A Trip to Dairy Hollow
Tue, 11/21/2023 - 2:50pm admin
Sometime in early 2001, I began my adventure in writing. It was not something I planned or had thought much about. Sitting in the waiting room of a medical office, I perused a copy of Missouri Life magazine to pass the time. A story, written by owner/publisher Greg Wood, about a country barn of his youth caught my attention. Reading the story, I thought: I could write a story like that.
I copied the submission requirements from the magazine and spent several days working on a 500-word story (about half the size of one of my columns) and mailed it to the magazine office. I half-expected to receive a rejection letter, but a telephone call from one of the editors surprised me. She liked the story but said, “It needed a little work.”
It started me on a writer’s journey (which I have mentioned in other columns) of conferences, contests, writing classes, and workshops. After a quest is started, a universal principle seems to dictate that unforeseen forces will come to assist you, like metal filings to a magnet.
One of those forces, a writing instructor, facilitated two 10-week workshops I attended. She apparently thought my writing had some merit, and unbeknownst to me, completed an application for a month-long residency at The Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
But thirty days in Eureka Springs, Arkansas? My wife and I had been there once before, with some St. Louis friends to see a live country music show. After the performance, we ate at a barbeque joint, which shall remain nameless, and on the way back to Bella Vista where we were staying, stopped at a filling station for Tums.
Most people I knew were taking bets I would not last thirty days there—or two weeks—because I divided the fellowship into two stays. I proved them wrong. And as a testament to my fortitude, I did the two stretches in November and the following February at the Colony.
Eureka Springs, because it is built literally on the sides of steep Ozark mountains, has gone by several monikers: Little Switzerland, Stair-step Town, The Town That Water Built, and Hoe-down Holler. But for a town with a population of 2,166, it does not have one stoplight.
It is artsy and eclectic to say the least. Curtis Parkinson, a Canadian author who drove to the Colony from Ontario several times, said he could always tell when he was getting near Eureka Springs—when he began seeing aging hippies on motorcycles. A writer I recently met, who is a permanent resident there, is currently working on a book about the town; part of the title is “America's Quirkiest Town.”
I will stipulate to the quirkiness. One time I attended the city’s annual parade, and one of the entries was a fellow herding a flock of six goats. Another “float” had a three-piece band performing in the trunk of a 1950-something sedan.
Once a remote 19th-century destination resort town where pilgrims flocked for the healing properties of the natural spring water, Eureka Springs remains a tourist town with numerous lodging facilities: B&Bs, motels, and, reportedly, haunted hotels.
The iconic Crescent Hotel, built in 1886 for affluent tourists, sits high atop a hill overlooking the city and is a premier place to stay. At the early part of the twentieth century until 1934, it was occupied by Crescent College, a women’s boarding school, where a notorious suicide occurred. And from 1937 to 1939, it housed the Baker Hospital owned by a charlatan who purported to cure cancer with spurious treatments. Today, the Crescent hosts ghosts tours, and the rooms are booked solid on Halloween.
The Colony website informs that “The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow started out as the second Bed & Breakfast to open its doors in Arkansas, a project of love by cookbook author Crescent Dragonwagon and late husband, Ned Shank. * * * [No, I did not misspell her name. And yes, I’ve met her. She’s an award-winning writer and remarkably charming.]
During its 18 years in business, the Inn was named an ‘Inn of the Year’ by both Conde Nast Traveler and USA Today, and later, Dairy Hollow House Restaurant was covered in Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Self, the Wall Street Journal, and countless regional publications.”
According to the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas, “Dragonwagon and Shank closed the Dairy Hollow House business in 1998 and created a nonprofit corporation.” The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow opened for writers in 2000.
Presently, the Colony offers eight writing suites for authors of all genres in two adjacent buildings. The buildings sit at the base of a mountain below the Crescent Hotel, in a hollow that used to have a dairy farm. But when I first arrived, the Colony only had the main building, with four suites, and a converted farmhouse (“Farmhouse”) a quarter-mile away, halfway up a hill the other side of the hollow.
Without much of an internet connection the remoteness of the Farmhouse provided a writing sanctuary. My suite (Tulip) was quiet, with no distractions, other than the resident, ginormous wolf spider, a mysterious gnawing creature below the floor, and the clippety-clop of a horse-drawn carriage on the road below. Much of my first novel, Geese to a Poor Market was written there, and the gnawing creature made its way into a chapter.
But the Farmhouse wasn’t enamored by everyone. One writer, from back East as I recall, refused to stay there at night. He stayed at a motel and would drive back to the Farmhouse to write during the day.
The highlight of each day, then and now, is the communal dinner in the dining room of the main building served promptly at six o’clock. The previous cook Cindy was wonderful, but the present chef, Jana, is spectacular. Her culinary skills are top-drawer, and she is a delightful soul. Her oatmeal cookies are addictive.
One of the collateral benefits of return visits is seeing old pals, making new friends, and occasionally meeting a celebrity. Late one evening a few years ago, I answered a knock at the front door of the new annex, and it was New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritson, famous for the Rizzoli & Isles books and TV series, wanting to know if she was in the right place. So, I played bellboy for her and her husband. And Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean, which was the inaugural selection for the Oprah Winfrey Book Club in 1996, stayed at the Colony during one of my visits.
I’ve gone to the Colony numerous times, and each time is memorable in some way, but one that stands out happened on Halloween night several years ago. That year, I was the only male resident, and after dinner I was invited to go to a drumming event out in the woods. I declined. I kept envisioning that creepy movie “Children of the Corn” starring Betty Davis, and nothing good happened to lone boys in that movie. I hightailed it back to the Farmhouse to the safer company of the gnawing creature and the ginormous wolf spider.