The Austin Pangburn House, shortly after it was built
Recently I had the privilege of going on the White County Arts Council’s historic tour of an area of White County that, even though I have passed through many times, I knew little about.
As I scurried to the way-back of the van which loaded early on Saturday morning and settled down with friends to leave the driving to Eddie Best, my eyes were wide with anticipation. If anybody enjoyed the trip more than me, it was probably Best, who is … president of The White County Historical Society, or perhaps [treasurer] Leon Van Patten, another history buff who added greatly to the commentary as the tour progressed.
While Eddie drove, Leon answered questions from the 14 women who packed the 16-passenger van. A couple of other people [Stan and Marilyn Heard] followed in their truck as we made our way up Highway 16 toward Pangburn.
We took a turn to go by the area where a Titan II missile erupted in flames 35 years ago, and paused to read the marker which listed the 53 men killed in that tragic accident. Eloise Muncy, vice president for cultural heritage for the White County Arts Council, passed out brochures telling about the accident while those on the tour began to share personal memories of the past.
We passed numerous old barns and storm cellars, as we traveled down the old "Southwest Trail" through Clay and Dewey, then turned west to visit Henderson Cemetery. There we saw a beautiful life-size white horse marking the grave of a young man from the area, and walked through the cemetery reading names and dates at random. Leon told about the people who first settled in this area along the Little Red River. Among the graves we found the marker for City Father Austin Pangburn, and numerous old grave sites that had no names on them, marked by big white rocks.
At The Pangburn Café, where we enjoyed a breakfast fit for hungry travelers, if not kings, we were joined by locals, Hartzell and Bonnie Capps. They told about people who have lived in Pangburn through the years, and identified people in photographs which line a wall in the café. We learned that Rex Humbard, renowned evangelist, once lived in Pangburn, where his father had an orphanage for several years.
After breakfast we walked about a block to the Austin Pangburn House, where our gracious hostess, Bonnie Hardcastle, seemed delighted to show us the handiwork of the French carpenter who handcrafted much of the woodwork in the house in 1908, as well as additional restoration by her and husband, Rex. We were especially appreciative of the decorated wooden doors with beveled glass which opened onto the wrap-around porch.
Judge Darrell Hickman greeted us on the porch of the James William Boggs House, also built in 1908, and invited us to see where the Pangburn Telephone Exchange was operated from the second floor, by one woman, who slept in the room in order to operate the telephone system at night.
A doctor’s office was added to the ground floor of the former four-room house. These two rooms are now a museum where Judge Hickman enjoys showing visitors objects found in the old house as well as a loom and spinning wheel on loan to the museum.
On the way back to Searcy we drove past the Luther Presley home and learned that Presley was the state’s most prolific songwriter. Presley wrote "When The Saints Go Marching In" for which he is said to have received a mere $5. He also wrote many popular gospel songs.
Back in Searcy, we visited the Coward House, built in 1915 and about to be torn down in order to widen Highway 16. We ended the tour at The Mayfair Hotel, which was built in 1924 in downtown Searcy. Debbie Wolfe, Executive Director of the White County Arts Council, talked briefly about the history of the hotel, and plans for other historical tours in the future. Delicious desserts, coffee and tea were served by the gracious people at The Captain’s House.
Thank you, White County Arts Council, for your dedication to promoting the arts and cultural heritage of our community.