Ella and Joel Lambert

Farming Pioneer of Arkansas - compiled by Eddie Best

Motorists today who take Ella Drive off Highway 36 to Lambert Terrace have no idea of the unique history behind this quiet West Searcy residential area. Before it became Lambert Terrace, it was Lambert Oaks, a showplace that stood as a monument to the endurance and innovation of Ella Lambert and her children. Ella was one of the earliest businesswomen of White County and her family had a tremendous impact on agriculture in central Arkansas. She moved to Searcy from Holly Grove in 1903, one year after her husband Robert T. Lambert died, leaving her with six sons to raise. His forebears had come from Tennessee. They were headed for Texas when they hit the flat delta and decided to homestead at Maddox Bay, a hunting and fishing paradise on the lower White River. Robert's great great grandfather, Rev. Jordan Bennett Lambert, was the first minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church ever to preach in Monroe County. 

Rev. J.B. Lambert and his wife Judith Key settled on a 160-acre homestead, which they named Lamberton, 12 miles south of Holly Grove. They started a lineage that includes many successful descendants, among them a State Banking Commissioner (Beverly Joel Lambert Jr.) and a U.S. Senator (Blanche Lambert Lincoln). Joel Lambert, who was to become the first county agent for White County, was born at Lamberton on March 10, 1891. Joel was one of seven sons born between 1887 and 1900 to Robert and Ella and was resourceful. Once he bought 1,000 acres of land near Stuttgart for 15 cents an acre. When he was offered 25 cents per acre, he immediately sold, thinking he had realized a grand profit.

Ella's grandson Bob is unsure why Ella moved the family to Searcy, where she and her boys farmed and operated a dairy. However, one history reported that Ella and Robert had attended college in Searcy prior to their marriage, and she was anxious to expose her sons to the educational opportunities available here. According to the article, Upon arrival, she purchased a 65-acre farm on the outskirts of town. This land was later incorporated into the city of Searcy as Lambert Terrace Addition. Mrs. Lambert was an enterprising woman, keenly interested in all phases of farm life. Through self-study and experimentation, she acquired a wide knowledge of good agricultural practices. Her farm flourished, and she freely shared with others the methods and practices which had proved to be successful for her. Women sought her advice about vegetable gardening and methods of preserving the food from their gardens. By 1912, Mrs. Lambert had become well known for her knowledge of agriculture and for her ability to teach others to employ more progressive farm practices.

One of the dairy's customers was the Galloway Womens College. Joel did not like to milk and, being one of the older boys, he chose delivering milk to the girls college. Neither Joel nor the oldest brother, Henry, finished high school as they both went to work shortly before graduation. But Joel did take a business course in Memphis and a cotton grading course in 1910. Resourcefulness was a trait shared by Ella, Joel, Henry and others in the family. She was the first Canning Club agent in White County and was influential in her sons choosing agriculture for their careers.

At age 15 Joel was appointed Pig Club Agent. Then in 1908 and 09, the position was called Corn and Cotton Club Agent. Joel was only 18 years old when he was appointed County Agent of White County. His mothers work as Canning Club Agent was a first although it became widely known as Home Demonstration Work across the nation. Joel and Ella used a horse and buggy to drive throughout the county, carrying on the work of the Agriculture Division. Dr. Tait Butler, one of the founders of Progressive Farmer magazine, was a strong promoter of agricultural work during this time. Although he lived in Starkville, Mississippi, he was a personal advisor to Joel when he began his work. He started with the tick eradication program in 1909, then worked on building permanent pastures, pure-bred livestock, better seed for planting, diversified farming and other improvements. In 1914 Joel was appointed County Agent of Jefferson County, which required a move to Pine Bluff. He held that position until 1919 when he opened a mercantile business in Holly Grove with his brother Jordan. During vacation hours Joel enjoyed duck hunting and fishing and in those days, according to Bob Lambert, they went hunting in Model Ts and in wagons when the roads were too bad for cars. Since there was no limit on game and fish, when they went duck hunting they would bring back many, many ducks, place them in a huge pile on Main Street and tell everyone to help themselves. Also in regard to fishing of that day, they never spoke of how many fish they caught, as it was always I caught a sack full, meaning a tow-sack.

In 1923 Joel married Miriam Moorman Jones from La Grange, Tennessee, and started a family that included sons Joel Jr., Robert Jones and Walker. Robert or Bob managed his father's seed business, known as  Lambert Seed Company. The Great Depression brought an end to many of the Lamberts' business efforts and by 1934 Joel was working for the famous Dortch Plantation of Scott. Traveling over many states to sell the farm's unique Roldo Rowden cotton seed, he lived part-time in the home of the Robert L. Dortch family and commuted to Holly Grove. Together they worked on improved cattle breeding and better cotton, corn and soybeans. Ella's grandson Robert Jones Lambert presented his family story—The Lamberts of Lambert Oaks – to the White County Historical Society August 23, 1999. A member of the Society who now lives at Higden, Bob recalled The great flood of 1927 covered most of the delta of Arkansas, but Holly Grove was a high point and partially spared. When the flood of 1934 was forecast, they thought it might be bigger than the 27 flood – many people who lived in the lowlands came to Holly Grove to camp out, live in empty houses and the first floor of the Masonic Lodge. Joel and Miriam worked tirelessly cooking for the refugees and helping to provide the necessities. Bobby and Walker Lambert were sent to Grandmother Ella's home outside of Searcy. My brother and I had a most enjoyable stay – as it turned out, the floodwaters did not reach as high as forecast.

The trip in 1934 was the first long visit to Lambert Oaks in my memory. It was also the longest and we really had fun on the farm – we learned to do our chores. We got up before daylight with the rest of the family and ate a big breakfast. I remember that my uncle Robert T. ate the most. Grandmother taught us to take pride in our work. She said, If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. Grandmother Ella owned the 65 acres where the dairy was located. She managed the dairy until about 1945. She also owned 200 acres at 4-Mile Hill. There are two water tanks (part of the 4-Mile Hill Water Association) on the highest point. There were several springs on the 200 acres. One is said to have supplied a stagecoach stop. Another spring was said to have healing power and people came from far and wide to bathe in the spring. There were some cabins to rent there as people soaked up their aches and pains.

Joel built and maintained a 1,200-acre farm north of Holly Grove, raising cotton, corn, oats, soybeans, sorghum for silage for his 200 head of cattle, Aberdeen Angus and Whiteface Herefords. He enjoyed carrying out his farming plans and the 'practices he had preached' as county agent. He became a leader in cross-breeding cattle for increased hybrid vigor and faster weight gains. In 1946 Joel bought a franchise on a chemical cottonseed delinting plant which had to be established more than 50 miles from the Mississippi River. Consequently, he wound up at Newport. Joel was most interested in organizing and promoting two organizations, the Arkansas Seed Dealers and the Arkansas Seed Growers. He served as president for both organizations and was secretary of the Arkansas Seed Growers Association at the time of his death September 13, 1959. He was buried at Macedonia Cemetery at Holly Grove.

Years later, his son Bob found notes that Joel had prepared for a talk to the Seed Growers Association in the early 50s. In it he noted when he started his career the state had only seven full-time and eight part-time county agents. In January 1912 he attended a three-week lecture series in Fayetteville and was instructed on how to plan his work. He said he rode horseback over most of White County with saddlebags loaded with bulletins, and held meetings whenever he could get a few farmers together. 

In 1913, he wrote, my mother was put to work as Canning Club Agent. Tomatoes were the principal thing that she had in her 1/10-acre club. We drove … over most of the western half of White County. We usually left home Monday and didn't return until Friday or Saturday. We held at least three meetings a week and had to visit as many as 8 to 10 farmers every day. We had to be able to plow, milk and lead a bunch of hoe-hands into the field. His notes indicated he put on three County Fairs. Held the first County camp meeting of Corn Club Boys. We camped in the Fair Ground building part of three days and two nights. All dressed in overalls due to the class differences at that time. Members of the Department of Agriculture came from Washington to see how it would work. We fed the boys breakfast for 19 cents and lunch and supper for 36 cents. Each boy had to bring a cup, knife, fork, spoon, towel, blanket or quilt and we all slept on the floor.

Below Ella Lambert is shown in 1896 with her sons (clockwise, starting at top) Henry, Joel, Jordan and Lawrence plus one of Joel's 'Dusters' in use.

Joel was proud of the innovation he brought to his field. His notes said he brought in the first cotton duster to attempt to control boll weevils with calcium arsenic – a four-row duster pulled by four mules. He also says his county was the first to control hog cholera and anthrax, utilizing a program of vaccinations. After attending Yale University and the University of Arkansas, son Bob Lambert took over Joel,s cotton seed plant, and managed it for 20 years before going into aerial photography and sales. Ella Winston Lambert died June 4, 1946, and was buried at Valley Grove Cemetery south of Holly Grove. The beautiful Lambert Oaks where she brought her sons nearly a century ago was sold in April 1957. The 65 acres brought $32,500, a healthy sum at the time, and marked the beginning of the development of what is Lambert Terrace today.

The author was President, White County Historical Society 1998-2000
Photo courtesy Bob Lambert.