When you get to what seems like the end of the world, it is hard to imagine the place teeming with activity. That’s what happened when one of the Wandering Dudes wanted to visit Snow Lake, Arkansas. On the map, it looks like Arkansas Highway 85 just ends in the middle of Desha County. On the ground it is more dramatic, as we found out for ourselves.
There is a post office there now, a small metal structure that appears to remain open but untended. There are two church buildings and what is left of a long abandoned railroad line. A sign simply says, “State Maintenance ends.”
The area was once encircled by “The Laconia Circle Levee." This wonder of both imagination and construction dates back to the 1830s. It once protected 18,000 acres of farmland from flooding by the White and Mississippi Rivers.
The site boasted a train depot and Laconia Landing was a thriving port on the Mississippi River. The levee began as a private endeavor constructed by slave labor. Later, the state took over and, at times, employed convict labor for improvements. Plantation homes dotted the area.
Eventually, floodwaters breached the levee, the trains stopped coming, and river traffic all but disappeared. The area is farmed, but it is about as desolate a site as one can find in the Delta.
A number of thoughts pop up when visiting a place like the Laconia Circle. One is that the passage of time bestows favors on a place and takes them away in unequal proportions. The same is true of the natural environment. As with the Nile River in Egypt, the floods of the Mississippi River and its tributaries created land of unique fertility. The trick is to figure out a way to farm it. That requires a unique sort of pact with nature.
We chose to control the river with levees such as the Laconia Circle. The river had its way, though, in the end. It probably will again. In the meantime, the land helps feed the world.
Abandoned railroad beds make good trails and this area may see more life in its future. We hope so, for there is a haunting beauty about the area, desolation notwithstanding.
“They all play on a penny whistle,
You can hear them blow,
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row.” – Bob Dylan