Memories from the Museum -Possum Valley and ‘Fun Days”October 10th, 2010 by Sheilla Lampkin
This week’s column will discuss the history of one of Drew County’s oldest and best known communities, not only because of its outstanding residents, but also because of its unusual name! This week we’ll visit Possum Valley!
I can recall first hearing about Possum Valley in the summer of 1966 from a native of Possum Valley who then lived and taught school in McGehee. She was my supervising teacher and still is my great friend, Juanita Jolley Mosley Sain.
That summer we commuted to Arkansas A&M College for workshops and she talked lovingly about her home community. Little did I know that I, too, would eventually come to know and love the people of Possum Valley.
The Possum Valley community is located in the southwestern part of Drew County and is said to be bordered by Clear Creek on the north, Brown Creek to the south, the Beulah community on the east and the Saline River on the western side. It is believed to have been settled as early as the 1840s when many other parts of the county began to receive settlers who had crossed the Mississippi River and headed west.
The story behind its unique name has many variations, but all agree that early settlers/hunters encountered a great many of the nocturnal opossums. Whether the animals were tasty or not, the area became fondly known as Possum Valley and the name “stuck”!
The first “public” building in the Valley community was a log schoolhouse built on the sixteenth section of land. Though it served as both school and church, it was known as Macedonia Baptist Church.
Then, in 1863, Alfred and Nancy Ozment gave land for a Methodist church to be built in the center of the community near the location of the old Methodist church today. The building was a log structure that stood for many years.
The wood frame Old Valley Methodist Church we find today replaced that earlier log structure around the turn of the century. It was built on an adjoining acre donated by Luke and Maggie Jolley. This Victorian-style building also served its community well for many years.
However, during the 1950s and into the 1960s, many rural churches began to suffer the loss of members due to population changes, and church enrollments began to wane. After the Methodist Conference of Churches “withdrew their affiliation” with the Old Valley Methodist Church in 1965, it began to fall into disrepair.
However, the folks of the Valley community loved the old church and realized, and appreciated, its historical significance. They became determined to save it. In 1985 the title to the old Methodist church was relinquished to the community and the Valley Extension Homemakers Club (EHC) began their work to rescue, restore and preserve the property.
Now, let’s step backward a moment to briefly consider the history of the Valley EHC. This civic organization can be traced back to 1928 when it was established as an “information center” for the women of the community as well as a social outlet. Although the Extension programs in Arkansas have had several formal titles, the Valley Club began, and has existed, since it was established under the direction of Extension agent Julia Lester about 80 years ago.
However, the club found its “true and heartfelt” purpose in 1985 when it took the role of preserver, provider and protector of the old Valley Methodist Church building. In that year they also began a tradition that has continued and grown through the next 25 years. This year the club will hold its 26th Possum Valley Fun Day to raise funds for the upkeep and maintenance of the church building and property that now serves as their community center. (Yes, the math is correct!
In the first year two Fun Days were held – one in May and one in October.) The “Fun Days” are part local gathering day, part homecoming for those with roots in the Valley and mostly just good, clean family fun! It is traditionally held the last Saturday in October. The first “Fun Day” activities included music, homemade goodies for sale and homemade craft items (pillowcases, dish towels, potholders, etc.) for sale as well as other activities.
While many of the activities have been held outdoors, one highlight has always been held inside the church. That has been the quilt show!
Quilter extraordinaire Thelma Ellis has handled it from its inception and provided a quilt to be auctioned annually. For the first quilt auction Thelma provided a quilt pieced in the bowtie pattern; Hershel Gober was the auctioneer and Winston O’Neil had the winning bid!
There was also a beauty contest that first year. The Valley “matrons” were the contestants. Each lady had a jar with her name on it and attendees voted by casting a penny in the jar of their favorites. The lady who raised the most money was declared winner. The late Mert Jolley was the first winner.
That first year, entertainers performed from the bed of a long hay trailer. In 1986 a concrete pavilion was poured to provide a stage and seating.
Initially, the funds were used to reroof the building and paint it. Later, Van Brown led a drive to raise funds to put siding on the old building.
In the following years, funds raised have provided a cover for the concrete pad, bathrooms and a kitchen, extensions to the pad, a basketball court and a PA system. The church has also been maintained.
Possum Valley Fun Day has had many changes and additions through the years. This year activities will begin on Friday night with a chili supper, entertainment by the Haley Creek Boys, a silent auction and a hayride. Saturday activities will begin at 10 a.m. and end after the traditional dance.
The 2009 Possum Valley Fun Days are dedicated to the memory of the late James “Shorty” Glennon, who loved the Valley and the Fun Day tradition and always volunteered to help.
My favorite memory of Possum Valley Fun Day is that, after the last item was auctioned, Mr. Glennon would grab a sack and spread the corn meal on the concrete floor. Then the dancing would begin! He loved to dance. This one’s for you, Mr. “Shorty”!
Y’all come to Possum Valley Fun Day October 30, have fun and help keep a tradition alive!
See you there!