Listed in Arkansas Register of Historic Places on 08/07/13
The Hankins Country Store is being nominated to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A for its association with the commercial history of the Pelsor area. The original Hankins Country Store opened in the early 1920s, and the current building was built c.1930. Located on Arkansas Highway 7, the Hankins Country Store was an important place for travelers to stop on their journeys through the Ozarks. The Hankins Country Store is also significant as the main store and the post office for residents in the Pelsor area. Although the replacement of the roof with a modern standing-seam metal roof, addition of the side deck, and the covering of the front façade with metal siding preclude the building’s listing on the National Register, the building is considered eligible for listing in the Arkansas Register.
The community of Pelsor, Arkansas, is intersected by Arkansas highways 7, 123 and 16, and is situated in the northwestern corner of Pope County along the Newton County line. In 1923, the Pelsor family moved to this area and applied for a post office named Sand Gap. However, it was named Pelsor on January 7, 1926. The town is on the top of the Ozark Mountain divide at about 2,300 feet elevation. From this point, water flows south to the Arkansas River and north to the Buffalo and White rivers.
Tom Hankins purchased the original local store from his brother, Rubin, in 1922. It served people in the surrounding communities of Moore, Victor, Dillon, Treat, Richland, Lurton and Indian Creek. The store was small and the family lived in the back of the store. Tom Hankins owned 27 acres surrounding the store, and was also a landlord for his six rental houses. A post office was opened inside the store on April 16, 1923, established by Loretta Pelsor, who was its postmaster for six months. Tom Hankins was appointed postmaster on January 7, 1926, and served in this capacity for the next 33 years.
Business grew, as did the Hankins family. In 1929, Hankins built a new home for his family. A new, better store was built in 1930, using some logs and material from the old structure. It was built of wooden novelty siding on a native stone foundation with heart-pine support beams, with a basement for storage. He built a gristmill and two saw mills near the store.
During the Depression, two civilian conservation camps were located nearby, as well as a German prisoner of war camp. The store served as a trading post for mill crews, two CCC camps, the prisoner of war camp at Victor, forest service workers and wildlife check station personnel. There was no electricity, telephone or inside plumbing. All state and federal elections were held at the store, and Tom Hankins was in charge of overseeing these. After the votes were counted, Hankins was responsible for delivering the results to the courthouse in Russellville, an arduous journey in all types of weather via Highway 7, which was not paved until 1956.
Hankins Country Store and post office was the heart of a thriving community. People would come in wagons to bring their corn to be ground. Furs were trapped in the local area and shipped from the store. Medicinal roots were dug by local folks and traded there. The mail carriers delivered not only mail and mail order catalogs, but also served the community as deliverymen for many items needed from Russellville. For example, they carried large cans of cream from the creamery in Russellville. Tom Hankins ground corn near the store on the week days and another local man would come to grind corn on Saturdays.
The store and post office also served as a social exchange of news for families and politics. Tom Hankins subscribed regularly to the Arkansas Gazette newspaper. Although it arrived a day late, he read and shared the latest news with the residents. Oral histories and stories were passed on at the store. Tom Hankins retired from the post office after 33 years. His brother, Ben, was next, serving for a short time. Tom’s son, Jim, took over as postmaster for a short time and, at 20 years old, was the youngest postmaster in the United States at the time. The youngest daughter, Pauline Curtis, then became postmaster in 1960. When Tom Hankins died in 1961, his oldest son, Don, took over the store with his wife, Jimmie Lee. He still lives in the rental house built next to the store in the late 1940s, which he inherited with the acreage around the house. During the George H.W. Bush administration, a new post office was constructed on the Hankins property across Hwy 123.
Through 1995, Hankins General Store was a trading post for tourists, campers, hikers, hunters and local residents. It also served as a Forest Service Information Center. Jimmie Lee Hankins was a Forest Service volunteer, giving information and literature to those interested in hunting, fishing or hiking in nearby Ozark National Forest. Although the store was closed for several years, it has recently reopened and is once again providing goods and services to the local residents and travelers on Arkansas Highway 7.
Small commercial establishments, such as the Hankins Country Store, are an important part of the state’s commercial history, especially in rural areas. In the Pelsor community, the Hankins Country Store is the only existing historic commercial building, and was a significant part of the community’s commercial history. In addition, serving as the community’s post office and polling place also illustrates the building’s significance in the community’s history.
In addition to serving the needs of Pelsor’s residents, the Hankins Country Store was also an important landmark for travelers on Arkansas Highway 7. Providing gasoline and food, the store would have been a good place for travelers to stop, especially since it sits at the intersection of three state highways. As a result, due to its importance in the commercial history of Pelsor, the Hankins Country Store is being nominated to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with local significance.
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