Monday, January 20, 2014

NY Times on 'renaissance' vision for Wilson, Ark.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 20, 2014 at 8:04 AM

SPRUCING UP: A new owner is bringing an infusion of ideas and money to the Tudor-inspired Delta town of Wilson. - WIKIPEDIA
  • Wikipedia
  • SPRUCING UP: A new owner is bringing an infusion of ideas and money to the Tudor-inspired Delta town of Wilson.

The New York Times today reports on a dream of a renaissance for the Delta town of Wilson, Ark., once the seat of the vast Wilson family plantation.

Plantation wealth built the company town with Tudor buildings and huge homes. Years passed and the holdings passed into other hands, sold by heirs for $110 million in 2010.

The new owner has plans to turn Wilson into what the Times' described as a "beacon of arts, culture and education."

It might seem a far-fetched notion, except that the man who bought it is Gaylon Lawrence Jr., 52, whose extensive financial holdings include more than 165,000 acres of farmland in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi; five banks; the world’s largest privately owned air conditioning distributor, USAir Conditioning Distributor; and a major citrus operation in Florida.

He's invested plenty in sprucing up Wilson, including luring a Memphis chef to open a fancy cafe with $14 hamburgers.

There are plans for a private academy in a former plantation home and a museum is to open in 2016 on the town square to showcase pottery from a pre-Columbian archaeological dig.

There are plans for concerts and British car shows and an artists’ co-op. And Mr. Faulkner is working with the family of Johnny Cash, hoping it will allow the town to rename its little theater in honor of the musician, whose childhood home is 13 miles away in Dyess.

All of it will be set amid a handful of stately mansions and Tudor buildings, most of which were built after one of Mr. Wilson’s sons came back from a honeymoon trip to England in the 1920s.

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