This is the twentieth 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.
By popular request we’ll continue our tour of Monticello’s Main Street by looking at the history of South Main Street. Let’s start of the corner of South Main and Gaines Streets and continue south. This corner spot has a colorful history that is still changing today. An old photograph made in the 1880s shows a two-story wooden building sitting there. This structure housed R. C. Bennett’s saloon on the ground floor; the second floor held a poker room.
Shortly after the turn of the century a two-story brick building was built here that held Fish Drug Store. The front of Fish Drug Store was angled on the east end to match the corner building on East Gaines and North Main. (This angled corner still survives on the northeast corner.) A fire in 1935 destroyed the business, but not the building. Later on, Corner Drug, operated by a Mr. Cruce occupied the building, followed by pharmacists W. J. McKiever and Billy Ralph Hunter at different times. Later Apples and Amens, a school and church supply store, and a thrift shop operated there before the first floor of the building was vacated. .
Prior to WWII, Dr. Stanley Gates and Dr. Leslie, a dentist, had offices on the second floor. Over the years law offices were also maintained there by local barristers, including the late Patrick Henry and Judge Clifton Bond.
In 2008 time and mortar caught up with the building and the rear of it literally fell off during a period of heavy rains. Since that event much discussion and debate has been held about the fate of the structure. This year owner Leslie McKiever generously offered to “give” the building to anyone willing to save it. Businessman Richard Akin stepped up, assumed ownership and has nearly completed remodeling it.
The building now houses two “loft” apartments and a soon-to-open coffee/sandwich/snacks shop called The Square Cup. Monticellonian Steve Davis will operate the business and it should bring much attention, atmosphere and business back to the Square.
An alley separates The Square Cup from the next building – the first to face South Main on the west side of the street. This buff brick building was built in 1952 by the Carl Leidengers. Mrs. Leidenger was the former Lonnie Lee Allen, the youngest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Lee Allen. (Mr. Allen was the successful businessman who built the magnificent Allen house on North Main.)
A movie theater appropriately named the “Amuse U” once occupied the building. (.I am told that business wasn’t too good and the business closed. Later the building housed West Brothers Department Store. It was a grand store in its day with two levels and a stairway connecting them. The ladies’ dresses were upstairs on the “balcony” level. Many students at Arkansas A & M College would walk to West Brothers on Saturdays and shop.
The West Brothers chain eventually split, then failed, and the Monticello store closed in the mid-to-late 1960s. The building most recently has been used for storage. Presently it is being remodeled.
A small landscaped area separates the old West Brothers building from the next building. (I have been told that the Amuse-U theatre began in the landscaped area before the 1952 building was constructed) This buff brick sits near the railroad tracks and most likely dates from the 1930s. The wraparound effect on the southern end adds a nice touch to its architectural style. As early as my friends can recall, it held the medical offices and clinic of Dr. J. P. Price and the insurance offices of a Mr. Carter.
Dr. Price had offices in the northernmost section. I am told he had several rooms and a small ward in the back with quite a few beds. Dr. Price had begun practicing medicine at the old Mack Wilson Hospital on North Main in the area where the present First Presbyterian Church now stands. Later he moved his office into a building on the west side of the first block on North Main behind the present Union Bank.
Around 1939-40, Dr. Price moved again, this time into the buff brick building by the railroad on South Main Street. (I believe it may have been owned by a Mr. Baxter.) After World War II, Dr. Lewis Hyatt practiced here with Dr. Price for a time. Both doctors later moved elsewhere.
Several years later, Jim Searcy had his accounting officers there. After Searcy and Associates moved further south, David Chambers’ law office and an art supplies studio shared the building. Later Choice One Insurance was housed in the northern section of the building. Then another physician, Dr. Rudy Turner practiced in the building for a time.
Today Hope Center, a nonprofit business founded to help young mothers/parents who are giving birth with counseling and infant supplies, occupies the building. I think Dr. Price would heartily approve.
On the south side of the railroad tracks we see a mini park in a pleasant pastoral setting. The big house that once sat there was the home of Dr. A. S. J. Collins. At some time the house may have been made into apartments. After the house was later torn down, a young Eagle Scout named Jonathan Wall designed and landscaped the little park.
I am told that at one time two other houses sat alongside Dr. Collins’ house. Dallas Miles lived in the middle house and the third house belonged to a Mr. Shelton. Rodney Foss, a naval officer killed in the infamous attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was born there. (His mother was a Shelton and this was his grandparents’ home. Rodney grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.)
Behind these houses sat Mrs. Green’s Tea Room. (You may recall that last week Shirley Burks reminesced about having lunch at the Tea Room when she worked at her uncle’s meat locker business as a youth.) Behind the tea room sat a larger house owned by the Thompson and, later, Harper families.
Around 1937, Lion Oil bought the entire area and the Miles house, the Shelton house and the tea room were razed. The Harper house was moved further back from the street. A Lion Oil Service Station was built in the area and closer to the street. Lamar and Irma Ross operated the station and celebrated 50 years of business in that same station in 1993. Later the entire area was cleared to way for the Drew County Detention Facility.
This brings us to the present Drew County courthouse where we will stop for this week. During these pleasant days, get out and walk these streets and see if you can imagine all the people and places that once thrived down South Main Street, Monticello, Arkansas.
Have a happy, healthy prosperous New Year!