RUSH -- "Zinc rush" somehow lacks the jolt of excitement delivered by "gold rush." But the quest for zinc is what spawned the aptly named Rush. Once a boom town and now a ghost town, it is one of the most intriguing historic sites within the boundaries of Buffalo National River.
Founded in the 1880s following the first discoveries of zinc in northern Arkansas, Rush saw its population peak at around 5,000 during World War I, when armament needs drove the price of zinc ore to record highs from 1914 to 1918. That was as good as it got here, and Rush slowly faded away, with the last residents departing after the post office closed in the 1950s.
What makes a visit evocative today is the preservation of ramshackle structures built in Rush's heyday. Efforts by the National Park Service since Buffalo National River was established in 1972 have countered the decay wrought by time, weather and sporadic acts of vandalism. It requires only an active historical mind to imagine the zinc-rush ghosts.
Reaching Rush Historic District involves crossing the Arkansas 14 bridge over the river at Dillard's Ferry, then turning right in four miles on Marion County Road 6035. The road becomes unpaved before reaching the ghost town, which can be explored with guidance from a Park Service brochure and detailed information signs.
Before visiting, it's also worth printing out "Rush -- A Ghost Along the Buffalo," a posting by Evelyn Wilson Parker on the website undergroundozarks.com. Parker's detailed and flavorful narrative helps bring to life the erstwhile bustle of the place.
Best known of the Rush mines was the Morning Star, from which the largest piece of pure zinc carbonate ever found anywhere was extracted in 1893. It weighed 12,750 pounds. As Parker recounts, "Named Jumbo by the miners, it was dragged on the front wheels of a large log wagon drawn by 16 oxen."
Hauled to the nearby Buffalo River, Jumbo was floated on a raft to the White River, then transferred to a steamboat and taken to Batesville. Put on a railroad car, it was exhibited at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, where it won a gold medal and then went on display at that city's Field Museum.
Rush's mines displayed whimsy in their names, the likes of Lonnie Boy, Yellow Rose, Mattie May, Lucky Dutchman, Yellow Jacket, Monte Cristo and Last Chance. Business slowed down in the first decade of the 20th century, before World War I sent the price of zinc ore zooming from $14 to $160 per ton.
During this biggest boom, Parker writes, "there were seven barbers in town, three in front of each of the two pool halls. Yet there was such a demand for haircuts that patrons were required to take a number and sometimes had to wait until the wee hours of the morning to receive their cut. With 18-hour work days, the barbers often partook of spirits to relieve the drudgery of their work. When that happened, it took courage to allow them to proceed with a haircut, and the thought of a shave was out of the question."
No trace remains of the pool halls. One of the first buildings a visitor encounters today is the skeleton of the Taylor-Medley Store, where Bill Taylor and later Lee Medley sold goods and distributed mail until the 1950s. Signs warn that the structures are unstable and closed to the public.
Just ahead, a short circular trail winds uphill past the remains of Morning Star processing mill, built in 1898. The visible foundation piers date from a remodeled mill of 1911. A gravity tram moved ore from the mining level to the mill for crushing.
Intrepid hikers can continue east on a longer trail that passes several mine entrances, which are fenced off for safety. The trail eventually reaches so-called New Town, a World War I expansion of the settlement that overlooks the Buffalo River, where swimmers and boaters can be seen.
Back on the circular trail, visitors pass the ruins of a blacksmith shop that retains part of its forge. At a lower level, a stone smelter erected in 1886 invites photography. The smelter was built in the vain hope of finding silver in the ore.
Dreams of wealth, some realized in the zinc era and others that proved to be illusory, are what made Rush and then unmade it. Ghosts linger.
For more information on Rush Historic District, call (870) 449-431 or visit nps.gov/buff.
Weekend on 08/14/2014
Print Headline: Once zinc clamor fizzled, town of Rush did too