Ralph Johnson, the force behind the revival of the retirement/recreational industry in Arkansas,


            The development of recreational properties first began in Arkansas in the early 1900s. With the onset of The Great Depression, however, these promotional activities all but disappeared, not only in Arkansas, but nationwide as well.  The industry slowly revived when, in the early 1950s, a few large land development corporations, principally in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California, began mass-marketing lots for retirement/recreational purposes in those states. 

In 1953, Ralph Johnson, a real estate promoter and developer, living in Hollywood Hills, California, decided to visit his brother, Jimmy Johnson, who owned a car dealership in West Memphis, Arkansas.  As he, and his wife, Mary, drove east through northern Arkansas, he was enthused by the exciting possibilities he saw in the beautiful, peaceful Ozark hills. 

Ralph Johnson had a vision. 

While in West Memphis, Lady Luck played her card; H was introduced to John Cooper, a Memphis business man who owned property on the Spring River, near Hardy, Arkansas.  He and his family used it for a summer retreat. 

When he told Cooper of his idea, Cooper was skeptical at first.  However, Johnson was an excellent salesman and he soon convinced Cooper that he could make a pile of money by developing this property into a retirement community.  The picture Johnson painted of a luxurious retirement village, and the millions that could be made, convinced Cooper who, like most business men, was always interested in turning a buck.  He agreed to Johnson’s proposition: He would provide the land and Johnson would develop and promote “Cherokee Village” (Johnson got the name from the Cherokee Indian Trail of Tears which runs through the area). 

            Once terms and agreements were decided upon and contracts signed, Johnson returned to California to put his affairs in order.  In the spring of 1954, he returned to Arkansas and got busy.  Once he went to work, things moved rapidly.  Before you could say “Jack Robinson,” the development of Cherokee Village was underway. 

            When he and I met, Ralph Johnson was watching a bulldozer make the first excavations for Cherokee Lake, (the first of a proposed five),.  I had parked my car on the road above and walked down to the site hoping to sell him an ad for “Cherokee Village, Sharp County’s new retirement community”, on my radio show “Spotlighting Hardy,” (broadcast out of KALM, Thayer, Missouri). 

He didn’t buy an ad but, after learning I had other skills, retained my services to perform publicity and promotional assignments such as designing a brochure, write the news letters (the first Cherokee Villager), and representing Cherokee Village at Sport, Boat, and Travel Shows (Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis). 

Johnson was a big man with a protruding belly and a perpetual cigar jutting out of the corner of his mouth.  To say he was an outgoing personality is putting it mildly.  Pompous, loud-mouthed, he rubbed a lot of the gentle, easy-going Ozarkians the wrong way. 

The folks in Hardy sort of smirked behind his back as he talked of building lakes—5 of them for heaven’s sake!  Not to mention a golf course, an airport, a hospital, and who knew what else? 

To the natives in these quiet, peaceful Ozark hills, Johnson was considered nothing but a “blow-hard.”  Cherokee Village would bring thousands of people to Hardy from all over the world, he said.  It would bring prosperity to everyone! 

        Yeah, they thought.  Like that’s gonna happen

            Not that people disliked Johnson; it was just that he was like a big blustery bug that disrupts the tranquility of a peaceful summer afternoon.  One that you want to stomp on—to make it go away. 

The fact that he hailed from Hollywood, California may have added to the skepticism as it branded him as a “big city” promoter.  Actually, having been born in Maynard, Arkansas, he was a native Arkansawyer himself.


The Jonesboro Sun

April,  1985.


Few In Cherokee Village Recall The Old Days



  As members of the Cherokee Village Property Owners Association finalize plans for the 30-year anniversary celebration in June, there are a few who remember “way back when.”

  Thirty years ago, these hills and valleys now called home by some 4,000 residents were no different than other Ozark Mountains round about.

  But underneath it all, the wheels of progress were rapidly changing the scope of things, much to the skepticism, and sometimes consternation, of some of the old timers. Many of them feared their beloved hills would never be the same. Their fears were well-grounded.

  As June approached, the roar of heavy equipment motors reverberated through the hills building dams, constructing roads-and an airport runway.

  Surveyors tromped through the woods laying out streets and lanes, drives, traces and-lots.

  In the office, letters were being prepared for mailing to the thousands who had registered for a free lot at Sport, Boat and Travel shows in Kansas City, Chicago and St. Louis.

  Personnel attending other major events in cities throughout the midwest extolled the marvels of Cherokee Village and prospective salesmen were studying for real estate exams.

  The first issue of “The Cherokee Villager” which is still the official newspaper of Cherokee Village was published as a newsletter in May.

  It contained the following proclamation: “Know all men by these present:

 “That we, W.R. Baty, Mayor of Hardy, Arkansas, and Boyd H. Capenter, County Judge of Sharp County and Northeast Arkansas for the purpose of promoting, furthering and expanding the recreational facilities.

“Whereas Hardy has long maintained the reputation as “The Playground of the Ozarks” were less fortunate people living in times and conditions of stress and strain could achieve relaxation by communing with nature and enjoying outdoor recreation,

“And Whereas, Cherokee Village has aided said area by providing facilities, both recreational and service, for the furtherance of this cause and the enjoyment of others,

“And whereas, the people in less fortunate areas than ours need rest and relaxation such as we have to offer in this abundant land of ours.

“Therefore  we, W. R. Baty, Mayor of Hardy, Arkansas and Boyd H. Carpenter, County Judge of Sharp County, do hereby proclaim Saturday, June 11, 1955 as Cherokee Village Day for the purpose of dedicating the lake and airstrip at Cherokee Village and do hereby urge our citizens to cooperate to the fullest extent by showing friendly courtesy and giving unselfish and willing service to the thousands of people who will come into our midst on this day and during the months to come.

“This 10th day of April, 1955…” The document was signed by both Baty and Carpenter.  

   An article on the same page announced that “Cherokee Lake is Full!”

A picture of water skiers on the lake accompanied the article.

  “The dam, which was completed November 1, 1954 at a cost to the Cherokee Village Development Company of nearly $75,000 has created the most beautiful small lake in the Ozarks,” the news item stated, going on to say that ”the water is now spilling over the spillway causing a beautiful falls which tumbles down a rocky ledge to Otter Creek.” It reported that the lake had approximately three miles of shoreline and was appromimately47 feet deep at the deepest point.

“The lake was stocked in the fall by the Arkansas Fish and Game Commission with 55,000 bass, brim and crappie,” the article reported.

Also on the same page, accompanied by a construction scene, was another article announcing that ”the construction of a 2,500  foot landing strip is underway and it is hoped that it will be completed at the time of the dedication the 11th of June.” 

   The article went on to say that several planes had already landed. It was, at that time, a 100-foot wide north-south strip which ran in front of what is now the Lakeview Dinnette. It was moved to its present location the south end of the Village in the 1960’s.

   On the front page was a picture of Burl Ives, singer and actor, receiving a contract to a lot on Hiawatha Drive. (This lot is still registered in Mr. Ives’ name.) The article stated that, because of his commitment as the lead in Tennessee Williams play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which had recently opened in New York, he would be unable to attend the Cherokee Village dedication ceremonies on the 11th of June.

   Another article reported that, with the expected completion of Highway 62 in the fall, “all roads and streets in Cherokee Village would be blacktopped” and that machinery had already began widening the roads in preparation to blacktopping.

  “Workmen from the Ark-Mo Power Company have completed surveying the right of way on Hiawatha Drive, Skyline Drive and Lake Shore Drive,” said another, “and are now at work putting in poles to bring in electricity on those streets.”

A picture of the “first summer home on Cherokee Lake’ showed the home of Mr. Howard H. Sullins of the Southland Tractor Company of Memphis. The house was built by Bill Barthel of Pocahontas. 

  Other news reported: “Mr. and Mrs. Harold Phelps and daughter, Shelia of West Memphis spent the weekend in Cherokee Village;

 “Mr. and Mrs. James Edward McCandless and son, Johnny, who own a lot on Lake Shore Drive were up for the day;

  “Mr. and Mrs. Fred Crocket have moved to Cherokee Village.

(Mr. Crocket was the engineer for the project);

  And that “the radio program ‘Spotlighting Hardy’ which comes to us over Radio Station KALM, also spotlights Cherokee Village.”

   An advertisement invited readers to “Come to Cherokee Village, ‘The Jewel of the Ozarks,’ for year-round retirement and family vacation homes.” It promised fishing, swimming, boating and horseback riding ‘plus modern convenience’  and suggested visitors “see the man in the red shirt.”(All early day salesmen were required to wear a red shirt.)

   A nine-hole golf course was promised and a cabin site could be purchased for as low as $59.50 down and $6 per month.

   “Cherokee Village is designated as one of the safest places in America from atomic bomb attack,” announced a flyer.

   Jim Wells, now a salesman for Cooper Communities, was a 16-year-old junior in the Williford high school at the time. He recalls crossing the old Hardy bridge and going through Rio Vista to reach Cherokee Village..

  Wells said that the population of Cherokee Village is approximately 4,000 now and that there are about 25,000 property owners.

  “When we began offering additional lots for sale in Fulton County in 1968, it about doubled the number of lots in Cherokee Village,” he said.

  Six salesmen had signed with the company to sell property by April of 1955. In is interesting to note in 1985 there are, again, six salespersons. Wells said that at one time, there were over 100 salespersons.

  “However, the only property available now is resale property,” he said.

  “To a person retiring after 30 years, the changes are mindboggling. The dreams have all come true – and more. As predicted by Ralph Johnson, developer, in 1955,”Living is easy in beautiful Cherokee Village.” It is, indeed, “a haven where-people living in times and conditions of stress and strain can achieve relaxation by communing with nature and enjoying outdoor recreation,”

  A re-enactment of the 1955 dedication ceremonies will be held June 8, 9 and 10. Willard Verba, chairman of the planning committee, said that John Cooper Sr. had responded favorably to an invitation to attend the festivities but that, at this date, a reply has not been received from former Governor Orval Faubus who also attended the ceremonies 30 years ago.

The Jonesboro Sun





The prairie is said to be

a land of struggle

A land of ongoing mortal rivalry

between man and nature.


But only man struggles.


Once he passes on

the prairie quietly, steadfastly,

rights itself and heals its scars.


Implacable, ever-changing,

the prairie, like the sea, endures,

taking sustenance from the refuse of its past,

layering its skeletons to be pondered over

by future generations.





A storm sometimes

Rages over the prairie.

Roiling dust

Funnel clouds

Howling winds

Driving rains

Snow blizzards


Though havoc and mayhem

Rage about me.

I know that God is in his universe

And my soul is calm


A storm sometimes.