Conway Wagon Yards: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

In the early days, most visitors to Conway arrived on horseback or atop a wagon or buggy. The numerous wagon yards of Conway not only provided a place to stow the horses, wagons and buggies but also provided lodging for the travelers who had to stay in town overnight.

One of the oldest wagon yards in Conway, Witt Wagon Yard, was located west of the railroad where Ye Olde Daisy Shoppe is today. The Dunaway Wagon Yard, which operated before 1910, was located on Front Street where the old Conway Theater was later built. The Hancock Wagon Yard, on the west side of north Front Street, operated in the 1910s.

The three large wagon yards that are most remembered were across the street from Hancock Wagon Yard. The Mabry and Brady Wagon Yard was built about 1924 and was the furthest north. It was still standing in the 1980s just north of Hammett Dry Cleaners. South of it was the Powers Wagon Yard and then the Moore Wagon Yard. The Moore yard touched Front, Spencer and Smith streets. Ed Moore ran the yard from 1914 until it collapsed under the heavy snow in 1921. There were other smaller yards located between Front and Markham as well.

Another cluster of wagon yards was located around East Oak Street. There were seven wagon yards operating within a block of the Oak and Court street intersection. The Holt, Collier, Kane and Cazort yards were all on the north side of Oak between Chestnut and Court streets. Other wagon yards operated along the area where Van Ronkle Street would be built.

Some readers may also remember a wagon yard at the northeast corner of Main and Chestnut streets. It was known as the Springer Yard and was still standing in the 1980s. The building was converted into an automobile repair shop, a furniture shop and a warehouse but a check cashing operation is located there today.

While the wagon yards were different in size, structure and arrangement, a typical wagon yard had a large barnlike building of wood and sheet metal. There were large doors to accommodate the wagons coming in from the streets. The main area was used to store wagons.

Wagons would be arranged by the expected time of the visitors’ return so there would not have to be much shuffling. By lining them up with the tongue of one wagon under the bed of the next wagon, they could accommodate as many wagons as possible. The Moore Wagon Yard, for example, could accommodate 125 wagons because it was one of the larger yards (100 ft. x 200 ft.)

There were usually separate bunk houses for men and women. The wooden bunks might be two or three stacks high. Visitors provided their own bedding but there was a stove for heat and cooking in each bunkhouse.

The usual rate for care of the animals and wagons and the use of the bunk house was 25 cents a night although the prices went up as time passed. That did not include the cost of the feed. Wagon and team owners who did not stay overnight were charged 10 cents a day while buggies and horse and rider had lower rates.

The months of August until March were the busiest months for the wagon yards. This was the time between the harvest of one crop and the planting of the next crop. On Fridays, farm family wagons would start coming into town about three in the afternoon and continue until about nine at night. Some would go to the movies at the Crystal while others visited, shared meals and maybe even played cards.

The next day, they did their shopping. The stores would then deliver the purchases to the wagons in the yard. By Saturday evening, the wagon yards were quiet again. Seldom did a farmer stay over because they had to get home for church on Sunday. On Sunday afternoons, the local boys had plenty of room to play in the large empty wagon yards.

The arrival of the automobile marked the beginning of the end for the wagon yard. Visitors did not need to stay overnight because trips to town took only a few hours. Some wagon yards parked motor vehicles for a while and one became an automobile rental agency. Most of them were just torn down and replaced with other businesses. The end of the wagon yards would also change the complexion of downtown Conway as it moved into the modern age.

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