A new book outlining the history of Faulkner County from the Quapaw tribe to Kris Allen has been sent off to the copy editors, and should hit bookstore shelves in a few months.
Though the title isn’t finalized the book’s author, Dr. Roger Pauly, said that "tentatively" he had chosen "Fortitude and Foresight: A History of Faulkner County."
Pauly, an assistant professor with the University of Central Arkansas History Department who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Delaware, said that he didn’t know much about the region when he started his research, but early on in the process, he "really got hooked."
"This is an amazing chunk of land here," Pauly said. "The things that happened in this area over the last few hundred years are just remarkable."
For instance, Pauly learned that while the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812 didn’t rattle Faulkner County anything near as badly as it did areas to the east, but it did shake up the demographics of the county’s fledgling communities.
"It’s not really clear that there was anything at Cadron before that earthquake hit," Pauly said. "In 1811, the earthquake drove a number of refugees westward, and one of them was John Benedict. When John Benedict got to Cadron, he thought, ‘This would make a good ferry crossing,’ and so he did it and the settlement grew up around it and he never would have been here and it never would have happened if not for the New Madrid."
Of course, many residents might agree that Faulkner County has for a number of years had a perfectly serviceable history laid out in the hefty volume "Faulkner County: Its Land and People," published in 1986 by the Faulkner County Historical Society.
Pauly said that he wouldn’t disagree.
"‘Faulkner County: Its Land and People’ is a terrific book, a great book ... and it was a tremendous resource for my efforts."
Where Pauly’s book differs is in its narrative style. "Faulkner County" is the work of dozens of writers and the concerted efforts of the owners and employees of number of long-standing local businesses. The book lays out the history of the county in several hundred articles which address thousands of historical facets and anecdotes that both hit the high points and delve into minutia.
Pauly’s book, however, is the work of one man and reads through as his single cohesive narrative.
So with his book, he said, he’s not trying to best "Faulkner County" — not least because a single person couldn’t hope to — but rather present the subject in a more easily digestible form.
His research does, however, find some areas where that the factual accounts of things part company with popular lore.
The name of the town of Vilonia, for example, is recorded in "Faulkner County" — and in the minds of most Vilonia residents — started out as Vilsonia, "which means ‘land of two valleys’" according to "Faulkner County," but when the application was made by Vilsonia Masons in 1873 to found a Masonic Lodge there, the reply came back with approval signed off for the Vilonia Masonic Lodge. Presumably to avoid the implication that the Masonic Washington, D.C. office’s staff was susceptible to typos, the error was corrected by way of dropping the "S" from the town’s name.
"The only problem with this story is figuring out what language the settlers thought they were speaking," Pauly writes in his book, excerpts of which were submitted to the Log Cabin.
Pauly checked several translation services, but never was able to figure out what language may be structured so that the phonetic components of "Vilsonia" arrive at the meaning "land of two valleys." He did find that in the "usual suspects" of foreign tongues passing through the area around the time that the settlement was founded, French and Spanish, it works out as "cheap sound" and "they are vile," respectively — neither of which would immediately seem a name that a town’s proud founding fathers would have branding their earnest efforts for very long.
But Pauly’s book isn’t a boiled-down summary of "Faulkner County." He said that he also plunged into Log Cabin archives, copied and preserved via microfilm, from almost as far back as this newspaper’s founding in 1879. In 2007, University of Central Arkansas archivist Jimmy Bryant collected a pair of generously proportioned filing cabinets holding these rolls of film from the Log Cabin and with the help of this reporter (who can report that they were heavier than they looked, unbelievably) loaded them into a vehicle to be transported and housed at the UCA archives. Bryant said on Saturday that buying the scores of archival envelopes needed to house this uninterrupted daily record of more than a century and a quarter of local history has in itself carved out a sizeable wedge of the archives’ budget.
Another historical fact that Pauly said still resounds is the "foresight" of city governmental and civic leaders to attract higher education to Faulkner County.
"This is one of these deals that hides in plain sight," he said, "but the story of these colleges is amazing. This little town managed to recruit three colleges? That’s just incredible ... it is a remarkable thing that this town and the foresight to do that, and then to build its own electrical plant."
Conway’s electric "grid" came on-line in 1896, barely more than a dozen years behind New York, according to "Faulkner County" and only a few years after the Mayor of Conway, Capt. William W. Martin in his first year in office, 1890, "wooed" Hendrix College to Conway after leading efforts to raise $50,000 — a multi-million-dollar deal in today’s money — and secure the donation of 30 acres.
"When you look at what was done to get Hendrix College here, you clearly have a group of citizens who are going to put their necks out to get a grasp on the future," Pauly said.
"Big dreams; I think you could say that about Faulkner County."
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)