A Special Place to Remember a Better Time

By Larry Dablemont, Contributing Columnist
Posted 1/26/22

What I would like to leave behind me when I am gone and forgotten, originated in a dream from 30 years ago.  That is when I began to think about a special museum somewhere between Cabool, …

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A Special Place to Remember a Better Time

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What I would like to leave behind me when I am gone and forgotten, originated in a dream from 30 years ago.  That is when I began to think about a special museum somewhere between Cabool, Houston and Licking along highway 17 concerning the old time Ozarks and old days Ozarkians, and my beloved Big Piney River, where I spent so much of my boyhood exploring the length of it.  In Arkansas, I worked as the first Naturalist for the State Park system right   out of college in 1971, I really got into constructing interpretive centers for four or five of the largest state parks.  Then I continued it when I went to work later as a naturalist for the National Park Service on the Buffalo River.

A museum about the Big Piney’s Ozark country and people, would draw thousands of visitors and I know exactly how it could be done on only an acre of land, effectively and economically, IF I can create a group of people to dedicate time and money to doing it.  A large bit of the money to accomplish such a thing, became available when I purchased land along panther creek in St. Clair County to use as a kid’s retreat. It was a place for small churches to bring underprivileged children. We had fifty acres, a beautiful little creek and a 4-bedroom lodge and 2 cabins. During that time, churches brought from 15 to 25 kids at a time for as long as they wanted to stay, any season of the years. We had canoes and kayaks for t he kids, clay pigeon shooting and a big field for all types of sports from softball to hockey. The former owner of the land gave it all to us for fifty thousand dollars.  Donors from all around the Ozarks helped us make it work and in those 3 years the “Panther Creek Retreat” had nearly 1,000 visitors.  In a future column, I will tell all about it, and in a book I will release soon,  “The Justice of St. Clair County” I will tell the story of how a neighbor and two corrupt lawyers an two corrupt judges attempted to destroy it.  My youngest daughter and a couple of lawyers saved the place for me, but it took 6,000 dollars and two years to get it done.  The book is one that you will not believe.  I remember asking God why he would allow a project like that, which never made anyone a penny and helped so many kids, to be destroyed by evil people wanting money and greedy for land which they didn’t own.

But the unthinkable happened.  As I was so depressed about it, after being involved in a tractor accident while  trying to mow parts of it, I realized that I was just not able to keep it going as I should by myself.  We couldn’t hire anyone with no incoming funds. That night, as I sat wondering what to do, changing bandages from the tractor accident cuts and scrapes, a man called me and ask if I wanted to sell the kids retreat. He was a relative of a famous, big-name baseball player, and he paid me cash for the land and allowed me to keep the big 4-bedroom home and one acre, to rent or sell to someone later.  I was paid four times what I had purchased it for!

With that money, I started thinking the dream of the Big Piney museum could become a reality!  And it could work to make life better for underprivileged Ozark kids. It is time to start doing it, instead of dreaming about it.  On Friday evening Mar 4, I am going to come to Houston and spend the evening, hopefully talking to folks about this project.  I am not coming to solicit money, I am coming to talk with volunteers who will help get it started with their dedication and work.

In my years as an Ozark Naturalist and writer, I have amassed a tremendous amount of information through hundreds of interviews, about the Ozark people of another time and the river that is one of the most amazing streams in the Midwest. To see a little taste of what I am talking about, stop sometime at the Houston Chamber of Commerce building at the Northeast corner of the town on Highway 17 and look at the small exhibit I have set up there, as well as an old Big Piney wooden Johnboat and  the very first aluminum johnboat ever made for Ozark rivers in 1952.  …Serial number 0001.

This museum is something that is going to happen, if I have to do it alone.  I have enough to fill two museums, but it would be a place where Texas Countians can place historic items as well. If I can get help, this will be something spectacular a couple of years from now.  If you will come join me on March 4, I will tell you how my experiences making nature centers in Arkansas gives me an insight into making it something beyond a museum.  I don’t know where I will conduct this meeting, but I will have local newspapers in Texas county give info and location next week.

And remember me writing so often about the Houston Pool Hall where I worked as a kid? I have one pool table and one snooker table from that place where I spent so much of my boyhood.  Both were made long before I was born.  I want both of them in that museum, being used every day by visitors who drop in.  More about all this next week.  Give it some thought, and you can email for more info, or to give me your input at lightninridge47@gmail.com, or call 417-777-5227 to talk with me direct.

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