Saturday, June 21, 2008

A visit to Stay More



This spring when I visited my beloved Newton County (AR), I drove the six miles from Jasper, the county seat, to the hamlet of Parthenon. This place name always elicits chuckles from non-Arkansans (and some Arkansans, too), especially when they learn that such a high-falutin' name is matched to a wide-spot-in-the-road with less than a hundred residents. Actually, that population figure is a guess since the U.S. Census Bureau doesn't have a Parthenon listing, and all Wikipedia has to say is that the Little Buffalo River bridge there is on the state' s list of historic places. Meanwhile, ZIPskinny.com tells me that Parthenon's population is 83.

Parthenon, or a place near it (perhaps Murray, see below), is widely believed to be the inspiration for Donald Harington's series of novels set in Stay More, Arkansas. That's its claim to fame -- that and the fact it was home to the Parthenon Academy, the only high school in Newton County until oh, well . . . I cannot say for sure as I write this because of the lack of resources online about Parthenon. (I thought you could find anything on the internet, but about all that's coming up in my search of "Parthenon, Arkansas" is offers to find me a personal injury attorney or car dealer there, when I know it has neither) I'd have to rummage through old issues of the Newton County Times looking for "Times Past" photos, or looking through my mom' s collection of Arkansas memorabilia. In any event, I know it wasn't too long ago -- I'd guess the 1920s or 1930s based on what students were wearing in the photos I recall, as well as the fact I knew as elderly folks some of those pictured when I was growing up in Jasper.

The Arkansas Hometown Locater comes up in my internet search, but all of the real estate and job listings associated with Parthenon are actually 25 miles away in Harrison, in neighboring Boone County. The latter include physical therapist, occupational therapist, nurse . . . presumably reflecting the shortage of health care professionals in rural America, especially an aging population like that in this part of NW Arkansas. (Some of these sites tell me that Harrison is the nearest "metro" area, which is a bit funny since its population is 12,152; guess it's all relative).

But I digress. I set out to tell you about my trip to Parthenon and what I saw. Let me say first, it has been at least 25 years since I'd driven those six miles from Jasper to Parthenon. I recall very little about how it used to be, but here's what struck me on this spring 2008 visit.

The old Parthenon General Store is still there. It's pictured in the top photo, little changed no doubt, for decades. Love that Little Buffalo River stone. I was excited to see the store there because I know many of the county's communities of similar size, like Mt. Sherman, have lost their stores.

Parthenon has a post office, and I noted that the hours shown on the government-issued opening hours sign had been altered to show earlier opening and closing times. People get up early, I guess, in Parthenon. In any event, the post office building looks like standard, government issue, small post office, pre-fab -- just like the one we'd seen in the equally tiny Newton County community of Ponca earlier that day. Parthenon's zip code is 72666, which I recall tended to freak out some locals when I was growing up -- "666" being the mark of the beast from the book of Revelation in the Bible.

That might help explain why there were at least two churches in "downtown" Parthenon. One was a Baptist church (pictured above left), which looked very tidy and well kept. I couldn't imagine how the population supported both churches, yet an internet search revealed another, the Church in the Valley, off the Murray Road, not far from town. (The flockfinder.com website, on the other hand, turned up no churches in Parthenon, but they offered to email me if one got listed). Who populates all these churches, I wondered? How can they afford to have a preacher each Sunday, let alone a minister or pastor on staff?

We saw a sign for Rivendell Organic Gardens (photo above right), with a pick-your-own feature. This might be a reflection of the nature of the nearby community of Murray, which has long had reputation as a hippie enclave. Thing about Murray is, it has perhaps the highest education level in the county. I noted on ZIPskinny.com that while there are no Parthenon residents with just a bachelor's degree, and while a full quarter of them didn't even make it past the ninth grade, almost 10% have a graduate degree. Hmmm. What do they do for a living? I believe the family practitioner physician who has an office in Jasper lives in Murray, but ZIPSkinny lists no one living in Parthenon as doing anything other than farming/fishing/forestry (54%) and construction/extraction/maintenance (46%).

At times, my internet search about Parthenon held out the promise of everything from helping me find the lowest gas prices to same day flower delivery in Parthenon. Turned out there were no truly local listings for any of the above (as with careers and real estate listings), but Canadian pharmacies will send drugs there. A bit closer to Parthenon, there are a few retreat centers near Murray. At least one person with a PhD there does "colon cleansing and cellular detoxification."

ZIPSkinny also tells me that 0% are unemployed, but the poverty rate is a whopping 27.3%. I have no idea what ZIPSkinny's source of information is, but their site shows 15.3% of those over 15 never married, and the remainder -- 84.7%-- married! No divorces, no separations. Do you suppose it is related to all those churches?

Parthenon looked lovely when I visited in March, about to break out in spring. I can honestly say it made me want to Stay More--and see more and do more there. That wasn't practical, though, so I'll have to visit again. Maybe I'll even get to Murray next time.

2 comments:

floyd said...

The photo of the "Old General Store" you have is not the "Old General Store" it is actually the old post office.
The old general store is the two story building just across the parking lot. The family that owned and ran the store lived in the second story apartment above the store.

Bob Briggs and/or Kim Corrette said...

as a new resident living on the road to "Stay More" i am reading up on local history as explained in the Harington books. all the goings-on described in the Harington books should have created a more populated county, so i guess there is some fiction in his books! when i read some of the passages to my wife, she says, "clearly, written by a man." hope you get back here and to venture into Murray. Bob Briggs, Parthenon