Taverns and Saloons: “Looking Back”

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

Very early Faulkner County travelers did not have much choice in overnight accommodations if they found themselves away from home. Various inns and taverns along the main roads provided rooms for these travelers. Taverns and saloons were typical establishments in most western towns and Conway was no exception.

One of the first places in Faulkner County to house travelers was the Cadron Blockhouse. Along with lodging, travelers could also find something to drink and a card game if so desired. The Blockhouse later served as a stage stop at Cadron on the stagecoach line that extended from Lewisburg in Conway County to Little Rock.

Sometime after 1868, Gay’s Tavern was established by Henry L. “Hawk” Gay. It was located due west of what is now Tyler Street near the Arkansas River west of Conway. This two-story log structure was another stage stop along the Old Military Road or the “Wire Road”.

The Hartje Tavern and Inn was built by Augustus Hartje about 1854. It was located southwest of Conway on Old Military Road. There is still a Hartje Cemetery in the area where this tavern and inn stood.

About a mile and a half south of Hartje Tavern on Old Military Road was Sevier’s Tavern. It was south of Round Mountain near the area that is called Rocky Gap. It was built in 1860 by Michael Robert Sevier. A post office was established there called Olivia, named after one of Sevier’s daughters. The stage from Little Rock came there on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while the Ft. Smith stage came on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

One story tells that when travelers stayed overnight, the females were confined to one side of the two-story dog-trot style log building while the male guests were lodged on the other side. The tavern was torn down in 1943 but a monument was erected at the site to remind passersby of this significant part of Faulkner County’s past.

When I was growing up, the neighborhood families would often gather for a hayride in the fall. We would ride from Nutter’s Chapel to Rocky Gap and then turn around. This is where I always jumped off to go see that monument. Unfortunately, today it is gone just as many other Faulkner County historical markers have been removed by vandals.

Another type of establishment that cropped up in early Faulkner County was saloons. One of the earliest was established at Cadron Gap in 1871 by James Harkrider. Cadron Gap is the area about where Highway 25 and Old Morrilton Highway intersect today.

One of the first saloons at Conway Station was established in 1876 as Dunlap’s Billiard Saloon, located on the southeast corner of Front and Oak Streets. Dunlap’s was described as having ornate woodwork, mirrors and a chandelier. Apparently there was a roulette wheel and a chuck-a-luck cage in the back room as well. By 1888, this became known as The Corner Saloon. It advertised billiards and pool tables as well.

By 1884, according to the Faulkner County Court Records, there were five licensed saloons in Conway. Two were located at Front and Oak. By 1888, there were reports of as many as six saloons in town.

There were also several saloons in the county. Heffington and Matthews ran a saloon at Enola while Smith and Julian ran a saloon in Greenbrier. A man named Williams ran a saloon at Mayflower. There were also saloons at Cascade Springs and Pinnacle Springs.

As the town grew, the saloons in Conway became more controversial. A citizen’s group led by a Methodist minister, Rev. Edward A. Tabor, and Capt. W.W. Martin (Mayor, 1890-1905) was able to close them down with the “three-mile law” which prohibited the sale of liquor within three miles of a public school. The Faulkner County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the citizen’s group in an 1888 lawsuit and the Conway saloons were closed. This paved the way for Conway to become the home of two Christian colleges—Hendrix and CBC.

The sale of liquor remained illegal until 1935 when 33 beer dealers were granted licenses in Faulkner County. Older residents remember the various locations where beer was sold and even where an occasional bootlegger was known to peddle his brew. The county went “dry” in 1943 by a referendum vote of 1,753 to 488.

Faulkner County still remains “dry” today except for the licenses that have been issued to restaurants to sell alcohol by the drink.

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