A Southtown Oral History
The following is part two of a transcript of an oral history interview with Tom L. Scott, Gene Inman (Eugene Benton Inman) and Harold Thames, which took place at Willowbrook retirement community on Feb. 17, 2006, in Fort Smith. Editing and elisions are minimal but were made. For a completely verbatim experience of the interview, please contact Joe Wasson who videotaped it for the Society's archives. All photos below are courtesy of Tom L. Scott and Gene Inman.
Ben Boulden: Dooley's was on the corner of what would be Zero and 31st?
Gene Inman: No, it was back this way at 31st and the first street past the railroad tracks.
[Brief review of map].
GI: We had a barber that was on this street that paralleled the railroad tracks there. Let's see that would have been ... [points]. His name was Levi Poteet. I'd get a haircut and a shave for 25 cents. ... When I was going to have a date, well, I'd skip over there and get me a shave for a dime real quick.
BB: The beer halls that you remember?
GI: Were right in here. [Points to the map].
BB: These were the proprietors: George Wilson, Curley McAlester and ...?
GI: Peewee Holman. He was the brother of Everett Holman who worked for T.C. there. There was two buildings there and they alternated. One would be a beer hall for a while then somebody would get the other one, then back and forth. Scott had a building right across here that we used for a warehouse. That building is still there.
Tom Scott: Is that the one that is a cafe now?
GI: No, it's sort of a long, skinny building. If you are going south, there's a vacant lot there then you come to two buildings. It's the first one you come to.
BB: Did they just serve beer or was it liquor?
GI: Just beer. Three-two was in fashion in them days.
BB: Were you ever old enough to drink beer there?
GI: I didn't drink beer and didn't care for it. I never was in the joint.
BB: What about you?
BB: What did they look like?
GI: They had pool tables and tables where you could sit and drink. I could see through the door.
BB: They were small little places though?
GI: They weren't too big.
HT: And best I can remember they always had domino games going on.
BB: Did they bet on the games?
HT: I don't know.
GI: You know where the Coca-Cola bottling plant is? That was considered part of Southtown. That big area back behind there was a dairy farm that belonged to my great uncle, Uncle Lou Tankersley. He had a dairy there and there was a cemetery back in there where the Coca-Cola plant is that as far as I know is still there. I think it was called Carnall Cemetery. There was a Carnall who was very instrumental in education and the formation of the state from the early days in Fort Smith. Anyway, what I am getting at is Lou Tankersley and this one, Ross Tankersley, had a wild West show previous to World War I.
TS: Ross was one of the originators of the White Dairy and Tankersley Brothers.
[Discussion of photo].
GI: This is John B. Williams. [points to photo] You ever hear of him. He was sheriff for three terms, 1929 to 1934.
BB: Six years?
HT: I wouldn't be surprised if that picture wasn't made about where 540 is today.
Joe Wasson: Was John Williams related to Leon Williams?
GI: Brother. Now here is a picture of John B.'s wagon yard down on Rogers Avenue.
BB: Is this the same John B. Williams who was involved in the incident with Andy Carr?
TS: The beating of the black guy?
TS: Yeah, that was him.
GI: Another thing near Carnall here was the smelters in south Fort Smith.
BB: How many people who were employed there?
GI: Lots of them. I'd say two or three hundred.
BB: What metals were smelted?
GI: It was zinc. They were some of the best paid people during the Depression when that thing was running. They were some of the best paid people in the country.
TS: I had a little zinc ingot that was imprinted with Acme, which was the name of the smelter. I gave it to the Fort Smith museum among the things I donated.
BB: Was it Acme or Athletic?
GI: Athletic. Acme Brick.
TS: I guess it did say Athletic. You're right.
GI: The first smelter was on the corner of Jenny Lind and 71 highway down there.
TS: I didn't know what sequence they came in, but anything that grows there is poison.
GI: You know where the battery factory is. That's were the other one was at. [Northwest Corner of Zero and Old Greenwood Road. Site of Exide battery factory.] Across Zero was a lake where they drew the water from.
BB: For the smelting?
GI: Yep. You couldn't raise a calf or colt. They'd get poisoned.
BB: I heard the horses would die or go lame but cows were unaffected.
GI: The calves were though. You could keep cows, but the calves wouldn't make it.
BB: I heard there would be a fog that enshrouded South Fort Smith when the smelter was going. They said you couldn't put whites out on the line or they would stain yellow. What sort of chemicals were airborne in that process?
TS: I don't know but I'm sure a lot of zinc in the air and that's a heavy metal.
GI: I lost a colt. I had an old mare and she had colt. That smelter started up and I had this old Palomino mare. It absolutely ruined her.
TS: My dad told me that the smelter tried to convince people that it wasn't harmful. To demonstrate it, they planted catalpha trees. That's how all the catalphas got started around South Fort Smith. You know the ones with the long see pods. They can survive in acidic soil. That's why you see so many in that part of town.
BB: And they're still there?
TS: Oh, yeah, you'll see them. Some people call them Indian Cigars. They've got long seed pods about eight inches or so.
GI: The smelter had a farm and they tried growing everything out there.
HT: Their orchard failed.
BB: Is that safe or clean now?
TS: If you really scrutinized it, there would be problems.
HT: If you go out Jenny Lind Road [south], past Yeagers' store, at the top of the first rise, on the left hand side, that's where that smelter set. If you look out there, you'll still see bare places of grass near Mill Creek.
BB: Behind Sutherland's and Town and Country Liquor, that open land? Do you think that land is poisoned?
TS and GI: Sure.
HT: That was the downside of the smelters. There might still be some old concrete there that was part of it. The grass won't grow there.
GI: It is.
TS: When I came back and saw that they were building industrial facilities at Old Greenwood Road and Zero, I was really surprised. In my experience in other states up north, they never would have allowed any development on land that was that contaminated.
GI: Here's another family that was very instrumental in Fort Smith.
BB: The Kelleys?
GI: The Kelleys.
BB: Yeah, I know Gordon Kelley.
GI: I knew her grandad, her dad and her mother.
BB: What was your connection with the family?
GI: My dad leased from them for years and years, starting in 1924. We leased dairy land from them.
TS: Out where the old smelter was at the intersection of Old Greenwood and Zero. Wasn't there a facility on both the east side and the west side?
HT: On the east side, they never did smelt there. They took shale like when you would strip coke. Then they would cinder to go into these lightweight concrete boxes. It was just about as bad with the run off water.
GI: Here's a picture of the ...
BB: The sorghum mill. Best-Clymer, I was trying to think of the name earlier today.
[Brief discussion of photos].
TS: My grandfather bought it from Star Grocery in 1921, and this is how it looked after he put his name on it.
BB: Was there a lot of discharge from the sorghum mill? Water?
GI: Cinders. They used to haul cinders away from it that came out of it.
BB: Coal cinders?
GI: They built railroad siding out there and would load cinders in the cars and haul them off.
BB: Pete Howard said he would play in Mill Creek and get boils.
HT: That was from the water that discharged there. The best I can remember, I lived about three block from it, was there was a lot of pollution that went into the water at Mill Creek.
BB: Do you know what the sources would have been?
HT: Probably runoff from that cane.
BB: From the sorghum?
HT: Yeah, they would squeeze it. They'd run it through rollers then the pulp they would haul it off.
GI: We hauled it from there and fed our cows.
HT: That would be the waste from that thing that got into the creek.
GI: And it would stink.
BB: What did it smell like?
HT: It would be nasty to swim in.
GI: It would just plain old stink. It smelt like an old cow or horse lot.
HT: Have you ever smelled silage?
GI: Here's something just out beyond his dad's store. The old powder mill. It finally blowed up and killed a bunch of people.
BB: Was it gunpowder?
GI: Blasting powder for the mines.
TS: It blew up twice didn't it?
BB: Where was it?
TS: Powder Mill Road. [Laughs].
GI: From his store, if you went straight on south, it was about a quarter of a mile.
TS: It was where 271 does that dogleg. It was off to the left there.
BB: Do either of you remember the trolley?
GI: I rode it a thousand miles.
BB: It's last stop?
TS: Was right outside Scott's store.
GI: That area where Carnall school is on Tulsa. There was a big field there behind it. That's where the airport was part of the time. Another place was on south. When the river flooded, they would land them over there in that hay field [near today's Tulsa street].
BB: How long were there planes there?
GI: Sometimes they'd be other there for a month.
BB: I mean the years that was an airfield.
GI: I don't know. Probably 20 years. Something like that.
BB: How many hangars did they have?
GI: They didn't have hangars. They'd tie them down. I've seen as many as three planes lined up there. They'd be there on Sunday and give you a ride.
BB: How much?
GI: I think it was three dollars.
BB: How long would you stay up? 10 minutes maybe?
GI: Something like that maybe. You talk about riding that street car. I went to Peabody School and walk down to E Street and catch the E Street car, which stopped at Albert Pike school. It's not there any more. They'd take a block over. They'd come out E, then a little ways on Blackburn, then make a right hand turn on May and lefthand turn on Park to the end of the line. I road five days a week on that for two or three years, then I'd walk the rest of the way home to what's now the corner of 66th and Free Ferry.
BB: Did you ever ride the trolley in South Fort Smith though?
GI: Oh, yeah, I rode it southbound from downtown.
BB: Was there a turn near Fresno too?
TS: That's what you called Society Hill?
GI: Society Curve.
BB: There was a little restaurant or dance hall there?
GI: Yeah, it was a dance hall. Clay's Pool Hall and Dance Hall. A fellow by the name of Clay owned it.
BB: Why did they call it Society Curve?
GI: I don't know. That was before my time. That was a long time ago. That was it right there. [Points to map.]
BB: And there was another bend at Tulsa?
GI: Well, it ended up on Jenny Lind Road and followed it to.
BB: Was Jenny Lind there?
GI: It wasn't Jenny Lind then. It was a streetcar track.
BB: Do you know when it became Jenny Lind?
GI: No, I'd say right after the war. ... If you go out south of Rheem, we used to call that the Old Shale Road. It was the road to Greenwood. It wasn't paved. It had this shale on it.
TS: I presume it went to Jenny Lind before going on to Greenwood?
GI: Yes. There were two Jenny Linds, old Jenny Lind and new Jenny Lind.
HT: Are you talking about the towns or the roads?
GI: The towns.
HT: Yeah, there were two Jenny Linds. There was Old Jenny Lind Road and New Jenny Lind Road in Fort Smith.
GI: Old Jenny Lind Road ends up at Zero at Wal-Mart. It stops. New Jenny Lind goes on over to the factory then makes a jog left then straightens out.
HT: Get out to the junior high on Jenny Lind Road. The next stoplight used to call Old Jenny Lind Road.
BB: In terms of the communities of Jenny Lind?
HT: OK, New Jenny Lind is when you first meet 71 highway. That's Old Jenny Lind right there, where 71 goes in. That's still old Jenny Lind Road. ... Where it says eight nine road, over by Camp Chaffee. You get over there about a mile or half or so. That's New Jenny Lind.
GI: Is there anything there any more?
HT: There's a cafe, a pretty good one. There was two businesses there. They both had post offices. ... Jenny Lind was a going place many years ago.
GI: There were a lot of coal mines in there.
BB: The sorghum mill, the coffin company, the wheelbarrow company, were any of those organized labor?
GI: The casket company was and they went on strike. What year that was. I think it was 1939, and they almost starved to death.
GI: Yeah, it went on all summer. It was over wages. I think they finally went to work so they could get a pay day again. They didn't get a thing.
BB: Were they affiliated with a larger union?
GI: Oh, yeah, the union was supposed to pay them something, but they never did.
BB: Do you remember ...?
GI: I don't know what union it was.
Later this month, additional transcript material of part two will be added to the page.