Digitized Diaries Bring Arkansan Icon to Life
Oh, the lure of a diary.
As an avid reader and writer, I’ve often tried to keep one. As a procrastinator and control freak, I don’t make it beyond a week. The commitment to a daily routine and the fear that my secrets (do I have any?) and frank admissions (too many!) would be misconstrued when I can no longer provide context…well, I just can’t.
I’m grateful that not everyone feels the same or we would have little to no personal insight into the past. I admire those with the self-discipline and confidence to put it on paper for the ages. I admire those that preserve and share these telling archives.
Son, Husband, Father, Doctor, Author, Newspaperman…and State Park Champion
T.W. (Thomas William) Hardison was born in Richland, Arkansas in 1884. Following graduation from Memphis Hospital Medical College in 1903 and receiving his Arkansas state medical license in 1905, he was soon employed by the Fort Smith Lumber Company near Adona, Arkansas as a contract physician. Hardison worked out of Fowler Mill serving mountaineers and lumbermen and soon met (and married) Julia Hutto, a young Petit Jean Mountain school teacher. Following the closing of the mill in 1909, the couple elected to stay on Petit Jean Mountain, where they raised their only child, a son, settled into practice and became an important part of the rural community.
Serving a poor mountain community was good for the soul, but not for the bank account. Through the years, Hardison supplemented income by running a small farm on the family property, selling real estate, bottling and distributing spring water, holding a brief stint as editor and co-publisher of the local daily newspaper, publishing feature articles in national magazines and even winning $15,000 (about $170,000 in today’s currency) in a writing contest sponsored by Procter & Gamble.
Hardison’s place in Arkansas history was secured, however, not because of his industriousness and entrepreneurial spirit, but because of his combined love of the outdoors and his home State. He led a campaign to have a parcel of Petit Jean Mountain deeded as a National Park and – failing in that venture – eventually succeeded in securing it as the first park in the Arkansas State Park system in 1923. He was appointed to the State Park Commission in 1935 and served in various capacities for the next two decades.
Hardison was – and is – proof that hard work, creativity and passion can turn an ordinary life into an extraordinary one.
There is no formal record of how many diaries T.W. Hardison kept in his lifetime, but the Arkansas State Archives (ASA) holds 32, ranging from 1923-1957 with only 1924-1926 missing. Hosted online, they are less about Hardison’s deepest feelings and more about daily life on the Mountain and beyond.
Secured in 1977 from the Hardison’s daughter-in-law, Mrs. T.W. Hardison, Jr. (nee Mary Agnes Holtman), ASA holds the diaries, a collection of personal papers and several Hardison artifacts. According to Bridget Wood, ASA Archival Manager for Technology and Access, some of these artifacts – which include two doctors’ bags, medicine bottles and binoculars – are referenced in Hardison’s diaries.
Knowing nothing of Dr. Hardison, I entered the Arkansas Digital Archives and delved into someone else’s world, fueling my imagination and leading me to several observations that may or may not be historically correct, but which satiated my inner-detective and drew me into this real-life story:
- If it wasn’t for gifts from Big Pharma, Hardison might not have kept a diary. Through 1929, Hardison’s days were captured in journals provided by Reed & Carnrick Drug Company (which still exists in some form today as a division of Schwarz Pharma). 1930-1947 were books from “Warner’s Calendar of Medical History” and 1948 and 1950-56 were “The Ready Reference Appointment Book” (gifts or self-purchased I couldn’t glean, but I lean toward gifts for Warners and self-purchased for the appointment books). 1949 and 1957 were gifts from insurance agents. The irony of Hardison’s last diary being a gift from a New York Life agent was not lost on me.
Like most of us, Hardison started journaling slowly. The diaries from 1923-1928 hold sporadic entries with long lapses between them. 1929 sees an increase in entries and by 1930 the entries are near daily. In the brief entries (the diaries appear to be pocket-sized or slightly larger and present two-to-three days per page), Hardison makes notes on the weather, patient information, appointments and meetings, his creative writings, the activities of his wife and son, his own illnesses and surgeries and more. As was common at the time, Julia is often referred to as “Mother.” Every entry seems to be in ink; the mark of someone who will not second-guess himself.
- Rich, poor, famous or unknown, our life and our passing means something to someone. On Thursday, March 28, 1957, I was startled and saddened to see the handwriting in the dairy change. Julia had taken over for T.W. and wrote steadily of his illness until his April 7th passing. Thereafter, she continued to write daily, a labor of love in honor of her husband. Hardison’s last post on March 27th read, in part, of the passing of a childhood friend. “Dr. Cecil H. Dickerson, 73, Conway, died this morning. Cecil and I had been friends since 1902.” Little did he know they would meet again so soon. I wept at both the love and loss.
On August 4th, the handwriting changed yet again with an entry from their son, Thomas William Harding, Jr., with the simple words, “Mother was taken to the hospital.” He continued to journal for two weeks with a break from August 17th – 30th and a final entry on September 1, 1957. Julia died of cancer May 14, 1958 and no further journal entries are found.
While there are certainly details of Dr. Hardison’s businesses and references to his commitment to the Arkansas State Park system, what intrigued me most was his humanity…the mentions of the day’s weather, visitors with names both familiar and formal, trips to town, what he’s reading or writing, patient’s temperatures, the worries of “Mrs. H” or “Mother.” These are the details found behind just one man who made a lasting difference and which no doubt exist behind us all, documented or not.
Digitization for Preservation
My sentimental musings aside, the fact is that Dr. T.W. Hardison is an important facet of Arkansas history. Not only will his writings stand as witness to an era in which technology, society and culture experienced radical changes, there is now also a physical monument honoring his contributions to the State Park system. Both will ensures that his impact on the beloved Petit Jean Mountain community and to the state of Arkansas cannot be forgotten.
First, the diaries. According to Wood, only the diaries portion of the collection have been digitized.
An ASA scan operator was dedicated specifically to the digitization of the Hardison diaries, utilizing the team’s A0-sized Zeutschel OS 14000 overhead scanner purchased from The Crowley Company in 2017. The 32 diaries resulted in a total of 6,303 scanned images.
Wood notes that “the ability to scan multiple items at once was the most useful scanner feature on this project, as was the [OmniScan] software’s automatic cut (crop) feature. We were able to scan two books at a time and then divide them out based on odd and even numbering.” Although the Zeutschel OS 14000 generation has been retired to make way for the new Zeutschel OS-Q series (which continues to operate on the OmniScan platform), the scanner is built to last and delivers excellent image quality as can be easily seen when viewing Hardison’s diary pages.
Next, the monument. “[The diaries] were digitized in preparation for use in the exhibits of the Petit Jean State Park Dr. T.W. Hardison Visitor Center, which opened on April 22, 2021,” says Wood. The new Visitor Center features snippets of the diary entries in its exhibits and pays permanent homage to the man credited with being the “Father of the Arkansas State Park System.”
More about the Visitor Center and its grand opening can be found here.
Learn more about Petit Jean State Park.
True American Archives
Sadly, there are no living descendants of T.W. and Julia Hardison left to share their stories. Fortunately for the rest of us and thanks to the efforts of the Arkansas State Archives and the Arkansas State Park system, the Hardisons have secured a place a history, leaving behind documents, artifacts, nature preserves and hiking trails for all to enjoy today and into the future.
You can read more about Dr. Hardison’s life and accomplishments here.
For more information on how The Crowley Company’s scanners and services can help preserve your archival collections for future generations, visit www.thecrowleycompany.com or call (240) 215-0224. You can also make your microform archives easily accessible in the research room by taking a page from the Arkansas State Archives. They’ve outfitted their primary and branch locations with a total of 11 UScan+ universal film reader-scanners. Staff and visitors can quickly search, digitize, save, email and/or print from a wide variety of microfilm, microfiche and negatives. The Crowley Company is the exclusive full-line Zeutschel brand distributor in North America.
Cheri Baker, Crowley’s former Director of Communications, has retired but retains her love for writing and all things Crowley. With a career that spans newspaper, agency and corporate communications, her goal remains to dig behind the scenes and tell the story - whatever it may be. Find Cheri Baker on LinkedIn+