This was a sad year for history and historic buildings in Rogers. Three of our structures that were a significant part of the development of our city were lost, including the O.L. Gregory/Speas/Speaco Vinegar Plant, Wight's Livery Stable and the Oklahoma Row Hotel at Monte Ne are gone forever. Here are their stories:
The Oklahoma Row Hotel, c.1909
One of the more interesting episodes in the development of Rogers was the fascinating resort town of Monte Ne developed by William "Coin" Harvey just outside the southeast part of town. He began his construction with the opening of the Hotel Monte Ne in 1901.
At first the resort was a great success, with folks coming by train from all over the country. Harvey had a grand plan to build a great central hotel, The Club House Hotel, and five long row hotels around it along the bank of the lake. The row hotels were to be between 300 and 450 feet long and were named Arkansas, Missouri, Texas and Louisiana.
In 1904, Harvey hired a noted architect, A.O. Clarke, from St. Louis to design the grand hotels, a bank and other buildings.
The Missouri Row Hotel was completed in 1905, but due to financial problems, the other hotels were never built. In 1909, the oil boom in Oklahoma caused an influx of wealthy tourists to Monte Ne and Harvey convinced the major businessmen and others to invest in another hotel.
The Oklahoma Row Hotel opened in August 1909. It was the largest log structure in the world, 310 ft. long, and built with 6,000 logs and 40,000 cubic feet of concrete and stone. The structure had a red tile roof and a three story concrete and stone tower at the south end.
The hotel had 40 bedrooms, each with a fireplace and 13 had indoor bathrooms. The view from the tower offered a spectacular view of the valley, with the train station and Big Spring (a 10,000 gallon per minute spring that fed the lagoon or lake) across the lake.
In 1927, Coin Harvey was in financial trouble, so he sold the Missouri Row and Oklahoma Row hotels to Dan Evans, who used the acquisition to start the Ozark Industrial College and School of Theology, a nonsectarian vocational school. The school closed in 1932 during the Great Depression due to financial problems.
In 1945, Iris Armstrong, the owner and founder of Camp Joyzelle in Monte Ne bought the Oklahoma Row and Missouri Row hotels so that visitors would have a place to stay close to her girl's camp. Camp Joyzelle was a summer camp for well-to-do girls from Arkansas and surrounding states.
By 1955, Oklahoma Row had been vacant for several years and was badly deteriorated. A Springdale antique dealer, Dallas Barrack, bought the hotel for $15,000 on October 21, 1955, and renovated it to its former splendor for his Palace Art Gallery. The three story tower was remodeled into living quarters for the managers of the gallery.
When the hotel was condemned for the creation of Beaver Lake in the early 1960s, the building was auctioned to J.G. Gladden, who moved parts of it up the hill just past the Monte Ne Inn Restaurant. Health problems prevented Gladden from completing his goal, but his son, Jack Gladden reassembled the hotel into one long building, where it sat vacant from 1963 until this year.
Sadly, on September 8, a storm with strong winds collapsed the historic structure. The site has been cleaned up and the usable remains have been stacked for reuse.
The tower, foundation and the rooms underneath the foundation existed on the bank of Beaver Lake and have been explored with fascination and wonder by thousands of visitors until this year. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the tower and all of the remains were destroyed and removed in February of this year for safety reasons.
W. M. Wight's Livery and Feed Stable, 201 E. Walnut Street, c.1900
W. M. Wight built his livery and feed stable in about 1900 at the northeast corner of Arkansas and Walnut Streets. An article in a 1909 publication said that Wight had accommodations for 60 or 70 head of horses and mules at 201 E. Walnut. "They have the most up-to-date buggies, and fine driving horses, as well as a complete transfer department," read the Historic Souvenir of Rogers, Ark., written by A. H. Heild in about 1909.
In 1930, Millard Croxdale started his first IGA grocery store here with just $175 cash. About 1940, Croxdale's Corner IGA Grocery moved to 124 S. First Street. In the early 1940s, the National Guard Armory occupied the building until the new armory was built on Eighth Street in about 1943. Several grocery stores used the building in the late 1940s and early 1950s. By 1959, it had become Whisenhunt's Trading Post.
From about 1961-1968, the building housed a coin operated laundry. In 1973, 201 E. Walnut was Wanda Florer's House of Lights, specializing in outside lighting. In 1975, Quality Janitor Supply was home in the building. In 1978-1981, the location was Jackson's Used Furniture.
The eastern sections of the building, 205, 207 and 209, were for many years occupied by many businesses including Williams Garage (1950's-1970's), Strong's Body Shop (1950's), East Walnut Body Shop (1960's) Rogers Auto Trim (1960's), and Ward's Auto Trim (late 1960's-about 1972).
In August 2006, 201 E. Walnut was the home of the Yellow Rose Trading Post. The historic stamped metal clad building built to house a livery stable in 1900 has been the home of many businesses for the last 123 years, but had been vacant and in poor condition for the past few years.
In 2019, the owner commissioned Samuel Hale to paint the amazing mural of Rosa Parks on the side next to Arkansas Street. However, due to deterioration and since it was not economically feasible to restore, the oldest building in Rogers was removed in late October to make way for future progress.
Ozark Cider and Vinegar Plant, c.1905
From 1900 until the 1930s, the hills and valleys in and around Rogers were covered with apple orchards. The apple business was the first major industry in Rogers with the best apples shipped all over the country.
The less desirable apples were useless as a cash crop until O.L. Gregory arrived in 1905 and built the first vinegar plant in the county at North First and Cedar Streets, which until recently was Moe Torabi's Trader's Market.
Gregory built a vast empire of plants across the country but lost everything in the panic of 1907. He bounced back and in 1914, bought his old Rogers plant back, renamed it Ozark Cider and Vinegar and made it the parent company of his vinegar businesses in Northwest Arkansas and many states.
By the 1920s, Gregory's business was the only market in the area for low grade apples and the Rogers plant was the largest producer of apple cider vinegar in the world, often receiving 600 wagons of apples a day.
O.L. Gregory's vinegar company continued to expand and merged with the Speas Company in 1930. The merger combined many plants under the new name, Gregory Robinson Speas, and was the largest manufacturer of vinegar in the United States with the home office in Rogers.
On December 31, 1945, Gregory's heirs sold their shares in the company and it became the Speas Company with 23 vinegar factories extending from coast to coast.
By 1978, the huge Speas Company had dwindled to 14 plants, but still owned the large plant on N. First Street. In 1980, Clarice Strode Moore and Jack Cole bought the Rogers plant. At the time, Cole was Mayor of Rogers and Moore managed the family-owned Rogers Vinegar Company.
The two vinegar factories in Rogers were merged into a new company, Speaco Foods, and they acquired more plants in Texas, Missouri and California.
In January 2001, Speaco Foods sold all of its holdings in Rogers and elsewhere and the Rogers plants were closed, thus ending the 96 year era of vinegar manufacturing in Rogers.
The legacy of the vinegar history lives on in Rogers. Lake Atalanta was named after Atalanta Gregory, the wife of O.L. Gregory. Gregory's magnificent home still exists along Highway 12, not far from the site of the vinegar plant he built.
The vinegar factory built by O.L. Gregory in 1905 was remodeled and expanded many times through the years, but recently was removed for the construction of a huge apartment complex.
First Street Flats is expected to open in the spring of 2024 and will have four three-story buildings with 121 units. The developer promised to save parts of the original plant, including its oldest part and the water tower.
Only the saved parts and memories remain of this historic structure that was a great influence on the development of Rogers and so many lives.