January 31, 2006 Edition

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Boom towns vs.small historic, charming towns

By John Bland

I was a freshman at Hendrix College in Conway during the 1976-77 school year, and as I'm sure you are aware, Conway has almost tripled in size since then. Despite knowing this, I still felt a bit like Rip Van Winkle, who awoke to changes after a very long nap, when we stopped in Conway for lunch on a recent Sunday.

From the exit off Interstate 40 to the Hendrix campus, there was the recognizable ridge that borders Conway. That ridge is now very developed with businesses and homes, above and below it. Knowing the general direction to the campus, I struggled to find familiar landmarks. Instead, we found heavy traffic, new shopping centers, restaurants, motels and other businesses.

It was a comfort to see the stately structures of Hendrix that hadn't changed. I focused on the familiar ones, but there are also several new buildings. In the 1970s, the Hendrix property across from the main campus, separated by busy Harkrider Street, had consisted of tennis courts, intramural fields and a large pine-wooded area containing a cross-country trail. Now on that property, there is a huge wellness center that is almost completed, and Hendrix is making plans for The Village at Hendrix using New Urbanism concepts. Across town, I understand that the University of Central Arkansas campus has also seen major development and growth in recent decades.


Other Arkansas towns and cities, including Jonesboro, Cabot, Fayetteville, Rogers, Bentonville, Benton, Bryant, and others, have also seen phenomenal growth. The growth of these places must also be a shock to infrequent visitors. In neighboring Jonesboro, new structures go up weekly. The new Mall at Turtle Creek and surrounding area is the hub of shopping in Northeast Arkansas, and most of it didn't even exist a few months ago. p>


Of course, Lawrence County has not seen that growth. Let's face facts; we've seen a gradual loss of population and a decline in retail businesses. Although it used to sound almost humorous, a few experts have said that our area should capitalize on that lack of change and growth. What they've actually said is that we should promote our small-town charm and uniqueness as an asset. Maybe there's something to be said for that.

No, we have very few of the national chain restaurant and businesses that have popped up in most every city. Yet we do have history and a growing body of historic sites and museums. As TD Editor Gretchen Hunt wrote in our online blog (www.thetd.com), Lawrence County offers several great historic sites that would be excellent for educational field trips. These include the Powhatan Courthouse and Historic Village, the Clover Bend Museum and Homestead and the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School Museum.


While it is hard not to envy places that are booming and that have the nationally known businesses, there is no excuse for our lack of pride in what we do have. Ted Moskal, our departing Chamber executive director, is one of those people who believes we should emphasize and market our historic charm, such as the intersecting railroad lines in Hoxie.

It is often hard to see our historic charm when our towns contain numerous areas pocketed with junk and other eyesores. It's time for us to change those things that need changing and to embrace out unique assets in Lawrence County. We should settle for no less.

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