From Dropout to Depression Era Retailer



Bald Knob Banner, November 15, 1979



any stories have been told about strawberry harvests and the pickers in the early days of growing strawberries in Bald Knob.  Some of the most interesting are told by Mr. C.D. Van Patten who was in business here in the 1930s during the Depression.  He reports that during that time some bumper berry crops were produced.  People were desperate for work, and farmers would sometimes keep pickers on, even when they were losing money on the berries, because the pickers needed the money, and there was no other work available.  Merchants here in town went through some very hectic days during those berry harvests.  Mr. Van Patten said that there were times when he went to the store at 5 a.m. and stayed there until 2 a.m. the next day.  He would come home, bathe and change clothes and then lay down for a short nap before he got up to go to the store and start another long day.  He had 14 clerks working for him, although some of them did not come on until noon, because they still had a long day ahead of them, even reporting that late in the day.

          He still remembers that one Saturday they sold two barrels of hog jowls at 6 cents a pound, and each of those barrels weighed 325 pounds.  In addition they sold 2,100 pounds of smoked jowls for 11 cents per pound and 600 pounds of bologna.  Mr. and Mrs. Van Patten did not have time to leave for lunch, so they too ate a lot of bologna sandwiches in times like that.  They operated a general store, and he said during the Depression the highest priced shoes they had in the store cost $2.95 for each pair, although the $1.95 shoes were the best sellers.

          Clark D. Van Patten was born at Pangburn, Arkansas, the youngest of seven children.  He attended school there, but did not finish because of a demand his teacher made one afternoon that he knew he could not meet.  His father died when he was 10 years old, and being the youngest one in the family, he felt the responsibility of helping his mother in every way that he could.  He had certain chores that he must attend to each afternoon after school, and when the teacher told the entire class that each of them must stay after school until he had learned a certain rule used in Algebra, Clark reminded the teacher that he could not stay, that his mother had already requested the instructor to send Clark home every day as soon as his last class was over.  The teacher responded that he had said “every” student must stay.  When the bell rang for school to be dismissed in the afternoon, Clark left by a door he had not been using, and was off the school ground before the teacher knew it.  Clark told a friend that he felt he had just spent his last day in school.

          He got up early the next morning and went to the field instead of going to the classroom.  He was convinced that he was no more stubborn than his teacher had been under the circumstances.  Later, when he had thought it over, the instructor came to the house and asked Clark to come back to school, offering to help him get through his school there, and then go on to school in other places, ending up at the University of Arkansas, where his good friend Dr. Charles Hillman Brough was Professor of Sociology and Economics.  Dr. Brough later became governor of Arkansas.  Clark thanked the teacher but told him since he had put in a crop, that he must stay with it or it would be lost.

          He stayed with the farm until he was 21, when he went to work at a Farmer’s Co-op at Pangburn.  The proprietor, Mr. S.P. Goodwin, had approached him several times about working there, but he had always dismissed the idea.  One day he got word that Mr. Goodwin wanted to see him, he talked with an older brother, saying that he knew he was again going to be offered a job in Pangburn, and that he still had about two bales of cotton and a load of corn to get out of the field.  He asked his brother, who was farming nearby, if he could gather the crop for him, and upon receiving assurance that his crop would be gathered, he went in to town to see Mr. Goodwin.  When he appeared and asked what he was wanted for, he was told that he was wanted for work in the store, and upon asking when he was to start, the answer came, “As soon as you can hang up your hat.”

          He began working clerking in the store and then was sent to a building across the road where he bought fur hides, chickens and eggs for the Co-op.

          After about a year Mr. C.D. Chandler, who had a Fair Store at Pangburn, wanted Clark to go to work for him.  He transferred to the Fair Store, and after he had worked there for a while, they opened a new store at Pine Bluff, during October 1920.  Mr. Chandler was in with Mr. F.R. Michell, the president of Fair Stores, who had opened his first store at Harrison.  Mr. Chandler and Mr. Michell went to St. Louis and bought a stock of goods.  A recession had begun, and by the time they got the stock to Pine Bluff and the store was ready for opening, the market had broken and the goods were worth 25 percent less than when they were bought.  Mr. Chandler’s store at Pangburn was old, and his stock was run down.  MR. Chandler sent Mr. Van Patten to Pine Bluff to open Fair Store No. 50.

          Business was slow, the stock was not worth as much as when it was bought, and Mr. Van Patten wanted to sell it out and get fresh stock in.  He decided to put on a sale, and contacted Mr. Chandler and asked him to send him an advertising man to direct the sale, for he had never put on a sale.  Mr. Chandler told him that his store was doing better than many of the others, that all the advertising personnel were busy in other stores, and for him to go ahead and do the best that he could.  He decided to contact the local papers, the Commercial and the Daily Graphic, and secure prices on getting out flyers to the whole community.  He knew what he wanted, a double page spread that was printed in large enough quantities to cover the town.  He first contacted the Pine Bluff Commercial but did not like the price he received there, so he went to the Graphic.  There he met a Mr. Armstrong who was very enthusiastic about the plan.  He helped figure out how many copies were needed and then gave Mr. Van Patten a much more realistic figure for the quantity requested.  Then Mr. Armstrong made a fantastic offer.  He told Mr. Van Patten that if he would promise to give him all his advertising, he would help him put on the sale.  He had been employed at one time by the Hub Store and had participated in many sales.  He offered to come to the Fair Store, help arrange the stock for a sale, paint sale cards, etc.  Mr. Van Patten, who knew a good thing when he saw it, eagerly accepted, and Mr. Armstrong fulfilled his part of the bargain.  They put on a sale that really produced the desired effect.  Before the sale the store had never taken in more than $100 in one day.  The first day of the sale they took in $500, and on the second day on Monday, the receipts totaled $2,500.  He very proudly wrote Mr. Chandler a check for $3,000.  Mr. Chandler was quick to acknowledge the fine work he was doing.

          While he was operating the store at Pine Bluff he got an unusual order.  Dr. Simmons, the man who founded the Simmons National Bank at Pine Bluff, came into the store and asked him to get him 50 pairs of hip boots.  He explained that he had a lot of farm land with hands on it, who were unable to do anything with the water over the land as much as it was, but if he could get 50 pairs of boots he would put all the men to work.  Mr. Van Patten called his wholesaler and got boots in a short time after Dr. Simmons had returned, giving him the sizes of the boots he needed.

          Mr. Van Patten also attended his first football game while he was in Pine Bluff.  It was a game between Pine Bluff and Little Rock High School.  There was only one high school in each city at that time and the annual football game between the two rival teams was the biggest game in the state each season.  The football Razorbacks were called Cardinals about that time, and they did not have much of a team.  The real football fans made it to that high school game each year.

          Mr. Michell sold out his stock in the store in the fall of 1928.  Mr. Van Patten went to work for the new owners of the store in 1929.  They bought a chain of stores in Mississippi, and added to those they already had in Arkansas, they had 83 stores.  Mr. Van Patten did not get along with the management of the new company, and he decided to quit.  He was moved from Pine Bluff to Oklahoma, and from Oklahoma back to Little Rock.

          Something happened in Oklahoma to affect the rest of his life.  One day, a young woman came into the store, and he was immediately interested.  He asked a clerk in the store who she was after she left, and was told she was Miss Lillian Alice Bolick of Tonkawa, Okla.  He asked to be introduced the next time she came to the store.  When he met her he immediately began asking for dates, but she was already dating a young man, and she turned him down several times before she finally agreed to go to a show with him one night, but it had to be the late show, because the young women in her church were entertaining their mothers that night, and she could not go until the social event was over, and she had taken her mother home.  The next time he asked for a date it was to a musical there, and that time he was wise enough to get three tickets and take the mother along with them.  They met in 1921 and were married in February 1923.  He said he was wanting to marry much quicker, but he told her that he would not be making enough for them to live on until he got to be manager of a store.  He said that he became a manager in January and married in February.

          When he was transferred back to Little Rock he was assistant manager of the Little Rock Store, and then was sent to Corning, and was manager of that store when he quit in 1930.  While he was at Corning he bought flour by the carload.  A car held 210 barrels of flour.  Mr. Van Patten would order the largest part of the flour in 50-pound bags, some of it in 25-pound bags and the remainder of the shipment in barrels.  His customers would probably have gotten a big laugh to see flour sold in 10-pound, 5-pound and even 2-pound bags as most of it is sold today.

          When he quit at Corning he had been with the Fair Stores 10 years.

          Rice-Stix Dry Goods Company, a big wholesale store in St. Louis, had a store in debt to them at Malvern.  The stock was being put on sale to settle the debt.  Mr. Van Patten had heard about the sale and wanted to buy the store, so he started down to Malvern, but got off the train at Kensett to go to Pangburn to visit his mother.  As he got off the train, he met Mr. L.C. Tyson, who had gotten on a train in Little Rock, but who also got off at Kensett.  Mr. Tyson was general supervisor of the Fair Stores, and later became a buyer for them, living in New York.  Mr. Tyson was going to Searcy to see about buying a store in Searcy.  He and Mr. Chandler bought the store.  He told Mr. Van Patten that they were starting a chain of stores and would take any former Fair Store manager who wanted to go in with them, and they formed a company with Mr. L.C. Tyson president, Mr. C.D. Chandler as vice president, and Mr. Van Patten as secretary-treasurer.  They knew of a chain of stores in St. Louis that was for sale, and they bought them.  They did not want Mr. Van Patten living as far south as Malvern, and they asked which place in this area he would like to live.  He picked Bald Knob.

          They rented a store building from Wes Brown in March 1930.  They had stores in Malvern, Prescott, Beebe, Russellville and Morrilton.  The Morrilton store was moved to Bald Knob, and Mr. Van Patten operated the store here for L.C. Tyson Company for seven years.

          At a stockholders meeting in Searcy, Mr. Van Patten said he thought there was something wrong with the company, and he suggested some changes be made.   He was asked to give his suggestions and the stockholders adopted the change.  Mr. Tyson was president of the company, and he later said the suggested changes would not be put into effect, and Mr. Van Patten said he would quit.   After he left the company Mr. Tyson began consolidating the stores.  Mr. Van Patten asked to buy the store in Bald Knob, and they agreed, so he took possession on December 28, 1936.   He operated as Van Patten Store Company until September 6, 1955.  He sold out to Young’s Department Stores.  They moved the store to North Little Rock.

          In the meantime, Mr. Van Patten’s nephew, Dale Van Patten, had graduated from the University of Arkansas and he wanted to go into the hardware business.  Mr. Brown had passed away.  They bought a building from Mrs. Brown, and Dale had the store and Mr. Van Patten worked for him.  In 1960 Dale decided that he wanted to go on the road for a hardware company.  Mr. Van Patten had helped Dale finance the purchase of the building, but Dale had paid him off.  Mr. Van Patten bought the store from Dale and operated it until December 22, 1965, when he sold it to Tuck Pearrow.  Mr. Pearrow later sold it to Jack Ross from Augusta, who moved the store to Augusta.

          Mr. Van Patten had bought property in Bald Knob as he could.  His first purchase was from a railroad man, E.B. Williams.  The building was the one in which the Jolly Café operated for a number of years.  Mrs. Upchurch had passed away.  She had owned a lot across the street from Collison’s store, where the filling station is now.  She also had two store buildings, the one where the Shoe Shop is now, and the one by it next to the alley.  MR. Van Patten bought that property at public auction.  Mrs. Pearl (Wes) Brown had a stroke and she decided to move to Missouri to be with relatives.  She left Mr. Van Patten in charge of her property and he looked after it for about eight years.  She had already sold her farmland when she decided to sell the property she had here in town.  Mr. Van Patten bought the buildings where the Western Auto Store is and where the Arkansas Power and Light Company was at that time.  That property is now a part of Fred’s Dollar Store.  Mr. Van Patten also bought the property where the telephone company building is now located.  She also had a large warehouse on the railroad behind what is known as the John Deer Building.  That was included in the sale.

          In 1966 Mr. Van Patten had a stroke, and doctors told him he would have to sell his property, which also included some farms in the bottoms, or he would kill himself, so he began to sell it off.  After about two years he began to have better use of himself, however he has never regained enough of his health that he thinks he could go back into business any more.  He has sold everything but his house.

          Mr. Van Patten first thought the house next door to where he lives, which is immediately in front of Central Baptist Church.   They lived there six years.  He had three lots there, and he sold one and one-half lots and the old house, and started building the home where he now lives in the fall of 1938.  They moved into the new home on March 19, 1939.

          While hew as living in the house next door, he was working for Wes Brown.  Mr. Brown started remodeling the interior of his building.  They moved everything in the store into a building across the street until they could get the remodeling done.  Mr. Whit Cranford, who was a well-known carpenter here, and father of Ben Cranford, who also was a carpenter, was to do the work.  There was an old desk in the store, which Mr. Brown remarked had probably not been moved in 40 years.   When the desk was moved, an old Bald Knob paper was found underneath.   Of course, Mr. Cranford and Mr. Brown were both interested in the old paper, for each of them had lived here many years.  In the paper they found an item which read:  “Mrs. Burkett’s house was finished and she moved in today.”   Both men immediately told Mr. Van Patten that it referred to the house he was living in.  Mr. Cranford had been the contractor when the house was built.  The date on the paper was September 3, 1898, which incidentally was the day on which Mr. Van Patten was born.   Mr. Cranford told him the tree in the back, which is now a very large tree, was just a sprout when the house was built.  Mr. Van Patten says he and the tree are the same age.

          Mr. Van Patten’s father was William James [“Billy”] Van Patten of Rotterdam, N.Y.  He came to Arkansas with Van Amberg’s circus.  He was a teammaster for the circus, and he said the only thing he had to do with the circus was to drive the bandwagon with its 16 large horses in the parade, and look after the horses for the circus.  The circus came to Newport to put on a show.  William Van Patten had a cousin living at Pangburn, the town having been named for her husband, Dr. David Pangburn.  William went over there to visit his cousin, and while there met Angie Joyce.  After that meeting he did not want to go back to the circus or to New York, so he just stayed.  He worked there for Dr. Pangburn.  The couple were married in 1879.  The circus came back to Newport about the time they married, so the only honeymoon they had was making a trip to Newport to visit the circus.  The circus people were very happy to see them, but they were quite busy getting set up for the performance, so one of the supervisors told the newlyweds to just wait around until the show was over and they would have a banquet for them in the mess tent.  They stayed, and the circus gave a big banquet and a monkey for a wedding present.

          Clark Van Patten was the youngest of seven children, and now they are all gone except he and one sister, Mrs. J.Q. Adams (Gertrude).   She lives in Searcy, and every Wednesday is set aside by Mr. and Mrs. Van Patten to go to Searcy and visit with her and be of help in any way they can.

          Mrs. Van Patten has been a very important part of all that her husband has accomplished since their marriage.  She worked in one of the Fair Stores in Oklahoma before their marriage, and after they were married and living in Corning she was not acquainted with anyone in town, so she would go down to the store and loaf around there.  She was there so much that when the clerks in the store were busy, people who were in a hurry to make a purchase would ask her to wait on them.  She did this so much that Mr. Van Patten finally told her they might as well put her on the payroll.  People who remember when they were in business here will remember that she was in the store until her health deteriorated so that she was not able to help any longer.

          Earlier she had accompanied her husband to market in St. Louis to buy for the store, and officers of the firm there suggested to her that while Mr. Van Patten was buying for the store here, they would get her to do the buying for stores that had mailed in their orders, and she was paid as a buyer for the time she spent doing that work.

          She has always enjoyed doing embroidery, appliqué and needlepoint.  Needlepoint is the least enjoyable of her pastimes, for she soon begins to feel bored with it.  She had made some beautiful quilts, one of them much like the famous Dutch Girl quilt which enjoyed such popularity a number of years ago.  The quilt which she made is much more beautiful, however, and making it took a great deal of time and patience.

          Mr. and Mrs. Van Patten are members of the Bald Knob First United Methodist Church.  They grow lovely flowers and often furnish the flowers for that church, as well as sending them to other churches.  Mr. Van Patten has been a member of the Masons since 1925.  He is a 32nd Degree Mason, and a member of the Consistory at Little Rock.  He is now exempted from paying dues, as he has passed his 80th birthday.  He attended the Masonic 50th reunion and says he is now looking forward to the 55th reunion.  He also is a member of the Woodmen.

          Mr. and Mrs. Van Patten celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with an open house at Kelley’s Grill hosted by their nephews and their wives in February of 1973.  


Lillian Bolick Van Patten died March 28, 1982, at age 84.  Clark Davis Van Patten died June 4, 1991, three months before his 93rd birthday.   His father William J. Van Patten, who gave up circus glitter for the love of his life, died at 67 on May 28, 1909.  Angie Joyce Van Patten died three days before Christmas in 1944.  She was 84.   All rest in Henderson Cemetery at Pangburn.