Archive for October, 2008


Return to Boggy Creek

Fouke Monster Foot Cake

Well, the holidays are here. That means it’s time for our annual Legend of Boggy Creek party. Those of you who know me well, know that I’m obsessed with Bigfoot and by extension his Arkansas cousin, the Fouke Monster (or “munster” as Mr. Willy calls him in the movie). Boggy Creek isn’t much of a party. It’s typically on a Tuesday night. There aren’t many refreshments, just bottled Coke and this year a big foot cake that I made myself. I tried to swirl the icing to give it a hairy look.

As with all good parties though, the guests make the night special. But it is not an exclusive list. Anyone is welcome as long as they have a healthy respect for Bigfoot and the horribly bad movies made about him. Be forewarned though, the movie does suck and attendance is frowned upon if all you’ve come to do is make fun of Dave and me for being dressed like this:

Mama Searcy 1 and Mama Searcy 2

Guests don’t have to be in costume. It is encouraged, but if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t know what to wear, comfortable pajamas are appropriate (see Eric and Max below). Most of the women in the movie are dressed in nightgowns and big rollers, so Dave did a little shopping. We’re dressed as Mother Searcy. We didn’t make an attempt to look particularly matronly, since the woman in the movie who plays her sort of looks like a dude anyway. I don’t know if there’s much of a market for it, but Dave totally rocks granny chic. The cigarette is fake, kids. Remember, don’t smoke, and stay in school.

Eric and Max

Eric jumped at the chance to wear his pjs to a party. And Max is wearing the new Fouke Monster shoes I found when I was in Arkansas last. No, that’s not how they were marketed, but it’s the way they should have been.

When Max put on the rest of his costume it was clear that he was a little confused. Instead of “Fouke Monster”, he thought I said “Fez Monkey”. I cut him some slack since he’s only nine months.

Fez Monkey

But you got to hand it to the boy. He’s a tech whiz already. Look at him go at that DVD player. He couldn’t wait to get the movie started!

Fez Monkey

And, Max, that’s how you get invited back.


Batesville Home Tour (Last Installment)

Baxter-Byers House – 1850s – 1940s

Baxter-Byers House - 1850s-1940s

When I started studying American architecture I began to notice I had a hard time categorizing some of the homes in Batesville, like this one. That’s because it and many others were built in one style in the mid-19th century and later modified. In Batesville, homes often went from Queen Anne to neo-colonial style. It is a transition seen throughout much of the U.S., but one that is typically botched. The Baxter-Byers home pulls it off well mainly because of the proper proportions of the porch and columns and the railing detail on top of the house and side room. The railing is strictly decorative as far as I can tell, but the house would fall apart visually if it weren’t there.

Landers Theater

Landers Theater (Exterior)

Okay, it probably doesn’t belong on a home tour, but my Batesville readers will be interested in seeing the Landers movie theater. Don’t let the marquee’s message fool you though. The theater is hardly “back.” Here is what it looks like on the inside:

Landers Theater (Interior)

My mom said that some enthusiastic developer started the project and then realized how much of an effort it would take to get it up and running as anything commercially viable. I’m sure it was a firetrap…but I wonder what happened to the naked lady lamps that used to line the walls. I always thought they were kind of naughty. The whole endeavor looks like a metaphor for aging business districts in small towns across the U.S.

Pioneer Cemetery – 1826

Pioneer Cemetary - 1826

If you walk behind the Landers you’ll see Pioneer Cemetery. Founded in 1825, it’s the resting place of many folks who would remember Batesville when it was just an oddly angled set of streets on an outcropping of land between the White River and Polk Bayou. This young man was born just 33 years after the birth of our country. I can’t imagine how he ended up in Arkansas around that time.

Dr. Calvin Churchill House – 1936

Dr. Calvin Churchill House - 1936

Built new in 1936, the Churchill house is not as historic as some of the others on the tour, but I still like it. It is across the street from the church where I grew up, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think it was handsome. The dormers aren’t much to look at but they aren’t horrible either. The lunette window above the front door, the just this side of fancy double columns on the porch as well as the home’s scale and proportions make it look inviting to me.

First Baptist Church – 1925 (built with stone from the 1881 church on the same site)

FIrst Baptist Church - 1925

Some places are so interwoven into your life experience that you can hardly see them with your eyes. First Baptist’s homey and warm gothic look escaped me for years. All I could see were the things that interested a kid, like the Nandina bushes where my friends and I picked berries to throw at each other after weekly suppers on Wednesday nights. In those days, my favorite architectural feature was the built-in stone slides flanking the front door (actually railings hidden by a large bush in this photo). Years away allow me to see its simple beauty more clearly, but only sometimes. At other times the building ceases being a building again and goes back to being a place.

First Baptist Church (Interior) - 1925

This is the interior of the sanctuary. The spare look of it surprises me now, because like I say, a part of me can only see it filled with people I love attending countless weddings, a few funerals, service after service after service after service, morning and night, year upon year, shoulder to shoulder; people who knew the best and worst of me. I see me taking a lonely walk at the age of ten down the aisle on the right to tell my pastor that I couldn’t imagine my life without Jesus or a forever in hell. I hear us all singing hymns we somehow knew without looking at books. I feel myself one well executed leap and one more verse of “Just as I Am” away from jumping high enough to grab a lantern so I can swing on the others like a monkey up and down the length of the ceiling just to show God just what I was capable of. I try to see the lines and the structure, the space and the materials, but I can’t really. All I see is life.

I think ultimately that’s what I like about a lot of the buildings I see in Batesville. I have either experienced life there or can imagine it easily. If I can do neither, a building will typically not hold interest for me. I’m kind of conservative that way, I guess.


Batesville, Arkansas Home Tour (Part 2)

Edward Dickenson House – 1879-1880

Edward Dickenson House - 1879-1880

Kind of screams Arkansas Gothic, doesn’t it? But there’s a sweetness to the rounded windows and gothic arch. Not too much, but just right. Early photos show shutters for the bottom story windows. The millwork is from the historic Batesville firm of Charles L. Gorsuch.

First United Methodist Church – 1913

First United Methodist Church - 1913

First United Methodist is my parent’s church now. I’ve always thought it was a handsome building. I grew up going to the church across the street, so I saw it no fewer than three times a week until I went to college. The rock for the columns was extracted from and carved by the Pfeiffer Stone Quarries north of town.

As I walked by I saw the sign for the Chubby Menard Pancake Day. My family never missed Pancake Day, which as far as I know has always been hosted by First Methodist. I never knew who Chubby Menard was, but if he loved pancakes (and sausage, which they serve along with the pancakes) as much as I do, I know how he got his name. When I was in high school I used to work Pancake Day as part of my Key Club duties. Fun and tasty.

Chubby Menard Pancake Day

Brewer House – Late 19th Century
Brewer House - Late 19th Century

No one is sure how much of this house is original, which is why I’m giving you such a sketchy date. But it still looks well designed even if it was cobbled together over decades. I’ve always wondered about the Chippendale looking balustrade on the porch. It seems unusual for this late style, but it still works, I think.

J. B. Fitzhugh House – 1884
J. B. Fitzhugh House - 1884

Like a lot of the Main St. houses, J. B. Fitzhugh House was changed from an elaborately painted Queen Anne mansion with plenty of turrets into a more reserved Colonial Revival home around the turn of the 20th century. In most cases this meant scalping off a turret or two and dramatically increasing the porch size like you see here. As hot as it is in Arkansas, I’m not surprised porch sizes got bigger and bigger.

Barnett-Grace House – 1921

Barnett-Grace House - 1885

All I really know about this house is that it’s where my friend Rob’s sweet grandmother and grandfather lived.

Burton-Arnold House – 1904
Burton-Arnold House - 1904

This house is across the bayou in West Batesville, which was once a separate town called Charleston. It’s small scale, big porch and shady lawn makes me want to live there. I kind of like the red roof, too.

Christian Science Meeting House

Christian Science Meeting House

I have no history on this building, but isn’t it sweet and kind of perfect? It just sits there on its little built-up hill like a cake decoration. I do know that for such a tiny place it has a really nice pipe organ, which is located inside the lower window of the steeple tower. My first experiences playing the organ were here. It was when my music teacher Mr. Hess got a wild hair. He let me talk him into giving me a summer of organ lessons instead of piano. It didn’t really pay off, not for him at least. I’m no organist, but I did develop a love for organ music. That counts for something, right?

Final part of the tour is coming soon. It will be shorter.


Batesville, Arkansas Tour of Homes

I visited my hometown, Batesville, AR last week to see my family and do some writing there. Folks from Batesville, including me, are uncommonly proud of their town. Being the oldest functioning settlement in Arkansas, you might think historic domestic architecture would look something like this backwoods example from the 1850s (now at Lyon College), which I love:

Lyon College Dogtrot Cabin - c. 1850s

But being a prosperous river town meant that there were more refined homes built in the “city.” Batesville is still a beautiful place even though right now there are FAR too many cheap aluminum buildings popping up on the landscape. My parents got sick of hearing me moan about them. They are the small town version of suburban sprawl, I guess, but I still hate them. Oh, and Riverside Park looks pretty skanky at the moment, too. Get on the stick city council!

The older parts of town are still very fine. For a break one day, I parked at the top of Main (beginning of the standard parade route for you homeys out there) and walked Main, College, and Boswell Streets. I tried to photograph at least most of my favorite homes.

The next few posts will be a tour of some (not all, there are actually many more that I didn’t photograph) of Batesville’s fine home and church architecture.

Garrott House – 1842

Garrott House - 1842

The church I went to as a child is across the street from Garrott House. Once we had an “old-fashioned day” at church. The entire congregation dressed up in old costumes. We had dinner on the grounds of the Garrott House. Even in the heat, it was the perfect setting.

Glenn House – 1849

Glenn House - 1849

Glenn House was not only a residence. It was once a Methodist school and served as a Civil War hospital. At one time it had a full porch across the front with double ionic columns. I love the side balcony.

Morrow Hall – 1873

Morrow Hall - 1873

Once part of Arkansas College’s (present day Lyon College) original campus, Morrow Hall is now part of First Presbyterian Church, most of which I did not photograph, though I should have. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful church in Batesville, and I’ve never even been to a service there! First Baptist, where I went, was catty-corner to First Pres. We used to all pray that our service would dismiss before theirs so tables at restaurants would still be free for lunch.

Wycough-Jones House – 1872

Wycough-Jones House - 1872

This home was originally three stories with fancy dormers and a tower. But the third floor was struck by lightning long ago and burned off (happened a lot). With its bungalow-style roof, it is probably more humanly scaled, at least in my opinion.

Moore-McCaleb House – 1872

Moore-McCaleb House - 1872</a

This house started off as a one story straight line home. Like a lot of houses it was both added to and subtracted from (by fire again) until it reached its present t-shape style. I like it’s simplicity.

Handford-Terry House – 1888

Handford-Terry House - 1888

This house was built in 1888 along with its exact mirror image across the street. They were owned by two brothers. Now they are restored to period colors. They were featured in the book America’s Painted Ladies in 1992.

If you weren’t bored by the tour, check back in a few days and I’ll try to post more.