Starkey Construction: “Looking Back”

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

Will Starkey, my maternal grandfather, began doing construction work in Conway in 1921. He was a foreman and superintendent for W.T. Russell Construction Company. His sons grew up around construction so it seemed natural that they would follow in his footsteps. Their company, Starkey Construction, would oversee building projects in the area for 25 years.

Will and Edith Starkey purchased a farm southwest of Conway when they moved to Faulkner County from the Rosebud/Romance area of White County in 1917. Their boys worked on the farm while Will was away working on construction projects.

After their house burned in 1926, Will and Edith built a little white house east of the farm. This is where the last seven of the twelve children would be born. The house still stands at the intersection of Nutter’s Chapel Road and South Salem.

In the late 1950s, Will continued to build houses with his now adult sons. Several of his sons also worked on construction projects out of state during this time. Will and Edith sold their little white house in 1960 and bought an apartment house at Bruce and Davis streets in Conway where they lived until Edith’s death in 1963.

Most of Will’s children were given a plot of land on the farm to build a house. Two sons, Verlon and Jack, instead built homes in Conway. My parents were given the original home site and built a house there. I grew up in a neighborhood full of family members and those early years were spent playing with all my cousins.

Starkey Construction, Inc. began in 1961 in Hulen’s garage. The building still stands today just past the curve where Nutter’s Chapel Road intersects with South Salem. Six of the Starkey brothers were stockholders. Officers were Truman, President; Jack, Vice-President; and Verlon, Secretary/Treasurer. Truman’s wife, Janell, worked in the office during this time.

A couple of years later, the company bought an iron works shop on the corner of Harkrider and Walnut from Robert Ward. Two of the ironworkers, James Fason and A.J. Junyor, continued to work there under the new owners. Fason built a house by the Starkey farm and his family was part of most Starkey family gatherings.

It was at this time that the Starkeys hired Betsy Ethridge to work in the office. Her first office was in the southeast corner of the ironworks shop. Later, others, like Mona Harrington-Brewczynski, worked in the office with Betsy but she remained the main company secretary until her retirement.

A new office building and shop was erected at 1219 Clayton Street across Walnut Street from the ironworks shop in 1966. As children, when we would go by the office with my Dad, he would treat us to a soda from the machine that was in the break area of the shop. At that time, sodas out of that machine were a quarter.

At first, Starkey Construction did mostly residential work. More than fifty new homes were built in the Conway area by Starkey between 1961 and 1976. Later the company moved into commercial construction.

Some of the commercial jobs done in Conway were the Chapel and educational wing at First Baptist Church, the Peace Lutheran Church, the St. Joseph Rectory, Antioch Baptist Church, the Central Baptist College library, and Second Baptist Church.

The company also oversaw additions to the Conway Country Club clubhouse, Virco, Aeromotors, Conway Junior High, Ellen Smith Elementary and Sallie Cone Elementary. In addition, Starkey’s oversaw the construction of several First State Bank branches that opened during this time. Starkey Construction was considered to be one of the leading commercial construction companies in the area by the 1970s.

The company also managed some sizeable jobs outside of Conway in the 1970s. Some of those jobs were the Fairfield Bay Conference Center, the Girls School at Alexander, and the Fine Arts Center at ASU-Beebe. The company also oversaw the construction of school facilities at Cabot, Glen Rose, Beebe and Dumas and built several additions to Southwestern Bell facilities across the state.

One of the last big projects that the company oversaw was the construction of the three-story First State Bank building on Harkrider in 1985. Worthen would take over the bank soon afterward and today the building houses Home Bancshares. In 1986, the company was dissolved as the brothers retired or went off to pursue other opportunities.

Today Wilkerson Shoes occupies the former office and shop of Starkey Construction. The ironworks shop is now Gault Paint and Body. Many of Will and Edith’s grandsons went into the construction business and are still overseeing projects in the area.

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