Cushman, Ark., traces its history back to 1810, and thanks to lifelong resident Becky Wood, much of that history has been saved and sorted for fellow citizens to enjoy whenever they wish.
What began as a personal quest to uncover Wood’s family history has developed into a communitywide project housed in the school library she runs as Cushman School’s media specialist.
Wood has collected photos, furniture, tools, personal items—just about anything telling Cushman’s 461 residents about their town’s past and culture—and divided them into organized and easily accessible sections in the library.
One corner room houses a display of school-related items: the 1949-50 drama club pictured in a 1930s building, a wooden elementary school desk with a hinged top and wrought iron frame, a quilt from the 1870s, and a photo of a wooden-sided school bus with what looks like an old screen door and a fabric top. The bus was built by a local resident before today’s school buses came around.
Another room is devoted to the years when Cushman’s manganese mines boomed. Among equipment featured is a pickax and an antique hand drill that was used before jackhammers to make holes in the ore.
“Now that was the old-time mining,” Wood, 46, declares.
While the collection enriches the lives of all the residents, the most immediate beneficiaries are students.
“I’ve grown up with Cushman’s old stories. The neatest thing is when you explain to the kids about the stores that used to line the streets—the livery stable, the pharmacies, the picture shows, the jailhouse—and then you see the kids light up and ask questions about it,” Wood explains.
Wood’s history trove started small. In 1981, as a project in the gifted and talented program, she asked the students to interview town elders and review old deeds and court records, then produce a “little book” detailing what they’d learned about local history. The seeds for the now enormous collection of Cushman memorabilia were sown in that project.
Cushman School Principal Roger Reid extended Wood’s history project into the classrooms, making it part of Cushman’s Arkansas history curriculum. This, in turn, helps the project grow.
“After I do the presentation in their classes, the kids will come up with more tidbits of family history that I can use,” Wood says.
Each June, Cushman hosts its annual class reunion and Miner’s Day celebration. The library is transformed into a historical museum for alumni to visit. Wood spreads her own quilts over the bookshelves, pinning to them posters filled with photos. And plywood backboards and library tables feature an astonishing collection of 2,500 artifacts.
“Class groups will go to their pictures, which starts conversations and brings back memories. Lots of people in this school system go back to the earliest days of Cushman,” she says.
Wood and her family plan to keep the project going for quite a while.
“Jim Smith, my uncle, has helped from the first year,” she says. “We’ve never found a stopping place. Each year we write the next little book, which is finished in May. My sister and her husband take care of the books for me.
“It’s a lot of things tied together: history, genealogy, school, culture. I feel tied to all of it.”