Albion preserves sense of community with annual potluck

Written by: Tracy Crain
Feb. 6, 2000

The tiny town of Albion was settled by just a few farmers, the kind of people who toiled from the early morning hours until the last light of dusk to make a living.

For the 150 or so people who know it as home, it’s just Albion, Ark. Located in White County, Albion Township, as it is formally known, rests naturally against the backdrop of the Ozark foothills, about 10 miles north of Searcy.

Ollie B. Reaper, a 74-year-old resident of Albion Farms, one of the largest and oldest farms in the community, said, “Albion is a nice place to live, but there’s not much to do.”

Although there are few social functions, residents of Albion manage to maintain their sense of community in some rather unique ways.

One example is the annual fire association meeting and potluck dinner. Every year the townsfolk gather at the local fire station and discuss the events of the past year before listening to popular songs performed by local musical groups.

“The fire association meeting is the closest thing we have to a formalized process of city government,” Reaper said. “I doubt we’ll ever be incorporated. There are not enough people to pay for the expense.”

Another event cherished by Albion residents evolves from the town’s strong church base. Both the Albion Methodist and Baptist churches hold celebrations in which graduating seniors are honored before the congregation and presented Bibles.

“It’s just a special way we celebrate their education,” Reaper said.

Although students from the Albion community attend school in Pangburn, most of their parents did not.

In 1940, Albion had its own school-a rustic two-room house where children from the first through eighth grade received instruction. When times changed and consolidation occurred, local children were transferred to the Pangburn School District and the Albion school closed.

The Pangburn School District doesn’t offer any sports like football or soccer, but the school is still respected for its baseball, basketball and softball programs.

Members of the Albion community say they are proud of their Pangburn athletes, too.

“No one has anything on the Pangburn teams,” Reaper said, smiling. “The other schools only wish they could touch them.”

For the most part, Albion is a community where residents have traded their tractors for jobs in nearby cities. The town’s business sector, which was once home to a cotton gin and two country stores, has also changed to meet the needs of the residents.

Five businesses currently call Albion home: the Albion General Store, the Sterling Trucking Company, the Wallace Bell Sawmill, a pawnshop, and the fire station. The sawmill, which was one of the first industries in Albion, has helped to replace the farming industry.

“This place is one of the oldest industries in town and has been in operation for about 30 years,” said Jody Bell, the sawmill manager.

Reaper said a lot of the people in town talk about the good old days. Although some of them were good, she admits that some of them were not.

“I would not want to go back to the horse and wagon or go without the modern conveniences available to us now,” she said. “About the only thing I miss is the time we had to visit and spend with our families. Everybody is so busy now.”

Members of the Albion community hold the Reaper family in high regard. Ollie B., her husband, Jack, and their three children built Reaper farms together from nothing.

As a farm family, they have provided the community with rice, soybeans, wheat, cotton, eggs and broiler chickens.

In 1988, the Reapers quit selling eggs. They also stopped farming rice, soybeans, wheat, and cotton. The farm’s only focus now is raising broiler chickens and cattle.

“When we sold eggs, people would come from all over the state to buy them,” she said. “Now I have to buy my own. Eggs are cheaper today than they were in the past. I don’t believe egg producers and farmers are getting what they should.”

Reaper said farming is a tough life, but one that she enjoys. “It’s sad to say, but I don’t think any of the young folks will take up farming. They can’t afford to acquire the debt it takes to have one in today’s economy.”

(This article has been recently revised for historical archiving and is an excerpt from Road Trips; a weekly feature of small towns in Arkansas, which was written by Tracy Crain and published by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in 2000.)