Buggy display draws attention

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Town Crier News Staff

An Amish horse and buggy display highlights the Monette Christmas decorations this year and is drawing a lot of attention to the city's four-cornered intersection beautification project.

Monette has always held it had two claims to fame, one being the only stop light between Jonesboro and Blytheville along Highway 18 and the fact the famous author John Grisham started to school there.

"With a large flow of traffic through our town, we wanted our stop light area to be attractive," Monette Mayor Chub Qualls said. "The beautification committee has outdone themselves this year in making the intersection interesting and inviting to travelers."

Monette set out to beautify and landscape the Highway 18/Highway 139 intersection several years ago with a new stop light, new handicapped accessible sidewalks and media crossings. A large gazebo and bench were added to the northwest corner. More trees, shrubs, lights and a bench were added on the northeast corner. A landmark bank building is being renovated with hopes of being placed on the National Register of Historic Places on the southwest corner. A twenty-foot snowman sits inside the front entrance to the bank, and became an ideal place for visits with Santa. This year an Amish buggy marked the completion of the Christmas project as it stands on the southeast corner surrounded by carolers and laden with gifts.

"The Amish buggy is a gift to me from my brother Elbert," Qualls said. "Before he retired, he lived in Curryville, Mo., and worked as a transporter for Amish residents."

"I lived in the St. Louis area for 50 years," Elbert Qualls said. "I worked for the St. Louis Police Department for 25 years. My family and I lived about 60 miles from Boling Green, Mo., and had become friends with many of the Amish people. Since their modest transportation consisted of a horse and buggy, I hired on to haul them from place to place outside their community.

"I soon realized I had an interest in their buggies. My brother Robert (Qualls) was once given some parts of an old buggy when we were at Hardy. We loaded the running gear and old buggy parts in my truck and I took them back to my home in Chesterfield, Mo. I got an Amish friend, Jake Schwartz, to build a buggy for me. The buggy was stored in my barn for years."

When Elbert Qualls' wife Laverne died in 2000, he retired the next year and moved back to his hometown of Black Oak. That was the year John Grisham's book "A Painted House" was released. A movie by the same name was being filmed in Lepanto. Qualls opened a shop on Black Oak's main street and named it "The Unpainted House." He filled the building with antiques and items from his collection of vintage pieces. He moved the buggy to Craighead County also. It was never meant to be a business, just a place to store things of interest.

"About eight or 10 guys would gather in front of the place and tell jokes and reminisce," Elbert Qualls said. "People involved in making the movie or tourists would stop by to ask us things about John Grisham's home place. My friend Melvin Garrison always told them that the Grisham place was the house across the street that belonged to Cotton Fisher. They would drive around and sometimes get out and take a photo. Actually John Grisham lived southeast of town, but we had so much fun seeing people get all excited, we kept up the farce."

"Last year I gave the buggy to my brother Chub, in hopes he might use it to decorate with at Christmas. He and his wife Linda decorated the buggy last year and had it in the front yard of their home on Finch Street here in Monette. This year they found this great spot uptown, so travelers could see it when they stopped at the traffic light."

The Amish style horse-drawn buggy has a front seat for adults and two smaller seats in back for children to ride on. Black vinyl window shades can be lowered to keep the rain out on the sides and back.

"We went to several Amish events when I lived in Missouri," Elbert Qualls said. "We went to hog killings, barn raisings, and dinners. The buggies always fascinated me, and how serviceable they were. They could fix any part of them that tore up, and had supplies on hand to do it quickly. I found the Amish people to be simple in lifestyle, and very good with wood working and building."

His love for horses and buggies relates back to his childhood he explained. Elbert, 77, is the oldest of a family of eight children born to Cornel and Ovela Hamilton Qualls, of Evening Shade. The siblings include Eb, Robert, Claudette (Jones), Boyce "Dimp," Chub, Fonda (Lybarger), Terry, and Ted.

"My father didn't live modern when he was growing up," Elbert Qualls said. "He used wagons and teams to get around and found them very dependable. My grandfather was a Civil War captain and named two of his sons Major and Cornel. All of my relatives seem to love horses, and most of us like buggies.

Elbert and his second wife, the former Anna Lou Finley, make their home in Black Oak. The guys at The Unpainted House still enjoy tourists asking for directions. Once a story gets told in half-truths, it is hard to untell, so the legacy of John Grisham's home goes on. It would probably not be best to inquire at the Qualls' shop as to directions to the Grisham farm, unless you are ready to find yourself on the doorsteps of an unsuspecting citizen, and hear the faint echo of laughter coming from across the street.

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