POCAHONTAS -- A number of Arkansas towns have downtown walls decorated with murals. But Pocahontas stands out with its Randolph County Quilt Trail, displaying reproductions of more than 50 quilts on buildings in its 17-square-block National Historic District.
Created in 2009 as a project of Five Rivers Historic Preservation, the quilt copies are nearly full size and printed on marine vinyl. They portray a variety of historic, cultural and geometric motifs that reflect the crafts heritage sustained by generations of women in this northeast Arkansas county.
A walking-tour guide to the quilts is available at Randolph County Heritage Museum, on Courthouse Square in the middle of the historic district. Also free at the museum is a walking-tour brochure identifying 20 structures of note including Sanitary Barbershop, 105 N. Marr St., dating to the 1880s and said to be the state's oldest such business.
It is likely but not certain that Pocahontas (originally called Bettis Bluff) is named for the famous American Indian maiden. Located on the Black River, it thrived during the riverboat era of the 19th century and the subsequent glory years of railroading. Perhaps surprisingly, its population has doubled to nearly 7,000 since World War II.
Most buildings in the historic district are brick and date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when German settlers were prominent here. As the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture notes, the structures "represent Italianate, Classical Revival, Art Deco and Art Moderne with stylistic elements including parapets, brick corbeling, soldier courses, decorative brickwork and occasional arched windows or storefront columns or pilasters."
A plaque on Courthouse Square reminds visitors of Pocahontas' role in the Civil War. First a major staging area for Confederate troops, it was occupied by Union forces who burned part of the town in 1863. The plaque describes the Union capture of Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson, known as the "Swamp Fox" for his victories in marshy terrain.
Some of the museum's many displays focus on the Black River and other bodies of water that now make Randolph County a popular recreational area. The decades when mussels were harvested to make pearl buttons from their shells is commemorated with a replica of Crosby Button Factory.
The bittersweet tone of a sign reminds visitors of those hard times: "With the promise of a brighter future, shellers flocked to these shores seeking wealth and prosperity. What they found was often something different. Hard work, rugged living conditions and an ever-present feeling of uncertainty about what the day's catch would bring in."
A catch of an eye-popping different kind hangs on a museum wall, where the taxidermist's art has preserved a huge alligator gar caught in 1955 at Shaver's Eddy on the Black River. More than 7 feet long and weighing 164 pounds, the fish had to be shot before Rudolph Gazaway Sr. and his son could land it.
Elsewhere on Courthouse Square, a flavorful surprise awaits visitors who stop by Futrell's Pharmacy at 115 E. Broadway, occupied by a pharmacy or drugstore since 1854. The present owners maintain a soda fountain with prices to match its old-fashioned motif.
A single scoop of ice cream, with a choice of 12 flavors, is $1. Two scoops cost $2, as does a small milkshake or malt. A large milkshake or malt runs $2.50, likewise a float. The circular fountain stools are as nostalgia-evoking as the prices.
Randolph County Heritage Museum, 106 E. Everett St., Pocahontas, is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free, with donations welcome. Call (870) 892-4056 or visit RandolphCoMuseum.org.
Weekend on 04/28/2016
Print Headline: Quilt Trail cuts colorful path through Pocahontas