Did you know that Fayetteville was founded in 1828 on land that had previously been set aside for the western Cherokee Nation?
Or that in 1837, a new county courthouse was built in the center of the Fayetteville square (most recently Urban Table)?
What about the fact that in 1840, Charles F. Town published Fayetteville’s first newspaper, The Witness, back when the population of Fayetteville was 425 people?
All of these nuggets of Fayetteville history, plus tons of other happenings dating back as early as the Louisiana purchase of 1804 can be found on a site called fayettevillehistory.com.
We stumbled upon the site about a year ago, and it has been a regular stop ever since. There is a ton of information about Fayetteville and where we’ve come from including a timeline of significant events, biographies of some of our notable residents, and a really cool book of lists feature with more random things like all the priests of St. Joseph’s Parish from 1870 to the present, and dressmakers of Fayetteville in 1904.
It’s a really cool resource for our city, and we got in touch with Charles Alison, a public relations officer at the University of Arkansas, and the creator of the site to see if we could find out just how long Fayetteville has been funky.
Fayetteville Flyer: What have you been listening to lately?
Charlie Alison: Nnenna Freelon, the Belairs, Trout Fishing in America, Melissa Greener, Brave Combo, Opal Fly, and I get down to Scarpino’s whenever I can to hear the McCloud Burson group. Absolutely loved the evening that Esther Stilwell sat in to sing a couple jazz standards.
FF: How long has the Fayetteville History site been around?
CA: The Web site was created in January 2007, and I added a Facebook page in April this year after Facebook changed the manner in which its pages interact with fans. A couple months ago, I added a Twitter feed, but am still debating how best to use Twitter for a history Web site.
FF: How many contributers do you have for the site?
CA: Just one.
FF: How long have you lived in Fayetteville?
CA: My family moved here in 1965, just as I was entering second grade. Somehow, I’ve stayed.
FF: Where do you find all the info for the site, in particular, where do you get those old pictures?
CA: Information and pictures come from all sorts of sources. I find information in old newspapers, history books about Fayetteville and the state, manuscript collections at Mullins Library, the Flashback quarterlies published by the Washington County Historical Society, and occasionally from that new-fangled thing called the Internet. Photos and art are harder to come by. Most in my collection have been acquired through purchase at antique shops, yard sales and eBay. I haven’t yet asked Special Collections at Mullins or the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History whether I can use art from their collections, but I very likely will in the future. The use of some of their material is somewhat limited, occasionally by donor request and also by the minor expense of creating scans or copies. But both of those collections are so rich in historical information about Fayetteville and the region that everyone should visit them often and send them lots of money to support their programs.
FF: What’s your motivation for keeping the site going? Ever considered taking the info from the site and creating a book?
CA: Motivation ebbs and flows but has been particularly strong since the Facebook page was created. The main Web site does get a lot of reading but there’s not much interaction. The Facebook page, on the other hand, gets lots of response from fans, especially comments on notes from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The people who are fans of Fayetteville History have more connection to that period and deeper memories of the places and people, the sights and sounds and smells of the city. A recent historical note about Shipley Baking Co. elicited lots of comments about the wonderful smell of bread baking and brewer’s yeast in the air; another note about the hottest day in Fayetteville brought out memories of the places that had air-conditioning first, like Collier’s Drugstore and the Ozark Theater.
Seeing those reactions and conversations about Fayetteville history is a really good motivation. A Facebook page, however, is not the best way to present historical research of any depth.
So I have thought about putting together some history books about Fayetteville, but those are in the back of my head right now, stewing. In the meantime, I’m glad to support the work that Tony Wappel and Ethel Simpson have done to document Fayetteville history. They put together the “Once Upon Dickson” book, and Tony is working on a new pictorial book about old Highway 71 from Drake Field to Lake Fayetteville, and he’s looking for photographs of the highway along College Avenue, South School and Archibald Yell Boulevard.
I talked with John Lewis not long before his death about a narrative history of Fayetteville. (Although there are several good pictorial histories, there isn’t a really good narrative history.) John had a great love for Fayetteville’s history and encouraged lots of people, including me, in pursuing research about the city, so I’ll probably pursue something along those lines, certainly by the city’s bicentennnial in 2028 if not sooner. Only 19 years away. Got to start planning!
FF: What are some of your favorite things about Fayetteville today?
CA: I love the Farmers’ Market, the Walton Arts Center, the University of Arkansas, Scull Creek Trail, the backside of Mount Sequoyah, the little buildings that house shops like Flora and the Trailside Cafe, the dozens of hidden historical markers, the stained-glass windows of First Christian Church, Derek’s special at Hugo’s, the turkey special at ROTC, the Fine Arts Center Gallery, Evergreen Cemetery and the many faces of Dickson Street. I’m not even scratching the surface of all my favorites.
FF: Fayetteville has changed a lot, particularly over the last 20 years or so. Why is it important to chronicle / remember where we’ve come from?
CA: There are community values that we have shared from nearly the founding of Fayetteville — a belief that education is a paramount source of community growth, that the arts and humanities are integrally linked to economic development, that the many voices of Fayetteville provide a clear guide for the future, that we stand most resilient amid the roil of disaster when we help one other — and those values are still shared by an overwhelming number of people who live in Fayetteville. I also like that we seem to have an egalitarian acceptance of one other. We don’t use the words “eccentric” or “funky” in a pejorative way. They are terms of affection in Fayetteville.
We’re also not some Utopian idyll, and history is good for reminding us of that too. We thrive in the hurly-burly exchange of ideas and notions and dreams and ideals, but we make plenty of mistakes. The architect Buckminster Fuller once spoke in Fayetteville and said he made as many mistakes as he could because he always learned from his mistakes. Of course, he also said that political parties would fade away by 2000. The point, though, is that we of Fayetteville usually learn from our mistakes too.
Those are important things to know, not only for recognizing who we are and where we’ve been, but for understanding the ways that we move forward as a community.