I'm having lunch at the venerable Ozark Cafe in downtown Berryville. The building that houses the restaurant was constructed in 1905 for a hardware and furniture store, though it has been occupied by a restaurant for decades now. I've long driven through downtown Berryville on the way to Eureka Springs, its more famous neighbor to the west. On this day, I'm spending a few hours in its historic downtown.
I'm reading the fall edition of a magazine, Currents, which is published quarterly by Rust Communications and distributed in Carroll and surrounding counties. It contains a story about the former Grand View Hotel on the Berryville square. Even though it's in poor condition, it's a building I've long admired. It opened in 1902 as the St. George Hotel. The three-story building featured a four-story tower and a large porch. It became the Colonnade Hotel in the 1920s with porches and balconies on three sides. A one-story addition was constructed in the 1940s and housed Williams Cafe, a beauty shop, a shoe store and other businesses.
Alexander Virden now owns the Lucky Cat Curiosity Shop in that building.
He says of the hotel, "When it was built, it was one of the grandest hotels in Arkansas."
According to the magazine article: "Now the Grand View is stripped of its porch and balconies. Its paint is peeling. Everything about it is tired-looking. But Virden is trying to change that. ... Virden bought the hotel from its former owner about 13 years ago, he said. Mike Ellis, a longtime friend of Virden's, said the former owner had filled the hotel with clutter, making Virden's first job to clear out the junk."
Virden operated a restaurant in the former hotel for almost six years before hip, knee and shoulder pain required him to close the business. He's now using proceeds from the Lucky Cat Curiosity Shop to support hotel repairs. He hopes to open an arts and animation school in the Grand View.
"Everything I do is to raise money for the hotel," he says. "Things are starting to jell."
After lunch, I walk a block to the Saunders Memorial Building, constructed in 1955 and presented to the city of Berryville to house the extensive gun collection of Charles Burton "Buck" Saunders. I spend more than an hour in the spacious museum. Saunders was born in 1863 at Greenville, Texas. His parents had fled west during the Civil War. Saunders' father suffered from a skin disease and doctors told him to soak in springs west of Berryville. The younger Saunders, raised at Berryville, became known for his shooting prowess and headed west to seek his fortune. He won the world championship of pistol shooting in France in 1910. Saunders even toured for a time with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show.
In 1906, Saunders married Gertrude Bowers, the widow of a wealthy miner. The couple used that wealth to travel the world and collect artifacts. Saunders' wife died in 1911, and Saunders returned to Berryville in 1919. He died at age 89 in 1952. He left his home to the city, and it was transformed into the city hall. Saunders also left his collection of firearms and antiques to the city along with money to construct a museum. The building, which houses one of the country's largest collections of rare guns, was designed by Eureka Springs architect Mauritz Friberg. In addition to guns and antique furniture, there are knives, textiles, Victorian-era clothing, Persian rugs, Sitting Bull's war bonnet and even a tent that belonged to an Arab sheik.
Sam Trisler wrote for Guns America: "Small-town museums occasionally have a couple of items that are significant to the history outside of the local area. But it is not every day or in every small town that you come across a collection that's truly remarkable. Berryville is home to a hidden gem for the gun nut. The Saunders Museum is one of those rare finds--a museum with a large and historically significant firearms collection."
Brothers Joel and William Plumlee settled on what's now the Berryville town square in 1832. Blackburn Henderson Berry moved to Carroll County from northern Alabama in 1848. Two years later, he purchased the Plumlee farm and opened a store. Arthur Baker, a blacksmith and self-taught doctor, joined Berry in hiring a surveyor that year to map out a new town. The original plat contained 24 lots and three streets. There was a coin toss to determine whether the town would be called Bakersville or Berryville. The first post office was established in 1852. Baker donated land for the first public school, and Berry gave land for a Presbyterian church.
In 1875, Berry donated land east of the Carroll County Courthouse for a public square. A well was dug in 1880 in what became known as Court Square Park. Rachel Silva writes for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program that the park was laid out in an octagonal shape and "surrounded by a wire fence to prevent the entrance of roaming cattle, horses and hogs. Four sets of wooden steps provided access over the fence. ... During the summer months, the whole area smelled like a barnyard, and swarms of flies and gnats found their way into the businesses around the square. In 1900, a bandstand was erected in the middle of the park above the old well, which was then equipped with a hand pump. The bandstand was a popular place for social gatherings, political rallies, religious services and concerts."
It should be noted that downtown Berryville no longer smells like a barnyard. It is, in fact, a pleasant place to spend part of a day.
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.
Editorial on 09/22/2018
Print Headline: On Berryville's square