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Mt. Gayler Deserted By All But One


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.



  1. Charles Preston says:

    I grew up in Ft. Smith, and remember many exciting trips to Mt. Gayler and Burns Gables with my parents (now both deceased) in the 1950s and early 1960s. I’ve lived around the country and world since, and am currently working as a wildlife biology professor/curator near Yellowstone. I will retire soon, and my wife and I plan to spend our summers here in our cabin near Yellowstone and our winters near Mt. Gayler, as soon as we can find the right home to buy overlooking Lake Ft. Smith. We just visited the area again last week. In all the world, these are our two favorite places.

  2. Yevette Whittlesey says:

    My Grandma and Grandpa lived in the log cabin just north of Burns- Gables on the same side of road for almost 30 years! Spent many vacations with them in the 70’s and 80’s and always climbed that tower and visited both gift stores. There used to be a great cafe that served pies right next to that filling station too-my grandpa would take me for a slice on Saturday, before it burned down. I knew Mary Lou the owner of Burns-Gables during that time, she was a very nice lady. I sure miss those days, would always hear the rumbling of 18 wheelers as I fell to sleep-very fond memories.

  3. buddy budd says:

    V H Carter lived at Mt Gaylor when I was a kid

    saw him in japan in about 1953 I was in Navy on a air force base flying in and out of korea

  4. Caroline Cockrell Wied says:

    I left out my grandmother’s last name- she was Dura Brokaw Cockrell.

  5. Caroline Cockrell Wied says:

    My summers in the 1950’s were all spent at my grandmother’s rock house on the top of the mountain called Winslow Heights. My grandmother was Dura Brokaw and my father was her only son. Those were the happiest times of my life. My parents knew your parents, Ruby, and I even have a photo of you and I sitting on my grandma’s steps. We played together as we were about the same age. I loved to go to the store and ride the little train around the little lake ( have photos of that also). My dream has always been to live there but am still stuck in Texas due to husband’s job. Best of luck to you and maybe I’ll get back to the mountains I love so much some day.

  6. Bill Robertson says:

    Oh Lord; so many memories flooding in thinking about traveling up to Joplin, Missouri over Mount Gayler from Ft. Smith, Arkansas. The beauty of the Ozarks were unmatched by anything else. As a 10 year old I road the train around the little pond. A breathless ‘wow’. I am going to have to make a trip up there soon. I am so happy that I stumbled upon this article. Thank you.

  7. Ronald Gayler says:

    I have managed to trace the name back in time to the early thirteen hundreds in Cornwall England. There are a few Gaylers in Germany some in Switzeland but none date as far back as in England. It is possible and highly likely that the name is Anglo Saxon which would go as far back to the 700 0r 900s AD in England. The two biggest communities are in England and in the USA which would all add up. Most Gaylers originate in or around London and the home counties. The first people sent to Virginia, Carolina etc came from around the London ports. Colonies were formed in Roanoak and James town, slaves in all but name. Harsh times many dying fighting to gain a foothold to what is now your lovely country. A good book to read is White Cargo, the forgotton history of Britains white slaves in America, written by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, ISBN 9781845961954 in it is the name of Sam Gayler. The first ships left England in 1578,

  8. samadhi45 says:

    My mom’s cousin Larry Gayler organized all the reunions for many years until he died. Then the reunions went to every 2 years. Larry said the original spelling is Goehler, being German. At some point the ‘O’ was added, along with various other spellings.

  9. Kathy Landrith says:

    My parents used to drive my sister and me to Mt. Gayler about once or twice a year. My dad and I would climb the tower. I loved it, but the last time we went there I suddenly became terrified to climb any further. I couldn’t go up or down for a few minutes. Finally I was able to get back down, taking each step on my rear end. I have been afraid of heights ever since. I’m 58 now. Funny how the mind works. I still to this day wonder what happened on that tower. I may never know. But I sure have enjoyed reading the history. It brings back good memories. My mom and sister have both passed away, and I am taking care of my dad. Sometimes I wish I could re-live those times. I would definitely appreciate them even more now. Thanks so much for sharing.

  10. Laura Cole says:

    Mt. Gayler is a very historic place. I wonder if anyone has tried to get the area on the National Historic registry. Or if Arkansas has it’s own Historic Registry, maybe get on that one.
    Also, check with the Arkansas Department of Tourism or the National Parks and Recreation Department to see if there are any type of grants or such that might help restore these magnificent buildings and the Tower.
    Mt. Gayler is a legacy of two families that helped shaped NW Arkansas.Surely there is some program out there that can help with this.
    Or failing that, perhaps start a Go Fund to help rebuild.

    I would not mind to help do some of the viability researching and stuff on these programs. Mt. Gayler is a nice slice of my childhood, a place my parents always made a point of stopping at when going through the area. I would hate to see it simply disappear.

  11. George Gayler says:

    i never knew i had such a large family of gaylers in the usa.i will stay in touch with this site and hope you get it
    up and running,
    best of luck to you all.
    ps i mean the project.
    regards GGayler.

  12. Ronald Gayler says:

    I am a Gayler from London England, Just looking on the internet and this came up what a surprise and a great shame for Mt Gayler. We should all meet up there one day and try to put it back on the map. The spelling of Gayler has altered over time as most people from the very old days were illiterate and could not spell. Whoever recorded names made a guess, you have Gaylor, Gayle, Gayler even Gailer. Most with spelling Gayle are from Jamacia. We all go back very far and a Sam Gayler from Southwark in London was one of the first to be shipped off to Virginia as a 15 year old. He died on ship and was recorded as such. Long before the Mayflower. I will make a trip to Mt Gayler and see the beauty for myself.

  13. Sarah Crandell says:

    I see the comment left by Therese Jenkins in Sept of 2012. I drove past the property in June of this year and the whole place appeared abandoned. Wondering what happened to her plans.

    It makes me sad. My grandparents used to – and now father does – live in Texas. Coming from Iowa, the only way I ever go down is on 71 (for the view). I fantasize every time I go by the rock buildings about buying them and renovating/reopening.

  14. Chris says:

    It was a pleasure reading this article. I had never heard of Mt. Gaylor or Burns Gable until today. Upon my grandfather’s death, I was looking through an old scrapbook and found pictures, an old ticket for 4 nights in cabin 13, and some notes about how beautiful the area was. This was where my grandfather and grandmother spent their honeymoon in 1946. I wools like to take a little sentimental journey to the area. I would love to hear from someone about the condition of the cabins or the restaurant he mentioned in his notes. Thanks.

  15. sheree click Espera says:

    My name is Sheree and I live in Gadsden, Al and am a g.g. granddaughter of John Baptist Gaylor. I live on land that he lived on and am interested in info about other family members.

  16. Shahone Gayler says:

    My Family came from the Gadsen Gayler’s,decendants from John Baptist Gayler, his father was Allen Gaylor, his father was Jesse Gaylor and Julia York. I was wondering if anyone is related?

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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!!!

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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 !

  25. 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
    Also 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 .

  26. 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

  27. 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.

  28. Sherrill Patscheck says:

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

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

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. Michelle Roller says:

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

  33. 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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