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For a Change of Pace, Visit the Scott and Keo Area

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Waitress at Cotham's Mercantile
Waitress at Cotham's Mercantile
    Antiques galore at Lisa's Closet at Keo
Antiques galore at Lisa's Closet at Keo
The Scott Plantation Settlement
The Scott Plantation Settlement
    Cotham's signature hubcap burger
Cotham's signature hubcap burger
April 3, 2001

For a Change of Pace,
Visit the Scott and Keo Area

by Kerry Kraus, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Approximately 30 minutes southeast of the metropolitan Little Rock/North Little Rock hub visitors enter another time zone -- figuratively speaking.

A change in the terrain is immediately noticeable at the England exit off I-440 east and heading south on U.S. 165. It's flat -- very flat -- with the only noticeable uplifting being the earthen berms on the left. Behind the levees, it's also flat -- and very rich. The soil here is Mississippi delta land -- productive and fertile -- just right for farming. And farming is still what many people do in the area.

There are vast plots of former farm land being broken up and transformed into housing sub-divisions. But there remain large spreads of soybeans, cotton and wheat. It's pretty country which brings to mind a feeling of the Old South. Stands of old trees in the distance and a few old farmhouses and churches dot the landscape.

The first community along the route is Scott. Just before reaching the city limits, turn left onto Alexander Road this side of the new post office. A short distance and to the left of the juncture of Alexander and Walkers Corner Roads is the future site of the Scott Plantation Settlement. Although it's called the "future site," there are already 13 buildings in place. All have been moved from the surrounding area and are in various states of repair. Structures already present include a hand-hewn cypress corn crib, an 1840s log cabin, a wash house, several tenant houses, and a blacksmith shop. There's a Civil War Marker toward the front of the settlement, explaining the Battle of Ashley's Mills, part of the Little Rock campaign conducted by Union General Frederick Steele.

Turning right onto Walkers Corner Road and heading toward U.S. 165, the exquisite All Souls Church is on the right. A non-denominational house of worship, it brings a touch of Old England to the Arkansas countryside. At U.S. 165, huge aluminum buildings loom across the street -- aging gins where cotton was processed and stored. Crossing U.S. 165 diagonally and getting on Ark. 161, ahead is a restored building that used to be the old Steele-Dortch Store. Today in its new life it serves as the Plantation Agriculture Museum, a state-owned facility that details the role that cotton played in Arkansas's history and economy. The structure, built circa 1912, became state property in 1985 along with the surrounding grounds, a nearby warehouse, and a collection of vintage farm equipment.

Exhibits in the museum focus on the era when equipment was mule- and man-powered. They are designed to explain the entire process of growing cotton, from the preparation of the field to the final step at the gin. The stages interpreted through photos, implements and the written word include field preparation, planting, cultivation, harvesting and ginning.

Leaving the museum and heading south on Ark. 161 (referred to locally as The Old River Road) a "stone's throw" away is an Arkansas landmark -- Cotham's Mercantile, an old general store and now a restaurant. Having been around since 1917, it looks much the same as it always has. Its claim to fame is the food. "Where the Elite Meet to Eat" is the eatery's motto which is easily backed up by the photos adorning the wall. Nothing fancy here, just plain down-home cooking like fried catfish, hush puppies, pork chops, chicken and dumplings, daily plate lunch specials, and the signature dish: the "hubcap" hamburger, so named because of its size.

There are other notable sights in Scott. Not to be deterred by a dirt road, a visit to Marlsgate is worth the trek. It was the original old Dortch Plantation, built by a prominent farming family. Located on the shores of Bearskin Lake, the stately home is open only for group tours and special occasions such as weddings, receptions and luncheons. But it's worth a drive-by just to get a view what was once one of the major plantations in Arkansas. To get there, take a turn-off just north of Scott off Ark. 161 on Old Highway 30. (Come to a split in the road and veer to the left on Old Highway 30 instead of continuing on to Scott to the right.) Follow the narrow concrete lane through agricultural fields until coming to an intersection. At the intersection, continue as the road becomes gravel. Eventually Bearskin Lake appears on the left with Marlsgate on the right.

Going back the same route to Ark. 165 and Scott, continue south. On the right is an oddity for this region -- an uplifting in the otherwise flat terrain known as Toltec Mounds. The state park that incorporates these ancient mounds and the Plum Bayou culture that inhabited the sited from 650-1050 A.D. The park visitor center is jointly managed by the Arkansas State Parks system and the Arkansas Archeological Survey. In addition to the mounds and the visitor center, the park has an A/V theater and an archeological research laboratory. Tours are available along the park's .75-mile barrier-free trail and new 1.6-mile turf trail.

After leaving Toltec, continue on U.S. 165, highlighted by groves of pecan trees and huge antebellum-style homes. Past the intersection with Ark. 15, at the community's only traffic light, downtown Keo is on the right. Turning onto Ark. 232, Lisa's of Keo is on the left and Old Gin Antiques to the right. Lisa's is a unique home décor shop that carries many unusual and one-of-a-kind items. Jam-packed with objects such as designer lamps, art work, candles, oriental rugs and statuaries, visitors can spend some serious time here. The Old Gin is an antique shop located in an old cotton gin. There's also a good selection of concrete yard and garden ornaments on the lawn. Continuing west on Ark. 232 antique shoppers will come upon Morris Antiques, one of the largest dealers in the South. Eight giant buildings house over 60,000-square-feet of fine European and American furniture, objects d’ art, and light fixtures, dating between the 1750s and 1940s. Bedroom and dining room suites and wardrobes are in plentiful supply as well as some unique pieces, such as a horse-drawn hearse.

On Keo's Main Street is Charlotte's Eats and Sweets, located inside an old apothecary shop and offering great food and to-die-for homemade deserts such as Italian Cream Cake and Caramel Pie. The building was built in 1926 by the Cobb family, important plantation owners in the area. According to Charlotte Bowls, the current owner, it was in the late 20s or early 30s that the drug store was bought by pharmacist Bishop Leake who gave the store its first claim to fame. He was the creator of Leake's Liniment, a well-known medicine of the times. (Artifacts from the pharmacy's hey-day are on display in the hall between the two eating areas.) Leake passed away in the 1960s and the building was unoccupied until Charlotte's opened in 1993. "When we obtained the building, everything was still in place in the pharmacy, making it feel like Mr. Leake had just walked out a few minutes earlier." That old-fashioned feeling still lingers. Original mahogany apothecary cabinets and soda fountain are still in place. Cabinets display items for sale and the fountain still produces the confectioneries it's famous for.

Goodbar's Antique Lamp Shop features restored lighting fixtures, and those on the restoration waiting list are seen hanging from the ceiling. Lamp accessories are displayed in cabinets along with some small antiques.

Another historic building next to the lamp shop houses Lemon's Antique Mall at 350 South Main. It contains an eclectic array of all types of antiques.

This visit to the past has spawned a great deal of history -- from 600 A.D. to the present.


Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"

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