Crocketts Bluff Hunting Lodge
CROCKETTS BLUFF HUNTING LODGE,
The Crocketts Bluff Hunting Lodge is significant in its representation of a facility used for social and recreational hunting purposes. The centerpiece of the hunting complex is the lodge, constructed in 1956 after the original lodge building burned. The lodge is significant by virtue of its rustic mid century design using a variety of high grade native woods. The Crocketts Bluff Hunting Lodge is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A for its association with historic cultural sporting. It is also significant with the timber industry in southeast Arkansas.
Crocketts Bluffs Hunting Lodge is located atop a high ridge on the bank of the lower White River in an area of the Mississippi Delta known as the Grand Prairie. Unlike the typical prairie, the Grand Prairie of Arkansas receives ample rainfall but due to high clay content the soil retains little of the moisture. This condition is ideal for growing grasses and little else. As a result this area of Arkansas held little draw for early settlers. The Arkansas Gazette stated in May 27, 1820, “The Big Prairie, is probably, the greatest body of poor land in the Territory.”
Early Arkansas settlers arriving from states to the east: Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky had traveled through thick, forested land and saw the timber-scarce prairie as unacceptable for homesteading. Most moved on to more fertile lands in Arkansas or further west. Those who stayed settled along the rivers and bayous.
The Civil War brought change to the Arkansas prairie land as the war moved along the Arkansas River and up the White River. The infamous naval battle of June 17, 1862, which disabled the USS Mound City was fought in the hamlet of St. Charles just miles downriver of Crocketts Bluff. On January 9, 1863, Union forces under the command of General John McClernand captured Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post. The influx of soldiers from both sides of the conflict exposed thousands to the unique elements of the Grand Prairie.
One of those veterans was Captain Robert H. Crockett, grandson of Davy Crockett. Named after him, the town of Crockett’s Bluff was established and thrived for a time during the Civil War and after was important river port on the White River. With the arrival of the first railroad in 1883, commerce shifted away from river transportation and the nearby town of Stuttgart developed as a major center. Captain Robert H. Crockett was elected as the first mayor of Stuttgart in 1889.
During the period between 1820 and 1860 political unrest in Germany resulted in a wave of immigrants to America. The majority settled in Nebraska with a few homesteading in central Arkansas. After the Civil War settlements sprang up across the prairie aided by a land grant program that awarded forty acres of prairie land to war veterans. Germans who had grown weary of Nebraska winters took advantage of this offer. One German settler, Charles Payer of Illinois, made the most of the program by buying awarded land tracks from veterans dismayed with the possibility of homesteading poor prairie land. Charles Payer had crossed the prairie during the Civil War and was impressed with the vast area’s potential. During the 1880's he advertised widely, promoting fine land for sale. A large part the German community near Highland, Illinois, invested in Payer’s prairie land dream.
They named their new settlement Payer in honor of Charles Payer, later changing it to Ulm in recognition of their hometown in Germany. As word spread more Germans from Nebraska and Illinois joined their countrymen in the Arkansas Delta’s prairie. George Adam Buerkle, a Lutheran minister, brought 7,747 acres west of Ulm with the desire to establish a Lutheran community. Named for the city of his birth, Stuttgart became the support center for the ever expanding German population in the area. Printed articles and advertisements in the late 1880's encouraged Germans to immigrate to the Grand Prairie of Arkansas. The hardworking temperament of the hearty Germans settlers created a productive union with what many had consider poor land. They raised cattle, planted orchards and raised grain.
Also in the 1880's Swiss immigrants arrived in Arkansas County. Accustomed to raising crops on small, over-farmed plots they found the prairie soil challenging but well suited for their farming methods. They founded a town and named it Waldheim only to discover that Arkansas already had a town by that name. The name was changed to Hicksville and later shortened to Hicks.
Even with German determination and Swiss farming techniques, by the end of the 19th century most felt that the prairie soil was depleted. In 1897 another Nebraska transplant, William H. Fuller, planted the first crop of rice in the delta. That harvest was less than a triumph, which led Mr. Fuller to Louisiana to study their rice cultivation process. By 1907 he was able to produce 5,225 bushels of rice on seventy acres. His success changed the entire nature of the Grand Prairie of Arkansas. Within a generation, Stuttgart and the prairie lands around it became know as “the rice capital of the world.”
The hard-won economic upturn offered the residents of the Arkansas Delta new time to enjoy what once had been a necessity – hunting. The bayous and river-bottoms offered a great abundance of varied wild game. According to local legend, eighty-pound catfish and over one-hundred pound gar were often pulled out of the White River. From prehistoric time water fowl have migrated along the lower White River basin. The introduction of new water reservoirs for rice cultivation and large harvests drying in the fields drew more birds every year. The Arkansas Grand Prairie attracted sportsmen from across the nation, and soon became know for its abundance of ducks and hunting opportunities.
In 1938, Sam Fullerton, owner of the Bradley Lumber Company in Warren, Arkansas, built a hunting lodge on the high ridge at Crocketts Bluff, overlooking the White River. The Crocketts Bluff Hunting Lodge was built to entertain the customers of Bradley Lumber Company and the other companies owned by the Fullerton family including the Chicago Lumber and Coal Company in St. Louis, and several lumber mills in Louisiana, and the Midwest. The lodge was constructed of wood milled and laid out at the Bradley plant then shipped by rail and boat to Crocketts Bluff. The lodge was used only for duck hunting and remained closed the majority of the year.
The lodge burned in 1955 and when Sam Fullerton’s grandson, Lt. Colonel S. Baker Fullerton, returned from duty in the U.S. Air Force, he took on the task of rebuilding the lodge in 1956. The Fullertons wanted to use the new lodge building for promotion of their lumber sales and high grade native woods such as pecky cypress, cherry bark oak, white oak, loblolly pine and green ash were used in construction of the lodge. As with construction of the 1938 lodge, the lumber was milled in Warren at the Bradley Lumber Company and transported to Crocketts Bluff.
The Potlatch Lumber Company acquired Bradley Lumber Company in 1958. Included in the purchase were 40,000 acres of White River bottomland hardwood and the Crocketts Bluff Hunting Lodge.
In 1970 the Frank Lyon Company of Little Rock purchased 4.5 acres containing the hunting lodge and cabins. Frank Lyon, a Little Rock businessman, owned a number of other companies and utilized the lodge for duck hunting and fishing expeditions for his companies.
The present owners purchased the Crocketts Bluff Hunting Lodge in 1995. The character of the 1956 lodge building is carefully maintained, showcasing the variety of native woods used in its construction.
The Crocketts Bluff Hunting Lodge which was constructed in 1956, is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with local significance as an example of a recreational hunting and sporting facility. Its association with the duck hunting industry in the Grand Prairie area of Arkansas dates to 1938 and continues to be widely recognized as a social and hunting facility.
Hearnsberger, John. “Crocketts Bluff Hunting Lodge: A History”. (unpublished Manuscript in possession of author, 1995, Updated December 2004 and October 2006).
Jeannie Whayne & Willard B. Gatewood, editors. The Arkansas Delta: Land of Paradox. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1993.
McRae, Ken, Interview by Sandra Taylor Smith, February 22, 2007.
Oosterhous, Kara. “Stuttgart Historic District”, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Little Rock, AR: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 2007.
Prange, Charles. “Crocketts Bluff History Day”. (unpublished document prepared October 28, 2006).
Shrum, Bill. “Arkansas County”. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net.
Taylor, Jim. “Museum Recounts History of Arkansas’ Grand Prairie.” www.arkansasmediaroom.com.