Main Street 1888
In 1992, this mural was painted at 224 South Main Street (intersection with Third Avenue). It would become the first of thirteen murals to be painted throughout the downtown area. Depicting Main Street as it appeared in 1888, the mural is based on a compilation of many historic photographs, masterfully interpreted and painted by Robert Dafford.
Arkansas Flag and Miss Willie
Miss Willie Hocker of the Pine Bluff Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution created a flag design that was unanimously adopted by the Arkansas Legislature February 18, 1913. The need for a state flag arose when a US Navy ship entitled USS Arkansas was launched. The design held great symbolism; the twenty-five stars arranged in a diamond signifies that Arkansas was the 25th state admitted to the union in 1836, the diamond shape represents the fact that Arkansas is the only state in the union in which diamonds can be found, and the four stars surrounding the word Arkansas symbolizes the four governments that ruled the state (Spain, France, The Confederate States of America, and the United States of America.) Hocker lived near Wabbaseka and taught in Pine Bluff for thirty-four years before her death in 1944. Chestnut and U.S. 65B, visible from Martha Mitchell Expressway, westbound.
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
The UAPB Mural was the second in Pine Bluff’s mural series, painted in 1994 by Dafford Mural Company of Lafayette, Louisiana. It is located on the wall of the former Cumberland Medical Clinic at West Second Avenue and Main Street and was dedicated to the education of African-Americans. It features key figures that laid the groundwork for the school. Joseph Carter Corbin, the original chancellor of Branch Normal College, who served from 1875 to 1902, is located in the oval design on the far right of the mural. In 1927, Branch Normal College transformed into Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal (Arkansas AM&N). John B. Watson, located at the top left of the mural, acquired leadership of the institution in 1928 and increased its enrollment from 36 to 474 students by the time of his death in 1942, with another 501 in its prep school. Dr. Lawrence Davis, Sr., is also featured on the bottom right of the extreme right panel. 204 S. Main Street.
The Old Firehouse
The Old Firehouse is located between Seventh and Eighth Avenues on Main Street. It gives homage to the heritage of the local fire department that was established in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Fires could be extensive and leave remains that mimicked World War II scenes. Pine Bluff’s equipment was not built to handle such enormous flames; some of the equipment they used is located on the right side of the mural, and a reproduction of one of the local firehouses is in the back. Chiefs George Alford and Ray Jacks are also featured on the mural and both gave the Pine Bluff Fire Department long services. 716 S. Main Street.
Two for the Movies
“Broncho Billy” Anderson (also known as Max Aaronson) and Freeman Owens, both originally from Pine Bluff, were boyhood friends who left a lasting impression on cinema. Max Aaronson took on the stage name Gilbert Anderson and formed Essanay Studios in Chicago with George K. Spoor after appearing in The Great Train Robbery. Anderson made 375 westerns between 1908 and 1915, with the “Broncho Billy” series being the most famous. After his retirement, Anderson was presented with an Oscar for his contribution to the films. Freeman Owens was very interested in movie photography and worked with Anderson in Chicago. Owens held many patents for photographic equipment, but his most famous invention, a technique to perfect sound on film, was denied him by the U.S. Supreme Court when Lee DeForest, his former employer, sued him for the rights. Other faces on the mural include Wallace Beery, Charlie Chaplin and Peggy Shannon. 209 S. Main Street.
The Legend Behind the Saracen Mural
This mural, located at 100 S. Main Street, depicts an apocryphal legend about Saracen, one of the last Quapaw Indians to live in Jefferson County. It tells the tale of two Pine Bluff children who were taken from their mother by a band of marauding Chickasaw Indians, Promising their safe return, he pursued the Chickasaws and overtook them downstream on the Arkansas River. Waiting until they fell asleep, he broke the night stillness with the Quapaw war cry. Saracen then returned two Pine Bluff children to their mother. When Saracen died, he was buried in the Old Town Cemetery, then transferred to the St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery in 1888.
Early Automobiles of Pine Bluff
The first automobile appeared in Pine Bluff in 1900 and was operated by Hollenberg Music Company. Five years later, The Auto Club of 1905 posed for a picture at the north end of Main Street. The Auto Club members, Dr. A.G. Thompson, P.M. Kilroy, L.O. Knox, F.G. Smart, W.R. Crawford, E.P. Ladd, E.C. Stowell, and Dr. B.D. Luck, were taking a three day trip to Little Rock and back in their seven automobiles. The cars caused quite a stir around Pine Bluff and some were even locally designed; Smart customized his Model T Ford with wire wheels and a racey body, complete with a boat tail. 300 S. Main Street.
The Heritage of Flight*
This mural commemorated Grider Field, named after John McGavock Grider, a Northeast Arkansas native who was killed in action June 1918. During World War II, Grider Field became a training facility for Army Air Corps cadets. The Grider Field Mural was divided into three fields. On the far left, there was a World War I battle scene between a Royal Air Force SE-5 and German tri-wing Fokker. In the center, there was a rendition of the plane flown by Grider Field cadets, the Fairchild PT-19. The far right of the mural featured Boeing B-17 bombers on a mission over Germany. The B-17s’ names were those flown by Pine Bluff pilots during WWII, including Fyrtle Myrtle, Punchin’ Judy, Ram’s Razorbacks, Sweet Louise and Ridge Runner.
Timber in the Old Days
Beginning in 1885, the harvest of virgin timber brought wealth to the Pine Bluff and Jefferson County area. John F. Rutherford is credited with the start of this timber operation; he organized the O.D. Peck Lumber Company and furnished facilities for small saw mills. He later built his own saw mill and changed the name from the O.D. Peck Lumber Company to the Bluff City Lumber Company. Although there were other large lumber companies in the area, Rutherford dominated the field and was often referred to as Arkansas’ first millionaire. Aside from the lumber company, his dynasty held over 100 pieces of property, the street car system and some 90 businesses and dwellings. His Kearney Lumber Company operated enough buildings, businesses, and homes to form a small town, which was named Kearney. Most of the virgin hardwood lumber was harvested by the end of the 1920’s and little remains of the town that was once located between Jefferson and Redfield. 301 E. Fifth Avenue.
Old Man River ... Friend or Foe?
It is no secret that the Arkansas River was both a friend and foe to the early settlers of the region. The French settled on the north side until flooding conditions forced them to move upriver into what is now Pine Bluff. The mural is a composite of three early photos. On the left and right side, one can see the process of transporting cotton bales from Pine Bluff to New Orleans, which represents the positive side to living near a river. In the center, however, one witnesses the reminder that floods overwhelmed Jefferson County. The center photo was recorded in 1908 and shows the banks of the Arkansas River crumbling, threatening the town. In December 1908, the upstream levee was hit with two dynamites that alleviated the danger of the Arkansas River to Pine Bluff. 111 W. Fifth Avenue.
The Big Engine That Could*
Pine Bluff’s first rail service began in 1873 with the Little Rock, Pine Bluff and New Orleans Railroad. Later, during the Great Depression, the Cotton Belt Railroad wanted to add to its 800 series of locomotives, and ten of the twenty were constructed in Pine Bluff. Once more efficient diesel engines came into use, the Cotton Belt decided to retire its steam engines and all were scrapped except the last of the series. Old 819 was presented to the City of Pine Bluff and displayed in a local park for years until it was restored. Engine 819 can now be seen at the Arkansas Railroad Museum.
The Delta Heritage
An interpretation of the Arkansas River Delta between 1920 and 1940 was shown in the Delta Heritage Mural. All the people are generic aside from John Rust, the inventor of the mechanical cotton picker. His cotton picker was produced by major manufactures, including Ben Pearson Manufacturing Co. of Pine Bluff and revolutionized life in the delta by reducing the number of farm hands needed. Other key features in the mural include the Free Bridge, crop-duster plane, neighborhood church and country store.
The Hospital Mural
Painted by the Dafford Mural Company of Lafayette, Louisiana, the Medical Mural celebrates the history of the past and present medical facilities in Pine Bluff. The left panel shows the Davis Hospital that was built in 1910. The right panel shows Jefferson Regional Medical Center, which opened in the early 1960s and continues to serve the needs of patients in South Arkansas. 201 S. Main Street.
• In 2013, the Main Street Mural was stripped of its yellowing sealer and restored.
•The vibrant hues of the Arkansas Flag Mural were repainted in 2014 and it is now a beautiful sight for travelers heading west on the Martha Mitchell Expressway.
• Conservation of the AM&N/UAPB Mural began in 2015.
Restoration and refurbishing of the murals is not an inexpensive or quick fix. Depending on the size and condition of the mural, and the condition of its host building, restoration can cost $15,000 to $40,000. Funding for these projects comes from individual and business contributions and grants.
If you are interested in coordinating the funding efforts for restoration of a specific mural, please get in touch.
Murals marked with an asterisk (*) have been lost to the ravages of time.
Mural Restoration Program
Pine Bluff’s murals did not just happen; organized by the Pine Bluff Downtown Development’s director, the mural project resulted from the dedication and hard work of a group of community-minded individuals who envisioned creating realistic paintings from actual photographs to form an outdoor art gallery within the downtown business district. The murals vary in size and style but they share the common thread of depicting Pine Bluff’s history.
Pine Bluff’s murals are a source of pride and beauty. But as all beauty fades with the passing of time, so do our murals. Pine Bluff Downtown Development has begun the painstaking, costly process of restoring these outdoor works of art.