in southeastern White County,

it was once area’s commercial center



Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 24, 2000


ocated in southeastern White County’s flat land, Walker has long been known for its farms and crops. Several decades ago, it was also the commercial center of the area. It had two general stores, a sawmill, a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, a school and two churches. Now it just has the churches, the farmland and a lot of friendly people.

"It’s a good community to live in," said Pearl Porter. "If you need help, you can get it." Porter considers herself a newcomer to Walker. She grew up in the Dogwood community a few miles away and moved to Walker in 1971 with her husband Boyd and their children Dannie and Lecendia. They ran the town’s last store until 1977, where they sold groceries, gas and feed for farm animals.

Boyd Porter is now deceased, and Danny farms and grows wheat, rice and soybeans. Pearl said that when he and other farmers combine their wheat in the spring, they plant rice. After they get the wheat off the field, they turn the land under and plant soybeans.

Mary Ellen Weir, another Walker resident, grew up there when cotton and corn were still important crops. Her father Perry Rayburn also grew soybeans and wheat and had milk cows. She said her grandfather Sid Rayburn carried the last wagon load of cotton to Higginson to be ginned. She thinks that was in the 1960s.

Weir graduated in 1955 from high school in Griffithville, three miles east of Walker. Walker’s school had closed by that time.

Both of Searcy resident Bill Leach’s parents, now deceased, taught at Walker in the early 1930s. His father W.J. Leach wrote a report, "Walker School 1930s," which the White County Historical Society has on file. In it, he tells how he handled grades five through eight and squeezed in grade nine. He wrote that the local Woodmen of the World had built a lodge room above the primary grades’ classroom; when the Woodmen stopped meeting, he had an area to convert into a science room. On occasions when the school had a program and needed an auditorium, the nearby Liberty Baptist Church offered its building.

W.J. Leach believed that history teachers should start with the present and work back in time. In his unit on American Indians, he taught about the Osages who had lived in the area. He took his students to the Jay Walden place to examine an Indian mound alongside a creek. He wrote that they found several arrowheads on each field trip.

When the basketball teams wanted to play night games on the school’s outdoor court, Leach rigged up a lighting system what used a pulley. It allowed the string of lights to be lowered if bulbs needed to be replaced.

Bill Leach, who like his parents, has served as president of the White County Historical Society, said that the two Walker churches started around 1870. By 1889, the Liberty Baptist Church had 112 members, making it the fifth largest Baptist church in the county at that time. The other church, the Ellis Chapel Methodist Church, is about two miles from town. Both churches started with camp meetings, said Bill Leach.

Mary Ellen Weir’s family, the Rayburns, attended Liberty Baptist Church, and her parents often let their children invite their friends home for Sunday dinner. "Mother always cooked a big dinner on a wood stove," Weir said. "She would have rolls, which she would throw in the oven after church. After dinner, we would play basketball, softball or a game called "kick-the-can." Weir added that her parents would sometimes have workers at the sawmill come to their home and entertain with their musical instruments.

A 100-year-old picture of Walker shows about 100 men and a woman posed at the Walker sawmill. Bill Leach said that most of the men were not sawmill employees, but were there for the photograph. The woman in the picture was the wife of the sawmill owner, Mr. Williams.

Marion O’Donnell of Searcy grew up in Walker and is descended on her mother’s side from John T. Walker, for whom the town was named. His father, George, brought the family to the area soon after the Civil War. John T. Walker was born in 1850 and became a postmaster in 1881. He had a general store, and around World War I, he served two terms in the state legislature.

Marion’s father F.S. Gaines also had a store in Walker. He served as postmaster from 1926-31. Marion said her father moved the family to Griffithville, where he ran a store. Later, he did some farming, and she remembers strawberries as an important crop.

Most area teenagers now go to Riverview High School in Searcy. One of the few exceptions is Justin Porter, Pearl Porter’s grandson. "He wanted to play football, and Riverview doesn’t have football," Pearl said. "He attends Harding Academy, where he’s in the 12th grade, and I think he’s number 60 on the football team."

Porter said she’s never seen a football game but has promised Justin she will see him play soon. She told him if she seems him on the ground with a lot of players piled on top, she’ll shout, "Get off of my grandson!" His response, she said, was, "You can’t do that, grandmother."