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I have been thinking about Dr. T.W. Hardison lately. He died on this date in 1957, and during the years since, many Arkansans have forgotten about this selfless country doctor who more than anyone else was responsible for Petit Jean Mountain becoming our first state park.

Thomas William Hardison was born in Columbia County on April 2, 1884, to Dr. William Harvey Hardison and Caroline Peavy Hardison. After briefly attending Hendrix College in Conway, Hardison enrolled in Memphis Hospital Medical College, where he studied for two years. He received his medical license in 1905 and began practicing in the small farming community of Tucker in Jefferson County.

In 1906, after only a few months at Tucker, Hardison accepted a job as a company physician for the Fort Smith Lumber Co., which had a large sawmill on the Rock Island Railroad near Adona in the Ouachita Mountains of northern Perry County.

Hardison had a large practice, serving the medical needs of 250 families who worked at the sawmill or at logging camps scattered through the forest. Dr. Hardison's services were provided free of charge to company employees and their families, an important service in an area without other trained physicians.

Various diseases and accidents as well as a measles epidemic challenged the young doctor. Hardison later recalled there were only 13 nights during his first winter at Adona when he was not called out to see patients. He usually made house calls on foot or by horseback, lighting his way at night with a carbide lamp.

Hardison was not too busy to notice a young teacher at a country school on nearby Petit Jean Mountain, Julia Hutto. They were married in 1907, and had a son who became an engineer in California.

At that time lumber companies followed a "cut-out and get-out" philosophy, so in 1909 the Fort Smith Lumber Co. moved from the Adona area and Dr. Hardison set up a private practice on the southern edge of nearby Petit Jean Mountain.

Hardison had become familiar with the rugged beauty and wild nature of the mountain in 1907 when he accompanied lumber company executives on a scouting tour of the locale looking for new areas to log. While inspecting the Seven Hollows area, the lumbermen realized that logging the terrain would be prohibitive. Donald Higgins, the author of the entry on Hardison in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, quoted the doctor as saying: "While listening to the discussion, the idea occurred to me that the trees might as well be left to live out their lifespan unmolested by axe and saw, and the area converted into a park."

Hardison initially hoped that Petit Jean could become a national park, but that did not work out. Hardison then began lobbying for the mountain to be designated as the first state park.

The mountain had a very small population, and land was inexpensive. Donald Higgins has described the area: "A relatively flat top gives Petit Jean elevations that vary from approximately 900 to 1,200 feet above mean sea level ... the mountain top stretches about 5.5 miles from east to west and 2.6 miles from north to south. Cedar Creek flows east to west practically down the center of the mountaintop, draining it and giving it a bowl-like quality. At Cedar Falls, the creek tumbles off a 70-foot precipice and meanders through Cedar Creek Canyon into the Petit Jean River to the west."

Among the more interesting and scenic areas of the mountain are a series of parallel canyons known as the Seven Hollows, which have waterfalls, a natural arch, and other geologic features. Fossils can be found at several locations.

One of the natural treasures of the mountain is a large shelter known as Rock House Cave, one of approximately 100 archeological sites on the mountain. Petit Jean has the largest concentration of aboriginal rock art in Arkansas. Donald Higgins credits Hardison's wife and son with finding rock art in a cave near their home in 1914.

Hardison convinced several landowners, including the Fort Smith Lumber Co., to donate land for a park, and in 1923 the state established Petit Jean State Park. The state did not have an agency to develop and oversee a parks system until 1927 when the Legislature created a State Parks Commission.

Petit Jean State Park developed slowly, but it benefited greatly from the establishment of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp at the park in 1933. For five years the New Deal agency constructed roads, cabins, bridges, lakes, and trails. The most impressive CCC project at the park involved construction of Mather Lodge, a 24-room facility overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon named in honor of Stephen T. Mather, director at that time of the National Park System who had advised Hardison on creating the park.

Hardison served on the State Parks Commission from 1935 to 1941, including four years as chairman. In 1945 he was also appointed to the Arkansas Resources and Development Commission, chairing its parks committee. In 1929 the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society honored Hardison with its Pugsley Medal for his service on behalf of state parks.

Despite his full-time medical practice and other commitments, Hardison found time to write freelance articles for various national magazines. He also published two popular booklets on Petit Jean.

Hardison, beloved by his rural patients, practiced medicine for 52 years prior to his death in 1957. Following his death, one of his patients recalled in a public letter that: "If we were sick, we came to Dr. Hardison, for he was our doctor and we depended on him. If there was an emergency of any sort, it was his phone that rang first ... We sought his guidance for we knew him to be a man of integrity who thought in terms of the common welfare."

Hardison was inducted into the Arkansas Country Doctor Museum hall of honor in 2013.

Tom Dillard is a historian and retired archivist living near Glen Rose in rural Hot Spring County. Email him at

Editorial on 04/07/2019

Print Headline: TOM DILLARD: The birth of Petit Jean State Park


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