September 04, 2013 Edition

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Finding a future in our past

John Bland
Publisher

The soon-to-open Hotel Rhea in downtown Walnut Ridge is cause for excitement amongst us local folks. Charles and Jackie Snapp are owners and developers of the hotel, which will offer three upstairs suites and a fourth suite located downstairs.

Even though it's not a major hotel chain, offering scores of rooms, The Rhea will offer a unique, historic lodging experience. The Rhea's opening is another step toward downtown revitalization, a vital factor in the success of small towns.

The Snapps, as well as other Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee members, have been instrumental in the development of Beatles Park, as well as the Guitar Walk, next to the Iron Mountain Depot.

The Snapps also started the Invest in Your Dreams Program that encouraged new downtown businesses, such as imagine, Art & Culture Frozen Yogurt LLC, The Dark Side Coffee House and The Venue. Through Invest in Your Dreams, building improvements made by the renter are subtracted from rent payments.

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Located at 117 West Main Street, The Hotel Rhea building is the only section that remains of the original Rhea Hotel building.

According to the Snapps' research, construction of the original Rhea Hotel began in 1904 and took four years to complete.

"The Rhea took up most of the 100 block of West Main Street in Walnut Ridge before it was all but destroyed by fire on November 16, 1914," states the website for The Rhea at www.thehotelrhea.com. There is a lot of interesting history related to the property, and the Snapps plan to highlight that history through displays in the hotel.

An emphasis on our history is the recurring theme in the downtown revival. Because of Beatles Park and our "Beatles at the Ridge" festival, new generations are learning about The Beatles historic 1964 stopover at the Walnut Ridge Airport.

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The Venue, owned and operated by Fran Cavenaugh, recently opened on the first floor of The Hotel Rhea and is exciting in its own right. The Venue offers an upscale New York City-style rental space for special events. It also has a full catering kitchen.

Those of my generation will remember The Venue as the location of Warner Drug Store, owned and operated by Lucian and Margaret Warner, and later Goings Pharmacy, owned by Luther Goings Jr. Around 1980, Lucia Warner Allen made apartments in the upstairs of the building.

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Another interesting and historic downtown building is the former Masonic Lodge at 110 Northeast Front, which is being rehabilitated by Jon and Lesa Walter. That building dates back to 1893. The local Masonic Lodge has remodeled the building at 120 West Main Street into their new lodge hall, and Masons are planning an open house in the near future.

Last, but not least, is the former Van Atkins building, a large space that has been reinvented for a new use. Most recently, the building housed the Lawrence County Republican Headquarters. It is now called the Van Atkins Event Center and is available to book for special events through LadyBug Flower Shop and Weddings By Karen.

These and other historic downtown renovations and enterprises are exciting and inspire hope for our future.

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