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Archive for August, 2014

“When I first went north, I was surprised to learn that there were people in the world who did not know that Arkansas has both a delta and a culture that goes with southern lowlands.”
—Margaret Jones Bolsterli,
a native of Desha County near McGehee,
writing in Born in the Delta

In my last post I noted that I had to “take a sabbatical” from blogging for a while due to my failing health. Therefore, in that final post I presented a list of the 115 posts on my blog since it was launched in May 2011.

Now since I am feeling somewhat better, and since I have been receiving and discovering so much information and so many photos and links about Arkansas Delta plantations, I have decided to try to put it all together into a couple of “post-mortem blog” entries on that subject.

If you have been following my blog in the past, especially on the subject of the Arkansas Delta, you will recognize the opening quotation above from Margaret Jones Bolsterli, author of the book Born in the Delta. (To read my earlier post titled “Born in the Delta,” click here.)

Born in the Delta

Born in the Delta

The prevailing ignorance about the Arkansas Delta that the author speaks about is one reason I began this blog three years ago. Perhaps these new blog posts on Arkansas Delta plantations will help to dispel some of that ignorance on the part of many in other parts of the United States and, sadly, even in other parts of Arkansas.

For example, Merriam-Webster defines a plantation as “a usually large estate in a tropical or subtropical region that is generally cultivated by unskilled or semiskilled labor under central direction.” It then provides an example of this usage of the word “plantation” by citing this quotation from literature: “rich cotton land, cultivated in large plantationsAmerican Guide Series: Arkansas.”

Thus, as notable and reliable a source as the American Guide Series recognizes and cites as a prime example of the term “plantation” a literary reference to Arkansas rather than to any of the other Southern states that usually come to mind when that word is mentioned. That distinctive citation alone should serve to dispel ignorance of the fact “that Arkansas has both a delta and a culture that goes with southern lowlands.”

TV Program on Arkansas Delta Plantation Homes

“You are a real conservator of a special place and time.”
—Paul Talmadge, Southern Baptist educator,
to Jimmy Peacock in email dated May 24, 2013

In one of her writings, another Arkansas Delta author, Alice French, who wrote under the nom de plume of Octave Thanet and who lived on an East Arkansas plantation named Clover Bend, noted that there were hundreds of plantations of various sizes in the Arkansas Delta of her day (1850-1934). (To read an Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture entry about Octave Thanet, click here.)

Alice French, who wrote under the pen name of Octave Thanet

Alice French, who wrote under the pen name of Octave Thanet

Unfortunately, most of those plantations, especially the homes of their owners, have now passed into history. Fortunately, a few of the grander homes have been preserved or restored. On December 13, 2013, three of these magnificent homes were featured prominently on AETN, the Arkansas public television station, in an Exploring Arkansas documentary titled “Plantation Homes of Arkansas.”

The AETN Web site says about this fascinating look into a part of Arkansas history and culture that is now fast fading into the past:

Coming from Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia ‘planters’ began arriving in Arkansas during the early 19th century to grow the king of all crops—cotton. The stately homes these planters built with their unique architectural style, exemplified that plantation era steeped in southern history. Through these plantation homes of Arkansas, visitors can experience the plantation culture which illuminated the rich historical and cultural heritage of the American South—the habits and traditions of its people, along with the triumphs and tragedies of its past—all preserved to come alive for present and future generations.

To access the Exploring Arkansas Web site, click here. To view the “must-see” thirty-minute video of Arkansas Delta plantation homes and the Southern history and cotton culture they represent, click here.

The first of the three antebellum homes featured, with its surrounding cotton fields “white unto harvest,” is Lakeport Plantation, located near the Mississippi River at the foot of the Greenville, Mississippi, bridge, about twenty-five miles south of my hometown of McGehee. Lakeport, now restored to its former glory, offers historical and cultural presentations and events relating to the Arkansas Delta and other subjects of regional interest. (To visit the Lakeport Plantation Web site, click here. To view a timeline of the history of Lakeport, click here.)

Lakeport Plantation and cotton fields

Lakeport Plantation and cotton fields

The second Arkansas plantation home featured in the program is The Elms, located about fifteen miles south of Stuttgart in the Wabbaseka/Altheimer area. With its location in the heart of the famed Mississippi Flyway, The Elms is known as a natural habitat for waterfowl. It also enjoys international fame and worldwide attraction as a hunting and fishing lodge, and for its Old South traditional lodging and fine dining. (To visit The Elms Web site, click here.)

The Elms Plantation

The Elms Plantation

The third and final Arkansas Delta plantation home featured on the outstanding AETN Exploring Arkansas program is Marlsgate Plantation at Scott, Arkansas, fourteen miles southeast of the capital city of Little Rock. With its stately Greek Revival mansion shaded by ancient oaks and a pecan grove overlooking Bearskin Lake, in addition to its historic and cultural preservation of a now largely bygone Delta life, Marlsgate is a popular site for elegant weddings and other fashionable gatherings and photo shoots. (To visit Marlsgate’s Web page, click here.)

Marlsgate Plantation

Marlsgate Plantation

In summary, to view a brief video of historic places in the Arkansas Delta produced by Arkansas State University where I once taught back in the early 1970s, click here.

Other Lesser-Known Arkansas Delta Plantations

“One of the saddest things happening around us now, is that no one knows where anyone else came from, nor where they are going. Thus a total focus on self, and the here and now.”
—Hunter Douglas,
Ouachita Baptist College alumnus,
in personal email to Jimmy Peacock dated 5/2/14

Unfortunately, as wonderful as this documentary on historic and preserved or restored Arkansas Delta plantation homes is, it does not and cannot preserve or restore other lesser-known Arkansas plantation homes, commissaries, slave/sharecropper/tenant farmer houses, and other buildings that were such an integral part of Southern plantation life.

For example, just this summer two of my friends and blog contributors, Pat Scavo and Andy Herren, both shared with me photos of a fire at Pickens Plantation. The plantation, known officially as “R. A. Pickens & Son Company,” is located just south of Dumas, Arkansas, about eighteen miles north of my hometown of McGehee.

Fire at the commissary/cafe of Pickens Plantation

Recent fire at Pickens Plantation

In regard to the fire, Andy Herren wrote in an email, “This is a shock. Big Daddy Borland worked in the front corner office of that building for probably forty years or so.” As Andy later explained, “The fire was in the shop, a large building that is about two or three hundred yards down the railroad tracks (north) of the restaurant.”

Fortunately, like the “big house,” the popular Southern-style restaurant and store Andy refers to above went unscathed by the fire. (To read more about what is called by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism the Pickens Restaurant and Commissary, click here.)

(To view a video shared with me by Andy Herren in which John McCown, another Ouachita Baptist College classmate of mine, relates a four-part history of Pickens Plantation, click here.)

Another example of the burning of an Arkansas Delta plantation home is one titled Palmer’s Folly. It is located near the small cotton town of Holly Grove, where Mari and I started out teaching when we were first married in 1962. Decades after we left Holly Grove, the mansion had been restored to its original elegance and grandeur. But then recently, as so often happens to such isolated, rural relics, it was destroyed by fire, again with no information about any plans to once again restore and preserve it.

Palmer's Folly plantation house as it looked after restoration

Palmer’s Folly plantation house as it looked after restoration

Palmer's Folly in flames

Palmer’s Folly in flames

This discussion of historic Arkansas Delta homes will be continued in my next post which opens with a slightly different perspective on these great homes and the traditional outbuildings that surround them and concludes with some related “post-mortem” blog subjects.

Sources

The photo of the book Born in the Delta was taken from:
https://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/born-in-the-delta-a-review-of-a-book-by-a-delta-author/

The photo of Alice French was taken from the entry on Octave Thanet in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture at:
http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1651

The AETN Exploring Arkansas quotation and photo were taken from:
http://www.aetn.org/programs/exploringarkansas

The AETN Exploring Arkansas video titled “Plantation Homes of Arkansas” was taken from:
http://www.aetn.org/programs/exploringarkansas/december2013

The Lakeport Plantation photo and timeline were taken from:
http://lakeport.astate.edu/
http://lakeport.astate.edu/timeline

The Elms Plantation photo was taken from:
http://elmslodge.com/

The Marlsgate Plantation photo was taken from:
http://www.marlsgate.com/about-marlsgate.html

The video on historic places in the Arkansas Delta was taken from:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjxDCoDdvZ0&feature=youtube_gdata

The photo of the burning of the building at Pickens Plantation was provided by Pat Scavo and Andy Herren.

The video of the four-part history of Pickens Plantation was provided by Andy Herren from:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-plJIR9j7E&feature=share

The photos of Palmer’s Folly plantation house were provided by Pat Scavo.

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