2019: A look back at Batesville’s top headlines

January

Citizen’s Bank opened its new headquarters on a main drag, 655 St. Louis Street.

February

The City built a new steamboat-themed playground in place of the old wooden playground located beside the train engine. Total cost: $100,000.

March

The Batesville Lady Pioneers won the state basketball championship for 4A.

April

Heritage House, the oldest gift store in town, located at the corner of Harrison and Fitzhugh Streets, closed its doors because the owner, Virginia Ketz, retired. It was the go-to for buying wedding and baby shower gifts, and in its last few years carried high end clothing and accessories for women.

May

Intimidator, in its sixth year of operation, completed construction on a building of more than 206,000 square feet taking up five acres at 1525 White Drive. Governor Asa Hutchinson and country music legend Neal McCoy attended its grand opening,

A one-hundred-year-old mural was repainted by the Lyon College Art Department under the direction of art professor Dustyn Bork. The students worked for an entire month restoring the classic Coca-Cola logo located in downtown Batesville.

June

Southside, established in 2014, completed construction of its City Hall building located at 2181 Batesville Blvd. It broke ground in June of 2018 on a 4,650-square-foot, $675,000 building.

The only local, daily newspaper, the Batesville Daily Guard, completed its first entire year under new ownership. (The Jones Family sold to Paxton Media Group of Paducah, Kentucky in June of 2018. At the time it was sold, it was the last non-chain family-owned daily newspaper in Arkansas.)

More than 800 people attended Batesville’s inaugural Pride Celebration in downtown Batesville.

The Batesville Community Center hosted two Pyramid Fights in 2019: on June 22, Justin Frazier defeated Benjamin Rowland, and on Nov 16, Solo Hatley Jr. defeated AJ Cunningham. As of the end of 2019, Cunningham of Batesville was ranked 5th in the state for his division, Arkansas Pro Featherweights.

The Arkansas Country Music Awards announced Tim Crouch of Strawberry, Ark., as Fiddler of the Year. Kenny Loggains of KWOZ Batesville was nominated for Radio DJ of the Year which was won instead by Del Hughes of KWCK in Searcy. KWOZ ‘The Country Super Station” in Batesville was nominated for Radio Station of the Year, but lost to KDXY “The Fox” in Jonesboro.

Two new coffee shops opened around the same time this summer: Nova Joe’s Coffee built a building beside the new Hampton Inn hotel on Harrison Street, and Blue Moon Coffee built across the street from the Riverside Conoco gas station.

Former Arkansas State Senator, Linda Collins, was found murdered in her home.

July

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences opened a new family medicine clinic beside Hobby Lobby, and started a new family medicine residency program, which will bring a total of 18 resident physicians and their families to Batesville when at full capacity.

Flowers Baking Co. of Batesville earned the 2019 Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ENERGY STAR certification, which means it scored in the top 25 percent of all U.S. commercial bread and roll bakeries for “improving energy performance through best practices and making cost-effective improvements,” according to a Flowers Foods press release.

Cave City celebrated its 40th Watermelon Festival with concerts by Shenandoah and Mark Chestnutt.

August

A study conducted by Background Checks.org concluded that Batesville ranked as the fifth safest city in Arkansas (based on FBI crime statistics of cities with a higher than 10,000 population).

September

Stan and Shanna Fretwell renovated the Maxfield-Wycough Building, built in downtown Batesville in 1897, to be a luxury boutique hotel, The Royal on Main. The bottom floor is a salon and clothing boutique, Main Attire.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded $500,000 to two Main Street properties in the United States, and one of them was The Adler Building, located in downtown Batesville. The grant specifies the money be used to renovate the building to include affordable apartments.

There were two National Merit Semi-finalists in Independence County this year. One was Batesville High School senior, Veronica Laslo. The other was 16-year-old Zach McClain, one of only two homeschool students in the state this year to achieve this honor.

More than 200 community members gathered to provide input to the City of Batesville and IMPACT Steering Committee on priorities for the town going forward. Riverfront development was mentioned the most.

Batesville Community Theater bought the old Van Atkins building at the top of Main Street, and plans to build a theater.

University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) saw a 10 percent enrollment increase in one year, from 2018 to 2019. Other news from UACCB for 2019 is that RegisteredNursing.org, based out of California, ranked its online nursing program eighth in the nation (among online licensed practical nursing to registered nursing school programs) due in part to national licensure pass rates. The college also hosted a concert by Lee Greenwood, who is known for “God Bless the USA” in Sep 2019, and a meet and greet with University of South Florida head football coach Charlie Strong in Mar 2019.

A new 80-room Hampton Inn hotel opened in Batesville, located across Harrison Street from the old White Rogers building.

Independence County voted to sue the City of Batesville for outstanding payment of jail fees.

October

Danny Dozier, alongside the Batesville Downtown Foundation, completed a playground at Maxfield Park using recycled materials from the old Riverside Park playground torn down in February. Dozier gave credit to local stonemason Lloyd Blake and master electrician Andy Edwards for helping with the project. The park also now contains the only public restroom downtown.

The Foll Family Farm, established in 1919 and owned by Stanton and Cheryl Foll of Stone County, was honored by the Arkansas Agriculture Department for having been owned by the same family for more than 100 years.

Ozark Mountain Poultry completed its first entire year under ownership of George’s, headquartered in Springdale.

Peco Foods, headquartered in Alabama with a processing plant in Batesville, created a new corporate director position to focus on health and safety. Peter Van Derlyke, with a Ph.D. in Safety Sciences, is the first person to fill the position.

November

Sulphur Rock Elementary earned a Grade of A on school performance for the third time in a row from the Arkansas Department of Education.

Local man, Larry Bentley, bicycled 80 miles on his 80th birthday. Story found here.

The Child Advocacy of Independence County completed its first full year in the house it renovated at 510 East Boswell Street, diagonal from the Post Office.

The North Arkansas Dance Theater performed their 15th annual Nutcracker ballet, and featured four professional ballet dancers, Leah Morris and Aldrin Vendt of Ballet Arkansas, and Jon Drake and Amy Turner.

Future Fuel Chemical Company’s net income for the first nine months of 2019 was down to $15.8 million from $51.3 million in 2018.

December

The cities of Batesville and Southside, and Independence County agreed collectively to buy Ramsey Mountain (19 acres) to preserve it for future generations.

Matt Smith bought the vacant movie theater located in the Oaks Shopping Center, and plans to renovate. Smith’s other theaters in the state offer luxury seating, an extensive food menu, and some serve beer and wine.

Independence County went from a ranking of 17th in the state in 2018 to 71st in the state in 2019 for how much important information its website contains, according to the report Access Arkansas: County Web Transparency released by the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics at the University of Central Arkansas. Independence County’s website is under construction. Jefferson County showed the most improvement, mostly due to its new stand-alone website.

Due to a lawsuit filed locally, the community learned a grandson of the former Vice-President and 2020 Presidential candidate Joe Biden currently lives in Independence County.

Four out of four Lyon College students who applied to dental schools were accepted. Keifer Hartwig will be going to Tennessee Health Science Center College of Dentistry, Vinston Van will attend the University of Florida College of Dentistry, Ayden Henry will attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry, and Taylor Dale was accepted to five schools and is still undecided. In other news from Lyon, alumni Clare Brown, Ph.D., was interviewed by CNN about her article concerning the effect of Medicaid expansion on low birth weight and preterm birth published in April 2019 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And…Lyon built a dog park this year and named it in memory of a beloved biology professor, Mark Schram, Ph.D., who passed away in 2017.

White River Health System (WRHS) now offers telemedicine via Ivanti, a computer software company with 1,600 employees, headquartered in Utah. Other news from WRHS in 2019 includes recognition from the Arkansas Hospital Association of Dylan Carpenter, MD, for being the first surgeon in Arkansas to offer minimally invasive anterior hip replacement (using Stryker’s Mako, a robotic arm); Dianne Lamberth for her work with the Independence County Child Advocacy Center; and Kevin Spears for his work in getting sleep chairs for Stone County Medical Center. Additionally, a local pharmacist, Erin Beth Hays, was selected to serve as President for the Arkansas Association of Health-System Pharmacists.

Cave City erected a new monument to honor veterans.

For the 25th year, the Southside School District hosted its highly successful and annually sold-out ‘Ye Olde Christmas Madrigal Feaste’.

First Community Bank opened three new branches in Arkansas: Newport, downtown Jonesboro, and Conway. Then the bank broke ground on an operations center addition off its main headquarters. The new three-story addition will be more than 28,000 square feet and house 125 employees. Also in 2019, First Community Bank partnered with television host P. Allen Smith to install pollinator gardens at 20 of its bank locations in Arkansas.

Local historian releases latest: A History of the Ozarks, Vol 2

Brooks Blevins, notable local historian and author, released the second volume in his three-part series A History of the Ozarks and I have been eager to pick up this book ever since.

Volume 2 is subtitled “The Conflicted Ozarks” and deals with the time period surrounding the Civil War. 

Blevins’s thesis: in the period before, during, and after the Civil War, the Ozarks existed as a unique region that simply cannot be defined.

The complexity of the people tucked into the nooks and crannies of the hill region made it a place unlike the rest of Arkansas, unlike the rest of the South, and unlike the rest of the country, Blevins explains in the book.

It was marked deeply by the myriad of immigrants and American Indians who had made the place home. It was a place that due to both geography and intentionality, existed separately from other defined cultures of the time. The only consistent narrative is that there is no consistent narrative. The only stereotype is the complete absence of a true stereotype.

People were diverse, as far as backgrounds, beliefs, ways of life. And in the context of the Civil War, allegiances too.

Blevins emphasized this reality with the introduction of a strange character named Elias Boudinot, who was the son of a Cherokee leader and a white woman. He was born in the Ozarks, raised with the Cherokee, educated in the Northeast, and published a “pro-slavery rag that not only lambasted abolitionists but championed education and industrialization.” The only thing typical about Boudinot and his mish-mash of allegiances was that, in the Ozarks during this time, there was little in the way of “typical”.


EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK 
"...the Ozark region was conflicted in the age of war and reconstruction. Occupying a liminal regional space, a cultural borderland, the Ozarks was part Southern, part Western, part Midwestern. Not completely at home in either the cultural South or the cultural North, the region fittingly and tragically found itself a literal borderland in 1861, straddling the line that demarcated the Confederacy from the Union but never neatly delineated secessionists from Unionists, thousands of each populating both sides of the old thirty-six-degree thirty-minute line as well as the hills of the Indian Territory. It was a blueprint for true civil warfare..."

The book does ask the reader to have a foundational knowledge of Arkansas history and geography. But it is still very much read-able and enjoyable even if you’re iffy about the strength of your local history chops. (This book will take you miles towards developing that understanding, to be sure.)

Brooks Blevins is a Lyon College alumnae, former Lyon College professor, and the Noel Boyd Professor of Ozarks Studies at Missouri State University. He is the author or editor of nine books, including A History of the Ozarks, Volume 1; Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South; and Arkansaw: How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol’ Boys Defined a State.

A History of the Ozarks, Volume 2, is currently available for purchase at the Old Independence Regional Museum.

REVIEW: As usual, Blevins’s depth of research shows, and the author’s passion and experience with the subject matter is obvious. Overall, Brooks Blevins, as always, does the Ozarks proud as a representative native, and as one of the region’s current scholars. We are lucky to have both professional historians like him, and also the handful of amateur sleuths out there who have worked hard to preserve, understand, and tell others the real story of the Ozarks, one that exists beyond the hillbilly stereotypes imposed on the region.

Homes selected for 2019 Preservation Awards

Each year the Batesville Preservation Association (BPA) selects a small number of property owners to honor for their part in preserving unique architectural assets in the city.

At a ceremony held at The Royal on Main, a new luxury hotel downtown and the recipient of one if its 2019 preservation awards, the board of the BPA announced the full list of honorees for the year.

They are as follows:

MERIT AWARD

(Recognizing long-term preservation of significant buildings)

Sleep Star Lite Building
147 South Broad Street

Built in 1929

Mission Style, reminiscent of Spanish Colonial buildings in the American southwest, with prominent feature of terra cotta tile

“We took him (the state expert) by and he said ‘that is the ultimate in Mission Style’,” Dr. Terrell Tebbetts said of the award committee’s review of the property. “They have maintained the terra cotta tile at the top, and they still have the paneled wood below the show windows.”

Owner Rodney Hall commented that the building was owned by the notable Hale family prior to his purchase of the property in 1974.


MERIT AWARD

Stanley Wood Chevrolet Dealership Building
290 S. Central Avenue

Built in 1930

Mission style, reminiscent of the Spanish Colonial buildings with brickwork in a basket-weave pattern

“A couple of years ago a church approached us, and they’re using the building now,” owner Scott Wood updated. “They’ve done a lot of work to make the building better than it was and keep it going, and we hope they’re going to be there a long time. It seems to be working well for them, and they enjoy having a location that is downtown.”

“The building has been in the Wood family since 1939, so 80 years,” Myra Wood added.


MERIT AWARD

The Stalker House
1580 E. Main Street

Batesville’s fullest example in Batesville of the Mid-Century International Style

“This one is a house I’d long, long admired… Scott and Stephen Stalker and sister Suzanne Magouyrk all grew up in the house, and Scott and his wife live there today,” Dr. Tebbetts said, adding that the home was a Freeman Mobley house.

“We haven’t done a lot to the outside. We remodeled the inside after we bought it after Dad passed in 2009,” Scott Stalker said, adding that his family plans to complete some exterior upkeep projects in the coming year. “We’re not going to do anything really different, but we’re going to update the paint and roof,” he described, recalling, “Suzanne was 3 and I was 2 when we moved into the house.”


MERIT AWARD

The Musgrave House, owned by Karl and Terry Kemp
733 Vine Street

Ranch Style home with sleek, International style influence

“We were driving around the residential neighborhood when the state expert, Paul, noticed the Musgrave house on Vine Street. The Kemps own that and they had just put a new coat of paint on it,” Dr. Tebbetts said. “He said it’s a ranch style house, but that clean stucco surface makes it a very different type of ranch house than you normally see — more International Style. So it’s a Ranch Style with International influence. The Kemps have it now and they’ve done a wonderful job with it.”

“When we first bought the house and moved in, there was carpet all through it, and of course I knew Terry was just dying to see underneath the carpet,” Dan Kemp said. “We knew there were wood floors, but she really wanted to know what they looked like, so I guess really it was the first day, we pulled every stitch of carpet out of the house. The floors were in great shape…Mrs. Musgrave, we had been told, wanted to be able to take up the carpet if she didn’t like it. So we didn’t even have to re-finish them.”


MERIT AWARD

Lyon College’s Highland House
2030 Bearette (the corner of Gwyn and Bearette)

Remodeled in the Georgian style by the Hathcock family in the 1960s


HONOR AWARD

(Recognizing extensive restoration and renovation of historic buildings)

The Carly Dahl and Dustyn Bork Residence
1141 E. College

An interior renovation of the Craftsman-style McMahan Bungalow. The couple recently rebuilt the kitchen, remodeled and added baths, and installed drywall throughout the house, all while respecting and preserving the original elements of the house.

“This was the MacMahan House, and she moved to be with her daughter, and Carly and Dustyn Bork bought the house,” Dr. Tebbetts said of the recent project. “They have done a paint job on the outside, but what they’ve done on the inside is a total (rehabilitation).”

“We refinished the floors — they were beautiful, hardwood floors — and we updated (the layout) so that it went from a 4-bedroom/1-bath to a 3-bedroom/2.5-bath,” Dustyn Bork described. “We tried to keep as much of that 1921 Bungalow Arts & Crafts style because we’re big fans. There’s a lot of interesting trim, even on the ceiling, so a lot of nice architectural detail that we wanted to bring back to life.”


HONOR AWARD

The Ned Metcalf Residence
679 E. Boswell Street

Remodeled at one point in the past in the Craftsman Style, owner Ned Metcalf recently completed a total restoration of the interior


SPECIAL RECOGNITION

The Royal on Main
187 E. Main Street

A Nineteenth-Century commercial building with a façade remodel in the Midcentury Modern style in the 1950s, the building has housed the Sterling Store and a furniture store in recent years. This year, owners Stan and Shanna Fretwell completed an adaptive reuse remodel for mixed use, with commercial space on the lower floor facing Main and suite rentals at the rear and on the second floor. The building has already received both Merit and Honor awards in the past, but was given the Special Recognition Award in honor of the hotel reuse adaptation.

“The Maxfield Building has already received Honor Award and Merit Award in the past, so we’ve run out of awards to give it!” Dr. Tebbetts explained. “But now, Stan and Shanna have done such an amazing job with this building, so occasionally the Awards Committee will give out a Special Recognition Award and this year voted to give one to the Maxfield Building, now The Royal on Main.”

“We kept everything original that we could, and re-used as much material as could, but also inside of that, we have modern amenities as well,” Stan Fretwell said. “It was a lot of late night working for a year and a half — Danny Dozier and I were working buddies, him working in the park and me working in here and we’d meet out back.”

“And a lot of the rooms are named after people who historically were connected to the building,” Shanna explained.

At Cushman, school = community

CUSHMAN — It’s a cold and drizzly Saturday morning, yet nearly a dozen residents have gathered in the small and cozy library watching Becky Wood bounce around, voice rising and falling, as she animatedly reads a book to the children who have come for storytime.

The library has only been open for a week. It is somewhat of an experiment in a community whose close-knit threads unraveled ten years ago.

“I was librarian here at the school for 35 years,” Wood explains after storytime. “And some of these mommas heard me read when they were kids, and they wanted their kids to hear, too.”

Indeed, there they were, a handful of former Cushman students, now moms, attempting to carry on the traditions of their youth and community with their own kids. But Wood admits that efforts at carrying on community are just that — efforts.

Community doesn’t just happen naturally anymore, since the school was lost to consolidation in 2009.

The mood in the community afterwards: “Depressed,” Wood says.

“You know you go through all those grief emotions — being mad, being disappointed. It was overwhelming… Still. Still it’s hard.”

A 130-YEAR LEGACY LOST

Cushman had its own school since 1880, then first just a one-room log cabin. ​

At that time is was a mining town. One Detroit newspaper described it as “the town that thrives on war” because of its importance in shipping out the materials that fueled the military during WWI and WWII. Originally called Minersville, an explosion that killed a miner set off a chain of events that cause the whole town to shift about a mile south and change its name sometime between 1886 and 1889 to Cushman.

The train was called the Cushman Local; it had a turntable that it stayed on overnight, and went out the next morning, hauling out both materials as well as residents on the passenger car. The town was complete with a depot, hotel, stores, churches, and Odd Fellows Hall, and more. ​

In 1900 an improved schoolhouse was built on “Germany Hill” in town, and was reportedly a nice structure of two stories with a bell tower. Eventually that location gave way to the “Little Red School House” built on the modern campus’s current location. Buildings were added, remodeled, and improved along the way, at least up until the 2000s. ​

ACT 60

In 2004, the Arkansas State Legislature passed Act 60, an aggressive and blanket move to close all schools under 350 enrollees, regardless of student test performance, community engagement, or other wellness metrics.

Around 120 school districts fell victim to the legislation. Cushman was one of them.

“Our campus was in such good shape. Our test scores were excellent. But we were down (that year) about 3 to 4 kids in numbers, so they closed it,” Wood remembers. “It was heartbreaking.”

Students and teachers scattered to Melbourne, Mount Pleasant, Cave City, Batesville, and Southside. Wood recalls few felt at home again after that. And she unfortunately had to go through the process twice: she went on to become the librarian at the Mount Pleasant Elementary School, which was merged into the Melbourne Elementary campus in 2016.

“The feeling of being a family, of being part of something, was not there… It was really really hard on our kids.”

A review of a decade of consolidation conducted by the University of Arkansas revealed that consolidation disproportionately targeted low-income communities, rural communities, and the Northeast Arkansas region as a whole (a total of 71 school closures, more than any other region).

The same review acknowledged the consolidation was guilty of closing some of Arkansas’s highest performing schools (again, often in Northeast Arkansas), noting:

“Five (currently at-risk) districts boasted better proficiency rates in all three subjects of the benchmark. The five districts are Calico Rock, Concord, Norfork, Weiner, and Viola.”

Cushman was a similar story, as was the neighboring Mount Pleasant School District: both high-performing schools, both close-knit central hubs to the rural communities they served.

HOPE RETURNS. SO DO THE SCHOOL GROUNDS.

Last year the Batesville School District, which inherited all of Cushman’s school assets during the consolidation, turned the school grounds back over to the community that built it.

With the return of the school, signs of life are popping up in the community once more. The city itself occupies part of a building as a town hall. Woods’s new little library is situated just down the hall, and so is a food pantry. On the site of the former ballfield is a new fire station under construction.

The local community center hosts Bingo and lunch for seniors on Tuesdays, and the Cushman Heritage Museum holds genealogy records for dozens of families, as well as other records spanning back to the 1800s.

The museum also recently bought back the old bell from the Germany Hill schoolhouse, and has plans to move from its current cramped space to a larger accomodation — within the returned school.

“I have a friend who is also a retired librarian and she’s been helping — she found us a catalog program that we were able to get,” Wood describes excitedly as the morning’s storytime visitors check out their books and catch up with neighbors they haven’t see in years.

“And as soon as the city gets Wi-Fi in this building the catalog will be able to be online,” Wood continues, adding that they’re expecting a donation of 3 computers soon.

“We’ve changed our hours around trying to find the best time. Tuesday we’re open 9 (a.m.) – 3 (p.m.) because that’s the day the food pantry is open, so people come in for that and can come to the library at the same time. And we changed our hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays so kids can come in after school.”

But as the locals visit and gradually disperse, one conversation between neighbors soon turns to how their young family has sold their house and will be moving to Batesville.

After all, it’s closer to the school where their children go.

About The Oddfellow…

The Oddfellow is a mostly a group of displaced recovering journalists hell-bent on forcing our craft even if the world doesn’t much like newspaper types anymore. We’ve got a few columnists, creative writers, and historians hanging around the place too.

We don’t promise it’ll all be good. But it will be local, if nothing else. And hopefully — heaven help us — anything but boring.

About our name

In the early 1800’s, as Batesville was first founded and began to grow, a society called the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was formed to serve the many needs in the community. Over the years the motley group of everyday working folks cared for the community through charitable acts: taking care of the poor, housing widows, and most notably, constructing a beautiful orphanage. The structure sat on the hillside in West Side where an elementary is now located.

While The Oddfellow is not affiliated with the original chapter of the I.O.O.F, the name “oddfellow” was picked as an homage to this group of people who once roamed the dirt streets of Batesville.

Writers and other generally odd people welcome…

If you are a writer (or a photographer, or a videographer, or a podcaster), we’d like to find a spot for you here.

Email OFBatesville@gmail.com to inquire.