A visit to Gurdon

Zoie Clift
 

Located about 85 miles
south of Little Rock, Gurdon was founded in the late nineteenth
century, one of many timber towns located along a railway.

The town is probably best
known as being the founding place of the



International
Concatenated Order of the Hoo Hoo



.   I know I know. I did a
double take the first time I heard this too. Hoo Huh? As it turns out, they are
the oldest industrial fraternal organization in the nation.  This lumbermen’s fraternity was founded
in 1892 by a set of lumber industry 

workers stranded in town by rainstorms. And they
sound like a lot of fun. They devised the social organization as a joke, and
created colorful officer designations such as the “Grand Snark of the Universe”.
The joke took hold as a social organization, with branches worldwide.

The name Hoo Hoo refers to
a tuft of hair on the bald head of the first president, Charles McCarer.
The number nine is important and the unconventional organization also
incorporates many symbols from ancient Egypt. The Black Cat is the mascot of
the order and in honor of the cat’s nine lives there are nine members of the
board, annual meetings begin at the ninth hour on the ninth day of the ninth
month, the original dues were 99 cents, the initiation fee was $9.99, and
the membership was restricted to 9,999. 

Elizabeth Taylor accepted
the title of Miss Hoo Hoo in 1948.  Two U.S. presidents have had
membership in Hoo-Hoo. Theodore Roosevelt was given the prestigious membership
number 999 for his work promoting the importance of forests. Warren G. Harding
was inducted in 1905.

After its beginnings in
town, the organization grew tremendously. The first club established outside
the U.S. was founded in Canada in 1924, and other groups started forming around
the world. In 1981, the organization moved its international headquarters from
Boston (where it had been since 1970) to Gurdon and dedicated the museum that
same year. The Museum and International Headquarters are located in a restored
log house on Main Street.




A



monument


commemorating the Hoo-Hoo’s is located on North First
Street. The monument features small statues of two black cats with their tails
curled upward in the shape of the number 9. The monument, which was added to
the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, gives visitors a brief
history of the organization and those who have served in it.  A bronze
plaque, sculpted with Egyptian Revival engravings, was sculpted by noted artist
George J. Zolnay, was completed in 1909. At that time it was affixed to a
building, then occupying the site of the Hotel Hall. When the building was
demolished in 1927, the plaque was moved to its present location and
rededicated.

As to the town itself, in
1880 the town was incorporated. Located on US 67, the town grew up around the
railroad lines and timber industry, which continues to play an important role
in the area’s economy. Early development of the town was tied to the arrival of
the railroad to Clark County. Gurdon came to be because of its location at the
intersection of several important lumbering railroads and it’s location near
stands of timber.


Construction of railroads
played a crucial role in the growth of the lumber industry. The town started as
a construction camp on the Iron Mountain Railway, which was completed in 1873.
Soon the railway constructed a branch to



Camden


leaving a main line from Gurdon which increased the
regional centrality of town. The town was attractive as a mill site, allowing
the town to participate in the rapid expansion of the lumber industry in the
South. The small settlement was a junction for railway to
Womble-Amity-Mt.Ida-Glenwood, and another to Camden-El Dorado-Northern
Louisiana. 1968 marked final passenger service to the city.

The St. Louis Mill and Wood
Cutter Co was one of the first businesses in the city and was the parent
company of the Gurdon Lumber Co. Today, the city’s economy is based primarily
on the timber industry.

Of historical significance
is the Gurdon Jail, because of its association with early social development of
the city. In 1888 mills in Gurdon, especially the Gurdon Lumber Co, exceeded
the number of shipments of cut lumber of all other milling towns in Clark Co.
combined. By this time, the population had approached about 1,000, mostly of
those working at the mills. The growth of the town led to need for a jail.



Arkadelphia


, 17 miles away, had a large jail and major offenders
were sent there. Typically only local offenders were sent to Gurdon.
Constructed in 1907, it is one of the few intact surviving structures from this
‘boom’ era in the city’s history. It was added to the National Register of
Historic Places in 1989.

Aside from the Hoo Hoo’s,
the city is also well known as being home to



‘The Gurdon Light’


an unexplained supernatural light based on local
folklore. The light has been featured on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries. As
lore goes, the light occurs in a wooded area by railroad tracks, and appears to
observers as a light or lights hovering in the air. It has been described as
being blue, green, white or orange and seems to be bobbing around as if on a
cord. Its location varies within a select geographic area and witnesses have
described it appearing at various times of the day or night. According to
legend, the light originates from a lantern of a railroad worker who was killed
when he fell into the path of a train. The man’s head was separated from his
body and never found. The light people see comes from his lantern as he
searches for his head.

Posted in Travel Arkansas

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