Thursday, November 24, 2011

Rurality Then and Now, Here and There (Part IX): Limestone, Arkansas and its one-time post office

Today is Thanksgiving, which seems a good excuse to let myself be openly nostalgic (or more nostalgic than usual anyway). Today I'm going to be nostalgic about post offices as remnants of earlier eras, of communities now bygone.

Of course, Legal Ruralism has featured many posts about post offices this summer and fall, a period in which many rural post offices have come under threat of closure in response to huge budget deficits facing the U.S. Postal Service. You can read some of them here and here.

In this post in March, I summarized a story from the Newton County Times about the history of post offices in Newton County. As noted there, while Newton County's population has never exceeded 11,000 (as far as I am able to determine; the 1940 Census shows a population of 10,881), about 50 different post offices have been located in the county over the nearly two centuries since the first was established in 1827. Of course, the county has probably had no more than 15 post offices--20 most--at any one time.

Driving through the county recently, I passed through some communities that previously boasted post offices. Among these were Boxley, Mount Sherman, Fallsville, Mossville and Nail. All of these communities are now served by paved state highways (two-lane highways, that is). One community I came across that previously had a post office was much more remote. Limestone is 6-8 miles down a dirt road (County Road 29) that descends into a scenic valley from Highway 16, not far south of Deer.

Someone in the community had apparently mourned the loss of its post office so much that s/he put lettering on the building indicating what the building--a small wooden shack--had once been. The photo of this post office is at the top of this blog. It's hard to make out against the gray of the building, but it features adhesive lettering that says: LIMESTONE P.O. 72646. Interestingly, the little shack looks like an outbuilding for the most centrally located home in Limestone, that of the Spradley family, which you can see behind the former post office. Just across the road is what presumably was once Limestone's general store (second photo from top). Also of interest is that when I looked up Limestone's ZIP code on the Internet, I found that it is 72628, the same as that for neighboring Deer, from whence mail to Limestone is no doubt currently delivered. So, the folks who labeled the little shack with the ZIP 72646 seem to be defiantly clinging to a time when Limestone enjoyed greater autonomy and status, and was not merely a outpost of Deer.

Limestone might be a case study of a community that once thrived--sufficiently so to merit a post office anyway, when the standards for having one were lower--but is now a shadow of its former self. The only structures in Limestone these days are a couple of houses--not even situated particularly close to one another. A dozen or so other houses/farms line the roads in and out of the valley that is the community Limestone, apparently named because of the high limestone bluffs visible for at least 180 degrees, as you look up from the valley floor that is Limestone and the adjacent community (a forerunner to a suburb, one might say) of Home Creek. (Third photo from top is of the limestone bluffs, and the photo at bottom right is of an inhabited homestead on Home Creek). I didn't see a single church in Limestone or during our descent into the valley; that's unusual in this part of the world, where churches are often the only bricks and mortar places for folks to gather.

I've been hearing about Limestone my whole life because my paternal grandmother was born there--or more precisely, on Home Creek--but this was my first trip into the valley. I had hardly been aware until a year ago of where it was on the map.
Indeed, Blanche Lulu Robinson Pruitt was born in 1918 to Mae Ogden Robinson and Willis Robinson in the homestead that formerly sat behind the rock wall in the photo above left. The existence of old stone fences like these is one of the ways you can tell the community was formerly more substantial: the farmers invested a lot in infrastructure. Another way you know that more folks used to live at Limestone is that the community features six cemeteries--that's right, six! (Photo of Ogden Cemetery is below left). Plus, given the nature of the cemeteries and their upkeep, the folks in Limestone valley must have made decent livings--at least relative to the broader economic conditions in what has been a persistent poverty county since records began to be kept in 1960. I suppose most of them raised cattle on the rich bottom land along Big Piney Creek, as the cattle we saw suggest is still the case. Some residents of Limestone own businesses in Deer and Jasper, commuting there on a daily basis. Others may commute to points south for work, perhaps in neighboring Pope and Johnson counties.

It would be an exaggeration to say that Limestone has dried up and blown away. Clearly, a number of families still live there, their children bussed the 10-15 miles (mostly on dirt roads) to Deer School. But Deer school--which educates children from various communities along Highways 7 and 16 (Cowell, Nail, Swain and Walnut to name a few) has been fighting for its life for a few years now (read more here and here) in the face of a shrinking student body. This and the current state of Limestone suggest that this lovely valley is unlikely to experience a resurgence any time soon.

Going back to the current debate over rural post offices for a moment, I can't say which came first at Limestone: the loss of the post office or the waning of the community.

1 comment:

Lanny said...

I believe that members of my family once live around Limestone. I'm one of the great grandsons of James Livingston Ashlock and his wife Jane Bailey Ashlock. My Grandad was Will Ashlock and my Grandmother was Ada Ellen Curtis Ashlock. I'm interested in finding out if any
Of my distant relatives still leave in the Limestone area

Thanks in advance,
Lanny Ashlock