The Silent Schoolhouse
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recorded seeing the lights of their campfires from as far as present day Pine Bluff when venturing up the river in explorations of the new territories. From the earliest foraging by hunter-gatherers perhaps as long ago as 11,500 years, to the more recent farming by Native Americans from 1,500 to 500 years ago, the area is now rich in wheat, hay, sorghum, corn and other crops.
At the turn of the 20th century, Carden Bottoms was well know throughout the archeological world for its splendid pottery which was unearthed by unscrupulous diggers and profit-seekers, among them the esteemed Smithsonian Museum who coined Carden Bottoms as "the Pot Hunter's Paradise." Because of the indescrimate digging, the identifications of the pottery was so poor that rather than cultural significance, each and every vessel stored at the Smithsonian and other museums became "Carden Bottom Pottery", and were the most sought-after in the world.
The Carden Bottoms School
Quiet Halls - The old school (pre-1935) main entry showing the curtains which still remain over the old transom above the school's double doors; note the native Muscadine which has invaded and overtaken nearly all of the school. Photo by Clarke L. Sherrod
Nearly everyone who has lived on Petit Jean Mountain or in the surrounding areas is probably aware of the old "Carden Bottoms Schoolhouse" that is located presently in the middle of a large parcel of carefully plowed fields. Those newcomers have never seen it, and probably do not know of its existence for a reason: you cannot SEE it.....so you cannot find it. The schoolhouse remains mostly intact, although dilapidated, but is completely grown over by native muscadine, honeysuckle and other cloaking plants. Indeed you can walk right past it and never know that there is a large building inside a very dense spot of vegetation.
It is a stealthy and silent reminder of yesterday.
But the beautiful and historic old school is still there, now owned entirely by the Dardanelle Public Schools, who gave us permission to explore and photograph its secrets. One needs only to spend an afternoon walking through its now-quiet halls, and soaking up the sun in a jungle-esque courtyard of yesteryear, to feel the spirits of young children who spent months of their early years from around 1920 until as recently as 1971 when all operations (at that later date as a private school), moving from class-to-gymnasium-to-cafeteria in a seemingly endless repetition of youth. For a very short while after 1972 the building was used by a charter school and then by the Carden Bottoms Extension Homemakers' Club as a meeting and activity center.
Constructed of native stone with archways and the grandeur of princely stature, those who devoted so much time there would never imagine what the schoolhouse has become today.
Sunlight through arches
Sunlight shines through the magnificent arches found throughout the Carden Bottoms School; to the right (inside) of the arches was a small gymnasium that was added in 1935. Above the arches is a masonry cast that still today proudly announces the new addition, "CBS 1935" . Photo by Clarke L. Sherrod
In the 1930's the school had a gymnasium added on with a fine arched entry, and nearby still stands an old gasoline pump used by the community school bus to refill for the twice day journeys of every school year. Within each classroom still remains all, or parts, of chimney hardware from the wood and coal stoves that were used to heat the rooms; two pianos still remain and lifting one back into place revealed that tunes from yesteryear were still possible from its keys.
Sounds of silence -
Seen through the doorless entry into what was a "double classroom" in the older portion of the Carden Bottoms School stands an upright piano still capable of singing out an out-of-tune melody; it is one of two found in the old schoolhouse. Note the blackening shade pulled down partially over one of the many classroom windows. - Photo by Clarke L. Sherrod
The now-rotting floors, the result of vandals and thieves taking lumber and chimney parts from the roof, stand bleak and cold....dark even on the brightest day. Shades can still be pulled over some windows as if a celluloid film presentation may take place at any minute. As recently as 2000, one alumnus from the old Carden Bottoms school visited the remains and wrote:
"It was as if all the students had just gotten up and just left," he says of the
school, which had been closed in 1972 .
"Assignments were still on the board, books were everywhere, on the shelves. Teachers' desks, you know, still had pens in their little cup, and all these ungraded assignments on there."
Indeed, our visit in the winter of 2015 showed that all of that was now gone, likely absconded from the curious and collectors. Very little of the busy school day remains at the old Carden Bottoms School.
It is difficult, both in terms of envisioning as well as accepting the progression of time, to visit this beautiful hidden site and not reflect on the minds and souls of those who attended, taught, recitaled, and played within its boundaries. Many of those people still can tell tales of their experiences of the old country school....most no longer can.
Hidden away in plain sight is an enormous dome of vegetation, a thicket of muscadine that now preserves the memories of the old Carden Bottoms Schoolhouse.
It is though the Earth has silenced the memories of a lost time.