The Frauenthals: “Looking Back”

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

In 1871, a small, ingenious, far-sighted man named Max Frauenthal came to Conway with the railroad crew and purchased a lot in the southeast block at Front and Oak. Although the city’s founder, A.P. Robinson, had intended for most business activity to occur along Main Street between Railroad Avenue (Parkway) and Court Street, Frauenthal built his mercantile store in the alley where the farmers left their horses and wagons. That alley became Front Street.

The store’s first wooden structure burned and was replaced with a brick two-story in 1879. When Jo Frauenthal, his cousin, joined him in the business, the name changed to M and J Frauenthal.

Later, Max brought another cousin, Leo Schwarz, from Germany to help in the growing business. Jo’s parents, Jacob and Yetta, also moved from Russellville where Jacob had been a successful businessman for about 30 years. They and their children, Maurice, Henry, Ike and Charles also worked in the store.

The store provided supplies and general merchandise but also “furnished” farmers who were given a line of credit based on their future cotton crop. If the farmers failed to repay the debt, Max Frauenthal or the company would acquire the property. As a result, by 1890, Frauenthal and the company owned 6,096 acres.

In 1881, Max bought a tract of land with healing springs several miles north of Conway and formed Sugar Loaf Springs Company. He incorporated the city of Sugar Loaf (Heber Springs) and then in 1883, helped organize Cleburne County with Sugar Loaf as the county seat. Frauenthal helped build the courthouse and donated Spring Park to the town. His family lived in a 13-room house there and ran a 26-room hotel.

Max sold his interest in M and J Frauenthal Co. when he moved to Sugar Loaf. The store’s name was then changed to Frauenthal and Schwarz. Jo and his brother, Charles, became the general managers. In the 1890s, a two-story building to the south was acquired so that the storefront was 125 feet long. The store was considered to be Conway’s leading mercantile.

In 1925, Frauenthal and Schwarz underwent a major renovation. The renovated two-story building had plate glass and two double-leaf doorways on the ground floor with four groups of six windows on the second floor. In 1992, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and today houses American Management.

The second floor of Frauenthal and Schwarz also served as a social hall. Balls, dances, skating and elaborate events took place there. The elaborate events sometimes included a Little Rock orchestra and rented costumes from Memphis.

Jo Frauenthal was very active in civic affairs. He headed the Chamber of Commerce for 25 years, was President of the Conway Commercial Club organized in 1916 and was on the Conway Corporation board from 1932-1935. His wife, the niece of A.P. Robinson and heir to Robinson’s estate, was Ida Baridon Frauenthal. She was active in women’s organizations and helped select the state flag.

The couple lived in a 5,000 square-foot house on Western Avenue. Built in 1913, it had 20 rooms and sat on the site of the former three-story home of Governor George Donaghey that burned.

They had no children so the estate was bought by Elbert L. Faucett after Mrs. Frauenthal’s death in 1947. The house, with its large-columned porch and elaborate staircase, is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Conway Regional owns it now.

Jo gradually handed the executive duties of the business over to Charles. Although Charles had moved to Little Rock in 1911, he still drove to Conway almost every business day. Leo Schwarz died in 1928 and then Charles passed away unexpectedly in 1929. In the 1920s, Mayer Gates had married Gladys Frauenthal, Charles’ daughter. He would manage Frauenthal and Schwarz for almost 20 years.

Dave Grundfest, founder of Sterling Stores, married Maurine, another of Charles’ daughters. Sterling had a 2,500-square-foot store next to Frauenthal and Schwarz in the mid-1920s and moved into the Frauenthal and Schwarz building when it closed in 1952.

The Frauenthals played a significant role in the development of Conway. Their business anchored downtown for 80 years and their civic leadership helped Conway become a thriving community.