Great Southern Hotel

The Great Southern Hotel, also known as the Rusher Hotel or Hotel Rusher, is a historic hotel building at 127 West Cedar Street near the town square in Brinkley (Monroe County), about seventy miles west of Memphis, Tennessee. Brinkley was an important railroad town in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The three-story brick building was constructed in 1915 to serve as Brinkley’s Union Station. Its main entrance originally faced the railway tracks but was reoriented to a street façade after the decline of the railroad. The Great Southern Hotel building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 18, 1986. The building is part of Brinkley’s Lick Skillet Railroad Work Station Historic District, which itself was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 1, 1992. The Great Southern Hotel building then became the home of Low’s Bridal and Formal Shop, which is one of the largest bridal shops in the United States, attracting far-flung clientele to Brinkley.

In 1872, the railroad section camp known as Lick Skillet was incorporated as Brinkley. The town was named in honor of railway official Robert Campbell (R. C.) Brinkley, who was president of the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad after the Civil War. The town’s Union Station was constructed in 1912 as a joint depot to be used by all railroads passing through Brinkley, which was an important rail center for both freight and passengers between Memphis and Little Rock (Pulaski County). (Cotton Belt passenger service through Brinkley ended in 1959, and the Rock Island Line’s passenger service ended in 1967.)

In 1909, a tornado destroyed much of Brinkley, severely damaging a building called the Arlington Hotel. The owner of the Arlington, a city alderman and German immigrant named Gus Rusher, rebuilt it but also made plans to construct a larger, more modern commercial hotel. In 1915, during the heyday of the nation’s railroads, the Hotel Rusher was opened to serve the town’s rail, business, and community clientele.

Completed in January 1915, the three-story brick and concrete Hotel Rusher had sixty rooms and cost $60,000. It was heralded as the crown jewel of the growing town, being both modern and fireproof. The opening night banquet hosted about 300 business, political, and social leaders from areas served by Brinkley’s railroads, including Helena (Phillips County), Hot Springs (Garland County), Little Rock, Memphis, Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), and St. Louis, Missouri. Elaborate and well furnished, it not only provided lodging for rail travelers, but also served as a kind of civic center for local organizations and large gatherings. It was kept busy almost immediately, with railroads passing through Brinkley moving a combined total of thirty passenger trains carrying 500 passengers per day.

However, with the decline of railroads after World War II, the flow of patrons from Brinkley’s Union Station to the Hotel Rusher was decimated. A local businessman acquired the hotel in the 1960s, renamed it the Malmar, and converted portions of the building into apartments, a bar, a barbershop, a liquor store, and a pool hall. In 1981, new owners restored what would be called the Great Southern Hotel, operating as a bed-and-breakfast inn.

The development of Brinkley’s Lick Skillet Railroad Work Station as a historic district brought about the restoration of the previously abandoned rail depot. Brinkley’s Union Station became the Central Delta Depot Museum. Operated by the Central Delta Historical Society, it features exhibits spotlighting the agricultural, cultural, natural, and social history of the Arkansas Delta region. Along with the train station and grounds, the historic district also includes the Great Southern Hotel.

In 1996, Low’s Bridal and Formal Shop relocated to the Great Southern Hotel building. Dorcas Low Prince re-purposed the bed-and-breakfast inn that her mother had run at the Great Southern Hotel. Low’s Bridal is the sole tenant, occupying both of the building’s two floors.

For additional information:
Gertler, Jessica. “Thousands Travel Near and Far to Purchase Wedding Gowns in Brinkley, AR.” WREG.com, January 30, 2015. http://wreg.com/2015/01/30/thousands-travel-near-and-far-to-purchase-wedding-gowns-in-brinkley-ar/ (accessed September 9, 2020).

“Rusher Hotel.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/MO0110.nr.pdf (accessed September 9, 2020).

O’Neill, Anne Cunningham. “Brinkley Means Bridal.” VIP Memphis, February 2009, p. 36.

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society

Last Updated: 09/09/2020