Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas Listings in the National Register of Historic Places

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas Listings in the National Register of Historic Places

Article excerpt

LOCATED ON THE BANKS OF LAKE CATHERINE near Hot Springs, the Couchwood Historic District (National Register-listed May 17, 2001) consists of four Rustic-style log buildings and several associated structures and objects. In 1927, Arkansas businessman and industrialist Harvey Couch began construction of "the Big House" at his country retreat, Couchwood. The Couch family gathered at Couchwood for summer vacations, reunions, and holidays, and, until his death in 1941, Couch entertained business, civic, and industrial leaders from all over the world there. Couchwood is still owned by Couch's descendants, who continue to enjoy the summer months on Lake Catherine.

Harvey Crowley Couch was born on August 21, 1877, in Calhoun, Columbia County, Arkansas, to Tom Couch and his wife, Manie Heard Couch. The eldest of six children, he was raised on a cotton farm. Harvey Couch only attended school two months out of the year because he had to help with the farmwork. When Harvey was seventeen years old, his family gave up farming and moved to Magnolia, where he attended his first full nine-month school term. Placed in a class with twelve and thirteen-yearolds and feeling out of place, Couch struggled with his studies. But the school's instructor, Pat Neff, encouraged him to stay in school and do extra work to catch up with the other students. After working with Neff for two years, Harvey Couch graduated from the eighth grade.1

When Couch was twenty-one, he was hired as a railway mail clerk on the St. Louis to Texarkana route of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway. He was soon promoted to head mail clerk on the Memphis to Texarkana route of the St. Louis Southwestern, or Cotton Belt, Railway. While on this route, Couch saw a crew installing telephone lines. Couch immediately recognized a business opportunity and paid another clerk $50.00 to switch with him so he could work the route from Magnolia into northern Louisiana. Couch envisioned bringing telephone service to rural southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana. With a local postmaster as his partner, Harvey Couch started the North Louisiana Telephone Company. In 1904, Couch bought out his first partner and enlisted the support of an old friend and former employer, Dr. H. A. Longino. Later that year, while he was working to establish telephone service in Athens, Louisiana, Couch met and fell in love with Jessie Johnson. The couple married on October 4, 1904. Harvey and Jessie Couch had five children: Johnson Olin, Harvey ("Don") Crowley, Jr., Kirke, Catherine, and William ("Bill") Thomas.2

Couch's North Louisiana Telephone Company eventually had to compete against Southwestern Bell for additional lines to more cities. While successful, the company by 1910 was landlocked, surrounded by Southwestern Bell cities. So, in 1911, Couch reluctantly agreed to sell to Southwestern Bell.3 His share alone was over $1 million, which in 2012 dollars would amount to about $23 million.4 Couch could have retired with this sum and lived comfortably, but he had a persistent drive to build another company that would serve Arkansas and its rural residents.

Drawing from his previous experience installing telephone lines, Couch set out to create an interconnected electric utility system. He wanted to begin in south Arkansas, and Malvern and Arkadelphia emerged as good candidates because both cities were seeking electric service providers. Couch first considered using hydroelectric power. Accompanied by veteran steamboat captain Flave Carpenter, Couch and Longino scouted the Ouachita River for potential dam locations. They presented their findings to Dean W. M. Gladson, a professor of engineering at the University of Arkansas, who agreed that the construction of three dams on the Ouachita was feasible but recommended against it until there was a greater demand for power. Couch and Longino agreed to wait on the dams but still had to find a way to provide electricity to Malvern and Arkadelphia. …

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