Monday, March 29, 2010

Hello! My Name Is:

A few of the houses in Searcy are important enough to warrant their own name tags. I believe all of them are on the National Register for Historical Places, but these don't represent all of the houses on the Register in Searcy.

Actually, I'm not sure why some of the houses have them and some don't. But I believe this list represents all of the name-plated houses in Searcy. We'll call them the Entitled Seven.

Black House, 1866
Location: East Race, next to Walgreens
Profile: The Black House is Searcy's Art Gallery and one of the oldest homes in town. The last owner of the house before it was turned into a gallery died in the 1980s (at a very old age). Since it's considered one of Searcy's landmarks, the house is kept up very neatly. Unfortunately any environment of historicity around the house has been mostly sapped by development. The ancient and haunted Porter Rodgers house once stood next door, but the family tore it down.

Wilburn House, 1875
Location: E Race, near Midnight Oil
Profile: Most of these houses I don't know anything about except for their names and ages. The Wilburn House is the most forlorn of the Entitled Seven. I have never seen anyone inside or outside. The herringbone brick path fades away before it reaches the sidewalk. A claw of creeper vines choke out the western chimney. But the delicate neoclassical details still stand out under the peeling paint, and the name plate next to the door reminds any curious passerby that the house has relevance to somebody somewhere.

Paschall House, 1877
Location: East Center Street, close to downtown
Profile: This is the stateliest and most austere of the Entitled Seven. When I was shooting this picture, an older black man walked by. "I know that house must have a lot of history," he said. "Look at the five-foot window frames. The old bricks. The stained glass next to the doors." He told me he was from New Orleans and when you live in New Orleans, it doesn't take much to notice if a house has a history. Sadly, neither he nor I knew anything of this house in particular.

Lattimer House, 1895
Location: East Market Avenue, near the Methodist Church
Profile: The rambling Victorian revival style of the Lattimer house makes it the most unusual of our Entitled Seven. The house only looks really good from this angle; the bubbling porches and huge brackets are a little awkward when viewed from other sides. The house is currently home to an abstract company. Fitting considering the nature of the architecture.

Ben Lightle House, 1898
Location: East Market Avenue, across from the Lattimer house.
The Ben Lightle house is one of two of the Entitled Seven associated with the Lightle family, who I believe were influential in Searcy a hundred or so years ago. It's a bizarre house, not quite as odd as the Lattimer house but still gets points for having a second-story door open onto what seems to be a giant telephone booth. My guess is a number of additions have been afforded onto this house since 1898. It must be some sort of guest house or condominium now, since there is a notice on the front door addressed to "All Guest."

Deener House, 1912
Location: East Center Street, near the Paschall house.
Profile: As we ease into the 20th century, we must eventually encounter the Craftsman. I've mentioned this house before, but this picture much better represents it. The Deener house spends most of the year shrouded by the surrounding foliage, but in Spring and Winter, it's one of the largest and most unique bungalows in Searcy.

Lightle House, 1923
Location: East Race Street, across from Sexton.
Profile: The Lightle house, the youngest of the Seven, as a contrast from the Wilburn house (the other of the Seven on Race street) is very well up kept and sits reservedly at the top of an incline. Last I heard, it was home to a Harding professor who has used it as a bed and breakfast. Frankly, I think it as the least remarkable of the Seven. It's very stately but just a little too bland for my tastes.

The main thing I note about the Seven is that they are all within a few blocks of each other: all east of downtown (especially considering there are quite a few old and notable houses west of downtown). But a discussion of the unnamed houses...that's for another time.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Most folks around here know Augusta, Arkansas for one thing and one thing only: liquor. It's the closest town to the west that's not in a dry county, and the county-border liquor store does a lot of business with the residents of White County (including us, I'm afraid).

But a slight detour will lead you off of Highway 64 and into what the signs refer to as a "business district" (this is driving lingo for "downtown," seeing as all of the business in Augusta takes place far from here).

The road to downtown Augusta is watched over by the above courthouse, a very solid-looking building that was built partly out of an extremely old household. Most of Augusta was destroyed during the Civil War, but some of the larger homes were kept standing so the Union officers could have places to stay. I would like to think that the house at the top of the post (next door to the courthouse) was one of these homes.

There are more dogs than people in downtown Augusta. On our entire walking trip around the business district, we saw not a single person outside of a car, and even those were rare. A few people could be seen in their yards several blocks away from Main Street, but other than those souls, mostly we just heard the howling of dogs.

Augusta had its heyday in the age of steam, when most of the commerce going up and down the White River were carried by boat. Augusta foolishly waved on the railroad when they came through, then later built their own line when they realized their town was dying. That desperate attempt petered out by 1958.

In 1930, a bridge was built across the White River that represented the last portion of the river still requir ferries to cross. Later on, we spent $17 million to blow up the historic bridge and replace it with your standard 4-lane highway. I guess I could harp on that for a while, but we've all heard Joni Mitchell sing about it already.

To be honest, Augusta has one of the bleakest town centers of any I've ever visited. Even husks like Kensett and Wynne are more populated than this place. Oh, and it has a moldering old movie theater which I have previously blogged about. These days, besides serving alcohol to naughty Harding students, I suppose Augusta mostly struggles with its 50/50 black/white population.

One little detail that I really enjoyed about Augusta's downtown were these mosaic titles on a few of the buildings:

I know, one of them is actually stained glass. Direct all complaints to my secretary. I especially love the bank tiles that feature a period. As if to say, "THIS IS A BANK. DO NOT ARGUE."

Needless to say, the identities of these buildings as a bank and drug store changed long ago.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's pronounced "CAR-my"

A long drive to a country town is always a good way to experience the way highways used to function: passing right through the proper of a variety of little hamlets. Since I've been to Jenna's hometown of Albion so many times, a few of the preceding villages are like old friends of mine. Some of them, like Grayville, Crossville and Mt. Carmel have been mentioned on here before.

In fact, I've spoken of Carmi before in my last batch of movie theaters . Their Showtime Cinema was a favorite quick-glance-from-the-passenger-side sight. Recently, we finally got a chance to explore the town.

We've seen it all before, of course. Rows of grandfatherly business buildings, some populated, some renovated tastelessly, many vacant. Very few people--although I grant it was a very cold day. This NOT being Arkansas, however, there was a bit more to see than usual, and quite a few extraordinarily beautiful buildings.

The folks of Carmi call this fantastic collage of late 19th century styles "The Castle." Like most beautiful buildings in this country, it faced destruction in the latter half of the 20th century, but a group of historic historians saved it. It faces the courthouse just on the edge of downtown. Take a look at the little winged creatures on the rooftops.

The 1883 courthouse is the seat of Illinois' version of White County. Ours, however, is older (1870s) and commands more of a presence in Searcy's square. Carmi's downtown is more a thoroughfare, however, whereas Searcy's is a square.

Oh! There are some ghost signs.

"TIMES" probably stands for "Carmi Times," whose building is close to the river. Take a look at this picture of their amazing streamline modern sign on their current building (from my old favorite Roadside Architecture; good LORD she's been everywhere).

The entire side of this building was once a sign. "GRADE CHEWING" of course stands for the stuff stuck between Babe Ruth's teeth.

Not really a ghost sign, I know. But it is a beautifully sculpted logo on the side of a (I believe) vacant building that was once a Ford showroom. Wow! Back from the days when car showrooms actually fit INSIDE of our towns. "The Universal Car" is apparently what Henry "in the year of our" Ford dubbed his inventions way back in 1908. This sign may be that old.

Here are some more photos from in and around the business district.

A residence (I believe now used as a funeral home) with some serious Ionic columns. The fountain out front tends to freeze in a picturesque fashion in the colder months. Here is a fantastic picture of the latter.

A very 1960s exterior job on one of the downtown buildings. This business no longer exists but the neon work has been preserved.

A radio station now lives in what once was a neoclassical bank.

This is a very old-looking and well-kept house a few streets over from Main. The steel roof is unfortunate, but at least is colored tastefully. I wouldn't be surprised if this were one of the older buildings in town.

Evidence of train industry is still moldering a few blocks away from Main. There are a few abandoned factories and warehouses, including some old ghosts like this one. I couldn't find a depot at all; it may be lurking somewhere back there, but wind burn precluded a more thorough search.

On the way back to Albion, we stopped in a mucky drive to take this final picture:

These are the bones of a drive-in theater screen. The grounds nearby are mostly home now to a selection of rusting vehicles and other trash. I wanted to go farther back and see if any more of the theater remained standing, but there was the aforementioned wind burn and muck, so we retreated.

Until our paths cross again,

Monday, March 8, 2010

A year of fishing, and what have I caught?

February slipped by like a whisper, and suddenly I realized my blog just turned one. I've been at this a year, and where am I? What do I have to show for it?

This is the Smyrna Church.

For a few months during my first year at Harding, some friends of mine and I attended a Bible study in the home of now-former-county-judge Mike Lincoln. Lincoln lived outside of the bounds of Searcy in a little farmhouse off of Highway 36. The winding Wednesday-night drive always took us past this tiny church building that loomed whitely out of the woods like a specter. I always looked for it out of the corner of my eye. That building haunted me, but I didn't know why.

Many years later I came to find out that the Smyrna Church (as it's called) is the oldest building in White County, clocking in at around 153 years. The abandoned sanctuary had been moldering on the side of Highway 36 for Lord only knows how long. Fortunately, the White County Historical Society weren't about to let it disappear forever.

By 2007 the structure of the church and my interests in bygone downtowns had only started to poke their heads through the layers of blue tarp and fluttering plastic sheets. In the beginning of the next year I made some of my first forays into what remains of downtown Judsonia, the place where the real seeds of time fishing were planted.

In 2009 the plastic was peeled away to reveal the chipped and flaking paint of yesteryear, akin to the decay of the Craftsman and Victorian homes that cluster near the heart of our cities, the old suburbs, the good suburbs. Who attended the Smyrna Church on the edge of civilization? Who awoke to the bell tolling from afar? Who alive can remember fanning the summer fumes away from their stiff-collared shirts?

It's all romantic. I admit it. The lure of the steam locomotive, the chinking of the streetcars, the wailing calliope, the flashing neon movie palaces, the corner stores, the record shops, the Italianate depots, the gingerbread Gothic homes, the soda jerks, the pressed tin ceilings, the living ghost signs. They're all old friends that live together in a heaven of my own invention.

In 2010, the Smyrna Church stands reinvented. It has emerged from its cocoon, existing no longer as a shadow of its former self but as a celebration of a historic past in an enlightened present. But now I'm starting to sound too much like an ad for a college town. Work on the church and the fishing for time continue onwards. Ever onwards.