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Mt. Gayler Deserted By All But One

17

October 7, 2010 by wcobserver

by Velda Brotherton

She sleeps in the room where she slept as a child. Her bed is under the window she once looked out of as a young girl. But today, Ruby Jo Bellis does not see what she saw then. Traffic no longer rumbles along Highway 71.  Drivers no longer stop to buy gas and their families don’t tour the gift shop or eat in the restaurant at Mt. Gayler. She is the third generation of her family to live in the remains of this once popular tourist attraction. And she lives there alone since the tragic death of her son, Janathan Jodane Bellis a year ago this month.

Ruby said she will remain there as long as she can pay the taxes and keep the weeds pulled. Then she smiled and told me a story about her son when he was young. He told his grandmother, Sue Bellis, that he was going to pull the same weeds his great-grandpa had pulled.

Edward A. Bellis Sr., his wife Sue Steward and their son Ed Jr. came to the mountain from Ft. Worth after they lost everything in the crash of ‘29. Edward bought five acres from R.D. Gayler, who had homesteaded the mountaintop south of Winslow so many years earlier. The family lived in the back of a pickup truck and a tent while they built the rock buildings and opened businesses that would grace the mountain for more than 60 years. They named the establishment after the Gaylers, who had been there since the mid 1800s.

According to Ruby, whose mother told her the story, the different spellings of the Gayler name came about with a family rift, and those who remained there on the mountain spelled the name with an e, while those who left spelled it with an o. No one knows which the original spelling was, but the mountain is named after the ones who homesteaded the land there so long ago, and thus Gayler is the correct spelling.

After they came to Arkansas, Edward Sr., a bookkeeper by trade, laid the rocks following the plans of his wife Stella until there was a two-story service station, a small house behind the gift shop, an ice house, and rocked-up spaces for a multitude of flowers. Over the service station was an apartment in which their son Ed Jr. would live with his wife Sue. The couple had four daughters and a son they named Edward III. Ruby is one of those daughters and at the end , the only one who wanted the place.

After I 540 was finished, the heavy traffic moved west, deserting the mountainous and often dangerous Highway 71. Ed Jr., spoke in favor of that highway, saying, “It’ll ruin our business, but we can’t stand in the way of progress.”

Staff Photographer Brooke McNeely Galligan Ruby Jo Bellis lives in the house she grew up in along Arkansas 71 on Mt. Gayler near Winslow. She will remain there as long as she can pay the taxes and keep the weeds pulled. Her grandparents built the rock buildings and opened businesses that would grace the mountain for more than 60 years.

He knew the meaning of progress. He was largely responsible for getting the third lane added to 71 where it tops out at Mt. Gayler, then drops off for a nine-mile down-grade into Mountainburg. And he was also the driving force behind the formation of the Boston Mountain Volunteer Fire Department after the magnificent Burns Gables, built in 1937, burned in 1952.

On a foggy morning in 1985 he was killed in an automobile accident on 71 less than a mile from home. Sue and her daughter Ruby Jo kept the gift shop open until Sue’s death, then Ruby continued the effort as long as Janathan, whom she calls Jodane, was alive to help her.

The morning I met with Ruby we sat in a swing out front of the two-story structure and talked about what it is like to live on the mountain. A lone semi roared by on its way south followed closely by a loaded logging truck, and I remarked about the oddity of that.

“Not so much as you’d think,” she said. “Some truckers prefer to drive this old highway. You know, Mama always said it was the truckers that kept our business alive all those years. And she was right. If people would decide to slow down and quit rushing around everywhere, it would save this place.”

We looked up into the blue sky at the tower once filled with people taking pictures and enjoying the view of the Boston Mountains. In 1933 Ed Sr. built a wooden tower. It had four decks and a sign on top that advertised Marathon Gas. In 1939 he began the steel structure that is there now. At its foot is a picturesque lake fed by 7 springs. Once a small train took visitors on a ride around that lake, but it’s gone now too.

“The tower has steps that need repaired so I don’t dare let anyone climb it,” Ruby said. “I can’t afford to keep the electricity on in the shop when no one stops anymore, but this is my home.” Ironic, since the Bellis family bought the first generator to bring electricity to the mountain top.

“So many rules and regulations,” she said. “I couldn’t keep it open if I wanted. We didn’t even have to have insurance back then. I understand regulations are needed today ‘cause there are people who don’t have common sense.”

She gazed across the highway at Burns Gables, rebuilt after the tragic fire, but now closed and boarded up. “Mark Osburn owns it now,” she explained. “He’s the grandson of John and Lavada Burns.”

There was a time when people took a weekend and drove to Mt. Gayler from Kansas City and other distant places. They came for the chicken dinners, the scenic drive and view, the offerings of the shop. Several girls were hired to help feed the crowds. They lived in one bedroom of the small house out back , and Ed Sr. and Stella lived in the other.

People stop on occasion and tell Ruby what a shame it is, and she knows exactly what they mean. Yet she perseveres, unwilling or unable to let go of her history and this home that is the only one she’s ever known.

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17 comments »

  1. A-M Daley says:

    Thanks for a great article! I am the granddaughter of John & Lavada Burns of the Burns Gables. If anyone has information on the current condition of Burns Gables or of the Bellis’s property (or if you have contact information for Ruby), I would love to hear from you.

  2. Lark Corbin says:

    I wonder if that might be some historic funding to help the Jenkins restore the tower and old building? You might check and see.

  3. Russ Allen says:

    We moved to Arkansas during the summer of 1967. My Uncle Pete & Aunt Laverne Moore lived on top of the mountain in a rock house just north of Burns Gables. Gaylor. They were the main reason for us to move there from Chicago. We bought a rock house about a mile or two south of Ruby’s home. I was a senior that year in Mt. Burg & RubyJo was a classmate. I missed seeing her at the most recent class reunion (Oct 5th, 2013).

    Yes, things have changed on the mountain. I remember very well how dangerous those roads were, but I wish more people took the time to go there. It’s a wonderful (magical?) place.

  4. Tony Chesser says:

    I am one of the many G. Grandsons of Henry Asbery Gayler and Bell Zora Smith Gayler. My Grandma “Carrie Elizabeth Gayler Robertson”, always told us that her family settled on Mt. Gayler, but she failed to tell us any more than that. I have been searching for ages for my Grandpa Henry’s parents and siblings… does anyone have any help for me?? Henry left home @ 16 years old, and never returned. Thanks… I’ll be waiting!!!

  5. Nikki Gayler Hunter says:

    Hello, my grandparents are Roy (Pete) and Pearl Gayler. I have been to Mt. Gayler only a couple of times and would love to go back and take my children. I hope soon. I wish you all the best Ruby.

  6. Toni Moreno says:

    I am one of James R. Gayler and Lois (Lancaster)Gayler’s granddaughter. I have been sharing previous emails I had with a Larry Gayler back in 2007 or 2008. The last correspondence I received was from a Cheryl Everett out of Arizona, regarding the 2006 reunion. Then there was a change in the webmaster and information re: 2008 reunion. My Aunt Sylvia Fae Anderson (Gayler) is my mom’s Shirley Mae Peters-VanNoy (Gayler) identical twin. My Aunt just moved back to Oaklahoma and I hope to get to one of these unions with both my mom and aunt in tow. God Bless the family and will trying to reach some of the emails addresses I seeing here.

  7. Charles says:

    Always , wondered what happened to the tower and store. We always stopped there on the way to Fayetteville. Unfortunately 540 makes the trip to Fayetteville much faster and safer.

  8. Therese Jenkins says:

    My husband and I have purchased the tower and are working to reopen it with a market we want to call Ruby Joe’s along with raising a rare breed of Devon cattle for the grass fed market. Wish us good fortune !

  9. nadene fine says:

    Hi -there is a Mt View Reunion for all the Gayler Family of Calvin Smith Gayler and Casandra Parrish Gayler and I believe his brother was a settler here ,in Gayler Mt –If interested in the reunion call Mark or Joy MC Candless 615-419 -8055 or jmarkmc@comcast.net
    Also realyfine1@yahoo.com 870 7572243 I will try to put times places in the leader after labor Day

    reunion is Thus Oct 11 thu Sun Oct 14 Look forward to seeing you there -come meet all you cousins you never meet or one you did .

  10. justin robert gayler says:

    Im from the arkansas gaylers, direct discendant of R.D. Gayler i have been there many times and would love to buy the burns gsble and do something with it. it is do beautiful out there

  11. Shelley Gayler says:

    I am a descendent of the AR Gaylers and always wanted to come see this tower. Gaylers have a big family reunion in Mountain View every other year and this is the year. I might be stopping by to check this out.

  12. Sherrill Patscheck says:

    My Grandmother was Mary Francis Gayler she married Powell Cornellius David can anyone give me any info

  13. What a sad story! I would love it if Mt. Gayler would open back up!

  14. Jason A. Gayler says:

    My parents and brothers took a vacation to visit family in Arkansas back in 1988 and we climbed the tower on that trip. I think I recorded from the top of the tower on video tape. We enjoyed visiting the store and getting to see a bit of our family history.

  15. Joe Griffin says:

    Sad to hear the story. Last evening we were looking back on some photos we took on holiday in the USA in ’95 and there were some of Mt Gayler. We climbed the tower to get some scenic views. Glad we did it when we had the chance.

    Best wishes and good luck to Ruby.

  16. Michelle Roller says:

    Whatever happened to the Rock Store that was up there? That man who ran the store was awesome.

  17. Michelle Roller says:

    I use to love to just drive up to Mt. Gayler. She’s right, we have gotten too caught up in hurrying.

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