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RUSH, Ark.—A gravel road near the Buffalo River winds past a century-old, 200-foot-long stone wall.

Two flights of concrete steps penetrate the wall, forming grand entrances to the tangle of vegetation above.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that the vacant lot was once the site of the Hicks Hotel in Rush, a bustling zinc-mining town that had a peak population of about 5,000 during World War I.

Now, Rush is considered the only ghost town between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.

The two-story hotel burned down in the 1950s, and there's little evidence of the building that once stood on the patch of land.

For many who pass through Rush, the stone wall is a mystery. No signs are posted to explain the history of the Hicks site. But that could change soon.

The National Park Service asked researchers at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville to digitally reconstruct the hotel and the Hicks General Store, which was next door.

Three-dimensional images of the buildings are being created, and a website should be online by the end of the year, said Kimball Erdman, associate professor of landscape architecture at the university.

Erdman is leading the project known officially as the Hicks Site Digital Interpretation. His scholarly research focuses on the history and preservation of designed and vernacular landscapes.

After World War I ended, the price of zinc dropped and Rush began a slow decline until 1972, when — deserted — it became part of the Buffalo National River park area.

Today, Rush Landing is well known as a stop for canoeists along the river. It is the last access point before the river passes through a 23-mile stretch of the Lower Buffalo Wilderness Area.

People who venture a mile up Marion County Road 6035 from the river — or 5 miles east from Arkansas 14 — can find the skeletal remains of wood-frame buildings that still haunt the abandoned mining town.

While many transients passed through Rush to work in the mines and live in tents or hardscrabble houses, the Hicks family was there to stay, said Erdman.

"They invested in the community," he said, noting their permanence of the hotel and store.

Miride Lee Hicks and his wife, Alice, moved from Flippin to Rush in 1903 and bought the wood-frame two-story hotel, which also was their home. An addition was built on to the back of the building at some point.

The Hicks family served good food at the hotel, and water piped from a spring on the mountainside trickled perpetually into a reservoir in the yard, lulling guests to sleep at night, according to a 1915 article in the Harrison Times.

In 1916, Lee Hicks constructed a two-story limestone building next-door for a general store. The top floor of the store provided additional hotel rooms. The store sold everything from groceries to dry goods, including caskets, according to Erdman's draft report on the project.

By that time, Rush already had 10 general stores, three bakeries and many boarding houses and hotels, according to a 1916 article in The Mountain Echo of Yellville.

Lee Hicks died in 1920 and his son, Rosco, took over the hotel and store.

In 1929, Alice Hicks auctioned off the hotel, and most of the Hicks family eventually moved to California. Erdman said the hotel burned down sometime in the 1950s.

In the 1960s, the top floor of the Hicks General Store was removed and the bottom floor was a residence for a few years, said Erdman. Now, only the foundation, side walls and part of the front and back walls remain. On Friday, a bathtub was the only thing within those walls, other than concrete and creeping vegetation.

Angie Payne and Brian Culpepper, researchers in the university's Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies, are providing technical assistance for the digital reconstruction of the Hicks site.

Erdman also hired two students from his historic-landscape preservation class to work on the project: Jordan Pitts of Little Rock and Addison Warren of Caledonia, Mississippi.

The students spent part of the summer in Rush examining and measuring ruins at the Hicks site, which include remnants of other man-made features, such as concrete flower beds and a 30-foot-long "cattle dip" near the barn for tick treatments. The researchers also have a few photographs to help them reconstruct the buildings digitally.

Payne, who is from Harrison, said the Hicks project is giving new life to a once forgotten homestead.

"Being able to fully visualize the store, hotel and details in the surrounding historic landscape (all the way down to individual flower beds) really provides the visitor with a sense of what this part of Rush would have looked like during its heyday in the early 1920s," she said. "Combined with the detailed history of the site compiled by Dr. Erdman and his students, the final product will be a wonderful educational tool for learning about the Hicks homestead and its place in the history of the mining community at Rush."

With a budget of $30,000, it's a relatively small project compared with others Erdman has done, such as the digital reconstruction of part of the Rohwer Relocation Center, a World War II Japanese-American internment camp in southeast Arkansas. More than $500,000 in federal funding was provided to create a Web-based digital archive, mapping database and 3-D digital reconstruction of a section of the Rohwer camp.

Funding for the Hicks site digital reconstruction was provided by the National Park Service's Midwest Archeological Center, said Caven Clark, a spokesman for the Buffalo National River, which is administered by the Park Service. The center is in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The 1,316-acre Rush Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Suzanne Rogers, who was a historian with the Buffalo National River, described the attraction of Rush in the National Register nomination form.

"The wood-frame structures quickly weather to a ghost-town appearance, but one which visitors find fascinating as they visualize the mining area and rural community life," she wrote. "The ruins contribute greatly to the overall 'discovery' of Rush by visitors."

Clark said the Buffalo National River has requested funding to assess the need for "wayside exhibit" signs throughout the park, including Rush. The park already has several interpretive signs at Rush but none at the Hicks site.

In his draft report, Erdman documents the deaths of the Hicks descendants, many of whom were in California by the time they died. During that same time, the Hicks homestead in Rush continued to deteriorate.

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