We got up early this morning and drove over to Texarkana, Arkansas. Put a check in that box because we have now visited our 43rd state.
The twin cities of Texarkana stretch across both sides of the Texas-Arkansas border. Texarkana, Texas has a population of 36,688 and Texarkana, Arkansas is called home by 29,901. As you might expect from its name, State Line Avenue delineates the border between the two cities and two states. Stand on the eastern side of the street, you’re in Arkansas. Toss a rock across the street, it lands in Texas. Apparently thousands of people cross back and forth to live in one state and work in the other.
Each city has its own mayor and its own city council and, undoubtedly, its own unfunded municipal retirement benefits. But they share a federal building, courthouse, jail, post office, Chamber of Commerce, water utility, and some of the shabbiest streets on which I’ve ever had the honor of driving.
I learned a new word while we were there: portmanteau. A portmanteau is a word that combines the sounds and meanings of other words, such as motel (half “motor” and half “hotel”) or brunch (half “breakfast” and half “lunch”). In this case, Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana were combined to create Texarkana. Whoever created the name Texarkana was fudging a bit because it’s thirty miles down the road to the Louisiana border.
Turns out some famous people hail from Texarkana: Dan Blocker, who played Hoss on the old Bonanza TV show. Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and one-time presidential candidate. Parnelli Jones, the Indy race driver. Scott Joplin, the King of Ragtime music. Eddie Matthews, former slugging third baseman for the Braves. Legendary golfer Byron Nelson. Ross Perot, another former presidential candidate and legendary businessman.
Unfortunately, I can understand why they left. Texarkana is the one of the most depressing places we’ve ever visited. Its downtown is filled with beautiful old buildings, but many of them are boarded up and abandoned. The streets were empty. It was as if Texarkana was ground zero for the first neutron bomb — the buildings were still standing, but there were no people. It was eerie. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the death of this once vibrant city was probably caused by the construction of the freeway miles away from the downtown. Lots of great American downtowns were unintentionally killed off when new freeways changed the traditional traffic patterns of the cities they bypassed. Texarkana grew up around the intersection of two railroads. It looks like it died when the importance of railroads was supplanted by freeways.
Here’s one of the saddest photos I’ve ever taken. “LWORTH 5&10.” It’s one photo that symbolizes the death of a once great American company in the middle of a once great American city
Here in the beginning of the third decade of the twenty-first century, there are probably pitiful few Americans who even remember the once dominant Woolworths 5&10 and even fewer who ever sat down at one of its lunch counters for a milkshake. I asked our 32-year old next door neighbor if he was familiar with Woolworths and he paused to think about it for a few seconds and then slowly shook his head to say no.
I’m getting old.
Luckily, there’s a lot more to Arkansas than the municipal death rattle that is Texarkana. People tell us the rest of the state is beautiful, especially the Ozarks and the northwestern corner of the state.
We’ll come back, but we’ll stick to the freeway and bypass Texarkana when we do.