Postcard From Peppersauce - Ghost Town Unique

Peppersauce, also known as East Calico, is one of the few authentic ghost towns in Arkansas and the only ghost town inside the city limits of a town in America. French traders and trappers traveled the White River plying their goods and by the early 1890's, a town, Calico Rock, had been established with a few homes situated above the cliffs and taverns along the waterway to serve the boaters. The barkeeps served "Peppersauce," the name for the local moonshine. The taverns were no place for decent folk or children as the patrons were mostly thieves, troublemakers, and rogues of every stripe. Knife fights, fist fights, and gun fights were common. When the railroad came to town and laid tracks below the bluffs in 1902, local vigilantes drove off the riff raff.

When the train started making regular stops in Calico Rock in 1903 and with the bad elements out of the picture, more homes and businesses sprang up and by the 1920's, Peppersauce was thriving. At it's height, there were schools, churches, several grocery stores, a grist mill, a lumber mill, a grain and feed store, an ice plant, an electric plant, and even Ford and Chevy dealers. There was work for everyone who wanted it, crime was mostly limited to a few drunks on Friday and Saturday nights, and in general, life was good.

An old home in Peppersauce
By the late 1940's though, things had begun to decline. The electric plant closed when high-tension lines were brought in. The farmers turned to raising cattle instead of food or cotton and over the next few years, logging halted when most of the timber was cut. As businesses closed people moved away looking for work elsewhere and that forced more businesses to close. In the 1960's, the train no longer stopped and eventually, everyone moved away and Peppersauce died. Some of the buildings burned, some caved in due to leaky roofs and heavy snow, and vines and weeds grew over others, but approximately 20 are still standing in various stages of disrepair.

This used to be the Chevy dealer
In the 1960's, Calico Rock, the town around Peppersauce, got a new life. Arkansas built a prison nearby, anglers around the world learned about the great trout fishing in the White River which runs through it, and antique shopping became a booming business. Calico Rock now has a population of over 900, but other than just a handful of folks who have restored several buildings and now live in them, Peppersauce remains a ghost.

In the 1920's, there was a minor scandal when the town's mortician ran off with another woman. The mortician's wife, who had lived with him in the back of the funeral parlor, continued to operate the business for a number of years. She eventually sold it and the new owners also lived in the back half of the building, still embalming bodies in the basement and holding funerals in the front. It continued to operate until the 1950's when it was one of the last remaining businesses in Peppersauce. And then it too closed.

The other shoe dropped.
Funeral parlor. Big door at bottom of building is
where the hearse pulled in to drop off bodies.
Peppersauce jail. There was a 5 cent fine if you
were caught talking to a prisoner.

Nature reclaiming an abandoned building.
Strolling along main street Peppersauce at
the end of the day.

Postcard From Calico Rock, Arkansas

One good thing about living in central Arkansas is the bounty of interesting destinations you can drive to and return home from within one day. Calico Rock, located in Izard County along the banks of the White River in far north-central Arkansas, is home to world famous trout fishing and the site of the only ghost town within a living town in America. My wife heard about this from a friend and when she told me, it became a must-see. The sky was very overcast last Sunday, but no rain was forcast and the temperature was in the mid-60's so carpe diem and off we went!

The 170 mile drive to Calico Rock from Little Rock is a really nice drive with some parts of it designated a National Forest Scenic Byway. From Little Rock going northwest on I-40, take Hwy 65 north in Conway. Once you get out of Conway, you'll pass a number of interesting places like Pickles Gap, Damascus, and Bee Branch. If you like to shop for antiques and hand-made items, it may take you all day to make your way up to Clinton. Two deadly tornadoes touched down across this route within the last two years and if you pay attention, you will see uprooted trees and some home and business building foundations where rebuilding has still not been accomplished.

Landscape just south of Calico Rock
On the north side of Clinton, take Hwy 16 East until you get to Shirley where you will take Hwy 9 North. Be aware that Hwy 16 and Hwy 9 both are very winding mostly 2-lane roads with plenty of woods and scenery to enjoy all the way to Mountain View. If you get motion sick very easily, you'll want to take your Bonine before going on this trip! Obey speed limits on the curves and watch out for deer. If it's about lunch time, Mountain View, famous for the annual Bean Fest & Outhouse Races festival (which will be a future blog subject) is a beautiful little town with good restaurants along with several fast food places and plenty of gas stations. Stay on Hwy 9 for a few more miles until you intersect with Hwy 5 North. At this point, taking Hwy 5 takes you on a beautiful Scenic Byway drive through the Ozark National Forest and straight to Calico Rock located just outside the National Forest's north boundary.

Wife and Youngest Daughter in Calico Rock
Calico Rock was named by French Trader boatmen long before the town was settled in the early 1800's. They named this section of the White River for the multihued mineral stains on the bluff's sandstone which looked similar to the multicolored fabric used to make dresses and shirts. Unfortunately, the original face of the bluff was later blasted away to make room for a railroad bed so although still interesting, the bluffs are black and white now. Centuries from today, the continued leaching of minerals onto the face of the bluff may once again render the stone multi-colored.

The town has a wonderful historic downtown with numerous shops, a visitor center, and even an old diner with a soda fountain. I imagine one could spend hours looking through the shops and casually walking along the sidewalks window shopping. I have to imagine it because we were there on a Sunday and everything but one little convenience store was closed. We walked around for over an hour and only saw 2 other tourists and 2 guys in a car who stopped at the convenience store for a coke and then drove on down the road.

Downtown Calico Rock at 2:00pm on a Sunday
Of course we had to visit Peppersauce, the ghost town inside the town limits of Calico Rock. And that proved to be a bit more interesting. I'm thinking it's worth a blog entry all by itself so I'm saving it for the next time.

Postcard From Eureka Springs

Downtown Eureka Springs
Eureka Springs is a pretty and fun little town in the beautiful hills of northwest Arkansas. Last fall, my family and I took a 3-day weekend to see what we could see there. We had heard of it for years, but this was our first visit.
From Conway, it's about 170 miles on mostly well-maintained 4-lane roads with very nice scenery and some interesting little towns to go through. Of course your route of travel may be different, but we came north on Hwy 65 from I-40 just like you are headed to Branson. A little south of the town of Bellafonte, Hwy 412/Hwy 62 join up with Hwy 65 and without changing the road you are driving on, all of a sudden you will be on Hwy 65/Hwy 62/Hwy 412 and probably some other name the locals know it by. At this point choose to watch the signs for Hwy 62/Hwy 412 as a few miles further north, Hwy 65 will break off to go straight north to Branson and you don't want to go there this trip. Hwy 62/Hwy 412 goes west for a few miles and then heads mostly northwest until just a few miles outside Eureka Springs. At this point you basically are there and you will see plenty of direction signs.

Downtown is an interesting collection of antique shops, art galleries, tourists shops,  little parks for taking a break from walking, and plenty of restaurants along with the normal small town collection of businesses. The whole downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Eureka Springs is a favorite of motorcycle enthusiasts due to the hills, scenery, and gentle curves of the surrounding area roads and we had a good time walking and looking at the some of the really cool tricked-out bikes.

Something you should be aware of if you are not on a motorcycle - there is a distinct lack of parking spots in downtown. However, they have a great trolley car service that has frequent front-door service from most of the hotels and other designated stops. Tickets are $5 for an all-day pass ($1 for ages 7 - 11 and free for ages 6 and under) and are a great deal for that price. We stayed in a nice Best Western a little outside of town and used the trolley to get everywhere we wanted to go and I don't remember ever waiting more than about 15 minutes for one to come along.
Many interesting shops to
browse and shop, shop, shop!

One thing we did I would suggest you do too is take one of the guided tram tours of the town. For only $7.50, you'll find out some interesting things about the historic places and buildings in town. We enjoyed it.
The Rowdy Beaver - good burgers!

Just a little ways outside of town, sitting in a woodland setting, is the famous, 48-foot tall Thorncrown Chapel. This magnificent wooden structure has 425 windows and over 6,000 square feet of glass. It sits atop over 100 tons of native stone and colored flagstone. The chapel's design and awesome beauty combine to make it what critics have called "one of the finest religious spaces of modern times."
Thorncrown was the dream of retired school teacher, Jim Reed. In 1978 Jim enlisted the help of renowned architect E. Fay Jones to design a place of worship for the visitors to Eureka Springs. The result has now drawn over five million visitors since this woodland sanctuary opened in 1980. It has won numerous architectural awards such as the American Institute of Architecture's Design of the Year Award for 1981 and the American Institute of Architecture's Design of the Decade Award for the 1980's.

Thorncrrown Chapel
One last thing - If you love chocolate, you’ll be in heaven at the Chocolate Lovers’ Festival 2011, held on February 12. The festival celebrates all things chocolate with flowing chocolate fountains and plenty of chocolate samples to savor. The festival also features a variety of food contests with chocolate as the key ingredient; after judging, the winning entries are put up for bid in a silent auction. Try pairing chocolate with the wines that will be available. Pretty perfect way to celebrate Valentines!
Interior of Thorncrown Chapel


The Greatest Generation

Richard "Dick" Winters, the commander of Easy Company whose World War II exploits were portrayed in the "Band of Brothers" book and HBO series, died last month at the age of 92. Ed Mauser, until he also died last month at the age of 94, was the oldest surviving member of the group. Now, very few are still alive.
In Paris
When I heard about these two gentlemen passing, I started thinking again about my wife's father, also a WWII veteran. Unfortunately, he passed away before I even starting dating his daughter so I never met him. Some years later when my wife's mom passed away, while going through the household possessions, my wife and her sister showed me some of their father's Army keepsakes and things he brought back from the war against Germany. I don't think they had any idea what it really was or what their father had been a part of - uniform patches, medals, pictures, war trophy's, a pistol - all in several little boxes. The first patch I pulled from the first box was a shoulder patch, a cloth red numeral 1 - "The Big Red One"  was the First Infantry Division, also known as "The Fighting First" and was one of the most famous and decorated divisions of WWII. They fought across Africa, from Algiers into Tunisia, moved on to take Sicily and then stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and eventually attacked and penetrated the Siegfried line and were in Germany when the war ended.

The recent dead.
When I looked at the pictures, I was shocked to find concentration camp pictures he had taken. Unfortunately, the pictures were damaged, probably from just laying in cardboard boxes in the attic or in the back of a closet for years and years, but you could still make them out. And on the back, written in pencil in my deceased father-in-law Raymond's handwritting, were stories. In just a few words, written in a matter-of-fact, almost dispassionite manner, he told of survival and death, atrocities committed and the ability of people to turn a blind eye, to deny the horror happening right under their noses. From the writing on the back of those pictures and additional research I've done, I've managed to piece together a bit of the history.

200 bodies were laid out for the 
townspeople to see.
The Wobbelin camp, near the city of Ludwigslust, was a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp. The SS had established Wobbelin in early February 1945, to house concentration camp prisoners whom the SS had evacuated from other camps to prevent their liberation by the Allies. At its height, Wobbelin held some 5,000 inmates, many of whom were suffering from starvation and disease.

Bodies to be buried on the palace grounds.
There was little food or water, and some prisoners had resorted to cannibalism. When the Army units arrived there, they found about 1,000 inmates dead in the camp. Just a short distance from the camp, downwind from the stench of the dead and within hearing distance of the screams of the tortured, the inhabitants of the town of Ludwigslust claimed they did not know what was happening in the camp. Upon hearing this, the U.S. Army ordered the townspeople to visit the camp and bury the dead on the palace grounds of the Archduke of Mecklenburg.

The townspeople forced to see the bodies.
On May 7, 1945, the 82nd Airborne Division conducted funeral services for 200 inmates in the town of Ludwigslust. Attending the ceremony were citizens of Ludwigslust, captured German officers, and several hundred members of the airborne division. The U.S. Army chaplain at the service delivered a eulogy stating that:

The crimes here committed in the name of the German people and by their acquiescence were minor compared to those to be found in concentration camps elsewhere in Germany. Here, there were no gas chambers, no crematoria; these men of Holland, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and France were simply allowed to starve to death. Within four miles of your comfortable homes, 4,000 men were forced to live like animals, deprived even of the food you would give to your dogs. In three weeks, 1,000 of these men were starved to death; 800 of them were buried in pits in the nearby woods. These 200 who lie before us in these graves were found piled four and five high in one building and lying with the sick and dying in other buildings.

May 7, 1945
On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered. The war in Europe was over. Shortly afterwards, Raymond Hiser found himself in Berlin. And then he came home, got a job, married a woman he met in England, brought her to America and together they raised a family and led a good, but mostly anonamous middle-class life in a suburb. Like a lot of soldiers who saw things people shouldn't see and did things good people shouldn't have to do, he didn't talk about it; he never told his children about that part of his life, never "bragged" about taking part in liberating one of those German hell-holes. He was one of thousands upon thousands of "The Greatest Generation" who simply did what they had to do to defend our country and never asked for anything in return.
Wife's father 3rd from right.

Postcard From Village Creek State Park

Arkansas is known for its outdoor beauty and there are many state parks which help capture this treasure for everyone to enjoy. Located in the northeastern part of the state off Highway 284, Village Creek State Park, with 6,909 acres, is Arkansas' second largest state park.  It is covered with a a dense mixed hardwood forest including oak, hickory, and uncommon hardwood trees such as American Beech, Sugar Maple, Butternut, Basswood, Cucumbertree, Kentucky Coffeetree, and the Tuliptree or Yellow Poplar. 

Lake Austell and Lake Dunn are contained within the park and if you are into fishing, you can catch your supper of bass, bream, catfish, and crappie. The park campground includes 24 RV sites, 5 tent sites and 67 sites for horse campers around Lake Dunn. There are also 10 fully-equipped cabins with kitchens and wood-burning fireplaces.
A section of the 1820s Military Road that once linked Memphis, Tennessee to Little Rock is still visible in the park. A section of the infamous "Trail of Tears," it was a major route of Indian removal for Creek, Chickasaw, and Cherokee between 1832 and 1839.

Nice wooden bridge over a deep gulley.
To be honest, I didn't know about this park before I decided to take a quick road trip to see what was left of Twist, Arkansas. But with it being located a little south of Twist and not that far out of the way when going back home, a side trip was in order when I saw it on a map. Most state parks have hiking trails, but without having time to research this one, I just took a chance on it. I was pleasantly surprised to find it has 5 trails ranging in difficulty from Easy to Moderate and from 1/4 mile to almost 3 miles in length. We decided to take Austell Trail, a 2 1/4 mile (round-trip) Moderate trail. The trail was pretty well marked, not very hard to walk and even had a few places where steps were made from railroad ties and a couple of wooden bridges which spanned deep creek gulley's.  It earned it's Moderate rating from the steep climbs up hills and over ridges. There were plenty of ups and downs so it seemed to be uphill both going and coming back!

Plenty of very steep sections - the wife "up" ahead.
The weather was great and it made for a good family outing even if the youngest daughter did moan and complain about the difficulty for most of the hike. Like that's a problem for me. You're 12-years-old for goodness sake, suck it up, kiddo. And if spending time with your parents hiking around in the great outdoors doesn't result in fond memories in your adult life, well, take your $100 of inheritance I'm leaving you, hire a therapist and tell him all about it. The big hug and "I love you" I received that night when it was bed-time though tells me she might not be needing that least not because of today.
Lake Austell at the end of the trail.