Sheilla Lampkin

This is the fifteenth 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 will continue our tour, “looking” at some remembered businesses along the south side of East Gaines Street in Monticello beginning with the business on the corner of East Gaines and South Main, one of the earliest businesses there was a dry goods store owned by a Mr. Ely, a Russian Jew. It has been pictured as a two-story building with a wooden sidewalk on the south side.

However, records also indicate that one of the two water wells for the courthouse preceded the mercantile store. There were originally two wells for the 1870 structure – one for people and one for the livestock. That well is believed to still be buried under the present buildings.

Between 1905 and 1910 the Star Hotel was located in that corner spot. I am told that Monticello Drug was once located here, and later Tom Todd’s Popular Price Store. Mr. Magness then opened a shoe store in the present corner building and it became Cockrell’s Shoes after WWII. One of the beautiful Olen Cockrell daughters still operates the store today.

An alley separates Cockrell’s from the next building. Although it is now filled with varied offices, the building once housed the Fair Store. I can also remember that the Childs Martins had a wonderful fabric store there. A floral and gift shop was located there later.

The next building was once the location of Newman’s Restaurant. Bob Newman ran the restaurant for many years and is still missed by a multitude of friends and patrons. He served a large variety of delicious homemade foods in ample portions. Mr. Bob always had a smile and a friendly word too.

Mr. Newman is remembered as having a big heart, a love for Monticello and a special affinity for the Boll Weevils. He is remembered as feeding more than one hungry student running short of cash. I believe he later expanded to cover the area to the end of the block for a time. I can recall going in the side door to deliver tomatoes around 1970.

The corner space belonged to Boyd and McQuiston Drug Store for many years. A fire heavily damaged the building at one time. Later it became the site of McKiever’s Pharmacy. McKiever’s Pharmacy and café area became a favorite breakfast and lunch spot – particularly for the folks who had livestock, the horsemen, businessmen and the politicians. Many great friendships and decisions were made around those tables – and many stories were told.

Crossing South Bailey Street, we come to the present day Ridgeway Hotel housing complex that extends along the entire block. The first part of the complex is the red brick building once known as People’s Lumber and once owned by Mr. McWhirter. The Victorian trim and finials along the top of the building are charming. The late mayor and state representative, James Jordan, also had a lumber company there. Later this space became a janitorial supply company, and then a thrift shop.

In the 1950s a café was next to the lumber company. Beside the café was a liquor store. This was before Monticello was voted “dry”. When that happened, the business reinvented itself as a pool hall until it became part of the Ridgeway project.

The famed Ridgeway Hotel came next. A boom in the late 1920s is responsible for the construction of the Ridgeway – a showplace of the area at the time. Jack Curry and family, including Jack Jr. and the beloved professor, C. C. Curry, opened the hotel in November, 1930.

The Ridgeway opened as one of the finer hotels in Arkansas with its concrete foundation, framework and floor, and its brick fireproofed walls. It had five stories and 60 rooms. It also had an elevator and wall to wall carpeting in the rooms and halls upstairs. Each room in the Ridgeway had a phone, a bath, a ceiling fan and running ice water. The downstairs lobby and coffee shop were tiled. There was a club room, a banquet/ballroom and a huge kitchen.

The Ridgeway was the social and civic center of Drew County and the surrounding area in its “heyday”. Several state groups even held conventions here, including the American Legion, Arkansas Medical Association and Arkansas Lions Club.  Many, many people still recall senior proms and parties at the Ridgeway.

Weekly dances were very popular and profitable in the ballroom. In spite of all this, the Great Depression in the 1930s hurt the business and it was not highly profitable. It was difficult to support three families, so Jack Jr. left the family business to go into banking. During WWII C.C. Curry joined the Navy and the hotel was leased.

When the Currys resumed control after the war, motels provided indomitable competition to the hotel. In 1964, the Ridgeway was sold to Kermit Carpenter. The building then became “rental” property and later a rehab center for a time. For years it sat in a deplorable state of ruin until an apartment complex became the brainchild of Bennie Ryburn, III.

Under his leadership the whole block became a part of a senior living complex and a dangerous eyesore was transformed into an attractive, viable property in downtown Monticello.

The rest of the block once held a small office building and the property of the long departed Ford Motor Company. It was started by a Mr. Foster Wright and later purchased by Bennie Ryburn, Sr., who moved the business east of the railroad tracks. Much later the business was relocated to U.S. 425 South. The main building of the auto dealership later housed Bone’s Big A Auto Supply until they sold the property to the Ridgeway project and moved to U.S. 278 West.

Crossing Edwards Street, the next block once began with Ray Sparks’ Right Place, a general merchandise store. Later on, Prestige Furniture, or Carpenter’s Supply Company, occupied this area.

Earlier, there were two houses east of Ray Sparks’ Right Place: one owned by the Lathams and the other by Mrs. Bessie Wilson.

Now a large vacant area, the next space once held the Monticello Hotel. Again changing times hurt the hotel business and it was never highly profitable.  It was finally torn down. The small saw shop sitting back off the street was also torn down not too many years later. Now Major’s saw shop occupies the space.

The next building, part wood and part tin, was once a Pepsi Cola bottling plant. More recently it was the home of O.K. Sales owned by the late Mack McKeown.

The last building before the railroad tracks was once a service station. The move of many businesses to U.S. 425 ended its prosperity. More recently it has served as a bus station, uniform shop and flea market.

This information discusses the most of the businesses I “uncovered” along the south side of East Gaines Street. I realize I have left some out. If you want to add anything to this article, or to previous ones about the streets of Monticello that I have covered, write down your comments and mail them to me at the museum, 404 South Main Street. I will try to add your memories to a summation at a later date.