|City/Town: • Petit Jean Mt. • Morrilton|
|Location Class: • Government|
|Year Built: • 1948|
|Year Abandoned: • 1977|
|Status: • Abandoned • Endangered|
|Photojournalist: • Michael Schwarz|
Beginning of a State Park System:
The idea and plan for a recreation area on Petit Jean Mountain had its inception in 1907. In April, a party of officers and stockholders of the Fort Smith Lumber Company came to Fowler Mill to spend a few days inspecting the mill and timber areas. What was intended solely as a business mission became a weeklong holiday filled with riding horseback and log trains through the valleys and over the mountain.
A day was given to exploring the Seven Hollows region, all of which was owned by the company. At one point, the difficulties of logging the region were discussed. The consensus of the group was that it could only be done at a loss, and that the trees might as well be left to live out their life span as unmolested by axe or saw. One of the parties suggested that the area be offered to the government as a national park.
In 1921, the Fort Smith Lumber Company was ready to make a deed to the area whenever the government would accept it. Dr. T.W. Hardison (for whom the park’s Hardison Hall was named), the company physician and a naturalist in his own right, headed the campaign. He persuaded our representative in Congress to give it his enthusiastic approval, who introduced a bill in the House of Representatives providing for the acceptance of the area as Petit Jean National Park. The bill was then referred to the Committee on Public Lands.
Dr. Hardison arranged a meeting with Stephen Mather (for whom Mather Lodge was named), director of the National Park Service. In a two-hour conference, Dr. Hardison described the area, showed photographs and answered questions. Mather explained to Dr. Hardison he could not recommend the area be accepted by Congress as a National Park because it was too small to justify the cost of development and administration and, as beautiful as it was, it was probably not unique in the nation. He suggested, however, that Dr. Hardison undertake to bring about its acceptance by the Arkansas Legislature as a state park.
When the Arkansas Legislature of 1923 was in session, Dr. Hardison asked the Road Improvement District attorney to write a bill for introduction in the legislature providing for the acceptance of Petit Jean State Park. When the secretary of the Fort Smith Lumber Company was told of the developments, he explained that the board of directors had voted to give the Seven Hollows region to the government as a national park; thus, he had no authority to offer it to the legislature as a state park. That action would have to wait for the next board meeting.
In the meantime, six men in Morrilton and two from Pine Bluff offered to donate 80 acres of land to be included in the state park. A bill, in 1923, was written to set up only this 80-acre tract as a park, acreage which included the land surrounding and a portion of Cedar Creek Canyon.
Dr. Hardison finally met with the governor and explained what he was trying to do. Three weeks later the governor signed the bill after it had passed both houses of the legislature without a single dissenting vote. Therefore, the area around Cedar Falls was the first land acquired by the State of Arkansas for state park purposes.
Read More: History of Petit Jean Mountain
by Linda Hicks
The renovation of the facility, Don Higgins said, has been considered periodically since the closure. In the early years, according to a state parks feasibility study published in December 2011, $134,000 was appropriated for repairs. After the bid process was complete, the plans were abandoned due to the cost. In 1977, it was determined a complete renovation would cost $550,000. Three years later costs were calculated again and ranged from $662,000 for an in-house work force to $1.75 million for contracted services. Adjusted for inflation, the 1980 renovation cost estimate exceeded $4.5 million. In November 1996, voters passed a conservation sales tax which went into effect July 1997 with money to be distributed among all Arkansas State Parks with the renovation of Hardison Hall, for use as a group dormitory and conference center, included as a part of the projected 10-year Legacy Spending Plan for Petit Jean State Park. The renovation was to be done in fiscal years 2001-2003. In 1998, a feasibility study was commissioned again to explore options with the structure. The result of the study, the report said, concluded that it would “be difficult, if not impossible, to meet modern building codes. The building no longer complied with a long list of codes including fire safety requirements.”
In the early 2000s, the cost to implement the 10-year spending plan would exceed generated revenues, according to the study. An engineering firm, Carter and Burgess Inc., was asked to prepare a Long Range Development Plan, approved by the Park Commission in February 2003, which proposed that both Hardison Hall and the adjacent Recreation Hall be replaced with a new, much smaller group multiuse facility to be built in a rustic architectural style. Another factor in the final decision to tear down Hardison Hall, Davies said, was the establishment of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean, which also negated much of the need for a group facility.
Inside and Historic photos donated by Eddie Dixon
To learn more about what’s going on with Hardison, please visit their Facebook Group.