In case you missed it, Nov. 29, 2019

Thousands of people forced to evacuate after chemical plant explosions in Texas

The first explosion happened Wednesday morning in Port Neches , leaving at least three employees injured. More explosions followed throughout the day: Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation for areas within a 4-mile radius of the plant

Texarkana, Arkansas announces a possible cancellation of two major events

Texarkana lost its sponsors for two major downtown events; Railfest and Mardi Gras. Local business owners fear that the loss of these events could harm business and decrease traffic downtown.

Black Friday

The annual tradition of doorbuster sales and extreme discounts continues this year, with many businesses extending deals to start as early as Thanksgiving day. For a survival guide to Black Friday, check out this story.

Repaint the town

People pose in front of the brightly colored murals that engulf downtown Texarkana. Teenagers post pictures across social media, allowing the popularity of the murals continue to grow. This year, more than five murals were created one paint stroke at a time by artists who set aside time to enhance their town.  

An alley called Kress Gap was reserved downtown for new paintings to be implemented. The first painting in this area was revealed in February. There are three other murals that were completed not far behind the first, and more are yet to be painted. 

“A panel of people from the Arts & Historic District committee looked over all of the designs submitted and chose their favorites, and mine made the cut. We submitted our design to the city. We also submitted a proposal and what supplies we would need and their cost,” painter of the geometric mural Danielle Hamblett said. “I’m actually not a painter at all, I’m a graphic designer. In high school, my bedroom walls were plastered with fashion spreads, ads and album covers I liked.”

In the summer of 2018, the city called for artists that were interested in submitting ideas for downtown murals. It was posted on Facebook and published in the newspaper, so numerous artists submitted their ideas with no hesitation. Each mural took days of planning before they could even begin to start painting. 

“My original design had a blank white box in the center, but I ended up leaving that out.  I knew I wanted it to be neutral. I picked geometric shapes because it could be pulled off fairly easy, especially since it was my first time to attempt anything like this,” Hamblett said. “To choose colors, I eyeballed what I liked with Lowe’s paint swatches and tried out combinations until I was happy.”

Texarkana has recently been growing its art district within the past year. For instance, Old Bringle has recently been revamped into an Art Park where local artists and community members have painted over 33 sidewalk spaces and have replaced graffiti with paintings. Since February, over five murals have been painted downtown, and the city is still on the lookout for artists who they believe could create another high quality mural. 

“I’ve been painting my whole life, but I became serious about making it a career in high school. The mural on Broad Street is my largest mural to date, but I am starting an even larger one across from the Perot Theatre later this month,” artist of the “Shine Bright” mural Jes Weiner said. “With my first mural, I submitted a couple of designs, and the city chose one. This next one was commissioned by the city and I’m being paid to do it. I will be painting a portrait, and I chose someone I admire.”

The planning process of a mural is one of the more time consuming steps that plays a major role in the appeal factor. The artist has to come up with a unique and creative design that is approved by city officials. Once it’s approved, it’s time for the artist to bring their vision to life.

“The owner of TLC allowed us to paint this large scale mural and was very interested in the project,” mural artist David Freeman said. “[The mural] resembles a vintage advertisement incorporating the Texas/Arkansas crossroads sign, Texarkana’s “Twice as Nice” motto and a portrait of Corrine Griffith, who is one of the most popular silent film actresses of the 1920’s [and was] born in Texarkana.”

As time goes on, it’s expected that Texarkana will grow its art district across the city. The most recent mural was revealed downtown on Oct. 4. The mural was sponsored by the popular brand “Dr. Pepper”. Pleasant Grove High School art students were also given the opportunity to help paint the mural. If you want to locate it, it can be found on the brick wall of TLC Burgers & Fries on 201 East Broad Street. 

“The new Dr. Pepper mural in downtown Texarkana was a collaborative effort, and I worked directly with Dr. Pepper for this design. When a final design was chosen, I began scheduling mural production with the Texarkana Main Street Director. The mural, sponsored by Dr Pepper, is a custom design specifically created for Texarkana and the downtown area,” Freeman said. “I hope that my mural inspires and brings joy to everyone who sees it for many years to come.”

Red Bone Magic Brewery

Future of the Four States

A unified vision of regional growth has led to a new initiative to boost economic development of Southwest Arkansas and Northeast Texas. Both Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Texas Governor Greg Abbott along with the Texarkana mayors announced the creation AR-TX Regional Economic Development Initiative, a new regional economic development nonprofit entity.

“REDI is a group that has formed with a board of directors that has put forth a lot of time, effort and personal finances to get this program off of the ground,” Texarkana, Texas, Mayor Bob Bruggeman said. “REDI will take a regional approach and will serve as a catalyst to promote economic development.”

REDI is dedicated to attracting and retaining businesses in the Texarkana region, and will work with both City Councils of Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas, as well as the Chamber of Commerce on specific projects. The seven permanent members include Sonja Yates Hubbard, Cary Patterson, Emily Cutrer, James Henry Russell, Dean Barry and Steve Ledwell. These individuals have positions from being the president of TAMU-T to owning a manufacturing business.

“We instituted our own [nonprofit] corporation, and all of us have put [our] money into this. We have dedicated ourselves and placing our own money into this for five years,” REDI board member Dean Barry said. “We have gone out to raise other private money as well [because] we have to raise 800,000 to a million dollars a year for five years that we will operate our nonprofit with.”

The idea of REDI dawned in a daily walk one early morning with three Texarkana leaders.

“Chris Karam, James Henry Russell and I walk in the mornings together. Years ago, I started talking about how Texarkana was dead due to the lack of increase in the tax base in Bowie and Miller Counties in the past decade,” Barry said. “I kept screaming at the other two that Texarkana is nothing [compared to the rest of the State of Texas], so we have to change it.”

City officials, REDI and Texarkana residents all agree that a division between Texas and Arkansas in the past was the reason for the lack of economic development.

“There was not a concerted effort to try to get something done. I don’t think there has ever been anything like what we have established to try to get something done,” Barry said. “State Line has always been a bad place for Texarkana because [it pits] people against each other. I’d give anything for State Line to disappear because [Texarkana] does not need Arkansas fighting against Texas or vice versa.”

I’d give anything for State Line to disappear because Texarkana does not need Arkansas fighting against Texas or vice versa.”

— Dean Barry

One of the factors that has sparked the creation of REDI is criticism of the little development that has taken place and that local businesses are the only way to truly undergo economic development.

“There has been activity in Texarkana, but when you bring in a new [chain] restaurant, all you’re doing is swapping dollars with another restaurant,” Barry said. “You’re not bringing in new money to Texarkana, [and] you’re not bringing in a business that’s bringing in new money for jobs.”

Economic development and how it is funded is commonly misunderstood. For instance, business attraction is only a small part of what Jerry Sparks, Economic Developer for Texarkana, Texas, does.

“Economic development is not one thing. It’s business attraction but also business retention and expansion. There is [another aspect] that we call gardening where if [someone] had a brilliant idea and wanted to take off with it, [the city] would try to help you grow your own business,” Sparks said. “Unlike REDI, [I] work for the city so that is a little different than most economic development organizations. Other organizations are commonly funded through a half cent sales tax, but we are funded through the general tax fund such as sales and property taxes, so we are slightly different.”

Texarkana’s strategic geographic position halfway between Dallas and Little Rock as well as major roads leading from New Orleans and Houston through Texarkana to Canada make the city ripe for growth. Not only are three Interstates projected to cross through Texarkana in the future, but the region also possesses an extensive railroad network consisting of three major railways and a close distance to many major markets.

“We are continuing to see a rapid increase of traffic on our interstate system, and we are poised for another interstate which is I-369 or I-69 which will mainly be an upgrade of U.S. Highway 59 between here and Houston. In the years to come, we are going to see more freight coming from the south because the port of Houston is being enlarged to allow larger ships and vessels to dock,” Bruggeman said. “As freight traffic comes from Houston, it is important that we have the right infrastructure to support that, and in some areas, we’re playing catch up with that. When we have three interstates passing through Texarkana, I can see us enhancing our distribution system and [attracting] distribution companies.”

Federally-funded projects such as the remainder of Interstate 49 to Fort Smith, Ark., and the stretch of Interstate 369 from Houston to Texarkana are expected to contribute the most to this growth from infrastructure. However, these mega-million dollar initiatives are years, even decades away from construction and completion.

submitted photo

“I was on a state advisory board committee for I-69, and dollarwise, it is a huge project. The section just between [Texarkana] and Houston is over $15 billion. Traffic will flow from the Panama Canal and the Gulf of Mexico to Houston and then up on I-69, so it will be vital,” Sparks said. “However, it is an expensive project and it will take a lot of political commitment to it.”

Texarkana leaders and other beneficiaries have lobbied state and federal legislators and governors to delegate state and federal funds for these projects with limited success. On the other hand, due to the recent completion of the section of Interstate 49 between Texarkana and Shreveport, leaders remain optimistic about eventually receiving the funds.

“I wondered how Louisiana received the federal funds to pay for I-49 from Shreveport to Texarkana, and I found out that they took some really big gambles. Louisiana told the feds that they would use unclaimed money as collateral, and they would put the money into building I-49, and they did,” Texarkana, Arkansas, Mayor Ruth Penney Bell said. “It’s going to take some thinking outside the box [for us to finish the stretch of I-49 from Texarkana to Fort Smith]. Somehow, we are going to have to get our senators and representatives to verbalize [the need for this project].”

One of the largest projects that will begin in 2019 will be a complete $30 million renovation of the terminal at the Texarkana Regional Airport. This renovation will allow passengers to board passenger planes using a skybridge, and officials hope that the new terminal will create more new flights straight out of Texarkana.

“The new terminal will not only have cosmetic improvements, but we also hope to increase ridership because many people will not fly into or out of Texarkana,” said Lisa Thompson, Public Information Officer for Texarkana, Texas. “Many people go to Dallas so they can get something to eat before, they have great insurance and good parking, but improving some of those things here will help get us more flights out of Texarkana. There are also functionality benefits such as we will soon have a jet bridge rather than having to climb the metal stairs to get into the plane.”

The relationship between both sides of State Line strengthened after the City of Texarkana, Texas, offered to pay the $300,000 needed for a federal study to be done over the new airport terminal this past year.

“In order to get the [federal funds] for our new airport terminal, a study had to be made. It had to be done, and it was going to cost $300,000,” Bell said. “As mayor, I knew the Arkansas side did not have the funds to pay for it, so I talked to the Texas side. They said that they would pay for it, and they did, and now we are getting a very nice new terminal.”

Since the federal government turned over lands formerly owned by the Red River Army Depot, the real estate west of Texarkana has been acquired and rebranded under the TexAmericas Center in 2010. Over time, the center will be turned into a large-scale industrial complex that is poised to be one of the largest in the Americas due to Texarkana’s location, making the region a strategic distribution center.

“That land next to Red River was privatized by the U.S. Army to use for a business park. TexAmericas Center is a state agency set up to market, develop and promote that property. In years to come when that mission is fulfilled, that agency will go out of existence, but for now, they are in the stages of getting up and going,” Bruggeman said. “They have had some success in utilizing existing structures as well as new structures being built on the footprint. There is also a railroad spur as well as close access to Interstate 30, so things are in place and ready for future economic development.”

Things are in place and we are ready for future economic development.”

— Bob Bruggeman

The latest development at the TexAmericas Center is that a water pipeline will be built beginning in 2019 from Wright Patman Lake south of Texarkana to the center to provide water to future businesses at the center.

“We are going to have a new intake facility at Lake Wright Patman shortly, and we will run a big water line six miles from the lake to the TexAmericas Center,” Barry said. “I hope by 2020 or 2021 that we have the water line completed.”

Although TexAmericas Center and the Texarkana region has a lot of potential, that potential is untapped. The region has struggled to compete to attract new businesses due to various reasons such as a ‘brain drain’ of college graduates.

I’m not sure a talented college graduate is going to move back and start their business here in Texarkana when they can’t hire the people they need to do their work,” Thompson said. “We have a good quality of life, good schools and a nice downtown, but it really comes down to people [wanting] to know that they can make money, provide for their family and have a secure way of life. If the workforce is not there and we are not investing in our communities the way we should be, then we know it is hard to attract these businesses or even college graduates to come back and start here.”

REDI’s ultimate goal is to provide reasons for young college graduates to want to return to their hometown including employment, quality of life and other factors.

“I want [young college graduates that leave Texarkana for college] with the talent that they have to say that they want to live in Texarkana. It seems like everybody’s in Dallas and that is because of all the opportunities that are there. We have to bring those opportunities here,” Barry said. “I don’t want Texarkana to grow into a small Dallas, but I do want to see Texarkana grow at a good, decent 5 or 6 percent [annual] rate and grow jobs.”

City officials have turned to the local workforce to fulfill job vacancies and debated on whether the workforce needs to be trained before jobs are available, or to heavily advocate to a business to locate in Texarkana so that jobs will be available and the local colleges can adjust their curriculum and programs to accommodate the needs of those jobs. However, officials do agree that once ‘the horse or the cart comes, the other will inevitably follow and create a rebounding effect.

“If we can get businesses interested to come here and invest their money, we will supply them with a workforce,” Bell said. “We are just waiting on the breakthrough— the one company with a bunch of jobs that will take the gamble to move to Texarkana and start the ping-pong effect.”

We are just waiting on the breakthrough—the one company with a bunch of jobs—that will take the gamble to move to Texarkana and start the ping-pong effect.”

— Ruth Penney Bell

REDI is confident that local colleges can grow to accommodate the needs of local employers and vice versa due to past examples of close relationships between corporations and postsecondary educational institutions.

“The University of Texas at Dallas [exists] because of the foresight of the people who [managed] Texas Instruments. When Texas Instruments was started, they knew they had to have a skill level of education coming up for students to know in order to become employees,” Barry said. “We can do the same thing. There is no doubt that Texarkana has the ability and the institutions to [teach] the skill levels that we need.”

The city also acknowledged that tax incentives play a role but certain circumstances make giving these incentives to companies in Bowie County either difficult or impossible.

“In Texas, major distribution centers can get an exemption from property taxes called the Freeport Exemption. It is not offered in Bowie County but it can be passed on different levels such as school districts or within the city limits. Last year, some $30 billion worth of goods and services fell under the exemption, so it frightens people. It’s complex so no one wants to tackle it,” Sparks said. “It would look like [an entity] was taking away tax dollars from Texarkana College or TISD, [and that is frowned upon]. Maybe we can try it if we get the right project, but [otherwise] it will hamper us in obtaining major distribution projects.”

Cities and states have learned from Amazon’s pursuit of a second headquarters that businesses are primarily looking for an educated workforce and a location that provides them with the infrastructure they need to distribute their products.

“The first thing that was listed as being significant in bringing Amazon to [New York City and Northern Virginia] was education and the quality of education,” REDI secretary Dr. Emily Cutrer said. “I think education is something that really does help our community [grow], and it helps our students get jobs.”

Since the city’s economic development team is restricted to only funding specific projects, coordination with REDI helps get around this restriction since REDI does not use taxpayer money and can fund much more general initiatives.

“The city cannot fund REDI unless there is a purpose or a specific project. There is a very strict law in Texas that deals with the gifting of public funds. Plus, the city council has specific guidelines for spending money on economic development,” Sparks said. “If REDI brought a specific project, we could fund that. But for REDI, since they use private donations rather than taxpayer dollars and it is a nonprofit, it is able to do much more.”

REDI’s first agenda item is to hire an economic director to assist in making decisions that will impact the region.

“[We are] trying to hire the best economic developer we can possibly hire. We have already interviewed [several candidates],” Barry said. “We’re trying to find somebody that wants to be the best salesman [REDI] can possibly bring into Texarkana and this area.”

REDI, city officials and the Chamber of Commerce have all concluded that the specific location of a business moving to the Texarkana region does not matter citing that any jobs created in the region will end up benefiting Texarkana.

REDI and the city are not biased toward Arkansas or Texas.”

— Dean Barry

“[REDI and the city are] not biased toward Arkansas or Texas,” Barry said. “If we can put a 300-person business in Garden City, Arkansas, or New Boston, Texas, we would jump up and down to do it.”

Little was accomplished when the Texas and Arkansas sides of Texarkana fought over where a business should locate. However, the expression of support from Hutchinson and Abbott along with historic cooperation between both sides of state line in recent years has allowed the region to adopt a ‘regional mindset’ when dealing with business attraction.

“We have to operate as a region because a rising tide floats all boats. Cities [in the region] need to have the willingness to change a law or a zoning ordinance because thinking regionally is a mindset change,” REDI president Sonja Yates Hubbard said. “We need to be ready to jump on something because like Amazon’s second headquarters, some of these things happen very quickly.”

REDI admits that organizing an event that brought both Governors Hutchinson and Abbott together was a marvelous feat.

“It took a lot of effort to get both of the governors here at the same time. There are a lot of us in [REDI] that have a lot of political pool and we have the ability to pick up the phone and call people. That is what we are relying on big time,” Barry said. “When Governor Abbott was [in town], he said he wants something to happen here and I think Hutchinson does too big time. We have a lot of connections between certain people and that’s really going to help us when we get moving.”

Appearance of a city is very important since it is a first impression.”

— Bob Bruggeman

Both sides have also made great strides in revitalizing downtown by transforming it into a residential area through various renovations. The mayors believe that once residences are filled, businesses will follow.

“I’m happy [for the Arkansas side and downtown] to be a bedroom community because eventually, stores will follow,” Bell said. “Dry cleaners and stores that have what people need will follow I’m hoping that those types of things will be our salvation [on the Arkansas side].”

Although some Texarkana residents have turned their backs to revitalizing downtown, city officials say that downtown is the heart and life of a city.

“I’m a strong proponent of downtown, and there are people who gave up on downtown five, 10, or even 15 years ago. But I’m an optimistic person,” Bruggeman said. “We’ve done some good things, and there’s a lot more work that still needs to be done [such as the Hotel Grim renovation], but I appreciate those who are willing to take the interest in purchasing a building downtown to renovate it.”

The downtown philosophy is consistent with the importance of maintaining an appealing aesthetic of the city in order to make a good first impression to visitors and possible new or relocating businesses.

“Appearance [of a city] is very important since it is a first impression. It is important that the overhead tower type lighting on the interstate is kept in good condition because [darkness] may suggest that a certain area is depressed economically,” Bruggeman said.  “We built the ‘Welcome to Texarkana’ sign out to the west, and there is one to the east on the Arkansas side as well. For some people, these things don’t matter to them, but for others, it is what they remember and it enhances their experience.”

Officials recognize that even though Texarkana may give a solid attempt, businesses may choose another city above Texarkana due to the steep competition to recruit new or relocating businesses.

“There are always other cities that are trying to get the same projects as we are. When we are looking at a certain project, we think about what our competition looks like because it may not always be Tyler, or it may not always even be in Texas,” Sparks said. “We pull as much information as we can, and that can be used to help new businesses looking to start here.”

We are doing this because we love Texarkana, and we want something amazing to happen.”

— Dean Barry

REDI is convinced that the Texarkana region is poised for growth and that all the pieces are in place to begin growth and to make Northeast Texas and Southwest Arkansas into an economic development success story.

“I’m not saying we are going to be successful. It is possible we may be a failure. I don’t think it is probable, or I wouldn’t be sitting here. But we are going to make every effort, the seven of us, to start and develop growth,” Barry said. “We do not have any selfish interest whatsoever. We are doing this because we love Texarkana, and we want something [amazing] to happen.”

History of hangouts

From burgers and root beer floats at the local A&W to nuggets and sweet tea at the renowned Chick-fil-a, the history of hangouts has left its mark on Texarkana. Throughout the years, hangouts have evolved from drive-ins, to parking lots off State Line, to the multiple restaurants of today.

During the ‘60s and ‘70s, the staple places to hangout were A&W root beer stands. Everyone would drive in circles from drive-in to drive-in blasting music from the radio.

“On my sixteenth birthday, I received from my parents a 1967 Ford Falcon,” said Francine Frances, a 1973 Arkansas High alumna. “I loaded my car up, and we went riding around. We would go to the A&W on Hickory Street. There was also an A&W Rootbeer Stand on State Line, and then there was a Dairy Queen on College Drive. We would make a big circle going from one place to the next.”

Photo from 1973 THS yearbook

Every Saturday in the ‘80s, people would go down to the mall and walk from end to end. 

“We would eat at El Chico, and no one had any money, so we split an appetizer between us and drink water and walk around the mall,” said Julie Mitchell, a 1990 Texas High alumna. “Then in the evenings, we would go to State Line. I actually didn’t have a car at the time, so I would ride with my friends. They would drive, and we cruised State Line. And if there were friends in that vacant lot behind Taco Bell emerging, then we would stay, visit with them and hang out listening to music from the cars.”

Like today, going to sporting events was a big part of the high school experience. Even though the Tigers didn’t get a lot of wins, everyone still loved to be with each other cheering at the top of their lungs at football games. The major rivalry between Texas and Arkansas has always been a big deal. Along with football, basketball and baseball were also widely appreciated.

“Going to football games has always been a big deal,” Mitchell said. “I think part of that is just living in East Texas, you’ve got your Friday night lights. School spirit was very strong back then, and the Texas vs. Arkansas [game] was huge. There was a lot of pranks between the two schools. I remember egging was a really big deal and stealing things from the other school’s property.”

At night, they would cruise State Line for hours going to each parking lot to see who was where.”

— Cate Rounds

Going on “real dates” was much more of a big deal to previous generations than now. Girls would get asked out by boys and go to movies, nice restaurants or even just hang out with groups of friends.

“I would say a date night would be [at] what is now the Perot Theatre but used to be the Paramount Theatre,” said Doris Morris, a 1971 Arkansas High alumna. “Usually if I had a date, we would go to the movies, and always you’d stop by A&W and get a coke.”

Summer was the time when there were no obligations for homework, tests or other school obligations. Therefore, kids were able to relax by the pool. Everyone would go to St. James pool in the ‘60s and ‘70s. If there were a handsome lifeguard, the girls would flirt up a storm.

“We hung out at the St. James swimming pool. When we first learned to drive and even before that, we would out there and swim,” said Mary Catherine Haynes, a 1970 Arkansas High alumna. “There was a little hut where you could buy refreshments. I mean everybody who was anybody had a membership.”

Although times seemed to be simpler back then, it doesn’t mean life didn’t come with heartaches. In 1969, schools were just becoming integrated. There were often riots in the halls.

“It sounded like a stampede. I remember looking up, and it just looked like a wall of people because as they started coming down the bleachers they would just pile on each other falling down,” Haynes said about the riots.  “We started running, and I was the first one over the fence. I was about a third of the way across the football field, and the fence just went down. People were just trampling over it. It was just the most horrible thing.”

The Vietnam War was also in its height. Recently graduated seniors, and even boys in school, were getting drafted to go fight. To many students, the war at this time felt never ending.

“My brothers and brother in law all got drafted to Vietnam in 1968,” Morris said. “And in the summer of ‘68, there was a young guy named Howard Elder who used to come down everyday on his motorcycle and throw our newspaper. Handsome, handsome fella. I would sit outside every afternoon, and I wait for Howard to come by and maybe give him a glass of lemonade. We’d just sit outside and talk.”

At this time, teenagers were only kids. They weren’t having to deal with harsh realities of life yet. It was just lemonade and movie dates.

“Finally at the end of the summer, he [asked me on a date],” Morris said. “Then the year I was going to be a senior, he had just graduated, and I knew he got drafted. [That same time] I went on family vacation, and when I came back and started reading a newspaper.”

Many people died fighting in Vietnam, including young boys.

“On the front page, it showed that Howard had gotten killed in Vietnam,” Morris said. “It was quite a horrible thing to think that somebody that I knew and really liked, you know one of my first loves, got killed in Vietnam.”

No matter how the small world of Texarkana changes, the lasting friendships remain. The hangouts through the years hold an entire library’s worth of stories and memories.

History found downtown

Texarkana was founded in 1873 on the junction of two railroads. From then on, the town has innovated and modernized into the what it is today. The heart of the historical side of Texarkana lies in the downtown area.

Throughout the streets lie a countless number of buildings that can be traced as far back as the 1800s, when the town was first established. Even though most of them are abandoned today, in the past, they were used as businesses, hotels and even houses.

Dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, people who lived in town were considered wealthy. A few of the historical homes remain standing today, and when they were being lived in, they were luxurious and modern for their time.

In fact, The Ace of Clubs house had the first colored television set in all of Texarkana. Although only a few of Texarkana’s historic homes are still standing, the remaining ones are either used as museums or are still used as residences.

The Saenger Theatre, more commonly known as the Perot Theater, has been a historical landmark in Texarkana since 1924. Locals began to call the theatre, the Perot Theatre, after Ross Perot contributed most of the restoration costs in 1979-80.                       Photo by Oren Smith                     

Other historical buildings in the downtown area include Hotel Grim, Perot Theatre and the P.J. Ahern Home. Unfortunately, most of the locations are so old that they are wearing out.

Many of the old auditoriums that are abandoned now once held marvelous concerts with very famous musicians. For example, Elvis Presley, Scott Joplin and even Johnny Cash visited Texarkana to perform live.

Texarkana resident Deborah Talley has lived here her entire life. She vividly remembers the town as it once was.

“When famous people came to town for concerts or [were] just passing through, it was a big deal,” Talley said. “Texarkana was such a small town back then, and that was really the only entertainment. Back then was so much different than it is today because we didn’t have cellphones to keep us occupied; we had things like concerts and little community get-togethers.”

A few of the old buildings served as museums such as the historical homes, the Museum of Regional History and the Lindsey Railroad Museum.

These museums are quite unique because not only do they tell about Texarkana’s past, but they also tell about history in general.”

— Ashlyn Winters

In each of the museums, there are artifacts and used items from the past. Whether it’s old clothes, documents or personal belongings, they all show the significance of what Texarkana used to be. Each item was donated to the museums from various individuals who had family from Texarkana. Each item is authentic and has its own story that comes with it.

It has been rumored that many of the historical locations are haunted. For example, when the Hotel Grim was in business, a few deaths were reported to have occurred within the building.

“The Grim was such a fancy hotel; I never got to stay in it, but it was very nice,” Talley said. “I remember hearing that there were a few deaths that occurred in the hotel, a few suicides and murders, but there’s no telling how many cases of that [have gone] on in the downtown area.”

Back in 2014, the paranormal investigation team Ghost Hunters went into the building to try and find evidence of the supernatural and came back with many interesting audio recordings and photographs.

Additionally, it has also been said that the Ace of Clubs House is, in fact, haunted.

It is believed to be haunted by the youngest son of the former owner, James Harris Draughon, who fell from a tree in the front lawn of the house.

Nowadays, the downtown area of Texarkana is mostly quiet and deserted. However, many new businesses have opened up in the old buildings. Rather than leaving them there to wither away, they are being remodeled and used again. Many of the available spaces have been transformed into little shops, restaurants and apartments.

“Recently, in the past fifteen years, I’d say, the community has restored a lot of the old buildings and actually used them instead of just letting them sit there,” Talley said. “In a way, it kind of brings back the good old days. Back during my time, every available space downtown was used for retail, and now they’re bringing things back.”

In a way, it’s like bringing the past back and turning Texarkana into the town it once was.

All of the unused space is finally being flipped into creative businesses. More attention is being drawn to the past of our town rather than all of the focus being drawn to expanding the city.

Deck the halls

Holiday season is back again and stronger than ever. For the past 30 years, the holidays have always been welcomed with a Texarkana tradition- Mistletoe Fair. Held from Nov. 19-22, the event was a huge opportunity for people to get into the holiday spirit.

“I’ve gone for as long as I can remember,” junior Abby Norton said. “I loved the fudge, the smoothies, and watching the little girls perform.”

Various dance studios from around the area performed Christmas numbers, entertaining the guests.

“My favorite part about this year was getting to watch my little sister perform,” senior Caroline May said. “I remember when I used to dance on that stage, and I loved seeing her follow in my footsteps.”

The event had many vendors from different stores selling their merchandise.

“There was a good variety of local and not so local vendors to help kick off the holiday shopping season,” fair co-chair Jessica Snow said. “There were ladies’ and children’s clothing, items for all over the home, holiday home decor, great food, toys, and electronics- something for just about everyone.”

A long-standing tradition of 30 years, Mistletoe Fair signals the start of a new holiday season, with its festive music and merchandise. Be sure to check it out next year- you won’t regret it.

“It seems that [Mistletoe Fair] gets better and better every year I go,” junior Lauren Carter said. “I think next year will be amazing.”

Funneling in to Texarkana

The 71st Annual Four States Fair and Rodeo will kick off Friday at the Four States Fairgrounds. The fair will run through Sept. 20 from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., and tickets will cost from $5-$7.

“I’m most excited about the food because they have really good curly fries and lemonade that I get every year I go,” junior Marley Crawford said. “Also I love the rides and hanging out with my friends.”

The 71st Annual Four States Fair Parade will be on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., and the cheer team, The Highsteppers and the band will be marching.

“I’m so excited about the parade,” sophomore cheerleader Claire Doan said. “I can’t wait to see all the little kids’ faces as our float passes by. It’s always fun to be in the parade, and it’s a great way to start the fair week.”

The Demolition Derby will be from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the Four States Entertainment Center following and admission will cost from $8-$14.

“I’m always ready for the fair,” sophomore Will Norton said. “I love hanging out with friends, just having a good time and eating some food.”


Charming new additions

Over the past month, ULTA, Charming Charlie’s and Dress Barn have come to Texarkana. Just in case you haven’t had the time to visit any of them, here are some short reviews of the stores.

ULTA Cosmetics

ULTA is the epitome of all beauty supply stores. It can only be described as a mixture of Bath and Body Works, Sephora, the fragrance counter at Dillards, the drugstore makeup aisles in Walgreens and Sally Beauty Supply.  In addition to these things, ULTA also offers manicures, hair stylings and dermatological treatments. With all of these different items ULTA has to sell, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed on your first visit.  However, it’s easy to begin roaming aimlessly down aisles, wondering who in their right mind would buy some of the strange products sold in the store. Granted, ULTA probably has any beauty product imaginable, as long as customers don’t mind paying a little more.

Charming Charlie’s

Charming Charlie’s is the place to go if you want to find accessories that perfectly match your new outfit. The store is largely color-coordinated, which makes it easy to find earrings and a matching scarf, or a purse in your favorite color. The store also sells a variety of clothes at relatively inexpensive prices. Charming Charlie’s would be a great place to buy gifts for friends or to waste time looking at shiny things.

Dress Barn
Dress Barn is obviously not the store a teenaged girl would usually shop in. However, it could be a good place to buy a mom or a grandma a gift card for her birthday. Dress Barn offers many styles of dresses, as well as other types of clothes. Most of the dresses are sophisticated business-style, or formal. The store’s prices are not outrageous, although they are not cheap. Similar products at Dillard’s would be much more expensive.

Bettering the community

Alongside RailFest, Better Block Texarkana was all day Saturday, May 16.

During Better Block, small business owners occupy buildings along Broad Street and sell their products to visitors.

“I love Downtown Texarkana, Texas and Arkansas,” BL Tees Apparel owner and Better Block vendor Cassidy Lavender said. “I see a vision for this town and I want to see it redone.”

Better Block Texarkana is an event that has been taking place downtown for the past two years, giving people a chance to see how the area could potentially be.

“There were stores all over downtown, shops on every corner,” longtime Texarkana resident Elsie Moore said. “We used to go to downtown a lot. Bryce’s used to be there before it moved. A lot of places have moved out of that area. There were a lot of people, too. People walking up and down the streets. You don’t see much of that anymore.”

Rain or shine, Better Block Texarkana still prevailed.

“I’m having a blast,” said Lavender. “The rain has kind of put a little damper on the day but we’re under an awning so we’re doing great.”

Walmart Neighborhood Market holds grand opening Wednesday

The new Walmart Neighborhood Market off of Summerhill Road had a grand Wednesday morning, Jan. 21. The varsity cheerleaders and Tiger band were present for the ceremony, as well as Titus and Trochia.

Store manager Anthony Porchia expressed his support for the city and his future plans to involve the district.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to give back to the community and to involve Texas High in different things,” Porchia said. “We’re excited to be here, not only to be of service to the community but to be of service to the school. It’s all about taking care and giving back to the community.”

During the ceremony, Porchia gave out several grants to various organizations in the community on behalf of the Walmart corporation. TISD received a grant for $1500. Grants were also awarded to Liberty Eylau ISD, Junior Achievement, Mount Grove Baptist Church and Harvest Texarkana Regional Food Bank.

“I’m pretty pumped because they have already given us a grant, and I have actually met with the new manager and he has voiced his hope that when we need things we will come to him first,” Student Council sponsor Susan Waldrep said. “I think that this will be a great exchange for our all of our extracurricular activities because they will have that partnership with Texas High and I really appreciate that.”

Gage Martin, store manager Anthony Porchia, Katie Johnston and Garett McDonald pose with grant given by the Neighborhood Market Walmart at store grand opening.

Photo by Ashley Tyson
Gage Martin, store manager Anthony Porchia, Katie Johnston and Garett McDonald pose with a grant for the high school given by the Neighborhood Market Walmart at grand opening.

Walmart Neighborhood Market

Students present at the ceremony were impressed by the store and its close proximity to the school.

“It’s really convenient for everyone at Texas High because it’s just right down the street,” Senior Ashley Martin said. “I think it will be very beneficial for TISD.”

The store employs 95 staff members and is the first to open of the three new Walmart Neighborhood Markets coming to the Texarkana area. Each of these locations has a deli, bakery, fresh produce section and pharmacy.

“We are here to take care of you for everything you need,” Porchia said. “Without you there is no us.”

Parade of the season

Dark and dreary downtown Texarkana was lit up once again in the spirit of the holidays. The 30th Annual Main Street Christmas Parade was celebrated Dec. 1. Students from bands, drill teams and other spirit organizations from schools all over the town came to march in the parade.

“I have participated in the parade for four years and my favorite part always seems to be the beginning and the end,” senior band member Brad Lenaway said. “I say that because before the parade my friends and I are always joking around and having a good time, and at the end we usually hang out for a little while and enjoy the moment knowing that we won’t have much more time together in high school.”

Behind the band, the Texas Highsteppers marched and performed routines to the festive songs playing.

“This was my first time to ever go to the Christmas parade,” freshman drill team member Ashley Wallace said. “It was really cold, but it was so much fun to get to be in it. People were so happy, and it put me in the Christmas spirit.”

Along with band and drill team, the cheerleaders also participated in the making of the parade. With a few walking and others on the trailer, the cheerleaders sang Christmas carols to enliven the mood.

“While we were there, some girls sat and stood on the trailer and some walked,” sophomore cheerleader Marjorie Slimer said. “We sang a few songs, did a few Christmas cheers, and did some band chants.”

Although many of the students at the parade went with their extracurricular organization, some chose to go just for the fun of it. Whether it be tradition or to see the show, students also attend with their friends to support the marchers.

“I went to the parade because I wanted to hang out and see some friends,” junior Cole Prince said.

I have gone six times before because I have lived in Texarkana for six years. It’s been a tradition ever since I moved here, and this year was better because I knew more people that were actually in the parade.”

— Cole Prince

Not only was the event popular for students, but teachers also showed up to celebrate and cheer on their school.

“Seeing all of you kids in the parade was my favorite part of the parade,” teacher Seth Schirmer said. “I went with my wife and my little girl, my oldest and this is the first year that we have been. I enjoyed it. It would’ve been nicer if the mist wasn’t in our faces, but I think everyone felt that way.”