Sunday, August 30, 2009
When I first shot this building in the early seventies, you could still read the word “SALOON” across the top course of bricks. I wish I still had the shot, but I haven’t a clue where it might be. With ratification of the ill-fated 18th Amendment to United States Constitution in 1919, the building’s history as a saloon came to a screeching halt. This condition was prolonged after the end of prohibition in 1933 and to the present by a 1927 Act of God. That was 82 years ago, and people still refer to that Act as the “27 Flood.”
The building sits across the street from the former Mississippi River levee in Arkansas City, Arkansas. Prior to that fateful day in April, 1927, Arkansas City was ideally located and was a bustling and thriving Mississippi River port town doing brisk business in river commerce. Typical of river port towns, in the early days of Arkansas City, prior to prohibition, the city had a respectable number saloons, some of which would buy whiskey by the barrel and rebottle it under their own brand name. Some of the bottles were molded with the name of the saloon and name of the town.
The opera house of that era, along with the building you see above, a small office building, and a couple of plus 100-year-old churches still exist in Arkansas City. There are also some unique characteristics of the town, which will immediately meet a history buff’s eye. Much of the town has concrete sidewalks, pretty well unheard of in a most other Delta burgs of that era. The streets are neatly laid out with wide rights-of-way and long setback lines. Turns out, some far-sighted city fathers hired a professional planner to organize the layout of the town.
In April, 1927, all of that came to naught. April showers feeding the Arkansas River at full throttle that year overwhelmed the Arkansas River levee to the north of Arkansas City. Screaming through the breech, the water headed south. To the east, the Mississippi was already lapping at the levee 300 feet or so from the building you see above.
According to the September 1927 National Geographic, the streets of Arkansas City were dry and dusty at noon, but two hours later, “mules were drowning on Main Street faster than people could unhitch them from wagons.” It got worse.
The area stood under water for months. Click here for a May 1927 photo of McGehee, Arkansas, 14 miles west of Arkansas City, to get an idea.
As the water went down, Mother Nature had one more trick up her sleeve. The fickle Mississippi River had decided it liked its namesake state better than Arkansas. The river shifted several miles to the east, leaving the former port city high, dry ,and landlocked. The town today is alive and well. The churches survived. The saloons didn’t make it.
N O T E S:
Most of the time, there is more to the Photo of the Week story than can be told in an essay. And most of the time there are more pictures to be seen. Presuming that some folk will enjoy being privy to this trove of information, I have created a blog, “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind,” where I am showing and telling “the rest of the story." There are also some blatantly commercial mentions of some of the things we do to earn our beans and taters. Click on the Weekly Grist logo and go to the blog. — J. D.