It doesn’t just take an extraordinary amount of vision to think you can take a rundown barn and turn it into a top tourist destination; it takes an epic amount of work and no small dash of chutzpah. Neither was a problem for Dr. Ruth Hawkins when she took on the project of the Hemingway-Pfeiffer House in Piggott, Ark. Now if you’re a film buff, you’ll know that Piggott is where Eliza Kazan shot A Face in the Crowd starring Andy Griffith (before his eponymous television show), but in fact its place in history was cemented much earlier as the home of Earnest Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. Papa would visit Piggott in the 1930s, and the family turned the barn into a writing studio for Hemingway. It’s there where he wrote much of his epic A Farewell to Arms.
The story of the community and the site needed a champion. Locals knew of the visits and the writing, but sometimes it takes an outsider to help a place appreciate long overlooked jewels. That’s who Ruth Hawkins is – the kind of person who can see things others can’t. Where others saw an old barn, Ruth saw a story. She knows that heritage means business, but it has to be shined and made ready for the public. Today, the Hemingway Pfeiffer House is a destination for tourists all around. It’s the best example of the many, many jewels she’s found and cultivated throughout her beloved Arkansas Delta. It’s the best because she wasn’t simply satisfied in making the place a tourist destination. No, she had to go on and become a Hemingway scholar, presenting at conferences across the world and authoring the only book on Pauline, Unbelievable Happiness and Final Sorrow.
She’s the driving force of the restoration and major storyteller behind Lakeport Plantation in Lake Village, the only remaining antebellum plantation home on the Mississippi; she’s responsible for the Southern Tennent Farmers’ Museum in Tyronza, which tells the story of sharecropping and the organized farm labor movement; she is responsible for helping keep alive the story of Arkansas’ Japanese Internment Camp at Rohwer, where future Star Trek star George Takei was imprisoned; as well as the Historic Dyess Colony: Johnny Cash Boyhood Home. There’s more. She’s a member of the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame, Arkansas Tourism Person of the Year, she’s won a National Trust for Historic Preservation Honor Award as well as Preserve Arkansas’s Parker Westbrook Lifetime Achievement Award. The list goes on. If you want to learn how to capitalize on the heritage of your community, there is no better person in the world to learn from than Ruth Hawkins. She’ll be at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute Friday from noon to 2 p.m. Get your tickets at https://ruthhawkinsuncommoncommunities.eventbrite.com.