Friday, January 28, 2011

Founding Of West Helena Celebrated


   West Helena was planned, platted and dedicated by E.C. Hornor and his cousin, John Sydney Hornor, on June 21, 1910. West Helena became an incorporated city on May 12, 1917. This area was known at that time as the Clopton Plantation.
The 100th anniversary of the founding of the city of West Helena would have passed had it not been for Walter L. Morris Sr. and Elmer W. Hornor Sr., the surviving grandchildren of Edward C. Hornor, calling attention to this occasion.
   The first cousins traced their linage back to Walter's mother, Leonora Hornor Morris and Walter L. Morris and Elmer's to Edward Tully and Hattie West Hornor. 
MORRIS And hornor 100th west helena.jpg

Walter Morris Sr. (second from left) and Elmer Hornor (second from the right), the last surviving grandchildren of the founders of West Helena, and their sons, Walter Morris Jr. (left) and West Hornor gathered June 21 at the historic marker at the West Helena Public Library noting that West Helena was platted on June 21, 1910. LEFT: Walter Morris Sr. looks at a copy of the plat – the document that outlined the territory that became West Helena on June 21, 1910. The town was incorporated in 1917.

   Morris and Hornor paused to reflect on the history of West Helena as they met with their sons, Walter L. Morris Jr. and Elmer West Hornor Jr., by the marker near the West Helena Public Library that gives a brief history of West Helena.
   The site is west of Helena and also west of Crowley’s Ridge. The plans for the city called for an industrial area in the center with residential areas to the east and west.
   The developers provided sewer and water service and sidewalks. The city was named "West Helena" because at that time the rail freight rates were much lower east of the Mississippi River than to the west of the river.
  Because of the connection with Helena, West Helena had available the east side freight rates. E.T. "Tully" Hornor served as mayor of West Helena in the late teens or early 1920s.
   At that time this area was primarily involved in timber harvesting. As the land was cleared, it was placed in cultivation. It is reported that during the 1910s to the 1930s there were 21 sawmills between Missouri Street in Helena and Helena Crossing. In the late 1920s the Encyclopedia Britannica said Phillips County was known as the "Hardwood Capital of the World."
   Along with the city's development a streetcar line (the Interurban Traction Co.) was constructed to connect West Helena with Helena. At that time it was necessary to make deep cuts through the ridge to construct the line.
  The route began in West Helena at Washington and Plaza (where Chicago Mill & Lumber Co. was located.) It proceeded on Plaza through what is now the center green, through Midland Heights by Waverly Woods, the Fern Hill Fire Station, down Oakland Avenue's center green, east of Perry Street, south on College, down Porter Street to Cherry Street, south on Cherry to Missouri, west on Missouri and joined with Biscoe Street.
   The line ended at what is now the location of Mid-Delta Community Services. There the streetcars turned around. When the line was built there was no road adjacent to it. That came later.
   The Interurban Traction Company ceased operation on Aug. 6, 1933. The Interurban operated closed streetcars during the winter months and open cars during the warmer months. Each car operated with a motorman and conductor who collected fares. The fare was 10 cents.
   On that date Twin City Transit Company began bus transit service to provide transportation between the two cities. At one time the transit company had about 25 buses. It operated on a schedule of 20 minutes between buses.
   The route it followed was similar to that of the streetcar line. At a later time a route was opened from downtown Helena to North Helena. The fare was increased in the early 1950s to 25 cents.
   As more and more cars were sold, the traffic decreased to where its revenue was no longer sufficient to operate. Twin City Transit Company ceased operation on Dec. 31, 1974. Many of the employees had long years of service, having been employed by both firms.
  Several businesses that date back for many years in Helena and West Helena are:
   • West Hornor Motor Company was created by M.E. West and Edward Tully Hornor in August 1924 to have an automobile franchise for the sale of Chevrolets. Elmer West Hornor and his son, E. West Hornor Jr., are current owners of the automobile agency.
   • H&M Lumber Co. was opened for business on Jan. 1, 1961 on Plaza Street adjacent to serve the community's building material needs. Walter L. Morris Sr. and his cousin, the late Lawson D. Hornor, created it. Walter L. Morris Jr. joined H&M after graduation from the University of Arkansas in 1980 and is president of the firm. His actual service began in 1968 as a part-timer.
   • West Helena Furniture has been in business since 1924 and is the oldest continuous business in West Helena. The late Jesse Porter Sr. started the business at Third and Plaza across from where Southern Bancorp is located today. One of his two sons, Riley Porter, runs the business. Porter, a brigadier general and commander of the Arkansas Air National Guard, said the store has been relocated twice. It has been at the corner of Sebastian and Plaza since 1966.
   • Sibley Supply has been in business since 1960 on Plaza. Charles Sibley, the founder, said he acquired the industrial supply business formerly owned by A.S. Kelly.
    • Southern Hardware, located on Sebastian across from Exxon Circle N and H&M Plaza, was established in 1914 as Lewis Supply Co. in Helena. T.G. Miller purchased the company in 1952 and has remained the owner since that time. Southern Hardware moved from Helena to West Helena in 1964.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The End Of An Era In Helena

Quapaw Nation Signs With Confederacy

The leaders of the Quapaw Nation, already pushed from the Arkansas Delta [including around Phillips County] by the U.S. government bowing to the demands of Arkansas settlers, side with the Confederacy just six months after the Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor signaling the start of the Civil War.

The entire agreement is below:

ARTICLES OF A CONVENTION, entered into and concluded at Park Hill [OK], in the Cherokee Nation, on the fourth day of October, A. D. one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, between the Confederate States of America, by Albert Pike, their commissioner, with full powers, appointed by the President, by virtue of an act of the Congress in that behalf, of the one part, and the Quapaw tribe of Indians, by its chiefs and warriors, who have signed these articles, of the other part.


Article I. The Quapaw tribe of Indians, and all the persons thereof, do hereby place themselves under the laws and protection of the Confederate States of America, in peace and in war, forever and agree to be true and loyal to them under all circumstances.

Art. II. The Confederate States of America do hereby promise and firmly engage themselves to be, during all time, the friends and protectors of the Quapaw tribe of Indians, and to defend and secure them in the enjoyment of all their rights; and that they will not allow them henceforward to be in any wise troubled or molested by any power or people, State, or person whatever.

The Raping Of Phillips County

Drive in almost any direction out of Helena and you can see the results of the "rape" of old growth hardwoods that started not too many years after the end of the Civil War.

About the only places left untouched after decades of clear cutting by farmers and carpet-bagger timber barons is that part of the national forest north of Helena and the bottom-lands of the White River.  

No one gave a tinker's darn about forest conservation, water runoff or soil erosion at that time. The logging is called a "rape" because the "potential" exists, given the right long-term weather conditions, for a "dust bowl" situation with nothing to hold the topsoil in place.

The one concern back during the logging heyday was making money as fast as was possible and nothing else mattered.  Many of the huge homes in Helena owe their existence to timber profits. 

A trip south out of Helena down Arkansas 20 and then on 85 the results of clear-cutting can be readily seen. Except for scrub trees outlining sloughs, or perhaps a combine or tractor, the view is unobstructed all the way to the horizon.  The only place to really see old-growth hardwoods are those actually in the water of Old Town Lake.

From the late 1800s to the middle of the 1900s the land was cleared with rapid abandon. Land around Lambrook, a wide spot on Arkansas 20 west of Elaine, for instance, was cleared in rapid succession by one of those northern immigrants intent on making it big.  The man even laid a railroad spur right up to the logging operation.

The clear-cutting, however, was not just something unique to Phillips County.  It was happening all over the central Mississippi Delta in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. 

One of the biggest clear-cutters in Phillips County and throughout the Delta was Chicago Mill & Lumber Company of Chicago.  There are estimates that nearly 17 million acres of forestland were lost in the lower Mississippi River flood plain primarily due to timber harvesting by companies such as Chicago Mill and from the conversion of forests to farmland.  Chicago Mill opened a veneer processing plant in Helena and had another plant near Jonesboro.  Like most timber companies of the time, they bought up vast tracts of land, harvesting the timber and transporting it to company-owned mills before manufacturing the lumber and shipping it out to lumber yards, either by barge or rail. Located in a port town, the Greenville location played an important role in transporting timber and lumber up and down the Mississippi River.

The Chicago company even had numerous shortline railroads in the Delta to speed its products to market

Chicago Mill, owned by German immigrant Hermann Paepcke, opened the in 1892 and made corrugated boxes for such clients as Sears Roebuck & Co. It is quite possible at the time a Phillips County resident receiving a Sears boxed item could be holding a box made from Phillips County trees.  

The one advantage for Phillips County sharecropping residents was that during the downtime for crops they could go work for the timber companies.  Chicago Mill was not the only timber company operating in the county, but it was the largest.

Paepcke struck it rich with his timber business and moved to the silk stocking, high rent district along Chicago's Lakeshore Drive.  The company still exists in Mississippi, but it is a mere skeleton of its former self. 

There was never any attempt, then or now, by anyone for reforest any of the hardwoods that were native to Phillips County.

Logging operations are still active in Phillips County and the rest of Arkansas. There are nearly 500 such companies involved in the logging industry employing nearly 4,000 people and with annual sales of more than $288 million. There are five such companies in Phillips County:  Ameritech of Arkansas, West Helena; Delta Lumber, Lexa; Faust Big Cypress, Marvell; McKnight Plywood, West Helena; and Smith Lumber & Tie, Barton.

Helena Ghosts In Residence?

Battleship Arizona's Arkansas Dead

Phillips County Residents Killed In Korean War

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Killed WW II Army & Air Corps Soldiers From Phillips County

Helena Airfield Dedicated Day Before Pearl Harbor Attacked

The United States was already gearing-up for what many felt would be the dragging of the nation kicking and screaming into what many felt was Europe's war with the Nazi menace. 

Little did the vast number of Americans anticipate what was about to happen way out in the Pacific Ocean.

Built on what used to be a cotton field, Akron [Ohio] Airways under contract to the U.S. government constructed Helena Aero Tech with metal hangers and was Phillip's County first and only-ever airport with paved runways and control towers.  The airfield has was designed to give prospective pilots primary training using tandem trainers.

It had a large administration building in the middle of the complex of buildings.  Flanking that building were two long rows of buildings housing a mess hall, classrooms, barracks and other necessary facilities.  At the front gate was a manned guard shack. Training was done in a military manner with military officers and non-commissioned officers.

The field was dedicated on Dec. 6, 1941 and the airfield itself named for Army Air Corps lieutenants Jerome P. Thompson and Jack S. Robbins.  They were killed while on active duty.

The cadet pilots and Helena residents, because of the time difference, learned late on that December Sunday that air and naval forces of the Empire of Japan that morning had launched a surprise attack on the nation's Pacific fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor and on various Army and Air Corps facilities on Oahu.  

The following day President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked in a nationwide radio address before the Congress for a declaration of war against Japan which was swiftly approved.  Before the end of the week another declaration targeted Germany and Italy.

Phillips County's Namesake Arrived In 1797

Phillips county carries .Sylvanus Phillips name and is his monument. 
Born in the United States, he was in early life attracted to the West and in 1797 built a log cabin near the mouth of the St. Francis river in Arkansas, and was, as he said, the only settler for miles around.

Where Phillips came from and where he was buried are questions that remain unknown.
His nearest neighbors were Antoine Tessier and Joseph De Plasse, who lived at the mouth of the Cache. Beyond their residences there were no other settlements in that direction. 
In 1798 he explored the Arkansas river for some distance above Arkansas Post, but found no settlement in that direction. 
In 1799 the commandant of the post, fearing an uprising of the natives, warned Phillips to remove to the post. He did so and remained there for many years, and was joined by J. B. Mooney and the Pattersons, all related by marriage, and who with him made extensive explorations for mineral and timber wealth. 
He gained in this way a great knowledge of the territory, a knowledge which Sam C. Roane, in later years, was enabled to use as an effective club in breaking up the gigantic land frauds which threatened to despoil the State of hundreds of thousands of acres of land.

Black Girls Reportedly Stripped, Beaten In Phillips County Jail

The northern Crisis newspaper, one of two widely-circulated publications catering to Delta blacks, in 1914 issued an unsubstantiated report that black girls were being stripped and beaten in Phillips County's jail.

The Chicago Defender, the other black publication, even had a correspondent in Phillips County.

A 1893 View Of Helena To Friars Point Via Modoc

A 1893 book published by Army Capt. Willard Glazier details his descent down the Mississippi.

Of particular interest in this volume published Hubbard Brothers Publishers of Philadelphia is Glazier's visit to Helena, Modoc and on to Friars Point.  On the 93rd day of the trip he landed by steamer at Helena and lodged at the Delmonico Hotel.  We Pick up the narration at that point.

Delmonico Hotel,
Helena, Arkansas,
October Twenty-second.
As soon as we had finished breakfast at the cabin of our colored host, Robert Green, we called for the Alice, and, accompanied by all the Greens, large and small, hurried down to the river and pushed off. Nothing of an unusual character was seen until about twelve o'clock, when, as we rounded a bend we saw in the distance Helena, the most enterprising city ofArkansas. We struck the beach at one o'clock, and on stepping ashore received a welcome from Arnot Harris and W. L. Morris. These gentlemen escorted us to the "Delmonico" for dinner, and extended many courtesies during our brief stay in their city.
Helena, standing on the right bank of the river, in Phillips County, Arkansas, has become, since the Civil War, a very progressive town, and is growing rapidly in importance. It offers many advantages for navigation and commerce, and the only drawback to its still greater advancement is the destructive agency of the Mississippi, which occasionally threatens it with inundation. If it can protect itself against the overflows, Helena, from its peculiarly favorable position, is destined to become one of the first cities on the Lower Mississippi. Located in a fertile cotton section, the facilities for shipment of that staple to other ports is apparent. It is eighty miles below Memphis, and if the terminus of the Arkansas Midland, and the Iron Mountain and Helena railroads.
In the summer of 1863 Helena was held by a Union force under General Prentiss, strongly intrenched, the river also being commanded by a gunboat. July Fourth, an unsuccessful attempt to seize the town was made by a superior Confederate force under General Holmes. In the action which followed, the Confederates lost one thousand six hundred and thirty-six men, and the Unionists two hundred and fifty.
The present population of Helena is about four thousand, and it supports two banks and five newspapers.

Plantation House,
Near Modoc, Arkansas
October Twenty-third.
Wind, rain, and a chopped sea greeted us as we stepped into our canoe at an early hour in the morning. A persistent use of our paddles supported by a brisk current brought us to Friar's Point at eleven o'clock. Here we landed, and after climbing over a levee walked, or rather waded, up to town through several inches of mud and water.
After dinner, which we had at a restaurant, we took a hurried stroll through this forlorn-looking place, confining our walk chiefly to high ground and streets favored with paved or board sidewalks. Should the majestic Mississippi conclude some fine day to take Friar's Point on an excursion to the Gulf, it is doubtful if anything but the " point" would be missed.
Just before re-embarking we were invited aboard the "Doremus Floating Photograph Gallery," which has been upon the river for the past six years, under the direction of J. P. Doremus, of Paterson, New Jersey. Mr. Doremus explained that he made his floating gallery his home during the summer months, and that he had photographed every object of interest between Minneapolis and Vicksburg. Many of the views submitted for our inspection were faithful representations of Mississippi scenery, and will prove a valuable contribution to the illustrated history of the Great River.
The weather was showery throughout the afternoon, but in anticipation of several days more of the same sort we thought it best to continue our voyage, and pressed forward determined to cover as many miles as possible before nightfall.
The small landing and postal station known as Modoc was reached a few minutes before six o'clock. Here we spent the night with J. R. McGuire and family, a wealthy and enterprising cotton-planter, who named the place and established a post-office soon after the Modoc War. We were much gratified to note in our log a gain of forty-eight miles for our ninety-fourth day.

Photo Shows Lakeview Mule Barn


Judge Leaves Money To Build Lexa Church

Judge John T. Jones of Lexa died on Sunday, March 10 1906, at 94 years old. 
He was the oldest communicant of the Diocese and a strong supporter of domestic missions. His will, which has just been offered for probate, bequeaths to the Bishop of Arkansas the sum of $3,000 to be applied by him to the erection of church buildings at Lexa, Heber and Sugar Loaf Springs. Our Church has no representation at any of these points, and it is hoped that other gifts will enable the Bishop to erect suitable buildings in all of these towns at an early date.

Railroad Required To Open Station In Lexa

The railroad running from Missouri through Eureka Springs and on to Helena on May 6, 1905 was ordered by the state legislature to established railway depot at Lexa.
The St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway Company was also ordered by Act 255 to hire a ticket agent for the depot to work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to sell passenger tickets and accept freight shipments.  The provisions of the act went into effect on May 16.
It also required the depot to include a freight room and prohibiting the railway from leaving freight on the ground or the depot platform.
All those provisions were put in place under penalty of law by including a clause that any violation could result in arrest [we presume of the hired agent in Lexa] and a fine of $25 to $100 and subsequent fines each days the provisions were violated.  The violator could be tried either before the justice of the peace or the circuit court.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Question: What Do A Baby, A British Knighthood, Hollywood, Turkey Scratch, A Hit Tune, And Dirt Farming All Have In Common?

For the answer to that question one has to travel back more than 70 years to a wide spot sitting at the junction of two dusty dirt roads sitting astride the Phillips-Lee county line.

Born to a cotton-farming family on May 26, 1940 in Elaine was a baby [no not the baby in the headline] named Mark Lavon "Levon" Helm. He grew up, however, in Turkey Scratch at the junction of those two farming roads in the middle of nowhere to become a major player in rock that would burst onto the national stage many years later.

He is known to most folks as  Levon.

A blues great -- Robert Lockwood, Jr. -- was also born in Turkey Scratch on March 27, 1915, but grew up in Marvell.

Turkey Scratch probably got its name from the fact Arkansas, before the vast forests were cleared by farmers and logging, was abundant with turkeys.  

And that is where we get, as Paul Havey used to say, "the rest of the story."

On Christmas Day 2010 a new son was born to Sir Elton John, 62, and partner David Furnish, 48.  The boy's name is Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, with the third name being recognizing John's 1971 hit tune "Levon" and has a line about being born on Christmas day.

But  what's the connection to Turkey Scratch, Levon Helm and Phillips County?  The name "Levon" was reportedly taken from Levon Helms, singer and drummer of The Band which was, at the time, John and his collaborator's favorite group.  Bernie Taupin, who wrote the lyrics for "Levon," was inspired by The Band's co-founder, drummer, and singer Levon Helm to name the title character after him. The Band was apparently Elton John's and Bernie Taupin's favorite group in those days.

"LEVON" The Lyrics

Levon wears his war wound like a crown
He calls his child Jesus
`Cause he likes the name
And he sends him to the finest school in town

Levon, Levon likes his money
He makes a lot they say
Spend his days counting
In a garage by the motorway

He was born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas day
When the New York Times said God is dead
And the war's begun
Alvin Tostig has a son today

And he shall be Levon
And he shall be a good man
And he shall be Levon
In tradition with the family plan
And he shall be Levon
And he shall be a good man
He shall be Levon

Levon sells cartoon balloons in town
His family business thrives
Jesus blows up balloons all day
Sits on the porch swing watching them fly

And Jesus, he wants to go to Venus
Leaving Levon far behind
Take a balloon and go sailing
While Levon, Levon slowly dies

Levon was the son of Nell and Diamond Helm, who were cotton farmers and also great lovers of music who encouraged their children to play and sing. Levon began playing the guitar at the age of eight and also played drums during his formative years. He saw Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys at the age of six and decided right then to become a musician.

Arkansas in the 1940s and 50's was at the confluence of a variety of musical styles -- blues, country and R&B -- that later became known as rock and roll. Helm was influenced by all these styles listening to the Grand Ole Opry on radio station WSM and R&B on radio station WLAC out of Nashville, Tennessee. He also saw traveling shows such as F.S. Walcott's Rabbit's Foot Minstrels that featured top African-American artists of the time.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Making It Big Soda Jerking Day, Ball At Night

Sometimes making it big is like the flip of a coin or being in the right place at the right time.

Such was the start of major league ball player Travis Jackson of the New York Giants.

You see Travis, a native of  the small town of Waldo near Texarkana, was on loan to to his uncle who had a drug store in Marvell.  Young Travis would soda jerk there during the day and play baseball late into the night with what he described in the Baseball Digest as "a bunch of semipro teams in the area."

Jackson did that for two summers in Marvell and when one day during a game being played in Pine Bluff the future arrive in the form of a scout from the Southern Association's Little Rock club. He played for a year in Little Rock and then was picked by the Giants.

He was a Major League Baseball player during the 1920s and 1930s. His exceptional range at shortstop led to the nickname "Stonewall."

Jackson broke into the major leagues in 1922 with the New York Giants, the team he would play for his entire career. After a mediocre 1923 campaign, he established himself in 1924 by playing in 151 games and hitting .302 with 11 home runs.

Sharecropper's Son Becomes Novelist, Communist

Richard Wright - Born to the son of an illiterate sharecropping father on a Roxie, MS., plantation, experienced the death of a loved one at the hands of racists in Elaine and ended up a celebrated author, communist and  living in Paris, France.

He was born on Sept. 4, 1908, just under 50 years from the end of slavery and into a segregated South.

Wright was an American author of powerful, sometimes controversial novels, short stories and non-fiction. Much of his literature concerns racial themes. His work helped redefine discussions of race relations in America in the mid-20th century. 

Wright was born on the Rucker Plantation near Roxie, Mississippi, the first of two sons to Ella Wilson, an elementary schoolteacher, and Nathaniel Wright, an illiterate, alcoholic sharecropper.

In late 1912, the family relocated to Memphis and Nathaniel abandoned the family several months later. In 1914, when Ella became ill, Wright and his brother were placed in the temporary care of the Settlement House, a Methodist orphanage. That was a period in his life where young Richard was begging for food.

In 1916, the boys were reunited with their mother, and they relocated to Jackson, Mississippi to move in with his maternal grandmother Margaret Wilson.

Later, the family moved in with Wright's aunt and uncle in Elaine but left after racists murdered Wright's uncle, Silas Hoskins, in 1916.

Hoskins owned a properous saloon catering to black lumbermen who, with companies like Chicago Mill, were deforesting Phillips County of vast tracts of its valuable timber resources.  As the story goes, some Elaine white men jealous of Hoskins prosperity murdered his uncle to confiscate his property

At least two of his works -- Black Boy and Long Black Song - are a reflection on his life and times in Elaine.  He left Elaine just three years before the "Red Summer" race riots in 21 American cities, including Elaine. Those works and others also reflect the racial tensions in both Memphis and Jackson.

The family then fled to West Helena, where they lived in fear in rented rooms for several weeks.

At the age of fifteen, Wright penned his first story, "The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre". It was published in Southern Register, a local black newspaper in Jackson.

No Shortage of African American Newspapers

During a 75 year period -- 1880 to 1955 -- Helena had no shortage of newspapers targeting Helena's and Phillips County's large African American Population.

Most, however, were short lived.

Below is the list of those publications and dates of publication:

Arkansas Mule 1890-91
Arkansas Survey-Journal 1934-1955
Baptist Reporter 1891-1907
Colored American 1902-1903
Golden Epoch 1881-1888
Informer 1939
Interstate reporter 1891-1934
Jacob's Friend 1888-1890
New Era 1888-1891
People's Friend 1888-1890
Press 1937-1938
Progress 1880-1902
Reporter 1891-1901
Royal Messenger 1909-1922
Southern Modiator Journal 1940
Southern Review 1882-1890
Times 1886
World Picture 1950

Helena Born Drummer & Vocalist

Floyd Cambell, the son of Wilson Cambell, was born Sept. 17, 1901 in Helena. 

His father was Wilson Cambell and his brother, Bill Campbell, was a pianist and song writer.

Campbell took up the drums in 1922 and played gigs around the Helena area.  Worked with Charlie Creath [mainly at gigs in St. Louis] from 1924-25.  He also worked on riverboats with Fate Marable and Dewey Jackson for the next two years.  Then he formed his own band which he led for 40 years starting in 1927 first in St. Louis and then in Cincinnati before going on tour.  He made Chicago his home.