Thomas William Hardison
Cornelius Amory Pugsley Bronze Medal Award, 1929
Dr. Thomas William Hardison (1884-1957) received the Pugsley Bronze Medal "for his services in establishing Petit Jean State Park, the first such park in the state of Arkansas." He was born in Stephens, Columbia County, Arkansas, the son of Dr. William Harvey and Caroline Peavy Hardison. He attended Hendrix College from 1900 to 1903. He subsequently qualified as a physician obtaining his medical training in Memphis Hospital Medical College, and married Julia Hutto of Springfield, Conway County, Arkansas, in 1907.
Hardison was also known as an author and geologist. He was widely acknowledged as the father of the state parks system in Arkansas. While legislation in 1923 heralded the official beginning of the state's parks system, the origins of the system can be traced back to 1907 and to Hardison's simple dream: to preserve as a park a portion of the scenic mountain on which he lived. Hardison's desire to convince the National Park Service (NPS) to create a national park on Petit Jean Mountain evolved for himself and others who would join him into a larger commitment: securing state parks for Arkansas.
Hardison was just out of medical school when he accepted in 1906 a position with the Fort Smith Lumber Company as a contract physician at its lumber mill in Adona, a town just south of the mountain. The mill closed in 1910 and Hardison moved the next year to a home on a 68-acre tract of Petit Jean's south brow. He continued to provide medical care for area residents until his death in 1957.
Even before his move, the idea of a park on the mountain had been planted in Hardison's mind. In April 1907, officials of the Fort Smith Lumber Company -- from Kansas City and Fort Smith -- came to the area to inspect its operations and timber holdings. As Hardison later recalled, the visit turned into "a weeklong holiday filled with riding horseback and log trains through the valley and over the mountains." During an outing to the Seven Hollows region of Petit Jean, the officials decided it would be cost prohibitive to log that area. The company's superintendent was instructed to leave Seven Hollows in its natural state, and, one member of the party suggested it be deeded to the government. Fourteen years later, the superintendent wrote to Hardison that the Fort Smith Lumber Company was ready to deed the land "whenever the government would accept it."
Hardison approached his congressman regarding the possibility of federal legislation to establish a Petit Jean park. He was enthusiastic and introduced a bill in the House of Representatives providing for the acceptance of the area as Petit Jean National Park. The bill was referred to the Committee on Public Lands. Hardison then traveled to Washington and met for two hours with Stephen T. Mather, director of the NPS, making his case for the proposed park. Mather explained he could not recommend the area be accepted by congress as a National Park because the area was, in Hardison's words, "too small to justify the cost of development and administration." Mather did share Hardison's belief that the area should become a park and suggested the doctor propose to Arkansas's legislature that it become a state park. (Mather also advised Hardison to become active in the fledgling National Conference on State Parks, which Mather had helped found. Hardison did. In 1926, he brought the conference to Hot Springs and took some 200 of the nation's leading state parks advocates to Petit Jean.)
Hardison pursued Mather's state park suggestion, and in March 1923, after unanimous approval in both legislative houses, Governor Thomas C. McRae signed into law Act 276, which authorized the state land commissioner to accept land donations for the Petit Jean park. The first land accepted was 80 acres of the mountain's Cedar Creek canyon, donated by six Morrilton and two Pine Bluff residents. The lumber company's land was transferred after its board had approved its donation to the state rather than the federal government. Arkansas's first state park had been born.
Since no state parks agency then existed, Hardison convinced the state highway commissioner to "accept custody of the park until such time as a properly constituted state authority could be established." Four years later, in 1927, the legislature approved Act 172, establishing a seven-member State Parks Commission. The legislature indicated its intent to create a system of parks by authorizing the panel to acquire any areas of natural beauty and historical interest that provided "educational, recreational, health, camping and other outdoor life advantages."
The new law instructed the commission to use its lands "to protect and preserve in its original habitat and native beauty the flora, fauna and wildlife therein and preserve the same for all future generations, ...and to attract visitors, home seekers and tourists to the State" in order to "increase the wealth and revenue of our State by means of such parks." Hardison served as a member and chairman of the Arkansas State Park Commission and chairman of its park committee from 1945-53.
Jim Taylor, travel writer, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, Arkansas 72201. (http://www.arkansas.com/media/display/id/71)