Chicot County, AR Historical and Genealogical Page
   

 

125 Years of History Woven into a Short Story

Dr. McDermott, Founder of Dermott
   
 

 

125 YEARS OF HISTORY WOVEN INTO A SHORT STORY

By Abbott F. Kinney

(Published in the Magazine Section of the Arkansas Democrat February 17, 1952) (Reprinted with the permission of the author)

When I drive down the beautiful paved streets of Dermott, lighted by a handsome whiteway, and when I look into the brightly lighted windows of our modern, air-conditioned stores and hear in the background the smoothly running machinery of our cotton gins and mills, I think of the pleasant hours of conversation about the contrasting old days I have enjoyed with the old-timers of Dermott.

Some of them have told me the story of their parents and grandparents, who 125 years ago first settled on the fertile land that is now Dermott. When night time came, they barricaded themselves into their log cabins, and their only light was from their mud fireplaces and candles made from bear grease, and from them I learned why Arkansas was once known as the Bear State.

Dermott, center of a large trade area in Chicot, Drew, Desha and Ashley Counties, originally was situated deeply within the boundaries of Chicot County instead of at the center of a quadri-county area as at present. For at the time of the original formation of Chicot County, ninth subdivision of the Territory of Arkansas, on October 25, 1823, the county extended westward from the Mississippi River to the Saline and Ouachita rivers, and northward from the Louisiana state line to within 10 miles of the mouth of the Arkansas River, taking in territory now in Desha, Drew and Ashley Counties in addition to Chicot.

The present sites of Arkansas City, McGehee, Monticello, Collins, Hamburg, Crossett, Wilmot, Parkdale, Portland and Montrose are on land that at first was within the boundaries of Chicot County. Villemont, a town of some 150 persons on the Mississippi river, now non-existent, was the county seat. Drew County was carved out of Chicot in 1846, Ashley in 1861 and part of Desha in 1879.

The earliest settlements in the vicinity of Dermott were made in 1826, but most of the land titles date from 1830-1836.

In those early pioneer days only a few scattered homesteads broke the vast wilderness of forest and swamp. The hostile Indians had moved westward by this time, but families had to barricade themselves against the panthers, wildcats and bears of the wild country. Muzzle-loading muskets hung on the walls of the log cabins, and always kept handy were cap and ball pistols which shot molded bullets, using paper wadding and percussion caps, with the iron ramrods pivoted to the barrels.

Another weapon became common with these frontiersmen and little later: the bowie knife, which was invented in 1827 at Natchez by Col. Jim Bowie, who died a heros death at the Alamo in 1836, the year Arkansas became a state. Colonel Bowie paid several visits to his relatives on Bayou Bartholomew on the site of Dermott, John J. Bowies place being one days travel west of the Mississippi River. It was for the Bowies that the township in which Dermott is located is named.

The early history of Dermott, however, is the history of Charles McDermott, for whom the town is named. Charles McDermott was born April 4, 1808 in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, near the old town of Woodville, Mississippi, five years after the Louisiana Purchase.

His father was Patrick McDermott, who, as a boy ran away from home in Ireland and came to Philadelphia in the American colonies. Patrick was later employed by the Spanish government as an engineer in Louisiana and received a large grant of Louisiana lands for his services, becoming very wealthy. He died when Charles was six. Charles mother was Emily Ozan of one of the French families of Point Coupee.

Charles was graduated from Yale University in 1828 and then studied medicine under his brother-in-law, a Dr. Bains, who had graduated in London. He married Hettie Smith, who was related by marriage to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

On his return journey home from Yale in 1828, coming down the Ohio River, Charles had fallen in with a party of government engineers who were going to explore for the navigation of the Red River. By them he was told of the rich lands in Arkansas Territory, where one could stake out claims.

Thus it was that on the death of his mother in 1832, Dr. McDermott and his younger brother, Capt. Edward O. McDermott, moved from Louisiana to Chicot County. Dr. McDermott secured by pre-emption or purchase most of the land on which Dermott is now located, and settled about a mile east of Bayou Bartholomew.

Here he fell in with such early settlers as Stephen Gaster, Reese Bowden, Early Hurd and Hilly Jones, with whom he enjoyed bear hunting, often bringing home cubs for playmates for his children. Another outstanding early landowner in the vicinity was Silas (Old Si) Craig, who settled Bellaire and Yellow Bayou. With compass in hand, Old Si traveled on foot through the almost impenetrable thicket in order to survey the lands, and it was he who first divided Chicot County into separate divisions.

Capt. Edward McDermott, who was one of the heroic figures of the Seminole War in Florida, died young, leaving two little girls who were reared in the family of his brother, Charles. One of these girls married Robert Watkins Finn of Monticello, and when she died May 27, 1932, at the age of 80, she left four sons: Tracy W. Finn and R. W. Finn of Dermott, Charles Finn of Little Rock and W. H. Finn of Monticello, and three daughters: Mrs. Sam Cole, Mrs. M.E. Shewmake and Mrs. V. B. McCloy of Monticello. The other daughter of Capt. McDermott married Sid Crute, some of whose descendants still live in Monticello.

Dr. Charles McDermott became an extensive landowner and planter and influential citizen, and through his inventions gained national recognition. He built a residence which was considered quite palatial for those early times. It stood about 200 years behind where the residence of Mrs. E. G. Hammock and the late Chancellor Hammock now stands.

In addition to his large family, he reared a number of orphaned children, giving them the same advantages of music, dancing and study under French masters and governesses, whom he secured on his various trips to New Orleans to buy supplies for his plantation.

His wife, in addition to rearing children, had to oversee the cutting and making of clothes, and the various industries attendant to carrying on such a large estate. In her home was a nursery where the young Negro babies were kept each day under the supervision of slaves too old to work in the fields. The estate was governed with justice and kindness.

The McDermott premises were a favorite camping place for emigrants crossing the Mississippi River at Gaines Landing on their way to the West. Gaines Landing, incidentally, derived its name from Ben P. Gaines, R. M. Gaines, and William H. Gaines, who settled it, and it was one of the chief ports on the lower Mississippi from about 1830 to 1880.

A Mrs. Hotchkiss, of Oklahoma, in a magazine article many years ago, gave an account of stopping at the McDermotts. As a young woman, she started in 1858 with the Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury to become a missionary to the Indians. Starting from Steubenville, Ohio, they came by boat down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, landing at Gaines Landing with the purpose of making a cross-country trip to Indian Territory. The first night out from the landing, they reached the McDermott home, where she found abounding hospitality. She recounted the unique experience of having the servants bring out water in cedar tubs to wash the dust from the weary travelers feet. Several families living in the neighborhood offered her $500 and board to stay with them and teach their children, but she decided to go on with her original purpose, although her salary as a missionary was to be only $200 a year.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Charles McDermott was an outspoken secessionist and became widely known for his bitter denunciations of the Federal government. Near the close of the war, his life was saved by the receipt of a message from a friend, warning that a company of Federal soldiers was approaching. He was very ill at the time, but his daughters got him into a wagon and into the woods in time to save him from hanging. His home was sacked and orders were given to burn it, but curiously this was called to a halt when the Union officer recognized a photograph of William McDermott, a college friend at Yale. Young McDermott was in the Confederate Army at the time.

After the war, declaring that he would not live under the Union flag, Dr. McDermott and a Charlie Barrow of West Feliciana led a movement to found colonies of secessionists in Honduras, Central America. The venture was a failure, due to dysentery, the climate and other hardships.

Today, some 85 years later, a citizen of Dermott, John Mitchell Baxter, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Baxter, is successfully engaged in the timber business in Honduras, near San Pedro, a related United Fruit Company industry. He and other Americans live in air-conditioned homes, with all the modern comforts.

Dr. Charles McDermott, a scientist at heart and a charter member of the Southern Pacific Railroad Co., had great faith in mans ability to learn to fly. He spent a fortune constructing flying machines of many designs. He experimented extensively with biplane machines and was the first scientist to discover the principles of modern airplane design. Using the principles patented by him, No. 133,046, Nov. 12, 1872, he constructed a plane here which actually took to the air briefly. Lying prone in the machine, he provided power with his feet. He exhibited models at the state fair at Little Rock and at the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876, where he unsuccessfully sought ideas about motive power from scientists. He became known the country around as Flying Machine Charlie, and had the gasoline engine been available for motive power at that time, he would have anticipated by 30 years Adler and the Wright Brothers, who used his design. Facts about his efforts are in the archives of the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences, New York City, which obtained additional information from this writer.

The newspapers in 1882 quoted him: I hope to give a flying chariot to every poor woman, far better than Queen Victoria ever rode in. I hope in time to rout the devil out of his boasted possession. He calls himself the Prince of the Powers of the Air. It is mortifying that a stinking buzzard and a stupid goose should fly, and man, the lord of all the earth, should be any longer confined to the land and water. Many sails, one above theother, and a horizontal propulsion is the secret, which was never known until I discovered it by analysis and synthesis, and which will fill the air with flying men and women.

It seemed appropriate that Charles A. Lindbergh, who in 1927 set the world aflame with his New York-Paris flight across the Atlantic Ocean, should make his first night flight, in 1923, in Chicot County, near Lake Village, only a few miles from the place where Dr. McDermott labored so hard to invent the airplane.

The common iron wedge used all over the world was invented by the founder of Dermott, and was patented, No. 159,949 on Feb. 16, 1875. The Dermott scientist also invented and patented a cotton picking machine, No. 152,858, on July 2, 1874 and also an iron hoe.

Dr. McDermott was a Bible scholar, reading the scriptures in Greek. Although reared by Catholic parents, he was converted to Presbyterianism under Lyman Beecher at Yale. He had been ordained an elder at Woodswille, Mississippi, about 1829, and after he had become settled in his new home in Arkansas, he erected a building in the southeast corner of his front yard for a place of worship for his white neighbors, and a place of assemblage and instruction for his Negroes.

In 1868, while Dr. McDermott was in Honduras, the New Bethany (Dermott) Presbyterian Church was organized under the guidance of the Rev. J. A. Dickson, pastor of the church at Monticello. Judge J. F. Lowry and Pineo Hurd were elected elders, and M.B. Shaw, deacon. When Dr. McDermott returned from Honduras, he was made an elder in the Dermott church, and he continued in that office until he died in 1884.

The descendants of these early McDermotts make quite a multitude, but there are not many of the McDermott name. Of that name still living in Dermott are Arthur McDermott, a grandson, and his two sons, Llewellyn and Arthur Floyd, great-grandson, and the latters children--great-great-grandchildren, and another great grandson, Harry McDermott. The families connected living in Dermott are the Ellis, Helmstetter and Bennett families. R. B. Ellis is now postmaster.

In 1904 Mrs. N. Smylie (nee Emma Shaw), a granddaughter, who now lives in Franklin, Kentucky, sold the land with the old McDermott mansion to Dr. W. K. Baker, reserving 100 feet square in order to preserve the old McDermott cemetery, where lie buried the old couple and many of their descendants and neighbors. Previously she had sold several acres to the town for a town cemetery.

The first railroad in this section was built through the Dermott settlement west to Collins before the Civil War. For several years after the war, the town, or rather the trading center, consisted of a church building on the lot on which Circuit Judge John M. Golden now stands, and a general store. The store, adjacent to the church and facing the Gaines Landing road, now Gaines Street, was kept by M. B. Shaw and Matthew Allison.

A post office was established Oct. 5, 1875 under the name Bend( the bend in Bayou Bartholomew) with Reuben D. Crenshaw as postmaster. On May 25, 1877, the name was changed to Dermott, in honor of Dr. Charles McDermott, with John B. Daniels as postmaster.

In 1878 the eastern terminus of the railroad was changed from Chicot City to Arkansas City, which had displaced Gaines Landing as the chief port on the lower Mississippi River. In 1879 the railroad was extended from Collins to Monticello, and in 1882 to Warren. When the north-south main line of the Iron Mountain railroad, now the Missouri Pacific, was built through the Dermott settlement in 1887, a real town began to spring up at the crossroads.

The town was incorporated July 11, 1890, with J. Tom Crenshaw as mayor; W. D. Trotter, recorder; W. E. Splawn, marshal; D. Kimpel, treasurer; and Charles T. Wells, John T. Crenshaw, S. M. Owens, L. C. Crute and W. S. Smiley, Aldermen.

The Crenshaw family, of which Reuben D. Crenshaw, the first postmaster, and his brother, John T. Crenshaw, one of the First aldermen, and their cousin, J. Tom Crenshaw, the first mayor, were members, played an important part in the development of the town. J. Tom Crenshaws family had settled near Bayou Bartholomew before the Civil War and the other Crenshaws came here shortly after the war.

John Crenshaw and his cousin, Mrs. Hattie Peddicord, were the founders of the Dermott Methodist Church, about 1880, and each year on the Sunday nearest Mr. Crenshaws birthday, May 26, a memorial service is held with flowers from the garden of his daughter, Mrs. S. Burleigh. Two stained glass windows in the present church building, which was erected in 1925, and which won a national award for church architecture, are memorials to Mr. Crenshaw and Mrs. Peddicord.

The Dermott Baptist Church was founded about 1895 by the Rev. N. C. Denson, a Confederate veteran who founded a number of the Baptist churches in southeast Arkansas. W. J. Raborn was the first superintendent of the Sunday School.

The Bellaire Baptist Church, near Dermott, whose 356 members dedicated their new $50,000 building last year, was formally organized in 1918 by the Rev. F. C. Sims, pastor of the Dermott and Eudora Baptist churches. However the churchs history dates back to 1907, when Sunday School and singings were held by the seven families of the community. The Rev. Mr. Denson preached there often in the early days. Mr. and Mrs. T. J. Lamb and Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Griswood are still active workers in the church.

The Church of Christ and the Assembly of God churches were organized in comparatively recent years, the former having completed its church building in 1939, the latter in 1940. There are also 14 Negro churches.

J. Tom Crenshaw retired as mayor in 1894 but continued as a civic leader. He became recorder in 1895 and served in that capacity most of the time until his death in 1926. Monuments to Mayor Crenshaw and to C. H. VanPatten, recorder under Mayor Crenshaw from 1891 to 1894, are the oak trees they planted along the streets while in office. Of these now majestic specimens, the late George M. Moreland, roving Southern journalist, a few years ago, wrote: When I reached Dermott I found a beautiful and an immaculately clean city. The planners of Dermott possibly anticipated the coming of the automobile, for the streets are wide and there is plenty of room for parking. I saw many beautiful homes in Dermott, but the one feature of the city which interested me most was the oaks which line the citys streets. Certainly there are no finer trees within the borders of Arkansas.

One of these stately trees died recently, and when it was cut down, citizens felt that they had lost an old friend.

After Mayor Crenshaw, succeeding mayors to date have been: Pat E. Savage, 1894-1897; D. Kimpel, 1897-1989; E. G. Hammock, April-July 1898; E. P. Remley, 1898-1901; T. A. Wilkinson, April-June 1901; C. F. Wells, June-September 1901; W. J. Raborn, 1901-1908; J. B. Mercer, 1908-1909; W. J. Raborn, 1909-1912; J. H. Hammock, 1912-1913; W. J. Raborn, 1913-1914; J. T. Freeman, 1914-1916; J. A. Bennett, 1916-1926; G. W. Burks, 1926-1938; Zan Golden, 1938-1947; Will J. Irwin, 1947 until his death in June, 1951; and Lloyd O. McKeown, present mayor. During an illness of Mayor Golden, in 1938, Miss Catherine Alexander, recorder, served as mayor for several months, and is believed to have been the first woman mayor in the state.

Present aldermen are: A. Prothro, who has been a city official longer than anyone else in the towns history; W. E. Lephiew; J. E. Wagner; G. M. Jones; Will Parker; and F. H. Dennington.

Dermott has always been a politically minded town, and one of the political highlights was the election of the late Harvey Parnell, a home-town boy as Governor in 1927 and again in 1929, after having served as lieutenant governor, senator and representative. Mrs. Parnell now operates Winston Plantation at Halley, near Dermott.

Dermott has long been an outstanding womens club city, with its cultural and social life led by such clubs as the Altrurian Club, which was federated in February, 1913, with Mrs. E. G. Hammock and the first president, and of which Mrs. G. W. Burks is now president. in 1924 Mrs. B. Ford of Dermott was president of the Pine Bluff District of the Arkansas Federation of Womens Clubs, and in 1936 Mrs. Elwood Baker served as state president, later being named state director for the General Federation of Womens Clubs. Mrs. Harvey Parnell has long been active in the Arkansas State tuberculosis Association and in state womens clubs circles, and Mrs. G. E. Kinney served several years as secretary of the Arkansas Womens Democratic Clubs and held office in the state American Legion Auxiliary and the Arkansas Press Association.

A public library, supported by the womens clubs of the town, is maintained in City Hall, with Mrs. C. D. Gist as librarian and Mrs. F. R. Paris and Mrs. G. M. Jones as directors.

Dermotts beautification program is led by the Dermott Garden Club, which celebrated its 21st anniversary this January, and of which Mrs. Tom Spurlock is president. The American Legion Auxiliary, of which Mrs. Frank Gibson is president, is active in child welfare and other civic works. The St. Marys Hospital Auxiliary of which Mrs. W. W. Bynum is president, is composed of volunteer hospital workers of Dermott and McGehee, and the Parent-Teacher Association, of which Mrs. Tom Patrick is president, is an outgrowth of the old School Improvement Association, which was organized at the turn of the century.

The first public white school in Dermott was a summer session in 1885, held in the same building which was used by the Negroes in the winter, located on West Gaines Street on the lot west of where the John Baxter home now stands. The teacher was Miss Anna Morgan, the late Mrs. J. J. Baugh of Searcy, wife of Mr. Baugh who was publisher of the Searcy Citizen for more than 50 years. J. Tom Crenshaw was the first white public school director, all previous directors having been Negroes.

Enrolled in the first school were Martha Crenshaw, now Mrs. S. Burleigh, Her brother, Will Crenshaw, and two cousins, one of them also named Will Crenshaw, and Reubye Crenshaw, now Mrs. R. C. Edwards, retired superintendent of the Florence Crittenden Home at Little Rock; Eula and Kate Mercer, who became Mrs. Vance Bordeaux of Little Rock; Arthur and Ada McDermott, and Frank, Mary, Gordon and Maggie Hurd.

The next year school was held in a cabin which was built in the block north of the present W. H. Oglesby home on South Trotter Street, and about two years later a building was erected on the present location of the Dermott Gin Co.s gin on Speedway Street. This was used until 1908, when the first unit of the present school system was erected. Just last year the entire school plant was renovated and modernized, and a new $65,000 elementary school building was erected.

Incidentally, in 1908, at the suggestion of U. C. Barnett, then superintendent of the Dermott school---more recently with the state Department of Education at Little Rock, but now retired---the Southeast Arkansas Literary and Athletic Association was organized for the purpose of holding annual contests in literary and athletic events, the first organization of its kind in the state. Mr. Barnett and Supts. John H. Belford of Lake Village, Victor L. Webb of Hamburg, David C. Hastings of Crossett and J. R. Anders of Portland met at Montrose Nov. 28, 1908 for the organization meeting, and Mr. Barnett was elected president and Mr. Hastings secretary-treasurer. A half dozen other schools came into the association, and the first contests were held at Dermott in April, 1909.

For the ensuing 20 years, the annual contests were probably the most popular events in southeast Arkansas. Special trains were run for the occasion, and for several years the literary events were held under a circus tent, no auditorium in southeast Arkansas being large enough to accommodate the crowds. Outlay for cups and medals amounted to $500 annually.

From this beginning, district high school contests were organized throughout the state, but gradually these organizations were absorbed by the state association until at the present time they are controlled by the Arkansas Athletic Association.

Dermott still continues a sports-minded town, having over the years won the state high school football championship, the state high school golf championship, the state junior basketball championship and many district track, softball and baseball championships. Fred Haas, Jr., national golfing figure, began his career while a student at Dermott High School.

Since 1923, when Act 678 of the state legislature authorized the creation of the Chicot and Desha County Game and Fish Commissions to protect and propagate the game in these two counties, Dermotters have turned more to the pastime that the early settlers engaged in for relaxation and recreation as well, as, in many cases, for livelihood: hunting and fishing. The largest deer herds in the state are located in Chicot and Desha Counties, it is said, and for many years hunting clubs from some 40 counties have encamped in these two counties during the deer season.

The Nimrods also have enjoyed quail, duck and squirrel hunting, while the fishermens Mecca in recent years has been Lake Wallace, a $55,000 man-made lake four miles south of Dermott, constructed by Chicot, Drew, Desha and Ashley County sportsmen in 1933. A new and larger concrete dam and spillway was constructed just last year.

Another center of recreation now is the $55,000 swimming pool constructed in 1949 by public subscription, without taxation or federal aid. The pool is opened each year with the annual Miss Southeast Arkansas beauty contest, with winners to date as follows: Miss Joyce Brasel of Dermott, 1949; Miss Janet Haley of Lake Village, 1950; Miss Katie Sue Rogers of Lake Village, 1951.

The town has excellent medical facilities, foremost of which is St. Marys Hospital, opened July 1, 1940, under the direction of the Benediction Sisters, after years of effort by the late Dr. E. E. Barlow, a state medical leader and President of the Arkansas Medical Association. The Dermott Clinic serves a large area, and is owned and operated by Dr. Brian Barlow, a past president of the Arkansas Tuberculosis Association, and Dr. H. W. Thomas, both of whom were presented honorary degrees by the International College of Surgeons in Chicago last September. Two other Dermott physicians, Dr. E. Baker and Dr. J. A. Thompson, received recognition last fall also when they were honored by the University of Tennessee Medical School for 50 years of service. Dr. C. V. Reeves here has one of the most modern clinics for Negroes in the state and Dr. N. R. Parker, another well-known Negro physician, last year became one of the few Negroes ever to receive the coveted Silver Beaver Award by the Boy Scouts of America.

After the main line of the Missouri Pacific railroad was laid through Dermott in 1887, lumber mills of various kinds---stave, handle, automobile spoke, veneer, baseball bat and other---were built, and the town grew rapidly. On Feb. 20, 1913, its population having increased to 2,108, Dermott was proclaimed a city of the second class by Gov. Joseph T. Robinson. After World War I, the town had another period of rapid growth, this time due mostly to the settling of people from the north on the rich alluvial land, which stretches in one gorgeous panorama in all directions from the city.

Dermott has had more than its share of disasters and hardships in the form of fires, flood, drought and insect infestation of crops, with the 1913, May 1914 and August 1914 fires and the 1927 flood probably the most calamitous. After another disastrous fire in October 1935, which destroyed the main hotel and a main portion of the business section during the depth of the depression, people shook their heads and said that Dermott was destined to become a ghost town.

But, as Mr. Moreland wrote: fires may strike, floods may hinder, droughts may check and depressions leave their imprint upon the citys foundation, but a city located, as is Dermott, in the heart of one of the souths richest agricultural sections can never fail to make progress.

Bearing this out, the 1950 census showed that Dermott increased in population some 17 percent since 1940, with a population of 3,600, and with farm diversification and livestock coming to the fore. Cotton is still the principal crop, but rice is growing into an industry, along with cattle and broilers. Other principal crops are oats, corn, hay, sweet potatoes, timber, soy beans, and pecans, with some production of fruits and truck crops.

Dermott has a progressive bank with resources in excess of two million dollars, and its executive vice president, W. F. Pierce, is attracting statewide attention as chairman of the important Agricultural Committee of the Arkansas Bankers Association. John Baxter, president of the bank, is also president of the Southeast Rice Growers Association and of the Delta Production Credit Association, which serves five counties. W. E. Lephiew, Dermott civic leader, planter, cotton buyer and ginner, is president of the Southeast Arkansas National Farm Loan Association, which also serves five counties.

Dermott has active civic clubs, with the Rotary Club, of which Lamar Grisham is president, recognized as one of the states best, having won a number of citations. Organized March 19, 1925, the club still has two active charter members in John Baxter and C. R. Bates. The Dermott Chamber of Commerce, of which L. B. Hawkins is president, works constantly for the improvement of the town.

The American Legion, of which W. O. Higgins is post commander, is a leading organization, its many activities including giving substantial financial aid to eight worthy causes each year. Several years ago, R. L. Gordon of Dermott, was elected national vice commander of the Legion. The Boy Scout organization is strong here, with R. H. Dennington of Dermott chairman of the Chicot-Desha District. The Cub Pack is active under Scoutmaster Tom Ross, the Boy Scout Troop under Scoutmaster A. R. Walker, Jr., and the Explorer unit under Advisor Joe Carmichael. Because of his outstanding work, Mr. Walker was presented the Eminent Leadership Award and year before last was chosen to head the De Soto Area Council contingent of Boy Scouts to the National Jamboree at Valley Forge. The recognition resulted in this writers being elected to serve this year as president of the 11-county council, which leads the 32 councils in Region Five in membership gain.

The Dermott Masonic Lodge was recognized when in August 1948, the late K. D. McNeely was chosen grand master of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas.

New highways were completed in the Dermott area last year, a new drive-in movie is being built, and Dermott is joining with its sister city, McGehee, in constructing a radio station for Southeast Arkansas. New business buildings and fine homes have recently been completed.

Yes, although Dermott has a proud history and may face disappointments in the years to come, it will never be content to live on its past glories but will always work for progress. An ideal town in which to live, with the advantages of both the big city and the small town, Dermott can well look forward to a full future as well as back on an interesting past.

 
 

 

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DR. CHARLES MCDERMOTT, FOUNDER OF DERMOTT

Dermott Founder: Man of Talents
by: Bess Paris
(From Dermott News, Thursday, November 9, 1961)

HERE LIES..Dr. Charles McDermott, Sept. 22, 1808-Oct. 13, 1884. A broken tombstone in an old family graveyard in Dermott bears the above inscription. And here lie the bones of the founder of the city of Dermott.

Under the spreading branches of century old pecan trees, planted by Dr. McDermott, in the middle of a cotton field, the old family cemetery is a focal point of interest of the recently organized Chicot County Historical Society.

Belonging to a descendant of Dr. McDermott, the cemetery was at one time offered to the city and refused because of the expense of upkeep. However, a move is now on to clean it up and make it one of the historical attractions of Dermott, (Editors note: The cemetery has now been taken over by the city as a memorial and will be maintained by the city.)

Scientist, planter, physician and minister of the gospel, Dr. McDermott founded the town of Dermott in 1832. It was incorporated in 1890.

Dr. McDermott built and flew an airplane 30 years before Adler and the Wright brothers, and he patented the principle of the modern airplane more than a quarter of a century before the Kitty Hawk incident. They called him Flying Machine Charlie, and some of his neighbors called him crazy.

He spent a fortune on various designs of flying machines and obtained several patents including No. 133,046 on Nov. 12, 1872. This was the airplane he flew and proved the principle which is now used in modern aircraft. He lay prone in his machine and provided power through a bicycle pedal action. Had gasoline been common, he probably would have sustained flights in his machine. He actually flew a short distance.

He invented and patented the common iron wedge used all over the world, patent No. 159,949, Feb. 16, 1875. He also invented and patented a cotton picking machine, No. 152, 858 on July 4, 1874, and an iron hoe.

His feats and inventions are recognized by the Institute of Aeronautical Society in New York, but there are few monuments or markers to his great achievements, and he died without recognition due the inventor of the airplane.

Born in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, Dr. McDermott was the son of Patrick McDermott of Ireland who settled in Louisiana in 1794. His mother was Emily Ozan, daughter of a French family of Point Coupee.

The first lands that the McDermotts owned in Louisiana were given to Patrick McDermott, an engineer, by the Spanish government in payment for work in making flour mills for them. They believed that wheat could be grown there. At that time, cotton had not been grown in Louisiana, but indigo and sugar cane were the principal crops.

In his journal written in 1880, Dr. McDermott speaks of the slaves that his family brought to Louisiana with him from Virginia and Kentucky, and some that he bought direct from the slave ships from Africa. They sold for $1 per pound. He also tells of how he heard some of them discuss which part of the human body was best for eating. He said his first religious awakening came through an old Negro slave from Virginia who had him read hymns and the Bible aloud so that he could memorize them. This old slave taught him to pray.

He speaks of private schools which he attended and later a school at Plainfield, Connecticut, where he was tutored by a Yale student to prepare him to enter Yale. He boarded with a Dr. Coggswell for $1.50 per week with everything furnished. He entered Yale as a sophomore in 1825 and graduated in 1828.

He then returned to his plantation home in Louisiana by stagecoach, skiff, which he helped row down the Ohio River with a classmate, and later a small steamer took them the rest of the way. There were no railroads then.

At home he supervised his mothers plantation. In addition to the farm crops, they had a large dairy and bee hives, as well as orchards and vegetable gardens. He was much interested in bees and increased his mothers hives form 9 to 130. At the end of four years, his mother gave him and his brother, Edward, each one-fourth of the slaves, but no land.

According to one entry in the Journal, he was married to Miss Hattie S. Smith on Dec. 19, 1837. She was related to Jefferson Davis by marriage.

Dr. McDermott and his family moved to the Bayou Bartholomew home in 1844, which he described as a sort of cabin. He came to Arkansas to get back on his feet financially because he had been following the pattern of rich men in his parish and living in such an expensive style that he found himself overwhelmed by debts. In a few years he paid off the debts and improved the poor house which he then called home.

Speaking of his wife, he mentions her goodness and her hardships in bearing so many children (six) and moving about with him so much. They lived four years in a small home near his mother in Louisiana, several years in a larger house and several years in the cabins at Bartholomew, he said in his Journal. Then he built a large house, the old home just in front of the family cemetery, facing the Bayou Bartholomew road. At that time, this was considered a palatial residence. It stood about 200 yards back of where the residence of Mrs. E. G. Hammock and the late Chancellor Hammock, now stands.

From there they moved to a fine home near Monticello called Finisterrae. After that came the horrible Yankee war. Dr. McDermott was outspoken for the Confederate cause during this war, and came near being hanged by Federal soldiers at one time.

Declaring that he would not live under union rule after the war, he organized a colony of secessionists and went to Honduras for several years. He returned because of dysentery, climate conditions and other hardships.

In addition to his own family, he and his wife reared several orphan children and educated them with private tutors and every advantage possible.

He left many descendants but there are not many bearing the McDermott name. Of that name still living in Dermott are Lewellyn and Arthur Floyd, great grandsons, and the latters children, great-great grandchildren. The families connected living in Dermott are the Ellis, Helmstetter, Stark, and Bennett families.

And so, here in Dermott, where the writer of this article can look out her back door and see the old family graveyard, lies the bones of Dermotts founding father, Dr. Charles McDermott, scientist, physician, planter, minister of the gospel, scholar, and Southern gentleman.

 
 

 

Sheila Brannon


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