Interviews Preserve Prairie Grove History
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.
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.