Back in the days when Arkansas was known more for the concept of hillbillies than Wal-Mart, back when the population was under a million people and Dogpatch USA was our big northwest Arkansas attraction, there was Booger Hollow.
It was built in 1961, along the winding roadway of Scenic Highway 7. Highway 7 rolls up gracefully from Russellville to Dover, and then somewhere about Pleasant Grove decides to act up and try to buck cars off its back for the rest of its journey to Harrison. Well, not really, but it is a fine windy and hilly road -- and one of my favorite stretches of roadbed in Arkansas.
The Booger Hollow Trading Post isn't in a hollow. It's actually on a hilltop several miles away. And yes, the community really is named Booger Hollow.
Rural Arkansas magazine published a short piece on Booger Hollow in March 1970. It says the community got the name because it was right between two cemeteries, and it was a good idea to take a friend with you if traversing the area at night. The term booger in this case came from the words boo and bogus -- not the nasal affectations of the mucus-ly afflicted.
Whatever the reason or the cause, Booger Hollow quickly became representative of the Arkansas stereotype. And as a young 'un in the 1970s, I didn't care.
A trip up to Dogpatch USA could not be completed unless the mandatory stop at Booger Hollow had been made. Sure, there was the photo-op outside the Double Decker Outhouse. But inside the store were goodies of all sorts... hillbilly pickins to rival anywhere else on earth.
There was the Hillbilly Chicken Dinner -- a wooden box that you opened to find a piece of corn glued inside (for the chicken, silly!), the Hillbilly Lighter (another wooden box with matches inside), and lots of examples of the Hillbilly Corn Cob Pipe. There were jams and jellies and honey all canned in Arkansas, and postcards with all sorts of hillbilly things on them. The adults checked out the quilts and the figurines and the handwoven white birch baskets, but for us kids it was a time to pick up those neat triangle puzzles you play with at Cracker Barrell today and Sassafras Drop Candy.
And there were the hams, big robust country hams salted and smoked and served up on sandwiches at the Booger Hollow Chuckwagon. They smelled of salt and dripped with your choice of dressing, mayo or mustard or a little barbeque sauce some days.
In later years, the Chuckwagon came up with another delicacy, the Boogerburger, and folks who had stopped to eat at Russellville's Whatta-Burger might try to gorge and sample this one too, or take it on the road.
I remember the Booger Hollow Trading Post fondly... as a kid, I collected rocks (this probably explains a lot about me) and there were always some Arkansas crystals or tumbled stones I could add to my collection. And there would be the occasional Hillbilly Pet Rock or rock ring that seemed really cool to a kid at the time.
Years passed, and times changed. At the end of 1991, Bill Clinton decided he wanted to be the next President, and reporters came to Arkansas to find out more about the Man from Hope. And Booger Hollow Trading Post became a sort of testing post for the opinions of the "working class man." Several of the different national networks sent reporters to check out this place, population seven, "counten' one coon dog." And for a while, there was a boom.
In 1991, I was a student at Arkansas Tech University. I would meet my future husband there, and for fun on a lazy Saturday afternoon now and then we'd make the drive up to Harrison and back along Scenic 7. We'd stop in at Dogpatch USA, which by this time was breaking down, the trams closed, the lower amusement park now open to drive through so you could check out the vendors. And we'd stop on the way back at Booger Hollow to catch a cold drink and sometimes a sammich, and some of that good honey with the honeycomb inside.
Years went by. I graduated, moved and moved again, and quit making that trek up Highway 7. By the mid-90s, Branson had started to bloom and bustle, and Dogpatch USA was closed for good. AHTD had been working meticulously on knocking the curves out of US Highway 65, and the more direct route from Little Rock on up became more popular as longer stretches were made four lane and the speed limit was increased. And Scenic Highway 7 started to dry up.
This past August, my husband and I on a whim made the trek up Highway 7 again, just to see what had changed. We knew about the demise of Dogpatch USA. But the closure of the Booger Hollow Trading Post surprised us.
So I started doing research, and promised myself I would go back with a camera later and catch some photos before it disappeared for good.
It turns out, Booger Hollow wasn't a victim of time or change, but of property ownership. Now, there are several different stories I've been told, but I have been able to discern this much. In 2004, owner Charlotte Johnson was approached by a couple of different people aboout buying the property and keeping it open. One of those people was David Standridge. But she didn't sell it to him... she sold it to a couple out of Green Forest (at least, that's what it says at the Pope County Courthouse). David ended up buying land closer in to Dover for his own enterprise.
Now here's where it gets iffy. A couple of people have told me that the purchasers didn't make the payments, and Johnson got the property back. And I've even heard that the land under the Trading Post went back to someone else.
Regardless, the Booger Hollow Trading Post closed... there were a couple of attempts to reopen it but it's now been officially shut down for three years.
I didn't know about the land battle and stuff when I went to visit the property on a very foggy day in October, 2007. All I knew was I wanted to find out more about what happened.
The fog seemed to suck everything up that day -- the sound from the road, the view -- it even appeared to suck the very highway itself from existance about 50 feet ahead of drivers.
The signs still mark the way. From about 10 miles out in either direction, white signs with red borders and lettering herald what were the proud products of Booger Hollow -- hams, quilts, and more. The signs keep drawing you onward to a disappointment.
I scouted out along the road for the attraction, wondering what I would find. And then, it showed up so quickly I nearly missed the turn.
There stood the old red buildings with their white trim, wearing the fog like a memorial shroud or the very fog of distant memory. Perhaps I was just dreaming this? No, the humid day slicked my skin. I was really here.
A carpet of wildflowers has engulfed the step up to the front porch. All the signs are still on the front door, and the mats are still out. With the condensation on the window, you might mistake that "Closed" sign for a mark that someone is coming back.
But there's a window busted to the left of the door, a small window on the lower left hand side. And peering through it, I could see rows of empty shelves, the memory of what used to be inside betrayed by my eyes.
Well, nothing left inside.
I decided to walk back to the outhouse -- it was hard to see if it was still there because of the fog. I managed to catch a very pretty picture of the old "smokehouse" (really, this was way too small to ever have been a real smokehouse, right?) and bench protruding up through the fog and the wildflowers.
Indeed, peering through the fog, I could see the outhouse still standing. I crunched the gravel with my feet, walking back over to the popular facility.
Other than the fading paint, the outhouse is none the worse for wear. Heck, it's an outhouse -- how bad can it get? It still seemed as "functional" as it was in the good years.
From here I took a shot back at the rest of the Trading Post. It seemed so lonely and quiet. And abandoned. But if you made the day sunny and added some cars in the parking lot, I don't believe you could have told. This is, after all, a tourist destination -- and with people, there would have been a big difference.
I walked back around the front of the building, still trying to figure out what had happened. The doors to both of the "flushy" restrooms in the tiny building next to the store were standing wide open. There was an old ice cooler on the front porch of the Chuckwagon. But still, no signs as to what had happened here.
I decided to check around back, just to see if I could find something more. I was surprized there wasn't a "For Sale" sign, or mention anywhere of why it was closed. That bothered me.
I rounded the back corner of the Chuckwagon, and was surprised to see the remains of a burned out building. Was this a separate kitchen, a smokehouse, or a home? Hard to say.
Pieces of burned wreckage are scattered through the weeds, and what appear to be refrigerators or the like lay like overturned beetles in the grass. Just one wall of this structure is standing.
I turned to walk back, and noticed a door open at the back of the building. My first thought was "I can't go in there," but curiosity got the better of me. At least I would know.
The door lead into a lean-to portion of the building, and some items still remained inside -- a bed frame, Christmas garlands, a set of Chicago Bears glasses (this puzzled me a whole lot!). There's been some water damage to the roof, but otherwise it just looks abandoned and empty.
I was surprised anything was left -- with that door standing open for who knows how long, anyone could have just come in and taken stuff. Though, I have to admit, what was left was an odd lot. There were empty shelves, racks, and some discarded items here and there.
Signs were still up from some last sale. There were doll stands and a display of Arkansas native tumbled stones, still trapped behind Plexiglas mounts. And though there were no skylights or electricity, the fog outside acted like a fluorescent lamp and left a pale wash on everything.
I suppose the items left behind had little meaning for whoever was managing the place last. Perhaps these were things that couldn't be sold off, or were broken or had no value to the seller. The cash register was gone, but overhead fans remained, and old lights hung like spiderwebs overhead.
And yet there are still some signs of what used to be here. I captured a shot of a Hillbilly Coffee Mug on one shelf, and wondered to myself how much one would charge for such an item.
I crossed over to the Chuckwagon. Here, the tables are gone, but there are still drink coolers and baskets beside the walls. The room was much cleaner than I thought it would be. Perhaps the whole operation closed down in 2003, once the tourist season was over, and everything was cleaned up for the dormant winter shutdown. I wonder if the people who worked here knew that Booger Hollow wouldn't reopen for business. There were boxes of nicknacks on the floor, half spilled, as if the person hauling them out decided it wasn't worth picking them up when the box split. The little kitchen was neat as a pin.
I walked back over into the main store, and walked towards the back. And there, to my surprise, was a pamphlet case about half full of Branson fliers. All sorts of shows being advertized -- and no one to take one and stick it in their bag or purse to peruse later. The Arkansas map above has started to deteriorate, but the rack remains.
And this was about the time the moaning started to unnerve me. From the moment I walked in, I had heard noises. I knew logically it was nothing more than the creaking of the old boards in the wind of the dank weather... but it felt like people were still there. Somehow, it seemed like echoes of what used to be there, the customers asking the locals about Arkansas, being told cornpone jokes and sold trinkets and jam. And in a way, it was like the building was mourning the end of those days.
Will it be the end? I have no idea.
I went back to the back door and let myself out, yanking the door hard shut. I tried it, and it wouldn't budge. I hoped that would be enough. While I'm naturally curious, I know there are other people out there who would be less scrupulous, and perhaps take what's left inside -- or worse, vandalize the place.
By the time I made it back around the building and got into my car, my shoes were soaked from the condensation on the grass -- and my camera batteries were low. I looked back one last time and hit the road to head home.
On the way back, I stopped at Chigger Hollow. It's on the same side of the road, several miles closer to Dover. This is the place David Standridge built when it became apparent that he wouldn't be able to realize his dream of owning Booger Hollow. It opened earlier this year. Inside, it's neat as a pin, and there's all sorts of stuff -- ceramics and crafts and shoes and, oh yes, a supply of Hillbilly Souvenirs and a rack of jam and jelly. He says the flea market was going to come later, but instead it's here now, and the whole place is developing. Though there's not much traffic on Highway 7. I get the impression that this undertaking is more a lifelong dream than a moneymaking venture, and I can understand that.
As for Booger Hollow, I miss it. I want to crawl around in my memory and visit it the way it was 20, 30 years ago, when there were never less than five cars in the lot and the smell of smoked meat hung in the air. I don't know what will happen to the old building or its contents, but I can only hope someone else will eventually be able to reopen it and bring back that charm. I suppose a lot of it will have to do with the real estate battle for the land, and whether the tourism traffic will ever pick up again on Scenic 7. Whatever happens, I'm glad I got to visit while it was still vibrant and alive.