Remembering the Cabot that was
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CabotFest is a celebration of the vitality and spirit of the community that raised the town up from the tragedy of the March 29, 1976 tornado. But that revival is better appreciated by knowing the Cabot that stood on the day of the tragedy.
“Newcomers think Cabot is a young suburban community because we don’t have anything old left, no old buildings or churches, and old houses have been replaced by new homes and businesses. So I think we old-timers need to try to paint word pictures of how Cabot was.” So said Sue Worthington Park in a recollection written for Cabot’s centennial celebration in 1991.
Though not a native of Cabot, Park, along with her husband, Marvin, had a strong hand in the course of the city’s history. Park moved to Cabot in 1926 after marrying Marvin, and from her beginning as a file clerk worked her way to becoming the first woman bank president in Arkansas with then-Bank of Cabot (now Centennial Bank).
Her memories did, indeed, paint a picture of the Cabot that was.
The following are excerpts from Parks’ recollections as told to past Cabot Star-Herald reporter Lisa Young.
The first location of the [Bank of Cabot] was at Pine and First streets and had a fancy interior for the time, Mrs. Park recalled. It was heated by a potbellied stove and was lit by kerosene lamps.
The bank had an outhouse as did most of the places in town, and it had a key.
“They had this key hanging on a nail on the back part of the bank, and somebody was always forgetting to hang the key up after they had been to the outhouse,” Mrs. Park said. “So we always had to find out who was the last one out there.”
The business of the bank then was similar to today; employees just went about it differently, Mrs. Park said.
Marvin and Sue Parks progressed into executive positions at the bank, with Marvin being named president. He died in 1951, after many years of service to the bank and 18 years on the Cabot school board, and Mrs. Park was named president to succeed him. When Mrs. Park retired in 1974 her son, John Marvin (J.M.), was named president.
But Park’s memory extended well beyond banking, and she had a wealth of information on the early days of Cabot itself.
When Cabot was incorporated in 1891, Park said, the town’s population was included in the count for the county’s population. It wasn’t until 1900 that the first census counted Cabot’s population at 270.
The town, according to a plat drawn by the railroad company, was approximately one-half mile square and extended from West Fourth Street to East Fourth Street (now Lincoln Street) and from Myrtle Street to Locust Street.
The first streets were built 60 feet wide, except for Main Street, which was 80 feet wide. Each block was made with a 16-foot alley. Mrs. Park said those alleys played an important part in daily life.
“Most everyone had a horse, a cow and chickens backed up to the alley and particularly that very necessary outhouse,” Mrs. Park said.
“One of the ones who used these alleys as much as anybody was that honeywagon that went through once a month.” People on the “honeywagon” were responsible for cleaning out people’s outhouses. “Everyone stayed indoors on the nights when he went through there,” Mrs. Park recalled.
Unlike the municipal services available in Cabot today, the town had no police force in the 1920s, Mrs. Park said. The only law enforcement officer was an appointed constable. The constable received his wages from a portion of the arrest fines.
A night watchman was hired by local merchants, Mrs. Park said, but he did not watch for crime. He was hired to keep an eye out for fires that were apt to be started from burning trash in the alleys between the stores.
The fire department then was voluntary, Mrs. Park said. Someone close to the fire would shoot a shotgun into the air so everyone would know where the fire was. And then “every able-bodied person in town - men, women and children - would rush to the scene and join in the bucket brigade to put out the fire.”
This method was not very efficient, Mrs. Park added. “I don’t think we were successful in extinguishing a fire very often, but we usually kept the fire from spreading.”
The railroad of long ago was not the same railroad that is common today, Mrs. Park said. “To us now days they’re just a frustrating nuisance as we sit and wait for 100-plus freight cars to clear the track, but it was the lifeline to the outside world in those days.”
No all-weather roads existed, and the only transportation was a horse or horse-driven carriage. So, people used the train often to travel to Beebe or Little Rock. “One of the highlights of the day was to meet the evening train to see who had been to Little Rock that day,” she recalled.
Three types of trains were in common use then - freight trains, fast trains, and local trains.
When someone in town ordered a carload of supplies, the freight train would pull into town and uncouple the car carrying the supplies onto a sidetrack. The person who ordered the shipment was responsible for unloading the car, Mrs. Park said. “If he couldn’t do it alone, he would hire the local drayman, who usually had a sturdy wagon and draft horses.”
The fast train, also called the through-train, only stopped to connect with other railroad lines, Mrs. Park explained. However, the mail car was on this train, so a mail clerk would have to pitch the town’s mail sack off the train. Many times the sack would be sucked under the train and the mail would be shredded by the rails, she said.
Outgoing mail was hung on a crane beside the track, and the mail clerk would use a grappling iron to pull the bag inside the train. Because of the train’s high speed, sometimes the outgoing bag would meet the same fate.
The local train stopped at every locality on the route, and it was this train that people rode to Little Rock. This train also included a parcel post car, and packages could be picked up at the depot or the post office.
“Most everyone raised chickens then and they would order them through the mail. The chicks would arrive on the parcel post car and were delivered to the post office,” Mrs. Park said.
“You can imagine what several hundred baby chicks sounded like at the post office each spring.”
As roads were improved and automobiles became more common, fewer people rode the trains, Park said. Eventually Cabot became a flag stop, which meant if someone bought a train ticket, the depot agent would flag the train to pick the passenger up. Eventually, so few people rode the train that Cabot was not even a flag stop any longer.
Mrs. Park doubted accounts that Cabot began as a water and fuel stop for the railroad. Although there was plenty of timber here for fuel, there was not an abundant supply of water.
Much like the phone service on television shows such as Andy Griffith and Petticoat Junction, Cabot had a crank-type phone system when she came to Cabot, Mrs. Park said.
“We never called anyone by number. We got good service from our telephone operators. I remember one time I cranked up the phone and I said ‘Ring Lillian Lowman, please. [The operator] said ‘Lillian’s talking to Mrs. Plummer. Do you want me to call you back when she hangs up?’”
The telephone operators liked to listen to phone conversations to catch up on the town gossip, Mrs Park recalled.
“I don’t know how many times when Marvin and I were going together – I lived in Little Rock – he’d call me and he’d say, ‘All right, nosy, get off the line.’”
Unknown to many, Cabot had its own hotel in the early days of the town, Mrs. Park said. It was a two-story, white, frame building that was located where Carma’s Cut & Curl [southeast corner of the intersection of Main and Grant streets] and other businesses are located on East Main today.
The hotel’s name was Morgan’s Hotel, and most of its business came from the drummers, or traveling salesmen, who came into Cabot on the train. Often it would be too late for the drummers to catch a train back to Little Rock, so they would stay at Morgan’s Hotel, Mrs. Park said.
After cars become prevalent, the need for the hotel diminished until it was used strictly for a boarding house and apartments. The building burned in 1957.