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Sulphur Springs has young history advocate

by DANIEL BEREZNICKI Special to the Eagle Observer | August 2, 2022 at 7:54 a.m.
Special to the Eagle Observer/DANIEL BEREZNICKI Joseph Cowan

SULPHUR SPRINGS -- Resident Joseph Cowan, 21, is enthused about his hometown of Sulphur Springs and is delving deep into his town's history, making finds that were long forgotten.

He posts his finds on the Facebook page, "Historic Sulphur Springs AR," and has 1,000-plus followers. The goal of the page? "Trying to get Sulphur (Springs) back on the map ... and bring the entire community together again."

Cowan is the administrator for the Facebook page. Initially, it was his own curiosity that fueled his research, but it was Sulphur Springs' unique qualities that moved him to create the page.

On his page, he posts different material on the history of the town. His posts have vintage photographs and handwritten letters from residents years ago. Followers of the page exchange stories

and relate their own experiences with the city. Many stories are like Cowan's own experience. His interests in the town began at an early age.

"I'd look out the front window every day growing up, seeing that giant building and wondering what it used to be," said Cowan. "It had to have been something big and important."

The building Cowan refers to is the Kihlberg Hotel.

According to the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas website: "The Kihlberg Hotel was built with an upper-class clientele in mind ... The hotel was constructed of native limestone and was five stories high, with 100 rooms."

Over the years, the building had changed from a hotel to a school and then to a military academy. The building overlooked the city until January 1940, when it caught on fire and burned. Now, all that remains is the two first floors.

"That's what started it. It was that building just sitting there," said Cowan. "A ginormous mystery every single day."

Since December 2020, Cowan has consistently posted new content about the city, even though it hasn't always been easy. You have to "dig deep" to find what you're looking for. His research process includes searching the web, visiting the Sulphur Springs Museum and tracking down longtime residents.

"I would go talk to other people who lived in Sulphur Springs in the '50s, '60s and '70s and ask: 'What do you know about this building or ... What are your memories?'"

Residents show him "artifacts" like family photos or other mementos to give him an idea of what life was like back then. Cowan also connects with other researchers via Facebook where they collaborate on any research they have conducted on the city.

Sometimes one project will lead him down another path. While doing research for a story at the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Cemetery, he stumbled across a gravestone of an important figure.

"I was walking around the cemetery just getting photos and stuff ready for the Sulphur Springs page and came across this little headstone that said: 'C.H.H.' and I knew instantly that was Charles Hibler."

Charles H. Hibler was the founder of Sulphur Springs.

According to his obituary on Arkansasgravestones.org, in 1885, C.H. Hibler "purchased the ground on which the park, springs and town of Sulphur Springs now stand." Many of his accomplishments include building and managing the Park Springs hotel and becoming the vice president of the Bank of Sulphur Springs. He also used his own resources to petition the Kansas City Southern Railway Company to have the railway come through Sulphur Springs.

Cowan took a moment to reflect on the work Charles H. Hibler did for the city and hopes one day the city will erect a memorial in his honor, even if it's "just a granite plaque."

He is proud of Sulphur Springs and will continue to post new content on the "Historic Sulphur Springs AR" page. He likes to see the community active and responding to his posts, even if they don't see eye-to-eye on some things. It still surprises him today that the page took off and has so much support. He says all the energy and effort he puts into the Facebook page comes from "a strong connection with that town and (he'll) never let go of that connection."

  photo  Special to the Eagle Observer/DANIEL BEREZNICKI This is the landmark building where the Kihlberg Hotel was once established. A fire in 1940 burned the building, which was a military academy by that time, and only two of the five floors remain today.
  photo  Special to the Eagle Observer/JOSEPH COWAN A headstone in the GAR Cemetery marks the grave of Charles H. Hibler, the founder of Sulphur Springs.

Print Headline: Sulphur Springs has young history advocate


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