This is the seventeenth 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.
Now let’s begin our look down the north side of West Gaines from the Square to North Hyatt.
Today that first block is filled with the main branch and drive-thru of the Commercial Bank. As far back as I can determine, the corner spot was formerly the location of a filling station owned by brothers George and Edwin White. It was a large two-story building with a triangular inset, a flat “face” and entrances from both North Church Street and West Gaines Street. This was a popular façade treatment around the Square in that time frame, much like the corner of McCloy and North main today, but the doorway was set further back so a vehicle could pass through the open space.
The second floor held the first telephone office. Monticello’s first switchboard operator was Ida Thompson Jackson, mother of my good friend Charles Jackson, and sister of Dr. W. D. Thompson of the Barkada community.
Later an Assembly of God congregation met there until Jimmy Adams bought the property, tore the station down and built a florist at the corner location. Later, it housed the popular eateries known as Jolley’s Café and Dean’s Grill for years until the bank bought the property.
Heading west down Gaines Street, the next building in early remembrances of West Gaines Street was a wood frame structure where Ligon Fitzwater had a “convenience” store.
This business was followed by the 333 Tire and Filling Station. I believe it was owned by the late George Campster. The “333” in the name referred to its phone number. The first block ended here. Later all these buildings were later torn down and replaced by Adams Florist (as mentioned above) and a few government and other small offices. In 1965, Commercial Bank moved from the east corner of the square to take the westernmost corner spot. It eventually expanded to encompass the whole south side of the block as it does today.
The next block begins with the Commercial Bank’s parking lot. Earlier a movie theater, owned by Mrs. B. V. McDougald, once stood there. I believe it too was named the Drew Theater. Sadly it burned on July 3, 1953. There was another theater, The Star Theatre, somewhere in the area too. I may have the names confused.
A two-story house still sits west of the parking lot/movie theater area. It was also built by a Mrs. McDougald and used for apartments and her residence for many years. Behind the house and running north is a long two- story apartment building also built by Mrs. McDougald.
The corner building on the next block originally served as the Employment Security Division offices. For a time a group with Lutheran backgrounds held services there, but were unable to sustain a church. Bud Bulloch’s business interests were the next occupants. The building most recently serves as law offices.
Now we come to the area that dips downward into a small valley or gully. A Derby service station once stood in this area. This area later housed a “little brown house” building that served as a chicken “shack”, a gift shop and my first remembrances of Piggy Sue’s Restaurant. Later, it was removed and replaced with a mini strip mall building that runs north and south along the property and houses several businesses.
Across the parking lot now stands a government office building. A dairy once occupied the area. Later, a huge Western Auto store owned by my friend Charles Jackson was located there. It was a grand store selling a wide variety of home and auto products, tools, appliances and accessories. In back of the Western Auto building, Clyde Rogers once had a mechanic shop. I still remember the big sale held there before the business closed and have retained many of the quality bargains I bought there!
On the lot where the old Gulf station still sits, there once stood a clapboard home that was the residence of the Methodist district superintendent.
I really meant to end our tour at Hyatt Street until I thought about the corner lot now held by E-Z Mart, and couldn’t resist mentioning personal fond memories of a business that formerly held that spot.
In the 1950-60s there was a restaurant there called Bee-Dee’s. I think about Bee-Dee’s every time I hear the Arby’s (I think) commercial that claims they brought the public “curly fries”. Curly fries could be found in Monticello long before Arby’s. Incidentally, “Bee Dee’s” stood for “Bigger Dips” of ice cream. They served a plethora of fine foods there for years.
Nearly all of this area from the square to Hyatt – and beyond – housed residences in Monticello’s earlier days. As time marched on many residences changed hands and were moved, or torn down, so that businesses could spread out from the square.
Upon the completion of Arkansas 81 (now U.S. 425) the spread of businesses from the square went more frequently in an east-west direction, leaving many downtown businesses “in the cold”. Many became office space; many were and are today being replaced by other businesses. We savor and dread some of these changes, but we can attribute it all to “growing pains” and progress.
U.S 425 is now generally considered a driving nightmare at certain times of the day and yet new questions arise. “Where will Monticello’s next spread go? When will it begin? What will happen to the businesses left behind?” No one truly knows but one day it will all be a part of Monticello and Drew County’s history.
Next week: a special Christmas story! Have yourself a merry little Christmas!