A Historical Record of Visiting: “Looking Back”

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

Some of the most interesting remnants of our local history are the curious items sent in by rural correspondents to the Log Cabin. They provide a glimpse into the lives of Faulkner County residents that can’t be found elsewhere.

The earliest known item of rural correspondence that still exists was in the June 15, 1882 edition of the Log Cabin, some three years after the paper was founded. It was written by a Mount Vernon correspondent. The writer admired the fine examples of wheat, lettuce and peaches that various community residents had grown before relaying the condition of a community member who had been sick.

Until 1908, the Log Cabinonly published a weekly newspaper. Major headlines appeared on the front but the inside was filled with correspondent reports about happenings in and around Faulkner County.

In 1937, Frank Robins, the publisher, reported that he had 114 rural correspondents sending in news for the weekly edition. He maintained it was the largest such group of correspondents in the world. As a souvenir of their 12th annual “get-together” at Cedar Park in 1937, a list of the correspondents was printed and given to each community writer. A picture was also taken of the group.

Until the 1940s, the weekly’s circulation was nearly twice the size of the daily. It peaked in 1945 at 3,300 while the daily’s circulation was only 2,450 that year. The daily’s circulation began to rise after World War II and the weekly began to decline.

While it was predominantly women who served as country correspondents, there were a few men who reported the news from their community. Women tended to report news about church gatherings, birthday parties, wedding showers and babies being born. Men were more likely to include tidbits about farming and sometimes politics. Both usually reported unusual weather and the impact it had on the crops in the area.

Luther E. Holloway, a rather articulate Wooster resident who served on the school board and led community education efforts, was the correspondent there at one time. In his May 15, 1942 column, he reported that “We are now beginning to put the sugar rationing into effect. Some have even discarded the sugar bowl and Maxwell House coffee is no longer ‘good to the last drop.’” A few months later he reported that the Wooster school principal, who had been called to service, had received a deferment until the end of the school year.

Grace Gateley, the Pleasant Valley correspondent during World War II, often reported about the various young men who left for the service. Going away parties were held for them and any news from them was relayed in her column each week.

Gateley reported her own son missing in action in the Philippines in June, 1942. It was not until March, 1945 that she reported her son was alive and well. Allied forces discovered him leading Philippine guerilla forces against the Japanese.

More often than not, however, the columns were filled with items about visiting. When I first started reading these “visiting” items, I didn’t consider them to be very informative. I have since concluded that they do provide an important glimpse of a bygone era.

In previous generations, visiting was a very important social function. People gathered over a meal or more often, a glass of tea or a plate of dessert to just spent time with each other. These correspondent columns are full of adult children visiting their parents weekly, of children going to spend a weekend with their cousins in another community and of people going to spend weeks, sometimes months, with relatives or friends living in another state.

Local visiting didn’t require setting a date or making prior arrangements. People often just showed up. If it was dinner time or supper time, they pulled up a chair and joined the family. If they lived too far away, a bed was made for them to spend the night. Hours were spent sitting on the porch just catching up and enjoying each other’s company.

Due to the weekly’s continued decline in circulation, the Log Cabin ceased its publication in 1982. Newspaper readers remain interested in local news but today it’s harder to come by. Maybe we should do more “visiting.”