Sheilla Lampkin

This is the twelfth 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.

At last we come to the west side of the historic Monticello Square. In many ways this side may have been the most colorful and exciting!  Let’s start on the south end of the block.

The earliest business on this corner that has been related to me was a service station operated by the White brothers, George and Ed. I also understand that Monticello’s first telephone office was formerly located on the second floor.  (Telephone service first came to Monticello in 1898 with 65 phone lines. This office would have been at that location at some point between that date and 1929 when the office was moved to the cornet of Trotter and Church streets.

In some of those bygone years, the business next to the service station was an early auto dealership owned by a Mr. Hardy and a Mr. White. Later it became Union Motor Company, owned by James Jackson and Fay Brann. The business moved to a new location on South Hwy 425 in the area where Ryburn Motor Company sits today. It also changed owners a few times gradually evolving into Lucky’s of Monticello, the local General Motors dealership, and moved to its North Hwy 425 site.

In 1947, a local businessman, Jimmy Adams, bought the corner lot(s), tore down the older buildings and built a building for the Adams Florist Shop. In 1950 Adams sold the property to Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Jolley and they opened the Dixie Cream Donut Shop. Later it became known as Jolley’s Café. Dean’s Grill followed Jolley’s and both were valued community eateries and gathering places that are still missed today.

The next business space was formerly occupied by the P & S (Price & Stewart) Variety Store, which burned in 1950. Much of this area later became known as First State Savings and Loan Company. More recently Commercial Bank purchased this property south to the corner and updated and expanded its facilities in the area.

An early occupant of the next area was a shop run by a Mrs. C. C. Remley. Monroe Stuckey had a ladies’ apparel shop there later. His business was in the vicinity of the current alley. I can remember a men’s store, Mr. G’s, owned by Wayne Gilliland in approximately the same location in the 1970s. As many of the other bygone businesses on the south side, most of these businesses were deep and narrow similar to strip malls today.

Now we will jump to the northern end of the block for the rest of the story! Monticello Bank was the first bank in Monticello. It began on the ground floor in an imposing two-story building constructed on that corner in 1887. The bank stayed on that corner until 1915 when it merged with its catty-corner rival, Citizens Bank, to be renamed Union Bank. The newly created bank then moved to its present location on the north side of the square.

Several tenants followed Monticello Bank on the ground floor in that prime space and the adjoining building south, including a gift shop, a hardware store, Parlor Drug Store, a shoe repair shop, a tonsorial parlor (barber shop) and an insurance agency.

The A. T. Wells Insurance Agency occupied the corner office for many years and became an institution in Monticello. Today the “signage” for the A. T. Wells agency is housed at the museum.

The upstairs of that corner building was the site of the local Opera House and was the cultural and recreational focal point of Monticello from 1890 to 1913. An old drawing published in the Drew County Historical Journal reveals what a grand building it was.

The Opera House was really more of a theater or community center for plays, lectures, balls, parties, roller skating, talent shows, dances, beauty contests and a variety of traveling entertainment acts.  “Moving picture” theaters, easy access to automobiles and other venues of entertainment, including spectator sports, brought hard times to the Opera House and led to its eventual demise in 1913.

In 1915 much of the upstairs of the building was rented to a business school for a short time. Then the roller rink and dances were again held there.

In 1920 Eureka Lodge, #40, Free and Accepted Masons, bought the building for its meeting hall. The Masons met upstairs in the old building and rented out the bottom floor to a variety of businesses over the ensuing years – most notably the A.T. Wells Insurance Agency.

Between this corner building and the next building to the south was a set of stairs leading to the second floor. The offices of Dr. M.E. Shewmake, a dentist, and Dr. D. E. Cotham, M. D., were also once located upstairs.

In 1970 the Masonic lodge razed the old buildings and built the present one-story structure that runs from the alleyway to the corner. The Masons, along with the Eastern Star, meet in the back area of the building and lease the front sections. At one time military recruiters had part of that front office space and Mullis Insurance occupied the rest. Now Mullis Insurance Agency has expanded and leases the entire length of the bottom floor of the building.

I have been told that a community “meat locker” business once operated at some location along this side of the Square that rented townspeople “boxes” for refrigerated meat storage. I’d like to learn more about this business if anyone remembers it.

Once again I have tried to discuss the variety of businesses that once operated along the west side of Monticello’s historic square as best I could determine. I hope you are enjoying this tour and have not noted too many exceptions or additions. As I have said, no exact written records exist – only memories – but what grand memories they are!