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Exploring Arkansas December 2013

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Exploring Arkansas Special Edition: Plantation Homes of Arkansas

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THE EARLY 1800S WERE PIVOTAL YEARS FOR ARKANSAS'S BIRTH AS A PRIME AGRICULTURAL STATE. DURING THAT TIME PLANTERS FROM KENTUCKY, TENNESSEE AND VIRGINIA CAME HERE FOR THE RICH RIVER SOIL OF THE DELTA TO GROW THE KING OF ALL CROPS, COTTON. THE STATELY HOMES THAT THESE PLANTERS BUILT WITH THEIR UNIQUE ARCHITECTURAL STYLE EXEMPLIFIED THIS PLANTATION ERA STEEPED IN SOUTHERN HISTORY WITH ITS TRIUMPHS AND TRAGEDIES.

BY THE 1840S, PLANTATION AGRICULTURE STARTED TO MAKE ITS WAY INTO SOUTHERN AND EASTERN PARTS OF THE STATE. AND BY 1850, 1850S WERE A GENERAL PROSPERITY IN ARKANSAS. WHILE THE PROSPERITY WAS GENERAL, IT WASN'T BEAUTIFUL, IT WAS CONCENTRATED IN THE PLANTATION AREAS OF THE SOUTH AND SOUTHEAST. BY THE TIME THE CIVIL WAR, YOU'RE STARTING TO SEE THE GROWTH OF REAL PLANTATION AGRICULTURE AND CREATION OF GREAT WEALTH. IN CERTAIN PARTS OF THE STATE, FIRST PLANTATION PARTS OF THE COUNTRY. AND THAT EXISTS UP UNTIL THE TIME OF THE CIVIL WAR. MOST PEOPLE DON'T REALIZE IN THE 1850S, ARKANSAS WAS A PART OF THE FASTEST GROWING REGION IN THE NATION HE ECONOMICALLY. AND THIS PROSPERITY WAS SOMETHING THAT WAS PRETTY MUCH UNKNOWN IN OUR HISTORY. OF COURSE, THE WAR PUTS AN END TO ALL THAT. WHAT YOU WILL FIND THIS PLANTATION AGRICULTURAL BASED LARGELY ON COTTON IN THE DELTA, BUT ALSO UP THROUGH ARKANSAS RIVER VALLEY, UP IN THE ARKANSAS RIVER VALLEY. WHILE THE CIVIL WAR TRANSFORMS THIS, AS A GENERAL RULE MOST OF THE PEOPLE THAT HAD LAND MANAGED TO KEEP THAT LAND. OF COURSE, SLAVERY IS OVER. A VARIETY OF FORMS OF ARRANGEMENTS EXISTED. SYSTEM THAT COMES TO PREVAIL IS SHARE CROPPING WHERE A FREED MAN OR FREED WOMAN WOULD WORK FOR THAT LAND FROM THE LANDOWNER AND WOULD PAY THE LANDOWNER A PORTION OF THE CROP. THEORETICALLY THIS WAS GOING TO BE A TEMPORARY STAGE WHICH WOULD TRANSFORM THESE INTO RENTING AND LANDOWNER SHIP. POINT OF FACT, THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN BECAUSE THE SOUTH IN ARKANSAS TIED ITS HE ECONOMIC FORTUNE AFTER THE WAR, LARGELY TO COTTON. THE CROP THAT LANGUISHED THE NEXT HUNDRED YEARS.

THE LAKEPORT PLANTATION IN SOUTHEAST ARKANSAS HAS REMAINED IN CONTINUOUS COTTON PRODUCTION SINCE THE 1830S.

WHEN THE JOHNSONS FIRST CAME HERE IN THE 1830S, THEY BROUGHT SLAVES TO CLEAR LAND AND START GROWING COTTON. WHEN JOE CAME HERE IN 1821 THERE WERE 23 SLAVES. BY 1860 THERE WERE 155 SLAVES HERE ON THE PLANTATION. MOST OF THOSE WERE OF COURSE FIELD HANDS, WORKING GROWING COTTON AND CLEARING THE LAND. A FEW OF THOSE WERE WORKING IN THE HOUSE. WE KNOW THERE WERE 7 OR 8 HOUSE SERVE ANTS IN THE HOUSE IN 1860. BUT AFTER THE WAR MOST OF THE SLAVES WERE GONE OR LEFT WHEN FREEDOM CAME. BUT THEY STAYED IN THE AREA. SOME OF THEM STAYED ON AT THE HOUSEWORKING. SOME STAYED ON AS SHARECROPPERS AND TENANT FARMERS THROUGH CONTRACTS WITH THE LANDOWNER. BY THE 1950S AND CERTAINLY BY THE 1960S, MECHANIZATION OCCURRED MOST OF THE SHARECROPPERS MOVED TO PLACES LIKE CHICAGO AND DETROIT. A LOT OF TIMES THEY WERE HAPPY TO LEAVE. THEY WEREN'T HAPPY TO BE SHARECROPPERS DOWN HERE. ~

VACANT SINCE 1972, THE LAKEPORT PLANTATION HOUSE HAS MANAGED TO ESCAPE BEING REMODELED, REDECORATED, OR MODERNIZED AND REMAINS FOR THE MOST PART UNCHANGED SINCE THE DAY IT WAS BUILT. THEREFORE, THIS GREEK REVIVAL STYLE ARCHITECTURE HOME PROVIDE AN EXCELLENT RESOURCE FOR LEARNING ABOUT EARLY CRAFTSMAN SHIP AND HISTORIC BUILDING TECHNIQUES. ~

GREEK REVIVAL WAS IMPORTANT IN THE ERA. THEY WERE STARTING TO FALLOUT OF FAVOR, BUT THE JOHNSONS CHOSE TO GO WITH GREEK REVIVAL. SOME OF THE NEARBY FAMILY HOMES WERE ITALIAN AND WERE ALSO BUILT IN THE SAME TIME PERIOD. BUT OUR HOUSE CHANGED VERY LITTLE SINCE IT WAS BUILT IN 1859 SO IT WAS A GOOD CANDIDATE FOR HIGH-LEVEL RESTORATION.

RESTORATION ON LAKEPORT WAS COMPLETED IN 2007 AS AN OFFICIAL PROJECT OF THE SAVE AMERICA'S TREASURES PROGRAM, AND IT'S NOW ONE OF ARKANSAS'S PREMIERE HISTORIC STRUCTURES OPERATED BY ARKANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY AS A MUSEUM, WITH THE HOUSE ITSELF AS A PRIMARY ARTIFACT. IT WAS DECIDED THAT RATHER THAN CREATE ANOTHER PRETTY HOUSE, THE RESTORATION AND INTERPRETATION WOULD WITH FOCUS ON THE LIFE-STYLES AND RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED AND WORKED AT LAKEPORT AND THE NOT SO GRANDEUR OF THE OLD SOUTH THAT REMAINS.

WE HAVE A REMNANT OF ONE ON THE BACK OF THE HOUSE. IT'S BEEN MOVED AND ALTERED A LITTLE BIT TO PARK TRUCKS UNDER IN THE 1950S. MOST OF THE SUBQUARTERS WERE SOUTH OF JOE'S HOUSE. IN 1860 THERE WERE 10 SLAVE QUARTERS ON THE PLANTATION ACCORDING TO THE SLAVE SCHEDULE. SO, 10 SLAVE QUARTERS FOR 155 SLAVE. THAT'S A LOT OF PEOPLE PACKED IN SMALL BUILDINGS. BUT THERE ARE SOME NEARBY. SOME NOT PROBABLY IDENTIFIED, BUT THERE IS ONE CEMETERY NORTH OF US NOT TOO FAR THAT WE THINK DATES TO SLAVERY.

AND THERE IS ALSO SOME GRAVESITE HERE ON THE PROPERTY.

YEAH, THERE'S ANOTHER SMALL CEMETERY IN THE BACK OF THE HOUSE. IT WAS FOR SOME OF THE JOHNSON CHILDREN WHO DIED AFTER THE WAR. TWO CHILDREN OUT THERE, 1860S AND TWO GRANDCHILDREN FROM THE 1880S. THE THREE CHILDREN THAT THEY HAD THAT DIED BEFORE THE WAR WERE ACTUALLY BURIED IN KENTUCKY AND MOM AND DAD WERE ALSO BURIED IN KENTUCKY.

OF COURSE, WITH LAKEPORT BEING SITUATED NOT TOO FAR FROM THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER, YOU JUST NEVER KNOW WHEN THAT FAMOUS SOUTHERN AUTHOR AND STORY TELLER MARK TWAIN MIGHT DECIDE TO MAKE AN APPEARANCE.

YOU GENTLEMEN ARE WELCOME, TOO. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

I AM SO PLEASED TO BE HERE AT LAKEPORT PLANTATION. NOW, YOU KNOW, AT ONE TIME YOU COULD HAVE STOOD UP ON THE VERANDA ON THIS PLANTATION, ALMOST ANY PLANTATION ALONG THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER, AND SEEN THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER. YOU CAN'T DO THAT NOWADAYS. THERE WERE TIMES WHEN YOU COULD STAND UP THERE AND YOU'D SEE THE STEAM BOATS COMING DOWN THE RIVER, CLIMBING UP AND DOWN. KIDS WOULD BE RUNNING UP AND DOWN ALL THE LANDINGS. ESPECIALLY LOCKED UP IN ROWS, YOU COULD STAND AT THE CORNER OF A HOTEL LOOK AT THE RIVER, ALMOST TOUCH THE STEAM BOATS RIGHT THERE AT THE LANDING, UP THERE AT BIG ISLAND, SOME OF YOU KNOW BIG ISLAND UP THERE, NORTH OF HERE, I THINK. YOU COULD STAND OUT THERE ON THE LANDINGS, TOO, AND CHECK OUT THE STEAM BOATS. YOU JUST NEVER KNEW WHAT WAS GOING TO BE COMING DOWN THE RIVER. THAT'S FOR SURE.

AS TWAIN ALWAYS SAID, REPORTS OF HIS  DEMISE HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGGERATED. ♪ ♪

BUILT IN THE ENGLISH LOUISIAN A, THE ELMS PLANTATION IS ALL ABOUT HOSPITALITY IN THE AWE AND TRADITION OF THE OLD SOUTH.

IT'S AN EXPERIENCE THE MINUTE YOU ENTER THE GATES. YOU CERTAINLY DON'T EXPECT IT, AT THE END OF THE GRAVEL ROAD, MIDDLE OF THE CROPS, THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN YOU SEE THIS HUGE ARKANSAS FLAG AND PRIVATE GATE. OH, WONDER WHAT'S BACK THERE? IT'S PRETTY CLEAR WHEN YOU COME THROUGH THE GATES. I FEEL IT EVERY SINGLE TIME. ♪ ♪

KIMBERLY  OLIVIA VASSAUR FREEMAN IS THE CURRENT LADY OF THE HOUSE. DURING THE MID 1800S, IT WAS ABIGAIL JONES. ♪ ♪

ABIGAIL JONES, YES, HER EYES FOLLOW YOU, BY THE WAY. SO MY CHILDREN HAVE ALWAYS SAID. THEY REALLY DO. BUT SHE BUILT A HOME IN 1856. SHE AND HER HUSBAND, DR. SAMUEL JONES. AND SHE AND HER DAUGHTER ARE BURIED HERE ON THE PROPERTY. DON'T QUITE KNOW EXACTLY WHERE, BUT I KNOW THE GENERAL VICINITY. AND SHE'S ALL THAT. SHE STAYS RIGHT THERE IN THIS WHERE SHE'S BEEN FOR MANY YEARS. ♪ ♪

THE ELMS PLANTATION WAS INHERITED BY THE FREE MANNES FROM THE GRANDMOTHER OF KIM'S HUSBAND. ~

MY HUSBAND AND I DID, HIS GRANDMOTHER DIED IN '97 AND WE INHERITED IT. WE ALREADY LIVED HERE WITH HER FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS, I THINK SINCE '91, SINCE MR. GARNET DIED.

LOOKING AT SOME OF THE ROOMS HERE, TELL US WHAT YOU'VE DONE SO FAR. I MEAN, THIS IS MAGNIFICENT.

WELL, OBVIOUSLY I'M A COLLECTOR, BUT I HAVE A HARD TIME GETTING RID OF ANYTHING, ESPECIALLY IF I INHERITED IT. BUT THERE'S A LOT OF FURNISHINGS THAT WERE HERE WITH THE BAR NETS. THE BARNETTS LIVED HERE 46 YEARS. I HAVE HELD ONTO THOSE THINGS AND LEFT THEM WHERE MS. BARNETT HAD THEM BASICALLY. BUT IT'S JUST PART OF THE ELMS. SOME OF THE THINGS WERE HERE -- WERE PURCHASED FROM THE ESTATE OF MR. ALTHEIMER WHO LIVED HERE EIGHT YEARS, DIED HERE IN THE HOME. AND HE WAS QUITE A YOUNG MAN, ACTUALLY, AT LEAST I WOULD CONSIDER OLD.

THE ELMS PLANTATION IS ACTUALLY A BED AND BREAKFAST AND YOU CAN STAY EITHER IN THE 20-ROOM MANSION "BIG HOUSE" OR THE NEARBY COTTAGES.

WHICH GO ALONG WITH MY DUCK HUNTING. ANALYZE CARP FISHING BUSINESS THAT PEOPLE HAVE FROM ENGLAND, COUNTRY ENGLAND, NOT ENGLAND UP THE ROAD 30 MILES. BUT THEY COME HERE TO CARP FISH AND THEY ENJOY STAYING HERE IN THE CABINS, WHICH ARE NOW CALLED LODGES. LODGES 1 AND 2. BUT I HAVE MANY PEOPLE INQUIRING TO STAY HERE, WHICH I LOVE BECAUSE I LOVE TO ENTERTAIN, AND THEY CAN HAVE A FULL SERVING BREAKFAST WHICH IS COMPLIMENTARY FROM STAYING HERE OVERNIGHT. OR I CAN IF I CAN THEM A GRAND FIVE-COURSE DINNER IN THE OTHER DINING ROOM.

YOU DO DO THE COOKING.

I DO VERY MUCH. I WILL VENTURE OUT AND HAVE A LITTLE HELP, BUT I MYSELF, I'M CAPABLE OF DOING ALL THAT. IF I HAVE THE TIME TO DO IT, I PREFER TO DO IT MYSELF.

AND THE LAKE AND THE WHOLE -- THAT SCENE IS JUST A WHOLE SEPARATE EXPERIENCE FOR PEOPLE. YOU MENTIONED THE NATURE TRAIL, GOING OUT IN THE CANOE, YOU HAVE BOATS.

AGAIN, FISH BY THE BANK BECAUSE IT'S JUST SO PLEASANT TO BE ON THAT LAKE. IT IS 16 ACRES. IT'S A DOCK LAKE. BECAUSE IT'S BEEN THERE FOR MANY, MANY YEARS, YOU LOOK OUT THERE AND YOU THINK YOU HAVE A LITTLE SHARK OUT IN THE -- BY THE FIN. IT'S QUITE LARGE. OF COURSE, IT'S CATCH AND RELEASE, AND THE CARP FISHERMEN, THEY CATCH THE CARP. THEY LIKE PET HIM OR SOMETHING, THEN THEY'LL TAKE A PICTURE AND GENTLY PUT HIM BACK. SO, IT'S REALLY -- IT'S REALLY INTERESTING. BUT THE NATURE TRAIL IS REALLY COOL, THOUGH. IT'S ALWAYS SHADED. IN THE HEAT OF AUGUST, YOU WALK AROUND IT AND IT IS COOL. IT'S JUST REALLY NICE. ♪ ♪

SO, WHETHER YOU COME FOR JUST A TOUR, AN OVERNIGHT STAY, OR FOR THE CARP AND CATFISH IN THE LAKE, MS. KIM'S SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY AND SOUTHERN CHARM WILL STAY WITH YOU LONG AFTER YOU DRIVE BACK OUT THE FRONT GATE. ♪ ♪

IN THE LOW LANDS MARKING THE BEGINNING OF THE ARKANSAS DELTA, THE SMALL AGRICULTURAL COMMUNITY OF SCOTT JUST SOUTHEAST OF LITTLE ROCK FORMED A NUCLEUS FOR THE COTTON PLANTATION CULTURE THAT DEVELOPED AND FLOURISHED HERE IN THE EARLY 1800S. LURED BY THE FERTILE SOIL AS IN OTHER PARTS OF THE DELTA, SLAVE OWNING PLANTERS MIGRATED TO THIS AREA IN THE EARLY TERRITORIAL YEARS FOLLOWING THE LOUISIAN A PURCHASE IN 1803. HUGE PLANTATIONS WERE ESTABLISHED BY SEVERAL PROMINENT FAMILIES WITH PLANTATION NAMES LIKE COTTONWOOD, LAND'S END, AND MARLSGATE. THE RETREAT INTO THE PAST AT MARLSGATE STARTS WAY BEFORE YOU EVEN COME CLOSE TO THIS STATELY PLANTATION HOME. THE TIME WARP BEGINS SOME TWO MILES BACK ON BEARSKIN LAKE ROAD WHERE THE ORIGINAL BOUNDARY OF THE PLANTATION IS ENTERED AT THE EDGE OF BEARSKIN LAKE. APPROPRIATELY NAMED BY EARLY SETTLORS DUE TO THE LARGE NUMBER OF BEARS WHICH PROVIDED NOT ONLY FOOD, BUT CLOTHING AS WELL FOR THE EARLY PLANTERS AND THEIR SLAVES. AND, SO, AS ONE CONTINUES DOWN THIS ROAD, THE FARTHER YOU'RE TAKEN INTO THE PAST. AS BEARSKIN LAKE OPENS UP BESIDE YOU WITH ITS ANCIENT CYPRESS TREES AND CYPRESS KNEES. IN OTHER WORDS, THAT MYSTIQUE AND CHARM OF THE SOUTH BEGINS EVEN BEFORE YOU LAY EYES ON MARLSGATE ITSELF. ♪ ♪

ONCE YOU DO LAY EYES ON THIS GREEK REVIVAL MANSION, YOU CAN SEE WHY IT'S BEEN FAMED AS ONE OF THE MOST RESPLENDENT HOMES ALONG THE DELTA, AND WAS CALLED A MANSION OF ARKANSAS. A MAGNIFICENT ENTRY HALL CHARACTERISTIC OF ANTIBELL A ANTERIOR DESIGN, FOCUSES ON A SPECTACULAR 10-FOOT WIDE STAIRCASE ON WHICH ANY SOUTHERN BELL SCARLET WOULD LOVE TO MAKE HER ELEGANT AND GRACIOUS DESCENT TO GREET GUESTS. ♪ ♪ ♪

MORE THAN 10,000 SQUARE FEET ENCOMPASS 32 ELEGANT ROOMS THAT WOULD TAKE AT LEAST A SEPARATE HALF HOUR TO TALK ABOUT. ANOTHER REASON THIS HOME IS CALLED A MANSION OF ARKANSAS IS THAT IT CONTAINS ONE OF THE SOUTH'S MOST OUTSTANDING COLLECTIONS OF FAMILY HEIRLOOMS AND ANTIQUE FURNISHINGS REFLECTING THE LAVISH LIFE-STYLE OF THE SOUTHERN PLANTATION ERA OF THE 1800S. TO THE RIGHT OF THE ENTRY HALL IS THE DRAWING ROOM WHERE THE LADY OF THE HOUSE MIGHT TAKE A MOMENT OR TWO TO GAZE OUT ONTO THE PLANTATION. NEXT TO THE DRAWING ROOM IS THE DINING ROOM WITH THE MAHOGANY BAN KEPT TABLE MATCHING 1820 WALL NET CHAIRS AND CENTERED ABOVE THE TABLE A 1870 CRYSTAL CHANDELIER. FOLLOWING A SOUTHERN CUSTOM THE MASTER BEDROOM AT MARLSGATE IS LOCATED ON THE FIRST FLOOR OF THE ENTRY HALL TO THE LEFT OF THE MUSIC ROOM. A CANOPY BED IN THIS ROOM IS TYPICAL OF THE MASSIVE BEDS USED IN PLANTATION HOMES PRIOR TO THE CIVIL WAR. UPSTAIRS THERE ARE FOUR BEDROOMS, ONE OF WHICH IS CALLED THE CONFEDERATE BEDROOM ~. VARIOUS CIVIL ROOM MEMORABILIA ARE DISTRIBUTED HERE, LAST BUT NOT LEAST A BED  OWNED BY JEFFERSON DAVIS, PRESIDENT OF THE SOUTHERN CONFEDERACY. ♪ ♪

SURROUNDING MARLSGATE ARE FOUR DISTINCT GARDEN AREAS, AN ACCOMPLISHED HORTICULTURALIST DAVID GARNER HAS ONE OF THE FINEST PRIVATE GARDENS IN THE STATE. ♪ ♪ ♪

NOT BEING ONE TO LIKE BEING ON CAMERA, OWNER DAVID GARNER EXTENDS A CORDIAL INVITATION TO ALL GUESTS WHO TRAVEL TO THE ARKANSAS DELTA TO EXPERIENCE A GLIMPSE OF PLANTATION CULTURE OF THE 19TH CENTURY. ILLUMINATING THE RICH CULTURAL HERITAGE OF THE SOUTH, HABITS AND TRADITION OF ITS PEOPLE, THE  TRIUMPHS AND TRAGEDIES OF ITS PAST PRESERVED FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS NOT ONLY HERE AT MARLSGATE, BUT IN ALL PLANTATION HOMES OF ARKANSAS. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪

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