Growing up in the Nutter’s Chapel area southwest of Conway, I grew very familiar with landmarks in the area. Riding the roads and exploring on my bicycle, I learned much about that part of the county. One road name that always piqued my curiosity was Old Military Road, especially toward the south end at Rocky Gap.
At Halloween, we often gathered with our neighbors for a hayride down that old country road. When we reached the fork at Rocky Gap, we would unload and stretch our legs before heading back. That’s when we would walk over to look at the Stagecoach Road historic monument.
Later I learned that in 1825, the U.S. government authorized the surveying and marking of a military road from Little Rock to Fort Gibson, in what is now Oklahoma. The new road, constructed in 1827, entered Faulkner County near the mouth of the Palarm Creek and followed the old “Pyeatt Trail” through timbered land north and west to the slopes of Round Mountain. After swinging westward around the mountain, it continued north to the Cadron Creek.
After the discovery of gold in California in 1848, many saw an urgent need to create an overland transportation route to the west coast to provide mail service and resupply western military posts. The general consensus was that a private company should be awarded a subsidy to operate a stagecoach service with way stations.
By this time, however, the country was deeply divided between North and South with both wanting the overland route to go through their region. Since the postmaster was a Southerner, he chose to accept John Butterfield’s bid for a southern route. The Butterfield Overland Mail Company, starting in 1857, ran coaches from St. Louis and Memphis to Fort Smith before continuing westward to El Paso, Texas and then up the California coast.
In Faulkner County, the Butterfield Overland Mail Route followed the, by then, well-established Old Military Road (sometimes called the Old Wire Road.) The backroads to Davis Lake in southwestern Faulkner County are probably remnants of the original mail road which ran through the lake and then turned west toward Round Mountain.
As the route turned northward again, a waystation, known as Sevier’s Tavern, became a major stopping point. Located near Rocky Gap, Sevier’s Tavern was built by Michael Robert Sevier in 1860. A post office was established there called Olivia, named after one of Sevier’s daughters. The stage from Little Rock came there on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while the Ft. Smith stage stopped on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
One story tells that when travelers stayed overnight, the females were confined to one side of the two-story dog-trot style log building while the male guests were lodged on the other side. The tavern was torn down in 1943 but when I was growing up, there were still remnants of the stones used for the foundation and chimneys.
A monument was erected at the site to remind passersby of this significant part of Faulkner County’s past. This is the monument we saw at Rocky Gap while on our hayrides. Unfortunately, today it is gone just as many other Faulkner County historical markers have been removed.
A mile and a half north of Sevier’s Tavern was Hartje’s Tavern and Inn. It was built by Augustus Hartje about 1854. Travelers and mail wagons going south might have to stop here if high water or nightfall prevented the stage from reaching Sevier’s Tavern.
George Hartje, a descendant of August Hartje, donated the land about a mile and a half north of this tavern for the Hartje Cemetery which is across Old Military Road from Carolyn Lewis Elementary School. Hartje said the tavern was on the west side of the road while the cemetery is on the east side of the road.
The Butterfield Overland Mail Route provided a critical link between the East and West, opening up new territory. By the time the Civil War began in 1861, the Pony Express had replaced horse-drawn stages for delivering most mail, but it would be the iron horse that ultimately replaced this overland route. After the Civil War, the Little Rock to Ft. Smith Railroad would usher in a more efficient form of transportation and the establishment of Conway Station.