Life-long Elk Ranch resident makes plea to save historic structure from destruction
ELK RANCH -- "My interest in the little community is to try and save as much of it as possible because I've lived here all my life," says 66-year-old Norman "Bert" Camp.
"Here" is the community of Elk Ranch, on Ark. Hwy. 187, across the Table Rock Reservoir from the town of Beaver.
But if the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) goes through with its current plan to replace the one-lane Leatherwood Creek bridge, Camp says much of the town will be destroyed -- including a more than 100-year-old cabin built by his ancestors, the Skelton family.
The AHTD project is one of three bridge replacements scheduled to begin anytime. The most controversial has been the one lane suspension Beaver Bridge, crossing Table Rock Reservoir. The Butler Creek bridge at Butler Hollow, already a two-lane bridge, is also scheduled to be replaced.
Camp has written a letter and sent photos of the cabin to Sen. Blanche Lincoln, along with a petition of more than 700 signatures to try and stop all three projects, which he says will cause a loss of historical assets that "will be a heartbreaking loss for our community."
All three of Camp's daughters, Karen, Debra and Susan, will be directly affected by the Elk Ranch bridge project. The new bridge and its approaches cuts through the middle of Karen's hayfield and passes directly behind Susan's home, possibly taking out part of her barn.
The east approach will also take out the old cabin on Debra's land. She said AHTD has attempted to devalue the cabin and the price of her acreage to half of what she paid for it, and she contends it is worth more now than what she paid.
Camp has been in a struggle with AHTD to have the cabin -- and currently unmarked gravesites of his ancestors -- preserved.
He's not sure when the cabin was built, but knows it is at least 100 years old. The logs are hand-hewn and chinked.
"The house has been redone many times," he said. Its latest reconstruction was begun in the early 1980s when Mark and Beth Brewer owned it. But they did not complete the job, and Debra bought the cabin from them.
It is possible, although not provable, that the cabin was part of the 700-acre Skelton farm in that area in the early 1820s, one of two farmhouses.
Camp has a book published in 1889 called "The Goodspeed History of Northwest Arkansas" that recounts a Civil War skirmish between Union and Confederate forces in the area in 1864.
"Bushwackers" were robbing and terrorizing Union families in parts of Stone County. A Capt. Railey and his band of 35 crossed the White River at Beaver with their plunder and moved up Leatherwood Creek.
The report says they stopped at the Skelton farm and occupied two farmhouses. Local Carroll County members of the First Regiment of Arkansas Cavalry, First Lieutenant John Williams and Privates Samuel Gaskins and James Hobbs crossed the river with their horses, tracked the outlaws, and staged an attack.
The report continued: "With a revolver in each hand, firing as they came, they completely surprised Railey and his men, who jumped out of the windows and took to the brush, bare-headed and unarmed. Railey and four of his men were wounded and one killed. This is was doubtless one of the boldest and most successful charges against the greatest odds during the war."
Camp says some of his ancestors are buried near the cabin, but one its subsequent owners moved the headstones, and no one knows where the graves are. A small headstone with the initials of a child leans up against a tree.
This has posed a problem for the highway department proceeding with razing the cabin.
In response to Camp's letter to Sen. Lincoln, AHTD Director of Highways and Transportation Dan Flowers wrote, "If graves are found, avoidance will be the first option considered. If avoidance is not feasible, the graves will be removed in accordance with all state and federal laws and regulations regarding the treatment of human remains."
But it is not only the graves or the cabin that will be affected, Camp maintains. The entire former town will be affected, as every building in it is around 100 years old, and the town is rich with the history of the limestone quarry, the railroad and other activities there and in Beaver.
The limestone was cut and shipped all over the United States. Many of the historic buildings in Eureka Springs were made out of it. The quarry is still used today.
"Another community sprung up, called 'Brooklyn,'" Camp wrote. "Elk Ranch had a large distillery, several mills, two hotels, two stores, post office, eating establishment, and its own railroad depot, and its own railroad siding, called the Skelton Siding, plus elk as livestock."
Camp said he has done metal detecting and found old coins and tokens from the hotel era.
Camp is convinced AHTD wants to make Hwy. 187 a major truck route. He points to Flowers' comments about the new bridge designs in his letter.
"These design standards will improve the ability of larger vehicles such as trucks, trailers and recreational vehicles to travel along Highway 187 and should improve safety for oncoming vehicles entering the sharp turns in the approach to these existing bridges."
Flowers asserts the changes will not result in "a substantial increase in overall speeds, but will ensure that today's investment will be compatible with any future improvements along Highway 187," which Camp reads as making 187 an 18-wheeler truck route.
Many opponents of a new Beaver Bridge have asked AHTD to look at a 2-mile bypass between Hwys. 62 and 23. Some have suggested a road on the west side of Lake Leatherwood Dam; others have suggested a road through Wolf Ranch.
Camp favors a Wolf Ranch approach and says that he is willing to give AHTD an easement to build a 1.5-mile route across a ridge where an old logging road already exists, between a land trust belonging to his children and property owned by the McClellands. His suggested route would not affect their house or land and would not take out anyone's house in Wolf Ranch.
No one can seem to agree on the best solution to the problem of new bridges at Elk Ranch, Butler Hollow and Beaver. From the AHTD's standpoint, in order to use federal funds, they have to straighten the approaches and use at least 500-foot turning radiuses on any curves. All of their alternatives would take out private homes and land.
From the standpoint of some in the area, a new bridge is needed to avoid possible fatalities should the old bridge collapse.
Others fear the possible loss of life from tractor-trailers using Hwy. 187 as a truck route.
No one wants to lose their house.
For now, the AHTD is behind schedule on its plans. But that won't last forever, and unless someone can come up with a solution everyone can live with, Camp's fear of losing his community and the history associated with it may come to pass.