The Hustlerettes and the Lula Hotel

Straub, Virginia Merrifield. Phillips County Historical Quarterly. Volume 19, Number 3 & 4. June and September 1981. Published by The Phillips County Historical Society. Helena, Arkansas.

This story is taken directly from an article in the Phillips County Historical Quarterly that appeared in 1981.

In a series of articles for the Helena-West Helena Twin City Tribune, Ted Woods recently wrote about sports in Helena in the 1920s. One such article was about the revival of girl’s basketball with a powerhouse team known as the Hustlerettes in 1927 with Edna Campbell as coach.

Helena High School

Ted wrote:

“The first team after the revival of the sport featured Viola “Sissy” Rightor, at jump center, Peggy White and Cappi Rabb alternating at side center – are those terms confusing you?… the coach’s sister, Ruth Campbell and Charlene McCabe as forwards, and the Southard twins, Dorothy and Helena, at guards.”

“If memory serves correctly, only Sissy Rightor and Peggy were lost through graduation, and the Helena teams continued their domination of the Fifth District for another couple of years.”

This inspired a response from me as manager of the team for in retrospect I felt one of the Helena Hustlerettes greatest victories was not on the court but in the dressing room.  This was the first girl’s team to be allowed to have a uniform of shorts and jerseys replacing navy blue voluminous bloomers and white middy blouses.  Talk about Women’s Lib – this was it.”

“Another memorable victory was over Lula-Rich Consolidated School in 1928 or early 1929.”

Lula-Rich Consolidated School


“The Hustlerettes left Helena Friday afternoon from the Illinois Central Station transferring across the Mississippi River on the predecessor of the Steamer Pelican.  The railroad car was picked up on the Mississippi side by an engine and switched at Lula.”

“It was winter and the train was heated by a small pot bellied stove that the conductor kept stoked with coal, which put out quite a bit of soot.  You can believe that ladies in those days wore gloves to keep their hands clean as well as warm.”

“After a glorious victory, the team spent the night in the Lula Hotel which was upstairs over the drug store.  It had seven rooms, a bathroom, one telephone in the hall, and sheets that had not been changed since the hotel opened.  Just across the street were the Illinois Central tracks, along which the freight trains lumbered all night long.”

“Lots of complaints about not being able to sleep are heard to this day, but the truth is that the Helena Hustlers, the boy’s team, had played that night in Tunica and it was the phone calls back and forth that kept everyone awake, not the freight trains.”

“The poor landlady, a Mrs. Baker, had as her only other customer a traveling salesman from St. Louis whose name she invoked repeatedly in her futile efforts to quiet the Hustlerettes.”

“We checked out our recollections of that trip with Cappi Rabb Lindsey and Sissy Rightor Futcher, now of Philadelphia.”

“It was Sissy who told us that in celebration, the victory theme was ‘bringing home the bacon’ and that they bought a pound of bacon in Lula which the team cooked on the pot bellied stove on the trip home.”

“The Lula Hotel is no more and it’s just as well, but a generation of ladies remember it yet.”

When Dale Kirkman read this exchange of reminiscences in the Twin City Tribune, she asked if I knew anything more about the Lula Hotel since it’s existence was a surprise to her.

There was not a lot to know about the Lula Hotel even in the old days and a phone call to long time Lula resident Lillian Dowdy Hill, formerly of Helena, confirmed there is still not much to tell.

Because of road conditions in Mississippi and distances between towns, such small hotels must have been a godsend. Mississippi had few ‘hard roads’ until the 1940s; in the 1920s most were Mississippi mud and the better roads were gravel.  A trip to Memphis by car through Mississippi was not undertaken lightly.

Mary Mac (Eddins) Powell tells of a trip her father made with her as a year-old baby, her mother, a nurse, and a chauffeur. Just getting from the Helena ferry to Lula took so long Mr. Eddins was afraid they would not make Memphis by nightfall, so he left wife, nurse and baby to spend the night in the Lula Hotel while he and the chauffeur plowed on to Memphis in their open touring car.  Baby and her entourage came to Memphis by train the next day.

Most people of course took the train and changed in Lula along with many suitcases and the trunks necessary if the trip was to be of any duration.  Lula probably did not have the ‘red caps’, such sophistication being more likely in Memphis or New Orleans, but there were certainly people to move bags, and none of these little wheeled carts the weary traveller uses today.

The train form Helena, with an observation deck on the back such as presidential candidates always waved from, passed by the Powell Plantation on its way to Lula where passengers changed cars north to Memphis or south to New Orleans.  According to Lewis Powell who was born and lived most of his adult life there, the Powell store by the tracks had a ticket office for a time and they flagged the train if a passenger wanted to board.

Though not a notable structure, he did recall the Lula Hotel and it’s predecessor, the Craven House, a two story frame building also known as the “Green Beetle” for reasons requiring no editorial comment.  Miss Claudine, his mother, had to stay at Craven House on one occasion but found it not to her liking and moved hastily to the Lula Hotel.

Today Lula is no longer on a highway and trains carry no passengers.  Only the occasional freight train goes through, just often enough to keep motorists watchful.  And there’s a Holiday Inn just ten miles from the bridge in Helena.

I was amazed when I found this article about the Lula Hotel.  As a little boy, my Grandmother had a clothing business in the corner store under what was the Lula Hotel and next to the drug store.  Neither of those businesses were open back in the 1970’s, but the buildings weren’t in bad shape. In fact, the second story where the hotel was located housed a men’s club. A stair case was found between the post office and her store that was used to go upstairs.  Miss Hill lived down the street in a large white house and was actually my teacher in school. I grew up listening to stories about Lula and it’s past while sitting on the bench in front of my Grandmother’s store. I also watched the freight trains rumble up and down the tracks. My Father graduated at Lula-Rich High School and my Aunt Georgia Bell owned Lula Grocery.  Front Street was a busy place still and you could find anything you wanted to buy in town. There were two banks, several grocery stores, and a number of other businesses.  It was truly a nice place where kids played in the streets and most homes were unlocked.  The book mobile from Clarksdale came up and all the kids were excited to check out the newest Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew Mysteries. The churches were full on Sundays and the entire town shut down on Wednesday afternoons.  A number of years after the above article was written Illinois Central closed down the tracks running through Lula. The Holiday Inn mentioned at the end of the bridge in Helena was closed and today the site is home to the Arkansas Welcome Center. Helena and Lula have been family forever and continue to be. So much history in such a small town as Lula. So much history in the city of Helena So many memories. 

Straub, Virginia. “The Hustlerettes and the Lula Hotel.” Phillips County Historical Quarterly.  June and September 1981, The Phillips County Historical Society, Helena, Ark.




2 responses to “The Hustlerettes and the Lula Hotel”

  1. Martha BARBEE Young Avatar
    Martha BARBEE Young

    Very interesting!!! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cliff Dean Avatar

      Thank you. Found this story at work. Thought it was neat.


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