Sunday, January 24, 2010


From Arkansas Post, I drove south on Hwy. 1 past more vast fields. I stopped at this old church, which probably isn't home to many services anymore. Although the church's sign is gone, what's left is still welcoming visitors.
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The sign is still there, but laying on the ground under a huge tree...
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The next stop was the small town of Watson. The town just has a population of around 300 now, but at one time was the county seat. But like most of its neighboring towns in the Delta, it seems to be fading away. This was along the main street in the town's small downtown, just across from the railroad tracks.
There was a small cafe next to it, which was open but only for lunches.

I was interested in visiting Watson, because my Grandmother was born and grew up there. She moved away after the Great Flood of 1927, heading off to North Little Rock to attend school. It was in a class at North Little Rock High School that she met my Grandfather. I still have some distant relatives that live around Watson. But unfortunately, they aren't among the major families that still live in the city. According to Wikipedia, in a post no doubt written by Tyler Cox: Watson is home to many notable families, none of which is more recognized better than the Cox family. This family has begot a most loved son, Tyler Cox. With the love of his family, Tyler has become one of the most loved people of Dumas Ar.

Across the train tracks from the Highway One Cafe is the old cotton gin. I ended up using a texture for this shot (which might be too much, I don't know).
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(the texture is from skeletal mess on Flickr).

While looking up stuff tonight on Watson, I found something cool about a nearby "ghost town." There used to be a busy little city, called Napoleon, that was built at the intersections of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers. The post office there was established in 1836, and people there were optimistic that the town would develop into a major city due to its location by two rivers.

The town was chosen for a federal hospital for wounded boatmen, and it began seeing patients in 1855. At the time the town had a population of about 1,000 people. Mark Twain even mentioned the book in his memoir, Life on the Mississippi, by saying that it was a “town of innumerable fights—an inquest every day; town where I used to know the prettiest girl…and the most accomplished in the whole Mississippi Valley.”

But the town would soon disappear after the Civil War. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas best summed up the sad fate of Napoleon:
On February 12, 1861, even before Arkansas had voted to secede from the Union, Governor Henry Massie Rector had state troops seize the marine hospital and any ammunition shipments in Napoleon to prevent them from falling into Union hands. By September 1862, Union troops occupied Napoleon, and most of its citizens had abandoned the town. In January 1863, Union soldiers destroyed the county courthouse in Napoleon, using its wood to fuel their fires in the midst of a blizzard.

Meanwhile, Confederate guerillas were using the wooded peninsula east of the town as a base to attack Union boats. The main channel of the Mississippi River swung east and then west along what was called the Beulah Bend. The turning was so abrupt that the guerillas were able to use the same cannon to fire on boats as they entered the bend and again when they left it. Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge, seeking a way to avoid this ambush point, had the men under his command dig a channel across the peninsula. The work took only a day, since the land was soft, the distance only a few hundred yards, and the current of the river itself assisted their work. In fact, on the day after the work was completed—in the first week of March 1863—Selfridge was able to pilot his steamship, the USS Conestoga, through the new channel.

Although Selfridge was only seeking a shortcut around the guerilla ambush, he succeeded in rerouting the Mississippi River, ultimately turning Beulah Bend into an oxbow lake. His work also spelled the end of the town of Napoleon, for the new channel of the river happened to be aimed directly at the town. High water in 1868 caused the marine hospital to crumble into the river. Another flood in 1874 completely submerged what was left of Napoleon. By October of that year, the county government was moved to Watson. The iron church bell once used in Napoleon is now in the Catholic church in McGehee (Desha County). At times when the level of the Mississippi is unusually low—as it was in the summer of 1954—the remains of the town can still be detected in the sandbars of the river.

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