Lady of the Lake

Martha McKay's love affair with Arkansas' iconic Horseshoe Plantation.



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Martha McKay stands at the foot of the sweeping staircase in the Snowden House entry hall. This grand space didn't exist in the original house her grandfather built; it's one of the most impressive features of the 1949 renovation. The crystal chandelier and massive gilt mirror cam from teh family's original Memphis home, Ashlar Hall, along with other pieces throughout the house. - photograph by Jack Kenner

“50 years behind the rest of the world”

Horseshoe Lake today — the community — seems a place suspended in time. A visit in October revealed dozens of homes for sale, ranging from older cottages within the town to modern showplaces around the lake.

It takes a certain kind of person to live there. A love of nature and an appreciation for the area’s intense isolation come first. But it’s a town with a tiny library and no post office. A fire department but no police department. No banks, doctors, or dentists. Some cell phones won’t work there. And the only eatery is a restaurant tucked away in the back of Bond’s, a combination gas station, grocery store, and bait shop on Highway 147, the main road into the community.

“They have music and stuff there,” says Nikki Walker. “My husband used to say, ‘Where else can you go to a restaurant behind a service station and get a glass of wine for $7.50?’” Another restaurant on the edge of town, the Horseshoe Café, until recently offered “Backwoods Bayou BBQ and Burgers” but it now sits empty.

Other than the lake, entertainment options are limited. When asked what it’s like to live there in the winter, when it’s too cold to venture out on the water, Walker says, “Well, we have parties to keep ourselves entertained.”

But there’s no denying that Horseshoe has special charms. After all, as the turtle-decorated sign on the main highway says as you approach the lake, “Live Life Slowly at Horseshoe.” Several artists still live here and there, and McKay’s cousin, Barbara McKee — the only other Snowden family member at Horseshoe — runs the Plantation Gallery, offering paintings and pottery, in a brick building that once served as the Horseshoe Plantation offices. Everyone waves as you drive by. And forget about house numbers and addresses. A visitor asking directions to the library is told to “go out on the big road and look for the little house next to the pile of burned leaves.”

Looking for a second home? It’s a buyer’s market at Horseshoe, where it’s possible to buy lakefront property for $21,000 (house not included). And the fishing is quite fine, with the lake just teeming with bream and bass. Photographer Jack Kenner laughs about the time he recommended a favorite fishing spot to a friend, who promptly caught a 65-pound grass carp — a world record, certified by the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.

Kenner seems positively enchanted with “the bliss of the lake and countryside.” He’s currently putting together an exhibit, “The Horseshoe Lake, Arkansas, Delta Project 2012,” which will go on display at the Arkansas Gallery in Little Rock in 2014. In his artist’s statement about the collection, he says, “The Arkansas Delta is nearly devoid of people during the week — and most weekends — except for the occasional farmer riding a tractor or a diehard fisherman trying his luck. Mornings and afternoons, I would wander the lake, fields, and roads in total solitude, capturing whatever the light provided.”

Jennifer Sexton runs the one-room library that’s open two days a week. She moved here several years ago with her husband, after working as a carriage driver on Beale Street. “I lived in Memphis for years, but came here to escape all the stress,” she says. “Horseshoe Lake is about 50 years behind the rest of the world, but that’s why I like it.”

For more views of the Snowden House, visit the Hobson Realtors website.

Reader Comments:
Aug 1, 2013 06:16 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Thank you for the wonderful history of Horseshoe. I recently visited with my family while returning from a family vacation. We took the exit to Horseshoe not really knowing what to expect. What a paradise, I would love to live there. Beautiful homes and the Snowden Family Mansion is like visiting a different era. What wonderful parties they must have held in that home. We stopped by a small antique shop, had lunch and spent hours exploring the area. I have research Horseshoe since being home and the Snowden family. The history of the lake is wonderful and warming. The Snowden family gave much to the city of Memphis and the farmland that surrounds the area. I read that at one time the Snowden Family Farms began in Memphis and stretched for hundreds of miles into Mississippi and Arkansas. One interesting fact was the wedding gift to Mrs. Snowden by her father of the Peabody Hotel. What a thank you note she must have written. I gather that some of the Snowden family still live in the area, but most have moved to others parts of the country. I guess Cotton was really King once upon a time, and apparently very profitable to be able to live like a king.

Nancy Harberson

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