In­ter­views Pre­serve Prairie Grove His­tory

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Lynn Kut­ter

PRAIRIE GROVE — Long­time res­i­dents of Prairie Grove cite many rea­sons why the com­mu­nity is spe­cial and some that stand out are the friend­li­ness of the peo­ple and their giv­ing na­ture to help any­one in need.

“If there’s some­one in need, what­ever it may be, this com­mu­nity has been so will­ing to come to­gether for a fundraiser,” said Ch­eryl West, who was born in 1959. “It’s been un­be­liev­able the money our town can raise to help some­one in need.”

Dr. An­drew Bain, who served as mayor from 1996 to 2001, says the “giv­ing men­tal­ity” of the peo­ple is what sets Prairie Grove apart.

“I’ve never heard of a com­mu­nity that sup­ports its peo­ple like Prairie Grove does,” Bain said.

West and Bain are two of 29 Prairie Grove res­i­dents in­ter­viewed as part of an oral his­tory project about the town.

Scott Davis of Green­land ap­proached Prairie Grove City Coun­cil ear­lier this year about record­ing an oral his­tory of Prairie Grove as a keep­sake for the com­mu­nity. The videos are avail­able on YouTube un­der the ti­tle Prairie Grove Oral His­tory Project.

This is Davis’ sec­ond oral his­tory project. He first recorded one for Cane Hill. Davis also plans to con­duct in­ter­views for an oral his­tory project for Farm­ing­ton and has spo­ken to Lin­coln City Coun­cil about work­ing on a pro­gram to record Lin­coln’s his­tory. Davis has a nat­u­ral in­ter­est in this area’s his­tory. He grew up in the Cane Hill area and grad­u­ated from Lin­coln High School.

Prairie Grove’s oral his­tory project has two parts, the com­plete in­ter­views recorded by Davis and then shorter, edited ver­sions. Old pho­tos are shown through­out the in­ter­views to add an­other dimension to the final project.

“I thought it was re­ally in­ter­est­ing to hear the sto­ries, to hear their mem­o­ries,” Davis said.

The in­ter­views in­clude sto­ries from long ago but just as im­por­tant, Davis said, he has in­ter­views about more re­cent his­tory.

“A lot of stuff has hap­pened in Prairie Grove in the last 20 to 30 years,” he noted.

Bain, who was born in 1960 at the old El­iz­a­beth Hospi­tal in Prairie Grove, tells about his fa­ther, Dr. Calvin Bain, start­ing a den­tistry prac­tice in town in 1950. An­drew Bain fol­lowed in his fa­ther’s foot­steps as a den­tist and also as a mayor. Calvin Bain served as Prairie Grove mayor for 12 years in the 1960s and 1970s.

Greg Reed, re­tired from Ar­vest

Bank, re­mem­bers his first job mow­ing a yard for a Prairie Grove res­i­dent. Reed said he earned 75 cents for the work.

David Parks with Prairie Grove Tele­phone Co., shares how the fam­ily busi­ness started. His great-grand­fa­ther, Dr. McCormick, a fam­ily doc­tor, ran a phone line from his of­fice on Main Street to his brother’s phar­macy across the street in 1888.

“That was the be­gin­ning of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion busi­ness,” Parks said.

The com­pany con­tin­ued to ex­pand and be­came in­cor­po­rated in 1906. Parks said his great-grand­fa­ther was in­volved in the rail­road, in­volved in build­ing roads and with the can­ning fac­tory in Prairie Grove and was a char­ter mem­ber of the Prairie Grove Chris­tian Church.

At­tor­ney John Everett said he came to live in Prairie Grove to work in a law of­fice to “see where he wanted to go next.” He never left Prairie Grove.

“Some of the peo­ple in Prairie Grove are some of the finest peo­ple I’ve ever met,” Everett said.

Ed Smith, re­tired as su­per­in­ten­dent of Prairie Grove Bat­tle­field State Park, said Prairie Grove had an “abun­dance of re­ally good peo­ple” and his fam­ily wanted to be a part of that.

Paula Dit­mars has lived in three dif­fer­ent places in Prairie Grove and said she en­joys see­ing her friends about town.

“I can’t imag­ine living any­place else. I can’t imag­ine giv­ing that up. I don’t in­tend to,” Dit­mars said.

Videos in­clude sto­ries of what chil­dren did for fun back in the day, grow­ing up in Prairie Grove, and sto­ries from men who con­tinue to meet each morn­ing for cof­fee at lo­cal hang­outs.

One of the most mem­o­rable events of Prairie Grove was when the wa­ter tower fell on down­town build­ings on July 24, 1983.

Larry Oel­rich, the city’s di­rec­tor of pub­lic works and ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices, said the in­ci­dent oc­curred on a Sun­day morn­ing and the city had con­tracted with a com­pany out of Ohio to take down the 100-foot-tall tower. The tower was sup­posed to fall in a straight line. One of the legs had twisted and the tower fell across Cres­cent De­part­ment Store and other down­town build­ings.

There were about 500 peo­ple down­town watching the ac­tion and when the tower be­gan fall­ing to­ward the stores, “We had peo­ple scat­ter­ing in all direc­tions,” Oel­rich said in his recorded in­ter­view. “It was kinda a scary time try­ing to keep or­der be­cause ev­ery­one was try­ing to get out of the way.”

It was a big story for Prairie Grove, Oel­rich said, not­ing, “We made na­tional news that night.”

Mayor Sonny Hud­son said the city al­ready has lost many res­i­dents who could have shared sto­ries about Prairie Grove long ago. He said he is glad the com­mu­nity will have a recorded his­tory that peo­ple in the fu­ture can view.

“This is a lot of his­tory and I think it’s great to pre­serve it in some way,” Hud­son said. “It’s amaz­ing to listen to their sto­ries. They all have unique sto­ries about their past in Prairie Grove. It’s pretty neat.”

Davis ex­pressed his ap­pre­ci­a­tion to Su­san Parks-Spencer, who watched all the videos for any mis­takes.

“I could not have done Prairie Grove as well as I did with­out her help,” Davis said. “I asked her to be picky when watching the videos.”

The city of Prairie Grove paid about $6,600 for the project. Davis said he did not bill the city for all hours worked but noted he was not just do­ing it for the money but as a com­mu­nity ser­vice.

COUR­TESY PHOTO

Joyce Cun­ning­ham is one of 29 peo­ple in­ter­viewed for an oral his­tory project for Prairie Grove. Each per­son in­ter­viewed is in a sep­a­rate video and they are iden­ti­fied with their name and the year they were born. The videos can be found on YouTube un­der Prairie Grove Oral His­tory Project.

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