When we are young and beginning to become familiar with the world around us, I suppose it is natural to assume that what we are becoming accustomed to is the way it always has been, and how it will be in the times ahead of us. Then we begin to discover that things don't always stay the same.
We begin to observe things changing. We see old houses coming down and new ones going up, old oak-slab barns being replaced with pole barns and metal shop buildings, roads being paved, new school buildings being built, new church buildings going up in places we never thought about. Our world doesn't stay the same, even in the times when change doesn't happen quickly.
When one lives for 70 or 80 years, I suppose it is to be expected that we get to go places that we hadn't expected to be able to go, or see sights that we never anticipated seeing, or to do things we always supposed that only other people (not us) do. I have been privileged to visit the nations capitol in Washington, D.C., to tour the Holy Land and some nations around the Middle East, to go to big league baseball games in St. Louis, to visit the Smithsonian in New York, to climb up in the Statue of Liberty, to see the early primitive military submarine in Charleston, and other things I never imagined I could do when I was growing up.
But, just as amazing are some things that have taken place around home, in the community that I always regarded as my hometown.
First, it is an amazingly bigger place than we ever would have expected in the 1950s. In the 1950s, northwest Arkansas was still a place where young people commonly would grow up and leave for somewhere else as they struck out to make their fortune. So many of our schoolmates would head for California, or Wichita, Kan., or some other place where jobs and futures were available. Many Benton County communities, including our Pea Ridge area, had always been farming areas, and outside jobs were not many in those days. I remember when we thought it was a novel thing that one man would drive past our farm every day on his way to a "job." Other than that one man, all the people who lived on our road made their family living on the farm. Outside jobs were novel back then, only a very few people lived in the country and worked "in town."
But that began changing in the late 1950s. Industrial jobs were becoming available in Rogers and Bentonville and Springdale, and even in Lowell, which to us was a little wide spot in the road back then. Our schoolmates began moving back "home" and going to work for Daisy Air Rifles, or Wend-Sonis, or Munsingwear.
Some of those changes were monumental, changing the whole nature of life in northwest Arkansas. Probably the most monumental was the establishment of Wal-Mart, with its first store in Rogers, and soon to have stores all over the world.
Today, however, I am thinking about some more ordinary things that I never expected to see around home. Pea Ridge began to spread out over the nearby landscape. Of course, one could recount that the pea ridge was a notable area even before the town of Pea Ridge appeared in the 1800s. But, especially while I and my family were away in other parts of Arkansas, the town of Pea Ridge began to spread out.
In 1950, the road to Rogers was moved, forming the Arkansas Highway 94 route we use today, and it became a paved highway. That brought into existence the avenue we now call North and South Curtis Avenue. The new highway extended south from today's Patton Street, out to Easley Hill, across Sugar Creek, and on to intersect with the old highway at the bottom of the hill that leads up to Tuck's Chapel Road. With the new highway, Pea Ridge began to expand southward. Businesses opened up at the intersection of Ark. Hwy. 94 and Lee Town Road. Amazingly, to old-timers like me, that soon became the center of town, a place that we earlier had considered to be "way out of town." I would never have anticipated that change when I was younger.
While other major changes were taking place, farming itself was changing. I had started my life in the days of horse-powered agriculture, loading hay on wagons with a pitchfork in hand. We got our first tractor in 1948, but we still kept our work horses. Now we see tractors with shift-on-the-go transmissions, heated and air-conditioned cabs, radios and even computer controls. Putting up hay, which for us meant lots of hand labor, is now mainly a work-from-the-tractor-seat operation. I would never have anticipated seeing such a thing when we were in the 1960s.
Today, we see farm fields becoming housing sub-divisions, traffic becoming like traffic in Kansas City and other big cities, and hobby farms multiplying for families who want the country life even while their main income comes from the job "in town."
I never would have predicted such things when I was young.
Editor's note: This article was originally published June 4, 2008. Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and an award-winning columnist, is vice president of Pea Ridge Historical Society. Opinions expressed are those of the writer. He can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected], or call 621-1621.