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Today’s Dark Hollow in North Little Rock was trackless swamp covered with towering trees

Today’s Dark Hollow in North Little Rock was trackless swamp covered with towering trees
Today’s Dark Hollow in North Little Rock was trackless swamp covered with towering trees

It’s a windy Friday afternoon in November, getting cooler by the hour. Under a leaden sky, close to the apex the place East thirteenth Street and Curtis Sykes Drive converge in North Little Rock, I snap a photograph of a avenue signal that reads “Welcome to Dark Hollow.”

Above me, I hear snow geese and look as much as see the birds in a ragged V formation, frantically shifting south as quick as their wings can take them, aided by a gentle northerly tailwind. I’ll be listening to geese for the remainder of the afternoon and nicely into the evening as this chilly entrance brings rain over a lot of the state in addition to snow in northern Arkansas.

I’ve pushed by way of this a part of city numerous occasions through the 23 years that my household has lived in the Park Hill neighborhood of North Little Rock. That’s as a result of East thirteenth, which turns into North Hills Boulevard a few block from the place I’m standing, is likely one of the few thoroughfares for anybody eager to get from downtown to the northern neighborhoods of the town. And whereas I’ve lengthy been curious concerning the historical past of Dark Hollow, nicely, like many issues, I simply by no means obtained round to it. I’m now looking out.

First, realizing the place precisely Dark Hollow is would possibly assist some readers. The hole features a neighborhood, warehouse space, and what was as soon as an enormous swamp, and is roughly bounded by the Union Pacific Railroad yards to the east and south, Main Street to the west, and Interstate 40 to the north.

Have you ever been to the McCain Mall or Interstate 40 in the direction of Memphis? Well, the northern a part of Dark Hollow is all that flat land throughout from that massive First Pentecostal Church over there on the backside of Park Hill.

Now, again to that neighborhood welcome signal. Across the road is Dark Hollow Memorial Park and a big historic marker. I examine them.

THROUGH HIS BOOT STRAPS

The park incorporates a pink brick walkway and brick wall inscribed with the names of earlier residents. There is a plaque honoring the residents who “have kept this community together through their care, time and hard work”. The plaque additional notes that the world “has produced many community leaders, including Tracy Steele, the first African American majority leader in the Arkansas Senate.”

Incidentally, Steele remains to be energetic in public life and, amongst different issues, is a member of the Board of Education at North Little Rock School.

The giant historic marker explains, “African Americans started settling in the Dark Hollow neighborhood of Iron Mountain Addition in the early 1900’s close to the railroad and work locations. Named for an historical swamp, Dark Hollow continued to develop after the Arkansas legislature accredited an enchancment district to fund a federal drainage undertaking in 1907. Homes, church buildings, companies, and a college helped outline the group of enterprise house owners, educators, and staff who’ve endured floods, fires, financial hardship, and neglect.

The signal goes on to clarify that the road I simply crossed has been renamed East fifteenth Street to honor the reminiscence of a longtime resident, educator, and historian. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas notes that Curtis Sykes was one of many first black principals of the Little Rock School District in the Sixties, earlier than the district was utterly abolished, and was “a driving force in legislation restricting the teaching of African-American history to the public.” colleges in Arkansas.

His life was actually a narrative the place he did all the pieces proper. Curtis Henry Sykes was born on December 21, 1930 at his grandparents’ residence on Pine Street, Dark Hollow. After graduating from highschool in 1947, he enrolled at Dunbar Junior College in Little Rock, however dropped out as a result of he couldn’t afford the $10 a month tuition. He then took a job on the Lafayette Hotel and joined the Army Reserve.

Sykes, who was known as to energetic obligation in the Korean War in 1950, recalled this improvement as a blessing in disguise, in keeping with the encyclopedia. He was honorably discharged as a sergeant in 1953 and “qualified for educational achievement, beginning a lifelong commitment to education”.

He then earned a bachelor’s and two grasp’s levels, one among which got here from what’s now Harding University in 1965, and have become the establishment’s first black graduate.

[Gallery not showing? Click here to see photos: arkansasonline.com/1205foot]

He spent 34 years as an educator and administrator, together with serving as principal at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Little Rock and because the first black principal at Woodruff Elementary. He accomplished his schooling profession in 1985 as an assistant principal at Gibbs Elementary.

“Questions about the societal inequality of African Americans have fueled Sykes’ lifelong interest in and advocacy for black history,” the encyclopedia states, noting, amongst different issues, that he’s a founding member of the North Little Rock History Commission and the North Little Rock Historic District Commission was .

It provides that he’s “perhaps best remembered for his leadership of the Black History Commission of Arkansas,” an advisory group to the Arkansas State Archives. From 1993 to 2007 he was chairman of the fee. “In that role, Sykes pushed for legislation to teach African-American history in Arkansas public schools under Act 326 of 1997.”

He died on September 9, 2007 and is buried in Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery. You can discover out extra about him at arkansasonline.com/1205sykes.

ROUTELESS UNDERLAND

So now we all know how the group was named and after whom the road was renamed. But how did this historical swamp get its title?

First, let’s deal with a number of misconceptions I’ve encountered whereas researching outdated newspapers and trawling by way of reams of fabric supplied by Cary Bradburn of the North Little Rock History Commission, whose e book On the Opposite Shore: The Making of North Little Rock” is fascinating to read.

First, the name was not derived from a Native American term translated as “Dark Hollow.”

Second, the area wasn’t named that way because there were no streetlights. Dark streets may well have been a valid complaint over the years, but the bottom line is that the area was known as Dark Hollow long before anyone settled there.

With that out of the way, let’s dig through some old newspapers.

References to Dark Hollow date back at least to the 1890s. This includes a mention in the Arkansas Gazette of April 5, 1896, in a feature called “North Side News,” a one-sentence collection of popular accounts. April 5th was Easter Sunday and reports ranged from church services and baptisms to visits from outside guests. Sandwiched between an article about a church spokesman and one about Miss Ida Samples being a Mrs. Robkins guest, was this tidbit: “Robert Reed and Walter Young spent yesterday fishing in Dark Hollow.”

Nine days later, another mention came in the North Side News, leaving this reader begging for more: “Some of our younger males are having a very good time in Dark Hollow this week.” (To do what? Fishing? Frog giggin’?)

A little over a year later, on September 25, 1897, The Gazette reported a fire in Dark Hollow that had raged for at least a week, producing smoke that enveloped Little Rock. “It was worse than a fog in London and you may nearly lower the smoke with a knife. It brought on numberless eye sores.”

The report went on to say there were no houses or fences nearby and the “solely injury concerned is the destruction of wooden and the impact the smoke has on the eyes of these caught in its unfold.” condition. Right now, Little Rock, like Pittsburgh, is a smoky town and as free of mosquitoes as if the thermometer had read zero.”

BIG DITCH

Ten years later, work started on a undertaking to empty an enormous swamp in Dark Hollow. Back when issues like this had been referred to as land reclamation tasks, the undertaking consisted of digging a roughly six-mile ditch from the swamp to the Arkansas River, primarily draining a 3,000-acre wetland — residence to a big physique of water referred to as Loomis Lake . which had introduced wealthy searching and fishing – and an unlimited forest of cypresses and tupelos.

And that huge forest—all these trees with their sky-blocking canopies—offers the almost definitely rationalization for the way Dark Hollow obtained its title. In his e book, Bradburn writes, “Reports of the swamp’s gloom provide the most likely explanation for the name—it was dark there.”

Sounds logical to me.

I return to Dark Hollow the next Monday. It’s colder and darker than Friday. I stroll beside the nice ditch that drained the swamp and continues to hold murky runoff water that can quickly enter the Redwood Tunnel and movement into the Arkansas River below East Broadway and different streets.

No geese to be heard right now, simply the roar of visitors on North Hills Boulevard and Interstate 40.

Sleet begins to fall with a vengeance, burning my ears and nostril. I take shelter below a bridge. I shut my eyes and attempt to think about Dark Hollow about 130 years in the past. For a second I hear the laughter of younger individuals searching and fishing, and even catch a whiff of smoke.

Sonny Rhodes is a (principally) retired journalism professor and an avid historical past pupil. He spends a number of time strolling.

Gallery: History underfoot