Dusty Relics of Arkansas History
June 4-10, 2018
By Bob Denman
If you have lived in central Arkansas for any length of time you may have driven out Arch Street Pike towards East End, and know of the beautiful piece of property and building known as the Marylake Monastery. The beautiful stone building fronted by a serene lake is the perfect setting for the Carmalite friars to meditate on a daily basis.
Most people don’t know of the building’s troubled past.
The property was purchased in 1926 by the Shriners who constructed a beautiful stone clubhouse from granite quarried at Pinnacle Mountain and an 18-hole golf course. The Shriners Country Club opened with much fanfare in 1927.
Wealthy Little Rock residents enjoyed the drive out to attend dances in the ballroom and dine on the veranda that surrounded the building. The golf course had two island greens in the lake, likely one of the earliest examples of this now modern design feature. Everything was going great until the stock market crash of 1929. The club struggled through the depression and eventually defaulted on their $99,000 loan.
The property sold in 1937 to Dr. John R. Brinkley and this is where the story gets interesting. Many have called Brinkley the ‘Great American Charlatan.’ He was a radio pioneer and one of the first “border blasters” operating a 50,000 watt radio station in Del Rio, Texas selling everything from Life Insurance to autographed pictures of Jesus Christ. Dr. Brinkley also operated a series of hospitals in Kansas and Texas and touted his cure for male impotence, implanting the organs of the common goat into his male patients. Running from both the law and unhappy patients, he eventually made his way to Little Rock where he purchased the old Shriners Country Club along with the St. Luke Hospital at the corner of 20th and Schiller. It was here that he kept his goats, with his $750 surgeries performed at both Little Rock locations. All patients recuperated at the Brinkley Country Club Hospital, the former Shriners Country Club, for a minimum of one week.
The American Medical Association eventually exposed his procedure as nothing more than a partial vasectomy treated with drugs found to be nothing more than colored water.
Civil suits and judgments followed and Brinkley eventually declared bankruptcy. Shortly after, Brinkley, his wife and a number of associates were indicted for mail fraud. Brinkley died before he could be brought to trial.
The Carmalite friars eventually bought the property in 1951, turned the old clubhouse ballroom into a chapel and converted Brinkley’s patient rooms to living quarters. Pine trees were planted on the old golf course, all but eliminating any evidence that the course ever existed.
The checkered past of today’s todays idealic Marylake Monastery is a Dusty Relic of Arkansas History.
A view of the Monastery, which opened its doors in 1951. (Gayle Nicholson, https://bit.ly/2JdLsvu)