I’m old enough to remember some things about Eureka Springs that have changed over the years. I remember ice cream from Dairy Queen and hamburgers from Tastee Freeze. I remember Eurekans driving to Fayetteville or Rogers just for the novelty of eating at a McDonald’s.
I’m old enough to remember when the Eureka Springs schools weren’t air conditioned and the frustration of trying to keep my school papers from being ruined by the sweat running off my arm and dripping from my face. I can remember turning in papers that were soggy and limp and barely legible from the sweat and the running blue ink.
I’m old enough to remember high-powered deer rifles hanging in the back glass of pickup trucks in the Eureka Springs High School parking lot. I’m not old enough to remember this: a Eureka Springs student was going hunting after school with a friend, so he carried his rifle on the school bus in the morning. The gun was put in the home room teacher’s closet for safe keeping during class. After school, the boy picked up his rifle and rode the bus home with his friend. That sequence of events would certainly not be allowed today.
I lived on Spring Street from birth until the age of six months before moving to California, so I missed out on some Eureka Springs childhood rituals of the time. My wife Diane remembers that bill paying day each month as a special occasion. She’d ride with her mother downtown to pay the utility bills. They’d always walk across Spring Street to Eureka Drug where Diane’s grandmother Norma O’Connor worked. Norma would give Diane a chocolate mint and a monkey made out of a brown pipe cleaner. Sometimes Diane was allowed a treat from the Bingaman bakery. Other times, they’d browse at the Hallmark Shop.
I’m old enough to remember from the early 1980s when there were four country music shows in town, each operating out of their own giant building. Of course, that doesn’t sound too impressive when my grandfather McKinley Weems can recall being at the dedication of the auditorium in 1929.
Jack McCall was born in 1911 in his grandfather’s house east of Eureka Springs. His grandfather was George McCall, a widower and Justice of the Peace for the Kings River Township.
Justices of the Peace in those days had expanded powers. For instance, Jack remembered his grandfather holding court in the parlor. Two fellows might be brought in for fighting and disturbing the peace, and George McCall would ascertain the facts of the altercation and levy a fine as he deemed necessary.
The historic house has been gone for several years now, but what brought it to mind was a book I happened across at the Eureka Springs Carnegie Library titled Ozark Vernacular Houses: A Study of Rural Homeplaces in the Arkansas Ozarks 1830-1930 by Jean Sizemore. It turns out that the McCall house was a particular type of Ozark house called a “Central Hall Cottage.”
I know very little about architecture, but I fell in love with the McCall house at a young age. It’s interesting how some houses have character and personality, while others do not make an impression. The front of the white frame house had a portico in the center with square wooden columns. The screen door behind lead into the Central Hall or “breezeway.” The front was in perfect balance, each side a mirror of the other. Equal distance from the portico, on either side, were tall narrow windows, and equal distance from the windows were handsome limestone chimneys.
I’m told that the house began as a one room cabin when the family returned to Arkansas following the Civil War and then evolved as the size of the family fluctuated from generation to generation. At one time, the kitchen was outside in a separate building, so that the cooking could be done away from the house, especially in the oppressive heat of summer. I remember the antique window panes were thick and flawed and that the scent of nearly a dozen decades of wood fires greeted visitors. Though the house is gone forever it does continue to live in a small way as the home of Max McCaver in my novel Murder in the Ozarks.
My wife’s grandfather, Bill Groblebe, worked for the electric company in the early days of electricity in Eureka Springs. In those days, a power outage meant Grandpa Bill would set out on foot carrying all the tools, equipment and wire that he might need to look for the problem. He would follow the power line from Eureka Springs toward Rogers checking it out. At the same time, a lineman from Rogers would start out walking toward Eureka with the same goal. Whoever reached the outage first spliced the line and climbed the pole to put everything right. Grandpa Bill spent cold winter nights in the woods miles from town with a lantern looking for the cause of outages and restoring power.
Recently, late one night, I heard the muffled crash of a large tree falling followed by the lights blinking out. I pulled on my boots and tromped around outside in the rain with a flashlight. I found the power line resting on top of our old concrete spring house instead of being pulled taut between two electric poles. Dripping water, I returned to the house and called Carroll Electric. While I was outside, my wife had lit candles and oil lanterns. Since I didn’t expect to hear back from Carroll Electric until morning, I headed for bed.
Half an hour later, a utility truck came crawling down our little road. I jumped out of bed, pulled my boots back on and stumbled out the door. A Carroll Electric man was using a spotlight to look for downed power lines. I told the fellow the little I knew about the situation and we set out on foot. I hovered nearby at first, but then backtracked, knowing that standing ankle deep in spring water wasn’t the safest situation. The man returned to say that a sizeable white oak had brought the lines down and that he’d call his crew. The electricity was restored at approximately three in the morning. Lots of things have changed in the electric utility business over the years, but linemen are still out in the middle of the night turning on the lights.