Mather Lodge tour

October 31st, 2015


From a U.S. Forest Service tour, happening right now, here in our “office” for the morning:

Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park was redone in 2010 to bring it back to its 1930s splendor.

Finished in 1935, idea was to build a park lodge in National Park Service style of rustic architecture.  In 1906, there was a lot of timber cutting, there was a mill called the Fowler Mill, owned by Ft. Smith lumber company, doing very well at the turn of the century.  The lumber hired a Dr. Hardiston, who grew to love the area, and pushed the company to donate the area, and that idea simmered for a while.

By 1916, the army was released from their caretaking of National Parks.  National Park Service formed in 1916, and were looking for a special person, and that was “Mather,” Steven Mather, owned the “Twenty Mule Team Borax” company.  Dr. Hardiston went to see Steven Mather to get this area as a National Park, Hardiston and board did a “feasibility study” riding their horses around, got 1,100 acres, and so when he met with Mather, they joined forces to create the park.  What Mather proposed, due to low numbers of acres, was to put together a National Conference of State Parks, where National service would come in with design help.  Hardiston went to the state legislator in 1923, first proposal for a state park in Arkansas, and Petit Jean became a state park in March 1923.  At this time, there was nothing here but woods and gravel roads and a few paths.

After the crash, Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps, and they created camps who went around and built infrastructure.  Dr. Hardiston petitioned for a camp for Petit Jean, and got it, a veteran camp of WWI vets.  National Park Service joined with CCC and drew up plans for the park, even though it’s a state park.  There’s an old chimney and a statute, and that is where the camp was.   It was named for Mather because of his contributions to make this park happen — no other park has a Mather lodge.


It was one of the projects designed by the National Park Service, all the details including walls, trails, and all the buildings.  An engineer, Samuel Davies, came up, and brought his son too, and he became Superintendent. 

There was some community division as this got going, but they started holding community dances, and they got community support.

They built the lodge with the resources on site, the logs and stone, if they weren’t stone masons to start, they became stone masons.

There were 8 cottages originally, and more later.  The original lodge rooms were small, and standards have changed, then there was just a small room, with a bathroom down the hall.  There’s a swimming pool now, the first one built in the 60s, and the one today built a few years ago.

And off the go to tour another area of the lodge!  And so off we go to check out another part of Arkansas!

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