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Hardy, Arkansas

Published: Nov/Dec 2002
By Durand Young

A kayaker hits the rapids on the Spring River (above). Revisit the 1950s and 60s at the Old hardy Malt Shoppe and Soda Fountain. Bright yellow walls and booths dominate the color scheme. (below) / Durand Young photos
Population: 578. The sign partially defines Hardy, Ark., for it may be small in population but it is a big town in other ways.

Located in the foothills of the northeast Arkansas Ozarks at the crossroads of U.S. Routes 62, 63 and 412, Hardy offers shopping, river recreation and history to visitors.

Look up and down Main Street at 7:30 on a summer morning and see plenty of parking spaces, empty sidewalks and a few vehicles headed east or west through downtown. Look again at 10 or 11 a.m. and most of the parking spaces will be filled. Sidewalks will be alive with pedestrians and vehicle traffic will be heavy on the narrow street. Visitors of all ages stroll in and out of shops filled with antiques, art, craft and specialty items. Shaded sidewalks and benches invite shoppers to sit a spell.

Most of Hardy’s buildings date from the 1920s and ’30s, although several were built well before 1900. Thirty-eight buildings in the historic district are on the National Register of Historic Places. That is more listings per capita than any other Arkansas city, says Cecelia Jones, executive director of Main Street Hardy.

The three-block stretch of Main Street known as Old Hardy Town preserves a downtown look from an earlier time. A sampling of shops illustrates the variety. The Green Rabbit features a large Christmas section, along with other gifts and collectibles. Hardy Creations offers home decorating items, brass, copper and some antiques. At Flat Creek Dulcimer Shop, watch the instruments being made. Ozark Rustic Charm specializes in needlework, where owner Faye Douglas is an enthusiastic booster of the Spring River Art Gallery. She readily locked her store to give a tour. Tillie Stark, who moved to Hardy as a child in the 1930s, has long owned Stark’s Antiques.

Newcomers in business

New owners are coming to Old Hardy Town as well. Greg and JaNoel Bess abandoned the rush and crowds of New Jersey to move back to Arkansas in 2001. They bought The Old Stonehouse Bed and Breakfast inn and became enthusiastic community boosters.

"Hardy is in a growth mode and people are pulling together," Greg Bess says.

Ernest Erwin and his family moved from Monterey, Calif., to Arkansas when he retired. He expected to enjoy golf and boating, but instead he bought the Old Hardy Malt Shoppe and Soda Fountain two years ago.

Its decor and music recapture the 1950s and ‘60s. Life-size photos of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elvis Presley mix with 45-rpm records decorating the wall. Tunes from the era provide background music. Chocolate malts come in a tall glass with extra portions served in the frosty silver mixer used to create the treat.

Other business people welcome the newcomers, says Jones.

"They come here and see that they can operate a business in a town that is safe, friendly and economically viable," she says.

Cool Spring River recreation

Hardy’s river connection draws many visitors to the area. Mammoth Spring, 16 miles north, pours 9.78 million gallons of 58-degree water into the Spring River per hour. A state park and artificial lake surround the spring. Amenities include the visitor center, the historic powerhouse and dam, a walking trail, a federal fish hatchery and the 1886 Frisco depot museum.

The river from Mammoth Spring to Hardy, a 17-mile stretch, alternates between wide, placid pools with turtle-slow current and rolling rapids created by succeeding steps or ledges. Experienced canoeists will find it tame. Novices can manage it without serious difficulty, though the folks at Spring River Valley Camp and Canoe will not use a video of my technique in the rapids as a training aid. Anglers reel in trout, walleye and bass.

Folks from eastern Arkansas and as far away as Memphis, Tenn., have been vacationing in the Spring River valley for many years. Some built summer cabins and, later, more substantial vacation houses on the river. A devastating flood in 1982 prompted changes. Today many year-round and vacation homes flanking the river stand on 10-foot stilts.

Though passenger trains abandoned Hardy many years ago and there is no longer even a depot, the town that boomed with the coming of the railroad in the 1880s still hears the whistle of locomotives and the clickety-clack of freight cars many times a day. Audrey Thompson says Hardy is on the main railroad line between Memphis and Kansas City. Thompson, a retired educator and businessman, is the town’s official historian. A large bronze plaque in a downtown park honors him and his historical work.

"I think they appointed me one night," he says, laughing.

Historic autos on exhibit

Memphis businessman Ernie Sutherland accumulated a large collection of old cars and a few years ago chose Hardy as the home of his Good Old Days Vintage Motorcar Museum. Among the nearly 60 vehicles are many early Model T and Model A Fords, as well as numerous other makes.

Its oldest car, a 1908 Sears Model J Runabout, sold for $395, crated and shipped. But early automobile enthusiasts wanted more than tiller steering and top speed of 25 miles per hour. Four years and $80,000 in losses later, Sears quit the car business.

Hardy’s population is multiplied during numerous special events throughout the year. Civil War Re-enactments, arts and craft shows, canoe races, musical entertainment and the Hardy Hillbilly Olympics are just of few of the attractions that add more appeal to this already charming hamlet.

Durand Young is a contributor from Bella Vista, Ark.

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