On Take a Hike Day, I’m writing about the adventure I had hiking on the streets of a pre-Civil War town, Van Buren, Arkansas, to find the storefront of my ancestor John Austin. While three of my friends went shopping, I drove down Main Street with my pal Bobbie to the historic Crawford County Courthouse where the search for John Austin and his storefront began. Though I’d visited Arkansas for years, I never tried to find information about my Mom’s Great, Great, Grandfather who supposedly was a grocer and leading citizen in Van Buren before the Civil War. Which storefront on Main Street was his all those years ago? At the courthouse, we trekked inside so I could ask the question, “How do I find the address of a storefront belonging to John Austin from 1828 to 1843?” An officer directed us to the Records Department that had moved across the street into the renovated jail building. (Did I mention I’m giddy to get info about John Austin?) Inside the old jail, and after asking my question, the record clerk told us the courthouse records before 1877 had burned. What a disappointment, but maybe Historian Tom Wayne at the Drennen-Scott House could help us? We found the historic house closed…no answers there. Time to try the Abstract Company.
At Crawford County Abstract Company, I asked the John Austin storefront question. The clerk asked me, “Do you have an address?” (Did I mention that I’m trying to find that address?) He couldn’t help us but said to check the bookstore. Outside, we hiked up Main Street to Chapters Book Store. They were out of books about the history of Van Buren. Another disappointment! The manager suggested trying the new Library. (Did I mention that after zig zagging all over town, I was no closer to finding John Austin!)
I hiked down Main Street past dozens of awesome antique malls and shops to get the car, loaded up my friends and their purchases, then drove to the Crawford County Library, Van Buren, which was our last stop. Excited librarians wanted to help me find my relative. They showed me a big green book they had for sale about the history of the area. After purchasing The History of Crawford County, I laid it on the counter, thumbed the pages to the Index, and we all leaned over the open book looking for John Austin’s name. There it was on page 120 and page 156! Wow!
On page 120, it listed John Austin as the Mayor of Van Buren in 1855! And on page 156, he gave $5.00 to The Van Buren Education Fund. Nice. I thanked the librarians, hiked through the library to the car parked outside, lifted the book up high, and called to my friends, “I found John Austin!” Well, I didn’t find the address of his storefront, but I found him in Van Buren, Arkansas. His address could wait for a future adventure and hopefully not too much hiking. Part 1 is done, Part 2 is an adventure for another time. To be continued.