North Bettis Street
Built in 1852 by William and Nancy Allaire, the St. Charles Hotel covered the entire east side of the Court Square, except for the last two buildings on the south end of the block. The hotel was a two story, wood frame building with hotel rooms on the upper floor and eight shops occupying the ground floor. The hotel lobby and its famous dining room were on the ground floor at the north end of the block. The St. Charles was the largest and most famous hotel in northeast Arkansas for many years.
The Port of Pocahontas, located along the riverfront east of downtown (currently Black River Overlook Park) was the #1 river port in Arkansas by tonnage of freight in an out from 1840 to 1851 when it was overtaken by the Port of Little Rock. Before and after the Civil War, until the coming of the railroads here in 1897, the riverfront was lined with first flat and keel boats and then steamboats (from 1829) bringing passengers and goods up river and taking local goods down river to the Mississippi then on to St. Louis, New Orleans, and the Atlantic coast.
The hotel was regularly filled with drummers (peddlers) who received goods at the port and hauled them in wagons to the vast hinterland to the west and north served by the Port. Pocahontas was the northernmost year-around port in Arkansas and served not only Randolph County but also the counties west into the Ozark Mountains and north into southern Missouri.
To the north of the hotel, across Everett Street stood a large livery stable serving the hotel and providing horses and wagons to the drummers and other travelers. In the lobby of the hotel stood a large metal gong that was struck twice daily to let people in the downtown area know that meals were ready at the hotel. It was said the gong could be heard up to half a mile away.
Allaire married Nancy James, whose mother owned the first of the seven ‘grand hotels’ that graced Pocahontas in those days. Nancy would manage the St. Charles until her retirement 1912. She died at age 97 in 1929. Her husband William Allaire died in 1857.
When Arkansas seceded from the United States in 1861, Governor Rector ordered every available soldier in the state (basically the state militia) to Pocahontas as this was the most likely invasion route into the state by Union forces from Missouri, there being no roads and very rough terrain to our east and our west. Here we had the Federal Military Road (Southwest Trail) and river transportation from the state line into central Arkansas.
The Army of Northern Arkansas was formed here under General William Hardee. They were soon joined by the Confederate Army of Missouri under General Sterling Price when that army was run out of Missouri by Union forces. The St. Charles became headquarters for these armies in 1861.
In 1862, the Confederate Government in Richmond created the Trans-Mississippi Department and the Army of the West under Major General Earl Van Doren. Pocahontas was chosen as headquarters for this new department and army. The St. Charles served as headquarters for all Confederate forces west of the Mississippi River. With this latest army to be headquartered at the St. Charles, some 35,000 Confederate troops were now assembled here in Randolph County.
Additional Confederate forces were here to experience basic military training at Camp Shaver, Arkansas’s largest basic training camp, located on what’s now Hwy 67 north in Pocahontas. The first Confederate army hospital in Arkansas was also located here and the Port of Pocahontas became a major Confederate Supply location.
In addition to the various headquarters units at the St. Charles, some more affluent men who came to Pocahontas for basic training spent some time quartered at the hotel. Among these was Henry Morton Stanley—later to gain worldwide fame as the man who searched darkest Africa and found Dr. Livingstone, the British doctor and missionary who’d been out of contact with his homeland for many years. Stanley’s greeting when he finally located Livingstone was the famous line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”
Later in 1862, the situation changed dramatically when all Confederate forces here were ordered east of the Mississippi River to meet the invasion of General U. S. Grant and the Union Army of Ohio which had invaded Kentucky and Tennessee and threatened to cut the confederacy in two. Soldiers from Randolph County, part of the Arkansas Seventh Infantry Brigade, nearly carried the day for the South on the first day of the Battle of Shiloh.
Pocahontas and Arkansas were then basically undefended with all the troops here moved to the east. Randolph County then became a lawless no man’s land, with no forces from North or South quartered here until 1864 when the St. Charles became headquarters for Union forces who finally occupied the county.
Being so close to the Missouri border, Randolph County suffered horribly from bands of “irregulars’—marauders—outlaws who raided the county stealing food and anything else of value, murdering, raping, and burning homes. These raiders in bands of up to 350 hid out in the canebrakes along the county’s rivers and included such infamous men as Quantrill and Frank and Jesse James.
In early summer 1863, William Evans, recruiter for northeast Arkansas, who had married the St. Charles’ proprietor, Nancy James Allaire after her husband’s death, was assassinated in the lobby of the St. Charles. Later that summer, Confederate General Jeff Thompson, known as “The Missouri Swamp Fox” for his successful guerilla tactics in the wetlands to the east, was captured at the St. Charles by a Union raiding party along with several prominent local Confederates.
In the fall of 1863, another Union raiding party from Missouri burned much of downtown Pocahontas as well as several residences. The hotel however was spared, presumably because it was soon to become Union headquarters.
Following the War and the Era of Reconstruction, Pocahontas and Randolph County slowly recovered due to the steamboat trade and the cutting of the upland and lowland forests of the county. The St. Charles slowly regained prominence as the region’s leading hotel though several newer hotels were built here and also gained loyal clienteles. Nancy James (Allaire, Evans) married prominent local planter and merchant, Green R. Jones, and continued to manage the St. Charles until 1912. Afterward, the old hotel declined somewhat in popularity. In 1924, she sold the St. Charles to the Randolph County Bank. The hotel burned to the ground that same night (you may draw your own conclusions as to how this might have happened). Only the south wing of the hotel, built in 1859, remained, saved by its thick brick firewall. It remains today as The St. Charles Building.
Most of the east side of the court square remained vacant for several years. About 1930, the Lewallen Hotel was built on the north end of the block. It had a popular restaurant and saloon downstairs owned and operated by Thema Lewallen with residential apartments upstairs. Later, Ray Bowlin (followed by his son Paul) opened Bowlin Furniture in the hotel and the building to its right (south). In 2010, Ken and Jan Zeigler purchased the property and refurbished it with commercial spaces downstairs and residential apartments upstairs.