First Baptist SAMs group braves cold to see Camden

Neither rain, freezing rain, sleet or snow kept the seniors from First Baptist Church (SAMs) from their appointed destination when they sat out on a breezy, cold winter day, for Camden, Arkansas. They encountered all of the above weather conditions during the six-hour adventure. However, they had a wonderful time, and are ready to go back when the weather improves.

Located on the banks of the Ouachita River, the quaint, southern city is steeped in history. First known as a French trading post called Ecore Fabre, its history has been closely tied to the Ouachita River and was called the “Queen City” of the Ouachita during the steamboat era.

Ecore Fabre (Fabre’s Bluff) was named after a Frenchman who first settled the land. In 1824, John Nunn moved to the site and became one of its early permanent settlers. Steamboats arrived at the settlement in the 1820s, linking to commercial markets in New Orleans and helping the settlement grow.

In 1842, Ouachita County, named for the river, was formed from the northwest portion of Union County. Ecore Fabre was chosen as the county seat, and its name was changed to Camden at the suggestion of one of the commissioners.

During the 1850s, Camden served as the supply center for several counties. By 1960, with a population of over 2,000, Camden had newspapers, churches, schools, merchants, lawyers and manufacturers.

During the Civil War, Camden was the focus of the Red River campaign of 1964. It and south Arkansas remained in Confederate hands until the end of the war. After the Civil War, cotton production remained important and steamboats continued to navigate the river. In the 1880s, the Iron Mountain and the Cotton Belt Route railroad lines were opened. Trains opened markets for pine and hardwood forests in the county. Though they were challenged by the railroads, the steamboats continued to service the city until the 1930s.

Oil was discovered in the 1920s, bringing much change to the area. An international Paper mill was also constructed in the 1920s. Camark Pottery was opened for business at this time and operated until the 1960s, producing pottery that is still prized today. In 1939, Benjamin Tyndie Fooks developed a new grape drink named Grapette at his Camden bottling plant, which became a top selling brand.

Upon arriving in town, the SAMs went to Woods Place Restaurant in the Historic Downtown District. Woods place opened in November of 1984 by James and Patty Woods. The restaurant has the largest collection of Grapette memorabilia around and has an excellent staff on hand. Woods Place serves a southern style specialty, pasta, seafood, fried or grilled catfish, as well as daily lunch specials. For dessert, there are apple, peach and chocolate fried pies and vanilla ice cream.

After lunch, the SAMs took a driving tour of the Historic Districts of Clifton and Greening Streets and Washington Street. Among the restored structures seen were the Greening Home, the John Hobson Parker Home, the Ramsey-McClellan Home, the Richie-Crawford Home, the Cleveland Avenue School, the Godwin-Powell-May-Districh Home, the Umstead Home (bed and breakfast), the Marino Home, the Jordan-Shankle Home, the Graham-Gaughan-Betts Home, the Eliott-Meek-Nunnally Home and the McCollum-Chidester House Museum. The SAMs were delighted to find that many of the homeowners had tiny lights in every window.

The SAMs were especially interested in seeing the Richie-Crawford Home. On March 2, 1957, a chilly, rainy Saturday, Camden’s first woman lawyer, Maud Crawford, walked down the steps of this house and disappeared forever. The case was never solved.

After the driving tour of homes, the SAMs planned to shop the Washington Historic District. However, while they were in the Book and Frame Shop, it began to sleet. The group decided it was time to board the van for home.

Making the trip were the driver, James House, organizer of the SAMs trips, Jeanette McGrew, Pat Crain, Sara Cromer, Lisa Grigg (a native of Camden), Peggie Howard, Catherine Long, Wanda Scruggs, and Ann Thompson. Lisa’s father and stepmother, Ed and Edith Clay, joined the group at the restaurant. Despite the weather, it was agreed that the trip was a good one.