My Hometown: Pottsville

by | Apr 1, 2016 | Features

In the mid 1800s more than 250,000 people left the eastern United States and headed west. Many took the Oregon and Santé Fe Trails with dreams of striking it rich during the California Gold Rush. But some of those families set out for lands in Missouri and Arkansas rumored to be rich with fertile farmland.  A few found their way to Galla (or Galley) Creek and Pisgah here in the River Valley.  Galley Creek, named after Chief Galley of a previous Cherokee village, was located almost a mile northeast of the present downtown district of Pottsville on the east side of Galla Creek. The Pisgah settlement, founded by members of the Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church from Pisgah, North Carolina, and Bethany, South Carolina, was steadily growing.
John Kirkbride Potts was one of the first landowners in this area later incorporated as Pottsville.  In 1828, at the age of 25, John was forced to leave his homestead located just south of Mount Magazine when a federal treaty removed the Cherokee Indians and the white settlers from the land.  He relocated to a river port southeast and across the Arkansas River, known as Galla Rock.  Kirkbride then used the preemptive privilege granted him by the government for removal from his land and purchased 160 acres, paying just 25 cents per acre. He married Pamelia Logan, the daughter of a friend and fellow settler of the area in 1829.  Eventually he enlarged his land holdings to 650 acres at the base of Crow Mountain and built a two-story log house. Potts and his growing family lived in the log house for 25 years.
Like many others in the late 1840s, Potts headed farther west to California in search of gold.  Realizing that striking it rich by finding gold was more difficult than he first thought, he found the miners would pay well for cattle.  In 1850, Kirkbride drove cattle from Arkansas to California, at least twice, and came home wealthy enough to build a grand house just south of their log house.
As the population grew rapidly in the western-most states, so did the demand for faster mail service. Twice monthly deliveries by steamship were hazardous and were not keeping up with demand. In 1857, John Butterfield, of New York, entered into a contract with the U.S Postal Service to carry mail by stagecoach from St. Louis, Missouri, and Memphis, Tennessee, to San Francisco, California.  This was the birth of the Butterfield Overland Mail Company. The contract provided  twice-a-week service in post-coaches or spring wagons. In addition to the mail, the coaches could carry up to nine passengers.  Passenger fare from St. Louis to San Francisco was $200, and ‘way’ passengers picked up between stations could ride for 10 cents per mile.
The Potts family home became known as the Potts Inn, and was one of the principle stops along the Old Country Wire Road. The Butterfield Stage made regular mail stops at Potts Inn between 1858 and 1861.  Kirkbride Potts maintained a post office inside of his home before Pottsville had an official post office.  The Potts Inn was known to travelers as a comfortable stop between Memphis and Fort Smith for overnight accommodations, a place where they could stable and rest their horses and get a hot meal and a bath in an actual bathtub. The bathtub was located in the Potts family kitchen, as it was less work for Mrs. Potts to heat the water and carry it to the tub.  The first person to take a bath each night paid the most, with each subsequent person paying a little less since the water wasn’t as fresh.  The last person to bathe also emptied the tub.
The Potts Inn was listed on the National Historic Register in the early 1970s. The Pottsville Citizens’ Bank was nominated to the National Historic Register after the town’s centennial in 1997. During the visit with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s representative for the bank’s nomination, a suggestion was made to now Pope County Historic Foundation President Pamela Duvall Scarber that the town probably qualified for a National Historic Commercial District. Scarber completed the nomination form in 2004 to include the Falls & Sinclair General Mercantile Store, the bank and the adjoining buildings of Benita’s Photography and the Oates Pharmacy Museum, as well as the cattle dipping vat behind the bank. Scarber tells of the visit with the representative for the district’s nomination. “I included the cattle dipping vat but was told we couldn’t include it because it was agricultural and our district was commercial.  I asked him if he had every lived in the country.  He said he hadn’t and didn’t understand why the vat should be included.  My reply was it should stay because agriculture was the commerce of the town at that time.  The cattle dipping vat made it through the nomination.  Pottsville may have the only National Historic Commercial District with a cattle dipping vat in the United States.”
Potts Inn Museum is now owned by Pope County and contains many displays of historic significance to the county.  Marge Crabaugh was the driving force in purchasing the home and its transformation into a museum in the early 1970s. Crabaugh worked with the county government and together they determined the best way to preserve the property was for the county to own it but that a foundation be formed to oversee the upkeep and preservation.  “Judge Gibson and the Pope County Quorum Court have been very supportive of our work,” said Scarber. “They budget each year to provide us with a part-time person to conduct tours and help with grounds maintenance.  We couldn’t do it without them but we are still very limited on funds and in need of support.”  One of the items Scarber described as being significant to the county is the piano in the ladies’ parlor of the museum.  It was purchased by 1880s Pope County Sheriff Hogins who gained fame when  he took a shotgun, a log chain, and a padlock to the Russellville Train Depot. Hogins padlocked the noon train to the tracks until the railroad company paid their taxes. Most of the items in the home were donated by individuals from the county or civic groups such as the Rotary Anns.
In 1913, the Pottsville Citizens’ Bank opened across the street from the Fall & Sinclair General Mercantile with capital stock of $15,000. An eleven-year-old boy, Wade A. Oates, watched for the bank to open on that first morning from a storefront bench across the street so he could make the first transaction at the new bank. The Pottsville Citizen’s Bank Building closed its door as a bank in 1992 and Wade A. Oates, at the age of 90, was on hand to make the final transaction at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30.  Most people think of banking as not very exciting, but that was often far from the truth with the Pottsville Citizens’ Bank.  In 1926, two men dressed in Santa Claus suits robbed the bank in broad daylight.  When the robbers told head teller Roy Falls to stick his hands up, he laughed and said he would wait on them when he finished with the other customers. Falls thought some of the locals were trying to play a trick on him. In March 1928, the Citizen’s Bank again made the headlines with an attempted robbery, this time by a man claiming to be from Chicago. This man robbed the Falls & Sinclair store, Henry’s Drug Store, the post office, and broke into the depot station before attempting the Pottsville Citizen’s Bank. The man had attempted to cut a large hole in the vault but was not able to gain entry. According to the newspaper article, “Pottsville is perhaps the most law-abiding community in Pope County and it is seldom that her name appears on the criminal court records. Outside talent, however, seems determined to ruin this reputation.”
The town’s night watchman, “Lope” Adams, had a cot at the back of the bank where he rested between rounds.  One of his most important duties was to turn off and on the town’s one night light.  The bank building is now owned by the City of Pottsville.  Former Mayor Jerry Duvall obtained grant money to ensure the building stayed intact and it is often included in tours for visitors of the Potts Inn.  The building still has the original tile floors, granite counters, and pressed tin ceiling.
The Falls & Sinclair General Mercantile Store across the street from the Potts Inn was built prior to 1880.  Stories about Mr. Pryor, a clerk in the store and his loud, booming voice were common during this time. If you needed to find someone, you simply let Mr. Pryor know.  He would stand on the front porch and yell up and down the street.  Mr. Pryor was also  allergic to pepper. A young Charles Wade Oates (later partner in C & D Drugstore) and his friends would pool their money to buy a nickel’s worth of pepper, then run from the store and see how far away they could still hear poor Mr. Pryor sneezing.  The building was last used as a store by Charles and Aileen Morton. It has since been purchased by a local historical group and donated to the county joining Potts Inn as another museum building.   The modern additions inside the building were removed and you can once again see the pressed tin ceiling.  Scarber states, “The original plans were to turn it back into a Depression-era mercantile museum but we ran out of funds due to more pressing issues.  At this point, we would like to fix the building with restrooms and electricity so we could rent it out for weddings and functions.  Then, as we have the funds, we could finish the conversion to the original plan for a mercantile museum.  Unfortunately, even that much takes more funds than we have right now.”
Where children now play in the park behind the bank, there was once a large cotton gin owned by the Rankin family.  Charles Oates shared stories of the large diesel engine that ran the gin but had to have a small gas engine to get started.  Once the cotton was baled, it was taken out underneath the train underpass.  The cotton bales were too tall to fit under the tracks.  The workers would pull the wagon up to the tracks, they would roll the top bale onto the track, pull the wagon forward, and then roll the bale back onto the wagon.  The Rankin family also eventually owned gins in Arizona.  According to Mr. Oates, they were the first family in Pottsville to have indoor plumbing.
Each year, the Pottsville Junior High Students conduct living history tours of the grounds.  This program was started in 1997 by Pamela Scarber and then continued by Kellie Van Es and Tina Taylor.
The Potts Inn Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 am until 4 pm each week.  For further information or to book special tours, call 479-968-8369.   The museum also maintains a Facebook page where posts are made concerning upcoming events.
The City of Pottsville was built on the history of its founders and their dreams of a brighter future. The historical significance and effect they had on the future of Pope County cannot be forgotten.

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