See Rock City

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Harrison, AR

File:Harrison AR downtown.jpg Historic downtown Harrison

City of Harrison, Arkansas

Harrison is located in the heart of the Ozark Mountains

City Square

Harrison is the County Seat of Boone County, Arkansas, with a population of approximately 13,000 residents within the city limits and approximately 40,000 in the county. It is nationally recognized as one of the "Best Small Towns in America" with a downtown lake and a beautifully renovated town square complete with hanging flower baskets.

The climate is moderate with four distinct seasons. The average winter temperature is 45 degrees and the average summer temperature is about 92 degrees. Precipitation is usually well distributed throughout the year. One or more snowfalls occur each winter but the snow cover usually only remains for a few days.

Downtown Harrison (Boone County), looking north from Highway 62 West; 2008.
Photo by Mike Keckhaver

Harrison is a city in Boone County, Arkansas, United States. According to 2005 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city was 12,764. Boone County was organized in 1869, during reconstruction after the civil war. Harrison was platted and made the county seat. It is named after L. LaRue Harrison, a Union officer who surveyed and platted the town. Boone County Regional Airport serves the city.

Federal Courthouse in Harrison (Boone County).
Photo by John Gill, courtesy of the photographer

Harrison is the principal city of the Harrison Micropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Boone and Newton counties.

West side of Harrison (Boone County) town square; circa 1905.
Courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System


Harrison is nationally recognized as one of the "Best Small Towns in America."

Government building in Harrison (Boone County); circa early 1900s.
Courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System

Harrison is home to Cavender's Greek Seasoning, the general office of FedEx Freight, the second Wal-Mart store ever opened, and more. The courthouse, opened in 1909, serves as the heart of the downtown district and is still in operation today.

Hotel Seville in Harrison (Boone County); 1929.
Courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System

Harrison serves as the National Park Service's Buffalo National River headquarters. The park was established in the 1970's, and was the nation’s first National River. The river flows for 135 miles, and offers opportunities for fishing, canoeing, hiking and swimming. There are over 60 different species of fish in the Buffalo National River.

Railroad officials and the city band celebrate the arrival of the first passenger train in Harrison (Boone County); April 15, 1901.
Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

Crooked Creek, a nationally recognized “Blue Ribbon” smallmouth bass fishery flows through Harrison.

Harrison was one of the first few towns in Arkansas to have a library. The library opened in 1903 with 600 donated books.

Boone County Courthouse in Harrison.
Photo by John Gill

Hemmed-in-Hollow, the tallest waterfall between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians is near Harrison and stands at 209 feet tall. Just around the corner, on the same bluff line is Diamond Falls. At 148 feet, it is the second tallest in the state.

The historic Lyric Theater is now used for plays, community events, old movies and other gatherings. It was originally opened as a movie theater in 1929.

Harrison host the annual Arkansas Hot Air Balloon races each September, Crawdad Day's Music Festival each May, a Harvest Homecoming festival each October, and Christmas celebration in December.

The North Arkansas Regional Medical Center is located in Harrison, and has been recently renovated to better serve the community.

Harrison is just 35 miles south of the live music capital, Branson, MO.

In 1901 and 1905, white mobs drove the entire black population from Harrison. These events were the subject of an Independent Lens program entitled "Banished" on PBS in 2008.

The Harrison Police Department has had two officers killed in the line of duty, both by gunfire and both within a year of one another. The first was officer Ed Williams, killed on a disturbance call on May 25, 1934. The second was Chief of Police Burr Robertson, killed while arresting a murder suspect at the railroad station on March 27, 1935.

Gracie Pfost, first woman elected to Congress from Idaho, was born in Harrison.

Gracie Bowers Pfost (born March 12, 1906 in Harrison, Arkansas – died August 11, 1965in Baltimore, Maryland) was the first woman to represent Idaho in the United States Congress, serving five terms as a Democrat in the House of Representatives. Pfost represented the state's First Congressional District.


Pfost moved with her parents to a farm near Boise, Idaho, in 1911. She graduated from Link's Business University in Boise in 1929.

After graduation, Pfost took up work as a chemist for a milk company. She entered politics in Canyon County and held several positions in county government between 1929 and 1951, including deputy county clerk, auditor, recorder of deeds and county treasurer. She also served as an Idaho delegate to all Democratic National Conventions between 1944 and 1960.

In 1950, Pfost ran for Congress, but lost to Republican John Travers Wood. In 1952, she ran again, defeating former Congressman Compton I. White, Sr. in the Democratic primary and Wood in the general election. Pfost was reelected in 1954, 1956, 1958 and 1960.

In 1962, Pfost was the Democratic nominee in a special Senate election to replace the late Henry Dworshak, but was narrowly defeated by the appointed Republican incumbent, former Governor Len Jordan 51%-49%.

After leaving the House in 1963, Pfost worked in the Federal Housing Administration as a special assistant on housing for the elderly, until her death at Johns Hopkins Hospital two years later the age of 59.

Pfost is buried in Meridian Idaho.

South campus of North Arkansas College (Northark) in Harrison (Boone County); 2008.
Photo by Mike Keckhaver

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has recognized the Harrison Courthouse Square Historic District. It contains a large number of the city's original commercial and governmental structures, including the still-used courthouse in the center of the square, the recently refurbished Lyric theater, and the beautiful 1929 Hotel Seville, which underwent a complete restoration in 2008.

The Harrison Courthouse Square Historic District is an area of Harrison, Arkansas. It is known by residents simply as "the Square". The Harrison Courthouse Square Historic District includes the 1911 Boone County Courthouse, two pharmacies, several clothing stores and restaurants, and a Marine Corps museum. The District also has a bank and the Lyric Theater. The District is the site of several annual festivals, including Crawdad Days and the Fall Festival. Several war memorials stand on the Courthouse lawn. The Square is known as the site of the shooting of famous outlaw Henry Starr.

The Lyric Theatre

The Lyric Theatre

Restoring the Lyric Theater

The original Lyric Theater was located on the west side of the Harrison Square. It was purchased in 1919 by D.E. and Lulu Garvin Fitton, who operated it as a theater for silent movies. As talking movies became more prevalent, Fitton realized the Lyric could not accommodate this new invention.

J.W. Bass, a builder from Detroit, built the Lyric Theater that is standing today and created a state-of-the-art theater for “talkies”, which he leased to the Fittons. Broadway by Universal Pictures, the first talking picture shown in Harrison, opened on November 7, 1929.

The building continued to operate as a theater until 1977, when it was closed to make way for a new theater in the Ozark Mall. After sitting empty for over ten years, the building was put up for sale in 1988. At one point, the Harrison Daily Times considered purchasing the Lyric and razing it to create more parking. When she found out, Glenna Ragan, owner of the Holt Funeral Home, purchased the theater to save it from the wrecking ball, and used it occasionally to host events.

The Lyric Theater in Harrison (Boone County); 2008. Built in 1929, it is being restored by the Ozark Arts Council.
Photo by Mike Keckhaver

In 1996, Ozark Arts Council president Jim Gresham began exploring ways that the Lyric could be used for the performing arts, and on April 9, 1999, after an extensive fundraising effort, the OAC was able to purchase the Lyric Theater for $150,000.

At the time of purchase, the roof leaked, there was no air conditioning, the heat was from a 1929 steam boiler, holes dotted the walls, the wiring was insufficient, and the stage was too small for performances.

The first performance, by Albert & Gage from Austin, Texas, took place on April 24, 1999, on an inadequate stage with temporary lighting and a sound system borrowed from Gus Smith of Guitar Smith’s music store. The first play, The Foreigner, was held May 21-23, 1999 and the actors had no dressing rooms, no bathrooms and no wing space. Costume changes were made in corners or stairwells, and the actors took bathroom breaks by running out the back door, across the alley and into a bathroom at the Harrison Daily Times building. A makeshift curtain was made from a camouflage parachute from a surplus store.

A number of local businesses and individuals donated money, time and materials toward the restoration, which included installing four ten-ton heating/cooling units on the roof; building a new stage, dressing rooms, bathrooms, and a sound and light booth; rewiring the entire theater; installing a new ceiling in the lobby; renovating the balcony, which had been condemned; building light towers and grids; installing a new sound system; and dimantling the old boiler, which required the removal of 16 tons of metal. The murals on the walls were water streaked and full of holes as well as badly faded, so local artists patched the holes and restored the murals to their original glory.

In 2000, Ken Bailey, former Executive Director, and Jim Gresham, the original OAC President of the Board, were awarded the Governor’s Award for Arts Community Development for their work on the Ozark Arts Council and the Lyric. In 2001, the Ozark Arts Council was awarded both the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Main Street Harrison awards for Community Commitment. In 2002, the Lyric Theater won the state wide Main Street Arkansas award as the Best Building Rehabilitation Over $500,000.

In late January 2006, an addition was built on the back of the theater, which includes space for building sets; storage for sets, props, costumes and tools; as well as a mezzanine space for meetings.

In December 2007, the stage was expanded, a new sound system installed, and a new sound booth built.

Hotel Seville

Mexican Heritage

History of the 1929 Hotel Seville in Harrison, ArkansasThe 1929 Hotel Seville has a unique and lengthy history. Originally opening for business in 1929, the historic Seville served as a both a hub of business and social activity for many years.

The Hotel was built by J. Wyman Hogg, John McNeil and Ralph Mack of the Continental Hotel Co. of Springfield, Missouri. The finishing cost of the hotel reached up toward the $150,000 mark with furniture alone over $20,000 - a tremendous amount in 1929.


According to an article dated September 24, 1929, and published in the 1986 Sesquicentennial edition of the Harrison Daily Times, "On the first floor is a spacious lobby, it's ceiling reaching in the center to the third floor, circled on the second floor with the balconies of the mezzanine lounge. Here are found the wonderful arches and pillars so characteristic of the architecture of Old Spain, with decorations of parallel lines of opposing colors, of the interweaving of Arabic inscriptions, on wall decorations in gold and rich tints."

The Old Bar

Now in 2008 the Principles of PFI Hospitality are honored to join the preservationists and industry captains of Harrison, Arkansas while we embark to reclaim the Proud history of the 1929 Hotel Seville and begin a new era of unprecedented celebrations, service to the business traveler and create a neighborhood gathering place whereas we can all be proud.

Located in the Ozark Mountains of north Arkansas, Harrison is a hub of regional tourism and industry. The town struggles, however, to overcome the national attention focused on it due to racial conflicts in the early 1900s and the reappearance of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1990s.

Marcus LaRue Harrison, who organized the First Arkansas Cavalry Regiment (Union) and served as its colonel during the Civil War; circa 1863.
Courtesy of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History/Washington County Historical Society (P-1682)

Louisiana Purchase through Early Statehood

Before white settlers arrived to settle the area that would become Harrison, the Osage called the area home. The Cherokee arrived during the Trail of Tears. The Benge Route was north of the present city of Harrison. With the arrival of white settlers by the 1830s, the Osage and Cherokee were forced out of the area.

Named after the creek that continues to run through the county, Crooked Creek Post Office was established in 1836 and managed by the first postmaster, Joseph Hickman. Stiffler Spring was named after the land’s owner, Albert Stiffler. These two settlements were later joined with the creation of Harrison.

A part of Carroll County at the time, Crooked Creek and Stiffler Spring grew. More residents, many from Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina, arrived seeking farmland.

Civil War through Reconstruction

The Civil War devastated the area. Union and Confederate sympathies divided families. Within Crooked Creek valley, homes and businesses were destroyed. The end of the war failed to alleviate political differences. Union and Confederate tensions resulted in a split in Carroll County, with Union-leaning Boone County being formed from the eastern portion of Carroll County in 1869.

Justice was upheld in the log store of Captain Henry W. Fick near Stiffler Spring. Fick was also appointed postmaster. The first paper, The Boon(e) County Advocate, was started by Thomas Newman and published in 1870. In 1873, the Harrison Highlander was published by Newman. The name changed to the Harrison Times in 1876. The Harrison Times became the Harrison Daily Times in 1919, but had a weekly edition in addition to the daily until 1937. The first school in Harrison was established in the 1860s on land donated by Captain Fick.

The Marine Corps Legacy Museum on the downtown square in Harrison (Boone County); 2008.
Photo by Mike Keckhaver

Determined to create a new town as the county seat, Fick had Colonel Marcus LaRue Harrison lay out the town with wide side streets and a courthouse square. Harrison and crew were in the area surveying for the railroad. In exchange for the survey, Fick named the town after the surveyor. In 1870, Crooked Creek Post Office was renamed Harrison. Newspaper editor Thomas Newman was elected mayor in 1882. The U.S. Government Land Office moved to town in 1871.

Boone County courthouse in Harrison; 2008.
Photo by Mike Keckhaver

Harrison experienced opposition to its position as county seat. Civil War sentiment drove the Democratic, Confederate-leaning residents of Bellefonte to challenge the Republican, Union-leaning residents of Harrison for the designation of county seat. A hard-fought election ensued. Newspapers carried reports of murder attempts and corruption. Muskets were rumored to have been slipped into Harrison in boxes marked “Records.” However, a countywide vote resulted in Harrison winning the position of county seat.

Monument located on the courthouse lawn in Harrison (Boone County), commemorating the Arkansans killed at the Mountain Meadows Massacre; 2008.
Photo by Mike Keckhaver

Post Reconstruction through Early Twentieth Century

In 1880, a wagon train left Harrison to find a larger market for the area’s cotton, wheat, and produce, and to obtain a commitment from the state to build a road to connect Harrison and Russellville (Pope County). Celebrations to welcome the wagon train were held in Russellville and Little Rock (Pulaski County). The celebration in Russellville included Governor William R. Miller. The train continued on to Little Rock for a feast. Although a proposal to build a railroad between Harrison and Russellville was made as a result of the trip, lack of funding prevented the proposed construction.

By 1890, one of the four high schools in the county was located in Harrison. The others were in Rally Hill, Bellefonte, and Valley Springs.

The 1900s brought rapid change to Harrison. The Harrison Electric and Ice Company provided the first electricity in 1901. In 1900, telephone lines connected the town to communities as far away as Eureka Springs (Carroll County) and Marshall (Searcy County). By 1905, 175 miles of lines and 435 telephones had been installed.

The St. Louis and North Arkansas Railroad arrived on March 22, 1901. By 1912, the headquarters of the Missouri and North Arkansas (M&NA) line was located in Harrison. Financial problems led to reduced wages. A strike by employees hit the line in 1921. Conflicts between those on strike and strike breakers resulted in harassment and vandalism. The Protective League was established to prevent further damage and destruction. The line closed, then was reopened with lower wages. Bridges were burned. The Protective League administered its form of justice with whippings and the hanging of Ed Gregor during what is now called the Harrison Railroad Riot. The M&NA was granted permission to stop service in 1961.

Harrison has also been the site of tremendous racial violence. In 1905, an African American seeking shelter broke into a house and was jailed for the break-in. A vigilante mob subsequently went to the jail and whipped the man and another black prisoner. The men were ordered to leave town. The mob burned homes and whipped residents as it moved through the black section of town. Many black residents fled the city. The remainder of the black community left amid another race riot after the 1909 trial of Charles Stinnett, who was accused of raping an elderly white woman. His conviction and hanging resulted in making Harrison a “sundown town.”

In the early 1920s, with the public school in danger of closing due to insufficient funds, the Mother’s Club was formed. The group collected money for the school, bought supplies, paid a teacher’s salary, and paid tuition for children unable to pay.

The death of outlaw Henry Starr took place in Harrison in 1921 and created national interest. Starr and accomplices attempted to rob the People’s National Bank on February 18. The attempt ended when former bank president W. J. Myer took a shotgun from the bank vault and fired, wounding Starr, who died four days later in the county jail.

The Ku Klux Klan organized in Harrison in 1922 to fight what was seen as moral decline, including moonshine and prostitution. It played a role in fighting striking workers on the M&NA line.

During the Depression, foreclosures took farms and businesses. The proposal for a hospital was defeated in a city-wide vote. Area residents served in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps. By the end of the Depression, all the banks that had existed were gone.

World War II through the Faubus Era

In the 1950s, Harrison was growing. It won top honors twice in the Arkansas Community Accomplishment Contest, and tourism began to play a big part in the economy. J. E. Dunlap of the Harrison Daily Times declared the city the “hub of the Ozarks” due to its easy access to Bull Shoals Lake, Norfolk Lake, Table Rock Lake, and Lake Taneycomo. Industries also played a role in Harrison’s growth. In the late 1950s, Oberman Manufacturing Co. and Harrison Furniture and Frames Co. began operating in the city. The name of Harrison Furniture and Frames was changed to Flexsteel Industries in 1958.

Although Crooked Creek flooded periodically, the flood of May 7, 1961, did the most damage. Twelve feet of water flooded the south side of the square, and four people were killed.

A native of Harrison, John Paul Hammerschmidt, was elected congressman for the Third Congressional District in 1966. He held the seat for twenty-four years.

Modern Era

S-C Seasoning Company, Inc., began operation in Harrison in 1971. The family-owned company makes Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning, a seasoning sold internationally.

On November 6, 1973, a county-wide vote approved a tax for the creation of a college.North Arkansas Community College was built in Harrison. It later changed its name to North Arkansas College.

The designation of the Buffalo River as a National River drew attention to the area. Harrison benefitted from increased tourism and the selection of the city as the site of the headquarters for the Buffalo River.

The city grew steadily throughout the last half of the twentieth century. Between 1990 and 2000, the population of the city increased from 9,922 to 12,152. The increase consisted of retirees and employees working in Harrison, the economic center of Boone County.

Although the practice of not providing services to African Americans ended in the 1970s, the stigma Harrison earned as a sundown town was reinforced by the reappearance of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1990s. Klan rallies, led by local resident Thom Robb, ceased in the mid-1990s although the Klan maintains a compound in nearby Zinc and a presence on the Internet, and Robb continues to send letters to the local paper. Incidents of racial slurs have been reported against black students on opposing athletic teams playing in Harrison. In a 2003 editorial, the Harrison Daily Times challenged community, political, business, and religious leaders to work to change the town’s image.

Tourism continues to contribute to the city’s economy as tourists travel to the surrounding lakes, the Buffalo River, and nearby Branson, Missouri. A variety of festivals are held in the city, including Harvest Homecoming, the Blue Grass Festival, and Crawdad Days.

Harrison today is far different from how it was in the past. A levee along Crooked Creek protects downtown from flooding. The old high school houses the Boone County Historical and Railroad Society, which displays three floors of city and county history. The Brandon Burlsworth Youth Center serves children and adults. The Ozark Arts Council purchased the 1929 Lyric Theatre in 1999, and plays, classic movies, art shows, and concerts are presented in the historic building. The doors of the Marine Corps Legacy Museum opened on the town square in 2001. Covering U.S. Marine history, the museum includes flags, uniforms, documents, and photographs.

Harrison Race Riots

Though nowhere near as murderous as other race riots across the state, the Harrison Race Riots of 1905 and 1909 drove all but one African American from Harrison (Boone County), creating by violence an all-white community similar to other such “sundown towns” in northern and western Arkansas. With the headquarters of the Arkansas Faction of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) located nearby, Harrison has retained the legacy of its ethnic cleansing through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.

The U.S. Census of 1900 revealed a black community in Harrison of 115 people out of 1,501 residents. This constituted a vibrant community that, despite its poverty, had a cohesive culture and deep roots. By all accounts, relations between the white and black communities were relatively friendly and stable before the riots (dependent, of course, upon the expected subservience of black citizens to white people). The catalyst for change was the St. Louis and North Arkansas Railroad (later the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad), which was built through Harrison in 1901, exciting the populace with visions of prosperity. But the railroad went bankrupt on July 1, 1905, creating hardship for the townsfolk and the railroad workers who had moved to the area. The completion of the rival Missouri Pacific line, which ran through Omaha (Boone County), fifteen miles north of Harrison, left many more unemployed, both black and white. Some found their way into Harrison, where their lack of deference (they had been independent and used to being paid well for their work) enflamed the ire of Harrison’s white residents.

The enmity that Harrison felt for its black population came to a head on October 2, 1905, when a white mob stormed the jail and took two black prisoners—one of whom had been charged two days earlier with breaking into Dr. John J. Johnson’s residence—along with several others and transported them outside city limits. There, they whipped their captives and ordered them to leave. The mob then went on a rampage through Harrison’s black community. Numbering about thirty, they burned down homes, shot out windows, and ordered all African Americans to vacate the town that night. Many did, fleeing to places such as Fayetteville (Washington County) and Eureka Springs (Carroll County) or to Missouri. In the following days, the people who had stayed were attacked and harassed. On October 7, 1905, J. E. Hibdon, member of a posse, shot and killed black railroad worker George Richards at the Omaha railroad camp.

The civic power structure of Harrison likely approved of the mob action. According to Jacqueline Froelich and David Zimmerman, “Diligent research has failed to reveal any records of actions taken by law enforcement officers or any other local officials to protect Harrison’s African American community at any time preceding, during, or after the attacks.” But John Henry Rogers and James Kent Barnes—judge of the Western District of Arkansas and district attorney, respectively—sought to use a grand jury already scheduled to be impaneled to bring the perpetrators of mob violence to justice. Their task was rendered impossible by the disappearance of so many potential black witnesses and by the reluctance of the white jury to seek indictments against their fellow men, many of whom were reputedly of good standing in the community.

The remnants of the black community in Harrison lived a tenuous existence until 1909, when Harrison’s transformation into an all-white town was made complete by yet another riot. The ostensible catalyst for this second round of violence was the January 18, 1909, arrest of Charles Stinnett on the charge of raping a white woman. To stem the potential for mob violence, Judge B. B. Hudgins made provisions for a speedy trial. On January 21, Stinnett and the victim, Emma Lovett, testified, and the jury went into closed session at 11:00 a.m. to return a guilty verdict four hours later, with a sentence of death by hanging.

Upon hearing news that Lovett was gravely ill after the trial, a lynch mob formed and proceeded toward the Harrison jail; Stinnett was transported to Marshall (Searcy County). But the continuing presence of the mob resulted in another mass exodus of black citizens from Harrison. Most left on the night of January 28, 1909, following some of the same roads their predecessors took four years earlier. Only one black townsperson, Alecta Caledonia Melvina Smith, known as “Aunt Vine,” remained. The property of those who left was quickly declared forfeit.

Racial violence in Boone County may have led African Americans in neighboring counties to flee the area. Census records for Carroll and Madison counties show that, between 1900 and 1910, the black population dropped steeply. Whether this was because of a desire to escape the area’s climate of hostility, or whether other, unreported incidents of racial violence may have driven the black population out, remains unknown.

As Harrison’s white residents tried to erase the black community in their town, they apparently also tried to erase the historical record of the events in question. The files of the local newspaper, the Harrison Daily Times, contain gaps coinciding with the dates of the riots, and though records exist, including transcripts of testimony, for most of the other cases heard by Judge Rogers’s 1905 grand jury, only one handwritten note with the dates of the investigation’s beginning and end remains extant. But the cumulative historical record makes the Harrison Race Riots an undeniable instance of racial violence, in the manner of what was occurring elsewhere in the nation—as the increasing disenfranchisement of African Americans made violence toward them a political expediency—and in the world, which was experiencing a new penchant for ethnic cleansing.