Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Walter Allen "Hoolie" Bowermaster 1932-2014

I have my former classmate Eunice M. (Ward) Brown to thank for passing along this program of the memorial service for Walter Bowermaster whom we both remember even though he was two years ahead of us at St. Charles High School.

Because he was three years older, Walter was not a close friend of mine, but he was one of a number of older boys we younger boys respected, because in those days they were worthy of respect.  The commonplace social plague known today as bullying was both rare and short lived in those days at St. Charles High School, as I recall..  Older boys were generally charged by their parents and other adults in the larger community with the responsibility of "looking out" for younger boys.  To behave otherwise, was, well, simply disgraceful.

Regardless of your class, however, in the "high school" of St. Charles in those days, we were generally a closely knit group with relatively little class "rank," with perhaps the exception of seniors, of course.  Walter's fellow juniors included (as pictured in the yearbook) Jack Dempsey, Ruth Tuck, Jimmy Horton, Neva Graves, Doris Dawson, Charles Bisswanger, Leo Padgett, and Charles West.

This same year I was in the freshman class with twenty-one classmates.  Sixteen of us would graduate the spring of 1953. - DPW

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Vicki and Darrell and Schwab Store Museum

The Store after it was closed (1990s?) with the Post Office Attached: Vickie (Schwab) Gardner Post Mistress
Over the more than half century since I last lived in Crockett's Bluff I've often been asked, after I tell people who inquire where I was born and grew up, just how many people lived in the Bluff.  My reply is always an indefinite "it depends."  I then go on to explain since there were no acknowledged city limits, the number of its residents would depend just how far down Rt. 153 in either direction one wished to go before you cease your census.  To the south it would be when you found the first folks who claimed they lived in St. Charles or DeWitt -- about 10 or 15 miles.  In the other direction toward Stuttgart, perhaps twice as far.

This old notion came to mind recently when during my most recent visit to Arkansas County a few months ago I stopped by Schwab's Store where I was greeted by Darrell Gardner, the son in law of Eddie Schwab who established and presided over the most general of general 
stores in the areas for decades.   More of a museum of sorts today, having been closed as a business in the late 1980s, the store remains, thanks to the care of Vicki and Darrell Gardner, a solid and spacial structure housing, amongst its eclectic collection, the original anvil used by the elder blacksmith Sebastian Schwab whom we all recall from our childhoods in the 1930s, as well as Darrell's recently acquired practically new Model A Ford and an assortment of tractors.

Darrell with his New Toy - Oct. 2013

DPW and Vicki (Schwab) Gardner - Oct. 2011

DPW and Darrell  - Oct. 2011 - a true pot-belly

Sebastian's Major Tool

Darrell and Vicki might properly be labeled the last true residents of Crockett's Bluff proper at the site of the long closed Schwab's Store that rests - as the Google Earth view below indicates - near the former residence of Cora Prange Swindler where Rt. 153 turns westward from the banks of the White River.

Even Model Tractors Welcome

Everywhere the stuff of memories underneath Eddie's fan belt assortment.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Water Tower: The Bluff's Central Landmark

The Prange Brothers Water Tower


When the Prange Brothers established a water tower in the late 1920s or early '30s apparently to insure fire protection for the nearby warehouses they had constructed overlooking the bluffs of the White River for which Crockett's Bluff was named, it became the trademark for the then lively settlement for at least the next fifty years.  Visible clearly from more than five miles southward where Rt 153 intersected Rt 1 - known informally in the 1950s as Boyd's Corner - it dominated the skyline.  There was nothing to equal it for many miles.  Legend has it one who climbed to its circular balcony joined a relatively small group of folks adventurous and courageous enough to make the climb.

The oldest known images that survive  - published first in David Prange's Crockett's Bluff As I Remember It - were made from its walkway platform by his cousin Louis Prange in 1930.  "It stood as if a sentinel," writes David, "watching over the village of Crockett's Bluff, giving direction to those searching for the village while, at the same time, nurturing the two mammoth steam engines which powered the pumps that lifted water from the river onto the rice fields of the White River prairie."

These images were posted elsewhere on this site several years ago: Crockett's Bluff: A 1930s View From Above.

View to the North along the River.

Looking north shows a relatively flourishing community on the banks of the White River: the Prange sawmill, the Lutheran church, and the Poole store.

View to the South out toward the prairie.

On the right Schwab's Store and the wagon shed, and on the left the Inman store and, most significant, the irrigation canal that extended out across the prairie and the rice fields and served as a "swimming hole" for every child in the Bluff well up into the 1960s and 70s.  It was where we learned to swim.

In his memoir David Prange goes on to describe the bravery required and the rite of passage acknowledged by those managing to make it to the top of the water tower, approximately one hundred feet above grade.  "I envied those that accomplished that feat, not for their bravery, which I considered to be bordering on stupidity, but for the view they had witnessed.  What a magnificent sight that must have been."  Successful adventurers were plied with questions: "Could you see beyond the north bend in the river? . . . Could you see Voss Lake? . . . With each 'yes' I would think, without daring to repeat the thought audibly, 'It's not possible, I don't believe it!"

For reasons that are not clear, a decision was made by August Prange, the last descendant to remain on the property,  to dismantle the tower sometime in the late 1970s or early 80s.  So, we are left with these images.

The Prange and Schwab Stores

The most noteworthy view that I've come across (above) that follows those made by Louis Prange was made by Eddie Schwab himself of his store and the area around it - the Prange store in the foreground and the gardens and out buildings, including the blacksmith forge shed of his father Sebastian Schwab and the gardens and field beyond.

View westward behind the Schwab and Prange Stores

Like so many other images on this site I have Jim Prange to thank for this view of the area behind the Schwab store also obviously made from the water tower by an unknown photographer he gleaned from his family collection.  Both Vickie (Schwab) Gardner and Peggy (Schwab) Browning have memories of residing in the small cottage at the left during the early days of their marriages.

Jim Prange as a wee lad in the l950s in the area above

Scan of a dusty slide I made in the 1970s

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Preston Ferry Housebook from 1920s or '30s

The following image was forwarded  to Denise Parkinson, author of the recently published Daughter of the White River, by Patricia Gunn  in response to a note she had written related to the legendary story of Helen Spence, the subject of her work.  Gunn's great-great aunt Vickie "Vicie" Russell is pictured on porch of their house boat at Preston Ferry near Casscoe, Arkansas, just a few miles upstream from Crockett's Bluff.  The family of Helen Spence, who shot her father's killer in a DeWitt, AR courtroom in 1931, sprang directly from the  river culture of the communities of White River inhabitants of houseboats such as the one pictured here in the 1920s and '30s

Vickie (Vicie) Russell, great-great aunt of Patricia Gunn , Preston Ferry, Casscot, AR

From the back of the above image.

Much can be learned from images of such houseboats. Would that the above image, a scan of a photograph apparently, was an original clear copy.  At first glance, however, it strikes the eye as a very well maintained structure, not on logs, it would appear, but on a constructed wooden hull; and the somewhat larger than usual boat moored along side, complete with a chair and curtains of a sort, fairly fancy, I'd say.  And a harsh and thick mostly willow grove along the bank.

We would welcome images of other houseboats and the stories that accompany them that are lying unacknowledged in who knows how many personal memories and albums across the country. Just forward them as email attachments from scans.  Photos will be unharmed and gladly returned.

Patricia Gunn
Dale Woodiel

Friday, January 31, 2014

Prange Family of Crockett's Bluff

Some Prange Family Memories in Crockett's Bluff

by Jim Prange

The following was originally published in the Grand Prairie Historical Bulletin, Volume 56, Number 2 (October 2013).  Jim is the grandson of Adolf and Edna Prange who lived within sight of the Woodiel house during the first decades of the twentieth century until they moved to California in 1944.  Jim, the son of their son James, has been designated by their living descendants the official family historian.

(a double click on the text below should produce a PDF of Jim's text)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Henry Prange Family Resident and Barn: Crockett's Bluff's Oldest Surviving Structures

My recent visit to Arkansas County was more hurried than I had hoped but it did include stops at DeWitt for a book signing event,  at St. Charles for a stop at the cemetery and several old and abandoned structures that were alive and significant in the 1950s, and at Crockett's Bluff for a visit to the old family home site.

I had been asked by Denise Parkinson to write a foreword to her Daughter of the White River, an updated defense, one could say, of Helen Spence, the subject of one of the great county legends who was secretly buried in the St. Charles cemetery where, though I was unable to find her grave I did find the one of the Knowlton family that included Bob who was a friend and classmate for many years.  The walk around the old home place - all remnants of the old house now gone - was strange but satisfying, memories emerging at every turn like pop-up notices on my mobile phone.

After turning northward from Rt. 1 on to Rt. 153 that afternoon the image that emerged just above the skyline was that of the Prange Bros water tower that was clearly visible from that five mile marker to the bend of the White River where it stood.  Apparently it was removed about the time Schwab's Store that it looked down upon closed.  Fortunately, the structure of the store still stands, and I find it near to impossible to pass without stopping.

"Hey there! I was just thinking of you the other day."

Lucky for me, Darrell Gardner, the son in law of Eddie Schwab who established and managed the store through its many decades, was holding the fort.

He had recently found some interesting inscriptions written on the rafters and walls of the old Prange barn that rests just a hundred yards or so from the store, and he thought it might be fit material for this web site.  An hour or so later I completely agreed.

Prange barn constructed about 1900 (Vickie Gardner photo)
Clearly, along with the once spacious home of "Miss Cora" Prange, apparently married to the barn fifty yards or so to the north, Schwab's Store remains one of the oldest structures still standing in the Bluff, and for me associated with the center of activity during my childhood and teenage years.   It has, however, become fairly certain, thanks in part to Darrell's keen observations, it is not the oldest.  

  This original Henry Prange family barn rests solidly still - half its roof visible on the Google Earth image - a few yards west between Schwab's Store and the Prange residence.  It was the scribbled inscriptions within it on its walls and rafters that caught Darrell's eye, particularly the 1916 dates and autographs posted there with brushes in apparently the black stove-polish-like  that was used to mark the Prange logo on the rice sacks stored there in the early decades of the 1900s.  If it was a functioning barn at that date, it had to have been built somewhat earlier, and there's no other structure of any kind in the area known to date back before 1900.

Carl Heinrich Prange in the cement floor of his barn.
There is, however, a potentially enlightening clue resting literally at the end of the lane from the Prange house on the east side of Rt. 153, an historical marker noting that Henry Prange, the builder of both the house and the barn, grew in his front yard the first - apparently miniature - rice field of the area in 1906.

Grand Prairie Historical Society Marker

    It is known that Henry Prange lived southward out Rt. 153 from the Bluff on what is now known as Wiedner Road, near the old Lutheran Cemetery, before, one can assume, the present dwelling was constructed.  Was the barn built for practical reasons before the house?  If by 1916 or a bit afterward, rice was being grown to the extent that it was being stacked high enough in this barn to allow Henry's son Theo and their friend George Kline to write (in 1919) their names at the rafter level, then he had indeed become, as Jim Prange has noted elsewhere, "the rice guy." But here's where the minor mystery re the barn and the house begins, says Jim Prange, the  "official" Prange Family Historian: "Since Henry Prange (or someone did) put his name and year inside the barn, I am curious . . . as to whether or not he did something similar on the house. . . . At this point I think we are safe in saying that the house is 'about' a hundred years old.  Which comes first, the house or the barn. "
By the late 1920s or early 30s there would be a warehouse constructed only a few hundred yards east across the irrigation canal on the bluff at the bend of the river visible in an early photograph, along with a chute for sliding sacks of rice on the barge of a steamboat. 
Sturdy construction with shingled roof originally.
George Kline signature "Fall 1919"
Unknown initials.
Incomplete 1916 signature.

Later modifications around sturdy beam.

One has to walk inside to appreciate the space.

Rice bags being loaded from a warehouse more convenient than the original barn near the Prange house.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Two 1920s Images from Prange Files

Since the Prange family operated the major saw mill of the area, planks for a make shift see-saw would have been no problem.  A fine length board would have been relatively easy to acquire.  Given the height of the fence at the key balancing point, however, the scene looks like an adventure, perhaps overseen by Louie? standing at the critical station.  Since it would appear unlikely the picture was made by anyone but an adult, the activity  must have been supervised.

Jim Prange, to whom I owe this image from the 1920s, identifies the middle girl on the sea-saw as Esther and the girl in front of her as Mary Elizabeth. "I could guess on the boys, but it would only be guesses.  Is that Louie standing tall on the fence?  Perhaps I see Richard, Erwin and my dad - perhaps."

If this is a view of the lower parts of the Bluffs including "The Hole in the Wall," it would have clearly been during a summer season when the river was very low, since I cannot remember the sandbar across the way being so exposed and extended.  1920s?