Pioneer Village

Pioneer Village

The link is for the Pioneer Village and scheduled events.  Below is the history of the Pioneer Village.

(Click on photos to enlarge)



Rison, Arkansas

History of the Pioneer Village

The ultimate goal of the Pioneer Village is to re-create a cross section of the social and economic strata they would have existed in South Arkansas during the last half of the nineteenth century. The Village is a growing restoration; it is growing in much the same pattern that occurred in the period which is portrayed. The hope is that you will enjoy your visit to the village and will take with you a deeper appreciation for life in those vital and formative years.

May we suggest that you start your tour at the one room log cabin and out buildings. The McKinney cabin was moved to the Village from the Herbine community in the southern part of Cleveland County. It is the type of structure first built by the early settlers of Cleveland County in the 1840’s. As they prospered the pioneers added a room and open hallway to their one room cabin. This type of building was called a “dog trot” cabin. Later the hallway was closed in and rooms added to the rear behind one side of the front rooms; thus making an L- shape structure. Clapboards were often placed over the logs to modernize the structure.

The early settlers ate and slept in the one room cabin. The children slept in the loft. They had few possessions when they came to this area in their covered wagons. They brought only the bare essentials with them such as straw mats for sleeping, a few pots for cooking, tools and seeds for cultivation after clearing land. Some may have brought a few farm animals with them. They then built a barn to house the animals and store their wagon and any grain they were able to raise. Later a blacksmith shop was built to make and repair farm tools. Also a smoke house was built to smoke and store food. Smoking meat was the only form of preservation the early settler had. They would sun dry any wild or domestic fruit they were able to find and stored them also in the smokehouse.

After visiting the log cabin and out-buildings, proceed to the Church. It was often a days’ ride by wagon or horseback to the few early churches in the area.

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The Mt. Olivet Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was organized in 1867. Anson Black and his wife Harriett gave one acre of land for the church which was located at the site of present day Calmer, Arkansas.

The first trustees of the church were Pleas Culpepper, James Chambers, Thomas Harper, John Culpepper, and Jonathan Cooper.

The building is approximately forty feet by sixty feet. It was constructed of lumber hauled by oxen-drawn wagons from Warren, Arkansas, which was twenty three miles away. The sills were long and heavy. Oxen were used to drag them and Richard (Dick) Breathwaite used a boom to put them in place. The roof was made of hand-hewn cypress boards or shingles made by the church members. The pews were made of virgin timber and hand hewn by Tom May and remain in the church today.

Three backless pews called “Mourners Benches” were placed near the pulpit. These pews or benches were used during the singing of hymns when minister would call for those in the congregation desiring an interest in a prayer to come and sit on the benches. The benches were also used for taking of the Lords Supper. The minister would pass the cup of wine and tray of bread. The communion bread was made by the women and the wine by the Stewards. One of the three mourners benches is still in use today. The first lighting system for the church was handmade tallow candles. These were replaced by kerosene bracket lamps as used in the church today, along with a swinging kerosene lamp which has been electrified. These swinging lamps were raised and lowered by chain. The church was heated by one large wood burning stove placed near the center of the church. A bucket of water with a long-handled gourd used as a dipper was always near the pulpit for the preacher’s use.

The older men of the church sat in the Amen corner to the left of the pulpit. The women sat on the right side. The young people sat in the center pew.

In the summer, early churches held revivals outside under-brush arbors. In about 1910 circus type tents for revivals came into use. The revivals would last for several days sometimes. Those people coming from a distance by horse and buggy or wagon would stay in nearby homes so they could attend all the services.

Each evening at twilight, the women and men would hold separate prayer and testimonial meetings under nearby trees. During the services, the men would sometimes shout “Amen” and the women would rise to their feet, clapping their and shouting for joy, pleading with sinners to repent. During these long services, the young children would become very tired and sleepy. Their mothers would spread a quilt on the floor for them to sleep. Also, dinner on the ground would be spread for these day-long services.

This church was remodeled in 1950 with the ceiling being lowered and Sunday School rooms built in the back corners. In 1975 the church voted to build a new building and the old building was given to the Cleveland County Historical Society and moved from Calmer to it new location. The Church is being used today by an Episcopal Congregation.

Some early families in the church were: Tom Berry, Marion M. Kesterson, J.S. Melton, P.D. Williams, Robert, W.W., W.J, and Johnny Greenlee, E.B. and R.S. Henderson, A.P. Huselton, M.W., ,J.R., and H.W. Wilson, Nick, Ben and Jim Taliaferro, Edgar McLendon, William, John and Mrs. Horace Jewel.

When the church was moved to its present location, it was restored to its original appearance. The pews are original and one Mourners Bench remains. The small pulpit table is also original as are some of the panes of glass in the windows.

The Church was place on the National Register of Historic Structures in 1976.

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 The Mercantile or Country Store originally was built for and used by the County Clerk in 1902 when the Clerk’s Office outgrew its space in the first Rison Courthouse. It was located where the Courthouse parking lot is today. The Clerk’s Office remained in the building until the present Courthouse in Rison was built in 1911. After the Clerk vacated the building, it was used by Pitt Holmes for his law office and later by Ira E. Moore as his business office while he was also serving as County Sheriff.

The building was constructed by J.W. Roebuck. He received $139.00 for his labor. B.F. Quinn furnished the building materials at a cost of $109.00. In the early thirties the building was moved to 2nd and Pine Street in Rison to be used as an office and clinic by Dr. A.B. Robertson, and later as a cleaners. In 1975 Mr. and Mrs. James L. Moore (Lois) purchased the building and presented it to the Historical Society to be moved to the Pioneer Village and restored. That same year, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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 This is the home of Dr. John Silas McMurtrey and his wife. They were the parents of Mayme, Elizabeth (Bee), Sue, and Jesse Lawley. Dr. McMurtrey was the son of Colonel Elisha Lawley McMurtrey and Louisa Baggett McMurtrey. Colonel McMurtrey was an outstanding soldier serving in the Second Arkansas Cavalry during the Civil War. Colonel McMurtrey came with his parents in 1840 to settle in the area that is today Rison. He also gave each of his sons and one daughter a tract of land and assisted them in erecting a home.

Dr. McMurtrey’s home was a simple Victorian design built in 1892. It was built originally on the hill where the present Rison water tank stands. The home was visible to a large section of Rison. It has been said that the doctor placed a lamp in his bedroom window when he was out at night on a house call. The light could be seen by many. The doctor made his house calls by horse and buggy in good weather and by horseback in bad weather. He would carry his medicine and instruments in saddle bags on the horse. He was known to never refuse a call regardless of whether a person could pay him or not.

Dr. McMurtrey took great pride in the growth of Rison. He was a stockholder in several Rison businesses and the bank. He was also a deacon in the Baptist Church and a member of the Masonic and Odd Fellow Lodges. He served on the Rison School Boardand taught and trained several you men to become doctors. Two of these young men later became prominent physicians – Dr. Albert Baggett of Hot Springs and Dr. Frank Crump of Pine Bluff.

Dr. McMurtrey’s home was built in 1891 and has not been changed from the original, only the use of the rooms have changed. The home is unique in that it has not been structurally altered through the years, except for closing in the central hall. The home features horizontal beaded walls and a fireplace in both the front room and the parlor.

The room to the right of the entrance is the front parlor as it was originally. The mantel is original. The floors are original in the left parlor. The furnishings are Victorian Eastlake. The room to the left was the doctor’s bedroom. The small dining room served as his daughters’ bedroom. His only son, Jesse, had his bedroom in the present bathroom. In the corner before entering the bath was where the doctor had his medicine shelf. Also, in the front hall is a walnut hall tree belonging to Colonel and Mrs. McMurtrey, the doctor’s parents. It is the only McMurtrey piece in the house. The larger dining room was originally the dining room and the kitchen is also in the original place.

After being moved to the Pioneer Village the home was restored in 1980.

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 Lois’ Cottage is next door to the Doctor McMurtrey Home. It is a two room shot-gun dwelling with a wrap-around porch.

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The one room log cabin is reminiscent of the time of the early settlers. The settlers cooked their meals in the fireplace, ate at the handmade table and warmed themselves by the fireplace in rockers bottomed with white-oak strips. A ladder on the wall led to the loft where the pioneer or some of the children slept on straw mats.

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To the right of the cabin is the smokehouse where the settlers would smoke their meat to preserve it. Other foods may have also been stored in the smokehouse.


 The blacksmith shop was complete with the anvil, bellows, tools of the trade which were used to make and repair farm tools, wagon wheels, and other necessary items.

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The barn is reconstructed with a hay loft and two side sheds. The barn housed the farm animals and was a place the farmer could store his wagon, plows and hayrake.

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The Post Office building was added sometime later but has some old post office boxes that would have been in use in the early days of a post office. Many times a post office was located in the local mercantile store.