The History of Meadowcreek

Human inhabitants of the Meadow Creek valley can be traced back approximately 6000 years.

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Several projectile points found in the sand field near the creek are identified by archaeologists as made in the Middle Archaic period (4400-3700 BC).

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Human inhabitants of the Meadow Creek valley can be traced back approximately 6000 years.

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Human inhabitants of the Meadow Creek valley can be traced back approximately 6000 years. Several projectile points found in the sand field near the creek are identified by archaeologists as made in the Middle Archaic period (4400-3700 BC). A drill bit found in a cave on Bee Bluff indicates a settlement existed on the land more than hunting parties just passing through.

European migration to the valley began in the early 19th century. There were two reasons to come. The relatively mild climate and fertile bottom ground fields allowed the same type of farming they knew in their homelands. The second lure was native timber that found a ready market in the western expansion of migrants.

 

By the second half of the 19th century, the white oak forests were almost eliminated to support the barrel stave industry centered in nearby Leslie and in Little Rock.  The valley was populated by at least 20 homesteads and as many as 200 people. A railroad at the south end of the valley provided transportation for timber and passengers. 

During the civil war, many men left to fight, leaving the women and children at home.

 

A persistent story reveals a group of Jayhawkers (rowdy men from Kansas) raided the homesteads and systematically robbed, raped, and often killed everyone left behind.  While it may be just a story, the women all gathered in a house that was located just west of the current woodshop.

 

The legend is that the women shot the Jayhawkers and buried them on the other side of Meadow Creek. That part of the story does not hold up because there is a rock cliff on that side of Meadow Creek that could not be navigated. On the other hand, there is an old road and rock wall still in existence and if they buried the Jayhawkers across the road, we think we have found the gravesite.

 

Whatever the actual truth, there are rock walls, a stone hog pen, and remnants of old roads all over the valley. Adventuresome visitors love to discover these structures and contemplate the lives of previous inhabitants. 

In the last part of the 19th century and the early 20th century the loggers had eliminated the usable white oaks and the industry gradually was abandoned. The Meadow Creek valley was still the location of small farms although crop fields lost production value due to the last of nutrients.  Most of the farmable land was turned into pastures. A few orginal families stayed put but most left for better jobs in the cities. 

 

The Federal Government and State government designated some of the surrounding lands as forests or parks. Prosperous entrepreneurs bought large sections of land for cattle operations. 

 

Between 1930 and 1960 people in the Ozarks often were considered poor and unsophisticated by an unknowing outside world. All of that changed because the land was cheap and the forests were beginning to recover.  This came just at the time when people from all over the country yearned for a different lifestyle and joined the back-to-the-land movement. At the same time, the government turned the powerful Corp of Engineers loose on Arkansas rivers to build dams that created massive lakes. 

 

The Ozarks experienced an influx of new settlers and a booming tourist industry.  Through the 1970s and 80s, the lakes and cheap land drew a new infusion of people, especially from the north. Retirees found inexpensive housing, a mild climate, and recreation opportunities suited their so-called golden years. The Meadow cCreek valley drew some of those people especially along the middle fork of the Little Red River. 

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t was this climate that prompted brothers David and Wilson Orr to purchase the cattle farm that encompassed a large portion of the valley to build a model of a sustainable village. David was a college professor and Will was a building contractor and their vision of a new society combined the philosophical dreams of people living more lightly on the earth with the latest technology for energy-saving and environmentally sensitive buildings. They called their experiment The Meadowcreek Project.

The history of the Meadowcreek Project has yet to be written. For the purpose of this brief reflection, it is sufficed to say that the ten-year decade from 1979 to 1989 saw a large construction effort combined with incredible educational programs that made Meadowcreek a household word among advocates of the environmental movement. 

 

Nine structures were built and two were extensively renovated. At its high point, the Project had over 20 employees including many interns. Nationally supported programs brought scholars, scientists, and politicians to the valley. The youthful governor Bill Clinton was a regular participant.

 

Meadowcreek was one of the first institutions to hold conferences on the energy crisis and how buildings and vehicles could be made to reduce energy usage. 

One of the early projects was the construction of a wood projects shop operated by a steam engine. The engine-powered saws, planers, and other woodworking equipment for a local enterprise that offered the finished products for sale. Unfortunately, the shop was shut down when OSHA determined it was dangerous for worker safety. 

Two programs stand out as instrumental to the contributions of Meadowcreek to the greater world. The first was an exchange program between Meadowcreek and The Soviet Academy of Sciences. In 1988 15-year-old Russian students came to Arkansas along with their adult sponsors to learn about environmental efforts in the U.S. and to meet Arkansas students as a bridge to build better relationships. The next year a similarly aged group of Arkansas students visited Russia and stayed in the Soviet Academy research community of Puschchina on the Oka River. They were the first Americans to visit the town in 70 years. Ultimately three such exchanges were held in the 1990s.

The other achievement was a cooperative arrangement between Hendrix College and Meadowcreek in 1986 to initiate the first-in-the-nation local food project that connected local farmers with the food service at the college. Supported by a three-year grant from The Rockefeller Foundation, the project identified where student meals came from and ended up supplying almost 15% of those meals from area farmers.  The local food movement gained momentum ever since and today is a part of meal preparation in schools, restaurants, commercial operations, and communities throughout the country.

The Meadowcreek Project flourished on gifts and grants that supported environmental causes. By 1990 these funds began to dry up as donors shifted to other matters.  Meadowcreek was forced to borrow money from The Kerr Foundation to finish its expansive building and educational projects. Payroll also was a big drain on the budget.

 

The founding brothers David and Will left Meadowcreek and the momentum ground to a halt. Since the Project owed money to The Kerr Foundation, Board President Gary Valen negotiated a merger with the newly formed Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Meadowcreek Project was ended. As a tribute Redis Allen, the mason responsible for most of the rock work in Meadowcreek buildings constructed the stone triangle at the entrance to the Lodges. 

The Kerr agreement lasted two years until it was obvious Meadowcreek was too far from Oklahoma to make sense of the merger.  Scientists from the newly formed Russian Federation and The Kerr Center continued the exchanges and developed joint ventures.  Meadowcreek reduced staff but continued its education programs especially with designs for more efficient energy use. By 1994 Meadowcreek was turned loose by the Kerr Center with a one-year stipend to see if it could survive. The debt was still in place.

For the next two years, the staff at Meadowcreek sought ways to become sustainable. A popular two-week summer camp for high school juniors brought in some funding but it was not enough.  The Humane Society of the United States held a January retreat for major theological scholars to discuss the connection between religion and social issues such as the treatment of animals and environmental concerns. Father Thomas Berry, the author of The Dream of the Earth and The Universe Story, participated. So did John Hoyt, President, and C.E.O of HSUS.  A year later The Humane Society sponsored a two-week summer camp for its members and staff at Meadowcreek. The success of that venture prompted John and his partner Paul Irwin to adopt Meadowcreek into their family of organizations.

 

In an agreement with The Kerr Center officials, approximately 1200 was set aside as a wildlife land trust controlled by The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust. For a while the Kerr Center was named as a partner and the debt was forgiven. The remaining land and the buildings were taken over by the HSUS to use for retreats, regional meetings, and sustainable agriculture demonstrations. 

 

Two major changes came with The HSUS absorption of Meadowcreek.  Since The HSUS would do its own programming, all the Meadowcreek employees were given the option to remain on-site with their own enterprises or seek other employment. As a result, a chicken operation was started by Luke and Cindy Elliot using portable coops called “chicken tractors.”  The other project was a community-supported agriculture business operated by Megan and Greg Jarrett that supplied food to area residents.

 

The other change was the closure of the 18,000 square foot conference center.  Architects concluded the building was unsustainable and The HSUS board of directors refused to accept Meadowcreek unless the building was abandoned. 

Brad Archote was hired to maintain the property and management was directed from The HSUS headquarters in Washington, D.C.  Valen joined the Humane Society staff as the Director of Sustainable Agriculture and used Meadowcreek for meetings, workshops, and demonstrations. 

 

 

 

The HSUS supported Meadowcreek and funded its operations until 2005 when new management concluded the buildings and farm ground were no longer needed. The Wildlife Land Trust still manages the 1200-acre habitat today.  

Meadowcreek was transferred to its own Board of Directors in 2005 with a $25,000 stipend from The HSUS to provide start-up money.  A new board of directors headed by Valen took a careful look at the available facilities and also the lessons learned from previous incarnations of the Meadowcreek organization. They came up with a novel plan. Rather than hire new staff, they offered the houses and various parts of the property to individuals who wanted to experiment with ways for people to live in a remote setting without depreciating the environment.  The results would be shared with other communities through workshops and demonstrations. 

Funding for the newly formed Meadowcreek, Inc. came from rents, gifts, and grants. The pastures were leased to local farmers Josh and Junior Linville.  A number of interesting projects emerged.

 

The Meadowcreek Link Project headed by Beverly Dunaway supplied hoop houses to a number of area farmers. Board member Jim Worstell operated the Resilience Project to support local agriculture from one of the houses and fields.  Charles and Shirley Rosenbaum leased the barn, mechanic shop, and surrounding pastures for their various farm ventures. This included a horse rescue operation that supported over 20 abandoned or injured animals. 

The difficulty for the Board and residents was the maintenance of the facilities. The aging buildings needed constant repairs. A lightning strike tore up an entire water line running from the county water system to the valley and ended up almost wiping out all available funds for the repairs. Preventive maintenance was delayed with the result that visitors sometimes thought the place was abandoned.  While many schemes were either proposed or tried, it was not always clear the Meadowcreek would survive. 

Rescue came in 2019 when The Nature Conservancy of Arkansas purchased Meadowcreek for a bargain rate with the agreement that Meadowcreek, Inc. would be able to carry on its operations without pay for the indefinite future.  TNC wanted Meadowcreek to protect the creek that is home to several rare and endangered species.  The entire 1600 acres plus another 1000 acres just south of Meadowcreek is now in permanent protection. 

That year Valen moved back to the valley with the goal to reinvigorate Meadowcreek with the same mission but new methods.  He joined Aliza and Tim Cummings who farm the main garden and operate the Market House commercial kitchen and dining facility.  Their Gathering Place mission feeds many hungry families throughout our region. Aliza’s brother Wayne Jordan spends much of his time as a builder, maintenance, and repair person. Rachel Reynolds serves as the program facilitator and director of the People’s Library.  Together along with volunteers and the Board of Directors, they envision Meadowcreek as a strong partner with the people of Fox and Stone County to promote the arts, support people in need, and preserve the incredible Meadow Creek valley.

 

In 2021 the restored former women’s dormitory became the Natural Lodge for Airbnb guests, meetings, and music events. Patrons come to the valley to enjoy nature and find peace and togetherness offered by the building and the setting. The Barn now houses music events and other gatherings rather than horses.

 

A new generation is excited about Meadowcreek as were the many interns, residents, and visitors in the Meadowcreek Project era and The Humane Society years. If we could communicate with the past, no doubt native peoples 6000 years ago would tell us they loved the valley as well.