photo of the week

Relic from the 1890s

Now a shadow of its former glory, J. Deane and Son languishes in ignominy in St. Charles, Arkansas.  Joe Dean opened the doors in 1890.  In ensuing years, the store became the largest retailer in its market.  Unfortunately, the establishment had no immunity to the economic realignment of the sixties and seventies that spelled the death knell for thousands of family operated business.  The store closed in 1976.

St Charles

Sunday, July 20, 2014
Pine Buff, Arkansas

Following an urge of unknown origin on July 19, 2014, I struck out on a late-start image harvesting trip to St. Charles, Arkansas, population at last count, 230, give or take a standard deviation or two.  The town sits on the western bank of the White River.


I Remember Joe.

Joe Deane’s descendants erected this monument to commemorate his accomplishments in St. Charles.  In the good times, the town and the store prospered.  Though changing times and economics were out of their hands, the effect was the same.


The Kitchen Sink?

The architecture of the old store was de rigueur for the times, big windows with no bars, big glass in the doors, and the proprietor in the store.  One might say they had everything except the kitchen sink.  Truth be known, I‘m betting they had a few of those in stock.

St. Charles made its first blip on the history radar screen when Pierre Pertuis arrived after buying a Spanish land grant.  The screen went black on St. Charles until 1839, when records show that one Charles W. Belknap owned the area, as in the whole kit and caboodle.  He managed to get himself appointed postmaster in 1850 and from that point until this moment, the place is known as St. Charles.


Next Stop.... White River

Joined at the hip with the community, the White River still plays an important role in the economic fabric of St. Charles.  The long since gone steam boats are now replaced by sport anglers and commercial fishermen.  Though this scene looks ominous, it is a boat launch operated by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.  I cropped the sign out to grab your attention.  Worked didn’t it?

Fast forward to 1890 when St. Charles was a bustling riverport town, home to 128 souls.  It was then that one Joe Deane established J. Deane and Son, a hardware emporium that would become the area’s largest retailer.  Deane’s route to the store started in London, England, and proceeded through Canada, ending at St. Charles.  During the store’s retail reign, the founder, his son, and then his son’s widow operated the establishment.  By 1976, the transition in rural America finally forced the store to close.


Sting of Time

The St. Charles Grocery also felt the sting of the swinging economic scythe.


A Shop Swallowed Whole

Across the street from the St. Charles Grocery, this building is nearly swallowed whole by shrubs, but lets us read part of the word “shop” — and not much else.

Along the way, one of Joe Deane’s descendants made a name for himself in an entirely different venue.  Winston J. “Buddy” Deane of St. Charles became one of the dominant disc jockey talents on the East Coast during the mid-fifties and early sixties at WJZ-TV in Baltimore.  He and Dick Clark duked it out to see who had the biggest audience.  Many historians, knowledgeable of the era, give the edge to Deane.


The Legend of WJZ-TV

One would not suspect that a native son of tiny St. Charles, hidden away in the depths of Arkansas’ Grand Prairie, would ascend to the top of the television disk jockey food chain…. but one did.  The late Winston J. “Buddy” Deane, a man I am glad to identify as a friend, did just that.  His “Buddy Deane” show on Baltimore’s WJZ-TV was the top local show of its kind in the nation.  Most knowledgeable observers of that industry admit that his numbers were better than Dick Clark's in Philadelphia.

After his Baltimore gig, Buddy returned to LA (lower Arkansas) and bought a struggling AM radio station and turned it into the leading broadcast venue in the market.

By what I can find, St. Charles peaked out at 412 souls in 1940.  Some folks live there now because they have to.  I suspect there are more folks who live there because they want to.  Our hats are off to them.


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Getting there and getting back
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See the rest of the story at
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind.
In addition to the crazy sign, you’ll see a smiling dog, a poesy, and some other stuff you won’t see unless you make the trip, and I did that for you. Click, go and enjoy.

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