Fan's garage walls helping to keep alive Arkansas town's crossbow past

Jason Yates, the owner of Sparky’s Garage, describes Wednesday one of the Huntsville-made crossbows that’s on display in the garage’s waiting room.
Jason Yates, the owner of Sparky’s Garage, describes Wednesday one of the Huntsville-made crossbows that’s on display in the garage’s waiting room.

HUNTSVILLE -- Antique crossbows line the walls in the waiting room at Sparky's Garage.

It's the closest thing Huntsville has to a town museum, said Mayor Darrell Trahan.

The 18 crossbows were made in Huntsville at a time when the Madison County seat was known as the "Land of the Cross Bow." The slogan is on a vintage Huntsville license plate hanging on the wall among the crossbows.

Sixty years ago, Huntsville was a hotbed of crossbow activity. The National Crossbow Tournament was held there, and the Crossbowettes were Huntsville royalty. That was the name of the Huntsville High School girls crossbow team.

There's still a Crossbow Road and Crossbow Restaurant in Huntsville.

Jason Yates, the owner of Sparky's, has been collecting Huntsville-made crossbows for the past four years.

Yates said he has 15 Huntsville crossbows that were made by George M. Stevens and another three made by Thad Martin.

"He has the biggest collection probably in the United States of Huntsville memorabilia and Madison County memorabilia and the largest collection of Huntsville crossbows hanging up in his waiting room," said Trahan.

While Sparky's waiting room is crossbow-centric, it does contain memorabilia from other things that Huntsville was known for, including former Gov. Orval Faubus, who lived there. There are signs, license plates, bumper stickers, matchbooks and various other Faubus items in the waiting room.

"I have some people who don't even need their car worked on come by just to look," Yates said of his mini museum.

There's no admission charge, he said.

Huntsville's obsession with crossbows dates back to 1958, when pharmacist and crossbow enthusiast Arlis Coger and other civic leaders lured the National Crossbow Tournament to Huntsville, according to Marie Demeroukas, a photo archivist and research librarian at Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale.

For the previous four years, the medieval-themed tournament was held in Blanchard Springs, Demeroukas wrote in the museum's newsletter, Shiloh Scrapbook.

Stevens started the tournament in Blanchard Springs in 1954, said Demeroukas. He moved to Huntsville along with the tournament.

The Crossbowettes would perform a variety of trick shots, according to Shiloh Scrapbook. On Sunday afternoons, they would perform for patrons of the Crossbow Restaurant, on the north side of the building.

Pat Woollen of Huntsville, a former Crossbowette, said she would shoot targets over her shoulder using a mirror smaller than a postage stamp that Stevens had attached to her crossbow.

"I am the only one who shot backwards," said Woollen.

She still has the crossbow that Stevens made for her.

Woollen said the Crossbowettes performed in other towns and regularly at the State Fair in Little Rock. As part of the entertainment, Woollen said she would ride a horse and lance wooden rings hanging from a swinging pole.

"You almost needed to be a tomboy because you had to like to ride horses and you had to know a little about mechanics," said Woollen. "Our side sheath held a screwdriver. The sights on a crossbow, they'd get bumped and turn a little bit, and we'd have to adjust the sights for 25 yards or 50 yards."

Yates said Stevens initially made crossbows solely by hand but later established a small assembly line at his Stevens Crossbow Corp. in Huntsville.

In an Oct. 26, 1958, column for the Arkansas Gazette, Ernie Deane wrote that Stevens believed "an Arkansas community can become the nation's crossbow capital, a center for its manufacture and of competition in its use. Huntsville, the seat of mountainous Madison County, is the place where he is now making his effort."

Deane, along with hundreds of other people, attended the National Crossbow Tournament that month on Governors Hill, overlooking Huntsville.

He described it as colorful, with the Crossbowettes performing and a squad of Marines from state recruiting headquarters in Little Rock serving as judges of the tournament.

But the crossbow enthusiasm tapered off during the turbulent '60s.

The last Crossbowette performance was in 1967, and the last crossbow tournament in Huntsville was in 2003, wrote Demeroukas.

Yates said he spent from $200 to $500 for each crossbow in his waiting room. He keeps an alert on eBay, so he's notified when certain crossbows are posted for sale.

He's seen Stevens crossbows for sale as far away as Europe.

Shiloh Museum held a reunion of former Huntsville Crossbowettes on Friday. An exhibit at the museum called "Scenes of Madison County" contains some Crossbowette memorabilia. It will be on display through Dec. 14.


NWA Democrat-Gazette

Jason Yates, owner of Sparky's Garage, describes Wednesday one of the crossbows by Stevens Crossbow Corp. on display in the waiting room of the garage in Huntsville. Yates collects an assortment of Huntsville memorabilia, including the 18 crossbows in his collection.

Metro on 11/17/2019

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