everal years ago, White County Fair Manager Oran Vaughan made arrangements for a log cabin to be moved to the fairgrounds in Searcy. A schoolhouse, jail and general store were also moved as a part of the Little Red community. The cabin was disassembled, moved to the fairgrounds and reassembled. The school and jail were moved in a similar manner but the general store was unfit for moving, being almost a ruin. The lumber from the original store was salvaged and used to build the existing store – thus Pioneer Village was born.
Over the years, various other buildings have been added. We now have a typical 1880s White County farm community represented: the cabin, complete with drawstring latch door; the one-room schoolhouse; the general store with post office; a blacksmith’s shop; and a jail house. A windmill and barn depict the lifestyle of the rural population. A covered shelter holds many horse-drawn tools and vehicles of the period from plows to the family carriage.
County residents have donated various household items and articles to the display. The rich heritage is evident in the numerous items that make up the authentic look of the cabin and grounds.
A walk through Pioneer Village is truly like stepping back in time. You can almost hear the ring of the old farm dinner bell as it calls the family in from the chores for a meal. Your imagination can even call up the smell of hot bread just out of the wood cook stove oven.
The cabin, originally a two-room structure with sleeping loft, had a room added across the back for display of the kitchen and work area. The bare wood floors were scrubbed to almost white by the use of a corn husk broom, lye soap, ashes and elbow grease.
The spinning wheel and loom leave no doubt as to how the material for everyday clothes were made. The churn sits idle, as if waiting for busy hands to churn rich milk into creamy butter. In the front room, a rare luxury, the pump organ, sits in pride of place.
Climbing the steps into the sleeping loft, which consists of two separate spaces for sleeping, makes you aware of just how far we have come in the way of comfort. The lack of insulation had to make this a most uncomfortable place, summer or winter. The feather bed would have been necessary on cold winter nights. An herb garden just outside the back door provided the ingredients necessary for seasoning the food and curing the ills of the pioneer family. The aroma of the herbs on a warm day makes for a very pleasant memory.
The country store’s shelves display wares of the past and barrels for flour, meal and sugar. There are harness and animal supplies on display. The post office occupies a corner complete with a window for postal business. There are even some shelves stocked with patented medicines of the period.
In the schoolhouse, rows of wooden desks face the front. The teacher’s desk is front center, and just behind it is the old slate blackboard, where lessons of the day were carried out. A hickory stick is evidence of the strict discipline meted out when necessary. Tin lunch pails sit on a side table waiting for the noon break, and the wood stove in the back of the room was the only source of heat.
The jailhouse is made of solid heavy lumber walls completely covered by tin on the outside. The heavy door is padlocked from the outside. The only ventilation is through two small windows high up on the walls. Definitely not designed with the comfort of the prisoner in mind, it clearly shows what rough justice really meant.
Walking past the blacksmith’s shop, and around the barn, you can, if you concentrate, feel the presence of those people of long ago, who loved and worked the land – those pioneer ancestors of ours whose heritage we are trying to preserve.
Through the years, it has not always been easy to maintain and man Pioneer Village. Girl Scout Troop 599 and their leader, Cloie Presley, conducted tours in the village when it first opened in 1967. Later the White County Extension Clubs took over the day-to-day care of the village. [In 1991], the lack of manpower made them unable to handle such a big task. Keeping the village open on a regular basis has become a problem we have yet to solve. Pioneer Village is open only during the fair, and even then we sometimes have trouble getting guides for the complete six-day run.
Traditionally, Thursday is set aside for school children to visit the various educational exhibits at the fair. Pioneer Village is a very popular place, a sort of living history lesson. Guides dressed in the clothes of the period give the students a first-hand look at how their great-grandparents, or in some cases great-great-grandparents, may have lived.
Despite the problems of maintenance and manpower shortage, Pioneer Village remains one of our most valuable assets – a gift to the following generations and a legacy from our pioneer forefathers.