Blackberry Hill
Lodge and Resort

(Click here for a Windows Media Clip Narrative)

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."

(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."

Blackberry Hill Lodge from Bob Ketchum on Vimeo.

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 season.

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.

Click here for a sound byte taken from a 78 RPM
record made at Blackberry Hill on January 14, 1950!

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."

Blackberry Hill

Ann Baker Ketchum

Robert Warren ("Bottles") Ketchum

Back to CCS Home Page

© 1995-2007 Ozark Network Communications, Inc.