My Hometown – Hector

by | Sep 1, 2018 | Features

There is a slow cadence in Hector. It’s quiet. It’s remote. It’s beautiful. Wild azaleas exist on the trails in the mountains and wild game is plentiful. The farmland is sprawling and green. The water is clear and accessible. The Ozark National Forest caps the town to the north and provides an abundance of outdoor activities.
The essence of the small town and its people can be found in the 40 Ozark Mountain peaks that surround it. The ancients believed mountains are close to heaven or other religious worlds; Indians knew their livelihood came from their streams, fed their plants and animals and gave their people all they needed to live. Mountains gave our ancestors fulfillment. This wealth is what makes Hector unique.
“When I moved here from California the mountains were beautiful and everything was so green,” Karen Snider, Hector Library clerk said. “It looked like God’s country.”
Hector began as an Indian campground and in the 1800s became one of Pope County’s earliest settlements called Boiling Springs. The name came from an underground spring that seemed to boil up out of the ground. Evangelical camp meetings by Reverend Mahlon Bewley were held there in the 1830s, and the first Methodist church in Pope County was established as a result of these camp meetings.
By the mid-1830s the town grew and the early businesses were a tannery, mercantile stores, a cotton gin, a mill, and a US Government whiskey distillery. The area was known for its plentiful game and diverse crops. Payments to merchants were made in skins, hides, cotton, wheat, silver, and greenbacks. The largest debts were for whiskey, tobacco, pain liniments, and pills.
The Civil War caused great upheaval and devastation in the region. Farms, homes, and businesses were raided, taken over, or destroyed. After the war, the town rebuilt and by 1885 was large enough to establish a post office. But the residents couldn’t decide what to name their town so the frustrated postmaster called upon President Grover Cleveland for help. The President had a fondness for dogs and he named the town after his favorite bulldog, Hector.
A cyclone hit the town in 1908 which damaged or destroyed 27 homes and six businesses. Many were injured, and two men died as a result. The homeless were taken in by neighbors and helped afterward by donations of supplies from Russellville and surrounding communities. The town rebuilt but remained relatively the same size since its beginning in the 1800s.
There was no formal school in Hector until 1889. Prior to that time, traveling teachers would teach for a couple of weeks and move on. In 1875, mercantile receipts show that tuition cost ten cents per day. Today, Hector Elementary and High School are the mainstays of the community. In 2017 enrollment was 576 with students from Scottsville, Nogo, Tilley, Caglesville, Appleton, and Falling Water all attending here. The school district covers 298 square miles and parts of two counties, Pope and Searcy. One fairly famous Hector graduate, Geral Don Hurley, signed a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals to play minor league baseball as a shortstop. His career began in 1954 shortly after he graduated.
The old men of the area — a timeless collective, it seems, in every rural community — who once sat outside the general merchandise store now sit outside The Store, a local convenience store, and tell about the past. One such man is Carl Trip who spoke of a legendary folk hero, Joe Hilderbrand. Joe had been placed on a prison farm at the age of 19 for various crimes including theft. “I knew of him,” said Carl. “We graduated at the same time. Folks made a big thing out of nothing. He was raised north of Dover and Hector in the mountains.”Joe was famous for breaking out of prison and authorities would inevitably catch him and send him back. One time he was released to go visit his Dad after a stroke and didn’t go back, just wandered around the hills where he grew up. Police did finally catch him, though, and promptly sent him back to prison.
Carl Trip is 82 years old. He grew up in Hector and graduated from Hector High School, joined the Air Force and later made his living as a truck driver. Carl talked about growing up here. “Everybody was poor. Basically, everything was hunted out. We had a mule and wagon we’d hook up and head to Atkins Bottoms where we’d pick cotton. That’s where my Aunt and Uncle lived.”
Carl said the school had the greatest impact on the community. “It changed more people than anyone or anything else. “
Hector Mayor John Riley agrees. “The school is the largest employer and is very vital to Hector,” said John. “As the school goes the city will go. It’s a big identity for the community and has struggled at times in some things, but has been successful.” John said the school was central to town and area unity, a touchstone for the community. “The majority are supportive of school events, with sporting events becoming community gatherings,” said John. “The people basically adopt the school children and think of them as their own. Hector school is where their parents and grandparents went to school.”
Besides the school, Hector’s economy is mostly agricultural with logging, cattle ranches, chicken farms, and hog farms. “Most people here work in the Russellville, Morrilton, or Conway,” said John. “There are some farmers or loggers that live and work here at Hector and are home-based.”
There are a few full-time businesses in Hector, but most are part-time. This tradition began with the early settlement when business owners were more enthusiastic about hunting than running a business. “Most of the businesses are open three days a week,” said John. It’s laid back.
John began his term in 2015. “I’m really community oriented. My family was too. I was elected to the city council in the late 1990s and served while my grandfather (Cecil Riley) was mayor. I can’t remember his first year, but he was up in his 60s. His last term started in 1999 when he was 86 years old.” Cecil’s record was focused on improving city infrastructure. “He was instrumental in moving our water system to Tri-County. That’s probably one of the best things he did because it provided the community with a consistent source of water.” John also shares his grandfather’s forward thinking for Hector. “I want the city to be a little more progressive than it has been – getting funding for new roads and grants to work with the school district,” said John. “My philosophy is that in order for Hector to be successful everybody here has to work together.”
One of the two city parks in Hector is named after John’s grandfather, the Cecil Riley Memorial Park. It features a walking trail and a pavilion for community events. One such event is the annual HectorFest and Dogg Daze celebration held in June. The event includes a Dogg Daze beauty pageant, music concerts, a parade, and fireworks. As of 2018, HectorFest is run by the Hector Scholarship Foundation and cosponsored by the city.
The Hector Scholarship Foundation (HSF) is a non-profit started by Dr. Greg Bell, a local pharmacist and cattle rancher, and his brother-in-law, Walt Davis, former superintendent of schools. “We wanted to give opportunities to young people here and at the same time entice them to remain here and to build their businesses here to help the city grow,” said Greg. In 2018 HSF awarded five $2000 scholarships.
The mountain music at HectorFest is provided by local musicians. At one time the music concerts were separate. John and city council member Jason Waterson, a musician himself, put together the first free concert. The concerts became part of HectorFest in 2016 with two stages featuring 12 bands.
Local writer and photographer Lacey Kennan said, “One of the great things about HectorFest is that we showcase local talent.”
The second park, Linton Park, is the oldest. It’s named for Dr. A. C. Linton, who was the first operating doctor in Hector. A native of Hector, he stayed to practice medicine from the age of 21 until well into his 80s. Dr. Linton’s service fees often went unpaid or were paid in rations, chickens, or dinner. Dr. Linton started his practice using a horse and buggy, making house calls to the sick through any type of weather and through creeks and forests. He claimed to have delivered over 6,000 babies during his career and was beloved by the community he served.
What do people love about Hector? Mayor Riley said, “The vast majority care about their neighbors. They work hard together. If there is a tragedy or illness they come together. It’s a close-knit community. They are a giving community. It has a lot to offer if you like outdoor activities. We have great churches. It’s a good place to raise your family.”
Ednita Condley, Hector Library Branch Manager agrees with John. “We know and like everyone.”
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