The approach northbound into Calico Rock on Highway 5 is one of the prettiest sights you'll see, especially when the leaves are just starting to turn. The highway parallels a cliff face on the White River for nearly a mile before swinging due north and crossing into town on a high bridge.
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.
No time hole here. Calico Rock isn't keeping this secret. It has a very unique standing. It's the only place in America
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.
And what a port. Fellows would come down from the hills or up from the Delta or in on a riverboat and have a time for themselves in Peppersauce Alley. The street grew a musty reputation for all the drunken brawls and debauchery over the years.
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.
But somehow, this little section of town was forgotten. Main Street stayed busy, but the town grew up to the west and north, and eventually a six or eight block area of town died off.
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 C
alico Rock O
rganization for R
fforts) 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?
It's not an easy project, but it is unique. Unlike many preserved areas, where homes and businesses are restored to their original glory -- Calico Rock is simply preserving what's there. That means don't expect to see windows reset in the frames at the funeral home, or weed-eating around the dead forklifts at the old flooring plant. This is how it is, and this is how it will stay.
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.
We started at the intersection of Caldwell and Walnut, figuring why not start in the middle. While he took off towards the bridge, I wandered up to the old funeral parlor, which seemed to be mostly intact. A large gathering of vines had congregated along the top corner of the old building, but I could peer underneath and see straight in what had been the window on the front door. Age seems to have disturbed the interior contents, but there appeared to be a good number of original contents inside, including what appeared to be a table saw of some sort. Considering this was a funeral home, I didn't want to think too much of that.
The old ice house and electrical plant was just north of this building, and the facing on the building appeared to be intact.
On the northwest corner of Caldwell and Walnut, there's a big boarded-up two story building. At one point this was the Knowles Grocery Store, and also a dealership for International Harvester. The building appears to be in good repair, but it too stands silent here.
Next door, there's not much left of the old Ozark Theater but the foundation. Then there's the old barber shop, which appears to have been converted into a home. Someone apparently lives here today, as evidenced by the uncracked window panes, curtains, and fresh American flag. A dog barked insistantly in the distance as we passed.
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.
But just down from that is the old City Jail - a unique site, for sure. This cell was built to last - and provided all the amenities a prisoner could ask for at that time.
After all this time, I was surprised to see the heavy steel bar door still hanging on its rusty hinges, the unbroken
stone interior, the narrow window that allowed light and air into the cell, and the primitive urinal fashioned into the wall.
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.
We crossed the single lane bridge across Calico Creek on our way to Peppersauce Alley. The bridge bounces noticeably when cars or even people pass over, but it's a strong steel deck over a narrow crossing.
Looking south, we could see the old wooden rail trestle about a block away.
The buildings that line the west side of Peppersauce Alley also face Main Street. Being on a hillside, there are three floors on this side,
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.
I wonder what it sounded like, when gangs of riverboatmen stumbled out of doorfronts on loud nights, rumbling and rowdy and looking for a good time. What songs were they singing? Did they head back to the boats or further into town to find a good place to flop?
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.
Though the bridge deck seems to have taken its share of weather abuse, the strong oiled timbers below are still performing their duties, a row of angled sentinels holding up a long silent railbed on its way to the also silent planing plant. I considered crossing it on foot, but a couple of loose ties convinced me that, though the fall wouldn't be far, a breakthrough wouldn't be the smartest idea for the day.
Back along Walnut Street on the other side of the bridge, there's an old propane store, and then another of the former grocery stores. I don't know when Batesville Wholesale Grocery was in business, but I wonder if it competed with Knowles Grocery at all, or if Knowles had started selling farm equipmentby then. The dog food advertisement on the window appears to be freshly painted, or at least well preserved.
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.
The folks at the Chamber of Commerce told me the ghost town had been used during Halloween for tours and a night-time haunted history romp. But the old plant on the south side of Walnut Street just seemed quiet, in the way open spaces seem to hum with summer's heat. Yet
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.
To the right, an empty warehouse echoed with the "chit chit" of nesting birds. The wide-open doors revealed an expanse of concrete slab and dusty warped boards and old pallets. An abandoned trailer could be seen through the corresponding doors on the other side.
To the left, old steel and wood buildings hadn't fared as well as the concrete block warehouse. Prudence told me I shouldn't venture too close to peer at the old tin roofed structure. Beyond it I could see the roofs of other warehouses on the old site.
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.
Inside, much of the old heavy machinery remains, coated in dust and rust. Pipes hang down from the ceiling, absent their connections from long ago. Old motor assemblies hunker down on the sides of the old cast iron and steel beheamoths, their purpose lost to time.
Outside, the old belt line that hauled scraps to the incinerator still loom overhead. In places, the metal has come loose, dangling like pears to be picked from the line. Everything outside is coated in the protective shield of years of rust.
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.
Knowing that we had a three hour trip home, we went ahead and headed back to the car. We studied the remnants of what had been another location for the Chevy dealership, and marveled at the old stone. Whether there had been another building material in play or someone had harvested the stone, we didn't know.
Around the corner, at Walnut and Rowden, there's an old intact house. The home was built around the turn of the 19th/20th century, and needs a paint job, but it isn't a far stretch to think about how it would look with a little work.
We decided to head back up to Peppersauce Alley and see if we could see the river. There we found an unusual crossing under the tracks. I guess that makes sense -- since the main line is right on the edge of the top of the bank. There's enough space for one car to pass at a time under the trestle, but you have to honk to alert anyone who's crossing.
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.
Above, along the entire length of the bridge, are what appear to be swallows' nests. The mud homes dot the underside of the concrete beast from one end to the other.
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.
Here you can appreciate the beauty of the riverbend -- rolling hills in one direction, rocky bluffs in the other. Rocky shoals lay on the surface on the north side of the bend. In the distance you can spot the roofs of bluff-top homes.
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.
Calico Rock's ghost town isn't preserved behind some wall or gate or locked fence. It's still holding out within the boundaries of a thriving little north Arkansas town, holding its breath, holding its place in history, slowly trying not to fade away.
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.|
Great photo spread ofCalico and especially Peppersauce Bottom!ReplyDelete
Izard County is filled with old buildings like those in Calico.
There's a lot more than just buildings, too!
Great article!! I have been to Calico rock many times and after reading this I want to go back. Thanks!!ReplyDelete
funny, but i share your love of old ghost towns. i was in calico rock today (before i read your article) wandering around and imagining what it used to be like. When i got home i discovered your article, and it captures my thoughts exactly. ThanksReplyDelete
This is a great article. I'm really glad to hear that people actually know that we exist! I go to school in Calico, but I live at Mount Olive. Talk about a ghost town....ReplyDelete
I left Calico in the late 80's.I never thought I would miss it as much as i did , being from the east coast it was quite the change for me! We use to float the river and go to Piney Creek to swim. I even lived in the ole hotel by the r.r. tracks. It was converted into apartments and I had the best view of the river.The eight yrs. I spent living there was great. Thanks for renewing some of the memories.ReplyDelete
I'm about to go to Calico Rock for a weekend, birthday getaway. I've looked all over for something that tells me about Calico Rock. This article/description was the BEST. Thanks for writing and taking the pictures. I'm looking forward to my trip now even more.ReplyDelete
I hope that good writers and photographers would keep up with neat little Arkansas places. Maybe it would help tourism. :)
What a wonderful article. Glad to find this blog! My family is from Arkansas originally (Mammoth Spring and Hoxie), and I love the Buffalo River country. Can't make it down as much as I used to, but long for the day.ReplyDelete
I taught school in Calico Rock, Arkansas in 1962 for one semester. I was only 20 and had finished my degree requirements to graduate from Arkansas State Teachers College (now University of Central Arkansas) that May (and got the job for one semester in January of '62). I had classes in seventh and eighth grade science and two high school science classes as well. It was quite a task preparing for all those students. I organized and conducted the very first science fair at the Calico Rock schools for both junior and high school students. There was a lot of resistance from the school administrators (and parents) but we pulled it off... and the students and parents (and school superintendent) loved it.ReplyDelete
I remember the Hayes Brothers flooring plant (they made beautiful parquet flooring tiles)... dynamic young guys (the brothers) running it. Surely, it didn't fail.. must have moved somewhere else.
I remember the old doctor Noel "Buck" Copp (he was quite a character in his blue jeans and boots) and Dr. Grasse with his homeopathic clinic.
I have lots of memories about Calico Rock. which I could share.
Frankly, the "Ghost Town" is nothing more than several broken down old buildings. Spend your time in the downtown at the shops and restaurants, or rent a boat for a nice trip on the river. The people are very nice and helpful, but they don't care for the "Ghost Town" idea either.ReplyDelete
Very nice blog and photographs. We visited the Ghost Town in Calico Rock today and appreciated the fact that no efforts are being made to restore any of the buildings as of yet. What we do consider an improvement is that there is now a free "walking tour" of the area with very informative signs, some with old photographs included adjacent to most of the old buildings. It was slightly annoying that some of the signs are located in places that you would rather have them out of a photo that you are trying to take, but the efforts are greatly appreciated.ReplyDelete
My father's family lived in Calico Rock from about 1908 to 1915 and went to school there. My grandfather, Daniel Grant Thompson, was the blacksmith there at the time in the old blacksmith shop (later the Philgas Propane shop). He died there in 1911 after he sustained an injury while making repairs on the old cotton gin there. He is buried in Calico Rock. I find these pictures and the history of Calico Rock fascinating.ReplyDelete
I'm not sure if this will reach you or not. I've been going through my grandmother's photo album. She was born and raised in Izard Co., Creswell and Gorby area. I have a very old photo of the Calico Rock and the album's date is 1910.Delete
To Nancy Ryan, If the C.O.R.E. group had actually consulted with the property owners when they were in the planning process they would have had far more cooperation from property owners. A courtesy letter of some kind detailing their intentions and asking for our input would have been civil.ReplyDelete
Instead, Ghost Town was planned without the consent of the property owners. I in fact found out about this project by looking up Calico Rock on the internet. What a shock to find out that my personal property was to become a tourist attraction without my permission or discussing with me and the other property owners first, I was livid to say the least.
When I asked Sue Varno and other members of C.O.R.E. as to why the property owners were not notified about this project they simply said "letters were sent out and you received one", I did not nor did the other property owners. When I questioned their response the group called me a liar including a local Mennonite preacher, one of our Alderman told me that Ghost Town is going to be and there is no stopping it, he also owns the local newspaper and is a C.O.R.E. member.
Talk about making enemies with property owners! Does this answer your question about the signs and their Kodac moment positions?
The is one question That the C.O.R.E. members refused to answer, I asked them " how would you feel if someone turned your property into a tourist attraction without asking you", to this day the only response that I have been given is, "If you ask again we will have you arrested for harassment"
I always think of ghost towns as 1880's type structures. Although it's mildly interesting it's not much different than a hundred decaying towns in Arkansas such as the town of Cotton Plant. It is the right of an owner to do what they wish with their private property within city guidelines. It is also a city's right to condemn abandoned and dangerous property. I agree the two parties should have had real communications but apathy tends to bring on situations like this.Delete
It is true that approaching Calico Rock from the south is one of the prettiest sights you'll see. I did it yesterday and with the prettiest of Springs all around, it was one of the most amazing sights I've ever experienced. You have more pictures of Peppersauce Alley than I've seen anywhere. Nice job!ReplyDelete
I found this by accident but was pleasantly surprised. The photos are great as is the narrative. Looking and reading made me think I was in the middle of a Walker Percy novel and/or this would be an excellent setting for one. I was born in Calico Rock in 1942 in my grandfather's house up "white way." I don't know why it was called that but up 56 toward the turnoff to Spring Creek. My grandparents owened the River View Hotel for a few years in the early to mid 1940's. I graduated high school in 1960 and I worked 4 summers at Hayes Brothers Flooring Co. They made parquet flooring there late in the time of the mill. They made their reputation on "regular" hardwood in the tongue and groove style which would be put down in semi-random lengths. They went out of business for several reasons but one of the biggest is that ready lumber close by was used up and the process became very expensive. In the days before OSHA the mill was a very loud, very dirty, very dangerous place to work. It was difficult to keep the old equipment working and once the major magician that did that retired there was no replacement. Also the main Hayes Brother, J.W., was killed flying his airplane. The middle brother, Bob, was not as skilled in any phase. But for the details you would have to get someone else to write. The mill whistle is something you might want to think about. It was very loud, heard all over town. It rang to start work, for lunch and then again in an hour to resume and then to signal ending. Summers were so hot that usually the start of the day was 7, lunch 12-1 and work until 4. Workers could not afford to eat lunch in a cafe for the most part. They would have their lunch pails and would find some shade to collapse in while they ate, cooled off and caught up with their smoking. I was a teen and would run up the hill about 7 minutes to my grandparents house for "dinner." I would collapse awhile and then run back before the whistle blew.ReplyDelete
Continued: Just because you might like to know. The Knowles' grocery was not at that corner long. Milsie Knowles had a store in Newburg which is toward Melbourne before moving to Calico Rock. After a few years he opened a Western Auto on Main Street which was then taken over by a son and now the son of a son and there's probably another in the wings. The Batesville Wholesale Grocery was not in competition with Knowles or other retail shops. It was a staging area for getting groceries out to all the little towns around several counties. My grandfather Ulys Hudson started with them as a 20 someething having moved from Wild Cherry (no longer even a ghost town). He was just labor to start but he caught the eye of management who put him on the road as traveling salesman and he would drive his car to all the grocery stores, take orders and then call in or take the order to HQ who would run a truck out with the orders. I'm guessing between the lines here. It may be that Ulys also carried some items with him. You can imagine what the roads were like around here during the 20's and 30's. Ulys had lots of stories to tell. I'm not sure if you mentioned that the bridge across White River was built in the 1960's. That route you followed under the RR was the way to get to the ferry. Going to Mtn. View to play basketball was difficult even though the miles are not that many. I will leave that to your imagination: a bus full of kids, a coach/driver, a ferryboat that operated on a cable by directing the boat into the flow and using the current of the river not unlike a sailboat uses the current of the wind for propulsion. And then after three basketball games you had to come back home by the same route. Just for completness the Wholesale Grocery went out of business. Once again I'm looking between lines but WW2 was on and the little towns and little groceries began to dry up. People had gasoline vehicles and wanted to shop in a bigger town. So at any rate my grandfather's job was at some point no longer available. He had basically made his living with his personality and being literate with his 6th grade education and had done rather well. After having the hotel a few years and trying to sell rural real estate with United Farm, he realized that everyone was buying a car and needed insurance so he began to sell a general line of insurance including cars and homes. He had a little office above the State Bank of Calico Rock and did that for 20 years or so until he retired.ReplyDelete
Are you still there, Kat? I posted something a week or so ago and have not seen it. It was so long I had to send first half and then second half. If you don't publish it, that's fine but I forgot to save a copy and it was something I would like to have available. Thanks.ReplyDelete
No worries, Robert - I missed the notification that you'd responded on this (there are 1100+ articles on this website). That's a lot of great information and I'd love to hear more. I need to get back up that way soon.Delete
This article brings back so many memories. I moved to Calico when my mom married her child hood sweet heart Lucian Lofon, the most amazing step dad anyone could have ever had. Seeing the photos and reading the stories touched my heart in so many different ways. I shutter that I lived there for so many years and went back so often to see my parents that I never took the time to shoot simular photos. Being a photographer, myself and knowing you can take a masterpiece of a photo right out of your front door. The stories my dad told me of the festivities that happened there are part of a life so far gone. People would dress up in there finest and go to dances and pig roast that were a huge part of the social life back then. A fun fact you may not know, my uncle Joe Lofton was commissioned to build that little jail in the pictures. When he got it completed and was paid. Uncle Joe decided to celebrate with a little liquid spirits, and earned himself the first occupant of the Calico Rock jail.The stories my mom and dad told me during what they called their courtship, so renews my love of so many people I have not seen in a very long time. Yet I feel my being able to be apart of this wonderful town and given the chance to share my childhood with such a wonderful community and accepted with open arms. Yes the people there have done a great job reminding us of a life that once was that was so closely tied to the river. So often when industry changes and ways of living go by the way side there is so much destruction. This is not the case here, people hung on to the past and kept it alive through us and these reminates. They are here for us to use as an outline if you will, to imagine how it was during the peak. The stories they shared with me, I have done my best to share with my boys.ReplyDelete
During the 1950s into the early 80s my granny & grandad, Ada & Everett Smith, owned & operated the Ideal Grocery on Main St in Calico Rock. I spent many summers there as a kid & loved it. Granny & I would walk to the store from home crossing the old swinging bridge. Wish that somebody would write a grant to bring that swinging bridge back to life. My mom, Zelda Killian, loved Peppersauce Alley. What about the old movie house on Main St? I remember going there as a kid & with no bathroom, having to pee outside behind Thurl A's (Arnold) gas station next door. That was so scary! I got to eat all the ice cream & candy I wanted because my grandparents owned the grocery store there. I used to get my hair done on Saturdays at Lorraine's beauty shop & then hang around for the drawing up by the soda fountain/drug store (& shoe store). Doc Cop had to pull a bug out of my ear in the middle of the night. I think it was trying to dig into my brain & was very painful. Granny used to rub me down with kerosene when I got covered in seed ticks walking through a cornfield. My other grandma, Elsie Killian, lived up on "the bluff" & would scare the daylights out of us kids when she drove her car down that big hill into town. I remember the old ferry before the bridge was built. Loved going to the rodeo there too. Such fond memories!ReplyDelete
I am headed there tomorrow. I love reading the stories of this small town before I go. I too grew up in a small town and love the small town stories. Once a small town girl, always a small town girl.ReplyDelete
They are currently turning the old barber shop in ghost town into a bed and breakfast...Shearers Haunted Retreat. Opening soon.Delete
Hmm, having once lived in Calico Rock in my teenage years and learning about some of places still talked about today, from people who there parents handed down to them and there parents handed down to them and so on, along with all the people who are passed down from generation to generation aswell... The ghost town is tip of the iceberg, Still it's hard for me to believe Calico Rock has a ghost town, but will not tell the best parts to go with it's history I wonder why chamber of commerce hasn't mentioned anything about lover's leap, Hobo's den, all the Indian caves on the bluffs where calico rock got its name and the actual either a hideout from bank robbers or where the boats who carried slaves from up river down to meet another boat... But if they had to stay for a time a place to stay is impressive... Still has several rooms and a place of fresh running spring water to bath or drink window holes for fresh air to enter always,,,, place to build a fire and such... A Truly impressive and appreciated design in whomever made this tavern in a bluff, the bank robbers or slave traders took time to made this place in a almost impossible seen multi room hideout... Calico Rock is so much more than a town with a living ghost town,,, like being commented here... A movie was made in this town called bootleggers which you'll love it's history, considering 15 years ago about some of the old bootleggers still lived and could tell you there stories, I assume now there families would have to,,, which are still alive and live in Calico Rock... Also Calico Rock was one of Jesse James towns that he was part of enough that his picture was taken with him standing on and looking off lover's leap,,, which is or was hanging in the Calico Rock hospital... It's ashame this isn't being told with the ghost town or even brought back to life with the old ghost town... But if the old dieing calico rock would restore the ghost town and everything else that goes with it's real history calico rock would be a amazing attraction like mt. view is... Calico chamber of commerce and it's older city officials haven't preserved as much of Calico Rock that needs to be preserved by someone,,, A Truly Historical town dieing like it's historical ghost town is... Which is sad the places and people are on the last generation carrying out all the places and amazing people who were here once,,, most children today in Calico Rock move out after graduation to a town that's flurishing with life... My grandparents are the last of my close family who lives in this soon to be ghost town...ReplyDelete
If you go to see calico rock ask a resident who's family grew up there and ull find the life and real history of Calico Rock,,, and probably who's great relative who stayed in the old ghost town jail...