9/30/2011 at 12:00am
Renowned waterfowl artist Dick Bishop annually sketched Christmas cards for the Queenys. “Merry Christmas from Ethel and Edgar Queeny 1960” is lettered at the bottom on this card.
(Excerpts taken from “Arkansas Duck Hunter’s Almanac” by Steve Bowman and Steve Wright; and research and writing from Ralph Wilcox with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.)
The story of Edgar Monsanto Queeny and Wingmead is about one extremely wealthy, highly intelligent man’s love for ducks and Arkansas.
Located about eight miles south of De Vall’s Bluff and 4.5 miles northwest of Roe on Arkansas Highway 33, Wingmead is a 14,000-acre farm and estate built in 1939 as a hunting retreat for Queeny, then one of the richest men in America and a man who inherited the Monsanto Chemical Company and turned it from a small operation to a billion-dollar corporation.
Queeny’s “hunting shack” at Wingmead had 8,000 square feet, nine bedrooms, nine bathrooms and a separate dining room. Certainly no other place on the Grand Prairie at the time required formal dress for dinner. In addition to the main house, the estate included separate buildings for an office, a writing cabin, the manager’s house, a stable, a kennel, a garage and storage facilities.
Few other places could match the illustrious guest list here either. It included outdoor writer Nash Buckingham, legendary film animator Walt Disney, waterfowl artist Richard Bishop and countless leaders in American business.
After Queeny purchased the land, the reputation of Arkansas’ Grand Prairie duck hunting began a steady rise, and Wingmead became one of the world’s most famous hunting clubs. Today, the Wingmead estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A Successful Man
Edgar Queeny, born in 1897, was 22 when he went to work for Monsanto. His father had started the company in 1901 with only $5,000 in capital but saw great success four years later when World War I cut off German supplies of saccharin and greatly increased demands for all other chemicals.
Edgar Queeny started work at his father’s company as the advertising manager. When his father named him president in 1928, he was only 30 years old and had been with the company nine years.
Although his father was concerned that Queeny was “going to ruin Monsanto” because he “wants to change everything,” the opposite was the case.
By the time Queeny retired from Monsanto in 1960, it had become the third-largest chemical company in the country and the fifth largest in the world. It had 44 plants in the United States that manufactured chemicals, plastics, petroleum products and man-made fibers.
Meadow of Wings
Residents of St. Louis, Edgar and his wife, Ethel, began taking “travel-trailer” trips to Arkansas’ Grand Prairie in the early 1930s. Ethel is said to have been able to handle a shotgun almost as well as her husband.
But after several years of living in the trailer on trips to Arkansas, Ethel finally gave Edgar the ultimatum that if she was going to continue coming on the trips, Edgar was going to have to find better accommodations than the trailer.
Edgar soon began looking for property.
After hunting with Tippy LaCotts on Mill Bayou near DeWitt, Queeny tried to buy some land there.
Hard feelings still exist over the way Queeny purchased the 11,000 acres on LaGrue Bayou that became Wingmead.
Verne Tindall’s Reservoir, built in 1927 near Stuttgart, had created the wave of the future on the Grand Prairie. Rice production was on the rise, but the water table there was already showing signs of stress.
Irrigation wells had to be dug twice as deep as they were 30 years before. Tindall’s Reservoir had shown that ducks were also attracted to these shallow lakes built to hold water for rice irrigation.
That’s what most interested Queeny, the ducks. He formed Arkansas Irrigation Co. and proposed the construction of a 3,500-acre lake on LaGrue Bayou. Roger Crowe of Stuttgart helped put together the deal that gave Arkansas Irrigation the power of eminent domain. Several farmers in the Slovak area were forced to sell their land to make room for the new impoundment, which became Peckerwood Lake.
Ethel Queeny enjoyed putting the official titles on the Wingmead property. “Wingmead” refers to the “meadow of wings” the Grand Prairie becomes each year when ducks migrate.
Peckerwood Lake got its name from the thousands of woodpeckers that tapped out tunes on the acres of standing dead timber created when the lake was impounded.
Edgar Queeny built three green-tree reservoirs on the property – Wingmead, Greenwood and Paddlefoot. He allowed no outboard motors; the wooden boats and canoes had to be paddled or pushed through the shallow lakes.
Carl Hunter, who ran Wingmead for 20 years, believes Wingmead was possibly the first green-tree reservoir on the Grand Prairie. It was at least one of the first in which wooded areas, especially pin oak flats, are temporarily flooded to attract ducks. This recreates the setting that has attracted mallards to the overflow bottomlands of Arkansas for centuries.
Peckerwood Lake was used primarily as a rest area for waterfowl. Queeny enjoyed flooded timber hunting, not open water.
When all the construction was finished at Wingmead, Queeny literally had a place where he could step out of a mansion wearing his house slippers and kill a limit of ducks in some of the finest flooded timber hunting anywhere.
Experiments & Conservation
Throughout his time at Wingmead, Queeny took conservation and sound wildlife management practices very seriously. In 1957, he hired Hunter, a prominent Arkansas conservationist and wildlife writer on leave of absence from the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.
Ultimately, Hunter would manage not only the wildlife component of Wingmead, but the agricultural component as well. He stayed at Wingmead until Queeny’s death and then returned to AGFC.
He was keenly aware of Queeny’s priorities at the estate.
Recalled Hunter: “Mr. Queeny said, ‘Do what you want about the farming. Just make sure the hunting is good.’
“He wouldn’t walk off the porch to shoot the biggest deer in the woods. Ducks and quail – that was it.”
It was the perfect job for a hands-on wildlife biologist like Hunter. Queeny continued to experiment, and one of the first they tried was establishing Canadian geese, which were no longer migrating to the Grand Prairie in significant numbers.
Locally raised captive Canadian geese were placed in rest areas. Wild-trapped young geese were held in pens at Wingmead over the winter. With this imprinting, the flock of Canadian geese that migrated to Wingmead each year grew to as many as 2,000.
Hunter built up a population of 30 quail coveys on the property. Whether it was ducks, geese, quail or growing crops, Queeny was always willing to invest the money to try something new.
Although the conservation work completed at Wingmead from the 1930s until the late 1960s was important, one of the key reasons for its success was the knowledge and involvement of Queeny. His work and knowledge of waterfowl, particularly, was especially noteworthy in Arkansas.
The renowned nature writer Nash Buckingham even recognized Queeny’s importance early on. In the introduction to Queeny’s book “Cheechako,” Buckingham wrote, “It is good to have gunned with Edgar Queeny the man, and to have watched his steady trend toward a sportsmanship bent upon contributions of high value.”
Even though some changes have occurred at Wingmead since it was built in 1939, for the most part it still reflects the period in which Edgar Monsanto Queeny owned and visited the property. Even with the changes, if Queeny were to return to Wingmead today, he would have no problems recognizing the estate.
Conservation work at Wingmead continued up until Queeny’s death on July 7, 1968, and remained the property of his late wife, Ethel, until her death in 1975. After her passing, Wingmead became the property of Barnes Hospital, which announced that the estate would be sold by sealed bids on Jan. 8, 1976.
Rumors quickly started to spread about who might be interested in purchasing Wingmead, and they ranged from Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash to Anheuser-Busch.
However, Wingmead was ultimately purchased by the Lyon Family, and it is still owned by Frank Lyon Jr., and his wife, Laura Jane. In the time since the Lyons purchased Wingmead, they have continued to use the property as a farm and hunting retreat.
Today, Wingmead remains the premier farming and hunting estate in eastern Arkansas and a monument to the work and legacy of Edgar Monsanto Queeny.
—From the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form
Copies of the “Arkansas Duck Hunter’s Almanac“ are available at TheDuckSeason.com.