The quiet lake
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.”