BINGEN, MY HOME TOWN
By Reuben L. Leslie
You may not know where Bingen is, but most likely you know some people who came from Bingen. Bingen is located in north Hempstead County, about 27 miles north of the county seat at Hope. It is on the North Branch of Ozan Creek with the greater community lying among other confluents of Ozan Creek: the Pump Springs Branch and the Holt Branch. It lies about 5 miles (as the crow flies) east of Nashville, skirted on the South by Hwy 24 and on the north by Hwy 27. Bingen school once served Pump Springs, Tokio, Doyle, Zion, Eggshell, and other communities.
Where did the name "Bingen" come from? The community was once called Ozan, a name a local cemetery still bears. The mail continually got mixed with the other Ozan's a few miles south. The postmaster, Dr. J. R. Wolff, changed the name to Bingen to solve the problem. I remember hearing as a child that Dr. Wolff had roots in Germany and so it was that he gave the name for Bing-en on the Rhine.
An article in the Arkansas Gazette, Dec. 22, 1888, "Description of Bingen”, gives this information: "The settlers, old ind new, are in the main from the northwestern counties of South Carolina, with say, a proportion of one-fourth to one-third from Tennessee. The general origin of the settlers - (the people of Northwestern South Carolina being noted for character as sturdy as their mountains) - comes forth attractively in this instance; and while a nucleus about which the best class of immigrants collect, is no doubt to forge rapidly to the front in character, prosperity and intelligence.
"While the trade, school, church and postal center of the region described Bingen is a village site controlled and covered exclusively by the interests of Dr. J.R. Wolff, who has by his energy brought it forth from obscurity to be one of the most pleasant and prosperous communities in Southwest Arkansas. He is esteemed as a man of rare business sagacity and enterprise, and in turn is credited with having contributed most unsparingly toward the excellent showing made in his region of the country. What is meant is that he conducts three stores - one general merchandice, one furniture, one grocery - a public gin and mill, one carding mill, one news paper (the Bingen Social Visitor), and a farm of 600 acres extent in the midst of which Bingen is situated. His merchandise sales aggregate $40,000 to $50,000 per annum; bales of cotton handled, 600; total volume of his business per annum, $75,000.
“The Bingen Social Visitor, as its name implies, is strictly a family paper, politics being wholly excluded. It is very popular, the circulation without effort on the part of its editor and proprietor, Dr. Wolff, having reached 1,200, which is the largest in the county.
"The Doctor is from Laurens County, South Carolina, but since 1859 has been located in his present vicinity. His medical education was completed at the Charleston Medical College, classes of 1856 and 1857.
"The following is an additional directory of the village: Physician, B.F. Hancock, M.D.; dentist, J.H. Steward; blacksmith, Thomas Mullins; Wheelwright, L.N. Westerman; Photographer, J.H. Stewart; Postmaster, J.R. Wolff.”
The Arkansas Gazette Correspendence under "Bingen", dated July 2, 1986, had this news: “Dr. J.R. Wolff's new printing office is nearly completed, which will be the handsomest country printing office in the state. We fear his 'devil' will paint things red when he gets into it.”
Wolff's General Store continued in business for over a century. Ownership arid management passed down from Dr. J.R. Wolff to his son George and to George's son Rufus. The store opened in 1871. Over time, the accumulation o ffixtures and unsold merchandice made it more museum than general store.
An article in the Sunday Texarkana Gazette dated Dec. 18, 1977 puts it like this, “Old posters for Prep Girl stockings ‘first in the class’, Coca Cola, Atlas Jars (for canning), Dr. Pepper, Arm and Hammer baking soda, and a 1920 Warner corset calendar hang from high position on the walls of the store.
“They’ve been here a good many years,’ the 74-year-old store keeper (Rufus Wolff) remarked, ‘Look at that Coca Cola sign,’ pointing to a poster of two girls in what was once stylish bathing suits.”
“Many of the items in the store aren’t for sale…”
I remember that in the 1930’s, if our school at Bingen had a program which featured colonial days, some of the costumes could be found in the Wolff Store. Shoes with long, sharp, upturn toes were in stock, as well as long dresses with hooped skirts, boots, men’s and women’s hats.
Linda Franklin, writing for the Gazette-News (the copier cut off the name and date line, so I do not know if it was Texarkana or Arkansas, but the date was about 1980.) reports “The Store is filled with relics – like a buggy whip that was a common item a half-century ago, an old rub-board Wolff wouldn’t think of selling, an old gum machine that had a mechanical man inside, and an old English saddle once used by his aunt.”
The Bingen Post Office was located in one corner of the store, and the framework remains there. Old circulars never picked up by the patrons are still cramed into the P.O. boxes even though the government discontinued the office in July, 1965, according to Linda Franklin. She wrote that , “a brown crumbling sign advertizing 10 three-cent envelopes for 35 cents is slipping from yellowing tape above the P.O. window.
“Above the slot where letters were once deposited, the history of the Post Office is hand written on a July 1965 calendar page…The black numeral “16” is circled in black, with four black arrows pointing to the date a part of Bingen died. Red lettered arrows point to a line saying the P.O. was closed by the government July 16, 1965.”
I do not know the date when Dr. J.R. Wolff died, nor when the management of the store was passed down to his son, George. I do know that Dr. Wolff was going strong in 1914 when he donated land for Grace Baptist Church where I attended from infnacy. George Wolff’s son Rufus ran the store after his father died in 1953 until it closed sometime near 1980.
The early settlers of Bingen, who bought timberland for $5 per acre or less (cleared land sold for $15 per acre) farmed their own land, but their interests included much more than business. Bingen schools were some of the best in their day. The community also supported four churches whose buildings were situated on a narrow strip of land lying between the Bingen Rd. and Ozan Creek. The church buildings were about ¼ mi. apart. Being located so near the creek was especially handy for the Baptists, and, once in a while, the Methodist also baptized in the creek.
Ozan Baptist (later called First Baptist of Bingen) was organized in the fall of 1847. Rev. Isaac C. Pirkens was the first pastor. The church built a large wood building, so wide that two rows of posts or columns supported the ceiling. That building was torn down about a century later, and a smaller building replaced it. The support posts were used to mark off the section for slaves to sit. The Blacks continued as members of the church after the Civil War. The last black to be received as a member joined in 1870. The church at about that time helped the Blacks to start their own church, giving finance and other assistance.
The Bingen Methodist Church was a strong congregation, and must have been established at about the same time as the Ozan Baptist Church. I do not know the exact date. Paul Haynes, in a speech to teachers entitled “Bingen School” stated that the Methodist organized a school district about 1878. Their original church house is still in use and is in good repair. It must be close to 150 years old. The Methodist Church is the only Bingen church with a parsonage, and it is still occupied.
The Presbyterian Church of Bingen was another old church whose building is now converted into a dwelling. The membership of the Presbyterian Church never came close to equaling that o fht eother three churches.
In 1913-1914 a pastor of Ozan Baptist Church led the church to become affilliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Previously the church had affilliated with a group of churches that are now called BMA Baptist (like First Baptist in Magnolia). For about two years the church sent offerings to both the Convention and to Missionary Baptist, but the result was an ever widening division in the church.
In 1914 the Ozan Baptist Church came together for consideration of the problem causing the division. Finally a resolution was adopted that provided for a vote to be taken, and the majority would grant letters of dismission to the minority so they could organize a new church. (Eudora and I have a copy of the resolution and the minutes of the organization of the new church, Grace Baptist Church.) My father was one of five men ordained as deacons the night following the morning organization of Grace Church. The new church flourished for many years, but disbanded in the early 1990’s after a few years of decline. The building was sold and converted into a dwelling. In 1995 the church was re-organizaed, bought the same old building, and is growing.
A year or so after Grace Church disbanded, the Ozan (or First) Baptist Church of Bingen disbanded, and their relatively new building burned a few months later.
Even in the early years settlers at Bingen worked and sacrificed to provide the best schools possible. The Biographical and Historical Memoires of Sothern Arkansas gives an acount of Bingen Academy founded in 1871 by Dr. J.R. Wolff.
The Methodist Church of Bingen organized a school about 1878. Paul C. Haynes statets that classes were held in a log building which was also used by the church. The schoold room was heated by a large fireplace and stove. Benches were used for seats. In about three years the school went back as a public school. About 1881 a new two story building was erected. The one room on the ground floor was used for the school, while the uppoer room was used as a lodge hall.
“Friction arose between the Methodist and Baptist. One unhappy incident added to the disagreement. A dog was shut up in one of the rooms of First Baptist Church. He tore up some books and a window blind.” The case was carried to court, and when the verdict was given, the people were ashamed.
The Baptists built a school on their property, then there were two schools: a Methodist and a Baptist. Both schools had boarding pupils. Some came from Prescott, Hope, and all communities for some distance away. The boarding house was across the creek from the schools.
According to C.C. Bryant’s “Early Day Remembrances” the Methodist school house burned during the 1886-87 term. Both the school room and the lodge hall were completely destroyed. No one was injured, but all equipment and most of the students’ books and wraps were burned. The school term was finished in the church building.
Immediately after the fire the citizens, Baptists, Methodists, and other denomination, got together and decided to have only one school. The people of the community worked together and build a rather large building on several acres of land (probably donated by Dr. J.R. Wolff). The schoool was named Bingen Union Academy.
The Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas gives the following account: “The Bingen Union academy, J.H. Slidd, principal: The school year of 1880-81 opened Sept. 8, 1880. The second term begins Jan. 31, 1881. The four years (High School) academic course is desinged to fit all who complete it either for business or for speedy graduation in some college or university. The school is strictly non-sectarian. The teachers are members of different religious organizations, and the pupil is at liberty to make a choice for himself. No influence will be used to persuade them (the pupils) to join any organization.”
“To the commodious academy building was added during the sumer a 60’ wing, and the latest style and most comfortable furniture had been secured. Ample accommodations were made for 200 pupils.”
The school came to be called the “Bingen Schooo” At times, as many as 300 pupils were enrolled. Some walked four or five miles to attend, coming from Pump Springs, Highland, Doyle and other communities. Idus Whitefield (James’ father) rode a bicycle four miles from Zion community, and later taught in the school.
In 1927 the old building was torn down and a new building was erected.
In 1930 the Bingen School consoolidated with the Nashville schools. The high school pupils were bused to Nashville, and the grammar school became a wing of the Nashville system.
As a child, I heard talk that Bingen had been considered as a possible site for the A&M college, but enough good land at the right location was not available. Magnolia provided the location. I cannot verify that rumor. Another unconfirmed rumor is that Bingen was considered as a sight for a rail terminal, but it went to another town.
I took a memory drive through Bingen a few weeks ago. On the hill side below Ozan Cemetary, I looked for the old exit off 27 Hwy and remains of the one lane steel bridge across Ozan Creek. Even the site was hard to locate.
We went on to the rock Station, but it was gone. A newer store and station remains nearby, and my map calls the place North Bingen. There I turned south on the Bingen road, and drove by the Wolff home, buildt by Dr. J.R. Wolff. It is still a beautiful home with porches. It is occupied by a third or fourth generation of the Wolff family. I remember Mr. George Wolff as he daily walked to and from the store, about 1.5 miles south of the home.
Across the road was where Mr. Billy Harris lived and operated a shingle mill, but the site is now grown up in bushes.
Down the road about ¼ mile I saw the site of the Ozan Baptist church and school. Less than another ¼ mile is the Presbyterian Church and the Bingen School. The school building was burned purposely for fear that children might play in it and be injured. I remember many happy days there. The Presbyterian church building is occupied as a family dwelling.
At the school site we turned east toward the Holt Branch of Ozan Creek to see the place where my Grandmother Craddick had lived. Only two old pear trees were left to makr the place. I saw where several houses once stood, and some ready to fall in.
We proceeded down the bingen road and noted the site of the cotton gin and L&A Railroad depot. Nothing remained but the railroad dump. Crossing that dump, I noted the ruins fo the long, high trestle where I once had lots of fun walking across Ozan Creek.
To my left, very near the railroad dump was the home of solomon Cox, the blacksmith. On cold rainy days I often would stay there at night rather than walk the two miles to my home in the bad weather. My brothers would tell my parents where I was. Mr. Cox treated me like I was a grown man. We talked about politics, world affairs, religion, etc. You can imagine how great that made a boy of 6-10 years old feel. I helped them with the chores. It was a thrill to look out a window as the “try weekly” train went by. (The train went one way and TRIED to get back the next week.) Mr. Cox and his son, Abb, ran a grits mill in their shop. I shelled corn in an old-timey sheller, and carried the corn to them to grind into meal. The Cox home is occupied and is in good repair.
Just ahead on the right was Dr. Gosnell’s office. The building is now a dwelling and is in good repair.
Next were four large commercial buildings that once housed Dr. Wolff’s businesses. The buildings were deserted and in bad condition. Here a road exits west by the vacant site of the blacksmith shop and across another one lane steel bridge. Across the creek is where I helped Burley, Joe’s Dad and my oldest brother, plant corn. He opened a furrow with one mule and a georgia stock, and I followed with the other mule and the planter. The rows were ½ mile long, the longest I had ever seen. Things went well most of the time, but I remember trying to get that mule around a stump and back into the furrow. That crazy mule led me and the planter around and around that stump. When I finally got that mule going right and looked up ahead,thereBurleywas stopped and laughing. He had watched the whole show. What an experience that was for a six year old boy!
As we went south from the Wolff store, we passed Dr. Gosnell’s home, the Methodist Church and parsonage, and the Bingen Cemetary. I had memories of candidate speakings held behind the parsonage each election year. Sometimes a candidate would buy a coca cola for a child if a parent and potential voter was nearby. Candidate speakings were great social events.
Beyond the Bingen Cemetary, the creek curved in close to the road and almost cut the road in two. That is where my borther Clide and Wilburn Cooley had a big fight as they were going home from school. Had a wire fence not remained stretched across the cave-in, they both would have falledn the 10’ or 12’ into the creek. It was a great attraction when the county put tractors to work at diging a new channel for the creek.
A little way down the road is Grace Baptist Church. I was baptized in the creek behind the church building. A third Sunday afternoon singing was a tradition there. Papa, W.S. Leslie, usually acted as master of ceremony. The church had dinner “on the grounds” after Sunday School and preaching. Benches were carried out of the church house and turned facing each other to form a table, and all enjoyed a great feast. By 1:30 p.m. singers would gather from communities all around and the singing would begin. Usually the house would be filled with singers and listeners.
Across the road from the church lived the Earl Martindale family. They allowed the church people to get drinking water from their well that was located on their screened in back porch.
A little farther down the road from Grace Church was the Nelson Corner, where a side road that goes by the Nelson home and on across the Holt Branch at a steel one lane bridge. The road forks at that bridge with one road leading to Egg Shell and the other to Doyle.
The next exit from the Bingen Road is at the Sanford Corner, named so because the Sanford family lived in the first house on that side road. On that road is another one lane steel bridge across Ozan Creek.
As we drove on down the Bingen Road we came to the Willard Bridge. I have many memories of swimming under the bridge, and walking the high banisters (10’ or 12’ high) and diving off or through the banisters into about 4.5’of water.
All three o fthe north branches of Ozan Creek provided swimming holes. The Pump Springs branch flows into the North Branch less than ¼ mile upstream from the Willard Bridge. The Pump Springs branch has a deep spring fed “Ice Hole” near my old home. Down stream from the Willard Bridge is the Thompson hole, a very popular place. Men and boys from as far away as Nashville, Ark., frequented that hole. As a general rule no girls were allowed, because the men and boys “skinny dipped” as we would say now.
The Leslie farm cornered near the confluence of the branches of the Ozan Creek. We thought we were going to get rich from an oil well in that corner. A wooden derick was built, a pit was dug, and a big stack of cord wood was hauled in, but that was all there was to the oil well.
Leaving the Willard Bridge, we drove up to my old home place. I remembered my best Christmas. During the depression of the 30’s my parents had no money for Christmas presents. Papa took his four youngest boys to the creek bottom near where the “oil well” was later, and we cut a big black gum tree. We cut wheels about 3’ wide off the log, and Papa helped us build a wooden wagon. For years we played with that wagon, improving it until finally it grew to be a useful hauling wagon. The wood axles became buggy axles. The wood wheels were replaced by stalk cutter wheels. We wrapped the wheels with old auto tires to make them easier to roll in the sand. We made shafts for one horse and a tongue for a team. We made a bed to rest on bolsters over the axles. Much of the time we had the bed, shafts, and tongue off, and planks laying across the bolsters, and ropes tied to the front axle for steering. Then we push the thing up a high hill, pile on it and ride down. There was never a dull time with that wagon, a big swing, swimming holes, and all sorts of home made toys.
About ½ mil. From our home the Bingen road crosses 24 Hwy where a little store and station still stands. I remember when 24 Hwy was being built. Horse drawn slips or fresnos were used to build it. It took a very long time to build up the road bed across Ozan Creek bottom. 24 Hwy was called the longest straightest stretch of road in the state.
What happened to that prosperous little town? I asked.
1. There was a population explosion. Large families with from four to eleven children outnumbered couples with 0-3 children. The W.S. Leslies had 8. The Burley Leslies had 5. The Claud Willards had 5. The L.M. Byers had 9. The Elmer Byers had 6. Irvins about 9, Hipps – 9, Martins - 8, Nelsons – 6, Bradfords – 9. I could go on! The explosion was not limited to numbers, but when the children grew up, they scatered everywhere like a physical explosion.
2. No state or national highway goes through Bingen business area. (Nashville has three intersecting highways, Magnolia has three national and one state highways.)
3. Early Bingen missed out on attracting varied business and educational institutions that would have kept the young people by providing jobs. Some came to Magnolia: Rev. Bat Luck – long time pastor of Central Baptist church (21 yrs), Rev. Paul Byers, C.D. Hipp, Rev. Clint Martin, Joe and John Leslie, Mary Leslie now of Stamps, Billy Moses now in Waldo, the Late Idus Whitefield – James’ Dad. James Haynes who is a leader in the SAU Alumni Association is from Bingen.
I am proud to call Bingen “My Home Town!”