Owned and operated by Bob ("Bottles") & Ann Ketchum
1947 - 1959
Taken from Bob Ketchum Jr.'s memoirs
"Face The Music"
"As a kid, growing up in the atmosphere of a resort located in the heart of the Arkansas wilderness,
life was anything but run-of-the-mill. When I was a year old my parents made the decision to move
to the Ozarks and have a change of lifestyle. According to mom's account, they had two choices.
The first choice was to relocate to Martha's Vineyard, where dad loved the ocean and scenery.
But for whatever reason they passed on that decision and instead bought a hunting and fishing
resort which had recently been built on the newly formed Lake Norfork Reservoir Project in
Mountain Home, Arkansas, in the Land Of Opportunity.
So in 1947 they packed everything up and moved to become owners and operators of Blackberry
Hill Resort. The purchase price was $20,000, which was a lot of money in 1947. My grandparents
co-signed the note. In the beginning there was a lodge, three duplex cabins,
a laundry room/workshop, a barn, and a two-stall boat dock. It was my world
during my early childhood.
At first, there were no lines for electricity or telephones. The lodge was run on what
was called the "Delco System", which consisted of 12-volt batteries, wired in series.
I honestly do not remember exactly how the batteries would charge, but I know that
they would turn on the Delco for a couple of hours during and after dinner so the
guests could relax and be entertained in the lighted lodge. Power lines weren't
run out to us at the end of the road until 1948. The Delco System was all kept
in the cellar under the lodge. This was my "hidey hole" where I would often go to
play or hide during the day. It was dark and dank and smelled of dirt.
There was a Coleman lantern hanging in the middle of the cellar.
To the back of the cellar was Delco System, taking up most of the space.
Along one wall of the cinder block bracing for the lodge foundation were shelves
containing many Mason jars of fruit, home made pickles, and vegetables.
On the other side the dirt stretched out under the side porch, dimly
illuminated by daylight seeping through the boards skirting the outside
of the lodge. I spent many an hour exploring under the house, playing with
my plastic army men or catching an elusive frog. Mom usually knew where
I had been, judging by the amount of dirt in my clothing and hair."
INSIDE THE LODGE
(For a larger image click on the picture - 13077 Byte .JPG image)
"Bottles" decided to move to Arkansas and operate a hunting and fishing lodge. He had schmoozed
so many people while riding the skeet circuit that he believed he could sustain an annual guest
list, and he was right. People would come from all over the US. The old man even rubbed elbows
with Hollywood stars, several which were guests at Blackberry Hill at one time or another.
Actor Jeffrey Hunter's parents were regulars, and I have several snapshots taken at Christmas
time with me sitting on Jeffery's Hunter's lap. Another regular guest was actor Jose Ferrer,
whose 2-by-3 foot oil portrait of mom to this day resides over the master bedroom fireplace.
I have a bookcase full of hard covers personally signed by their authors, all guests at
Blackberry Hill. My childhood memories are filled with laughing, friendly guests streaming
in and out of my life.
Mom's helpers at the Lodge were Murphey and Nina. The three of them would clean all the
cabins during the day, change the sheets, and prepare three meals a day for each and
every guest throughout their stay. In addition, mom had to maintain the lodge, conduct
laundry pick up and delivery from Mountain Home - 10 miles away on a dirt road - prepare
meals and shop for the food billet. Trips to the grocery store were major excursions.
Local proprietor Earl Johnson always loved to see mom shopping for the lodge. It was
very good for business. It was at this grocery store where I learned another valuable
lesson in life. One day while mom was busy examining her shopping list while moving down
one aisle with me in tow, I spied a large display of candy and gum. I absent-mindedly
reached out and snagged a pack of chewing gum. As I was opening up the package I looked
over and there was Earl Johnson, standing there and watching me. He approached and as mom
greeted him, he looked down at me and said "I think Bobby has something to tell you".
Well, I had no clue what I was supposed to tell her, and it took several tense seconds
of Mr. Johnson staring at my hand holding onto the opened package before I put
together the comment and the gum. It was at that moment that I knew what the word
"shoplifting" meant. I didn't actually have it in my mind that I was stealing,
I just wanted some gum. Mom admonished me with a stern look and as we checked out
I felt the checkers eyes on me and my face burned red. That was the last time
I ever "lifted" anything in a store."
The lodge was usually open all year round. Winter guests would arrive in time for duck and
deer hunting and winter fishing. Summer guests came for the fishing and recreation. Dad always
attended major Sports Shows in Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago and in Texas and Florida and pass
out brochures about the Lodge and to schmooze potential guests. I recall one time when he
returned from a trip to Miami, and when he arrived home he pulled out little strips of paper
and wads of cash from all his coat and pants pockets. The papers had names and addresses written
on them with reservation dates scribbled in the margins, or business cards with dates and amounts
written on the back. The money was accumulated deposits for those reservations. He'd only been
gone for five days but he had reservations that guaranteed several months of income for the coming
I don't recall any slow time at the lodge except perhaps during the Christmas holidays.
There seemed to always be guests at the lodge, even if it was just one or two cabins.
During peak season times all 7 cabins would be filled to capacity and mom and her crew
would be working around the clock. Food preparation was constantly going on and the kitchen
always had something going on in it. The stove and grill, a huge JennAire unit, sat in a
corner and seemed to always be cooking something. There would be a full house in the lodge
dining room for breakfast. There was a long table that seated 8 and three smaller tables
that seated 4 each. Dad would take all the men-folk out for the daily hunting or fishing
excursions, including huge picnic lunches with them. Mom would pack sandwiches, hard-boiled
eggs, fruit, crackers, cheese, pickles, and lots of hot coffee in thermos jugs. Many of the
wives would arrive at the dining room in time for lunch and then either hang out at the
lodge or go to town for some local shopping, buying trinkets and "Ozark souvenir"
knick-knacks to take back home.
The Cain's coffee man made deliveries right to our door, which was a long haul in those days on
dirt and gravel. We had these huge Bunn CoffeeMatic machines, with two pots going simultaneously,
situated in the kitchen. Coffee and cigarettes went hand in hand, and small paper bags sat
conspicuously on the guest's tables after dinner during the 90 minutes or so that my mother
would entertain the guests. Her piano style was very similar to Fats Waller on the boogie
-woogie tunes, and the way she would accompany herself on the torch songs like "These Foolish
Things" or "There Goes My Heart" was so intimate that I've seen big burly men brush a tear
out of their eye during an emotional passage. Her voice was like spun gold.
Those were very magical moments for me. She performed almost every night after dinner
to an appreciative and enthusiastic audience, sitting at her 9-foot Steinway Grand piano,
with dad sitting back there grinning to himself for being so smart (or lucky). Occasionally
I was allowed to wander around the dining room during those performances, but most of the time
I sat just inside the bedroom door where I could watch her perform through the cracked door
without being seen by the guests sitting in the main room. When mom sat at the Steinway it
was like the queen and her court. Dad was the king and the jester all rolled up into one
funny and dashing host. He reminds me so much of Jimmy Cagney. I realize today they were
working together back then to please their guests, as a team.
In those days resort owners
were like social pioneers. What separated Blackberry Hill Lodge from the rest of the local
resorts was mom. Sure, dad was the big hunting and fishing expert and was the basic reason
for men taking a vacation in the rough Ozarks, but it was much more than that. It was the
total family experience where the men got to do their outdoor thing and the wives and
children still had plenty to interest them. It was the thing to do in those days…. Get
away to the country for some rest and relaxation but in a safe family atmosphere. People played checkers
and chess and had lots of card games (poker for the men and canasta for the women).
They went there to enjoy each other's company, or to meet some new nice friends, or
just to return to the Lodge again each year because it's what they all did for vacations.
It became a ritual for many of the repeat customers. They would know right where
the guestbook was kept and signed in immediately upon arrival, and maybe leave
a personal note at the end of their stay. Mom kept all the guest books they
saved up through the years, and maintained regular correspondence with most
of them, even years after they had sold the Lodge. In short, I guess they
all felt like they were "more than just guests" when they came to Blackberry Hill.
They sat around in large groups and just talked for the pure joy of being involved
in an intelligent discussion. Imagine that. There were a lot of jokes and stories
told off into the night, with men and women sitting in large metal longue chairs
in the back yard listening to the crickets and the frogs. And I remember they all
drank and they all smoked cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. I don't recall anyone
ever getting rowdy like you would expect in a tavern. The guests were always
respectful of their surroundings at the lodge. Occasionally someone might have
to be "assisted" to their cabin after the evening's festivities, but I don't
recall ever witnessing an altercation or a scene of any kind……… Ever. They
were all there to enjoy themselves on vacation and most people drank responsibly
considering the times. Or maybe it was that back then people could hold their
liquor better. Many nights Dad would get well lit and sometimes even appear
visibly drunk, but it was all good fun, and I was too young yet to truly
understand what all that meant. I saw everybody drinking so I figured
everybody was like dad and all families were like mine. Little did I
realize back then how truly unique my life was. I was always around
people when they were at their best. I thought everyone was happy,
well adjusted, friendly and so willing to give of themselves."