As we turned the last corner down the winding country road, the past came into view. Scattered along both sides of the graveled surface were buildings that stood as empty and abandoned testaments to the thriving population that once called this spot along Buffalo River home. Pulling over in front of what used to be the General Store and Post Office we slid from the pickup truck and started our meandering through time.
With me was David Johnson a lifelong resident of Marion County Arkansas. Johnson was born in Pasadena, TX and brought to the area when he was about two years old. His parents settled into a small home that wasn’t much “better than a chicken house” about two miles up the graveled road from Rush, Arkansas. David and I met during the photo shoot on the White River and soon discovered our mutual interest in history. When he told me about a ghost town 15 miles from the fishing lodge where I had been staying I eagerly accepted his invitation to ride along with him to see it.
If the Chamber of Commerce brochures are to be believed, Rush is the only ghost town between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.
In 1882 rumors of silver in the rocks were heard by a few hardy prospectors. Fueled with dreams fed by Indian legends of lost silver mines, men came to the area in a “rush”. Finding shiny metallic flakes concentrated in the quartz rock. news of the discovery spread throughout mid America and more prospectors arrived in the valley near the Buffalo and White Rivers.
While miners lived in tents along the banks of the rivers, a rock smelter was constructed along Rush Creek to extract the metallic substance that so many were convinced was silver. When a test run of the smelter was made, green zinc oxide fumes came pouring out of the chimney. While it created a spectacular display, the expected silver failed to collect in the sand molds. Realizing it wasn’t silver that had been discovered; the miners changed their dreams to those founded on zinc.
As we walked along the road, David pointed out places among the woods, briars and tangles that he used to explore as a young boy and the tour started with the General Store. The Taylor-Medley store thrived during the mining boom. Rush’s residents could mail letters, buy stamps and visit on the store’s large front porch where they could get caught up on the latest news – and gossip. Many weddings took place at the general store because the store owner was not just a shopkeeper and postmaster, but also a justice of the peace. The store finally closed in 1956.
Up the hill and across the road from the general store sat Morning Star Mine. It was the first zinc mine in north central Arkansas and was the biggest in the state. While the building that housed the mine offices and mill are long gone, the foundation pillars for the Morning Star Mine are still visible. During the mining boom brought on by World War I, zinc prices went through the roof. The resulting profits allowed the company to expand and modernize. The increased efficiency allowed the mill to crush and separate 200 tons of zinc ore a day.
The largest zinc nugget coming out of Rush weighed in at 13,000 pounds and received the blue ribbon at the 1892 Chicago World Fair. Another large piece won a blue ribbon at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904.
The end of World War I saw a rapid decline in the demand and price for zinc. With the dropping values, the population of Rush began to erode. As the population diminished, the mines ceased to operate. The post office closed in the mid 50s and killed Rush’s sense of identity. Slowly the remaining residents drifted away and Rush was officially recognized as a ghost town in 1972 the same year it was acquired during the creation of the Buffalo River National Park System. Today, the Rush Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places.
To see a slide show of Rush, AR today, see the article on Examiner. Click here
Jerry Nelson is a nationally recognized photojournalist. His work has appeared in many national, regional and local publications including CNN, USAToday, Upsurge, Earthwalkers and Associated Content. Nelson travels the country seeking out the people, places and things that make America unique and great. When not traveling, Nelson volunteers his time and donates his services to area non-profit agencies and is available for portraits, promotional shoots, events and more. Nelson lives in Asheville, North Carolina when not chasing down stories and photo opportunities.