There's a rail crossing right as you come off the bridge -- and then Calico Rock's commercial district sprays out in front of you, a canyon of progress impossible to ignore.
But if you take a right when you pass over that crossing, or even at the next block, you can travel a whole 75 years or more back into the past.
where you can find a real ghost town, inside of a living town. Anywhere.
The town was named for that cliff face -- it was all sorts of different colors, so it was named Calico Rock, just like a calico cat. Back in the 19th century this was another port on the White River with its own ferry.
Just across Calico Creek, businesses flourished. A blacksmith shoed horses just over the bridge, and the city jail was across Walnut Street. A saw and grist mill and a cotton gin brought business to the area. Then the railroad came to town in 1903, and another burst of life came in.
As the years passed, businesses came and went. There was the grocery store and a barber shop and a theater. Competing car dealerships went up, with the Chevy dealership over on Rand Hill and the Ford place over on Rowden. Manufacturing was a big deal in the early years of the 20th century, and lumber came in big. There was a planing plant over off east Walnut, and the Hayes Brothers had a flooring place half a block away. And business was good.
In many towns, developers would have loved a chance to seize onto the cheap, abandoned property -- level everything and start over again. But that's not the case in Calico Rock.
A group of citizens who called themselves CORE (for Calico Rock Organization for Revitalization Efforts) got together and decided this part of town needed saving. After all, how many ghost towns are in walking distance of where you're at?
My traveling companion and I went up on a moderately warm November afternoon to find out more about the ghost town. Outside of a few mentions here and there on the web, there's not much information. Sometimes you're just better off experiencing a place with your feet.
And that's what we did.
In broad daylight, the only ghosts you have to contend with are the ones in your own head. And the only visitors we had to contend with were the few teenagers who swiped past in their cars, using the bridge and Walnut Street as a shortcut to wherever more important place they were headed.
The old ice house and electrical plant was just north of this building, and the facing on the building appeared to be intact.
The old pool hall and hotel is nothing more than an empty shell today. Saplings grow inside, the only signs of life in what was once a large crashing space for workers and travelers.
Some of the old windows and doorways have been bricked over, but the other openings reveal little of what was once inside.
The lot for the old Chevy dealership is grown up with weeds. Not much left to gaze at, except the still used intersection with Rand Hill Road.
After all this time, I was surprised to see the heavy steel bar door still hanging on its rusty hinges, the unbroken
You can still clearly read the sign that states "$5 Fine for Talking to Prisoners" next to the door, outlined with the only grafitti I noticed on the building. The city has done a good job of keeping vandals out, and the little building is well preserved.
Looking south, we could see the old wooden rail trestle about a block away.
and you can see where additions and renovations have been made over the years. The old stone structures are still in good shape, but allowances have been made for replacing windows and doorways and adding insulation. If you squint your eyes, you can see how the buildings must have looked a century ago.
The old line leading to the abandoned trestle is still there... bypassed at the switch but still snaking out to the old bridge quietly on its own. We walked up to the old line and took a few pictures.
Across from the old theater, there's a smaller building that the map tells me used to be Suzy Johnson's Cafe. Perhaps this was where the guys at the flooring plant went for lunch, grabbing a sandwich and a soda before returning to the machine shops.
there was a chill in the air from the November wind.
Inside the yard of the old flooring plant, a forklift sat, just like it must have when it was parked for the last time. The tires had rotted, but the old vehicle stood like a guard for the rest of the empty yard.
Another doorway to the right draped in vines revealed an old machine shop. The ground was squishy underfoot, and I wondered if the vines bloomed in the spring. They'd make a neat photo-op.
The old incinerator tower is beginning to buckle after all these years, but its coppery clad base still retains its conical shape.
On top, if you can get to the right angle, you can still see the steel mesh dome cage that topped the structure. It reminded me of a giant salt shaker.
Back further, there's what must have once been a workshop, with a big smokestack next door. But it is covered in overgrowth and hard to get to. The smokestack stands taller than the incinerator tower and still looks sturdy.
On the other side, we drove down a ramp to the landing. Dozens of trucks were parked along the way -- probably people out fishing along the White River. We parked under the bridge and stepped out.
The river is wide and slow here. Calico Rock's Main Street was built so far above this point, because flooding was a fact of life. But the construction of the dam on the river's North Fork leveled out the water.
At the mouth of Calico Creek, deadwood has created a skeleton of trees bleached by the sun. A trickle of a stream eases out from under the rail bridge and the distant trestle.
With the receeding sun reflecting across the water and through the leaves, you could lose yourself in thoughts of peaceful nature.
It was here that something occurred to me. All along our trip up Highway 65 and Highway 9 up to Highway 5, the leaves had all changed over. But in Calico Rock, the barest shades of yellow and orange were just starting to emerge. Somehow, autumn was late arriving here.
If you have the chance, sneak your way up to Calico Rock for photography and reflection among the ruins of a town gone by. And take the chance to explore the living portion of Calico Rock as well. Duck into the doorways of some of the local shops, or give yourself a treat and retreat to the cool splendor of the park that lies north of Highway 56 and east of Highway 5.
If you need more information, contact the Calico Rock Chamber of Commerce at (870) 297-3772.
UPDATE 9/5/17. This piece has garnered thousands of glances over the year. I'm updating it today with photo credits and including more photos from that day in 2007 below.
Learn more about Calico Rock at the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
Read the history of Calico Rock on its 100th birthday here.
|That's my brother, Zack.|