Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pepper Sauce Alley Ghosttown

I have been traveling through the small community of Calico Rock---located on the banks of the White River in north central Arkansas---for decades, but it wasn't until this past year that I ventured off the town's Main Street (also known as Highway 5) that I discovered an outdoor "museum" of sorts, that gives one a glimpse of days gone by.

Just east of Main Street is a six-block area called "Pepper Sauce Alley". In times past, it was considered a disreputable part of the town, where "good girls" did not go. Since all my trips to Calico Rock as a youngster, were with a church youth group, this part of the community was not on our tour itinerary! You see, the "Pepper Sauce Alley" name refers to the fact that "Pepper Sauce" was the local term for illegal spirits (the drinking kind), which the reader may have heard also called "home brew" or "white lightning". But now, it is a different kind of spirit that is revitalizing the area. In fact, the official website for tourism in Arkansas ( says Pepper Sauce Alley causes Calico Rock to have the distinction of being the only community in the USA with an authentic "ghost town" within its city limits!

As you enter the ghost town, there is a large sign, explaining that the group responsible for the signage along the walking tour, is an organization called C.O.R.E., which stands for Calico Rock Organization for Revitalization Efforts. As you venture deeper into the area, one can read very well-done placards, telling about the history of the building it is describing, along with historical photos. It is fun to compare the actual building you are looking at in "real time", with how it looked decades ago, when the area was a thriving trade center. Each of the signs has a warning, however, that the buildings are on PRIVATE PROPERTY, and there is a strict NO TRESPASSING policy inside the buildings. The one exception is the old city jail. A tourist can go inside that tiny one-room, concrete block building, but I declined that wonderful opportunity. The fact that there are rumors saying the jail is haunted with spirits had nothing to do with my decision.

As I viewed the old weathered doors throughout Pepper Sauce Alley---some boarded shut, some locked and bolted, and some completely missing---I was reminded of a scene of a familiar painting that had hung in the home of my grandparents until they died. It was the scene of Jesus standing outside the door of an edifice, knocking, as if asking permission to come inside. It is based on the verse in the Bible where Jesus is saying "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20) The imaginations of the folks who have told us the story of Pepper Sauce Alley must also have been stirred by the doors that they saw, and thought they were worth sharing with the rest of the world, by taking a walking or driving tour, through Pepper Sauce Alley. The area is next to a lovely city park, complete with a creek, walking trail, and picnic tables. Since the entire downtown of Calico Rock is on the National Register of Historic Places (and has served as a movie set!), I would definitely recommend a visit there. Ideas for additional area activities and history information is available at Next time you are on a familiar drive, take the time to venture off the route you usually take, and see what you discover. It will likely lead to "miles of smiles"! Tricia

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