Precious memories: Life before Greers Ferry Dam

Carol Rolf Originally Published September 29, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 27, 2013 at 12:19 p.m.
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HIGDEN — Karen Potter Murphy was born in Higden on Jan. 4, 1945. That’s the town of Higden that existed before the Greers Ferry Dam was built. Higden still exists today, after relocating to higher ground and keeping its charter and post office.

It’s the “time before the dam” that Murphy explores in a book she has written: Higden … A Place in the Heart: Life Before Greer’s Ferry Lake. Published in April, the book is available at and

Murphy will attend Thursday’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the dam dedication. She did not attend the original dedication of the dam in 1963, as she was away at college. She will have a display that includes her book, along with items she mentions in the book — specially those that relate to “how we lived without running water and indoor plumbing,” she said.

She will hold a book sale and signing from 3-5 p.m. Thursday at the Cleburne County Historical Society and Museum, 219 N. Broadway in Heber Springs.

“I was born at home on the family farm,” said Murphy, who now lives in Knoxville, Tenn.

She is the daughter of Claudia Potter of Stratford, Mo., and the late Billy Potter.

“Nobody went to the hospital in those days,” she said, “plus there was a deep snow on the ground that day. My grandmother, who was a midwife, and my aunt delivered me.”

Although Murphy returns home a few times a year, she can never really return to her family’s farm. That farm is now underwater, the result of flooding of the Little Red River that once filled what is now Greers Ferry Lake.

“My dad and other property owners in the area went to a meeting in 1957 in

Heber Springs in which the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers explained what was happening,” she said. “They provided a timeline for families to relocate. We had to be out by Dec. 27, 1959.

“My dad made his last crop in the river bottoms on the first of November in 1959,” she recalled. “He had already found a replacement farm in Jonesboro, where some other family members lived. He harvested the corn and hay and transported them to the new farm.”

Murphy was 15 when her family relocated.

“All of my vivid childhood memories are at Higden,” she said. “I had my first boyfriend there.

“I entered school at Higden,” Murphy said. “It was a brick building with no indoor plumbing. There was a large auditorium in the middle of the building, and we had a lunchroom, but hot meals were not served. There was a well in front of the building and two outhouses in the back — one for boys and one for girls.

“It was during the middle of my sophomore year of high school [West Side High School at Heber Springs] when we moved. I’ve always felt something was missing from my life, from high school. My brother was a senior, and he stayed with some other family members who did not have to relocate, so he was able to graduate with his classmates. But I lost track of many of my classmates because we moved to Jonesboro.”

Murphy said the Higden School District was consolidated with the West Side School District, with the high school moving to West Side in 1949 and the other schools in 1952.

Murphy said she has heard from some of her high school classmates from West Side High School, who now have reunions twice a year.

“I had the opportunity to introduce my book to them over the Memorial Day weekend,” she said.

Murphy would go on to graduate from Valley View High School in Jonesboro. She attended Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., and Arkansas State University-Jonesboro, studying English, speech and business. She and her husband, Charles M. Murphy, lived for more than 35 years in Memphis where they owned a full-service insurance company. They retired to Knoxville to be near their daughter and her family.

Murphy began her book in 2006.

“When I sat down to write, all the details just came back to me,” she said. “I had no concept of the book yet. I just wrote down little vignettes that I was able to later weave together.

“I had a desire to preserve some pre-lake history. This book is written from my memories. I knew my family’s history and other families’ stories as well.

“I had some copies of the book when I came back for homecoming May 17 and 18. It was very well-received, but I’ve not had many comments posted on I suspect it’s because most of the people who bought them do not use a computer.

“I’ve been taking orders for the hardbound copies from people who want to have them as keepsakes. That’s been rewarding.”