Whether from a self-created environment or part of the aging process, turning into a homebody was one of the last things ever expected. This change in lifestyle has been enjoyable while conceding to down-home country roots. However, all work and study without some type of play makes the rut of routine inescapable. Here's some of the ways I shake things up a bit . . .
Carthage has their own version of a Central Park; at least a dozen of them would fit inside the Great Lawn of NYC's original. There's a larger-than-life bronze statue of Marlin Perkins, one of our Who's Who worth checking out, but my most frequented place is across the street. The Carthage Public Library is one of the original Andrew Carnegie branches, with a beautiful domed rotunda, local displays, and historic literary collections. On days I'm not at the university, this is where I use internet services. Patrons are allowed 1-hour time slots based on computer availabilities, and travelers are welcomed to stop by and to check their email.
Kellogg Lake Park
Central Ave. is the northern thoroughfare running east and west. Where Highway 96 veers northeast over a historic bridge, Spring River and Kellogg Lake are a quarter mile further on the right. This has always been my local outdoor hangout; a place we used to head when cutting classes during high school.
An outdoor nature trail meanders through several diverse settings used as environmental science labs-expect always-roaming flocks of testy Canada geese. Fishing in the lake is by permit and license only. As for what you'll catch is anybody's guess, but banks are lined with eager fishermen in all kinds of weather. The river draws a wide assortment of locals, especially on weekends, including jet skiers. At no point are waters deeper than 7-feet, only adding to the potential catastrophes of the scattered rope swings that seem to cruelly detect a person's age.
There's a small, manmade dam presenting daring challenges for walking barefoot across the moss-covered top or sliding down the slippery concrete slope. These days the entire park area is used more by the growing Hispanic population. Open containers are legal, provided they're not glass bottles, but the natural settings are a peaceful break from the bustling cow town, especially on hot summer nights, when crickets, June bugs, and other forms of insects fire up their natural orchestra, great for shadow-dancing under streetlamps.
A Land Down Under
North of town is what's said to be the largest gray marble quarry in the world. This, coupled with a centuries worth of mining limestone deposits, has created an entire other city known as the Carthage Underground. As teenagers, we used to enjoy the tennis club or high school dances with live bands echoing in cavernous ballrooms. As to actual extent and size of it, this was to be evacuation center for the entire Midwest in case of nuclear disaster. There's said to be enough nonperishable foods to feed multitudes for over a year, but we always considered survival consolation as having the potential access the stock of the three largest beer distributors in the four states.
With the supposed end of the Cold War, cold storage lured development of more than a dozen major enterprises tucked away deep below the surface. After 9/11, a lot of speculation arose towards what's really going on, which local officials remain tight-lipped about. Heightened security increased for entering anywhere off the main roads. Bus-sized blocks of granite line edges of the central pit area. Local kids no longer use Quarry Hill Road for drag-racing, making this another deserted place to enjoy over conversations and 40's. Sitting atop the boulders can create a utopia feel, like there is some surreal, sci-fi world below.
Exploring Our Civil Side
Carthage lays claim to hosting the first major land skirmish of the Civil War, which totally destroyed the town. There's an interesting museum off the square, but the valley where hardest fighting took place is more enjoyable. It's a short walk from my parent’s farm and where we used to play as kids. Now it's the official Battle of Carthage State Park, with nice shaded lawns running along bluffs and a small pond fed from natural springs.
The cave entrance has been sealed off, but a tunnel connecting to a grand mansion's basement at top of the hill was an escape route for slaves on the Underground Railroad. Once finished browsing around the park, it's worth a drive up Chestnut Street Hill to see this magnificent house that's been fully restored as a private residence. A historic iron-fence surrounds the property, preventing actual entry. Within view on the right, just outside the city limits, is the old black cemetery. As you come back down the hill, imagine all the bumps and bruises you would have accumulated from recklessly sledding as a kid . . .
Scratching the Flea Itch
A 1-block walk from my house on Oak Street is The Route 66 Flea Market, housed in an old car dealership, and across the street is Dean's Furniture and Flea Market, which can turn up some odd finds with enough browsing. They're open daily. Otherwise, the largest concentration of antiques and oddities malls are located around the Carthage Square, with some very upscale finds for collectors.
Within an hour's drive of Bentonville, Arkansas, we were blessed with #13 of the original magnetic spend forces, which will gravitate you towards south Grand Avenue. Expect to find whatever you could possibly need-and then some!
Within walking distance of my house along Route 66 is the Carthage Municipal Park, with scads of picnic grounds, a skating rink, the county fairgrounds that spring to life every July, and one of the finest 18-hole golf courses in the four-state area. However, I opt for where I had my first job.
The public pool has been around for decades, but received major renovations in the ‘80s, dividing the main pool into three sections and reconstructing a new kiddie area. The diving tank is 12-feet deep and has one- and three-meter boards the "old man" still likes to use for keeping up with youngsters. The pool is open Memorial Day through Labor Day 7 days a week from noon to 6pm. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for kids.
GO . . . Greased Lightning
Continuing west passed the park for a couple more miles is a rare nostalgic find that brings people in by the carloads! The Route 66 Drive-In was one of only four officially licensed theaters on the route-to-route coast and is the only one back in operation today, as well as one of the few drive-ins left in the entire country! Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, property had been converted into an auto salvage yard until historic preservation funding was spent for clean-up and restoration.
As teenagers, we spent countless nights here watching movies while perfecting all the other drive-in-related shenanigans that local youth have obviously revived today. People-watching can still be as interesting as the double features, especially on theme-night parties or when caravans of antique autos traveling the route invade for a blast from the past. New releases showing at regular theaters dominate the big screen, though don't be surprised to find Grease, Where the Boys Are, Animal House and other classics from time to time. The Drive-In is open from May to September on weekends, with shows starting after dusk, and sometimes the second movie doesn't finish until 2am. Admission is $2 for kids, $4 for adults. Call 417/359-5959 to find what's showing.
Alley Cats & Sewer Rats
When cabin fever sets in, there's some fairly standard activities worth leaving the house for. Star Lanes Bowling, at 219 East 3rd Street off northeast corner of the square, has open bowling on Friday/Saturday nights, with some lanes available on Mondays and Tuesdays. More often than not, we've had the place all to ourselves and gotten pretty creative with the sport. Games run $2.50 per person and $1.50 for shoe rental, but usually the bar tab adds up more quickly while bets are even more costly.
Every now and then, coworkers talk me out for a night on the local town, where downtown bars no longer have darkened stigma of winos and bums waiting for doors to open at 8am. Jim's Place, at 325 East 4th Street, has a nice outdoor beer garden featuring live music on weekends with a $5 cover charge. Crowds are as offbeat and varied as the music; types I never knew existed in these parts. Most groups are local garage bands, whether outdated hippies playing original and cover rock tunes, or metal-techno youth looking as if they've gone AWOL from junior high detention.
Other hot spots doubling as watering holes for wide-spot-in-the-road crowds dot the countryside. The Mill is a dance club in a renovated feed-storage barn that has a deck overlooking Spring River-great for summer happy hours. At times, juiced-up crowds are more entertaining than the Discovery Channel; especially at Roadside Tavern, where sloshed farm girls vie for weekly Tuesday competition titles.