once known for its thriving cotton gin, now known for its friendly residents


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 11, 2000

With no stores and just one church, Sidon, in northwest White County, is a peaceful rural community known for its friendly people and scenic hills. About 80 years ago, it was a thriving little town with three stores, a school, two churches, a Masonic lodge, a grist mill, a cotton gin, a dipping vat for cattle and two doctors. For a while, an eating place and a barber shop also shared a building.

Bill Walden, a Sidon resident since 1966, said he heard there used to be about 150 families in the community.

Searcian Zola Staggs, who spent her early years at Sidon, said it was once a "prosperous, growing little community." She estimated that 700 to 800 people lived there in its heyday.

The people who live there now are not sure how it got its biblical name or when the first settlers arrived. Some were probably there before the Civil War began.

Kenneth Holeyfield said his father’s family came from Tennessee to Sidon in the early 1880s. They homesteaded on 66 acres, which was what they could afford to take up the taxes on, he said. Later, they bought more land.

Cotton was Sidon’s money crop for quite a while, and one year 6,000 bales were ginned there. People raised hogs for meat and eggs, and they had cows for milk and butter.

They grew potatoes, peas and beans for the table and corn for their farm animals and for cornmeal. "The grist mill would grind the corn for you and would keep a little of it for toll," Holeyfield said.

Around 1900, timber was a good source of income. "The Doniphan sawmill cut the big timber between here and Heber Springs," Holeyfield said. "The railroad had come to Letona, about 10 miles east, and a spur came here to ship the timber on."

Later, Charlie Downing bought smaller timber in the area, and Holeyfield’s father logged for him. His father used oxen and mules to haul the timber.

He also farmed with both types of animals. He was good at breaking (training) oxen to work, and during the Depression was asked to go to Kensett to break oxen for Wilbur Mills’ father-in-law, Pleas Billingsley.

"Mr. Billingsley wanted to plow strawberries with oxen because they were slower than mules," Holeyfield said. "He offered my dad board and a yoke of oxen to break a yoke for him. Dad went for two weeks, broke the oxen and walked home,a bout 25 miles, with his two."

Edith Bennett, a lively 92-year-old who likes to grow flowers, still lives in the building that housed Sidon’s last store and post office. It has been converted into an attractive house.

She said that she and her husband, Phen Bennett, ran the store until they retired in 1973. She also retired then as postmaster, a position she had held for almost 20 years. She still has the post office equipment, which cost her $50, she said.

Phen Bennett was the star pitcher on the community baseball team until he hurt his pitching arm. Before the injury, he could throw so hard he could knock the catcher off his feet, Holeyfield said.

Edith Bennett said that when she was a teenager, young people at Sidon would have parties where they played games. They also went to picture shows at the Sidon school. "It was something to have a movie at the schoolhouse," she said, laughing.

She also has vivid memories of a program given by a hypnotist who came to Sidon. "I didn’t let him hypnotize me, but a big old tall boy did. When the boy was told it was a hot day and he was close to a pool of water, he ‘swam’ all over the stage.

"When he was told that he was on a train and there was a pretty girl standing on the ground, he threw kisses at her."

There was a sad ending to the story, however. When the boy, still hypnotized, was asked to name the girl he loved, he mentioned someone besides his wife. Friction – and then divorce – followed, Bennett said.

Alma West, 92, lives in Searcy, but grew up at Sidon. Her father, Dr. James Brittain, was the last doctor to live at Sidon. As a young girl, Alma drove the buggy when he made house calls.

She said her father owned one of the Sidon stores and had his office there, as well as a drugstore that filled the prescriptions he wrote. He donated land on his farm for the community dipping vat for cattle, she said.

Today, the stores are gone, and the school children are bussed to Searcy, about 20 miles away. The 6,000 bales of cotton a year have decreased to zero, and the land is used instead for cattle and hay. Most people have given up on vegetable gardens because of increasing numbers of deer. "They even ate my tomato plants," Bill Walden said.

Something that hasn’t changed throughout the years is the friendliness of the residents and the beauty of the area. Walden, a native of southeast Oklahoma, was living in California when he decided to move closer to his childhood home. He visited Arkansas, and someone told him about Sidon. He bought a house and farm on the day he came to look it over.

After 34 years, he said he’s still happy with his move. "I like the lay of the land and the friendly people," he said.