by W.W. Brown
Damascus, which was first called the Hutto Community, is located in the Ozark foothills on a plateau surrounded by clear streams. Pine Mountain Creek is on the north and west; Batesville Creek is on the south and east and empties into Cove Creek on the west.
The early settlers were church-going people from Mississippi and Tennessee; hence the name Damascus, taken from the Bible. Some of the early families were Lees, Huttos, and Spires, who settled along the old Clinton Road.
Pioneer families homesteaded their acreage. To be eligible for homesteading, one had to prove he had started a clearing and was building a home. In 1874, Rev. William A. Hutto, a Baptist minister, arrived from Mississippi and settled two tracts of land lying side by side with the county line between. Alex Brown and his family settled nearby; Brown was married to Rev. Hutto’s daughter, Emma Barfield Hutto. Turkey and deer were plentiful for these pioneer settlers.
Rev. Hutto and his wife, Rosannah Copeland Spires Hutto, are buried in the Bee Branch Cemetery. Their tombstone bears the inscription, “Pioneers and Founders of Damascus.” William Brown was a rural mail carrier out of the Damascus Post Office for over 40 years. His wife, Dora Magee Brown, was a great niece of Rev. Hutto.
Another pioneer settler was “Uncle Jimmie” Spires. In 1883 his daughter Allie died and was buried near her father’s farm. This marks the beginning of the Spires Cemetery. Jimmie Spires also had three sons: H.F., Dutch, and Josh. Other family names prominent on early Damascus history were: Patterson, Linn, Cantrell, Conklin, Sledge, Blythe, Hawkins, Canfield, Stevenson, Brockeys, Patton, Tindall, Vaughan, Chapman, Bradley, Cox, Waddle, Martin, Newton, Magee, Sims, and Banister. Descendants of these early families still live in the area. Many families were intermarried as was common in pioneer days.
Earlier settlers built their houses from pine logs with clay plaster. Houses usually consisted of one large (18′ x 20′) room with a large fireplace and a loft. Later, homes were designed with two large rooms with an open hall, and a long front porch, and perhaps a smaller room for the kitchen. Farmers raised cotton, corn, wheat, and sorghum. An interesting story is told of the origin of cotton in the Damascus community. A.A. Brown wrote his brother in Mississippi that there was no cotton in the area, and the latter sent him twenty cotton seeds in a letter. Mrs. A.A. Brown planted the seeds, saved the seeds from the resultant “crop,” planted again, etc., thus getting cotton-growing established in Damascus.
Damascus was like other rural pioneer communities in that the people learned early to depend on one another during log rollings, harvesting, woodcutting, and in times of sickness or death.
Early enterprises included the community’s first cotton gin, run by Fletcher Hawkins, and a kiln for brick-making, built by E.M. Brown; both of these businesses were started in 1890. An early merchant in the area was Alonzo Brown, who peddled chickens for a while and then opened a store to which farm produce was brought and exchanged for needed items. Brown made a trip to Little Rock every two weeks to sell the produce. In 1892 three more stores opened for business. The community also had a blacksmith shop, a sorghum mill, and a grist mill.
Friday nights became the primary time for social activity. During the sorghum harvest, candy-pulling was a favorite activity. At times there was singing or dramatic productions sponsored by the local literary society. The local photographer in the early days was P.R. Hodge.
In 1890 several black families arrived from Memphis and homesteaded some land. They soon had a church and a school, but when the latter burned down in 1895 a new one was built west of town. The black population steadily decreased, and by 1917 there were very few black people in the community. Some of the family names, as shown on the cemetery near the old school and church site, were: Smith, Allen, Falls, Goff, Bailey, Fields, and Walker.
As early as 1881, a summer school was planned and held under a brush arbor located one mile south of C.E. Hall’s home. Willis Hammons was the first teacher. The brush arbor school was later moved to what was known as Dunbar Springs near present-day Highway 65. A school was later built on the spot where Dan Dipert has a home today. Miss Parilee Martin and Miss Ruth Stevens were two of the early teachers. In 1889 the Baptist Church was completed and was used as a school building, and in 1900 a two-story school building was erected. Salaries for teachers ranged from $20 to $30 a month.
In 1911, W.E. Halbrook of Choctaw initiated what was known as the Halbrook school system. Students from Martinville, Damascus, Choctaw, and Clinton were educated through this system.
Damascus continued to have a good school system until the early 1930s when consolidation came about. Southside became the center for the consolidation of the schools in the area. During those early days (around 1910) when tax money was unavailable, donations were received from the families in the community. The average donation was $100. The School Improvement Association or SIA, a forerunner of the PTA, had various drives to raise funds to supplement the donations: plays, pie suppers, picnics, etc.
In 1887, the first post office was built. Until then the people of the community had difficulty getting their mail. Mail was brought once a day by horseback from Pinnacle Springs by Mrs. Pinnacle Lee. After Pinnacle Springs ceased to exist, mail was routed through Martinville, Plumerville, Conway, and Little Rock. In 1906 a rural route was established and a second route was begun in 1911.
Other highlights in the history of Damascus include the following:
The first automobile in the community passed through in 1907 on the way from Little Rock to Clinton. The first Damascus resident to own one was William A. Brown, who bought a Model “T” Ford in 1914.
The highway was completed in 1935 and this gave new life to the community. That same year Damascus was connected with Quitman by telephone.
In 1948 a new post office was built on a new site.
In 1955 the Allied telephone system linked Damascus with the outside world.
The Church of Christ is the oldest church in the community, but several other churches are there today, including the Baptist and the Methodist churches.