Velvet Ridge hugs highway, set amid rolling hills once covered in thick oak forest

By PENNY WARNER

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 10, 1999

Sitting high on a plateau along a bend of Arkansas 167, midway between Sugar and Pine Creeks and the hamlets of Bismarck and Twenty-three, the residents of Velvet Ridge can look out on a prairie-like scene of wild grasses and rolling hills, not far from the outskirts of the tiny village. Located in White County, close to the village of Bliss, Velvet Ridge is a busy little place with a high volume of traffic.

With all the businesses in Velvet Ridge flanking the highway, there are no streets to worry about being paved and no need for long, drawn-out directions to the nearest pay phone. Itís all laid out on a neat ribbon of highway.

Helen (Stanley) Siler, a lifelong resident of Velvet Ridge, can remember when an old farming road ran down the middle of the town. "My dad cleared a couple of acres and built our home here," she said. "And at first there was just an old dirt road, then a two-lane road, and now it has four lanes," she said with amusement.

Helen recalled that her father had six acres at first, which was all in timber. . He set out to clear the land, knowing that there was a saw mill nearby. Her father would load up the freshly hewn oak trees and take them in the wagon to the mill to be cut into building lumber.

"He would use up all of that lumber to build on to the house and when that was all used up," said Helen, "he would get busy cutting some more logs to take and then he added that to the house until it was done."

The old house still stands where her father originally built it 70-some-odd years ago, but only a month-and-a-half ago, the home caught fire and suffered some heavy damage. "The house got some damage, but it is in the process of being restored now, and it should be finished in about three weeks," said Helen.

Helen says that many of the people in the small village are related, and the names Stanley and Mason make up much of the population of the area.

"My father gave me an acre of land and Iíve built my home on it, and my daughter got some land too," said Helen. "Also, my son has an 80-acre farm here. The kids have four poultry houses each on their land."

The cemetery is currently located where the old Velvet Ridge School used to be. "I went to school in the old two-room schoolhouse," Helen said.

"I went there until the eighth grade, and then after that, I went to Bald Knob to the high school."

The mode of transportation in those days was not the best, as Helena recalled. "I rode to school at Bald Knob in the back of my neighborís old truck, with my feet hanging out the back," she said, laughing.. "It was all we had then.

"Also, my uncle used to own the Stanley Grocery Store at the corner of Velvet Ridge," said Helen. "He had all kinds of things in there."

Velvet Ridge has a few stores, a fire station and a dairy bar. Though the whole Velvet Ridge area can be driven through in about the time it takes to yawn, a stop in the town can yield a full tank of gas, videos and a good old-fashioned cheeseburger and a soda. Visit on Sunday, and you can even fill up your spirit at the Church of Christ, just a stoneís throw north of town.