The Tale Of Dickson Street Stanley
There was a time when Fayetteville’s Dickson Street wasn’t known as the Entertainment District of Northwest Arkansas. Before the Walton Art’s Center, before George’s’ Majestic Lounge, even before the University of Arkansas, the little known tale of Dickson Street Stanley has been lost in time. He was said to be the first Musician to kick start what we now know as Dickson Street. How much of this is Folklore, we may never know.
The infamous road was named after Joseph L. Dickson who had built a lonely home on the dirt road in early 1840’s. It sat quietly, as only a few buildings were added thru the centuries. It wasn’t until the 1880’s when J.H. Williams purchased the home and moved in his family. J.H. spent his days selling fruit to the local passerby as they wondered thru on their long journey to neighboring towns.
In 1881, the Railroad and Fayetteville’s Frisco Station was built on Dickson Street. The growth was rapid as the area swelled with travelers and businesses, quickly making Dickson Street the Industrial Center of Fayetteville. Before boarding houses were built, It has been said that J.H. Williams would often rent a room to travelers. Enter Dickson Street Stanley.
As more businesses came to Dickson Street, J.H. Williams found it hard to compete with the pop up restaurants and had nearly lost his home due to what some claimed, the inability to pay local taxes. One afternoon, a depressed J.H was walking home from a local saloon when he ran into a vagabond washing his face in a muddy streetside water, a kind man asked where he was from and why he was washing in a muddy trough. The recently freed slave identified himself as Stanley, sat and talked with J.H. for several hours.
Stanley began to talk about working the Southern Arkansas cotton fields as a boy then working with Soldiers in the fight for freedom. After the war, Stanley decided to find a new beginning, using his last dime for a train ticket and landing him in the small town of Fayetteville. He was unable to find boarding and had no money to continue on, so had been sneaking into a nearby stable to sleep for the last 2 nights.
J.H invited Stanley to his home across from the new Frisco Station. At those times, it was more common for African Americans to enter the rear of a home or business. This was for many reasons and for J.H., admittedly, he couldn’t risk to lose anymore business or disapproval from the naysayers, so Stanley snuck in thru the rear of the house.
That first night a sound came from down the hall. JH could hear a muffled tone from a guitar and the faint singing of a sad song of tougher times. J.H. burst into the room where he found Stanley picking a guitar and softly singing his song.
Stanley told J.H that sometimes, when he feels blue, he picks up his guitar and sings the words from his heart. He didn’t mean to wake J.H. and proceed to put his guitar away. J.H. couldn’t stop listening and insisted Stanley continue. Finally, the sun came up and the two realized they sang the night away.
J.H. knew he needed to open his fruit stand so he could collect his daily dollar and invited Stanley to join him. As the two manned the stand, they watched as the train came and gone, dropping it’s riders in front of the local steakhouse. J.H. told Stanley the importance of selling his fruit today and told him that his family’s home was at risk. Stanley saw the despair in J.H.’s eyes which too made him blue. Stanley reached for his guitar and began plucking a simple 2 cord tune. Eyes closed and an occasional tear, Stanley was in his trance like state, singing the words from his heart. J.H. peacefully listened as the two sat in the shadows of the warm setting sun.
Suddenly, out of nowhere a coin had hit the small fruit stand table and a man’s voice interrupted the mood. He had asked for 2 apples for his train ride. Suddenly, another asked for a few apples. A woman asked for Peaches and a young boy wanted a Pear. J.H. jumped up to his surprise. He was baffled as to where all these people came from. A crowd formed around J.H., and Stanley, well he continued to play his guitar and sing the words from his heart. More people surrounded them, finding any place to sit and listen to the the soulful sounds of this ex slave as the sunset to darkness.
The next morning came fast for J.H. and Stanley. They both headed out to the stand as soon as they heard the train arriving to drop off the morning’s first travelers. There were people waiting for the stand to open and for Stanley to start singing those words from his heart. Each day the crowds grew larger. people came from all over to visit Dickson Street’s famous fruit stand and the ex slave dubbed Dickson Street Stanley.
As a few years gone by, J.H. had found other business interests which took him away from the the fruit stand and could only open it 2 days per week. Stanley began playing the songs from his heart at other stores and businesses, drawing crowds to the rapidly growing business community. It wasn’t long before more vagabonds found their way to the infamous street to sing their words from their hearts.
Soon, Stanley fell had fallen in love with a local maid named Jane. She was working for the builder who was in charge of building the nearby college up on the hill. The couple had a son and named him “Muddy” after that streetside water trough where Stanley’s life seemed to have changed. It wasn’t long after that Jane received word to come home to the Delta area to care for an ailing relative, so the family prepared to leave.
With Stanley, Jane and their son, “Muddy” packed and ready to go, J.H. urged them to stop by the house and say goodbye. The two friends knew they would miss each other and the scene was sorrow. Stanley picked up his guitar and began to sing the words from his heart right on the front porch of J.H’s house. A crowd began to form. J.H was worried that a black man at his front door would not be accepted, but it was to the contrary. The townsfolk smiled and sang along as Stanley played.
When It was time to go, the crowd followed the family to the train station across from the Dickson street fruit stand as Stanley, Jane and their infant “Muddy” boarded the train. People called out their good bye’s with tears in their eyes. They loved the man who sang the words from his heart on Dickson street whenever he was blue. They knew they would miss him.
One small boy shouted “Goodbye Dickson Street Stanley! Thank you for singinging your blues!” His mother reached down to comfort him. He looked up and said “Momma, one day I will have a place and my own Dickson Street Blues man” The mother simply smiled, grabbing his hand to walk him away and said, “and I’m sure it will be majestic, George.”