If you drive down Old Greensboro Road today you will find only one building that marks the site of the once bustling frontier community of Greensboro. The white clapboard community center stand near the site of what was once the the “metropolis of Northeast Arkansas.” While I haven’t found it yet, I have been told that only one rusty old pump remains to speak of the once thriving town. Over the years, those of us who grew up in Jonesboro have seen the area go from rural farm land to a prosperous residential area shared by two local school districts, Nettleton and Brookland. Sage Meadows is a golf community located a stone’s throw away. In the 1960’s, my grandparents, Charley and Gladys Clark operated a sizable chicken farm on the very ground where Sage residents tee up their golf balls and drive their gold carts. The area is peaceful, beautiful, and growing as a suburb of Jonesboro.
None of that explains why this area has become near and dear to my heart. I am presently building my retirement home about 250 feet from that historic old road, and I am more than thrilled. My son-in-law, Kinley Gatewood, has led me through the construction of my Craftsman style farmhouse. I jokingly tell my friends that I am building my dream porch that luckily has a house in the middle of it. My beautiful daughter, Tara, is helping to make the inside beautiful… just today she found the tile for the back splash in my kitchen. She also found me a great deal when she found me an excellent deal on my slate kitchen appliances. She knew I really didn’t want stainless steel. When I get moved sometime in mid-December, I think it will be difficult to get me to leave this beautiful home site.
Be it ever so humble…
In my over one acre yard, I am planning to develop an English style walking garden and plant roses and peonies all over the place. Next spring, I’ll plant my first two “plots” in my walking garden…daisies and lavender. Honey suckle grows all over the fence at the back of my too big back yard. I can hardly wait until summer so I can smell the wonderful scent of the south. I love honeysuckle and lavender, don’t you? I also have the most fabulous grand old oak tree just outside my bedroom. How could an ole retired teacher be so blessed?
I will be finishing the Shiloh Saga, working there in my new office. I anticipate many hours sitting there looking out over my fine porch and watching the goings on in the friendly neighborhood, just off Old Greensboro Road. Hope to welcome many of you, my friends and family, in the near future…. I think I’ll be right at home in my new home, so very near Greensboro, just an imagination away from Shiloh!
One Friday while I was sitting at the front desk at the office at church, I had some time on my hands. Being an “Office Angel” at First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, I didn’t feel I should just piddle the time away, so I began to look for something worthwhile to occupy my time. A large book sitting on the counter caught my eye. Two Centuries of Methodism in Arkansas: 1800-2000, written by Nancy Britton, became that spark that sent me into a four year writing spree that evolved into the first two part of the Shiloh Saga.
This thorough, fascinating book is a comprehensive history of the work and continuing growth of the United Methodist Church in the state. At the end of the lengthy work is an appendix containing mini histories of the congregations of Methodist churches across Arkansas. Two of those churches became significant to the story of Shiloh. These two early churches mark their histories from the earliest days of the state and still have active congregations today. Let me tell you a bit about them.
In THE DREAM OF SHILOH, Laurel lives in the Hawthorn community in Washington County. She and her family belong to the Methodist community of a church that had been established in 1831 as Ebenezer Methodist, a home church led by Josiah Trent. Later they built a log church, which also became a subscription school — a rarity in this time period. In 1848, a new church was built and the named was changed to Hawthorn. I chose to use the name Hawthorn because it was most appropriate to the time period of the story. In the 1850’s the congregation finally built a clapboard building, only to have it demolished by federal troops during the Civil War. That did not end the life of this church. If you travel to Farmington, not far from Fayetteville, you will find a beautiful modern brown and white church near the site of the original building. If you know the area you will see I borrowed some of the family names to give to Laurel’s friends, family, and members of her church family.
The Shiloh Church was obvious choice for my major setting for several reasons. The most important, of course, is the name. I’ll talk about that later. Shiloh church also has a very early history in Arkansas. The records indicate a congregation as early as 1830. The original church was a log structure built to house worship services and the community school. In the beginning to the story, Shiloh Methodist Church was in the southern part of Greene County, but in 1959, the state legislature drew new county lines to create Craighead County. I am a native and still reside in Craighead County . Today Shiloh United Methodist Church is a brick building sitting atop a hill very near the location of the original log building. This rural community is only a few miles from the once thriving town of Greensboro, which unlike Shiloh church did not survive to see our time. The story of Greensboro is a tale to tell on another occasion.
Shiloh United Methodist Church Craighead County, AR
From filling idle time to filling empty pages, over the next four years I wrote the long, long story of Shiloh and Laurel and Patrick MacLayne. The writing has been a labor of love.
When I retired, I was scared. I had always been a teacher…40 years…and when I wasn’t a teacher anymore, what would I be? That was a senseless fear, I guess, because I will always be a teacher, one way or another. But when you jump to the bells every fifty minutes for 2/3 of your adult life, becoming an independent user of time instead of a squanderer of time is a daunting task.
I believe the Lord didn’t have that in mind for me. He gave me a story to tell, and I spent the next four years writing the story. Some days I would not be able to get the words on my lined notebook paper fast enough, the spirit would dole them out to me so fast. Some days no words came. But in April of this year, I penned the last word of my story. It is a very long story and will entail so much revision to get it into a format that I can get out for friends and family to read. A publisher told me at a writer’s conference in October I hadn’t written a book, I had written six books. I don’t know how many books it will eventually be, but it is basically only one story.
I had three goals in mind when I penned the first words. I wanted to write a story in which my native state, Arkansas, was what I believe it to be, A Land of Opportunity for all people who are willing to work hard and carve out homes in the wilderness. Life was difficult in early Arkansas, but many good, faithful, industrious people were able to build a wonderful place for families and communities to prosper. The work was hard and almost never ending for the homesteaders, but they worked to clear land, grow crops, build churches, and develop schools for their children. This is the picture of life for my protagonists. Patrick and Laurel MacLayne adopt Arkansas as their Shiloh.
The idea of Shiloh comes from the book of Genesis 49:10. That verse describes a time when all God’s people will be gathered into a place of peace and prosperity. Both Laurel and Mac seek above all things the hope of Shiloh, where they can be a family devoted to the Lord who has given them both a real life together.
Secondly, I wanted to be true to my faith and my church. As a Christian, we all have one mandate — share the gospel in a way that suits the talent we have been given. It is my sincere prayer that anything I write will honor my God and Lord Jesus Christ. I will try to show the value of lives lived in accordance with that faith. I hope also to show the struggle we have at times living out our faith. This goal will only be met through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, I want to be true to the genre of historical fiction. The plot of this novel is fiction, and the characters are figments of my imagination, but I want to remain true to the times, conditions, events, and issues of this time in Arkansas. The research has been fascinating. When I read the 1857-58 Legislative Journal at the Arkansas Historical Commission, I found that our governing body spent just as much time as modern day politicians on petty, nonsensical things…. At a time when there were few discernible roads, poor communication through mail routes, and practically no schools in the state, our antebellum legislatures argued about purchasing stationary to be used in the State House and whether the opening prayers would be done by a paid chaplain or a faithful member of the body. I have tried to check historical accuracy of customs, rituals in the Methodist church, and historical events in Arkansas that are described in the story. I had to change Laurel’s pink booties to white because I learned the the pink/blue symbol for a baby’s gender didn’t come about until Mamie Eisenhower was in the White House.
That’s enough about Shiloh for tonight. I do want to close by saying that writing this too, too, too long book has been one of the most enjoyable activities in my life. We’ll chat more later.
I think I am a writer, and if I am a writer, I need to write often. I returned recently from my first writer’s retreat in North Carolina. I learned so much I am nearly overwhelmed, but I found out that all want-to-be writers need a “social media presence.” I am beginning my trek into blogging. I’ve been at it for several days, and I think I have almost figured out what I have to do. So here I go…
I want to use this blog to share my thoughts about my four passions in life…
I am a Christian.
I am a life long educator.
I love to write.
I love my native state, Arkansas.
I am also passionate about my family, but I won’t use them as “blog” material too much.
I wrote a book since I retired…a long, long, long book. Actually Eddie Jones, the publisher of Lighthouse Publishing, told me I have written six books. I think it will eventually be a trilogy about a couple who builds a home in Arkansas just prior to the Civil War. The story is set in Greensboro, which at one time was thought to be the “urban” center in Northeast Arkansas. Alas, Greensboro is no longer…. The railroad bypassed the town. If you come to Craighead County today, you will find a small community building is all that marks the site of the once thriving town.
I am also building my retirement home…strangely enough, only yards from Old Greensboro Road, which was at one time a well-used Indian trial following Crowley’s Ridge from southeast Missouri to the southeast part of Arkansas. Today Old Greensboro Road is a heavily traveled state highway between Jonesboro and Paragould. I am excited to be moving to Greensboro to make my home in my almost completed Craftsman farmhouse. I am hoping to spend Christmas there this year.
I want to write stories about Arkansas. They will always show my state as it is…The Land of Opportunity and The Natural State. I find much to love about this state, but I also know much of the positive attributes have been hidden under stereotypes. My tale may be fiction, but I will work hard to make sure the history I write of is factual.
Most importantly, I hope to be a good witness to my faith. I have much to be grateful for as the Lord has richly blessed me.
I’d love to hear from ya’ll. Drop me a line sometimes.