Earl Har­ris re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ing Rogers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - OUR TOWN - James F. Hales is an au­thor and lo­cal his­to­rian. His col­umn ap­pears monthly.

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

March start­ing hap­pen­ingLane While an­oth­erHotelto his Earl June,in was bak­ery Rogers­big Har­ris 1999). un­der event busi­ness,— was con­struc­tion. wasthe Span­ish­much opened fan­fare. colo­nial-styleThisin It 1929 five-sto­ry­was amida build­inghuge build­ing down­tow­nand still doesthat Rogers dom­i­nat­ed­to­day. then Un­for­tu­nately, busi­ness as pros­pered,Har­ris’ bak­ingthe

De­pres­sion­ho­tel, and it killed­went in­tothe new bank­ruptcy on Oct. just10, 1933. four years later,

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.”

Cour­tesy photo

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.

JAMES F. HALES

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