Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” was born to Thomas and Mahala Cooper on January 14, 1861 in Lawrence County. She married John A . Rhea on July 3, 1876 and they had two children, Harry and Annie Lindsey “Linnie” After John died in 1893, she married James H. Turner and W. C. Burel. Lizzie died in 1925 and is buried in Lawrence Memorial Park, Walnut Ridge.
After a few years of hard struggles, Lizzie Rhea became one of Walnut Ridge’s most outstanding proprietors over the years. She owned a boarding house, countless acres of farmland plus the largest and most up-to-date hotel between Little Rock and St. Louis. Scores of Walnut Ridge businesses operated in her buildings including The Rhea Hotel.
Lizzie was not just known for her wealth but for her big-hearted, charitable disposition. Her sweet personality and pride made her a true southern woman. Lizzie’s struggles gave her first hand knowledge of what charity really meant and any person who was willing to help themselves were never dismissed without substantial assistance.
When Lizzie built The Rhea she was married to W. C. Burel, they ran it for more than 6 years with one objective – to make the Rhea famous for its service and hospitality. The Rhea stood in a class by itself.
Each room at the Rhea had hot & cold running water, steam heat, electric lights and the Rhea had two water closets (flushable toilets). The Rhea also had a sample room which was a room where traveling salesman to set up and show their wares.
In 1911, due to increasing responsibilities that demanded Lizzie’s attention, she leased the Rhea to Lennington & Powers of St. Louis. They were managing the hotel when it burnt on November 16, 1914.
Lizzie Cooper Rhea Burel was an outstanding woman. In 1912, she had two newspaper articles published about her business accomplishments in The Blade, J.C. Riley, Editor. In the early 1900s women were not considered great business women but Lizzie earned the articles entitled “Mrs. Elizabeth Burel Lawrence County’s Foremost Woman” and “Mrs. Elizabeth Burel Proprietress of the Rhea Hotel.”