The quiet lake

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Rex Nel­son Se­nior Ed­i­tor Rex Nel­son’s col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette. He’s also the au­thor of the South­ern Fried blog at rexnel­son­south­ern­fried.com.

Har­ris Humphreys was born in my home­town of Arkadel­phia in 1878. He at­tended what’s now Oua­chita Bap­tist Univer­sity and moved to Hot Springs in 1909. Humphreys be­gan buy­ing land and bought a milk cow. By 1911, he had two cows and had es­tab­lished Humphreys Dairy.

“In the early years, the farm was a di­ver­si­fied op­er­a­tion,” Ben Har­vey writes for the En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Arkansas His­tory & Cul­ture. “Humphreys brought milk to town to sell along with chick­ens, eggs and sausage from hogs he raised. His dairy busi­ness grew quickly, due in part to his for­ward-look­ing man­age­ment. Al­though ru­ral elec­tri­fi­ca­tion was not wide­spread in the 1920s, Humphreys brought elec­tric­ity to his op­er­a­tion. He also ob­tained phone ser­vice to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate with his clients. Plant op­er­a­tions con­tin­ued to grow through the 1940s when Humphreys Dairy was at its peak. At this time, the fam­ily busi­ness was run­ning 11 trucks on daily runs to four towns. There were two trucks to Arkadel­phia, one to Jones Mill, two to Malvern and the re­main­ing six to Hot Springs. The plant un­der­went a ma­jor mod­ern­iza­tion cam­paign dur­ing the 1940s. … The plant also be­gan to pro­duce ice cream, but­ter and Bul­gar­ian but­ter­milk.”

I re­mem­ber Humphreys Dairy de­liv­er­ies to Arkadel­phia when I was a boy. On this early Oc­to­ber day, I find my­self at the Cather­ine’s Land­ing re­sort on the shores of Lake Cather­ine. I’m look­ing at old pho­tos of the dairy. Cather­ine’s Land­ing was de­vel­oped on land where Har­ris Humphreys’ cows once roamed. It’s owned by RVC Out­door Des­ti­na­tions, a Mem­phis-based com­pany that has as its motto “redefin­ing the camp­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.” The up­scale Cather­ine’s Land­ing has dozens of sites for recre­ational ve­hi­cles, 20 cot­tages, sev­eral yurts, boat slips on the lake, a large swim­ming pool, a splash pad, a cof­fee and wine bar, a fit­ness cen­ter, hik­ing and bik­ing trails, bi­cy­cle and golf-cart rentals, and two out­door kitchens. This isn’t your father’s RV park.

Cather­ine’s Land­ing is also the home of Ad­ven­tureWorks, which op­er­ates zi­plines and a climb­ing tower. RVC was es­tab­lished in 2006 and states in its lit­er­a­ture: “In­stead of the place to stay on the way to some­where, we are the some­where.” RVC op­er­ates sim­i­lar re­sorts in Penn­syl­va­nia, North Carolina, Ge­or­gia, Florida, Texas, Colorado and Cal­i­for­nia. Lloyd Lauland, the com­pany pres­i­dent, has a back­ground in the ho­tel busi­ness. He says RVC founder Andy Cates takes a spe­cial in­ter­est in Cather­ine’s Land­ing since it’s the clos­est RVC re­sort to Mem­phis.

Cates long has been a busi­ness and civic pow­er­house in his home­town of Mem­phis. He de­vel­oped the six-acre Soulsville pro­ject, a $30 mil­lion ini­tia­tive that in­cludes the Stax Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Soul Mu­sic, the Soulsville Char­ter School and the Stax Mu­sic Academy. That pro­ject re­ceived wide­spread pub­lic­ity as one of the most in­no­va­tive in­ner-city re­vi­tal­iza­tion ef­forts in the coun­try.

In 2000, Cates be­gan work­ing with other civic lead­ers to at­tract an NBA fran­chise to Mem­phis. He be­came a mem­ber of the orig­i­nal own­er­ship group of the Mem­phis Griz­zlies. Most re­cently, Cates has headed a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion called Mem­phis Fourth Es­tate Inc., which formed an on­line news site known as The Daily Mem­phian. The on­line pub­li­ca­tion hired some of the big­gest names from the city’s daily news­pa­per, The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal.

Far from the bus­tle of Mem­phis, it’s quiet along Lake Cather­ine. I’ve al­ways thought of this lake as the in­tro­verted lit­tle brother to that ex­tro­vert known as Lake Hamil­ton. Humphreys’ dairy cat­tle were graz­ing in the area in 1916 when a for­mer river­boat cap­tain named Flave Car­pen­ter met with Arkansas Power & Light Co. founder Har­vey Couch in an ef­fort to con­vince Couch to build dams on the Oua­chita River. Couch later hired en­gi­neer­ing firms to study the river. While in Wash­ing­ton to se­cure a li­cense for a dam, he ran into a friend named Har­mon Rem­mel, who knew Sec­re­tary of War John Weeks and set up a meet­ing with the sec­re­tary. Weeks agreed to sched­ule a li­cens­ing hear­ing. When Couch was granted the li­cense to build a dam, he de­cided to name it Rem­mel Dam in grat­i­tude to his friend.

Con­struc­tion on the state’s first ma­jor hy­dro­elec­tric pro­ject be­gan in May 1923 and was com­pleted in De­cem­ber 1924. Lake Cather­ine, which cov­ers 1,940 acres and was named for Couch’s daugh­ter, soon be­came a draw for tourists vis­it­ing nearby Hot Springs. Car­pen­ter Dam, which is far­ther up­stream and formed Lake Hamil­ton, was com­pleted in 1931 by AP&L.

In Au­gust 1935, Couch do­nated 2,048 acres along the shores of Lake Cather­ine to the state. The Civil­ian Con­ser­va­tion Corps be­gan con­struct­ing a park on the land in 1937. The state park opened later that year. From 194245, it served wounded ser­vice­men who were housed at the Army-Navy Hospi­tal in Hot Springs. Stone-and-wood cab­ins, a for­mer con­ces­sions build­ing, and a bridge at Lake Cather­ine State Park are listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places as prime ex­am­ples of the ar­chi­tec­tural style used by the CCC.

And what about Humphreys Dairy? Har­vey writes: “Humphreys was the first farmer in the Mid-South to pas­teur­ize his milk, ac­cord­ing to cor­re­spon­dence be­tween Humphreys and a col­league. De­spite the growth that Humphreys Dairy ex­pe­ri­enced, it re­mained a fam­ily-run busi­ness, even as larger dairies were be­com­ing milk fac­to­ries. The pros­per­ity for the Humphreys fam­ily con­tin­ued for many years, but it be­gan to de­cline as large na­tional dairy pro­duc­ers cut into the mar­ket. The last home de­liv­ery of milk was in 1991, and the plant closed in 1993.”

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