hollows, these wide plateaus and gentle slopes, for this is the world’s greatest apple orchard . . .”
John T. Stinson
Fruit Growing Along the Frisco System, 1904

“The countryside was beautiful with trees that blossomed fragrantly in the spring and were crimson with fruit in the autumn. . . . For me, the apple blossom festivals held in Rogers during the 1920s were symbolic of the beauty that was once down Northwest Arkansas’s lanes; and which brought the apple blossom to be the State Flower of Arkansas.”
Thomas Rothrock
Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Winter 1974

“We had a winesap, a tart-sweet apple, and a good “keeper”—we always tried to retain a few bushels in the root cellar, where they lasted well into the winter. Ingrams, a small sweet apple were the very best “keeper.” . . . I remember one [tree] that bore fruit which ripened early, but never lost its green color. We called them “June Apples.” They were so sweet that there were occasional pockets of crystallized sugar near the core. Also we had Arkansas Blacks, a yellow-fleshed apple, so dark red that it was almost black, firm, sweet, juicy.”
Caryn Schmitt and Steven Finney
Flashback, August 1986

“Pruning was commenced at once and continued all winter whenever the weather was mild. No pruning was allowed when the wood was in a frozen condition. . . . Weak, interfering and dead limbs were cut out, strong ones often shortened in to balance the tops. . . . [C]are was used to cut back to a fair-sized limb in a good position to continue growth and assist in healing the wound.”
Springdale News, February 21, 1908

“Orchard men from various other sections of the country began to discover that this region was most admirably adapted to horticulture, with the apple as the prime minister of progress. Rolling acres where from prehistoric days the forest had flourished were turned into symmetrical orchards, the flourishing trees burdened with plump fruit . . .”
John T. Stinson
Fruit Growing Along the Frisco System, 1904

“There is no longer little doubt about the beneficial results of spraying . . . It means better fruit and more fruit, and The News predicts that the time is not far distant when Northwest Arkansas will be up with other fruit sections in this particular.”
Springdale News, April 25, 1908

“My father [Harvey W. Gipple] held that insects would eventually become immune to the chemicals used in the spray material… Growers sprayed summer and winter but still there were diseases and insects which caused the fruit to be of an inferior quality. They thought the spray materials were diluted or had lost their effectiveness, but they finally realized—just as my father had thought—worms had become immune to the chemicals . . .”
Pearl Gipple Banks
Benton County Pioneer, July 1957

Anglin family working at Rupple's apple shed, Fayetteville, circa 1910.

Anglin family working at Rupple’s apple shed, Fayetteville, circa 1910. Lois Conduff Collection (S-87-276-1)

“During World War I men laborers were scarce and Reed [Adcock] hired a number of us boys to pick apples for him . . . Someone threw an apple, another did the same, and that started the ball to rolling. . . . Almost spontaneously apples began to fly . . . The next morning . . .  [Adcock] told us in a very kind way that the program had changed. From now on, he said, I shall pay you 5¢ per bushel for picking apples, instead by the day.”
A. D. Lester
Benton County Pioneer, Summer 1972

“In the packing house [operated by Teasdale Fruit and Nut Products Co.] under the supervision of Miss Lizzie McFarlin, all were so busy and everything so nice and clean. The fruit is packed in 50-pound boxes, which are all nicely paperlined, carefully faced and made pretty by the use of lace paper.”
Martha A. Warren, September 1, 1907
(quoted by Erwin Funk, Rogers Daily News, July 1, 1950)

“From every source and from all parts of the country come complaints of last season’s packing of apples. The wholesalers denounce the packing of inferior fruit, because it has shut off consumption; the retailers have had grievance for the same reason and the consumer has been so disgusted he has simply passed the apples by and has bought oranges and bananas instead.”
Springdale News, June 15, 1908

“There would be such a line, we would take the truck over and leave it. A man would stay with it to pull it up. And at noon someone would take his place. We’d be lucky if we got it unloaded that day. And this was in the 1930s when the apple business was sort of winding down.”
Jack Yates
Benton County Daily Democrat, March 1, 1987

“As the hundreds of carloads were dispatched . . . Secretary Stroud’s office [of the Ozark Fruit Growers Association] . . . was kept in touch with the market conditions in cities from Denver and St. Paul eastward by representatives and salesmen who quoted prices . . . the refrigerator cars of local fruit were sent to points where there was the greatest demand. . . . Constant communications by wire kept the output of fruit from glutting any particular market, and results were soon evident in better prices to the grower.”
Will Plank
Benton County Pioneer, March 1963

“There is much more to a glass of cider than just squeezing apples so over came Cleva and Harry Douglas [of Rogers] with buckets and baskets, tubs and sacks . . . There were a few discussions with bees and wasps as to just which apples belonged to whom, but I didn’t push the issue, and let them have a fair share.”
Lanette Tillman
Oklahoma Ranch and Farm World, April 13, 1969

“Owing to the extensive apple orchards and the large returns received from the crops, much attention is being paid to methods of care and cultivation . . . as well as packing and marketing the fruit. It has been our observation that the grower who gives his orchard good care and cultivation is repaid many times over for the extra expense.”
Fruit Farming Along the Frisco, 1899

“The [Southern Fruit Products Co.] factory is nearly as large as all out doors. Uses apples of all grades, large and small, and has a capacity of 3,500 bushels per day and even then the bins get to running over though they work night and day. Last year it made 530,000 gallons of vinegar which finds its way to every section of the Union. Sells by the train load. Just think of that, Betsey, train loads of vinegar!”
Martha A. Warren, September 1, 1907
(quoted by Erwin Funk, Rogers Daily News, July 1, 1950)

“The Macon and Carson distillery has up to the present date used something over 30,000 bushels of apples in the manufacture of brandy. They expect before the season is over to use over a quarter of a million bushels of fruit.”
Unknown source, September 1899
(quoted by Robert G. Winn, Washington County Observer, 1970s–1980s)

“The apples were peeled, sliced, then dried by a night crew over wood stoves. Sulphur was thrown on the fires, the resulting vapors preventing the apple slices from turning too brown. When ready to market, the dried apples were sprinkled with soda water and then packed into wooden or pasteboard boxes.”
Thomas Rothrock
Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Winter 1974

Kimmons-Walker apple evaporator, Springdale, circa 1900

Kimmons-Walker apple evaporator, Springdale, circa 1900. Austin Cravens/W. Fay Atkisson Collection

“The National Pure Food Commission seems to think that the use of sulphur will be a violation of the pure food law. . . . If Sulphur is barred from use in bleaching fruit, it will work great injury to the business and affect not only the evaporator men, but all who grow fruit.”
Springdale News, March 6, 1908

“. . . no commercial apple has even been as well adapted to Northwest Arkansas’s climate and soil as the Ben Davis; and probably no apple will ever be. . . . Said a Louisiana native to an Arkansas apple peddler, ‘That man Benny Davis up there sho’ do grow the apples.'”
Thomas Rothrock
Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Winter 1974

“The awards on apples [at the Chicago World’s Fair] have just been made and the Arkansas display . . . secured the highest award for the largest and best display of apples. . . . New York had long been noted for her apples but they did not begin to compare with the fruit from Arkansas, which was a great revelation to most of the people, who looked upon Arkansas as a wilderness.”
Springdale News, October 30, 1893

Prunings of Apple History
E. B. Littlefield orchard east of Springdale, circa 1910.

E. B. Littlefield orchard east of Springdale, circa 1910. Dr. Lloyd O. Warren Collection (S-82-214-4)

“The apple is the king of fruits, and the mountains of Arkansas form its throne. Hurrah for Arkansas, for our fine flavored apples . . .”
Springdale News, October 30, 1894

“Verily, as the poet says, “God dreamed of apple trees” when his hand created these delightful hills and hollows, these wide plateaus and gentle slopes, for this is the world’s greatest apple orchard . . .”
John T. Stinson
Fruit Growing Along the Frisco System, 1904

“The countryside was beautiful with trees that blossomed fragrantly in the spring and were crimson with fruit in the autumn. . . . For me, the apple blossom festivals held in Rogers during the 1920s were symbolic of the beauty that was once down Northwest Arkansas’s lanes; and which brought the apple blossom to be the State Flower of Arkansas.”
Thomas Rothrock
Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Winter 1974

“We had a winesap, a tart-sweet apple, and a good “keeper”—we always tried to retain a few bushels in the root cellar, where they lasted well into the winter. Ingrams, a small sweet apple were the very best “keeper.” . . . I remember one [tree] that bore fruit which ripened early, but never lost its green color. We called them “June Apples.” They were so sweet that there were occasional pockets of crystallized sugar near the core. Also we had Arkansas Blacks, a yellow-fleshed apple, so dark red that it was almost black, firm, sweet, juicy.”
Caryn Schmitt and Steven Finney
Flashback, August 1986

“Pruning was commenced at once and continued all winter whenever the weather was mild. No pruning was allowed when the wood was in a frozen condition. . . . Weak, interfering and dead limbs were cut out, strong ones often shortened in to balance the tops. . . . [C]are was used to cut back to a fair-sized limb in a good position to continue growth and assist in healing the wound.”
Springdale News, February 21, 1908

“Orchard men from various other sections of the country began to discover that this region was most admirably adapted to horticulture, with the apple as the prime minister of progress. Rolling acres where from prehistoric days the forest had flourished were turned into symmetrical orchards, the flourishing trees burdened with plump fruit . . .”
John T. Stinson
Fruit Growing Along the Frisco System, 1904

“There is no longer little doubt about the beneficial results of spraying . . . It means better fruit and more fruit, and The News predicts that the time is not far distant when Northwest Arkansas will be up with other fruit sections in this particular.”
Springdale News, April 25, 1908

“My father [Harvey W. Gipple] held that insects would eventually become immune to the chemicals used in the spray material . . . Growers sprayed summer and winter but still there were diseases and insects which caused the fruit to be of an inferior quality. They thought the spray materials were diluted or had lost their effectiveness, but they finally realized—just as my father had thought—worms had become immune to the chemicals . . .”
Pearl Gipple Banks
Benton County Pioneer, July 1957

Anglin family working at Rupple's apple shed, Fayetteville, circa 1910.

Anglin family working at Rupple’s apple shed, Fayetteville, circa 1910. Lois Conduff Collection (S-87-276-1)

 

“During World War I men laborers were scarce and Reed [Adcock] hired a number of us boys to pick apples for him . . . Someone threw an apple, another did the same, and that started the ball to rolling. . . . Almost spontaneously apples began to fly . . . The next morning . . .  [Adcock] told us in a very kind way that the program had changed. From now on, he said, I shall pay you 5¢ per bushel for picking apples, instead by the day.”
A. D. Lester
Benton County Pioneer, Summer 1972

“In the packing house [operated by Teasdale Fruit and Nut Products Co.] under the supervision of Miss Lizzie McFarlin, all were so busy and everything so nice and clean. The fruit is packed in 50-pound boxes, which are all nicely paperlined, carefully faced and made pretty by the use of lace paper.”
Martha A. Warren, September 1, 1907
(quoted by Erwin Funk, Rogers Daily News, July 1, 1950)

“From every source and from all parts of the country come complaints of last season’s packing of apples. The wholesalers denounce the packing of inferior fruit, because it has shut off consumption; the retailers have had grievance for the same reason and the consumer has been so disgusted he has simply passed the apples by and has bought oranges and bananas instead.”
Springdale News, June 15, 1908

“There would be such a line, we would take the truck over and leave it. A man would stay with it to pull it up. And at noon someone would take his place. We’d be lucky if we got it unloaded that day. And this was in the 1930s when the apple business was sort of winding down.”
Jack Yates
Benton County Daily Democrat, March 1, 1987

“As the hundreds of carloads were dispatched . . . Secretary Stroud’s office [of the Ozark Fruit Growers Association] . . . was kept in touch with the market conditions in cities from Denver and St. Paul eastward by representatives and salesmen who quoted prices . . . the refrigerator cars of local fruit were sent to points where there was the greatest demand. . . . Constant communications by wire kept the output of fruit from glutting any particular market, and results were soon evident in better prices to the grower.”
Will Plank
Benton County Pioneer, March 1963

“There is much more to a glass of cider than just squeezing apples so over came Cleva and Harry Douglas [of Rogers] with buckets and baskets, tubs and sacks . . . There were a few discussions with bees and wasps as to just which apples belonged to whom, but I didn’t push the issue, and let them have a fair share.”
Lanette Tillman
Oklahoma Ranch and Farm World, April 13, 1969

“Owing to the extensive apple orchards and the large returns received from the crops, much attention is being paid to methods of care and cultivation . . . as well as packing and marketing the fruit. It has been our observation that the grower who gives his orchard good care and cultivation is repaid many times over for the extra expense.”
Fruit Farming Along the Frisco, 1899

“The [Southern Fruit Products Co.] factory is nearly as large as all out doors. Uses apples of all grades, large and small, and has a capacity of 3,500 bushels per day and even then the bins get to running over though they work night and day. Last year it made 530,000 gallons of vinegar which finds its way to every section of the Union. Sells by the train load. Just think of that, Betsey, train loads of vinegar!”
Martha A. Warren, September 1, 1907
(quoted by Erwin Funk, Rogers Daily News, July 1, 1950)

“The Macon and Carson distillery has up to the present date used something over 30,000 bushels of apples in the manufacture of brandy. They expect before the season is over to use over a quarter of a million bushels of fruit.”
Unknown source, September 1899
(quoted by Robert G. Winn, Washington County Observer, 1970s–1980s)

“The apples were peeled, sliced, then dried by a night crew over wood stoves. Sulphur was thrown on the fires, the resulting vapors preventing the apple slices from turning too brown. When ready to market, the dried apples were sprinkled with soda water and then packed into wooden or pasteboard boxes.”
Thomas Rothrock
Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Winter 1974

Kimmons-Walker apple evaporator, Springdale, circa 1900

Kimmons-Walker apple evaporator, Springdale, circa 1900. Austin Cravens/W. Fay Atkisson Collection

“The National Pure Food Commission seems to think that the use of sulphur will be a violation of the pure food law. . . . If Sulphur is barred from use in bleaching fruit, it will work great injury to the business and affect not only the evaporator men, but all who grow fruit.”
Springdale News, March 6, 1908

“. . . no commercial apple has even been as well adapted to Northwest Arkansas’s climate and soil as the Ben Davis; and probably no apple will ever be. . . . Said a Louisiana native to an Arkansas apple peddler, ‘That man Benny Davis up there sho’ do grow the apples.'”
Thomas Rothrock
Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Winter 1974

“The awards on apples [at the Chicago World’s Fair] have just been made and the Arkansas display . . . secured the highest award for the largest and best display of apples. . . . New York had long been noted for her apples but they did not begin to compare with the fruit from Arkansas, which was a great revelation to most of the people, who looked upon Arkansas as a wilderness.”
Springdale News, October 30, 1893

Photo Gallery

Credits

“A. D. Lester Reminisces About Hiwassee and Area History.” Benton County Pioneer, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Summer 1972).

A. E. Rausher farm photo. Benton County Pioneer, Vol. 13, No. 4 (October 1968).

Allen, Eric. “Booming Era of Big Red Apple Seems Like Yesterday to Former Gentry City Recorder.” Southwest Times Record, February 14,1965.

“Apple Varieties Originated in Washington County.” From a 1913 U.S. Department of Agriculture bulletin, Flashback, Vol. 7, No. 3 (September 1962).

“Apples—Once Key Produce.” (unattributed/undated newspaper article in Shiloh Museum research files).

Banks, Pearl Gipple. “The Early Development of the Apple Industry in Benton County.” Benton County Pioneer, Vol. 2, No. 5 (July 1957).

“Beat the World—Arkansas Apples Carry off Highest Honors at the World’s Fair.” Springdale News, circa October 30, 1893.

“Big Distillery is Running in Arkansas.” Springfield Daily Leader, September 15,1914.

Black, J. Dickson. “Red Apple Once King of Benton.” (unattributed/undated newspaper article, Shiloh Museum research files).

Black, J. Dickson. “U.S. Weather Bureau Here Sign of Apple’s Importance.” Rogers Democrat, April 11, 1975.

Campbell, W. S. “Rise and Fall of the Apple Empire.” Flashback, Vol. XI, No. 1 (February 1961).

Cherry, Kim. “Apples: A Look Back at a Major Industry.” Northwest Arkansas Times, March 6,1982.

Cordell, Mike. Descendants of William Bennet Brogdon Sr. (1854-1929) and Dee Jackson (1862-1927). Mike Cordell, (unpublished manuscript) 2010.

Dupy, Gerald W. “The Bright Future for Ozarks Apples.” Ozarks Mountaineer, Vol. 45, No. 5 (October/November 1997).

“Eight Awards on Fruit.” Arkansas Democrat, October 1893.

“Evaporator Men Meet. Action of Pure Food Commission Causing Some Uneasiness in this Section.” Springdale News, March 6,1908.

Fruit Farming Along the Frisco. St. Louis and San Francisco Railway, St. Louis, MO: 1899.

Funk, Erwin. “Arkansas Was More than Rocky Hillsides.” Rogers Daily News, 7-1-1950.

Funk, Erwin. “Goldsmith Davis and the Ben Davis.” Benton County Pioneer, Vol. 2, No. 6 (September 1957).

Funk, Erwin. “Red Apple—Deposed King of Ozarks: A Major Regional Industry is Now Almost Extinct.” Ozarks Mountaineer, Vol. 2, No. 7 (February 1954).

“Good Packing of Apples—This is Absolutely Necessary in Order to Realize the Best Prices.” Springdale News, June 15,1908.

History of Benton County. Goodspeed, 1889.

Kennedy, Steele T. “Apple Orchards Staging Strong Comeback in Arkansas Ozarks.” Ozarks Mountaineer, Vol. 11, No. 10 (November 1963).

“Kimmons, Walker and Co’s. Evaporator.” Springdale News, August 9, 1907.

“Lincoln History Enmeshed in Apples.” (Cherokee Group Apple Festival Section), October 3, 1996.

McColloch, Lacy P. “Apple Industry at Cane Hill, Arkansas.” Flashback, Vol. XVI, No. 4 (November 1966).

McFee, Gladys Brogdon. “Dee Brogdon.” History of Washington County, Arkansas. Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, 1989.

Mores, Jeff. “Apple of the Country’s Eye.” Benton County Daily Record, November 10, 2008.

Neal, Joe. “Arkansas Apple Festival.” Grapevine, October 13, 1976.

Payne, Ruth Holt. “The Seedling that Made Good: The Story of the Black Ben Davis Apple.”  Flashback, Vol. IX, No. 1 (February 1959).

“Pictures from Benton County History—A Series.” Benton County Democrat, 4-3-1974.

Plank, Will. “The Ozark Fruit Growers’ Association, Our Great Marketing Organization.”  Benton County Pioneer, Vol. 8, No. 3 (March 1963).

Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. Random House: New York, 2001.

Reynolds, Sonja. “When Apples Were King—Festivals of Days Gone By.” Benton County Daily Democrat, March 1, 1987.

Rom, Roy C. “Apple Industry.” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture (accessed May 2019).

Rothrock, Thomas. “A King That Was.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 4 (Winter 1974).

Rothrock, Thomas. “King Apple and the Depression—Dust Bowl Years.” Benton County Pioneer, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Summer 1974).

Rothrock, Thomas. “William Bennett Brogdon: Pioneer Horticulturalist.” Flashback, Vol. 25, No. 3 (August 1975).

“S. B. Van Horn, Practical Ingrafter of Pears and Apples.” Springdale News, 1-17-1908.

Schmitt, Caryn, and Steven Finney. “Life in the Thirties, Washington County.” Flashback, Vol. 36, No. 3 (August 1986).

Sealey, Ross H. “Development of the Parker Nurseries: Good Nurseries the Foundation of the Fruit Industry.” Fayetteville Democrat, June 12, 1922.

“They are Spraying—Apple Growers are Awaking to the Importance of the Work.” Springdale News, April 24, 1908.

“Vanzants Named County Farm Family.” Springdale News, August 19, 1984.

Walker, Ernest. “Story of the Improvement of an Old Apple Orchard in Washington County, Arkansas.” Springdale News, February 21, 1908.

“When the Apple was King.” Springdale News, April 21, 1985.

Winkleman, T. A. “Benton County’s Biggest Apple Year.” Benton County Pioneer, Vol. 7, No. 1 (November 1961).

Winn, Robert G. “Glimpses into the Past.” Washington County Observer (undated).

Canned Gold

CANNED GOLD

Online Exhibit
Workers packing spinach, Steele Canning Company, Lowell, Arkansas, April 1969.

Workers packing spinach, Steele Canning Company, Lowell, April 1969. Ray Watson, photographer. Ray Watson Collection (S-85-325-2040)

Commercial canning and the rise of the fruit industry in Northwest Arkansas began soon after the arrival of the Frisco Railroad in 1881. The Springdale Canning Company is believed to have been the first commercial cannery in the area. It was organized by Judge Millard Berry and other investors in 1886. At its peak it processed 10,000 cans daily.

At first workers made the cans themselves. Produce was stuffed through a two-inch-wide hole in a can’s lid, which was then patched with a piece of metal and sealed with solder. The cans were boiled to cook the food and kill harmful bacteria. Tomatoes, peaches, and apples were the first to be commercially canned, as their natural acidity helped prevent the growth of the botulinum bacteria, which causes food poisoning. Still, there was a high rate of spoilage in the early years of canning.

Advances in technology and food science made possible the canning of non-acidic vegetables like spinach and green beans. In the following decades numerous canneries were established, promoted in part by the railroads, which profited from freight fees charged for shipping canning supplies and finished products. From small canning sheds on the family farm to large industrial plants, canning proved to be a money-making business. To maximize their profits, a few canneries used poor-quality produce or filled their cans mostly with water.

Some canneries provided farmers with seed and fertilizer, the cost of which would be deducted from the payment for their produce. Poke greens and spinach were the first to be packed in the spring, followed by green beans and tomatoes during the summer and turnip greens in the fall. It took fourteen tons (28,000 pounds) of spinach to fill the cans needed to pack one railroad boxcar. By April 1937 the Nelson Canning Company of Springdale had already shipped thirty boxcars of spinach and was expecting 400 more tons of fresh spinach in May.

Nelson’s was one of the largest operations. In addition to its steam engines and boilers, it had “eleven retorts [pressure cookers], three rotary washers, a tomato juice extractor, two pick-up belts, two steam scalders, two grape juice pressures, four cappers, four closing machines, sixteen pumps, a steam hoist, and a supply of copper kettles for the pasteurizing of grape juice.”

At the canning plant, women prepared the fruits and vegetables for processing and filled the cans. Men worked the heavier, more labor-intensive jobs such as operating the machinery and cooking the canned foods. Even though underage workers were illegal, children often lent a hand, adding cored and peeled tomatoes to their mothers’ buckets. The more buckets processed, the more money received. Even at a few cents per bucket, any extra income was helpful.

Small canneries canned under their own brand or under a national label such as Del Monte, or sold their product to brokers for resale to food distributors. Increasing mechanization of the canning process helped canneries become more competative. Additional railroad lines and newly built highways meant that produce grown outside the area could be brought in for processing, and canned goods could be shipped nationwide. By the 1940s Springdale was the center of the area’s agricultural and canning industries.

Harold Barron holding a finished can at Heekin Can Company, Springdale, Arkansas, January 1972.

Harold Barron holding a finished can at Heekin Can Company, Springdale, January 1972. Ray Watson, photographer Ray Watson Collection (S-85-325-3333)

Northwest Arkansas’ food production output ramped up during World War II. In 1943–1944, 70% of the canned goods produced by the Springdale Canning Company and the Steele Canning Company of Lowell, both co-owned by Joe M. Steele, went to feed the troops. Springdale’s green beans and spinach were found in such faraway places as Alaska, Tunisia, and New Guinea, and even under the ocean in submarines!

Stricter food safety guidelines, rising production and labor costs, and economic hardships such as drought, the Great Depression, and World War II eventually forced many small canneries out of business. But the large canneries found ways to prosper and diversify. New products like frozen cobblers, shoestring potatoes, and other types of convenience foods were introduced to meet changing consumer needs.

As the food-processing business continued to evolve, large companies bought out mid-size canneries, which were struggling to keep up with increased costs and evolving food trends. By the early 2000s Allens, Inc., of Siloam Springs was the only canner in Northwest Arkansas. During the 1970s it purchased several food processing plants in neighboring states, leading it to become, at the time, the largest independent food processor in the nation. It added dozens of new products to its lineup to maintain diversity.

Allens used state-of-the-art equipment to detect blemished produce and run its many plants efficiently. These modern industrial plants are a far cry from the days when neighbors gathered together every summer in a small canning shed to peel scalding-hot tomatoes and lower heavy baskets of canned goods into cauldrons of boiling water.

But improved manufacturing couldn’t save Northwest Arkansas’ canning industry.  Consumer preferences for fresh fruits and vegetables in recent years led to expanded produce sections in grocery stores and increased buy-local purchases at farmers’ markets.  The company that once was Allens was bought three times in a few short years before going out of business in 2017. Two hundred thirty workers lost their jobs.

Workers packing spinach, Steele Canning Company, Lowell, Arkansas, April 1969.

Workers packing spinach, Steele Canning Company, Lowell, April 1969. Ray Watson, photographer. Ray Watson Collection (S-85-325-2040)

Commercial canning and the rise of the fruit industry in Northwest Arkansas began soon after the arrival of the Frisco Railroad in 1881. The Springdale Canning Company is believed to have been the first commercial cannery in the area. It was organized by Judge Millard Berry and other investors in 1886. At its peak it processed 10,000 cans daily.

At first workers made the cans themselves. Produce was stuffed through a two-inch-wide hole in a can’s lid, which was then patched with a piece of metal and sealed with solder. The cans were boiled to cook the food and kill harmful bacteria. Tomatoes, peaches, and apples were the first to be commercially canned, as their natural acidity helped prevent the growth of the botulinum bacteria, which causes food poisoning. Still, there was a high rate of spoilage in the early years of canning.

Advances in technology and food science made possible the canning of non-acidic vegetables like spinach and green beans. In the following decades numerous canneries were established, promoted in part by the railroads, which profited from freight fees charged for shipping canning supplies and finished products. From small canning sheds on the family farm to large industrial plants, canning proved to be a money-making business. To maximize their profits, a few canneries used poor-quality produce or filled their cans mostly with water.

Some canneries provided farmers with seed and fertilizer, the cost of which would be deducted from the payment for their produce. Poke greens and spinach were the first to be packed in the spring, followed by green beans and tomatoes during the summer and turnip greens in the fall. It took fourteen tons (28,000 pounds) of spinach to fill the cans needed to pack one railroad boxcar. By April 1937 the Nelson Canning Company of Springdale had already shipped thirty boxcars of spinach and was expecting 400 more tons of fresh spinach in May.

Nelson’s was one of the largest operations. In addition to its steam engines and boilers, it had “eleven retorts [pressure cookers], three rotary washers, a tomato juice extractor, two pick-up belts, two steam scalders, two grape juice pressures, four cappers, four closing machines, sixteen pumps, a steam hoist, and a supply of copper kettles for the pasteurizing of grape juice.”

At the canning plant, women prepared the fruits and vegetables for processing and filled the cans. Men worked the heavier, more labor-intensive jobs such as operating the machinery and cooking the canned foods. Even though underage workers were illegal, children often lent a hand, adding cored and peeled tomatoes to their mothers’ buckets. The more buckets processed, the more money received. Even at a few cents per bucket, any extra income was helpful.

Small canneries canned under their own brand or under a national label such as Del Monte, or sold their product to brokers for resale to food distributors. Increasing mechanization of the canning process helped canneries become more competative. Additional railroad lines and newly built highways meant that produce grown outside the area could be brought in for processing, and canned goods could be shipped nationwide. By the 1940s Springdale was the center of the area’s agricultural and canning industries.

Harold Barron holding a finished can at Heekin Can Company, Springdale, Arkansas, January 1972.

Harold Barron holding a finished can at Heekin Can Company, Springdale, January 1972. Ray Watson, photographer Ray Watson Collection (S-85-325-3333)

Northwest Arkansas’ food production output ramped up during World War II. In 1943–1944, 70% of the canned goods produced by the Springdale Canning Company and the Steele Canning Company of Lowell, both co-owned by Joe M. Steele, went to feed the troops. Springdale’s green beans and spinach were found in such faraway places as Alaska, Tunisia, and New Guinea, and even under the ocean in submarines!

Stricter food safety guidelines, rising production and labor costs, and economic hardships such as drought, the Great Depression, and World War II eventually forced many small canneries out of business. But the large canneries found ways to prosper and diversify. New products like frozen cobblers, shoestring potatoes, and other types of convenience foods were introduced to meet changing consumer needs.

As the food-processing business continued to evolve, large companies bought out mid-size canneries, which were struggling to keep up with increased costs and evolving food trends. By the early 2000s Allens, Inc., of Siloam Springs was the only canner in Northwest Arkansas. During the 1970s it purchased several food processing plants in neighboring states, leading it to become, at the time, the largest independent food processor in the nation. It added dozens of new products to its lineup to maintain diversity.

Allens used state-of-the-art equipment to detect blemished produce and run its many plants efficiently. These modern industrial plants are a far cry from the days when neighbors gathered together every summer in a small canning shed to peel scalding-hot tomatoes and lower heavy baskets of canned goods into cauldrons of boiling water.

But improved manufacturing couldn’t save Northwest Arkansas’ canning industry.  Consumer preferences for fresh fruits and vegetables in recent years led to expanded produce sections in grocery stores and increased buy-local purchases at farmers’ markets.  The company that once was Allens was bought three times in a few short years before going out of business in 2017. Two hundred thirty workers lost their jobs.

Photo Gallery

1900s–1930s
Springdale Canning Company, Springdale, Arkansas, circa 1908

Springdale Canning Company, looking northeast towards the intersection of Huntsville Road and the Frisco Railroad tracks, Springdale, about 1908. Speece and Allen, photographers. Bobbie Byars Lynch Collection (S-77-53-18)

Organized by Judge Millard Berry and others in 1886, Springdale Canning Company is believed to have been the first commercial cannery in Northwest Arkansas. It closed in 1903. The building was used by another cannery before becoming an ice plant. It was torn down in 2007.

” [Springdale Canning] . . . company was organized in 1886 with $3000 invested in the plant and an operating capital of about $7000. They employ over 100 people during their busy season—summer and fall. . . . Fifty cents a bushel was paid for peas in the hull and 20 cents per bushel for tomatoes. One bushel of peas in hull makes 13 pound cans. Three hands are now hired making cans. Four hands can turn out nearly 2000 cans a day. With three or four weeks experience, a country boy can make 600 cans per day—making a dollar.”

Benton County Democrat, April 23, 1887


Prairie Grove Preserves Canning Factory, Prairie Grove, Arkansas, late 1910s

Workers likely processing tomatoes, Prairie Grove Preserves Canning Factory, Prairie Grove, late 1910s. Helen Cook Collection (S-90-20)

In 1903 a group of people in and around Prairie Grove agreed to give C. J. French land, materials, cash, labor, and crops in exchange for the construction of a $20,000 canning factory. In 1953 the factory became the Kelly Canning Company. As fewer local farmers grew tomatoes the company had to ship tomatoes into the area for canning. The rising cost of shipping ended the business in 1978.

“. . . [W]orkers put in 10 hour days beginning at 7 a.m. and received ten cents per hour. Peelers received three cents per bucket of peeled tomatoes. The buckets were made of red easily cleaned fiber. . . . The tomato garbage (slop) was hauled away by wagon and team, some of it being fed to the hogs. The entire factory crew numbered 114 at the checker case. Miss Effie Bain was first checker of the peeled tomatoes. They were canned in No. 2½, No. 3 and No. 10 cans which were filled by hand.”

Neva Barnes McMurry, recounting the memories of Sarah Fidler, March 1967
Washington County Observer, November 14, 1985


Processing grapes, Welch Grape Juice Company, Springdale, Arkansas, circa 1923.

Processing grapes, Welch Grape Juice Company, Springdale, circa 1923. Joanne Paisley Collection (S-2012-63)

Springdale’s Welch Grape Juice factory was built in 1923 to take advantage of nearby grape growers. During World War II, 120 German prisoners of war worked there. At its peak, the plant could process four million cases of juice-related products yearly. The plant closed in 1978 as Welch consolidated its many operations.

[The grapes were] “ . . . weighed and inspected at the receiving platforms, whence the grapes are taken to washers and from there conveyed by machinery to stemming machines. Here the grapes are separated from the stems and dropped though aluminum pipes to aluminum stirring kettles. . . . The kettles heat the grapes and the juice is extracted by hydraulic presses. The juice flows into heating kettles and from there goes to five-gallon glass carboys [bottles] in which it is stored in different cellars. . . . [Later] the juice is siphoned out, placed in automatic filters and then goes to automatic cappers. …the juice is pasteurized and the bottles labeled, packed and shipped away.”

Springdale News, April 29, 1937


Pettigrew Canning Company workers, Pettigrew, late 1930s–early 1940s. From left: unidentified, Edna Williams Bryant, Nancy Ahart, unidentified, unidentified, and Pap Ahart. Oleta Bryant Collection (S-2008-34-4)08-34-4)

W. Fletcher Keck started the Pettigrew Canning Company (Madison County) in 1935. The cannery was a welcome source of income during the Great Depression, at a time when the local timber industry was slowing down.

“People who worked at the [Pettigrew] canning factory made fifteen cents an hour, or if you were peeling tomatoes, you were paid by the bucket. Basically women did the processing and men ran the heavy equipment. Every time a woman finished peeling a bucket of tomatoes, somebody would bring her another bucket and punch a ticket to show how many buckets she had peeled. My mother [Elva Barker Martin] was very fast with her hands, so she worked at the packing vat. She put a lump of salt in a can with the tomatoes and sent it down to the capper, where the can was sealed.”

Wayne Martin
Pettigrew, Arkansas: Hardwood Capital of the World, 2010


Morsani Canning Company, Tontitown, Arkansas, 1910s.

Morsani Canning Company, Tontitown, 1910s. Edna Zulpo Collection (S-2007-110-13)

“When I left school, I did a lot of things. I worked out on a farm, I picked cowpeas. We would get maybe half a cent per pound. . . . Frank and Carrie Perona had a canning factory [in Tontitown]. . . . The cannery was just seasonal, but I worked most of the year for them. I did everything in that cannery. I fired the boilers. I cooked the food in the retorts. I hauled all the way to Fort Smith and Oklahoma City. We would work six days a week, ten hours a day, and at the end of the week we got a check for $6—a dollar a day.”

Floyd Maestri, 2002
Memories I Can’t Let Go Of: Life Stories from Tontitown, Arkansas, 2012

“There were several men hired by the Railroad to promote tomato factories.  . . . [A] group of businessmen would put up the money as loans to local banks. The banks would then contract with local businessmen to buy the canning equipment. This would include the racks, trays, boilers, etc., as well as putting up a building. The local businessmen would then contract with area farmers to grow tomatoes and guaranteed them a buyer for their crop. The bank would also advance money to the farmers. The Railroad’s part was to send men into towns and make all of the arrangements to get these businesses started, and of course they would guarantee shipping, etc.”

Oak Leaves, Spring 1990


Tomato pickers, Northwest Arkansas, 1930. Ray Watson Collection (S-96-56-23)

Some of the tomato varieties grown in Northwest Arkansas were Rutgers, Marglobe, and Baltimore. Rutgers was introduced in 1934 and boasted thick, fleshy outer and inner walls with few seeds—perfect for canning. Farmers often received seed and fertilizer from the canneries, the cost of which was deducted from the purchase price of the crop.

“Picking tomatoes was heavy, hot summer work and everybody helped pick. Crates of tomatoes were stacked high all over. . . . We all remember wagon loads of tomatoes leaving a trail of juice in the dust along the graded part of the road leading to Pettigrew [and its cannery]. . . . A wagon load of tomatoes is a very heavy load for a team of horses to pull up hill. On the steepest part of a mountain they could only pull a short distance before resting. . . . The horses would be wet with sweat and gasping for air in the summer heat. I felt sympathy for them, feeling they paid a high price in life for the little they got in return.”

Vernon Eaton
Madison County Record, May 30, 1996


Barrett Canning Factory, Grandview, Arkansas, circa 1910

Barrett Canning Factory, Grandview (Carroll County), circa 1910. Mrs. Tracy Barrett Collection (S-90-11-105)

Tracy Barrett (holding tray in photo above) convinced his father George to build Carroll County’s first canning factory in 1910. Tracy hated farm work and saw how the hard work of farming was affecting his father’s health.

Tracy Barrett persuaded “ . . . area farmers to plant tomatoes. . . . [H]e erected a truly commercial canning factory, with his own railroad siding and his own registered label. For several harvest seasons this went full bore, giving the farmers a ready market and providing many temporary jobs as he filled one boxcar after another with canned tomatoes.”

Richard H. Barrett
Carroll County Historical Society Quarterly, Spring 1985


Robinson Canning Company, Siloam Springs, Arkansas, September 24, 1931.

Robinson Canning Company, Siloam Springs, September 24, 1931. M. Larrick, photographer. Dr. Lloyd Warren Collection (S-92-35-24)

Owned by Burtis A. Rudolph, during Robinson Canning Company’s first year of operation in 1925 it processed twenty-five railroad carloads of tomatoes. The cannery closed in 1935 when the Federal government bought exhausted, eroded farmland for the construction of Lake Wedington. There were few viable fields left for growing vegetables.

After its closing, “The Robinson factory stood empty until it was torn down in the fall of 1937. All that remain today are some cement columns. Boys of the area used the cement water tank . . . as a swimming pond.”

History of Robinson and Kincheloe Communities, 1995


Valley Canning Company display, Hindsville, Arkansas, 1920s

Valley Canning Company display, Hindsville, 1920s. Willie Bohannan Collection (S-83-82-50)

In 1925 at least two libel suits were filed against the Valley Canning Company cannery in Hindsville (Madison County), alleging its string beans failed to meet Federal food production standards.

The U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas “. . . [alleged] that the article [80 cases of canned stringless beans] had been shipped by the Valley Canning Co., from Hindsville, Ark., on or about August 28, 1925 [to Marfa, Texas]. . . . Adulteration of the article was alleged in the libels for the reason that a substance, excess water, had been mixed and packed therewith so as to reduce, lower, and injuriously affect its quality and had been substituted wholly or in part for the said article [string beans]. Adulteration for the further reason that the article consisted in whole or in part of a filthy, decomposed, and putrid vegetable substance.”

W.M. Jardine, Secretary of Agriculture
Service and Regulatory Announcements, Bureau of Chemistry, January 28, 1927


Springdale Canning Company co-owners Luther Johnson (center left) and Joe M. Steele, Springdale, September 25, 1937. William McIntosh, photographer. Philip Steele Collection (S-2005-112-6)

The above photo shows the first complete trainload of canned vegetables ever shipped by one canning factory owner in Springdale, and perhaps the first such shipment from Northwest Arkansas. Cannery co-owner Joe Steele was thirty-two years old at the time and owned or co-owned five canneries.

“Mr. Steele stated that orders enough to fill the 24 cars . . . came in last week, and enough more goods were sold to fill eight more cars, had there been time to label [the cans] and load the cars by the time for the train to leave. . . . The cans were filled with . . . turnip greens, mustard greens, spinach, green beans, and tomatoes. . . . The Springdale plant processed 3,500 cases of beans in ten hours and three of the factories, which can spinach, processed 8,000 cases per day, the latter meaning the same as two and a half cars of empty cans.”

Springdale News, September 30, 1937

1940s–1950s
Alonzo Roberts turning green beans to keep them from overheating while awaiting processing for U.S. armed forces, Springdale Canning Company, Springdale, Arkansas, 1943.

Alonzo Roberts turning green beans to keep them from overheating while awaiting processing for U.S. armed forces, Springdale Canning Company, Springdale, 1943. Howard Clark, photographer. Caroline Price Clark Collection (S-2002-72-569)

“For several days all of the boys at our mess had been talking about how good the canned beans have been lately. I remarked that the reason they’re so good is because they were canned in Arkansas [by Springdale Canning Company].

Pfc. John P. Woods, New Caledonia,
Springdale News, August 2, 1945

“Today I found a case of your No. 10 cans of Nancy Jo spinach right in our kitchen. Some of the soldiers probably thought I was shell-shocked the way I acted when I saw those labels. I pasted on enough of those labels one summer that I shouldn’t ever forget them. I don’t mind saying it—it was just like a letter from home.”

Lt. Edgar C. Wood, Tunisia, May 13, 1943
Steele and Springdale Canning Companies brochure, 1946


Workers picking and sorting spinach prior to its washing, Steele Canning Company, Springdale, Arkansas, circa 1948.

Workers picking and sorting spinach prior to its washing, Steele Canning Company, Springdale, circa 1948. (S-90-11-115)

“Only the choicest spinach is used which is grown in fields under natural weather conditions, harmonizing with the fine composition of the soil to produce the very finest flavored spinach. Careful hand-picked operations permit delivery of only the choicest leaves to the washers and a multitude of washing operations, many of them we have pioneered, assuring a product for the consumer’s table which is entirely free from grit.”

Steele and Springdale Canning Companies brochure, about 1948


Cooling vat, Steele Canning Company, Springdale, Arkansas, circa 1948.

Cooling vat, Steele Canning Company, Springdale, circa 1948. Shiloh Museum Collection (S-90-11-117)

In Steele Canning Company’s cannery, roughly 360 cans would be placed into a large metal basket for cooking. Once cooked, the cans were cooled with flowing water. Smaller operations skipped this step, letting their cans cool in the open air.

“. . . [the] cooling vat with [its] continuous flow of water. . . produces a quick chilled can resulting in a better vacuum. This quick chilling also produces accurate favoring because of temperature control of the finished canned product.”

Steele and Springdale Canning Companies brochure, about 1948


Canning Center, Springdale High School, Springdale, Arkansas, 1943.

Canning Center, Springdale High School, Springdale, 1943. Howard Clark, photographer. Caroline Price Clark Collection (S-2002-72-568)

Springdale High School’s Canning Center was one of twenty such facilities throughout Arkansas, furnished and controlled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to aid home canners in the proper methods of food preservation.

The cannery had “. . . three large thirty-three-quart capacity retorts, a small pressure cooker, hot water cookers, three sealers, a dehydrator, bottle cappers, pre-cookers and other minor equipment. . . . The cannery is located in two north basement rooms of the school building and will remain a permanent feature of the school, being open for housewives and home canners of Springdale and neighboring territory . . .”

Springdale News, July 8, 1943


Welch Grape Juice Company, Springdale, Arkansas, June 1944.

Welch Grape Juice Company, Springdale, June 1944. Howard Clark, photographer. Caroline Price Clark Collection (S-2002-72-336) Howard Clark, photographer. Caroline Price Clark Collection (S-2002-72-336)

An existing railroad spur was extended from the nearby ice plant to serve Springdale’s Welch Grape Juice factory, which relied on the railroad to distribute their products.

“. . . this region thus possesses some focal transportation characteristics, a fact of great value. To the canning industry this has meant that the canned product can be moved out readily. It has also meant that fruits and vegetables destined for the canneries can move in, not only from immediately adjacent areas, but also from contiguous regions north, west, and south.”

Irene A. Moke
Economic Geography, April 1952


Steele Canning Company trucks, Springdale, 1940s-1950s.

Steele Canning Company trucks, Springdale, 1940s–1950s. V. D. McRoberts, photographer. Philip Steele Collection (S-2005-112-5)

Steele Canning Company was started in the Steele community near Tontitown in 1924, when Joe M. Steele needed money to attend college. His business later grew to be the largest canning operation in Washington County.

“The rural and small-urban economy has developed amazingly [in the past ten to fifteen years]. The business districts of the towns are spreading, the highway fairly hums with traffic, and anyone who knew the rather somnolent region in 1935 would scarcely recognize it now. No attempt is made here to credit the canning business alone with this progress. However, there is no doubt that the canneries play a leading role in the economy, and perform a most valuable function for the farm areas of this region and of other districts outside of northwestern Arkansas.”

Irene A. Moke
Economic Geography, April 1952

 

 

1960s–1980s
Allen Canning Company truck, Siloam Springs, Arkansas, July 23, 1964.

Allen Canning Company truck, Siloam Springs, July 23, 1964. Ray Watson, photographer. Ray Watson Collection (S-85-325-1472)

Earl Allen started Allen Canning Company in Siloam Springs in 1926. In his first year he had canned 4,000 cases of tomatoes. A family-owned business, in 1988 Allen’s had fourteen plants and distribution centers in five states and offered over eighty-five different products.


Filling cans with spinach, Steele Canning Company, Springdale, Arkansas, May 1969.

Filling cans with spinach, Steele Canning Company, Springdale, May 1969. Ray Watson, photographer. Ray Watson Collection (S-85-325-2074)

“Nothing was screened in [at the Georgetown Cannery near Japton]; flies were very thick, as the waste was just hosed off the floors and tables into a ditch or creek. . . . the women took their children with them to work. . . . My mother would put my younger sister and I on a quilt, then stretch a tent-like cover of mosquito netting up over us to keep the flies off. Most babies just lay in the flies, crawling in the eyes and mouths, no wonder so many had dysentery. Very few workers washed their hands after going to the toilet or diapering a baby. I guess seeing so much unsanitary conditions as a kid is the reason I didn’t want to eat commercially canned food.”

Lena Davis Law, August 1997
Madison County Musings, Fall 2006

“At the end of the day [at John Goucher’s cannery in Madison County], the canning factory was cleaned using scalding water. . . . the factory was sealed overhead with aluminum, the side walls were covered with linoleum, and the floors were concrete so that everything could be washed down. . . . they never had any trouble with contamination. Mr. Jones, who was the inspector that came around to check on the canning process, usually bought five cases of tomatoes each year . . . for his own use after he had watched the process and saw how clean the factory was.”

Joy Russell recounting the history of John Goucher
Fading Memories III: Stories of Madison County People and Places, 1999


Testing lab, Allen Canning, Siloam Springs, Arkansas, September 2, 1967.

Testing lab, Allen Canning Company, Siloam Springs, September 2, 1967. With Deward Bishop (right). Ray Watson, photographer. Ray Watson Collection (S-85-325-1547)

“We have quality control labs in every [Allen] plant and they check the quality on every lot of merchandise that is packed. …When the products are tested, the lab technicians look for factors that affect weight, color, characteristic or texture and they look for the absence of defects. The samples are also analyzed to test the salt content. The grading or sizing of each lot is also double checked to insure the count contained in each can size of the products is accurate.”

Inside Arkansas, Fall 1980


Steele Canning Company products, Springdale, Arkansas, 1961

Steele Canning Company products, Springdale, April 3, 1961. Ray Watson, photographer. Marie Steele Collection (S-77-15-14)

“Back in 1924, when [Steele Canning Company] started, we bought the cans in the bulk, in [railroad] car load lots, unloaded them, and transported them, ricked in rows on hay frames on wagons from Johnson to Steele [Community]. There were four loads to a car, and it took one day and night and all the next day to unload the cars, and haul the cans to the plant. . . . Today the cans are bought by the car load in boxed paper bags which hold 210 No. 2 cans. Unloaded, stacked and as needed they are emptied into filling machines.”

Joe M. Steele
Springdale News, August 8, 1945


Heekin Can Company, Springdale, Arkansas, February 10, 1982.

Heekin Can Company, Springdale, February 10, 1982. Charles Bickford, photographer. Springdale News Collection (S-86-31-16)

Heekin Can Company opened a manufacturing plant in Springdale in 1949 to be close to the major canneries. In 1986 Heekin shipped about 430 million cans. Ball Corporation acquired Heekin in 1993. The Springdale plant produced containers for Southern and Midwestern customers until its closing in 2020.

“The pieces of tin . . . are placed in the feed slots on this body maker machine. From there a button is pushed and the body takes off. It is notched, folded, fluxed, expanded, bumped, warmed, soldered, heated again, wiped and cooled. When it gets through with all of this you have a tin can . . . That is, you have everything except the top and bottom. All this folding, bumping, fluxing, etc., takes about half a second.”

Springdale News, June 1, 1949


Children pose with the Popeye statue, Allen Canning Company, Springdale, Arkansas, June 18, 1980.

Children pose with the Popeye statue, Allen Canning Company, Springdale, June 18, 1980. Mark Neil, photographer. Springdale News Collection (SN 6-18-1980)

Allen Canning Company bought the old Steele Canning Company building and the Popeye brand in 1978. The plant closed in 2002 because the property was landlocked; there wasn’t room for growth.

“ . . . [Popeye] caught on with millions of kids and soon became a national hero, much to the delight of spinach marketers. Spinach sales jumped 33 per cent and the vegetable has since enjoyed increasing popularity. . . . The first Popeye spinach label [from Steele Canning] will offer a three-piece Melmac dinnerware set featuring Popeye characters, which will be offered for $2 and [two labels].”

Springdale News, December 6, 1965


Beatles promotion for Wagon Master beans, Steele Canning Company, Springdale, Arkansas, August 1964.

Beatles promotion for Wagon Master beans, Steele Canning Company, Springdale, August 1964. Art Pruett (left) and Phillip Steele. Charles Bickford, photographer. Springdale News Collection (SN 8/1964 #3)

Marketers used celebrities to increase brand popularity and consumer purchases.

“The beans were ‘terrific’ and the Beatles were popular, but the campaign didn’t save Wagon Master beans, which died a slow death . . . Consumers wouldn’t buy anything but pork and beans or chili beans.”

Philip Steele
Springdale News, April 10, 1994

A Day in the Life of a Green Bean

Hey, kids! I’m Snappy, a green bean grown on a farm right here in Northwest Arkansas. Did you know that during World War II the Springdale Canning Company packed 12,000 cases of green beans each summer day? That’s a lot of beans! Come with me on a tour of the process from start to finish.

These photos were all taken at the Springdale Canning Company in 1943. Howard Clark, photographer/Caroline Price Clark Collection.

Canning Label Gallery

Steele Canning Company, Springdale, 1960s. Phillip Steele Collection (S-89-155-6)

Steele Canning Company, Springdale, late 1930s–early 1940s. Marie Steele Collection (S-77-15-12B)

Steele Canning Company, 1960s. Maudine Farish Sanders Collection (S-96-8-3)

Steele Canning Company, Springdale, 1940–1950s. Phillip Steele Collection (S-89-155-8)

W. L. Danner, Fayetteville, 1890ss. Bobbie Byars Lynch Collection (S-2004-92-10)

W. L. Danner, Fayetteville, 1910s. (S-82-38-4)

W. L. Danner, Fayetteville, 1910s. Bobbie Byars Lynch Collection (S-2004-92-12)

W. L. Danner, Fayetteville, late 1880s. Bobbie Byars Lynch Collection (S-2004-92-11)

W.L. Danner, Fayetteville, 1900s. Bobbie Byars Lynch Collection (S-2004-92-15)

W. L. Danner, Fayetteville, 1910s. Bobbie Byars Lynch Collection (S-2004-92-13)

Appleby Brothers, Fayetteville, 1910s. Bobbie Byars Lynch Collection (S-2004-92-14)

Ozark Grocer Company, Fayetteville, 1910s. Bobbie Byars Lynch Collection (S-2004-92-16)

Smith Canning Company, Fayetteville, 1940s. (S-85-79A)

Kelley Canning Company, Prairie Grove, 1960s. Riverside Antiques Collection (S-85-194A)

Rieff-Jackson Canning Company, Fayetteville, late 1910s–1920s. Sid Rieff Collection (S-87-263-1)

Jackson Canning Company, Fayetteville, 1910s–1920s. Sid Rieff Collection (S-87-263-3A)

Durham Canning Co., Durham, 1925–1931. Sid Rieff Collection (S-87-263-3A)

Durham Canning Company, Durham, 1925–1931. Laura and Orville Wright Collection (S-98-3-1)

Durham Canning Company, Durham, 1925–1931. Laura and Orville Wright Collection (S-98-3-2)

Durham Canning Company, Durham, 1925–1931. Laura and Orville Wright Collection (S-98-3-3)

Greathouse Canning Company, Fayetteville, 1940s. Mrs. B. D. Greathouse Collection (S-89-154-2)

Greathouse Canning Company, Fayetteville, 1940s. Mrs. B. D. Greathouse Collection (S-89-154-1B)

Pea Ridge Canning Company, Pea Ridge, 1970s. Phillip Steele Collection (S-89-155-4)

Philmore Canning Co., Alpena, late 1940s–early 1950s. Claud Phillips Collection (S-92-177-1)

B. B. Johnson and Sons, Springdale, 1920s. Mary Carruthers Collection (S-94-106C)

T. W. Farish, Springdale, 1930–1932. Maudine Farish Sanders Collection (S-96-8-1)

Springdale Canning Company, Springdale, 1950s–1960s. Maudine Farish Sanders Collection (S-96-8-2)

Probably Springdale Canning Company, Springdale, possibly late 1930s. Maudine Farish Sanders Collection (S-96-8-4)

Louie Horn, Springdale, probably 1890s–1900s. Nancy Robinson Collection (S-2013-63-2A)

Lowell Cannery, Springdale, probably mid-late 1930s. Nancy Robinson Collection (S-2013-63-3)

Listen to the Past

Click on the names below to hear stories about the local canning industry from folks who were involved in it. Some memories are told by the people themselves or by family members. Other recordings are accounts of canning memories, retold and read by Shiloh Museum staff and volunteers.


Otto Bennett


Velma Bennett


Nathan Bowerman


Lloyd Bowling


Charles Brink


Kenny Bryant


Oleta Williams Bryant


Coy Collins


Doris Denzer


Jake Edens


Sophia Estes


Jean Gray


Edna Barnes Henderson


Dan Hendricks


James R. McNally


Jeanie Fultz Miller


Jerry Putman


Waneta Smith Redfern


Ginger Greathouse Roces


Sue Brashears Springer


Margaret Disney Stamps


Truman Stamps


Mary Maestri Vaughan

 

Credits

Arkansas Gazette. “Allen cans veggies, Popeye spinach.” 3-8-1989.

———. “Madison Tomato Crop Valued at Around $600,000.”  8-4-1939.

Barnes, Guy. “Steele Family Marks 65th Year in Food Processing Business.” Springdale News, 12-17-1989.

Barrett, Richard H. “A Chronicle of Carroll County Barretts.” Carroll County Historical Society Quarterly Vol. XXXI, No. 1 (Spring 1985).

Benton County Pioneer. “News from Benton County Democrat, Apr. 23, 1887, J.M. Thompson, Publ.” Vol. 4, No. 3 (March 1959).

Caraway, Steve. “Canning Plant to Close.” Springdale News, 9-19-2002.

Eaton, Vernon. “Remembering the Ozarks: Green Beans.” Madison County Record, 8-12-1999.

———. “Remembering the Ozarks: The Tomato Field.” Madison County Record, 5-30-1996.

Hendricks, Dan. Interview by Marie Demeroukas, Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. 3-8-1913.

History of Robinson and Kincheloe Communities, Yell Precinct, Benton County, Arkansas, Robinson Historical Committee: Siloam Springs, 1995.

Inside Arkansas. “Allen Tradition is Built on Can.” Vol. 16, No. 3 (Fall 1980).

Jardine, W. M. Service and Regulatory Announcements, Bureau of Chemistry, Supplement. United States Department of Agriculture, 1-28-1927. http://mdot.nlm.nih.gov/fdanj/bitstream/123456789/46929/4/fdnj14952.pdf (accessed 4/2013; no longer available online).

Law, Lena Davis. “More Cannery Information.” Madison County Musings Vol. XXV, No. 3 (Fall 2006).

Lucas, Margaret M. Ozark Canners and Freezers Association Progress Report. Ozark Canners and Freezers Association, 1963.

Lynch, Bobbie Byars. “The Springdale Canning Industry.” Shiloh Springdale 1878-1978. Springdale [Arkansas] Centennial Committee, 1978.

Martin, Wayne. Pettigrew, Arkansas: Hardwood Capital of the World. Shiloh Museum of Ozark History: Springdale, Arkansas, 2010.

May, Patricia. “From Popeye to the Beatles: Steele Adventures in Food.” Springdale News, 4-10-1994.

McMurry, Neva Barnes. “Factory Workers Remember…” Washington County Observer, 11-14-1985.

Moke, Irene A. “Canning in Northwest Arkansas: Springdale, Arkansas.” Economic Geography Vol. 28, No. 2 (April 1952).

Morelock, T. E. “Washington County Canneries Then and Now.” Flashback (Washington County Historical Society) Vol. 55, No. 3 (Summer 2005).

Oak Leaves. “Canning, Refrigerator Cars, and Fresh Produce.” Missouri and Arkansas Railroad Research Group, Spring 1990.

Prairie Grove Canning Factory Subscription List, 11-24-1903. Shiloh Museum Collection, Manuscript 42, Box 4A, Folder 23 (S-90-67-4).

Rothrock, Thomas. “The Judge Berry Story.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly Vol. XV, No. 2 (Summer 1956).

Russell, Joy. “John Goucher.” Fading Memories III: Stories of Madison County People and Places, Madison County Genealogical and Historical Society, 1999.

Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. “What’s in Season from the Garden State: The Historic Rutgers Tomato Gets Re-invented in University’s 250th Anniversary Year” http://www.njfarmfresh.rutgers.edu/WhatabouttheRutgersTomato.htm (accessed 10-23-2020).

Shiloh Museum research files. “The Steele’s 65 Years in the Food Industry, From Canned Tomatoes to Microwave Desserts,” unknown source and author, 12-4-1989.

Siloam Springs Herald Democrat. “Allen Canning Co. continues to grow.” 6-28-1987.

Silva, Rachel. “Walks Through History: Historic Downtown Prairie Grove,” Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/LiteratureRetrieve.aspx?ID=145012 (accessed 10-23-2020)

Springdale News. “‘Springdalia’ Manages for Preview Tour of New Factory…” 6-1-1949.

———. “Almost-Empty Welch Plant Reminder of Another Time.” 6-22-1986.

———. “Canner Ships Train Load of Products.” 9-30-1937.

———. “Canning Industry Has Close Ties to Agriculture.” 2-23-1982.

———. “Canning One of Sections [sic] Important Industries.” 4-29-1937.

———. “Formal Opening of Canning Center to be Held July 14.” 7-8-1943.

———. “Grape Juice and Wine Are Local Products.” 4-29-1937.

———.. “Heekin Can Company Formally Opened With Ceremonies Here Saturday.”  6-6-1949.

———. “Heekin Produces Millions of Cans.” Springdale News, 6-22-1986.

———. “Many Visitors Expected for Award Ceremony.” 8-2-1945.

———. “One of the ‘Big Deals’…” 6-1-1949.

———. “Prison Labor Necessary Says Welch Head.” Springdale News, 11-16-1944.

———. “Springdale Grew Up With the Food Processing.” 4-21-1985.

———. “Steele Canning Co. Gets Help of Beatles in Promoting Beans.” 8-26-1964.

———. “Steele Canning Co. Largest in Arkansas.” 11-30-1962.

———. “Steele Canning Now Has Popeye to Sell Its Spinach.” 12-6-1965.

———. “Tin Cans Hard to Handle in Early Days.” 8-2-1945.

———. “Tour of Plant Sees Beans Off to Armed Forces.” 8-2-1945.

———. “When History Was Made in Springdale.” 10-21-1937.

———.“The Springdale Canning Co. was organized…”5-15-1908.

Steele Canning Company and Springdale Canning Co. brochures, 1946 and circa 1948.

Swanson, Christie. “Allens: 84 Years and Counting.” Northwest Arkansas Newspapers, 10-3-2010.

Van Buskirk, Kathleen. “When the Tomato Was Queen.” Ozarks Mountaineer Vol. 26, No. 3 (April 1978).

Young, Susan, ed. Memories I Can’t Let Go Of: Life Stories from Tontitown, Arkansas. Farther Along Books: Fayetteville, Arkansas, 2012.