This is the eighth in a series of columns by State Rep. Sheilla Lampkin about historic sites in Monticello. Lampkin is active in historic preservation in Arkansas and has received several awards from the Arkansas Historical Preservation Association. She writes a regular historical column for several area publications.
In looking over recent articles I have realized that I skipped the last block of North Main Street on the east side of the street. Therefore, I’m going to jump back and tell you about historic businesses on that block before moving on around the Square.
The first building on the block presently houses the offices of the local newspaper, the Advance Monticellonian. I am told that this space was once occupied by a hardware store. I can also remember vaguely when it was the site of a Safeway grocery. If my memory serves me correctly, the store had the “bat-wing” doors reminiscent of the old westerns.
Next to the Advance sits an empty building that more recently held a hobby shop, specializing in model airplane supplies, and an office supply store/gift shop. I understand that this area was once the site of Hankins Grocery and an earlier furniture store or two. Even earlier, a post office also once occupied the area of the Advance Hobby Shop.
The next building now owned by Union Bank was once owned by J. D. McCloy. It has also been part of a furniture store. Even earlier, a Miss James, a local spinster, had a photography studio there before the brick buildings you see now were even built.
The space now occupied by Phoenix Services was also once a Hankins Grocery. The real estate office south of it was once Lambert’s Grocery and then Clay’s Grocery. I enjoy Clay Mitchell’s story about his acquiring Lambert’s Grocery upon his return from WWII. Mr. Lambert had written Mr. Mitchell while he was overseas to ask if he wanted to take over the store upon his return and he’d replied that he did. Mr. Mitchell said that the very day he returned to Monticello Mr. Lambert brought him the keys. He was ready to retire! I understand that both of the spaces, the Phoenix offices and the real estate office, once contained Eli Marlowe’s Grocery.
Now we come to the last building on the block. It still has the triangular entryway like the one that also formerly adorned the McKiever building on the south side of the Square until that building was remodeled a decade or more ago.
I can recall that Scroggins Hardware was there and had been there for many years when we moved to Monticello in the 1960s. I still remember the huge Going-Out-Of-Business sale held before the store was closed.
Before the hardware store there was a Safeway store in that corner location. Morgan & Lindsey, an early variety chain (five and dime stores, as they were called), had an even earlier business there.
After the hardware store closed, LaNell McKiever operated a gift shop and lovely little tearoom in the building for a few years. Today a church holds meetings in the once bustling building on the end of the block.
As I understand it, much of the “back” of the block, like its western counterpart, served earliest as a place to leave wagons, teams, etc. while our forefathers engaged in their business with the merchants around the Square, just as much of it is a parking area today. I do remember that Allen’s Feed and Seed and Hartley’s Nursery both occupied the Farm Supply Store annex that sits on the southeast (back) side of the block today.
Many of the earliest businesses I have mentioned go back to a time before the present-day brick buildings were even constructed. Doubtlessly more than one fire destroyed some of these businesses, but that’s a story for another time. When the brick buildings were constructed, many of them shared walls. Thus there are few “firewalls” between them. They supported each other much as they supported the town.
“One of these days” I am going to develop a large “map”, or diagram, of Monticello’s Square and its surrounding blocks with plastic overlays that tell the history of Monticello’s downtown area and how businesses grew and changed over the past 160 years or so. Perhaps this project can be readied for the town’s 175th birthday in 2027!