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OPINION | James Hales: Now gone, Monte Ne tower was part of Coin Harvey’s vision

by JAMES HALES Remembering Rogers | March 2, 2023 at 1:00 a.m.
The historic tower viewed from the lake in 2012. It was demolished earlier this month. (Courtesy Photo/James Hales)

The historic Oklahoma Row Hotel gone, demolished by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for safety reasons. So I thought it would be appropriate to remember the story of the amazing hotel built 114 years ago in 1909. I have written about this fascinating structure several times in the past, but many may not know the whole story.

The story began when an eccentric millionaire named William H. "Coin" Harvey came to Rogers and in 1900 purchased 320 acres of lush valley just outside of Rogers at Silver Springs. He developed an exotic resort and named it Monte Ne.

Harvey dammed the creek produced by Big Spring and numerous other springs flowing through the valley and created a lagoon or small lake that extended through the resort and eventually flowed into the White River. By 1902, the first large hotel was completed, the Hotel Monte Ne.

In April 1904, Harvey organized the Monte Ne Hotel and Cottage Co., whose purpose was to build five large hotels along the lagoon. He hired a noted architect from St. Louis, A.O. Clarke, to design and supervise the construction of the hotels along with a large bank and other structures. Missouri Row was completed in 1905. It was a log and concrete structure 305 feet long, using 8,000 hand-hewn logs and 14,000 cubic yards of concrete.

In August 1909, Harvey, with the financial help of 300 stockholders, opened his third and last luxury hotel at Monte Ne. It was also designed by A.O. Clarke and was the largest log hotel in the world, longer than a football field. It was constructed with 6,000 logs, 40,000 cubic feet of concrete, and a red clay tile roof. Oklahoma Row had 600 linear feet of porches and was distinguished by a three-story concrete tower on the south end overlooking the lake -- the tower and foundation of which still existed at the time of this writing. The hotel had 40 bedrooms, each with a fireplace, and 11 of these were luxury rooms with an indoor bathroom and running water. The concrete floors were built off of the ground with ventilation underneath to insure absolute dryness. The kitchen was on the north end of the building, and beneath were underground rooms.

The original plan by A.O. Clarke had identical towers at each end, but the tower on the north end was never built, due to financial problems. The hotel was prosperous for a while, catering mostly to rich oil businessmen and their families from Oklahoma.

In 1910, from his office in the Oklahoma Row, Harvey conceived the idea of building, mapping and marking a vast network of roads across the United States. This was just two years after Arkansas had issued its first auto license plate. At the time, there were no good roads in the country from town to town, or from state to state, and no maps or road signs to direct travelers. Some merchants in the various towns actually wanted roads between towns to be impassable so their customers would not go elsewhere to shop.

Harvey was a visionary and could see that the future of travel was the newly popular automobile, and that meant better roads. He formed the Ozark Trails Association (OTA), whose purpose was to promote the routing and construction of a system of roads all across the country. A convention was held at the Oklahoma Row Hotel in 1913. It was said to be the largest gathering of automobiles ever seen in Northwest Arkansas. The movement became very popular in Arkansas and the surrounding states even as far away as New Mexico. The association under the leadership of Harvey laid out and mapped a unified road system with clearly marked roads throughout the country. The association published a map showing roads, towns, and distances. It was said to be the first road map ever published -- the forerunner of the vast network of highways shown on maps today -- and it originated at the Oklahoma Row Hotel in Monte Ne.

The start of the federal highway system was probably the most significant lasting contribution made by Coin Harvey, even though he created it for the sole purpose of bringing travelers to his resort. He wrote of this project: "My personal interest in the Ozark Trails is that they all lead to Monte Ne."

In the 1920s, Oklahoma Row became known as the Club House Hotel and was managed by Joe Main Graham and his wife, Susie Hummel Graham, with their daughter, Minnie Wayne, and her husband Earl Wayne.

By the late 1920s, the resort and hotels were in financial trouble. Coin Harvey was in the midst of building his amphitheater and planning his pyramid. In 1927, he sold the Missouri Row and Oklahoma Row to Dan Evans, who used the hotels for his Ozark Industrial College and School of Theology. The larger rooms of Oklahoma Row were used for classrooms, the south end was used as the girls' dormitory, and the tower was the home of the president. The year 1929 brought the Great Depression, and the school fell into financial trouble and closed in 1932.

In the 1920s, Iris Armstrong had a private dramatic academy in Little Rock. She wanted to establish a summer camp for girls and young women where they could be given instruction in drama and the arts, and at the same time provide wholesome outdoor experiences in sports such as riding, swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, tennis and others. She sought the advice of Coin Harvey, and of course he suggested the perfect location of 100 acres adjoining his resort at Monte Ne. Joyzelle was an exceptionally fine camp for mostly affluent girls and operated from 1923 until it was acquired by the Corps of Engineers for Beaver Lake in 1962. In 1945, Iris Armstrong acquired the Oklahoma and Missouri Row Hotels and kept them open for several years so parents and visitors could stay nearby while visiting their children and friends at Joyzelle.

By 1955, Oklahoma Row had been vacant for several years and was badly deteriorated. A Springdale antique dealer, Dallas Barrack, bought the hotel for $15,000 on Oct. 21, 1955, and renovated it to its former splendor for his Palace Art Gallery. After the rooms were redecorated and filled with antiques, it was said that the hotel surpassed its original beauty when it was built in 1909. The three story tower was remodeled into living quarters consisting of five bedrooms and three baths for the managers, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Buhrkuhl, and their five children. (Mrs. Robert Buhrkuhl, Benton County Pioneer, January 1957.) Barrack spent a considerable amount of money restoring the hotel, but it was condemned for the creation of Beaver Lake in the early 1960s. Barrack complained that he lost $40,000 in the acquisition.

When Beaver Lake was created in the 1960s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had the tremendous task of removing or leveling all structures that would be underwater or near the water. One of the contractors tasked with this job was J.G. Gladden, who owned heavy equipment suitable for the job. No one wanted to move the old hotel, so he asked the COE if he could have it. They told him to submit a bid, so he put in a very low bid and was awarded the hotel -- but he had to move it. Gladden dismantled it and moved the log and roof sections up the hill on Arkansas 94 just west of the Monte Ne Inn restaurant, where it still stands today. He reassembled the structure minus the concrete sections and tower, but developed health problems and was never able to finish the project. It has sat vacant in the same location since 1962.

At the time of this writing, the three-story tower, foundation, and underground rooms still exist on the bank of Beaver Lake. Looking at the historic tower brings back visions of all of the people who vacationed there and looked out over the lake at the gondola as it floated by with happy passengers, while the gondolier sang romantic songs. From the rooms in the tower you could gaze across the lake to the Monte Ne Railroad, as it chugged into the station with a load of eager visitors from all over the country. The tower on the bank of the lake and the remains of the hotel up the hill on Arkansas 94 were all that was left of one of the oldest and most historic structures in the county.

  photo  One of the mysterious underground rooms beneath the hotel was living quarters, probably for servants, while the others were likely used for storage. The far left room had an opening to the kitchen above. (Courtesy Photo/James Hales)

Print Headline: Monte Ne tower was reminder of Coin Harvey’s vacation dreamland


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