This is the eleventh 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.
This week we’ll discuss the history and evolution of the south side of Monticello’s Square. Earliest memories recall a wooden two-story building on the southeast corner that housed the R. C. Bennett Saloon in the 1890s, as evidenced in an old partial picture of the Square we own at the museum. The second story once held a “private” poker room.
Later that building was either bricked or torn down and the new brick building became the sight of Fish Drug Store. (Since Thelma Giessen wrote an article for the 2003 Drew County Historical Journal about that business and another one appeared in the 2009 Journal, we needn’t go into further details about it in this column.) This is the building whose rear collapsed in a heavy rain in October, 2008. It is now owned and being rehabilitated by Richard Akin.
The doorway and stairs between the old “Fish Drug Store” building and the next building led to led to the offices of Dr. Stanley Gates, a Dr. Leslie, a dentist, and Patrick Henry, a young lawyer and later judge at various times. More recently Judge Clifton Bond had an office there for many years. A shoe store is rumored to have preceded the drug store as well as earlier offices of the Advance newspaper.
The next building now houses the Tree-O, but was once the site of a clothing store for men called The Hub, owned by a Mr. Gaston and a Mr. Shelton, a pool hall owned by a Mr. Cameron and even an optical shop. Even earlier a restaurant operated by a Mr. Fred Wells was next door to the saloon and extended into the area of the former Bob’s Shoes.
Moving westward, there has been a series of “smaller” businesses operating along this street much like today’s strip malls. They overlapped at times and can be confusing because no records remain, but they all prove that downtown Monticello was once a thriving little center of commerce.
The building next to the Tree-O held a grocery store in the 1890s, followed by another grocery owned by John Lambert who later moved his business to the east side of the square.
Next there was a drug store run by A.M. Bell, followed by another saloon. The next building was Hussey Dry Goods and Grocery and the last “middle” building may have been the C. L. Burks and Lord building.
Looking back again, the building formerly known as Monticello Drug houses a “flea market”/ antique shop today, but was once home to Robert Marsh’s Ben Franklin Store. Before that it was the location of P.A. Whitaker’s Bakery and Confectionary. Among other items, they sold fresh bread in the back of the store. For several years baked hams could be purchased upstairs. (The Whitakers were the grandparents of the late Dr. Paul Allen Wallick.) Even earlier the original building was the site of the Rosary Drug Store and/or a Jewish man named Leo Bickart ran a bakery there too.
Continuing westward along the sidewalk, a ladies’ shop was once next in line operated by Cleo Maxwell and a Mr. McDougall.
The next early business was the Drew County Bank and Trust Co. organized in 1909. It closed in 1929 on a three-day bank holiday when the Wall Street panic began and never reopened. (This would be in the area west of the former Monticello Drug Store.)
The old Advance office would have been in the area more recently. In 1920 Mr. C. C. Whittington consolidated two smaller papers, the Advance and the Monticellonian, to form the Advance Monticellonian and located it along the south side of the Square. A fire in January, 1964, destroyed the old Advance building along with most older issues of the paper. Several other businesses on the block were damaged.
In August 1964, the Times Printing Company of McGehee bought the Advance Monticellonian and Frank Jackson became publisher and editor. In 1969 the business was updated with more modern equipment and moved to the corner of North Main and East Trotter Streets.
Most of these “middle” buildings were lost over the years or remodeled, especially after the fire of 1964, and are one-story as we see them today.
Now we come to the last building on the south side of the Square. In the 1880s the Hussey Dry Goods and Grocery occupied the last building on the southwest corner. Later Billy Hoover had his Wonder store in the building, followed by Charles Jackson’s Western Auto store.
Since the Western Auto business moved, the building has housed a flea market, Winnie Roberts’ dress shop, another clothing shop, a gift shop, a church and, more recently Beth’s Bistro, a really unique little restaurant. Owner Richard Akin has currently been renovating it to solve structural issues.
This concludes the information I have gleaned about the history of the south side of the square. As you can see, the south side was once the site of a wide variety of businesses. Today we can observe that it, like the north side earlier, is recovering and moving forward to again house vibrant and healthy businesses.
If you have any additional information, please feel free to write me at the Drew County Museum, 404 S. Main, Monticello, AR, 71655. Come see us at the museum!