OPINION

The Flatlander

Stone County's Big Day Nears

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If the opportunity passes us by, we will have only ourselves to blame. It was right there in front of us in plain view on the calendar for 148 years.

And there couldn’t be a better opportunity for a rural, tourism-fueled economy like ours to use the milestone moment as a major turn-around on the back side of a year like we’ve all just experienced. It’s almost a gift just waiting for the unwrapping.

There’s a big birthday party worth planning. Both locals, and those of us from “off” need to get our finest party hats ready. Stone County — is turning 150 years young.

Stone County became Arkansas’ 74th county on April 21, 1873. That means our 150th year begins about a year from now. Our sesquicentennial is just around the corner.
We’ll get one shot at getting this right. The next generation of Stone County residents will have charge of the bicentennial celebration. And it’s not a day too soon for those of us here and now to consider the possibilities for how it might all play out.

Let’s take a short look back for a moment, then consider the future possibilities.
The territory that ultimately became known as Stone County was first a seasonal hunting ground for the Osage Native Americans where they lived and camped along area rivers and creeks. There are 20th century legends of a Creek chief named Syllamo who ruled the territory.

By 1830, settlers were moving into the area including family names like Hess, Ivy, Partee, Lancaster, Whitfield, Overton, Pittman, Riggs, Livingston, Creswell, Brown, and Young. In 1864 Stone County saw a few Civil War skirmishes along Sylamore Creek.

Stone County was on the map in 1873, as the seventy-fourth county comprised from parts of Independence, Izard, Searcy, and Van Buren counties. One reason for the creation of the new county was the natural barrier of the White River, which made it difficult for residents to reach the county seat. Local businessman Elijah Chappell named Mountain View the county seat. He had submitted the name, which subsequently was drawn out of a hat full of contenders. Mountain View was incorporated in 1890.

In 1922, the existing county courthouse was constructed.

The thing about a 150th birthday party is that it doesn’t get planned overnight, nor should it. There’s a lot to consider, especially since it’s one of those unique opportunities that can simultaneously boost the local economy, and help to reinforce and preserve our heritage, while charting a course for the future.

I’m a big “what if” guy. So let’s contemplate the long list of what ifs for the Stone County Sesquicentennial.

•Do we really just want to make it a one-day event on April 21, 2023? That seems a shame given the reality that every day from April 21, 2022 until that day is a day within our 150th year. What if this were a yearlong celebration? What if there were a major event during each of the 11 months leading up to that day that drew 100,000 people here, independent of our traditional activities? I doubt any of the local merchants and other business owners would complain about that.

•What if this were a coordinated effort led by a strategic committee appointed jointly by the county, city and chamber of commerce working together? Just think about the energy, and the momentum it could create. I understand there are preliminary plans for a committee involving the Ozark Folk Center and Blanchard Springs Caverns, which will be in their 50th years of operation the same year.

•What if we produced a short oral-history documentary with some of the county’s most longstanding families and historians to commemorate the event? And what if we used that documentary to do show-and-tell across the state for the entire year as a tool to draw people here?

•What if we honored past historians who have contributed to preserving our history already?

•What if there were a joint committee that would release a report in 2023 charting a proposed strategy for our economic and cultural vitality into the next decade? It seems a little long to project that kind of thing another 150 years out.

•What if you walked across the courtsquare and saw television cameras and newspaper and radio reporters from every corner of the South and Midwest doing stories right here in town just about every day because they’d heard about our yearlong party honoring our Ozark heritage?

•What if someone sponsored and launched a world-class fishing and/or hunting tournament/event in Stone County that gained national recognition and went on for years?

•What if Stone County became an even more popular getaway destination because of this?

•What if, because of our great success, our celebration became a model for others?
It’s in plain view, right there on the calendar for all of us, just waiting for us to breathe life into it.

What if?

See you in next week’s newspaper.

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