Creating a town on Gobbler’s Knob

Susan Varno Originally Published May 12, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated May 10, 2013 at 10:40 a.m.
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This billboard, circa the early 1960s, on Arkansas 289 promoted the Horseshoe Bend Estates.

— This year, Horseshoe Bend celebrates its 50th anniversary. In 1963, it was incorporated as a town. Five years earlier, this area of northeast Izard County was known as Gobbler’s Knob. It was all forestland except for a few cow pastures. Houses were few, and roads were fewer.

In the 1950s, brothers Bill and Dick Pratt purchased land on the Knob.

“We bought it as a hunting and fishing place,” Bill said. “We sold 80 acres to some people from Dallas. They divided their piece into lots. They promised buyers that the Pratt Brothers would put in roads and other improvements. As soon as we heard that, we terminated our contract with the Dallas people.”

The Pratts were quail hunting on the knob one day when they decided to build a community there. Starting with 5,000 acres, they platted the town of Horseshoe Bend, naming it for a bend in the nearby Strawberry River. The town eventually grew to 14,000 acres. Bill was in real estate and construction in Newport. Dick was an attorney in Little Rock.

Bill said they expected to sell lots to retirees or people planning to retire soon. They laid out four subdivisions, built roads and put in utilities and water lines. Then they hired three salespeople. Prices for lots started at $200. In a few years, the lots were selling for $5,000 to $15,000, depending on their location.

“To sell lots, we had to have attractions,” Bill said.

Gobbler’s Knob was renamed Turkey Mountain. The development built a clubhouse at the top, a golf course around the sides and an airport below. Out on Arkansas 289, a shopping mall was constructed.

“We put in three fishing lakes and horseback-riding trails,” Bill said. “We had entertainment at the clubhouse almost every night — big bands, western and country music. Some Grand Ole Opry stars came. We started inviting people in to look at the lots. In a few years, we had several telephone offices advertising and promoting Horseshoe Bend. At one time, I had about 160 salespeople.”

Current Horseshoe Bend Mayor Bob Barnes grew up in Horseshoe Bend. His father was one of the Pratts’ first salesmen.

“The sales office was in the clubhouse,” Barnes said. “My dad had booths at state fairs and boat shows. The Pratts were offering prospective buyers a three-day visit, two nights’ free lodging and $66 to come and see Horseshoe Bend. Bill and Dick had a refurbished DC3. They brought in planeloads of 45 to 50 people at a time. Some weekends, there would be three flights.”

Later, the Pratts built the multimillion-dollar Hillhigh Spa and Motel. It is now the Cedar Glades Spa and Motel.

In 1963, Willie Nemec worked in Dick Pratt’s law office. He asked her if she would move to Horseshoe Bend and manage the clubhouse.

“We moved when school was out,” Nemec said. “The Pratts built us a house, but there were no utilities. The day we moved in, we had no connection to the water lines. They ran a hose from an old farmhouse across the road to our house. That’s how we got our water for three weeks. We didn’t have telephones. The roads were dirt and gravel. But the local people were just wonderful. We were such a novelty. Up and down the roads, they would stop and say hello.”

Nemec ran the restaurant in the clubhouse and worked in the sales office.

“There were no delivery trucks,” she said. “I would go to the grocery in Salem to buy food for the restaurant. We had no mail service, so the Franklin post office contracted with me to bring the mail to the clubhouse.”

In the late 1960s, the Pratts sold the Horseshoe Bend development to Gulf South Corp.

“We got a down payment from them, and that was all,” Bill Pratt said. “I fought them in court for years, but we didn’t retain the land as security, so we couldn’t get it back.”

In 1974, Gulf South filed for bankruptcy. The case was in federal court in Oklahoma City for 10 years.

“During the bankruptcy,” Barnes said, “you could make a bid on a lot, and Gulf South would sell it to you. There were no set prices. The people of Horseshoe Bend filed their own court case. The bankruptcy court ruled the town should get the golf course, the lakes, Veterans Park, the airport and a park down by the river. That’s when the town formed the MRID, the Municipal Recreation Improvement District. That’s what saved the town.”

After the bankruptcy, there were no more sales promotions. People continued to build houses, and lots still sold, but not as fast as before.

The 2010 census shows Horseshoe Bend has a population of 2,184. The town has a police department, a volunteer fire department, a medical clinic and the Crown Point Health and Rehab nursing home. For recreation, there are the Turkey Mountain and Cedar Glade golf courses, the Box Hound Marina and Resort, fishing on the lakes, tennis and bowling, plus scenic drives through the Ozarks.

The Horseshoe Bend Area Chamber of Commerce office is open five days a week. Each year, the biggest events are Dogwood Days, the Fourth of July and the Christmas Festival of Lights.

Dogwood Days was held Saturday at the Mall. Besides the golf tournament, vendors and stage show, this year the chamber displayed photos and memorabilia from the early days. Several of the “pioneers” promised to attend and share their memories.

“If it weren’t for the way people in Horseshoe Bend volunteer, this town wouldn’t be here,” Barnes said. “The churches were built in the 1970s. The Methodists were first, then the Baptists. We have lots of clubs like Kiwanis, American Legion and Eagles. The church groups are very active.”

For more information, visit cityofhorseshoebend.org, call the chamber at (800) 670-5433 or (800) 239-9338, or visit www.horseshoebendarcc.com.

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