Two blocks of main street are part of the National Historic District. Below are a few pictures of the historic district in Dumas.
There are many things that reflect the past of Dumas - even things that existed here well before the city officially became Dumas in 1904 - and one of them is literally reflecting the city’s past and present as a gift of the Porter family whose name remains prominent in the historic downtown area. In the 1860s there was a mass migration from North Carolina and South Carolina to Southeast Arkansas. David Oscar “Papa” Porter was 9 years old when he came to the Monticello area with his mother, four brothers and a sister. His father, a wheelwright, had died in 1853 in South Carolina. They moved to Arkansas City in 1886 and from the ages of 19 to 25 D.O. Porter ran a plantation for A.E. Blackmore for 4 years, then ran one for a Mr. Quilling for a year. While he managed the farm for Blackmore, he rented and ran a plantation at Pendleton for himself and also managed a farm for a Dr. Taylor in Lincoln County.
In Arkansas City, he ran the Senate Saloon, doing an annual business of $6,000 to past $8,000 a year. As a Democrat, he was elected alderman and served as a director of Desha County Bank and Trust of Arkansas City. In 1893, he moved to Dumas, bought property both in town and to farm, including land between what are now Waterman and Court Streets and from the railroad east to what is now Highway 65. He sold some property as the town grew, maintaining property along Main Street. He also was associated with Gus Waterman in furnishing farmers’ needs. Porter was appointed Sheriff of Desha County in July of 1898.
J.P. Jones and J.S. Ross served as County Judges during his tenure and Howard Robb was the County Clerk. During this time the jail in Dumas (located where Central Elementary School now stands) burned down, causing the death of a prisoner.
The county appropriated $1,000 for a new jail and $3,000 for the county courthouse in Arkansas City. One of the most profitable businesses in Dumas at that time was owning one of the five saloons on Main Street. Porter owned the saloon at the southeast corner of Waterman and Main where Bob’s Service Station is now located. The Porter saloon ledger from 1902 shows the following charges:
* 1 gallon whiskey - One customer charged 10 gallons between August 9 and January 1. One gallon cost $5. He paid $45.25 to J.R. Brown & Son for 5 cases of Old P Whiskey, and paid $24.80 to H. Westerman & Co. for flasks.
* $99 to Southern Tobacco Co. for 3,000 Cremo Cigars, still made today as a premium boutique cigar.
* $3.50 to Z. Russell Gro. for 1 box of lemons
* $147 to M Grand for 35 cases of beer.
The massive wood framed mirror that stood over the bar was in Carolyn Kelley Porter’s living room for more than 40 years and is now in the Desha County Museum has quite a past. When Dumas was voted dry around 1917, Porter gave the mirror to his housekeeper, Miss Addie Sharp. She placed in against a wall in her living room in her house at the corner of Waterman and Court Street, where city hall (the Billy Free Municipal Building) now stands. Miss Addie left her house, including the contents, to her niece, Miss Daphne Bowles, who deeded it to the First United Methodist Church for a life income.
When Miss Bowles died, Sterling Frank, as Chairman of Trustees of FUMC, saw that the Porter family received the mirror. Other than being covered in latex paint it was in excellent condition. (There is a family story about the whiskey that was left when the saloon closed. According to the story, Oscar loaded it in a wagon, took it home and put in a bedroom. He told his wife he would “come out when he drunk it all.”)
When Sterling Frank gave the Porters the mirror, it sat in the Porters’ grocery store between the cooler and the wall for months, mainly because it was too big of a job for Carolyn to take the paint off. At the time, Susan Porter Pack was principal of the Arkansas School for the Deaf in Little Rock, where they taught wood working skills. The Porters had checked into having it cleaned and, after it was agreed that the students at the School for the Deaf could handle the project, David and Carolyn Porter carefully loaded the mirror into the back of a truck.
They had a mirror plating company in Little Rock pick up the mirror and re-silver it. The students got all the latex paint off, bringing back the original finish. The Porters brought it back to Dumas and it was in Carolyn’s home for more than 40 years as the focal point of her living room. After she relocated to Dumas Assisted Living, it was decided the Desha County Museum was the perfect place for the mirror to be seen by the public as the important part of the history of Dumas that it is.
The mirror was donated by Carolyn K. Porter and son Wright, who had originally planned to move it to his Jonesboro home but later decided it was more appropriate to leave it in Dumas.
Information for this article was provided by Carolyn Porter and The Goodspeed History of Southern Arkansas.