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The Old Grotto Country Club
Remains Of The Grotto
All That Remains
All that remains of the Amrita Country Club now is a pile of rocks. The club was built around 1924 in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas at the base of the beautiful Boston Mountains where I spent part of my childhood. It was just a short distance from my grandparent’s house in the country between the two small towns of Alma and Mountainburg in Crawford County.
I had heard them speak of a place called The Grotto many times but didn’t know the property was owned by one of my cousins, Dorinda Mitch. Upon this discovery I decided to find out a little more about the historic site. She said it had burnt down around 1930.
I also learned it was several local Masons that were responsible for building the country club there. They had enjoyed regular outings in these foothills where they spent enjoyable weekends along the streams. The result was the purchase of 40 acres in Lancaster Township for $500. On July 4, 1925, the new country club was opened by the Amrita Grotto Masons at a cost of $24,000.
The Country Club became a haven for the Masons and their families. A train ran through the valley below the Grotto property which people rode from miles around to get there. They would then climb the steep stairs from the valley, up the cliff to the club. There was a large stone lodge and guest cottages. There were also a golf course and zoo. Of course, they could also swim in the creek but that meant another climb down the cliff to get to the creek. There was even a bootlegger's still located in a cabin on the property where liquor was made to serve guests.
Not only did members of Amrita Grotto use the facilities for entertaining friends and family, but each summer under-privileged youngsters, were given outings as guests of Amrita.
On a weekend in August 1929, 60 of these youngsters, all boys, were treated to a three-day outing, with swimming, hiking, camping and other programs planned for each night of the camp. They learned about birds, stars and other subjects.
It Was A Busy Place
The Grotto County Club was a busy place until it closed down and burned. Dorinda remembered many details of the ornately designed club. Her family acquired the property when she was a young girl when the bank foreclosed on the property around 1935.
She remembered the lodge building well and described it in detail. The Grotto building was built around a large open room with two large stone fireplaces, one on each end. This large downstairs room with field stone walls was used as a dance floor made of beautiful hardwood. The interior was very rustic and the club was still furnished when they acquired it.
Above the dance floor was a second-floor mezzanine, she recalled, with large ladies and men's restrooms, with 15 stools and sinks in each one. You could see the dance floor from this vantage point. The kitchen wing contained the large dining room and contained two bedrooms for the staff.
Dorinda and her family moved into one of the bedrooms in the kitchen wing on the first floor when they bought the property. She remembers the kitchen was very large, with tables painted bright orange.
There was an old buggy, parked in a shed she and her sister played on. A huge, stone water fountain was in front of the building and there was also a 30-foot water tank, which was filled from the creek.
There were eight cottages, each containing two rooms and a porch. The Mitch's restored one of the cottages and later moved into it. There is only one cottage and the bootlegger's cabin on the property now. The railroad still runs along below the bluff, now overgrown with brush and tall trees.
Several stories are told about the Grotto. A six or seven year old boy, Lloyd Brammer, used to take butter and eggs to the club to sell and fell from a swinging bridge that was out behind the club. Another man recounted a story about his grandfather, who was offered $5 to bring a wildcat to the club for the zoo. He and his wife trapped a wildcat, shoved it into two tow sacks, and took it to the club to claim their money.
Eventually, thieves scavenged the club's furnishings and the roof caved in. Then there was another fire. The ruins were pushed over the cliff on the back of the property around 1979 to prevent people from entering it and being injured.
It’s hidden from sight now, but once found, it brings back visions of a bygone era with handsome gentlemen and ladies in party attire. You can almost hear the sound of a dance band drifting through the trees.