Horseshoe Bend - in the beginning

 by Willie Nemec

 When Bill and Dick Pratt purchased this land now called Horseshoe Bend from john Williams, I am sure they never visualized what it would become. They enjoyed getting away from the cities and fishing, hunting and just retreating on the land. One of Dick’s favorite stories is how they were here for a weekend with their families and needed some groceries. Dick volunteered to make the trip to the store.

Coming back after dark, he got lost and stopped at a home for directions to Horseshoe Bend. The homeowner said, “Come on in and have a cup of coffee-the Pratt boys are not here this weekend, so no one is there anyway.” Although he was anxious to get back, he was embarrassed to admit that he was one of the Pratt boys and couldn’t find his way home.

In the fall of 1962, I was happily employed with Pope, Pratt and Shamburger, Attorneys in Little Rock and had no thoughts of leaving that beautiful office.  The Pratt in that firm was Dick Pratt, and some of my work involved a place near Hardy, Arkansas. That was just like foreign country to me. One day in November, Dick asked if my family would like to spend the  weekend in the country and I jumped at the chance-and got my first look at what is now Horseshoe Bend. We had to open three gates to go down this trail to the Strawberry River where the only overnight accommodations were. (The cabin and the trail leading to it were built by the Pratts after they purchased the land.) That was the cabin on the river which was swept away by the December 3rd flood. There was no road from Franklin and I can not tell you to this day how we got there.

 The surveyors and early construction workers would stay in the cabin during the week and it was equipped with a number of cots and single beds. There was a shower of sorts, but we had to go to the spring for our drinking water. Needless to say, we enjoyed a wonderful weekend and the kids loved it. Nese , Jay and Micah picked up enough rocks, leaves and bugs to have quite a load.

 On Saturday, Bill Pratt drove up and took us back down the trail. He stopped the car at a certain spot and pointed to a tall hill. He said, “That is called Gobbler’s Knob and it’s the highest point on this property. We are going to build a big restaurant and club house there.” Since all you could see for miles was trees, I thought the man was a little touched in the head, and certainly put no faith in that statement.

Back in the law office the next week, Dick Pratt asked about the weekend and of course, I told him what a great time we had. Then he said, “How would you like to live there?”

I immediately replied, “There is no way I would LIVE there.”

In late May of 1963 I moved to Horseshoe Bend.

A house had to be built for us to live in since there was nothing here except for the farm house where the stables were located. The Thornton Walker family lived there. I never saw the house until it was finished and I moved in. The reason my house was situated at the angle on the two lots is because the lots had not been surveyed at the time of construction, so it was set down in the middle of two lots.

 The stables were supplied at that time with donkeys, the most stubborn animals alive. There were quite a number of them that the Pratts had bought and they were around for a few years, then just as slowly disappeared from the area. One goat always followed them wherever they went. 

We had no phones, no road to Franklin and, the road to Salem was strictly a one-way street. I have backed up many times when meeting someone to allow us both to go on our way (on what is now Highway 289).

 Although work had been going on since 1962, it wasn’t until spring of 1963 that there was a building ready for visitors. That was the clubhouse on top of that big hill. The clubhouse was originally only one-story and the Blue Room was added on in later years too. There was a counter where the brick wall is now, and renovated booths around the walls, and even some card tables made up the furniture. All operations were from the clubhouse. The White Motel (next to the current ProShop, later the MRID building, which has now been razed) was the next building to be constructed to house what we -hopefully-called customers.

A local girl, Willie Mae Garner, drove from Ash Flat when she heard there might be an opening for office employment at this new place, and was hired to be the office manager. She originally set up all the records, etc. for this operation, and married Dick Pratt many years later.  It was really confusing to many at that time, Willie Mae is an unusual name and here we had two employees in the same building and both of them named Willie Mae!

 I was surprised after moving to learn I would be temporarily managing the clubhouse. This consisted of buying all food and that meant a trip to Salem, since there were no deliveries of any kind. It also meant going to farm houses to buy eggs and vegetables. Milk was purchased in half gallon containers, and suppliers just would not believe that there was a restaurant on a hill in these woods.

 This temporary job lasted for two years until Wilma Mendenall took over.

 There was only one cook in the beginning at the club-Clarice Montgomery of Morriston. She was also the dishwasher and whatever else had to be done. Lucille Billingsley and Ginger Roberts were the first two waitresses. These high school girls really enjoyed the work and the money they made that first summer. 

Bill Pratt thought we would have a lot of people to eat our first 4th of July and they wanted to have a barbeque. Since he is quite a connoisseur and a good cook too, he did the cooking on my grill (since that was the only one available) and took pains to see that the food was just right. 

The big crowd did not come, and the employees and the Pratt families were the only ones to enjoy the delicious barbecue that first 4th.

 Since all operations were from the club house, the sales people were there too. Really, their office was under the trees on the drive coming up the hill. It was an event when a strange car came up the hill, but before the summer of ‘63 was over, Sunday afternoons became quite busy as all the local people for miles around would drive up to see what was happening at that place called the “Bend” and enjoy a coke in the restaurant. The first three salesmen were Olen Barnes of Franklin, Harlus Harber of Sale and Willene Langston of Wiseman.

John E. Miller, our State Representative of Melbourne, can tell you about surveying the first additions in Horseshoe Bend and his little son, David tagged along to help too. 

Claude Brunson of Franklin knew about big machinery, and was instrumental in clearing an building the roads. Dust clouds were common around Tracts D and E that first summer with all the road work going on. Keith Batterton, Royce Hill, Garland Brown, Bryan Blevins, Lex Walker, Edward Bates, Lotus Thomas, Tracy Williams and Thornton Walker were among those early employees who worked clearing the land and just about anything else that needed doing. 

Since there were no phones, we had our own form of communication. I would tie a white cloth on a tree in the front yard and that was a signal for someone to stop and deliver a message to the club.

 No phones also hampered communications with the Pratts since they could not stay in Horseshoe Bend all the time. One day, Dick Pratt told a new employee to call him at 12 o’clock on Tuesday and give him the number of replies we had received from a mail-out. The nearest phone was at Jones Store in Agnos. The employee was new to this area and had to be given specific directions to Agnos via the Day Road. After receiving directions, she still was puzzled.

Again she was told just exactly how to go, where to turn and every time she was told, the last part was “when you get to the highway, that is Agnos.” Finally she asked, “But, Agnos who?”

The first election was held in the blacksmith or garage building at Day, Arkansas. Dirt floor, wasps and hot weather were prevalent and I think 18 people voted that day. Most of them were from surrounding areas.

I retain fond memories of the local people and how wonderful they were to us in those early years. This was fully demonstrated when my daughter, Nese fell from a tree in our back yard in September of 1963 and sustained a broken jaw, concussion, skull fracture, pelvic fracture and many cuts and bruises.

 She was taken to Little Rock and Bessie Roberts, Bessie’s daughter Pat and many others kept the boys and took care of everythign for me. There still were no phones but I knew they were taking care of my children. The whole community helped out when we came home and I shall never foreget all they did for us.

Wilma and Troy Mendenall moved here permanently next, and Jim and Mary Hale, along with Nancy and Pete who soon followed. So our communty began to grow.

 Sequoia Addition had not been started, so the only road to the Club House was what was known as the “Day Road” (and is now Cardinal Drive and Hwy. 289). It was really an exciting day when they started clearing out the trees and roughing in the roads in what was to become Sequoia.

The area that is now Veterans Park was an orchard. There was a small home where the picnic pavilion is now and it was known as the Courtwright place. There was a water well there and since there were no water lines, they ran a line from that well to my house, and it served for many years before they changed it to the water system.

 We really did enjoy picking the apples, peaches, pears and black walnuts from the orchard. All that remains now, I believe, is one pear and one black walnut tree in the park area. 

There was also an old home where the fire station is now. It was torn down that first summer and all the heavy equipment was parked there in the evenings, and the gravel was stock-piled there for the new roads.

 The next two houses constructed were on Clark Lane. Bill Pratt had the home which is now owned by Arni Tanttu, built for himself, but he never did get to live in it - it was purchased by the Mendenalls. Dick Pratt built the home now owned by Herb Peterson, and it was also sold before they moved in. This house was really unique in that it had a blue stone floor in part of the house. Herb and Dorothy had carpet installed over the stone, but Herb says it’s still there.

All activities centered in the Clubhouse the first few years. Everything was very informal and you might find most anyone in the kitchen. We had local talent to play for square dances and “round” dancing too, in the area where the crafts are now. Ethrig Floyd, Olen Barnes, Billie and Clay Campbell, Junior Ward, Pete Phillips and Lloyd Grimmett were some of those who played regularly. People would come from all over the area for these dances. The young kids in the area were urged to perform and almost every night Pete Hale and my kids would sing a song and be rewarded with a candy bar. Bingo was played in the dining area where the only table sand chairs were located.

I had never owned a full set of dishes during this time. At meal time, in our  home, you could always hear the children “naming their plate.” One would say he wanted the one with the blue house on it, another wanted the green one, etc. One of my favorite memories is the day at the Clubhouse when Micah was served his usual hamburger and he said, “It is so funny, every time I eat here, I get the same plate.” (sorry Micah, I couldn’t resist.)

The Wednesday morning socials were begun early to give the ladies something to do. The women took turns bringing good things to eat on Wednesdays and playing games and cards. Sometimes there would not be enough to do anything ut sit and visit, but they were enjoyable times.  This Wednesday morning practice continued for many years. 

One of my favorite stories is when a resident brought a cake and said it was in celebration of her husband’s birthday. We sang happy birthday to him and enjoyed the cake. He was in Salem shopping at the time.

Claud Mosier was the original wrangler at the stables and he was kept busy those first few years. Since this was a major part of the recreation we had to offer, the trail rides were scheduled every hour and were popular with everyone. My son, Jay, spent all his time there and I am sure was a pest for a long time, but eventually became adept with the horses and helped break the new ones in.

 One afternoon when he was 11 years old, he was going with Mr. Mosier to the rodeo at Ash Flat. He seemed much too excited to me, and I felt something was going on. When Mr. Mosier came to pick him up, I said, “don’t you dare let Jay ride a horse in that rodeo.” He assured me over and over that he definitely would not let him ride a horse. When they got back that night, Jay hit the ground yelling for me to see his silver buckle. Seems he won first place for bull riding - but the y had kept their promise and he didn’t ride a horse! I eventually recovered.

North Lake, Bass Lake and Strawberry River provided many hours of fishing and fun. They were used a lot more then because that is all the water we had and bank fishing as well as from the boats was popular. The young especially enjoyed the spring area by the Strawberry River. The development cleaned up the spring, built the enclosure around it, built rough tables and seats out of logs and put sand around the area. Many, many picnics were enjoyed and kids found their own amusement just playing in the water and sand.

 Watercress grew in profusion in the low spring and it is too bad it has disappeared. Sue Pratt - it was max Humphires and Harlus Harber who stole your watermelon you had cooling in the spring. Now you know.

 Finally came the day they were to install the phones in Horseshoe Bend surrounding area. We could hardly believe it, and were glad to have them even though they had several people on the line. Since so many were on the lines, you were given a limited amount of time to talk, then you received a warning beep, then you were cut off. Of course, all you had to do was redial, but it helped. It was great to have a phone, but we had no phone books at first. You knew your own number and that was all. The first night my phone rang and a voice said “who have I got?” it was Alvah Billingsly from Franklin and he was just dialing at random and talking to whoever answered.

A friend in the area told this one on herself after her new phone was installed. Her phone rang, she answered and a lady said “this is the telephone company, we are going to blow the dust out of these new phones, so you need to put your phone in a sack.” She looked frantically around for a sack and the only one she had was full of okra on the kitchen counter. She dumped out the okra and quickly put the phone in the sack. A time or two during the day the phone would ring and she would take the phone out of the sack and tell the caller she could not talk.

That night her teenage daughters could not contain themselves and had to confess that the trick had been played on her.

 Someone had to go each day to Franklin to take the deposit and also to pick up the mail. The post office was located directly across the street from the bank. Glenn Roberts was the postmaster and Tommie Billingsley and Lige Godwin worked in the bank.

 Franklin boasted three grocery stores at that time and several other businesses which are no longer there. The little community building atop the hill was being used quite a bit, too. We went to one movie in the community building on Saturday night. The building was equipped with benches and they stretched a white sheet in the back, and that was what the movie was shown on. 

There were home made boxes at the front desk in the Clubhouse for the resident’s mail to be place into. The few residents were just as anxious then to receive the mail on time as they are now and of course, since all activities centered around the Clubhouse, you got to see everyone just about every day.

How many of you remember those mouth-watering fried peach and apple pies that Glenda Ramsey made at the Clubhouse? And - the most popular items on the menu had to be fried chicken and the Turkey Mountain Special. That special was barbecued pork cooked outside and the one who taught us all was Bill Pratt. Many pounds of that were served over the years!

There are many stories to be told, and so very much happened, and the above account is only of the beginning - 47 years ago.

                                     

 (In the Beginning was originally written and published on June 22, 1983. Willie Nemec was Vice President in charge of Public Relations for Horseshoe Development Corporation, and a former editor of the Horseshoe Progress for many years. She currently resides in Fayetteville, Arkansas.)