Unusual Businesses: “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 1950s and 1960s, a variety of manufacturing businesses were established in Conway. Until then, however, most Conway businesses catered to the needs of farmers. Thus there were quite a few gins, mills, mercantiles and wagon yards scattered about town. But occasionally, there were a few unusual business ventures that added variety to the mix.

Some businesses were developed to help process the cotton. In the early 1880s, plans were made for a cotton spinning mill. A large two-story building was constructed but it was destroyed by fire before the spinning machinery could be installed. All that remains of the project is the name of the street on which it was to be located—Factory Street.

Conway Cotton Oil and Gin Company was another business organized to process cotton. The complex on Mill Street included a boiler, press and other equipment. The press would compress 1,000 bales of cotton per day. The company was established in 1892 by Frauenthal and Schwarz, Sam Frauenthal and J. Frank Jones (who owned the building that became Simon’s Grocery).

Bonham Harrow Plant opened in 1896 to build a farm implement that is used by farmers to break up and smooth out the surface of the soil. The company owned the patent rights in an 11-county area of Arkansas. Its eight employees painted the triangular parts while an iron worker turned out bolts and swivels. The Halter brothers were hired to assemble the harrows. Max Frauenthal was the president of the company.

There were also companies that produced more mundane products. In 1912, Central Broom Manufacturing began turning out 1,200 dozen brooms each month. It also made brushes and mops. It was reported that more orders were placed than could be filled. About that same time, Stevens Handle Company was producing hickory handles, singletrees and wagon spokes. A singletree is a crossbar pivoted in the middle, to which the traces were attached in a horse-drawn wagon or plow.

A few attempts were made at bottling. In 1911, Reverent J.C. Dawson opened the first bottling works on North Front Street. It operated until 1925. Later there was another company called Johnson Bottling Works. During World War II, Mayor Jim Kane began to manufacture Rex soft drinks at Jim Kane Bottling Company. He gave up both the bottling company and his job as mayor in 1944 when he joined the Navy.

There were also some businesses that built and sold beverage containers. Pioneer Stave and Heading Mill opened in 1939 at the south city limits of the Missouri Pacific Railroad main line. Staves and headings are used in building wine and whiskey barrels. Its 12 employees turned out 8,000 headings a day. Forty other Faulkner County men were employed in cutting timber and trucking it to the mill. Oak, Gum and Ash were used for the headings.

In 1938, Edward Freyaldenhoven started a winery on Siebenmorgen Road. Two years later, the facility was expanded to increase its capacity from 20,000 gallons to 50,000 gallons a year. While locally produced grapes from surrounding areas were used at the winery, most of the grapes came from northwest Arkansas. The winery ceased production when Faulkner County was voted “dry” in 1943. Travelers on Siebenmorgen Road can still see the concrete vats that were used at the winery.

There was also a fairly successful pickling factory in Conway. In 1946, Brown-Miller Pickle Company built 50 tanks which held 1,200 bushels of pickles each and preserved them for retail sale. It also had 75 brine vats which could hold from 500 to 1,000 bushels of cucumbers each. This allowed eight million pounds of cucumbers to be stored at one time. The plant employed 15 to 20 workers. It was so successful that five area farmers were contracted to grow a special pickling cucumber just for Brown-Miller. This operation ceased in the 1960s.

As Faulkner County moved away from cotton farming, a variety of manufacturing concerns would crop up in Conway, especially in the new Industrial Park that was opened by Conway Development Corporation in 1963. But in the decades before, there were some unusual businesses that reflected the creativity and resourcefulness of the growing town.

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