Memories of Searcy, Arkansas
by Lucille Smith Harris
Transcribed by Martha Harris Poplin
Lucille Smith at Bethany College
It was in 1923 when my mother, Rilla Smith, dad, Arthur Smith, brother, Walter and I moved from Pleasant Plains Arkansas to Searcy, Arkansas.
In Pleasant Plains my father taught school during the week and since he had been to barber college, he would barber on Saturday. Working at the barber shop grew old fast for him. He said the work would have been enjoyable if the men who came would get haircuts every month and not every three to four months. The extra long hair plus the extra long beards turned him off to barbering.
Arthur, Rilla, Lucille and Walter Smith 1922
I don’t recall the move to Searcy, as I was only 3, but when school was out, my folks packed up and went to Bradford in White County, caught the train to Kensett and on to Searcy.
My first recollection of Searcy was in 1925, my father worked for Robbins-Sanford as a clerk and delivery man. He also had to check all the flour before it was sold to see if it had any weevils. He’d sift it and resack it when they were in the flour. Since Robbins-Sanford sold everything for the farmer, they had saddles, harnesses, etc. for horses.
To show off these items, a horse was required. A life-size horse with saddle was what every child who entered the store had to see and some “rode” it. The horse looked so real. It was attached to a platform that rolled. My earliest recollections of those times was riding that horse from the grocery department down the open aisle to the front of the store which faced Spring St.
I’m sure many Searcy children have memories of that horse.
Picture of Robbins-Sanford Horse from White Co. Historical Society
Arthur and Rilla Smith in 1945
In 1925 or 26, my dad took the Civil Service examination and got a job as a rural mail carrier. First he delivered mail in a horse and buggy. I’m not sure if he owned the horse or buggy, but I recall him telling that the ruts were so deep on the rural roads that even the buggy got stuck and sometimes the horse had trouble pulling it out.
The next source of transportation was a Model-T Ford. It really got stuck on the back roads and if not for the farmers and patrons on his route, he would not be able to complete his route.
Finally he “graduated” to a city route. He really liked being in town. Searcy, at that time, was a small town of less than 2000, so everyone knew everyone. My dad walked the west end of town and Henry Yarnell had the east end route. In those days the mail came by train and was sorted and delivered twice a day.
At Christmas-time, the mail was always heavier than usual. Many nights it was dark when my dad got home from his route. Close to the end of his postman days in Searcy he drove a Ford van, “robbing” all the mail boxes in town and to get mail at Harding College.
Mrs. Pryor, who worked at the college post office had just locked the vault and couldn’t open it until the next day. She had a package brought in by a student which she had weighed and had money to buy the stamps for postage. She asked my dad if he would be so kind as to take the package and stamp it when he got back to the post office. Not knowing this wasn’t post office policy, he gave Mr. Maness at the post office the package and money to get the package on its way. Mr. White, a postal inspector saw what happened and gave my dad 700 demerits. It only took 1000 demerits for a postal worker to lose his job.
The next day Dad told Mrs. Pryor that he couldn’t handle transactions like that again. She immediately told Dr. Benson, the President of Harding College and he, in turn, wasted no time calling Wilbur D. Mills, the Congressman from Kensett. Mr. Mills then called the Postmaster General who erased all the demerits. Mr. Mills let them know the Post Office was a service institution and my dad had done a service for Harding College. Dad continued to work for the Post Office for 30 years (1926-1956) before retiring.
Martha, Kenneth, Alma
Some of this is heresay, but there is some truth to the following story.
My husband, Bill Harris had a twin brother, Buck. Both were excellent swimmers and ran the Searcy Swimming Pool several summers as well as the Harding College Pool in winter while attending school.
They used to put on exhibitions at the city pool, especially on July 4. Being identical twins made their dives off the high board something to behold. Their dives were synchronized and make one feel like they were seeing double.
I have a poster with their pictures on it announcing the opening of the Searcy Pool on June 10, 1939. The poster says “Swim in Drinking Water, Open 1 to 10 P.M. and admission 10 and 20 cents.”
Now the heresay part of the story. They learned to swim in Deener Creek. Bill said many times they had to skim the top of the creek to make it clean enough to get into. This was a far-cry from “drinking water”, but they learned to swim well.
My family attended the Nazarene Church in Searcy. My Dad taught a large Sunday School class of boys. They did not have their own room, but met in the choir loft.
Some of the boys I recall attending are William Earl and Harmon Newton; my brothers,Walter Smith and later J.D. and Winfield Smith; my cousins, Willis Lewis, Wayne Pasley and Gene Pasley. Also attending were Albert Parker, Russell Hill and many others. The story finally got out why he had such a large group of boys every Sunday.
It was very hard times in those days. My dad told every young man he would meet that he would cut their hair free if they would come to his Sunday School class.
I remember one Saturday afternoon seeing 24 boys sitting on our front porch, waiting to get a haircut. In those days boys wanted a “burr” haircut, so they went fast.
Some of the boys had paper routes, delivered milk or other small jobs to make money to help their families and a little spending money. Those who were off work piled into our car and we all went to Donaphan Lake to swim….I guess they went to get the hair off their necks too.
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In 1936, the state of Arkansas was 100 years old. Searcy High School put on a commemorative program that was written up in The Citizen as very well done and true to history.
The main part I remember was my role in the play. There were about 18 or 20 Indian maidens in very authentic costumes “planting corn”.
The costumes consisted of a dress with fringe on the bottom, a beaded head band and pantaloons. We saw no reason to make complete pantaloons, so we just made the leggings with elastic on the top. That was a mistake. Each time we bent over to plant a seed, people could see above the elastic of the leggings. We were embarrassed when we found this out because things were much more modest in those days. Most of the audience was very kind and told us it was a good program.
J.D., Adele and Winfield Smith
I was about 9 years old in 1929 when I met an elderly gentleman named Jim Brewer. Jim was about 80-90 years old in 1929. He lived alone in a shanty behind the “Dictionary House” at Park Ave. and Main in Searcy, Arkansas. It was called this because the W.E. Word family lived there and had a sign on the front saying “Dictionary House”.His shanty was one room with a five foot porch across the front that abutted the sidewalk.
Jim had been born into slavery at the Brewer Plantation in the Dogwood Community, south of Griffithville. Mr. Brewer “owned about 1,500 acres. He cultivated about 100 acres with 100 slaves. **“He had constructed an imposing house, outbuildings, and slave quarters, from logs having a diameter between 3 and 4 feet. A two-storied smokehouse was in use as late as 1920, according to the present owner”.
Now in his late years of life, he was known as Uncle Jim by all who knew and loved him.
Jim was a Christian man and often attended the Nazarene Church in Searcy which was across the street from his little house. The church was a “white” church as most everything was segregated in those days. Jim would sit on the back row by the wall, though he could have sat anywhere he wanted. From the back row, he enthusiastically shouted his heartfelt “Halleluiahs” and “Amens”, waving his arms in the air. We felt he added to the church services, which he attended both Sunday morning and evening. He was right at home and accepted in this church and by its members. The whole Smith family was known to be very musically talented and often sang at church. Uncle Jim especially enjoyed the Smith children singing.
Mayor B.L. Oliver was a frequent visitor on Sunday nights. He would often talk to Uncle Jim and their rapport pleased the old man.
When he reached the point in life where he had to stay in most of the time, Mama would sometimes take food to Jim; soup, bread, buttermilk or pudding; whatever the family had to eat that he could easily eat with no teeth. The children of the Nazarene Sunday School would go to Uncle Jim’s, line up along the wall inside his little house and sing hymns and spirituals to the appreciative old man.
He spoke little of his life in slavery, but I remember a story Jim told which made an impression on me. He told of his hiding in a hayloft as the Union soldiers came through the plantation. Jim feared the soldiers would take him away to make him fight for the Union, just as they did many young slave men. He didn’t want to go, leaving his family and the only life he knew. Many slaves were treated well by their owners. While longing for freedom, they didn’t know how they would provide for themselves and their families if freed.
The Civil War and slavery ended in 1865. Few people alive in the year 2004 can say they personally knew a slave. It is one of the treasured stories I have passed on to my children and grandchildren. For me, Uncle Jim Brewer was a piece of living history and it was a blessing to know him.
**From the “History of Griffithville” by Mrs. Kathleen Howerton; published by the White Co., Historical Society
One year, our family lived out on “Backbone Ridge”. It was 1 ½ miles to school, the post office or downtown.
We had a Chrysler that had belonged to the funeral home, which had fold up seats behind the front seat. My dad let me drive it as far as the post office, park it and then walk on to school two blocks north.
Back then, gasoline was 10 cents a gallon. If we drove the car to the top of the hill where our house was, it probably cost 30 cents to go from town to the house. For this reason, we left the car at the bottom of the hill. No one would bother it, as there wasn’t any kind of meanness going on in those days. We probably even left the key in it.
There are two memories about that car that stay in my mind. First if it got dirty, we would get rags, buckets and soap, drive down to Rocky Branch and wash it. That was so much fun! Often, I would pick up other kids who lived farther out. One rainy day, I had about 15 in the car.
Some old-timers might remember some of those riders; the Lemons kids, Buel Moye, the Evans brothers, plus all the Smith kids.
When our family first moved out to Back Bone Ridge, we didn’t have a car and had to walk to school or church. This wasn’t too bad until we would have a “gully washer”. That is a hard rain that made Gin Creek go over its banks. When that happened, we had to wait for the water to go down and then wade across. Of course, this was dangerous.
A man who lived farther out was Searcy’s drayman. The drayman was someone who hauled things for other people in his wagon. He also went to the local restaurants to get the food they threw out into barrels. He took it in his wagon to feed his hogs.
The drayman, Jack Barnes was a dirty old codger, but he did have a heart and felt sorry for us. He would wash out his wagon and each time a hard rain came, we could depend on Jack Barnes to meet us at Gin Creek and ride us across in his wagon. We sure appreciated his kindness.
Winfield, J.D. and Adele Smith
Lucille, Walter, Adele, Winfield, Martha, J.D., Kenneth and Alma
In the early 1930’s, the streets of Searcy were not all paved. There were no electric signal lights and the stop signs were a little larger than a dinner plate; flat on the bottom and attached to the street.
There were no police back then, just a constable. The Searcy constable was a heavy set man named Coley Smith. He was always visible and delighted in making sure everyone followed the rules. One day when Constable Smith was on duty, he was standing on the corner of Spring and Pleasure, by the Rock Island Railroad Depot.
A man drove south on Spring down to the park and proceeded to make a U-turn to go back up Spring St. towards town. Mr. Smith yelled at the man, “No! You can’t do that!” The man continued his U-turn and yelled back, “Yes! I think I can make it!” and he did.
The Searcy High School Gym had a lot of good memories for us. Many concerts, programs of all sorts, ball games, graduations etc. were held there and it was the hub of the campus.
I’m not sure what year it was that I heard the fire whistle and someone said the gym was on fire. I was never one to follow the cars and firetrucks to fires, but the old SHS gym fire was different and I made a bee-line for the high school building where I watched the fire from the second story north window.
I cried, even though I had been out of school for time, but it was still “my gym” too. Many memories went up in smoke that day for a lot of Searcy’s citizens.
Winfield Smith in uniform
J.D. and Winfield Smith
After the High School gym burned, the basketball games had to be played in the Armory on Race St.
One night I went to the game and it was a good one. The referee wore thick glasses and a few times didn’t see the ball hit the rafters in the ceiling. Since he did not see this, Searcy lost by one point. This didn’t set well with me because most of the team was related to me. I headed for the floor, yelling at the referee that he needed new glasses when Truett Langley and James Harris stopped me. It was a good thing, because the ref was about to get a piece of my mind!
On the team was Winfield and J.D. Smith, my brothers; Gene Pasley, my double-first cousin; Willis Lewis, my first cousin and Terrapin Bell. Four out of five ain’t bad!
For many years, my dad kept the government weather box in White County. It had to be a certain distance from buildings and trees. Early each morning, he would open the door of the weather box, twirl the thermometer and when it stopped, it would show the exact temperature. Then dad would write down the time, temperature, wind, rain or anything that would let the Little Rock office know about the weather in Searcy.
He would then have one of us kids to go to the Western Union office for Vivian Knox to wire the information to Walter Hickmon in the weather bureau in Little Rock.
It’s surprising, but like the television weathermen now, some people would actually get angry at Daddy when the weather spoiled their plans.
I remember when:
1. The fountain in Spring Park had sulfur water in it.
2. On the corner of Main and Park Avenue there was a large house where one could room and board. My aunt was a cook there for awhile.
3. North of the boarding house was the AP & L Building where Henry Milligan rewound transformers when they burned out.
4. There was a Sinclair Service Station in front of First Methodist Church.
5. There were service stations at several locations run by the Angels, Ben Martin and Carthel Burkhart.
6. Carthel Burkhart’s wife owned a beauty shop on the corner of Spring and Center. When she opened for business, permanents were $1.00. The curlers were hot and heavy. I know!
7. For a while, the Chandler brothers had two funeral homes in Searcy.
8. Upstairs over Pearl Burkhart’s Beauty Shop was the Rogers Photography Studio owned by Harold and Rose Rogers. I worked for them for three years. One incident I remember was being asked by some young folks to go over to Chandler Funeral Home and take a picture of their Grandma. No one had any pictures of her. I took the picture and then they wanted me to retouch the negative so her eyes would look open. That was impossible for us to do and sending it off to be done would cost $50.00. They settled for the original.
9. On the corner where Ace Hardware is now located was a men’s store called Lewis and Hartsell’s. They had a balcony in the store and once had the tallest man in the world, Robert Wardlow to visit. I was in the balcony and Robert reached up his huge hand to shake mine. His hand was so big, his fingers were touching my elbow. Robert died at an early age and I have visited his grave in St. Louis.
10. The Rialto Theater was once owned by W.E. Blume, whose son still lives in Arkansas. One time, to draw a crowd for a special movie, a man was buried alive next to the theater. They charged a small amount to look down in the hole to look at him through glass. He was sleeping when I saw him, but one time was enough for me!
11. Dr. Dunklin’s office was located over Headlee Drugstore.
12. The Wakenight Hospital was on Woodruff Street and was still there in 1945. I was a patient there when President Franklin Roosevelt died. A girl from the office went around telling averyone.
13. McElwee Ford Co. was located on Spring St. across from the courthouse.
14. My family lived on Oak Street next door to Oliver and Faye Angel. Their son, Gene, still lives in Searcy. Nathan and Lucy Turnage lived across the street.
15. On Market St., we could hear Happy Jack Walters and his band practicing their music. Their theme song , with which they started out with on the radio was “Way Down Yonder”.
16. My dad and Henry Yarnell would dehorn our cows out in our yard. They tied their legs and then tied them to a tree to hold them. I hated that and would almost cry watching the cow after it was over.
17. My dad was the agent for the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper. My brothers delivered them. Sometimes I would ride the bike and throw the papers, so my brothers could sleep in.
18. During World War II, my dad would go to the Post Office every Sunday morning to see if any letters had come from the service men. He would take the letter to their families who were so glad to hear from their service men. One time in particular, according to Josephine Knox Walker, was when Wayne Knox was an MIA. His mother, Mrs. Knox had not heard from him in such a long time. My dad got to her house and gave her the letter from Wayne and she was so excited and relieved.
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