Earl Harris responsible for developing Rogers
After much thought of our many great leaders in Rogers and discussion with other history lovers, I think Earl Harris, owner of the Harris Bakery and Harris Hotel, was the person most responsible for developing our great city.
During his lifetime, Harris was involved in almost every major event that happened in Rogers. In 1936, he was in charge of overseeing the construction of Lake Atalanta. Harris led the first major effort, in May 1945, to establish an airport in Rogers and was the first chairman of the Rogers Airport Association. When Rogers needed a new hospital in the late 1940s, the first chairman of the board of directors of the new Rogers Memorial Hospital was Earl Harris. In the 1950s, Gov. Orville Faubus appointed Harris as one of the original members of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, whose purpose was to bring industry to Arkansas. In 1954, Harris negotiated to bring Wendt-Sonis, a major manufacturer, to Rogers. In the late 1950s, Harris, as a member of AIDC, went to Plymouth, Mich., and talked Cass Hough into bringing Daisy Manufacturing to Rogers. When Daisy came in 1958, support industry followed, and home building and the city boomed.
During his later years, Harris devoted a major share of his time promoting Rogers. He was president of the Rogers Industrial Development Corporation, president of the Rogers Chamber of Commerce, a deacon in the First Christian Church and a leader supporting the Boy Scouts. He was a longtime supporter of the effort to build Beaver Lake and was president of the Beaver Dam Association.
Harris died of a heart attack in 1959 at age 63. Even at the time of his death, he was working to promote Rogers. He became ill while coming back from a meeting of the AIDC in Little Rock. It is hard to comprehend how one man had so much influence on the progress of Rogers from 1926 until 1959 — just 33 short years. He lived to see the coming of Daisy in 1958, but did not see the completion of Beaver Lake, which he was vigorously promoting.
So, who was this Earl Harris? Harris was born a poor boy on Posey Mountain near Garfield in 1896. He had to quit school in the eighth grade to work and help support his mother and sisters. As soon as he was old enough, he moved to St. Joseph, Mo., and got a job as a traveling salesman selling bakery equipment. In 1927, Harris — at the age of 30 — came back to Northwest Arkansas and opened the little bakery, with the help of his sister, Effie, at 107 W. Walnut St. in Rogers. (The original Harris Baking Co. sign across the front is still there today.) Flour was hauled by wagon from Seligman, Mo., in 100-pound sacks. The bakery mixing room was located on the second floor. A horse in the alley pulled a rope that lifted the sacks to usethe thrived,manythe day newsletterCounty secondbakery Bentonof (“The businessesa up Historicaland pulley.cameto Earlof succeededCountyfloor then250 the in HarrisThe throughloaves closed, Benton1929.the Society, Pioneer, businessDepression producingStory,” Whileper the
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On May 7, 1935, Earl Harris bought the bankrupt Lane Hotel for $100,000. This was quite a bargain, for the hotel had been built just seven years earlier for $150,000. He changed the name to the Harris Hotel and made it into the cultural center of Northwest Arkansas. In 1936, Harris built a new bakery just north of the Harris Hotel, at 114 W. Elm St., that was advertised as the most beautiful bakery in America. (This building has been renovated into office space but the original exterior is preserved.) The two properties joined in the back, and Harris used the steam from the hotel heating system to heat his new bakery. The hotel was located between the bus station on Second Street and the train depot on First Street and was THE place to stay. The Harris was the largest and nicest hotel between Kansas City, Fort Smith and Little Rock. It was billed as “The Palace of the Ozarks.” Traveling salesmen, tourists, movie actors and even college football teams who came to play the Arkansas Razorbacks were guests. Some of the occupants who stayed at the Lane included aviator Amelia Earhart, boxer Jack Dempsey and actors Errol Flynn and Henry Fonda. Harris sold the hotel in 1948 to Warren Felker, who renamed it the Hotel Arkansas. The hotel continued to be successful in the 1950s, but business started to fall off in the 1960s as new motels sprung up along U.S. 71 in Rogers. The famous old “Palace of the Ozarks” closed July 15, 1963. The building continued service as a retirement home until 2004. Since then, the building has been vacant and deteriorating. Those of us who love Rogers were afraid of losing the historic imposing structure and had little hope of saving it because of the tremendous cost to renovate and bring the building to code.
Finally, in 2015, along came the Walton Family Foundation, who purchased the historic building for $1.6 million and began renovating it for a Rogers location of Haas Hall Academy.
No expense was spared inside or out to refurbish the building into an ultramodern school, while keeping the historic charm and atmosphere of the building. The exterior, lobby, stairs, ballroom and Orchard Restaurant are just as when built in the 1920s and 1930s. Earl Harris would be proud of the new life for his “Palace of the Ozarks.”
Harris Bakery trucks lined up in about 1940 on Second Street beside the Harris Hotel in Rogers. In 1927, at the age of 30, Earl Harris came back to Northwest Arkansas and opened the little bakery at 107 W. Walnut St., Rogers, with the help of his sister, Effie. The bakery survived the Depression. Harris devoted a major share of his time promoting and improvide Rogers.