While playing tourist in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a few days ago, I looked down at the iron tread-plate that covered the entryway and a step-high ledge across the front of one of the old storefronts on Spring Street. There, cast into the iron plate were the words, “Crescent Iron Works.”
Because the Crescent Hotel is a longtime landmark in this Arkansas Ozarks city, my immediate thought was that at one time there was an iron works foundry in Eureka Springs. Then, on second thought, I realized that I had never heard of one.
My gaze traveled along the tread-plate on the ledge and there were the words, “Springfield, Mo.,” also cast into the iron. It was another example of how the self-proclaimed “Queen City of the Ozarks” deserved that title.
Once on a float trip on the Buffalo River, we stopped at Gilbert, Arkansas, and wandered into the old general store building there that is still in operation. An ancient wood stove sat on the concrete floor and on its top were cast these words, “Wood Evertz Stove Co. JUMBO Springfield, Mo.”
Springfield's strong manufacturing base has spread its tentacles to even the most remote places in the Ozarks. An article in the Springfield Leader and Press on Oct. 9, 1897, touts the extensive manufacturing interests operating in the city.
It lists the Springfield Stove Works with an annual capacity of 12,000 stoves. It also lists the famous Springfield Wagon Co., “the largest factory of its kind west of the Mississippi River,” with its annual output of 50,000 wagons. Listed also were the Old Coon Tobacco Works, which was, “one of the largest institutions in the state,” and the Springfield Furniture Company.
There were also five milling companies, two carriage manufacturers, six factories that made fine cigars, three broom manufacturers, four brick manufacturers and many other factories listed.
Also near the top of the list was the Crescent Iron Works, “established in 1883, makers of everything in the iron line.”
The Crescent Iron Works started its life as the Perkins Water Works Manufacturing Company. Paul B. Perkins was born in Maine in 1842. I have found an old reference in a short history of Springfield that says the Springfield Water Works Co., which constructed a reservoir and a pressure system to pump water from Fulbright and Jones Springs into the city, was, “begun in 1872 and completed the following year by P. B. Perkins, Col. Homer F. Fellows (who was the principal owner of Springfield Wagon Company) and Col. R. L. McElhaney.”
However, the federal census for 1880 show that Perkins and his wife, Agnes Hicks Perkins, and their two daughters were living in Geneseo, Illinois, in Henry County where he worked as a hydraulic engineer. Perhaps, he came to Springfield to work on the water system and then returned home to Illinois.
In 1883, he was in Springfield and had formed the Perkins Water Works Manufacturing Co. complete with an iron foundry. Just two years later, however, Perkins sold his interest in his foundry and manufacturing company to B. F. Hobart, who then sold it to J. H. Mackie.
Apparently, Perkins continued to install water systems. A blurb in the Leader and Press on June 24, 1886, stated, “We understand Mr. P. B. Perkins is figuring on the water works shortly to be constructed at Parsons, Kansas, with good chance of success.”
On or about July 14, 1886, Perkins purchased the stock of R. L. McElhany in the Springfield Water Works Co., and with Fellows out of the picture, he then owned all the stock.
On the Feb. 15, 1887, the Daily Leader carried a blurb stating that the town of Oswego, Kansas, was considering having Perkins install a waterworks system in their town and that a city councilman from Oswego had visited with Perkins in Springfield. It went on to say that “it is most likely” that Perkins would get the contract.
In 1887, Perkins' Springfield Water Works Co. water mains in exceeded 27 miles in total length. At that time, the company employed 100 men and an article in the Oct. 20 issue of the Springfield Daily Leader said that; “Mains are now being laid on Robberson Avenue, Main, Campbell, Center, Grant and several other streets, and when completed Springfield will have the most complete and extensive system of water works of any city in the state outside of St. Louis.”
Perkins had other business interests also. On June 24, 1887, he announced in the newspaper that he was going to build a $60,000 opera house on Center Street (which is probably the modern street that has been renamed Central Street). He also announced he was going to build a four-story business block on the same street with a hundred feet of frontage.
In the newspaper of the following day, Perkins announced that he had signed a contract to have the opera house constructed and it would front on Boonville near Center Street. The opera house was to be 70 feet wide, 155 deep and 70 high. The stage would be 35 feet deep and there would be “an abundance” of dressing rooms.
The main auditorium was to be 60-by-70 feet with an inclined floor and include four boxes on each side of the stage and two deep balconies. It was to seat 1,400 patrons.
The Opera House was not the only structure Perkins was having constructed in Springfield. A one-liner in the Oct. 14, 1887, issue of the Daily Leader read, “Work on P. B. Perkins new residence on College Street is progressing finely and will be completed in a short time.”
Next: P. B. Perkins seems to suddenly have his finger in every pie when it comes to new businesses in Springfield.