crops, railroad, busy shopping once kept residents hopping


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 14, 1999

The small town of Russell, population approximately 300, sits along U.S. 67 and Arkansas 367 in White County. Established in the late 1880s, Russell was platted out by a man named Russell Kaufman, who was working for the railroad. According to former town mayor and self-made Russell historian Henry Klotz, Kaufman was selecting individual sites for the St. Louis/Iron Mountain railroad to store supplies at five-mile increments.

Kaufman selected Russell and several other sites, such as Bradford, Bald Knob and Kensett. In its early days, Russell was near the center of the strawberry harvest. Trainloads of strawberries passed through in hundreds of boxcars and people would come from hundreds of miles around to pick and buy the harvest. Russell was also a hub of activity around cotton harvest, as farmers brought their cotton into the gin in Russell. Being an agriculturally oriented economy, Russell not only had the gin, but a grist mill, where corn was ground for feed. The crops of choice in those days were cotton and corn, but these days the farmers grow more soybeans and rice in the area.

Besides the farming activity, Russell became a one-stop shopping town with the opening of Huffaker’s Mercantile Store in the late 1920s. Besides the groceries and staples, people would stop in Russell to use the public well in the old well shed, where a thirsty traveler could pull up a bucket of cool well water and take a drink from the hole in the bottom of the bucket, everyone sharing the same bucket.

The highway that runs through Russell, Arkansas 367, was the old U.S. 67, and before that it was a gravel road. On that road, Klotz’s grandmother had the first Sears and Roebuck house built in Russell, erected in 1922.

His father, being mechanically inclined, worked for the White Way Service Station, which supplied the popular White Rose Gas – thus the name White Way. The station was torn down and soon Klotz’s father built Henry’s Garage beside his grandmother’s home.

A man named C.L. McKnight opened a grocery store and there were also several other service stations built. In earlier days, according to Klotz, there was a blacksmith and a broom factory. Huffaker, of the Mercantile Store, was also a doctor and carried farm machinery and lumber. Klotz said that the slogan for Russell was "We serve people from womb to tomb."

Russell also had a hotel for traveling salesmen, and a stagecoach stop was located at the present Gilbert Cemetery, a quarter mile outside Russell. According to the Klotz brothers, the outlaw Quantrell once owned a drinking establishment in Russell in the 1800s.

In the early ‘20s, three men were traveling one-half mile outside of Russell on old U.S. 67 and crashed on a dangerous curve, killing one of the men. To this day,the spot is called "Deadman’s Curve." In those days, Arkansas 367 was the main road between Memphis and Fort Worth.

Russell had a school in the early days, and a new high school was built in 1928. By 1949, the school was closed down and since then, former teachers, students and residents have restored the school to be used as a community center. The school now stands in better condition than when it was new. The old lunchroom houses the West Side Fire Station for the Russell Fire Department. There are at least five churches, three within city limits and two outside the limits, but near Russell.

The post office was established in the 1880s with the town and was owned by the Tatum Plant family. Originally the office was the Plant Post Office, but was renamed the Russell Post Office. A former postmaster, I.C. Belville, served as the Little Rock postmaster some years ago. And Klotz’s brother, C.E. "Bo" Klotz, served as the longest-running postmaster for 25 years in Russell. The whole Klotz family had an ice delivery route, before electricity came to the White County homes, and delivered all around to the outlying areas. Late in the summer of 1949 electricity came to many homes and the ice delivery business died.

The family also took mail routes for the Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette.

Bob Buice, "Uncle Bob," an old Little Rock radio and television announcer, lived in Russell in his younger days. He made a religious program for children, and according to Klotz, was a good singer. Also, Harlan Weber, a Little Rock circuit and Society Security judge, hailed from Russell.

In 1923, the local sawmill exploded, killing three men. Also, in the early 1930s, a train wreck dumped a huge amount of cooking oil and flour near Russell, apparently making quite a mess.

One of the most unique features of Russell is the tiny concrete jail that sits as a reminder of its simple past. The jail is approximately 10 feet square, and not much more than 5 feet high. It has two small windows on the sides and, according to Klotz, held the drunks over night to "sleep it off."

Russell is run with a mayor/council government. Carletta Pyle serves as mayor and there are five council members sitting in. Klotz says that the Senior Citizen Center in Russell has a nutrition site, which in the early days supplied meals for five other communities. Today, the site served approximately 25 people daily and delivers at least that many meals to home-bound citizens.

A formal history of Russell had been in the making by a man named Lincoln Johnson, who unfortunately passed on before completing it. According to Klotz, Johnson wrote In and Around Big Rock, a book about Bald Knob.

"We’re proud of our little community here," said Klotz. "It’s getting better all the time."