A few weeks ago I wrote about some of the unusual and interesting items I had collected through the years and put into a cardboard box for later filing. Filing loose notes, newspaper clippings, and other papers is not a favorite task of mine, so that cardboard box sat in a closet for several years until I used some of my covid-19 isolation time to sift through the yellowing materials.
While I should have been able to go through the box and file everything in a couple of hours, I soon found myself reading every item in detail.
Lying atop the disheveled papers was a clipping from the Arkansas Gazette of Oct. 1, 1882, in which two Little Rock merchants advertised the availability of oysters. Restaurateur Fred Reasner announced that he had just completed a renovation of his "model confectionery and restaurant."
Noting that his restaurant will "give special attention to [the] oyster department," Reasner explained that he will offer oysters "during the fall and winter." In a neighboring column, Louis Ginocchio advertised his "confectionery near the corner of Main and Fifth" as having just added "an oyster department."
You might share my amazement that such a perishable product could be marketed in pre-electricity Little Rock. I suspect offering oysters was possible because a commercial ice company opened in Little Rock in 1879. In the August heat of that year, the company advertised that ice was not only available locally, but could be easily shipped via railroad to Fort Smith. To recruit customers, the company offered to send a free sample of its ice ("four feet long, three feet wide, and 12 inches thick") to any Fort Smith resident "who will pay the freight."
I have always been fascinated by the steamboat era of Arkansas history, which has resulted in my ongoing search for information on these vessels. The first steamboat in the state was probably the Comet, which docked at Arkansas Post about 10 p.m. March 31, 1820. This was only 13 years after Robert Fulton's Clermont launched the commercial steamboat era in 1807.
Newspapers of the time devoted much space to steamboat happenings. Among my clippings was a Gazette article from March 1878 telling of the arrival in Little Rock of the steamer Maumelle, which had "performed wonders" by making a round trip from Little Rock to Fort Smith in fewer than five days. This included stopping at various points to pick up cargo and passengers.
The Maumelle carried "106 cabin and 22 deck passengers," most of whom disembarked in Little Rock "in time to enjoy Mardi Gras day." The cargo was large enough that the Gazette included a summary: "196 bales of cotton, 1,219 sacks of cotton seed, 50 sacks of corn in the ear, 35 tons of sundries, 25 head of cattle and two horses."
A copy of an 1884 article from the Southern Standard in Arkadelphia told of a "big fire" in the nearby city of Malvern in Hot Spring County. I made a copy of the article from microfilm, intending to include the story in a planned column on the history of urban fires in Arkansas.
While the article tells a story of loss, the editor injected a bit of humor when he wrote that the Rev. H.D. McKennon, "presiding elder of this district, hearing a call for assistance, rushed into the Blighted Hope saloon, of all other places, and helped the proprietors save a billiard table from the fire."
Having a little fun, the editor continued: "It is said that he carried alone one end of the table while four or five men were at the other. That was all the work he did during the fire. After coming to consciousness he was afraid to trust himself again."
I was puzzled by one clipping, a Gazette story from June 1881 reporting that thieves had stolen plants growing in Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock. Maybe it was the indignation expressed by the unnamed reporter which caused me to spend a dime to make a photocopy. "A despicable series of robberies has been taking place at Mount Holly cemetery recently," read the first line.
By the second paragraph, the appalled writer was blaming the thefts on "miscreants whose thieving fingers were not withheld by emotions in the remotest degree related to honor." The reporter also noted that "the rascals who have perpetrated these thefts were artistic in their tastes, strange as it may seem, for they dug up many rare plants and bulbs, took them up roots and all."
My box of neglect contained numerous articles clipped from my copies of Field Notes, the newsletter of the Arkansas Archeological Society. One very interesting article by Kathleen H. Cande told of excavations conducted at Old Davidsonville State Park in Randolph County in 2004-05. Platted in 1815 on the Black River in what was then Lawrence County, Davidsonville was the site of the first post office in Arkansas.
The archaeologists and volunteers were seeking to document the courthouse site and the postmaster's home, which would have served as the post office. Kathleen Cande wrote that the effort was successful in locating both structures and collecting "many artifacts, particularly domestic objects from the postmaster's residence."
Among the most exciting finds was the remnant of a leather pouch containing seven coins, a copper button, a copper thimble, and a brass pin. The coins were of Spanish and U.S. origin. As Cande explained, "Davidsonville existed during a period when paper money did not exist in the United States. Spanish coins continued to be circulated [into] the 1850s in the U.S. because they were known to be pure silver, and they retained their value."
Furthermore, some of the coins had been cut into pieces, which Cande explained was typically done in order to make change. These pieces were referred to as "bits." One of the Spanish coins, a Charles IV one-bit piece, bore the mark of the mint in Mexico City.
I am happy to report that all the contents of my box of neglect have been filed by subject. But almost every day I find something to clip, or print out, so it won't be long before I'm once again battling my "historical hoarding" tendencies.
Tom Dillard is the founder of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock. He lives in retirement in rural Hot Spring County. Email him at [email protected]