Facilitating the Growth of Conway: “Looking Back”

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

When most Conway residents hear the name Conway Corporation, they automatically think of the business that provides them with practically all of their utility needs. But Conway Corporation was established in 1929 with an even greater purpose in mind.

Early electrical power in Conway was generated by a steam engine at a small power plant on Prairie Street. This was turned over to the Conway City Council in 1910 and a committee was set up to oversee it. The city council was also given supervision over the new waterworks in 1912.

But it was the fear of losing Hendrix College and Central College that led to the development of Conway Corporation. Both colleges were in financial trouble and were considering options. The city offered to give them money to get them to stay in Conway. The money would come from capitalizing the earnings of the city electric system and issuing bonds against the earnings.

Conway Corporation was thus established and took over the electrical system. A five-man board was appointed by the city council to oversee this new corporation. In the articles of incorporation, the stated purpose of the corporation was to promote education and to aid educational institutions located in Conway and for other benevolent purposes.

The colleges were able to stay and a precedent was set. Over the years, financial assistance has been given to all three colleges, Conway Public Schools and St. Joseph Schools. Conway Corporation money was also used to buy the land for the Arkansas Children’s Colony and to locate AETN in Conway.

In addition, Conway Corporation purchased Fifth Avenue Park and Gatling Park for the city and helped establish the little league baseball fields at YBMA. Conway Memorial Hospital and the airport also received assistance in getting established and paying for expansions.
The waterworks and sewer plant were put under Conway Corporation in 1930. In 1957, it assumed control over the city’s sewage collection system. In 1955, Lake Beaverfork was built as a reservoir for the city’s water supply and in 1963 a water plant was built at Gleason. The water storage tank on YBMA Fairgrounds (now Conway Station Park) was erected in 1967.

Conway Corporation decommissioned its electrical generating plant in 1981 because the city was now using electricity from a two-percent interest in a couple of Arkansas Power and Light (now Entergy) generating plants. In 1985, the old light plant was remodeled to house the main offices.

In the late 1960s, while the Toad Suck Lock and Dam was being constructed on the Arkansas River, many city leaders became concerned that the river project would endanger Conway’s water supply. In 1976, after much negotiation on the part of Conway Corporation, and particularly Conway Corporation’s General Manager Jim Brewer, a new reservoir site was chosen on Cyprus Creek about ten miles northwest of Conway. Brewer Lake, named for this Conway Corporation leader who worked so hard to ensure an adequate water supply for Conway, was dedicated in September, 1983.

Since its incorporation, Conway Corporation has had only five general managers: Fred Gordy, Sr. (1942-1955), Walter Scales (1955-1965), Jim Brewer (1965-1991), Bill Hegeman (1991-1998) and Richie Arnold (1998-Present). Mr. Arnold recently announced his retirement so a nationwide search will be conducted in the next year for a new manager.

Conway Corporation has changed with the times, now providing other services such as cable and internet. What has not changed through the years, however, is its dedication to supporting education and its ability to provide affordable and reliable utilities to the people of Conway.