As we neared the eastern side of Arkansas, we continued to seek out old railroad depots and other places or objects of interest. We passed fields of rice, many flooded with plantings, as well as a large number of cotton fields. The land was fairly flat and some of the towns looked like they were struggling to survive.
This somewhat derelict structure is the former Arkansas Midland Railroad Depot in Clarendon Arkansas. (Note: Another source reports that the depot was built by the Missouri Pacific) The first railroad into Clarendon was the Texas and St. Louis in the 1880’s. From the sign on one side of this building, it was used as a Goodyear Tire Storage facility at some point in time. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. To view additional photos of this depot, you can just go to http://www.arkansasties.com/Monroe/Structures/MidlandDepot.htm. The depot was built in 1910.
We were approaching West Helena and Helena Arkansas and we were very hungry. We hadn’t seen anyplace to grab a bite to eat…and then we spoted this promising looking restaurant. The exterior looked pretty good…
Well, you can’t win them all! You order a sandwich or a plate lunch at the counter and they bring it out to you. Laurie went with the Hot Roast Beef over white bread with French Fries. The fries were OK…the beef was fatty but at least it had decent flavor. Note the ‘giant’ container of cole slaw…
The dining room is nothing special…and the restrooms weren’t ones you’d like to regularly visit… There was quite a bit of takeout business. Most of the customers who were dining in were of my generation, not Laurie’s. I suspect that they were eating at Kelly’s for fuel, convenience or just out of habit…
Laurie’s meal was better than mine. I made the mistake of ordering the Hot Turkey Plate…processed sliced turkey loaf with a funky taste on white bread smothered with brown gravy. This was not a meal that I’d care to repeat! Even hot sauce didn’t help. As for pricing…I can’t find my receipt, but the food wasn’t expensive.
Kelly’s is located at 297 Richmond Highway in West Helena Arkansas. Phone: 870-572-5500. It appears that there may be a couple other Kelly’s locations as well but I couldn’t find a website. Since they’re surviving and apparently have been around for awhile, they are satisfying some palates or needs for the community. Kelly’s can be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kellys-Restaurant/110240578997803.
Factoid: West Helena was incorporated in 1917…planned from the start as a completely segregated community…with sections designated for whites and blacks. For more information on Helena/West Helena, its economy, Civil War involvement, the great floods, etc., just go to http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=950.
We loved this old Buster Brown shoe sign… Of course, this logo is still used on Brown Shoe Company products. For a bit of background on Buster Brown, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buster_Brown.
It was Sunday when we pulled into downtown Helena Arkansas…so there wasn’t much going on. As a matter of fact, nothing was going on! It was like a ghost town… The downtown area had a lot of empty store fronts but it was fairly well kept and it appeared that a fair amount of money had been expended in an effort to dress up and maintain the area.
A little research revealed that in 2006 Helena and West Helena merged to gain operational and expense efficiencies. The combined town is one of the poorest in the United States. It was growing until the Mohawk Rubber Company, a division of Yokohama Tires, closed down. The population has dropped by around 3,000 since the merger, down to a little over 12,000. Earlier in it’s history, prohibition and the death of the wooden beer barrel business followed by terrible floods on the Mississippi River also had a negative impact on the local economy.
This handsome 1915 Missouri Pacific Depot is one of the key elements in town that comprise the Delta Cultural Center. The depot has exhibits on the Civil War Battle of Helena, the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and the struggle to survive in the delta area. The nearby Delta Cultural Visitor’s Center provides an interactive exhibition of Delta Music and it serves as KFFA’s broadcast facility for the longest running American radio broadcast, (since 1941), ‘King Biscuit Time’. This show, still broadcast each and every weekday was originally sponsored by the King Biscuit Flour Company. (I’m sorry that the Center wasn’t open when we came through town…we both love the blues and jazz)
Many famous jazz and blues musicians came from Helena and the surrounding area. Conway Twitty was also from Helena… Each year, on the first week of October, the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival, (aka The King Biscuit Blues Festival) is held in downtown Helena. For more information on the Festival, go to: http://www.kingbiscuitfestival.com/. Bonne Raitt, Taj Mahal and Bobby Rush are the featured performers for 2012.
Factoid: For those of you from Cook County Illinois, (good or bad depending on your viewpoint), John Stroger was born in Helena. He was the first African American President of the Cook County Illinois Board of Commissioners.
This is the Helena Bridge. It carries US Highway 49 over the Mississippi River between Helena Arkansas and Lula Mississippi. This cantilever bridge was completed in July of 1961. It is 5,204 feet long and its longest span measures 804 feet. When the river is at normal levels, there is 119 feet of clearance between the surface of the river and the bottom of the bridge.
Just click on any photo to enlarge it…
Thanks for stopping by and sharing our back roads adventures with us!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave