Lyon College Regional Studies Center
Creation and Development of the Arkansas Folk Festival
and Ozark Folk Center – An Oral History Project
Interviewee: Leo Rainey
Interviewer: Brooks Blevins
Date: July 2, 2003
Place: Batesville, Arkansas
Blevins: This is July 2, 2003. I’m Brooks Blevins, and I’m here in Batesville, Arkansas, with Leo Rainey as part of the Lyon College Regional Studies Center’s oral history project on the creation and development of the Arkansas Folk Festival and the Ozark Folk Center. Mr. Rainey, could you start off by telling us when and where you were born?
Rainey: I was born in Center Ridge, Arkansas, 1932, August the 14th, and Center Ridge is in central Arkansas in Conway County, but I went to school at Morrilton and graduated Morrilton High School. Then I went to Arkansas Tech a couple of years and then the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
Blevins: All right, and you went into agricultural extension work?
Rainey: Yes. In 1954 I graduated with a bachelor’s degree and went to Lake Village as assistant county agent. I did 4-H work and other things. Then in 1956 they transferred me to Pocahontas, and I was Associate County Agent for Farm Management, and I worked with farmers on their records. In 1961 I transferred here to work in rural development work, and that’s where I finished my career. My title was different, but I worked about 22 years in this region.
Blevins: Okay, so you first came here in 1961, and what was your title at that time?
Rainey: Area Rural Development Agent, and this was a pilot program for the USDA. All the agencies worked together, and I was the only full-time person assigned to rural development, but I worked - and we worked - through the local people and local organization. There was a county development council we had organized in each county, and Stone County had one. They really helped sponsor the first Festival, you know. Glen Hinkle was chairman of the Stone County Development Council, but that was my title, was Area Rural Development Agent. I worked seven counties.
Blevins: Okay. What seven counties were they?
Rainey: They was Independence, Izard, Sharp and Fulton, Stone here, and around Greers Ferry Lake, Cleburne and Van Buren - those two counties. Later years, my district expanded, and I worked sixteen counties.
Blevins: Okay. Describe this area and specifically Stone County in 1961, when you first arrived.
Rainey: Stone County was beautiful in resources, but they were very poor, and in fact, many had compared it to a third-world country, and so everybody wanted to help Stone County, or a lot of people did, and that’s when the Craft Guild . . . We had several leaders from Stone County, the first Guild president Jim Warren, and that’s why, though we worked together . . . Stone County, at that time, wasn’t having a county fair, and this festival was planned for the dogwood season in ‘63, but Stone County [was] very poor. There were a few small manufacturing plants, a woodworking plant, and in those years, also, some garment factories came, but basically the economy - and there was some tourism - but the economy was really not good.
Blevins: Now tell me a little bit of the background about how the Craft Guild came to be and how that first dogwood drive, and all of that . . .
Rainey: Well, in October of 1961 - I came in September - the Extension Service had planned a tour of Gatlinburg. They sent me, and there were several leaders from this area. The county agents had worked and got some leaders to go. We went to Gatlinburg, and they had the Southern Highland Guild there, and so we came back and began the meeting on a seven-county basis, and then formed . . . Really, we formed the Ozark Foothills Craft Guild, and then in September of 1962 the group met at Clinton, and they decided they would try to have an . . . Well, in the spring of ‘62, we had the dogwood drives, just trying to get more people to come in during the blooming season, but in September of ‘62 the Guild met at Clinton in a shop that was over there built and decided to have an area fair at Stone County, Mountain View. Now I might say prior to that, during that summer they’d had little fairs in all the counties, and this was to try to find craftsmen, and the Extension Service, they . . . We had several objectives, of course. We wanted to try to help the economy and create jobs, and we saw the opportunity of preserving folklore, and so we discovered, tried to find . . . At this time, there wasn’t much crafts being done. We also sponsored training over the years. For example, nearly all the . . . Well, we had basket training, but all the broom, nearly, you see came from a class we had here at Batesville right before the Folk Center opened, and there’s been hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of brooms sold, so what we were doing is working with leaders, and we helped organize this first festival and the Craft Guild, and . . .
You interviewed Lloyd Westbrook. Lloyd was the county agent, and our district agents - we met out at Blanchard - and one of them encouraged - W.H. Freyaldenhoven - encouraged us to try to get folk music to go with the craft show, and so Lloyd went to talk to Jimmy Driftwood, and Jimmy was kind of reluctant at first, but then I think he agreed, maybe in January, and they began meeting, then, at the courthouse on Friday nights and getting the musicians ready. It had been a long time, and Jimmy, of course - folk music was his life, kindly - and so he pretty well headed up the folk music, and the Craft Guild the crafts, and Stone County Development Council - Glen Hinkle was chairman - kind of coordinated it the first year, and so we had tours and home demonstration people that came in on buses, and everybody kind of focused on Stone County that weekend, and it was very much a success. So that’s kindly how it came about, and I’ll tell you a little more about how the Folk Center concept came about when you get ready.
Blevins: Okay. Before we get to that, just tell me a little bit about how that first Folk Festival was in ‘63, what it was like to be there . . .
Rainey: Okay. Well, of course we were happy compared to later years, when it just got so big. Of course, the audience wasn’t . . . But it was successful, and the Craft Guild was out at the county fairground, and then Jimmy Driftwood. They had their show in the school ground in the gymnasium, and I remember John Quincy Wolf being there, and the big crowd folk music, you know. Folk music was very big at that time, and these students came from Indiana and Illinois and different places. It was exciting. The dogwoods generally . . . Most of the time, they have . . . I mean, they bloom about that time. It was always hard to predict when the dogwoods are going to bloom. That first festival, though, was a success, and this gave the basis to try to keep going, and the Craft Guild had in 1966 started a festival at Heber Springs, and we did, we worked with it, which became a very big festival too - the Frontier Trail, it was called - and it became very big. In fact, the Craft Guild sold more and had more income at Heber for several years than it did at Mountain View. In both cases, what happened [was] a lot of vendors got on the streets, and so, really, it just kindly didn’t have the direction of control that they should have had on a local level, and even on traffic control . . . But during those first few years, and then later years, you know, this became . . . It was during the more-or-less hippie generation, and these people came by the thousands, and on Thursdays prior to the Festival, you’d see people hitchhiking, and vans rolling in, and I’ve always said, “Well, the local people came to see these people, and these people came to see the local people.” So it was kind of a study of each group, and . . . But it became very big and there was a lot of police came. Of course, there was marijuana out in the forest, and they had activities, and the police came, but they didn’t do much traffic control, and I’ve seen cars lined up in later years for miles and miles and ending up at the square, and nobody directing traffic, and cars getting hot, and so that hurt the Festival, you know, because . . . But anyway, though, the first Festivals very exciting, and we then moved down to the school grounds and put up big tents and had demonstrations out in the area there around those buildings, and those were really good years.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, you mentioned earlier that that first Festival - the success of the first Festival - kind of led directly into the movement to get the Folk Center. Tell me kind of what happened after that.
Rainey: Okay. Well, really, the Folk Center was originally conceived as a way to get water for the city of Mountain View. There had been some dry holes that had been drilled, and Wilbur D. Mills was . . . He had a man - Area Redevelopment Administration - there was a man named John Opitz who worked the state, trying to help communities get grants, and to justify it . . . It had to be justified on employment, and so they had done something, I think in Tahlequah [Oklahoma], cultural work. This might have given John the idea; I don’t know. But anyway, I wrote John a letter and invited him to the Festival, and he wrote back and he was already planning to come. Apparently, Wilbur D. Mills had told him to figure some way to get a water system for Mountain View, and this Folk Center was kind of something that I believe he conceived, and of course it ended up they went to Washington, and Jimmy Driftwood and Harold Sherman and Jim Warren, and they went up there to present their case, and Blanchard Caverns, and so that’s kindly how it came about, and so it was . . .
It’s been a great blessing for this whole area, and a state park, and it has a degree of permanency that many organizations don’t have, because it depends upon tax money too, and that’s something that gives it some permanency. So really, then, the Folk Center, they let a New York firm supervise the building - a man named Ed Nantel - and I think they saw early on it was not going to be a big profit, and I think they wanted to pull out, and then the question is, “Who’s going to run it?” And Jimmy was on the Parks Commission, and there was Matt Newport, and so that’s what . . . They wanted to make it part of the parks system, and the Craft Guild supported this effort to try to bring the state into it, but as to that, I’ve told you, it was a little difficult because the state was not used to running a business like this, and in fact, nobody was, except we’d had some experience in crafts, but there was some rough spots and controversy. There were a lot of the legislators that didn’t like it - you know, for the state to get into this - but it’s really been a good thing for Stone County and this whole region, and I’m so happy to see . . . In ‘73 both the Folk Center was dedicated and the Caverns too, and the Forest Service, of course, ran the Caverns. I think that there was a lot of political controversy, but Governor Bumpers came along, and I think it was around six hundred thousand he was able to get to keep the thing going, and . . . because there were pretty heavy losses the first few years, you know.
Blevins: Yeah. Tell me a little . . . You’ve mentioned, already, some of the people who were instrumental - like John Opitz and Jimmy Driftwood and some of those - tell me a little bit about Jimmy Driftwood and his role, and also, as a lot of people have mentioned to me, he was a pretty controversial figure around there himself.
Rainey: Well, in Jimmy’s group, they split. They had an argument kindly over a bass fiddle and a few things like that, and Jimmy was very opinionated and strong, but he also . . . You know, really, if you’re going to preserve folk tradition, you try to stay true to the folk musician, so I think that he had some correct positions there on some things, but anyway, there ended up being two groups feuding and fighting one another, the musicians and the . . . Jimmy really had become well-known for his “Ballad of New Orleans” and “Tennessee Stud,” and Dr. Wolf had previously kind of discovered Jimmy, and Dr. Wolf is another person - to me - that deserves a lot of credit for his folk studies, you know. But Jimmy, he ended up . . . He was managing the music at the Folk Center, but the controversy became so great - and I think the governor pretty well told Bill Henderson that to go - and so Jimmy, for a while, was not involved with the Folk Center, but you really can’t overemphasize his importance, because he had a background and knowledge of folk music, and he was a good musician himself, and he rounded up these musicians in the beginning that had not been playing, and of course they improved again, and so he helped bring back folk music to Stone County and that region, and even though he was difficult at times . . . But you know, you have to also give him some credit, because he played a big role, and he was colorful, and he could glamorize things, and so Jimmy [was] difficult to work with, but nevertheless deserved a lot of credit.
Blevins: Now, you mentioned Wilbur D. Mills earlier, and I know that . . . Well, from 1963, the first Folk Festival, to ‘73, when the Folk Center opened, ten years, and it took a long time for that to happen, and how instrumental do you think he was, being able to pull some strings and . . .
Rainey: Oh, I think very. In fact, he was there to help dedicate it. No, he helped groundbreaking. I have a picture of him. What happened, the TV cameras that day startled a mule and it bolted, and he got jerked down and got dirt on his pants. Wilbur D. Mills, one of the most powerful men in the United States during that time, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and really, he got a lot of things done, like the courthouse at Ash Flat was a development center, and Wilbur D. . . . And I think if it hadn’t been for him directing John Opitz . . . He said, “I understand.” He said, “I want you to figure some way to get a water system for Mountain View,” and so Wilbur D. Mills to me, even though he had some problems later in life, but he really did some good work, and he was always not too busy to lend the small people a ride. He really was a man of the people, more or less, too, you know.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, why do you think it took so many years to actually get the funding from Washington, D.C.? I think it took about five years of work before they actually funded it.
Rainey: Probably, yeah. Well, this thing . . . I don’t know. You know, really and truly, from a concept to . . . And also there’d be those that would publish it, I’m sure, and . . . I don’t know, to get the plans together, and they had this study done by a doctor from Texas A&M and . . . I can’t remember his name, but anyway, I don’t know why it took . . . But as the Festival got bigger, this - I guess . . . And it also made it appear that the Folk Center would be a viable thing. The Caverns were slow, too, you know. Of course, in those years they didn’t have the money flowing they do now, and it was more difficult, but I really can’t tell you why it took five years to get it funded, but there was a lot of planning had to be done, you know - a lot of planning.
Blevins: Now the Folk Center opened in 1973, and . . . We were talking earlier, before the interview, that when it first opened they had a different arrangement with the craftsmen and musicians than they do now. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Rainey: Well, the Guild is not involved at all as an organization. What happened is this study said it would be very profitable, and they used some of those big figures, and we had been charging a small amount to get in the craft show, probably fifty cents. Well, see, it went to two and a half, and the state got that, and our craftsmen went in there, and we didn’t . . . The Guild more or less supplied the craftsmen but lost some of their receipts, but anyway, Mr. Henderson and Parks, he was under a lot of pressure - political pressure - because some legislators didn’t want to do this. They thought the state was overextending itself. And so he conceived - they did - that the Craft Guild would have the crafts and assume the risk, and the Rackensack would assume the risk, and so really the state would get the gate, and . . . And really, to me their organization had . . . They were pretty meager assets, and it wasn’t realistic, and we had a hard time trying to convince them that wasn’t going to work and the Guild was going to lose everything it had, and it wouldn’t take but a week or two to do it, too, you know. We knew.
The first year the Center opened, there was that tornado. Had storms and floods, and I’m telling you . . . That happened two years. The first year the Center opened was a very depressing time to me, even though I was so happy to see the Folk Center, but you know, the attendance was down quite a bit, and the storms had went to Lyon College, and that Thursday we had storms through this whole area, but I think that the Craft Guild then . . . We had a committee that worked with the Department of Parks and Tourism. There were some that they assigned, and we had to resist that if we did not . . . It’s just like you can’t do something if you don’t have the resources, but most of them did not have any experience in this type of business or in any business, period. Finally, though, we agreed upon there’d be a corporation formed called Arkansas Crafts, and it would be basically the Craft Guild, a profit-making . . . but the state would . . . This would be a fund, more or less, to pay these craftsmen, and also to get all the funds, and so this pretty well protected the Guild, but it provided a means for the state to run it, and Bill Daum was one of the first. He more or less worked up there, and really, Kay Blair . . . No, let’s see. Kay . . . I can’t remember Kay’s last name now. She was married to this man that’s a cowboy, a singer . . .
Blevins: Kay Thomas.
Rainey: Yeah, it is now, or was, John Thompson. But there was another Kay worked out there, and a lot of our craftsmen went, and so . . . That’s kindly . . . Arkansas Crafts, then, pretty well handled it, and we had a contract, and of course the Guild was not intended to make any money on it. In some ways it did affect the Guild, because we ended up with competing shows in the spring, and also some craftsmen . . . Certainly, they lost some key craftsmen, you know, because the craftsmen wanted to be in that Center, a lot of them, and they didn’t understand, sometimes, the overall picture and what would work and what wouldn’t work, and the desire was great that some of them be there. So I feel like the Guild helped supply, and really, that was needed, and in the long run, it was a good thing, because it’s become . . . You know, it’s really been a fixture there for the state. It’s been a good thing, the Folk Center. The controversy got so bad on the directorship of the Folk Center, and several people were moved on, you know. But anyway, there was a time when someone in the state legislature asked me to go direct it, you know, and I chose not to. I didn’t want to get into that. But it was very controversial, and they were feuding and fighting up there. I mean, the musicians. Now the Craft Guild was not much involved in that controversy. This was the musicians. So really and truly, it’s very hard. Many times, in areas that have a poor economy, you know - jobs are scarce. They’ll even . . . Hard feelings over a school bus driving job, and things like that, and Stone County is a beautiful county and the people are nice, but still, they were used to fighting and had their political factions and everything else. Sharp County and other counties in the hills had that same thing, and in some of those counties, if you were on the wrong side, well, you just didn’t get anything. But it was a . . . Stone County, a lot of the gray hair I have came from Stone County, trying to work. I found this is true. You know, they may be fighting among themselves, but if you let an outsider come in, they all turn against him.
Blevins: Now, you were alluding to the controversy with the music program, and a lot of that went back, I guess, to Jimmy Driftwood and the different factions that emerged even after the Folk Center opened, I reckon, and I believe Driftwood was eventually fired or asked to step down, or something like that.
Rainey: Right. He was. I think Governor Pryor was governor then when Jimmy . . . And of course that hurt his feelings for a long time, and . . . Well, it’s like . . . Yeah, the Folk Center’s been through a lot. I was trying to think. There was a young law professor that had served on the Supreme Court, David . . . Who was it?
Rainey: Newbern, yeah. First director. In later years Tommy Simmons was, but really and truly, though, I guess this is just a . . . You know, it suffered growing pains and birth pains, and the controversy’s not like it was. There was also political opposition in the legislature, and the grant . . . You know, the city of Mountain View technically owned this, but there were grants they’d set up that had to be paid, so you also get into another area of possible controversy: the City Council. I love Stone County and the people, and even before I went up there, Bill Rosa, he ran this resort over at Blanchard Caverns, and they’d done some filming there in earlier years, made a film Harold Sherman was involved with. Stone County, but . . . Boy, I have some slides that we flew up there. Susie Rowe took me up and I made a bunch of slides in ‘73, and so it would be interesting to go back now, because there’s been so much change. I think some of those slides I gave to the Folk Center. Oris Massey also made a lot of slides back in the Rural Development days.
Now I want to say something else in all fairness. Other USDA agencies were involved too, and the Rural Development Program was an effort to try to take the resources of the Department of Agriculture and help local people develop things that would be beneficial, and so you had the SCS, and you had the ASCS, and you had Farmer’s Home Administration, and we had what was called the Rural Development TAP Committee - Technical Action Panel - and so, you know, many of them were involved in various phases, too. This was a pilot program that went back to 1955. In 1955 there was an effort made to try to get counties - low income counties - to help themselves, and it was a rural development program, and there were five counties in Arkansas selected. Well, they found that, to solve economic problems, it’s got to be beyond the county line, and so they came up with the area concept, and this was a pilot program, and there was a man named Everette Sanders, who came here for a short period of time, ‘till maybe ‘58, ‘59, and then Everette left and I came, and so this was a USDA effort, and the state also had resources. It was an effort to try to bring together all the resources. The concept was real good, and we did work with the Department of Education; we worked with many agencies. And then the Area Redevelopment Act was passed, and this provided some money for local people.
The Craft Guild built four shops. They got a loan for $15,600, and the banks participated like $4800 to build some little craft shops at Hardy and Heber Springs, Salem and Clinton, and in later years, all of these were closed. In 1975 the headquarters shop was built at Mountain View, and it’s still there, but these other shops one by one . . . and the Guild moved into metropolitan areas and was for several years like the hotel in Little Rock and Hot Springs and Eureka Springs, so the Guild went through an evolution also. But a lot of people - the Craft Guild had so many people at work from seven counties, and a lot of volunteer leaders, the president, the board of the Guild. We had formed a corporation, a cooperative, in 1962, and this cooperative was the one that borrowed the money to build these shops, and Jim Warren built them. But we had some real good craftsmen that . . . And then we also had a lot of training, like on woodcarving - wood finishing - and we kept going back to Tennessee. In 1965 we went back over there, and then . . . Our people were not accustomed to the marketing charges - you know, like the 40% or 50% of the retail, and it was . . . Craftsmen, they resented the fact that . . . you know, that you’d get that much money, but it took it, and it’s very hard to make a retail craft out of that pay, so we got Robert Gray, the director of the Southern Highland Guild right before the Folk Center opened, and brought him over here, and he talked to them, and he told us, you know, what we were going to have to do, and it was a big jump from the consignment that they’d had, and of course consignment’s not a good way to market, but that’s what the Guild did - consigned - and then they would give maybe eighty percent to the craftsman. Well, then suddenly you start charging . . . like if something sells for $2.00, you know, maybe they paid the craftsman a dollar, but in order to make something feasible, you’ve got to try to figure in the marketing costs, and Mr. Robert Gray was very helpful, because he’d had extensive experience with the Southern Highland Guild and their shops, and he knew what was involved. But we had an educational job with our craftsmen to understand this, you know, and so there were a lot of things that had to be taught.
Blevins: Of course, all this . . . Folk Festival and the Folk Center and all that came to be in Stone County. Do you think that a similar development could have happened in another one of your counties, or was there something unique about Stone County that caused it to happen there?
Rainey: Well, of course Stone County had a lot going for it. Scenery . . . Also a reservoir of music, and some crafts, and leadership that was interested, and there were several factors there - the fact the need was so great . . . I think that this program would be appreciated more in a county with that type of economy. Now, when you go to more sophisticated counties like this, you know, it’s not as important, it’s not such an . . . Tourism, though, was the main hope for that county. Now, I’ve thought about Searcy County. Searcy County doesn’t have . . . I worked over there, too, in later years. Searcy County, though, I think would show you what Stone County would be like if it weren’t for the Folk Center and the Caverns. Searcy County, a very beautiful county, rural, and beautiful scenery - got Buffalo National River - but still the people are . . . The economy’s not nearly as big as Stone County. We did a lot of work in other counties, but it seemed like it just fit Stone County, and other counties were willing to let Stone County be in the limelight, kind of. We had an Area Tourist Committee, and this Area Tourist Committee printed all these brochures every year - maybe a hundred thousand - and they would be sent out. Like in Sharp County, when they sent tax bills to all these people like at Cherokee Village, living in Indiana and Iowa, Illinois, they’d put in a brochure, you know, and others have . . . There was a spirit of cooperation. We organized an Area Tourist Committee, and this supported that work. I know the first press conference at Blanchard Caverns in March of 1963, Ryan Massey was the Area Tourist chairman, and he was there . . . In later years, Bill Rosa and Carson Goins. There were a number of other people served in this capacity. The area concept . . . I think that, you know, this may have led the way for a lot of things. Later you had your Planning and Development districts and others, but obviously, a county must go beyond county lines for a lot of . . . Well, Iowa, I think, did a lot of research. An hour’s drive people will go to get necessary services, and so the regional concept, and . . . But Stone County was a good fit. I think that this thing might have gotten lost in some other county, because they just . . . It wouldn’t have been as important to them.
Blevins: Now, in your position . . . From an earlier interview, I remember you mentioning other things that you tried to improve the economy, and I seem to remember something about a program where a farmer’s . . . Kind of tried to make kind of like a vacation out of farms, and so on, and I guess not all of those programs worked as well as . . .
Rainey: No. That’s true. Really, before bed and breakfasts, you know, Ohio had . . . They had a farm vacation association, and quite successful, so I might go back on the crafts part. We had a man, Kenneth Bates and C.A. Vines, that were in the leadership of the Extension Service, and Mr. Bates was the one that wanted this tour to Tennessee that sparked this, and the Electric Coop furnished the bus, and the Extension Service organized it, but the thing is . . . Now then, in later years, we were going to try a farm vacation association, and this is where that you have . . . Like in Ohio, you had the large old farmhouses, and people would come live for a week, and this would be ‘live the rural life,’ and the food and activities, and in some cases that worked near metropolitan areas. We had some things against us. We organized it, and we had several participants - I’m talking about the farmers - but our housing was not of the same quality and room, and secondly, in a rural area nearly everybody has got . . . like in Little Rock, the grandparents, or somebody, lives on a farm, and so we had some guests, but we were not successful with it. Now in later years the concept of bed and breakfast came to this area. It’s been old somewhere else, but you know, now Arkansas’s got some very successful bed and breakfasts. But we were maybe just . . . There were some factors against what we were doing, but you know, this is true - we accept this: some things work and some don’t, and you just have to keep trying. And we had a lot of successes, too. The historical sites, most of them that are in this whole region, we helped organize - and you can talk to Wilson Powell about that - like Cleburne County and Woodruff County . . . He and Clyde have helped in Izard County . . . I wasn’t involved in that, but we were involved in Lawrence County, Randolph County, Sharp County, Woodruff County, and to me, this is significant where people began to gather historical information and keep it. Most of it started in a period of a few years there.
Blevins: I didn’t realize that your agency had anything to do with that.
Rainey: Well, personally, I did a lot of work outside the . . . But you talk to Wilson Powell. Wilson and I might go like to Lawrence County and meet with some interested leaders. They’d ask us to come, and we’d meet an extension . . . The Extension agents had a close relationship with them, and we were not involved after they started. We initiated and gave suggestions. Of course, I was not involved in this one here. Clyde and Wilson and . . . Therefore, they knew a lot more, and I was not an expert, except I was . . . Organization and education were the two areas that I was supposed to have expertise, but . . . Yeah, we helped initiate some of those, at least encourage them and guide them, but I remember Lawrence, and I believe Randolph and Lawrence County and Sharp County, Woodruff County and Cleburne County, but now Izard, I don’t think I was involved in that at all.
Blevins: Well, how . . .
Rainey: Let me say this. We did a lot of other things to try to help. We had career days, like here at the college. They worked with us starting back in the sixties. I remember the day Martin Luther King was killed, we had a career day going, and in later years it moved to . . . This is on a county level now . . . Also, we helped organize - I did - and wrote the first grant for the NADC, and Rayburn Richardson was the first director and Patty Bone was the first secretary, and their office was down there close to the courthouse - Fitzhugh Building . . . And at the first Headstart program here, I worked with the county school supervisor, Hugh Moore, and he was really a knowledgeable educator, which I was not, but I did in later years serve on the governor’s committee for childhood education, a commission for a little while. I wasn’t really of the same caliber of background as some of those people that have been . . . You know, their major and their life had been childhood education, but the Headstart program, the NADC, all of that, we were involved in it.
Blevins: Well, tell me a little about how the Folk Center changed Mountain View. What happened to Mountain View after . . . well, in the thirty years since the Folk Center has opened.
Rainey: Okay. Well, of course, it brought a lot more people on a consistent basis. You see the development of businesses that were not there before. Travel certainly benefited. It brought a lot of people to work that . . . You know, the Folk Center has quite a few people from out of state working. They were not able to get all the people from Stone County or the area. I don’t know . . . the changes. The economic . . . I tell you what I think. If you would talk to Glen Hinkle or . . . Jim Hinkle is the president of the Bank of Mountain View - his son, and when we started to work, Jim Hinkle just . . . Boy, and he’d learned to play the banjo, but Jim can tell you the terrific impact this had on the economy. I mean, when we started, there was one bank - Bank of Mountain View - and credit was very limited, because such a poor area . . . And some people would bring their money down here and put it in the bank, but boy, this brought, you know . . . Tourism has been a lifesaver to Stone County. Of course, then you have people that came along that were interested in crafts, you know, like the wrought iron work, and so it helped spark those type of jobs. I’ve thought, what if they hadn’t of . . . if there was no crafts, they probably wouldn’t have had . . . This man that started the Stone County Ironworks, you know . . . He came and worked at the Folk Center the first year, you know, and so . . . The Dulcimer Shoppe . . . If they hadn’t . . . Lynn McSpadden developed the Dulcimer Shoppe, and so this developed a lot of businesses, tourist-related. Grandpa Jones came and had a dinner theater for several years, you know. Then the White River Hoedown, and . . . But I shudder to think what would have been in Stone County if you didn’t have the Folk Center and the Caverns, and of course those resorts like Jack’s Boat Dock - those are important, too. At that time, he had just a few cabins. One of our horticulturists had helped landscape it, but Jack and Mary Hale had been supporters of development work all these years, and very good friends, but the thing is, you have the expansion of those type of businesses, all of the travel-serving businesses. The economy is many-fold what it used to be as far as money. The per capita income has increased. The population’s had modest increases, and you know, you have medical facilities that were not very adequate then. They had a Stone County Hospital, but . . . Everything struggled in a poor economy like that.
Blevins: Another person I wanted to ask you about - and you mentioned him briefly - was Harold Sherman, and as I understand it, he didn’t have much of a role in the Folk Festival or the Folk Center, but what did he do?
Rainey: Okay. Well, Harold was kind of a mysterious type person, because he brought the concept of ESP and a bunch of other things to the area, and there were some people . . . And he also was involved in that filming about the situation at Blanchard, but there were those that didn’t like Harold, and so Harold, he was wanting to get involved in this thing, and of course, he and Jimmy, I don’t think, got along too well, but the point is, Lloyd Westbrook was the county agent, and to be honest about it, Lloyd kindly - he was also in the Lion’s Club - and he kindly assigned that Blanchard Cavern project to Harold Sherman, kind of gave . . . So it would clear the air, and old Harold took it, and he went to Washington with them, and you know, he did some good stuff, but that’s about it. As far as the Folk Center and the Festival, he really didn’t have much of a role, but he was an intelligent man, personable, but sometimes he could be controversial too.
Blevins: Yeah. It sounds like the Folk Center movement was probably better off without him kind of muddying the water, I guess.
Rainey: Well, really, if you’ve got some strong personalities that don’t get along, you know, and Jimmy and Harold, and then . . . Also, Harold - I don’t think local people had the confidence in him that they might have other people. He had some funny ideas. In fact, he brought people in from other places down here which supposedly did bloodless surgery, you know, without . . . And really and truly, some of us just didn’t believe in some of that stuff. But tell you what. Something else should be mentioned. You know, they didn’t a paved highway in Stone County until the fifties, and the thing about it is, this has brought better highways, and when we had Festival, boy, this was an exciting thing to see, the highways full of cars coming, and . . . But the highways - I remember in Mountain View, the road to Blanchard Cavern - very narrow, crossed that swinging bridge, and there wasn’t any bridge there at Sylamore. There was a ferry. Calico Rock had a ferry; they didn’t have a bridge till in the sixties, I think it was, but I know when I came over in 1961 I rode a ferry across and it was real hard on the gas tank. Luckily, mine didn’t puncture, but . . . So they had a ferry there and the gravel road through the forest to Mountain View, so you know, it’s hard to even remember that . . . We camped a lot at Blanchard Springs in the sixties. We - my family and I - vacationed a lot and camped there. It was so breathtakingly beautiful, you know. Sylamore Creek, the big rocks near the campground . . . But basically, the tourist industry had been very limited up until that time, but highway development has been - and the bridge - and this is very important, and we still don’t have the best road from here to Mountain View, you know. There’s not a real good way to go to Mountain View without curvy roads.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, is there anything else that you think needs to be said about the creation of the Folk Festival or the Folk Center, or any other memories that you want to add?
Rainey: Well, there was activities along with it, like the dogwood drives . . . They had a rodeo. The parade, and the school kids would have their floats, and really and truly . . . You know, it was a time when the whole community kindly - and still they do, to a certain extent . . . The parades, and the square became famous. People would come, and still do, to play during the Festival there. You’ve got music going all around. The restaurants . . . But there were a lot of people that contributed, and this is why . . . You know, I don’t mean to imply the great role that some of us played, because in development work, it’s like building a house. You know, the man that might do the plumbing can’t say, “Well, that’s my house.” In other words, it takes a team effort, and for the most part, Stone County . . . They had a lot of people that contributed volunteer time, and they deserve a lot of credit. The thing is, there were different roles that people played. Sometimes I think the people of Stone County might not recognize some roles that are necessary. They had a newspaper editor there that year, Eddie Tudor. He later went to Marshall, and Eddie was colorful, and he often would deal with controversial things on the front page of his paper. Eddie pushed to try to get a dam on Buffalo River, but . . . You had people like George Fisher that came from Little Rock, really a great cartoonist and artist, and at Timbo they began to do a little show about simultaneously with the craft and the music, and George Fisher was involved in that. I don’t know.
We had, as far as local people, Jim Warren, Epps Mabry, Les Richardson, Herman Jones . . . These were some people already involved in crafts. Dorothy Ford was a weaver, and she lived at Pleasant Grove, and so there was a woodworking shop up there, and so what you had . . . A few people done crafts, and we found people like Mary Lou Kosmeder at Clinton, a potter, and in our search for craftsmen, we unearthed some craftsmen, and also some of them took training to learn some . . . They upgraded their skills, and I’m very proud of some of the things. I want to tell you about, for example, the broom-making. This is an example, maybe one of the best examples. Of course, you know I was involved in Arkansas Traveling Theater for twenty-three years and helped start it at Hardy, and one night at Hardy at the old theater, a man came down after the show. His name was Henry Young. He was looking for a place he could buy a dulcimer string. Henry had gone to school in Berea, Kentucky, and he was teaching - in Germantown, Ohio - history, and in a high school. So the next day he came down here, and we visited, and I learned that he knew how to make brooms from Berea, and so I talked him into coming back and teaching a class. We were nearing the time when the Folk Center was going to open, and so we had a class out here at the fairground, and there’s something I should mention. The vo-tech schools helped pay part of his pay. The vo-tech schools were involved some, too, you know, in some of this education - Luther Hardin and others. Lu Hardin’s father. But anyway, we had this out here. Bill Ford and Jimmy Ford, my father-in-law, Susie Rowe, and others took that and learned how to make brooms, so then, you know, Jimmy and Billy worked at the Folk Center for years, and they made a lot of brooms. Well, this . . . What happened to old Henry Young . . . Henry Young took this - he hadn’t made brooms for years - and the broom-making, basically, went back to Shaker Town. One of the men there went over to Berea and taught, but I think the Shaker, you know, he . . . There was some involvement with Shaker Town, Kentucky, where the Shakers lived and had such outstanding crafts, but Henry, then he started making brooms at festivals, and he’d come down here at Heber Springs, and he . . . This broom-making opened a lot of doors for him to meet a lot of people. He might do the festivals in Ohio or California, and now he’s quit. He travels a lot, he and his wife, but you know, I get letters from him. Henry, we became good friends.
Well, I might say there was broom-making. We tried to restore it and weren’t quite successful. We got a man from Pocahontas named Floyd Humphleet, from Maynard, and took him to Heber Springs and had a broom-making class, and then in Mountain View, they followed through with one of the people that was taught at Heber. We had a class here with Floyd at the Independence County Fairgrounds. Broom-making, though, doesn’t lend itself for perpetuity quite as well, because it’s hard to get the materials. Now they buy it, but broom-making, we could go to Illinois and buy broom corn and all that stuff. I have a broom-making machine under my house that belonged to Martha’s father, broom-making. But we had woodcarving workshops. We got some people from Tennessee to come over and do a woodworking shop. They had knowledge of finishing. The training was important. Most of the people now are not aware of what . . . you know, of these things that went on early.
See, the question is, can you supply the crafts if that Folk Center opens? That’s another thing, you know. I don’t care how good your market is, if you don’t have the crafts, but so far they’ve had plenty of crafts, and if you’d come in 1961 . . . I know Jim Warren was doing some jewelry, and I wanted to help him, and I took some on the road to Hot Springs just trying to sell. During those years, Arkansas craftsmen had a poor reputation. They wouldn’t give you much, time of day, if you said, “I’ve got some crafts I want to show you” in some of the gift shops. Of course, a lot of them sell imported stuff, but the point - I mean junk crafts - but the Guild, I think, helps set a standard and get a reputation, which sophisticated and educated people hire and would buy crafts, and so even though the Guild now is limited in its scope, there was a role played by the Craft Guild for forty years, and I think to help make craftsmen, people aware now. You know, when the Folk Festival started there hadn’t been a lot of shows. Now, there’s probably eight or nine hundred festivals in Arkansas of some kind. Everybody’s got one. It was unique, though, during those years, and Eureka Springs had done this earlier, and they became offended. They wrote me a letter saying, you know, they were the original, and there was a lot of jealousy there, and of course the government involvement down here on the grant and things, and so Eureka Springs wasn’t very happy about . . . Jimmy went up there, and I think brought a bunch of people out of Mountain View for a television showing, and . . . Jimmy Driftwood. But anyway, there was a little bit of rivalry between Eureka and Mountain View area, but see, in those years, there weren’t a lot of craft shows, but now it’s so plentiful. Everybody began having craft shows and festivals ‘til they just wore it out, kindly.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, I thank you very much for the interview.
Rainey: Well, you’re welcome, and Dr. Blevins, I appreciate the chance to reminisce over some . . . while I still have the opportunity. I’ve got some of this stuff recorded that I’ll try to find it. I sent some of my materials to University of Arkansas, too - the minutes of the Craft Guild and the Area Tourist Committee, and the Arkansaw Traveller Theatre, and some information on the Folk Center. The university really backed me a lot, agricultural economics and rural sociology, that’s the department that was . . . They were so supportive. Dr. Henry Menen and Dr. Don Voth – a lot of those people – and we often would meet, and they were very interested in what we were doing. Dr. Gerald Hudson was a rural sociologist up there, and they were proud to see the impact we were having. I mean the leaders - I say we - I’m talking about everybody, not just us. But this was something that they were very proud of, so I had sent some materials. They wanted some of my materials. They microfilmed it and then they sent them back to me. The library’s got some, but you can’t access it like yours, because all of it’s not on the Internet. It’s just a listing of what’s there. I’m really happy to see you with Lyon, and I think you’re doing a good job, and I think it’s good that somebody records some of this where the real thing would be . . . the real facts are known, and even the people of Stone County, they don’t have an idea about some of these beginnings, you know, and so this will be a good thing to have on file.
Blevins: Okay, thank you very much.
Rainey: You bet. We’ll see you.