Wednesday, March 28, 2018

George F. Upton Photograph Collection by Andrew McClain

This photo collection spans over 30 years of significant changes and development in the Dardanelle/Mt. Nebo area through the eyes of an observant citizen, and while many are unlabeled and updated, the photos tell the story of a changing community. George Flint Upton was born September 3rd, 1878 in Lawrence, Kansas. It is not known exactly when Upton and his wife, Janelle, moved to Dardanelle, Arkansas, but Upton took a job as a printer at the Dardanelle Post-Dispatch sometime in the 1890s and became owner and publisher of the paper in 1900. Upton served as mayor of Dardanelle for two years (unspecified by his obituary) and served on the school board for 12 years.

PH.Upton.04: “Geo. F. Upton Jr.” black and white photo, 2 ½ x 3 ½, undated

Even before the Civil War, Mount Nebo stood out as a visible landmark for those traveling the Arkansas River, but in the years following, it became a summer tourist destination. In 1887, P.G. Blevins opened the Blevins Hotel on “the bench,” the natural stone terrace that sits just below the summit of Mount Nebo, where most early settlers of the mountain also found an ideal foundation to build their cabins, which had burned previously. 


Picture from Thia Wilson Brown; her great-grandparents owned this hotel – Celia Elizabeth Cole and Phillip Grundy Blevins. PH.Upton.53: Blevins Hotel (on the Bench), green-tone photograph, 4 x 6, undated

Dardanelle was incorporated as a town in 1855, as agricultural life in Yell County flourished in the lowlands around the Arkansas River. In 1895, Mount Nebo was incorporated as a town, and by 1889, Mount Nebo had another 200-room hotel, the Summit Park Hotel, and the Normal School, (a teacher’s college) eventually bringing the summer population to around 5,000 on the mountain.


PH.Upton.56: Farmers with bushels of produce, Dardanelle, sepia photograph, 6 x 8, undated

PH.Upton.57: “Corn grown on T.A. Johnson Farm near Dardanelle,” sepia photograph, 6 x 8, 1916

One novel innovation and source of local pride during this chapter in Yell County history was the Dardanelle Pontoon Bridge, which opened in 1891 and was the longest pontoon bridge in the United State, offering toll service across the Arkansas River from Dardanelle to Russellville. The Pontoon Bridge Company operated a steamer called “The City of Dardanelle” which assisted in disassembling and reassembling the bridge when river traffic came through.


PC.Upton.21: “Dardanelle Pontoon Bridge, Dardanelle, Ark.” Green tone photograph, 3 x 5, 1910

One particularly striking photo shows the “Old Courthouse burning in Dardanelle one morning.” We know of one county courthouse in Dardanelle burning on April 21, 1913, although it reportedly burned in the evening. The back of the postcard identifies “Janelle with umbrella, Basil with paper near the buggy.” 

Fire claimed a number of buildings during this time in history, including the Summit Park Hotel in 1918. The hotel had just completed an expensive remodeling, and could not afford to rebuild. Many view this event as the first blow that led to the decline of Mount Nebo as a summer destination. Ten years later, through the efforts of an all-female city government, Mount Nebo became Arkansas’s second state park.

PC.Upton.24: “Old Courthouse burning in Dardanelle one morning,” black and white postcard, 3 x 5, undated

One particularly striking photo shows the “Old Courthouse burning in Dardanelle one morning.” We know of one county courthouse in Dardanelle burning on April 21, 1913, although it reportedly burned in the evening. The back of the postcard identifies “Janelle with umbrella, Basil with paper near the buggy.” 



Fire claimed a number of buildings during this time in history, including the Summit Park Hotel in 1918. The hotel had just completed an expensive remodeling, and could not afford to rebuild. Many view this event as the first blow that led to the decline of Mount Nebo as a summer destination. Ten years later, through the efforts of an all-female city government, Mount Nebo became Arkansas’s second state park.

The farming community in Yell County was hit hard by the flood of 1927, which was documented thoroughly by Upton, who helped in local rescue efforts and gave his personal account on the front page of his paper:
“Dardanelle today is crowded with refugees who have fled the turgid yellow torrents that swirl about and over their entire earthly possessions in the stricken bottom lands below this city; but there is no physical suffering or want of these unfortunates unattended – the generous, kindly, sympathetic citizens of Dardanelle have seen to that. “

“Reports reached this city last Friday morning that many persons were marooned and in danger of drowning in the bottom. Representatives of the Chamber of Commerce placed this information before representatives of the Pontoon Bridge Company. Notwithstanding thousands of dollars worth of their own property was endangered by the action, they promptly offered the ferry steamer “City of Dardanelle,” and her crew, for the relief of the endangered people, and with all possible haste the boat was headed down the river, going as far as Cotton Town and taking aboard 67 refugees, men, women and children, and returning them to Dardanelle about 6 o’clock Friday evening.”

“Saturday morning alarming reports concerning conditions at Fowler and other points in the lower bottom were brought in by way of Centerville and again the Pontoon Bridge Company sent the steamer on a rescue mission.
Just below Reed’s ferry at the homes of John and George Cooper on a strip of land containing possibly forty acres, and rising but a few feet above the flood, were found about 80 people, men, women and children, besides a large number of mules and other live-stock, while across the submerged fields at Fowler, a mile or so west, were many more. The water between Reed’s Ferry and the Fowler gin was said to be 25 feet deep and was running like a mill race, flowing over the big levee and also through a large crevasse.”

“The editor was one of a party of eight invited to spend the night at the home of J.H. Hickey, who had previously sent his family to a place of safety. We found, however, on arriving at the Hickey home, it was necessary, in order to reach his front porch, to cross an improvised bridge of three boats. (And there wasn’t one of the rescue party but that mentally resolved right there to bunk in the mule corral, if necessary, rather than to accept Mr. Hickey’s kindly tendered hospitality.) We did, though, spend several hours operating his radio set and otherwise entertaining ourselves.”

“Leaving the Hickey home we proceeded to the home of “Dad” Alexander, at that time some eight or ten inches above the water. 

When the levee broke last Friday morning, so rapidly was the entire bottom submerged that scores of families, the Alexanders among them, left everything to seek safety in flight. The house, in perfect order, beds made up, dishes washed, floors swept, was a haven of refuge that was promptly commandeered. At 3:30 Sunday morning we were aroused and requested to hurry with breakfast in order to get an early start up the river with the boat-load of refugees. (If conditions ever again become normal and the Alexanders return to their home, we’re going down there and apologize to Mrs. Alexander for the greasy dishes we left on her dining table, the disarranged beds we abandoned, the mud we tracked on her previously spotless floors.)”

“By 5:55 a.m. Sunday morning, the steamboat “took off” from the landing with 73 refugees aboard. Five men, who elected to remain with the stock, and the family of Mr. Tedford and John Worsham, who owns and operates Reed’s Ferry, were left behind.
Only by the most skilled maneuvering was it possible to force the steamboat and its heavy load of passengers up the raging flood, yet by hugging the willows along the margins of the current, Captain Shinn landed at the upper wharf in Dardanelle at 8:58 a.m., having made the 21-mile run in three hours and three minutes.”

“Ike Booth’s home, a large and substantial dwelling, caved into the river Monday, and lodged near the Jim Ives place. The latter place is also said to be in danger.

PH.Upton.13: “The Booth’s place, 4/16/27” black and white photo, 3 x 5

The loss to the Pontoon Bridge Company will reach many thousands of dollars. Six of the seven anchorage towers, together with their cables, have been washed away, and it is probable that both inclines, which have been under many feet of water for several days, have been torn from their moorings.”

PH.Upton.21: “Sole surviving tower. Record rise of 33 feet. 4/18/27.” black and white photo, 3 x 5 and
PH.Upton.22: “Pontoon Bridge incline. Stage 33 feet. 4/18/27.” black and white photo, 3 x 5



The finding aid for George F. Upton Photograph Collection is in the final editing process and will be uploaded and made available to the public soon. 

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