SNOWBALL — Restoring history is quite a task.
Located just 5 miles from the Buffalo National River is the Snowball area that has been called home to many people over the years. As the storytellers and memories fade with time, several buildings still stand as a physical record of the past in that community.
Calf Creek was the original name for the area until changed in 1886. The Snowball name as it is known today, however, wasn’t the initial intent.
After a steam-powered mill exploded in 1879, work began to rebuild the mill along with the town’s first cotton gin. In 1886, the Calf Creek Masonic Lodge erected a two-story building that served as the lodge, the school and the churches.
Snow Hall was to be the new name in honor of the sheriff at the time, Ben F. Snow. A misinterpretation at the U.S. Post Office Department construed the name as one word and confused the “h” for a “b” and the application was approved for the town to be named Snowball which has stood to this day.
The name fit as a popular quote from the area reflects. James “Bud” Horton is credited with the quote that “Every snowflake is unique, but all together they’re a Snowball.”
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) constructed a new school building in 1938. The rock building housed the entire school population. Snowball expanded in the spring of 1956 with a new gymnasium that would prove to be a significant aspect of the community. Prior to the construction of the gym, every basketball practice was executed outside.
On October 26, 1956, the first basketball game in the new gym was played against Mt. Judea in a battle of the two Eagles’ teams.
The gymnasium also hosted square dancing, Halloween carnivals, pie auctions, musical events and a variety of school activities.
Prior to the building of the gymnasium, 1947 graduate J.W. Clemons was the Snowball basketball coach and led his team to a 62-48 win over rival Marshall in the District Tournament. Evidently the win was so impressive that the Marshall superintendent at the time felt compelled to offer Clemons a job coaching the Bobcats. The Snowball teams were comprised of Arkansas Coaching Hall of Famers C.D. Taylor and Darrell Jones along with many others that the coach lifted with high praise.
Later filling the successful shoes of Clemons was James Morris who was also known as Jimmy Driftwood.
Driftwood served as a superintendent, teacher and the coach through the late 1950’s. His musical talents later proved successful as his song “The Battle of New Orleans” stayed at the top of the country singles chart for 10 weeks in 1959 along with earning Song of the Year honors at the Grammy awards.
With respect to the school, enrollment continued to decline. After the community peaked at around 500 residents, Snowball’s enrollment numbers dropped and the school was credited as Searcy County’s smallest school in 1975.
The final school year for the town was in 1978 when Snowball consolidated with Marshall and Witts Springs.
After the closings, the school grounds were deeded to the Snowball Civic Club and it reopened the gym as a Civic Center in 1982 where it hosted reunions, community events and a haunted house until the mid-1990’s when the gym floor was rendered unsafe.
The schoolhouse burned in September of 1986 leaving only the large archways standing on the south and east ends.
In 1996, the Twin Lakes Fox & Wolf Hunters Association built the current pavilion that stands amongst the remnants of the schoolhouse. The Civic Center put efforts together to pour a concrete floor for the structure. The pavilion is used today for many types of events while restoration efforts are currently underway for the gymnasium.
The gymnasium is on the Arkansas Registry of Historic Places and has been nominated to the National Registry.
To donate or volunteer to the preservation of the Snowball Gymnasium, contact Rachel Norton through the Snowball Civic Club at (870) 715-7255.