The Night The Castleberry Burned

From the White County Historical Society

Torching an old building was a dubious tradition of Halloween for many years at Pangburn.  Before the practice was stopped, one of the victims was the venerable Castleberry Hotel, located where First Security Bank now stands.



y parents came down to the 40-acre farm two miles west of Pangburn a short time before my birth in 1934. They cut wood off of my grandfather Saxton’s farm near Brown Schoolhouse, and built a two-room house where no house ever stood before.  The lumber was made into boards at a mill in Pangburn, and dad bought about $26 worth of nails and other things.  This was to some day be his garage, but it was in the early ‘30s and the house was added on to and became a shelter for kids and grandchildren alike.

            Our times looked different from the perspective of who was looking. If a family had grown children in the bad times of the Depression, and had accumulated a lot of things in good times before it, things didn’t look so bad.  For families that were started from scratch during those times it seemed you could never catch up.

            My dad raised cotton and a good garden. During the second world war he was too old to be drafted, so he trained to be a sheet metal man, and for the rest of his working life we were torn between the “little black house” I loved, and where the work was. Most of it was with Dad spending his time where the work was and coming home weekends.  Mom kept us in school at home except for those times when we were older and we moved with him. We were fortunate in owning the land, and it has always been a part of us.

            About 1947, the road (Highway 16) was black-topped for the first time. We went to movies at the theater and “sat by” our boy friends.  There were fights among the older boys on Saturday nights.

            There were very few jobs for young people. Field-work in summer was about all there was to do.  We all knew that when we got out of school we would have to leave the area to find work. My uncle Albert Glenn loaned me $8 to go on my seventh grade class trip to Hot Springs and I paid it back the following spring, hoeing cotton.  He had a field hand for as long as I was still at home and although I never had to ask for a loan again from him, I always felt that he was there for me. The same thing was true in business and neighbor relationships.  Those who had, loaned to those who didn’t.  The merchants always had about all of the credit business they could handle. The road to California was always carrying someone away to where they could make a better living.

            In the early ‘50s the Korean Conflict took many of the boys from the area and put them in uniform.  I remember someone made a joke and read it in school assembly about the many servicemen I dated.  I had a date with a National Guardsman for one of the banquets.  They said that since none of the other servicemen were available that I called out the National Guard!  Unfortunately, he didn’t make it either; he had to work that night.

            Patty Hughes and I left at the same time and got an apartment in Little Rock.  Her sister Jo Ann came and stayed with us for a period of time until we could get used to being on our own. We went to work for a five and dime (McClellan’s).   She soon got a job at Worthen Bank, and moved to a nicer apartment with others in Little Rock.   I went back home and went to school one year at State Teachers College. In the fall of ’53 I married Don Weaver, who was getting out of the Air Force, and we spent the next nine years in his home state of Pennsylvania.   In August of ’63 we were back at Pangburn, trying to find work.  He got a job at the Corps of Engineer s at Little Rock, and for the first two years he boarded and came home weekends. We had an agreement to buy the Castleberry Hotel from my uncle and aunt, who had started to renovate it.  They were in California, and we were in Pennsylvania, and the kids in Pangburn shot the windows out of it and the wind came in the windows and blew the roof.  When we arrived, I began sweeping up glass, and for the rest of the ‘60s we had to protect it from vandalism on Halloween nights.  Don started to raze it, and he had those beautiful timbers stacked inside of it. Finally, after Dad could no longer guard it, and we lived in Little Rock, one Halloween night the kids burned it. I heard that there were about 20 of them.  They carried old tires and gasoline in there and struck a match to it.  We stepped aside and let another couple fulfill our agreement to buy it because they were better equipped to raze it.  He asked Don what we were getting out of it.  He said, “experience.”

            Don had taken the top story down and we had the stone stacked in front of the building, just in a pile of rubble. We got a letter one Monday from the mayor saying that we had 15 days to move it off the sidewalk, that two gentlemen had been complaining about it. We had wanted to leave it on the walk so no one could be hit by falling debris.  I took my wheelbarrow and shovel down there and began to stack the stones near the building, and wheel the debris to the inside of the building. Pretty soon one of the old gentlemen came along and said, “I wouldn’t let my wife do this heavy work.”  I said, “My husband wouldn’t either, but he doesn’t know.  He is in Little Rock.”  After a while the other one came along.  He didn’t like it either.  The rest of that week, I removed a pile about 10 feet across, 10 feet high and 30 feet long.  Every day they stopped by to visit.  On Thursday, one of them offered a young man a dollar to finish it up before I got back on Friday. Neither I nor the young man ever knew why he had wanted him to do it. I learned a lot about human nature because of the building.

            A local store-owner approached my mother about buying some of the stone. Mother told him that Don had said he wanted $50 a ton for them.  The store-owner brought county trucks up and loaded a lot of them on the trucks and weighed them at the feed mill.  When we approached him at the Fair Grounds where he had taken them he later mailed us a $50 check for the lot, and we sent it back by registered mail.  They used the stone at the Fair Grounds in Searcy.

            The timbers in the top of the fire station came from the old hotel, too. They may be the only timbers left from it.  vvv

Built in 1914 by Riley Castleberry, the hotel also served as a hospital, theater, apartment house, church and home.