Martin White Greeson
It has been said one person cannot make a difference.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, one man's dream, hard work and dedication brought to fruition what is now known as Lake Greeson.
It took this one man 50 years to accomplish this feat. For half a century, he battled with the powers that be to help alleviate flooding from the Little Missouri River.
This one man, whose physical stature may not have been impressive, helped to create one of South Arkansas' most beautiful and popular recreation areas.
His name was Martin White Greeson.
He was born in Clinton Nov. 7, 1866. His humble beginnings in life were never betrayed. According to his daughter, Carolyn Gilbert, he was a gentleman his entire life. A man who preferred to do his work from behind the scenes and not, for the most part, seek the limelight.
She recalled her father telling the local grocery store in Prescott to send bags of flour and sugar to needy families. She said he made sure those receiving the goods were never told where they came from.
In fact, until recently many people in Prescott didn't know he donated a stained glass window to the Methodist Church. It wasn't until Carolyn and a sister had a plaque placed on the window that people learned of this gift.
This one man was a major factor in bringing Prescott into the 20th century. Serving one term as the city's mayor, he was responsible for getting a water and light commission started, getting the first paved sidewalks in the city and began the first sewer work.
He also had the first sanitarium built in Prescott.
However, Greeson also knew the value and need for entertainment. With this in mind, he built the Greeson Opera House, which seated 1,000 people. This was an impressive facility for a town of 3,000 in the early 1900s.
The far-sighted Greeson is also responsible for the discovery of oil in Nevada County, though his explorations never turned up any on property he owned, according to his daughter Carolyn.
Before coming to Prescott and Southwest Arkansas, Greeson taught school in Bee Branch and Morrilton. From there, he attended law school at Cumberland University Law School in Lebanon, Tenn.
He ventured to Prescott in November 1888 and joined the law firm of Atkinson and Tompkins, with William E. Atkinson and W.V. Tompkins. in 1900, he formed a partnership with Henry B. McKenzie.
Eventually, Greeson gave up his law practice, but never stopped working. At one time he owned and operated the Murfreesboro - Nashville Southwest Railroad, running the short line railroad between Murfreesboro and Tokio. Unfortunately, the railroad operated at a loss for all but two of the 10 years he owned it.
For the sum of $500, Greeson purchased the Kimberlite Diamond Mining and Washing Company in Murfreesboro. The deal was made Sept. 30, 1913, with the former owners, Austin Q. Millar, Howard A. Millar and Walter L. Wilder. The site is now known as Crater of Diamonds State Park.
His daughter, Carolyn, said her father always had a soft spot in his heart for Murfreesboro and believed it would be the "place to be" in Arkansas in future years.
In addition, Greeson's work on economic development helped bring the lumber company known as Potlatch to Prescott. According to "The Nevada News," the plant was to cost $20 million to build, with the company purchasing about 1,100 acres west of the Little Missouri River bridge on Highway 67. The article stated the site was selected because of the Narrows Dam project (Greeson's life dream), which would insure a stream flow for the facility.
Many residents of the time gave Greeson a major, if indirect, portion of credit for the plant because of his work in the Narrows Dam project.
Greeson began his campaign for a dam at the Narrows in 1900. The idea was to prevent flooding. According to Carolyn, her mother accused him of working on the project and going to Washington, D.C. when there were no groceries on the table for his own family.
He was named to the Arkansas Flood Control Commission under the administration of the late Gov. Carl Bailey and worked diligently until 1941, when Congress approved the Little Missouri River project and authorized $3 million for it.
Recalling the time, Carolyn said the actual construction of the dam was the culmination of a 50-year dream her father had. She said he bought the land visualizing the dam and flood control project.
She said it wasn't until the 1920's her father really began to get Congressional approval. The bill was introduced several times in the House but, as she said, was soon forgotten.
Greeson never gave up.
In fact he worked even harder to get the project approved, began and completed. Something that didn't happen in his lifetime.
In 1941 Congress approved the project, setting aside $3 million for the construction. However, the first bucket of concrete was not placed in the Narrows Dam until June 1, 1948, some seven years later.
Greeson was never to see his dream come true. Death claimed him Nov. 17, 1949 at the age of 83. The project was completed July 12, 1951, with official dedication ceremonies held July 21.
Still, it was another year before the lake was officially named for the man who was responsible for its existence. While some wanted to call the entire facility Narrows Lake and Narrows Dam others felt strongly the lake should bear the name of the man who worked so long and so hard for it -- M.W. Greeson.
In fact, letters were written to newspapers, such as the Arkansas Gazette, from residents of Murfreesboro saying the lake should be named after Greeson.
The Mississippi Valley Association joined the citizens of Prescott in urging the lake created by the construction of Narrows Dam be named Lake Greeson.
Clyde Palmer, president and publisher of the Texarkana Gazette pushed for the lake to be named after Greeson, going as far as sending letters to Congressmen Oren Harris and Boyd Tackett.
Murfreesboro attorney Tom Kidd, in a letter to Carolyn, said he favored naming the lake Greeson and those citizens of Murfreesboro he had talked to agreed.
A letter received by Horace McKenzie, July 6, 1951, from Congressman Oren Harris stated the congressman proposed to designate a bill designating the lake created by the Narrows Dam as Lake Greeson. Congress approved the measure in H.R. 7268 June 19, 1952, thereby insuring Greeson's name to live forever.
The project itself was impressive. The dam blocked a 941 foot valley between two bluffs. It rose to a height of 185 feet above the Little Missouri River, protecting some 93,000 acres. At the time, the dam produced 28 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually.
The dedication ceremonies featured an air show, an archery demonstration by champion archer Ben Pearson, a beauty contest, the Hot Springs Army-Navy Band and a powerboat race.
All this the work of one man.
One man with a dream.
One man who believed one man could make a difference.
Photos Accompanied the Article
Two photographs accompanied the article. The captions were as follows:
CONSTRUCTION SITE -- M.W. Greeson, center, is pictured about 18 months before his death. Greeson worked for over 50 years to have a dam built to control flooding on the Little Missouri River. Greeson is standing with John C. Shewmake (left) and L.E. Dixon where the first concrete was poured on Narrows Dam in 1948. The Murfreesboro lake was named for Greeson following the completion.
READY TO POUR -- Construction workers pose around the first bucket of concrete to be poured for the Narrows Dam at what eventually became Lake Greeson in 1951. It took Martin White Greeson 50 years to get the dam approved on the Little Missouri River for flood control measured, but he never saw the project completed.
For More Information:
This article appeared in the Nevada County Picayune on Wednesday, July 5, 1995. It was written by John Miller of the Picayune staff and is based on an interview with Carolyn Gilbert, Greeson's daughter. The article is reproduced on PCFA.ORG by permission of John Ragsdale, publisher.