See Rock City

See Rock City

Friday, September 19, 2008

Heber Springs, AR

Heber Springs is a city in Cleburne County, Arkansas, United States. The population was 6,432 at the 2000 census. The city is the county seat of Cleburne County.

Collins Creek, Heber Springs

Heber Springs, founded as a health resort and first called Sugar Loaf in the mid-19th century, now serves as a gateway to Greers Ferry Lake and the Little Red River. The U.S. Corps of Engineers completed the 31,500-acre lake in 1963, and President John F. Kennedy came to Heber Springs in October of that year for the dedication. The historic downtown district includes a stately county courthouse with traditional square, a museum, antique shops, restored theater and Spring Park, with its mineral springs that attracted the original settlers. Greers Ferry Lake is known for great fishing and water recreation. Camping, cabins and world-class resorts overlook one of the state's most popular lakes. Below the massive Corps of Engineers dam, the Little Red River is internationally known as the home of the world-record (40-pound, four-ounce) brown trout. Trout resorts and outfitters are available. The lake and river have served as national models for environmental cleanliness.

Holiday Lights, Heber Springs

Notable natives

Everett G. Burkhalter-Represented the 27th district of California in the US House of Representatives.

Everett Glen Burkhalter (January 19, 1897, Heber Springs, Arkansas - May 24, 1975, Duarte, California) was a Democratic politician from California.

He served on the California State Assembly from 1941 to 1947 and again from 1949 to 1953. He then went on to serve on the Los Angeles City Council until 1962 when he went on to become a U.S. Representative for the 27th district.

Mike Disfarmer, photographer,
Heber Springs (Cleburne County) portrait photographer Michael Disfarmer.
Courtesy of Peter Miller and, photos provided courtesy of Aristotle Inc.

Photograph by Michael Disfarmer titled, “Soldier with Two Girls in Polka Dot Dresses.”
Courtesy of Peter Miller and, photos provided courtesy of Aristotle Inc.

Mike Disfarmer (1884-1959) was a American photographer whose portraits of everyday people in rural Arkansas gave them a sense of dignity.

Disfarmer Photograph

A portrait photographer in Heber Springs (Cleburne County), Michael Disfarmer’s invaluable contribution to photography and the documentation of rural America went unnoticed until 1973, fourteen years after his death. This eccentric man’s work, which later garnered national attention, captures with stark realism the people in and around Heber Springs in the early to mid-1900s.

The particularities of Michael Disfarmer’s biography are sketchy, largely because of his reclusive lifestyle and meager status during his lifetime. Born to German immigrants in 1882 or 1884, Disfarmer moved to the German community of Stuttgart (Arkansas County). His father, a Civil War veteran, took up rice farming. Sometime after his father’s death, Disfarmer, his mother, and his siblings moved to Heber Springs. Soon after, he entered a partnership with another photographer. He lived with his mother until a tornado destroyed their home in 1926. He then built a studio with living quarters, where he lived and worked until his death.

As a photographer for more than forty years, Disfarmer occasionally was mentioned in the local newspaper, which offered insight into his personality and behavior. He highlighted his desire for individuality in the community by featuring his name change in the newspaper. He was born Michael Meyer, and meier means “dairy farmer” in German; his new name, Disfarmer, is thought to have signified a rebellion against his rural surroundings and his family. He claimed he had been delivered on his parents’ doorstep via tornado. Recollections of the man often cite a bohemian outlook, both gruff and kind. Reclusive and eccentric, the acknowledged town photographer never married and dedicated himself to his work.

Family with Four Children

Two Sisters with Veils

Older Sisters in Dresses

Parents in Hats with Daughter and Son

Disfarmer earned a meager living off the country farmers and ordinary people. He charged twenty-five to fifty cents for the portraits—commonly referred to as “penny portraits”—that were intended as tokens to be given to family and friends. This strategy provided a wealth of subjects. He occasionally ventured outside the studio, though it seems none of those images survives.

Young Woman Smiling, Seated on Stool

Disfarmer’s approach was simple. Though he used some props in his early photographs, the settings became more and more bare as his work evolved. Stark realism characterizes these portraits. His subjects, sometimes an individual, sometimes groups or families, were rarely captured smiling or interacting. Instead, they have a natural, often solemn expression, never coerced. The sitters are often in their Sunday best, though sometimes they look as though they have just left the fields. Disfarmer’s photographs can be mistaken for those taken by artists and government photographers during the Depression to document the American human condition, but his images are not intended to be among those. Instead, many have noticed his unfailing ability to capture those sentiments despite the intention that the photographs be “penny portraits.” The result is a collection of images of ordinary rural people that captures the essence of a time, a place, and the people who occupied it.

Woman with Three Children, One on Her Lap

After several years of declining health, Disfarmer died in his studio in 1959 and was found several days later. Afterward, Joe Allbright, a former Heber Springs mayor, salvaged the surviving glass negatives from which Disfarmer made his prints. He had gained permission to search Disfarmer’s home for any items of value. In 1973, Allbright gave the negatives to Peter Miller, then the editor of The Arkansas Sun, a weekly newspaper in Heber Springs. Miller published images of the works in the newspaper for a year, and he shared prints from the negatives with Modern Photography magazine’s Julia Scully, who encouraged and contributed to a publication of Disfarmer’s prints, Disfarmer: The Heber Springs Portraits, 1939–1946, in 1976 in cooperation with Miller. Miller gave most of the 3,000 glass plate negatives to the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1976.

Three Military Men

In the early twenty-first century, Disfarmer gained national attention with accompanying controversy. Until 2004, the only prints known to exist were those made posthumously from the glass plate negatives. That year, a Heber Springs couple moved to Chicago, Illinois, and sold fifty family portraits taken by Disfarmer to New York collector Michael Mattis. Word spread, and soon other Heber Springs residents sought out Mattis to offer portraits. Simultaneously, the Howard Greenberg Gallery’s Steven Kasher, who already had sold prints from the negatives, was contacted with similar offers. Both men sought out the vintage prints and even hired scouts in the Heber Springs area to uncover these treasures. Two shows featuring the prints ran simultaneously in 2005 in New York, at the Edwynn Houk Gallery and the Steven Kasher Gallery.

Two Girls Unsure of Camera

Prices at the exhibitions ran $7,500 to $30,000 per photograph and sparked controversy. About 3,400 prints were acquired, though the parties involved declined to say how much was paid for them. Many feel that the sellers, unaware of the value of the photographs, were deceived and possibly given far less than the anticipated value.

Three Boys in Jackets and Blue Jeans

In spite of his curious personality and narrow focus, Disfarmer earned an adequate wage taking “penny portraits.” These hauntingly observant photographs have stood the test of time. They convey the spirit of a bygone era and have appeared in exhibitions in the Netherlands, Canada, and France. High valuations have ensured the endurance of the original prints and indicated the rarity of the glass negatives that survive. Disfarmer’s notoriety has offered inspiration to many, including fellow Arkansans Andrew Kilgore and Toba Tucker. A New York Times piece by Philip Gefter accurately describes Disfarmer’s photographs as “American Gothic,” disenchanted and real, portraying a slice of American life in the 1920s through the 1950s with unfailing realism.

Disfarmer Photo

Born Mike Meyers, he changed his surname to "Disfarmer" to break with his family's agrarian roots, the first move in a maverick career that embraced both obscurity and a rigorous aesthetic. Disfarmer maintained a portrait studio in his hometown of Heber Springs, Arkansas, and photographed members of the local community for small fees. But his "penny portraits" were far more than mere keepsake photographs. Employing a stark realism and often lengthy, unnervingly mute sitting sessions, Disfamer produced a consistent stream of portraits that strip his subjects into an uncanny intimacy. His photographs capture the essence of a particular community in a particular time with piercing solemnity and a touching simplicity. His reclusive lifestyle has left many details of his life obscure or uncertain.

Laurell K. Hamilton-Author of the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter (series) and Meredith Gentry series.

Laurell Kaye Hamilton (born February 19, 1963) is an American fantasy / Romance writer, author of the series Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter about a female paranormal investigator and her relationships with vampires and werewolves. The series runs to 16 novels as of May 2008, and a number of short story collections and other tie-in media such as comic books. More than 6 million copies of Anita Blake novels have been printed and it has became a New York Times bestseller. In 2000 Hamilton started another series Merry Gentry, an urban fantasy in which fairies live in the USA.

Laurel Hamilton was born in Heber Springs, Arkansas but grew up in Sims, Indiana with her grandmother Laura Gentry. Her education includes degrees in English and biology from Marion (now Indiana Wesleyan University), a private Evangelical Christian liberal arts college in Marion, Indiana that is affiliated with the Wesleyan Church denomination.

Today, Hamilton resides in St. Louis County, Missouri with her current husband Jonathon Green, her daughter, and two dogs.

Fred Williams- Former NFL football player, died in 2000.

Fred Williams (February 8, 1929 – October 9, 2000) was an American football defensive lineman in the National Football League for the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins. He went to four Pro Bowls during his 14 year career. Williams played college football at the University of Arkansas. He lived in Heber Springs, Arkansas when he passed away in 2000.

Greers Ferry Dam

Greers Ferry Lake is the artificial reservoir formed by Greers Ferry Dam, a United States Army Corps of Engineers dam in Northern Arkansas. It is located about 60 miles (100 km) north of Little Rock.

The reservoir consists of two lakes connected by a water-filled gorge called the Narrows. The area of the two lakes and the Narrows totals about 40,500 acres (164 km2) with a combined shoreline of just over 340 miles. It should be noted that there was once a city, Higden, under this lake. The farmers in Hidgen had constant trouble with flooding. The land was purchased, residents left and the city was abandoned and allowed to flood. The town has since been reestablished on the hill. One local legend and several eyewitness accounts tell that homes and buildings still stand under the water to this day, a watery ghost town. Several roads in town can be followed to the shore where they disappear under the water, and surface on the opposite side of the lake. Most of these roads are now used as launch ramps for boats. One in particular near "Sandy Beach" in Heber Springs is a popular fireworks show in the area during July, can be reached by divers without equipment.


Construction on the Greers Ferry Dam began in March 1959. As soon as construction started on the dam, hundreds of workers arrived in Heber Springs. By early Spring 1960, residents parked trailers on nearly every vacant lot and in the yards of some private homes. Newcomers rented all unoccupied houses. Builders were rushing new houses to completion. New stores, motels and restaurants strained the available utilities. Local farmers felt the effect of the project as demand for agricultural produce, livestock and poultry increased until construction was completed in December 1962.

The dam and reservoir were dedicated Oct. 3, 1963 by President John F. Kennedy. It was his last major public appearance before his final trip to Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. In his remarks in Heber Springs, Kennedy explained that the Greers Ferry project and other like it were investments in Arkansas’ and the nation’s future.

President John F. Kennedy
at the 1963 Greers Ferry dedication.

Once Greers Ferry Lake had filled, tourism boomed. New businesses catered to tourists, and older businesses expanded. The reservoir that filled behind it consists of two lakes connected by a water-filled gorge called the Narrows. The area of the two lakes and the Narrows totals about 40,500 acres with a combined shoreline of just over 340 miles.

Shore Line

Construction of the powerhouse and switchyard was completed in July 1964. The total cost of the project was approximately $46.5 million.

The normal pool of Greers Ferry Lake is 461.3 feet above sea level. The lowest safe level of the lake with still being able to generate hydroelectric power is 435.0 feet. The lake has flooded various times. The lake crested at 483.95 feet in 1973. It crested above 485 feet in 1982. In April 2008, the lake topped the previous high from 1982. On April 11, 2008 the lake topped 486 feet.

Jet Ski on Lake

At the foot of Round Mountain in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of north-central Arkansas stands Greers Ferry Dam. Behind that structure dedicated in 1963 by the late President John F. Kennedy, glistens one of the foremost recreational areas in the middle United States, Greers Ferry Lake. With over 30,000 acres of water surface, the lake serves as a playground for all kinds of water sports. Eighteen parks around the shoreline provide modern campgrounds, boat launches, swim areas and marinas.

Little Red River

Little Red River in the Arkansas Ozarks

Little Red River, emerging icy cold from beneath massive dam at Greers Ferry Lake is a premier-class trout stream. Trout were introduced to the Little Red in 1966, some three years after the completion of the lake project. Rainbows, browns and cutthroats are caught for some 35-river miles below the dam. Howard "Rip" Collins caught a 40-pound, four-ounce world record brown on the river in 1992...a mark that still stands. Full service marinas and resorts are available along the upper sections of the Little Red. Both public and resort launch areas are conveniently located on both sides of the river. Attractions in the area include the William Carl Garner/Corps of Engineers Visitor Center, hiking trails overlooking the river, trout hatchery; plus boating, fishing, and resort villages around the lake.

World Champion Boat Races in Heber Spring 02

The World Champion Cardboard Boat Races in Heber Springs always bring out one’s aquatic, nautical, and industrial thinking.

Put your creative talents – and boat building skills – to the test for the World's Championship Cardboard Boat Race on Greers Ferry Lake.

Camping at Greers Ferry Lake

Groups of vacationers take advantage of Corps of Engineers camping spots and boat ramps.

Trumpeter Swan Yell

An undisclosed location sees the annual migration of Trumpeter Swans to Arkansas. In this humorous photo one Swan appears to to be yelling at another.

Every year Trumpeter Swans migrate and stop along the way here in the State of Arkansas. The birds are large, numerous, and graceful to watch in flight.

Red Apple Inn Resort

Red Apple Inn Resort, Heber Springs

Golf Course at Red Apple Inn

Autumn at Bridal Veil Falls, Heber Springs
Bridal Veil Falls, Heber Springs

Parasailing on Greers Ferry Lake

Heber Springs, the county seat of Arkansas’ youngest county, has been identified as a tourist area from the beginning. Even before the town was formed, the area was known for its mineral springs. Since the formation of Greer’s Ferry Lake on the Little Red River in the early 1960s, the town has become a popular resort for camping, boating, and other water sports.

Greers Ferry Dam near Heber Springs (Cleburne County), built between 1959 and 1962 for flood control and as a hydroelectric power plant; circa 1970.
Courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System

Pre-European Exploration

The pre-historic people who came to the valley did not cultivate plants for food but ate small animals and plants which grew naturally. They fashioned grinding stones to process food and made a variety of stone tools, including spears and knives. They first found shelter in overhanging bluffs and shallow caves. Later, they built houses in small villages in the river valley. More than twenty such sites have been located along the Little Red River, most of them now covered by Greers Ferry Lake. The largest permanent village was located below the present Greers Ferry Dam on the Little Red River. In a 1958–59 investigation, evidence was found of several houses structured with walls of upright logs set into postholes. Although this was the largest village found, there were no ceremonial mounds, which may indicate that this village was a rural community affiliated with a larger center located somewhere downstream.

William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton riding in a "paddy wagon" in the Ozark Frontier Trail Festival parade in Heber Springs (Cleburne County); 1979.
Photo by Gene Hull, courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System

Nothing found indicated that the Indian population continued to live here until the white man arrived. The Osage, with main villages to the north in Missouri, may have hunted in the area, seeking shelter under the cliffs and open caves. By the time of historic records, the Osage were controlling all of northwest Arkansas, claiming it and utilizing it as a hunting territory to the exclusion of other groups.

Candle Stick Rock near Heber Springs (Cleburne County); 1905.
Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

Louisiana Purchase through Early Statehood

When the earliest settlers arrived in the area now known as Heber Springs in the 1830s, they were attracted to scenic Sugar Loaf Mountain to the east and the mineral springs that bubbled out of the ground in the valley nearby. In 1835, the United States granted to John Magness a land patent for a forty-acre tract which included that part of the present town of Heber Springs on which Spring Park, with its seven mineral springs is located. Two years later, Magness sold the plat for $150 to Richard B. Lee, R. D. C. Collins, William McKim, and John T. Jones of Helena (Phillips County).

View of 3rd Street in Heber Springs (Cleburne County); circa 1920.
Courtesy of the Cleburne County Historical Society

Efforts were made by Jones and his partners to develop a watering place similar to Eureka Springs (Carroll County) or Hot Springs (Garland County). Jones took a proposal to the General Assembly of the new state of Arkansas in 1837, and the following year, that body approved an act to incorporate the White Sulphur Springs Company “for the purpose of making it a healthy resort for the citizens of Arkansas.” The sulphur water did not attract tourists for bathing, but after the town was incorporated, the springs became known for their medicinal qualities. An 1886 booklet entitled “The Famous Health Resort of Heber Springs and Cleburne County,” claimed, “The sulphur springs are a sure cure for dyspepsia, headache, biliousness and hundreds of other ailments.” Only seven of the springs are maintained in modern times.

First brick building in Heber Springs (Cleburne County), built in the late 1890s; circa 1900s.
Courtesy of the Cleburne County Historical Society

During the next several years, there were disagreements among the partners, and transactions ensued which resulted in Jones taking the case to court to obtain partition of the property. The judge, instead, ordered it to be sold for auction in March 1851. There were no bids on that date, but in a second ordered auction in September of that year, John T. Jones once again purchased the tract, this time for $189.

Civil War through the Gilded Age

Jones held the tract undeveloped and unused for thirty years, during which time he acquired an additional fifty acres west of the original tract. In August 1881, he sold the entire tract, except for one acre reserved for his own use, to Max Frauenthal, a native of Bavaria residing in Conway (Faulkner County).

First Cleburne County Courthouse, built in 1884 in Heber Springs; 1906.
Courtesy of the Cleburne County Historical Society

Frauenthal promptly organized the Sugar Loaf Springs Land Company and sold shares to ten men, most of them from Conway. The object of the land company was to build a town. A bond for title with 680 acres of land, including the site of the sulphur springs, was executed, and the company immediately proceeded to have a town site surveyed and plotted. The plat, signed by W. C. Watkins, secretary, was filed for record in Van Buren County. Spring Park was incorporated as a part of the original town plat.

Max Frauenthal, a Jewish businessman from Conway (Faulkner County) was instrumental in the founding of Heber Springs (Cleburne County) in 1882.
Courtesy of the Cleburne County Historical Society

When the town was incorporated, it was named Sugar Loaf Springs, but when the town applied for a post office, the U.S. Postal Service rejected the name. The town fathers then agreed on the name Heber, honoring Dr. Heber Jones of Memphis, Tennessee, son of Judge John T. Jones, early owner of the town site. From 1882 to 19l0, the post office was called Heber, and the town was called Sugar Loaf. At that time, in an effort to attract visitors to the springs, the names of both the post office and the town were changed to Heber Springs.

View of 3rd Street in Heber Springs (Cleburne County); 1915.
Courtesy of the Cleburne County Historical Society

Early Twentieth Century

The Missouri and North Arkansas (M&NA) Railroad stimulated business when it was built and opened to passenger service in 1908. Tourists flocked to Sugar Loaf Springs and filled the eleven rooming houses and hotels that were built to serve them. Doctors sent patients to Heber Springs to drink the mineral water for relief from nervous disorders and stomach ailments. Main Street thrived with a movie house, an open–air skating rink, an ice cream parlor, a bowling alley, and other diversions. Fishing and picnics on the Little Red River were popular among residents and summer visitors.

Frauenthal House in Heber Springs (Cleburne County), built in 1914 and now home to the Cleburne County Historical Society.
Courtesy of the Cleburne County Historical Society

The Depression years brought a blow to the economy, and tourism ground to a halt. As early as the 1930s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began mapping for a dam on the Little Red for flood control. U.S. senators J. William Fulbright and John L. McClellan and Representative Wilbur D. Mills took an active role in the 1950s in advancing prospects for a dam. Public meetings were held, and the Greers Ferry Dam Association was formed in Heber Springs. Construction began in 1959, and when the dam was completed and dedicated by President John F. Kennedy on October 3, 1963, the event put Heber Springs and Greers Ferry Lake on the map.

Across Main Street from Spring Park in Heber Springs (Cleburne County); circa 1915.
Courtesy of the Cleburne County Historical Society

Modern Era

The town’s population has grown to more than 6,000 today. Residential developments attracted people from Arkansas and other states. Eden Isle—with its luxurious homes, Red Apple Inn and Restaurant, marina and boat docks, and top-rated golf course—became a model for other housing developments during the 1960s and 1970s. Tourism thrived. Thousands now flock to Greers Ferry Lake for camping, fishing, boating, swimming, scuba diving, and other water sports. The national fish hatchery and aquarium below the dam attracts visitors from all parts of the country. The Little Red River, now famous for rainbow trout in the cool tail-water of the dam, has become a favorite fishing spot year round, and many boat docks offer ready access to the river.

Cleburne County Courthouse in Heber Springs.
Photo by John Gill

Spring Park in the center of town, with its seven medicinal springs, invites year-round visitors and accommodates seasonal carnivals, antique automobile shows, and other events. Local people still come to the springs with their water jugs to carry the medicinal water home.

Special events in Heber Springs include Spring Fest in April, Main Street parades, the famous Cardboard Boat Race in July, and a fireworks display over the lake on July 4. The Old Soldiers Reunion is the longest continuing annual event in the area, having been celebrated annually since 1887. A lighted parade and a Holiday Trail of Lights Tour commemorate the Christmas season. Throughout the year, visitors and residents can enjoy dramatic productions at the Gem Theater and displays of local art at the Arts Council Gallery on Main Street. Heber Springs is also the home of nationally known Aromatique products and of the Glynda Turley Showroom and Art Gallery.

Michael Disfarmer

The Disfarmer Story

The eccentric photographer known as Disfarmer (1884-1959) seemed to be a man determined to shroud himself in mystery. Born Mike Meyers, the sixth of seven children in a German immigrant family, Disfarmer rejected the Arkansas farming world and the family in which he was raised.
He even claimed at one point in his life that a tornado had lifted him up from places unknown and deposited him into the Meyers family.

Not a "Farmer"

In time Mike expressed his discontent with his family and farming by changing his name to Disfarmer. In modern German "meier" means dairy farmer, and since he thought of himself as neither a "Meyer" nor a "farmer," Mike Meyer became "dis"- farmer.

Perhaps, it was his desire to break free of his Arkansas roots that led him to photography. He taught himself how to shoot and develop photographs, and he soon set up a studio on the back porch of his mother's house in Heber Springs, Arkansas.

After the Storm

In the 1930s a tornado swept through the Heber Springs valley destroying the Meyer home and forcing his mother to move in with a relative. Shortly thereafter, Disfarmer built a studio on Main Street and became a full-time photographer. Using commercially available glass plates, Disfarmer photographed his subjects in direct north light creating a unique and compelling intimacy. He was so obsessed with obtaining the correct lighting that his lighting adjustments for a sitting were said to take sometimes more than an hour.

Disfarmer's reclusive personality and his belief in his own unique superiority as a photographer and as a human being made him somewhat of an oddity to others. Having your picture taken at Disfarmer's studio became one of the main attractions of a trip into town.