How To Destroy A Town Part 1: Hughes, Arkansas

New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos

Hughes, Arkansas, the second-largest town in St. Francis County, has by all accounts been a resilient town. It was the home or birthplace of many great blues musicians, including Johnny Shines. It survived the Flood of 1937, an event so severe that it sticks in the memory of the area, and it has survived fires and the decline of agriculture. But it could not survive the decision of the Arkansas State Department of Education last summer to dissolve its school district and forcibly consolidate it with West Memphis, over 26 miles away on poor, two-lane highways. Hughes is merely the latest town to be victimized by a vicious state law that ought to be repealed, which requires the dissolving and merging of school districts whenever a school district falls below 350 students. The law makes no provisions for the wishes of the town’s residents or the students, either with regard to keeping the local school district open, nor with what district they would prefer to attend if their district must be closed. Nor does the law require the receiving district to keep local schools open, even when students would otherwise have to travel long distances, such as the 50-mile roundtrip per day that Hughes students now face, unless their parents decide to relocate to West Memphis, which is why this law is a town-killer. Hughes has lost an estimated 400 residents since 2010, and doubtless are losing many more by the day, largely because of the school situation. The local shopping center, which contained the town’s only food store, is now completely abandoned. Downtown looks even worse, with many old, decrepit and abandoned buildings. Hughes High School is abandoned, including the football field that was renamed for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn with such fanfare just two years ago. And even more shocking is the ruins of Mildred Jackson Elementary School, the campus of what was once the Black high school in Hughes. Not only is it abandoned, but in ruins, as part of the building has collapsed, likely from fire after it was abandoned. It is clear that the building has been vandalized and broken into. Not that the school situation is the cause of everything that has happened in Hughes. There is little industry there, and St. Francis County is not a rich county. Agriculture is not what is was, opportunity is limited, and close proximity to West Memphis and Memphis has encouraged many young people to move away. But the close proximity to Memphis could have been an asset rather than a curse. With proper planning, a better road link to Memphis, and a local school system, Hughes could conceivably have become a bedroom community for those who work in Memphis. It has many historic buildings and homes. But first, the draconian law that caused this kind of destruction needs to be repealed. Local communities that want to retain their own school districts should be allowed to do so. And in areas like many counties in Eastern Arkansas, where declining populations are wreaking havoc on local school districts, the state ought to consider the formation of county-based school systems, such as those in Tennessee and Mississippi, which would allow local high school like the one in Hughes to remain open. Without schools, no town can ever be renewed.

The High Water Mark of Good Food at Horseshoe Lake’s Highwater Landing

New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos

The Mississippi River is a kind of river known as a “meander stream”, a type of river that constantly shortens its route from its source to the sea. The coils and loops it leaves behind are known as “oxbow lakes”, and these wide and deep lakes become great places for recreation. Horseshoe Lake, some 26 miles south of West Memphis, Arkansas is such an oxbow lake, and a popular weekend resort for Memphians, whose homes and cottages line the lakeshore. However, the lake area is short on restaurants, with the exception of Highwater Landing, an unexpected casual fine dining restaurant in the back of the local convenience store and gas station, Bonds Grocery. Entering the restaurant on a Friday night can be tricky, as the grocery store closes at 6 PM, and the side entrance to the back is not always easy to spot from the road. Despite the name, Highwater Landing is not on the lake, and does not have a waterfront view. Rather, the name is a reference to the infamous Flood of 1937, which inundated the nearby town of Hughes, Arkansas, and pictures of the flood in Hughes are on the walls behind the bar. The menu consists primarily of seafood, although there are also burgers, and ribeye steaks. Ribeye is not my favorite cut of steak, but this one was excellent and worth its price. Entrees come with two sides, and I chose a loaded baked potato and tater tots, both of which were excellent. Service is friendly and efficient, and the cozy, casual atmosphere makes the experience something like having dinner at someone’s home, all the more so as most of the customers and staff know each other. A small stage area near the entrance suggests that the Highwater Landing occasionally has live music, or perhaps a DJ. It’s definitely worth the drive out to Horseshoe Lake for a weekend escape from city life, but keep in mind that the Highwater Landing is open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM.

Highwater Landing
15235 Highway 147 S
Horseshoe Lake, AR 72348
(870) 339-3337