Archive for the ‘Traveling Arkansas’ Category

From Earle into Cross County

Friday, January 21st, 2022

FOURTH IN A SERIES

Josiah Francis Earle was born in North Carolina in September 1828, the son of a man who owned trade ships that operated in the Atlantic Ocean between the United States and the West Indies.

“He moved to Arkansas as a young man, settling in Crittenden County,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University. “He appeared on an 1850 listing of residents in Proctor Township in Crittenden County as a laborer. His mother also appeared on the list. In 1860, Earle appeared in the federal census as a court clerk with real estate valued at $5,000. Enlisting into Arkansas service at Marion on June 3, 1861, soon after the Civil War began, Earle was elected captain of his company, the Crittenden Rangers.

“The company enlisted into Confederate service on July 29, 1861, in Pocahontas. Originally Company C of the Sixth Arkansas Cavalry Battalion, the unit served in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi, seeing action at a number of battles. After the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, the battalion was disbanded, and part of the company was transferred to the Helena Artillery. The remainder became Company A of the Second Arkansas Cavalry.”

Earle continued to serve until resigning due to health reasons in 1863. He returned to Arkansas and later organized a company of Confederate cavalry in northeast Arkansas.

“Much of his time spent in the area focused on finding deserters and avoiding Union patrols and steamboats along the Mississippi,” Sesser writes. “At the conclusion of the war, Earle surrendered with his company at Wittsburg in Cross County. … Returning home, Earle married Louisa Burrus Richards on Nov. 15, 1865. The couple had four sons and two daughters with both daughters and one son surviving into adulthood.

“After the war, Earle became a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan in eastern Arkansas and western Tennessee. According to lore, Earle was captured in Tennessee and ordered to be hanged. After he was transported across the Mississippi River to Hopefield in Crittenden County, a group of fellow Klansmen rescued him. Earle became a significant landowner in western Crittenden County.”

Earle died in March 1884. I’m in Earle, the town named for him, on my trip across Arkansas on U.S. Highway 64.

The town named for this former Confederate officer and KKK member is now 72 percent black. Its population has declined from 3,517 in the 1980 census to 2,129 in the 2020 census.

“The history of Earle is really that of two towns — Earle and Norvell — which grew alongside each other for decades and were separated only by a boundary line running down present-day Ruth Street in Earle,” Adam Miller writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Both towns arose as a result of the timber industry boom following the Civil War and shared most of the same civic and business leaders.

“In 1888, a railroad line through the southern part of Earle was established, which benefited Earle more than its smaller neighbor, as the route of the railroad bypassed Norvell entirely. Talks of merging the two towns lingered for more than 60 years until Norvell was formally annexed by Earle in 1978. Prior to annexation, Earle shared municipal services and improvements with its smaller neighbor.”

When the railroad came through Earle in 1888, Josiah Francis Earle’s widow built a depot to encourage trains to stop. The most recent depot, which was built in 1922 and abandoned in the 1960s, is now a museum.

“Dr. James Throgmorton was a Norvell physician who once documented the sheer abundance of timber in the area and described the then sparsely populated land around Earle as a dense forest that was inhabited by bears, panthers and wolves until the late 1880s,” Miller writes. “This supply of timber brought rapid growth and prosperity to Earle and Norvell. Access to the railroad and the Tyronza River west of town provided reliable modes of transportation.

“Timber-related firms that once operated in Earle and Norvell included the Tyronza Lumber Co., the W.G. English sawmill, the C.T. Whitman Lumber Co., the Crittenden Lumber Co., the Boston Lumber Co. and the Earle Cooperage Co. Wynne businessman Luther Wallin moved to Earle in about 1900 and had extensive lumber interests through the area and three lumber mills in Crittenden County. His Earle sawmill closed in 1957 shortly after his death and was the last to operate in Earle.”

The Tyronza Lumber Co. mill had a daily capacity of 40,000 board feet. That mill closed in 1913.

The Lasater & Bailor stave mill, meanwhile, was on the banks of the river. Though it’s now little more than a drainage ditch, the Tyronza River once served as an important corridor into this area. The river often was used to float logs to sawmills.

“It no longer resembles the stream that it was up until the early 20th century as it has been channelized, ditched and had its meander loops cut off,” Cindy Grisham writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Before the formation of levee and drainage districts in the late 19th century that rerouted and channelized existing streams, the Tyronza rose out of a body of water called Carson Lake southwest of Osceola. From there, it flowed across low, swampy land, a region that locals referred to as the ‘scatters of Tyronza,’ into Tyronza Lake before narrowing down into the regular path it followed to the St. Francis River.

“Tyronza Lake was simply a widening of the river channel, probably as a result of the land falling during the series of earthquakes that occurred along the New Madrid fault line in 1811-12. Both Carson Lake and Tyronza Lake have since been drained and are used for agricultural land.”

Miller writes: “Population was sparse until the 1880s when the eyes of timber interests turned to eastern Arkansas and the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad built its line just south of Earle. A community that went by the names of Brown (named for Tom Brown, an early settler) and New Earle finally bore the name of Dr. Ben Norvell Sr., a town leader. Norvell was formally incorporated in 1904. Earle was incorporated in 1905 and remained the largest town in Crittenden County until it was surpassed by West Memphis in 1940.

“Norvell had a peak population of 522 in 1920, but its population growth was always overshadowed by Earle. Norvell lacked access to the railroad, and in an age when railroads determined the flow of commerce, the town’s best hope was to share in Earle’s prosperity.”

For a time, the Earle post office was in Norvell at a general store owned by brothers John and Jacob Watt.

“W.M. ‘Grat’ Brown, who owned property in Earle, wanted the post office moved, presumably to his property,” Miller writes. “Brown was fatally shot by John Watt on July 21, 1904. Watt claimed he shot Brown in self-defense and was acquitted at his trial even though Brown’s gun was never located. Many years later, Ben Norvell III found a fully loaded and cocked pistol inside a stump near the site of the shooting. That allegedly was Brown’s pistol, hidden there by a lady friend of Brown after he was killed.”

Miller says Norvell had “a handful of stores, saloons, a small mattress factory and a two-story hotel. Due to the terrain and perennial flooding problems, an elevated boardwalk was built along Norvell’s business district. It extended across a marsh into Earle, providing the only passable connection between the towns during inclement weather.”

Because Earle was the largest town in Crittenden County, Earle civic leaders dubbed it the “Pearl of the St. Francis.” As the hardwood timber was cleared and the forests were replaced by fields of cotton, gins and a compress facility were built at Earle.

“In 1908, Earle had a semiprofessional baseball team that played twice weekly,” Miller writes. “Starting in the 1920s, the Earle Cardinals professional basketball team played and brought national acclaim for its exceptional five-year record of 204 wins in 221 games. Earle High School began playing football in 1920 and was the first school system in Crittenden County to field a team.”

The Earle School District was established in 1919.

“The three-story brick structure that would later become Earle High School was built during this time and served as a junior-senior high school,” Miller writes. “During the next several decades, Works Progress Administration projects and other construction expanded the school until the district occupied three city blocks. During this time, the district operated numerous wing schools that served black students.

“The primary black school for the district was Dunbar High School, which was just north of the Earle School District facilities attended by whites. Integration commenced in the 1960s. Earle High School moved to a new facility on the east side of town in 1999. President Bill Clinton spoke at the dedication ceremony for the school.”

Like many Delta towns, Earle has a troubled history of race relations. In 1918, a black farm worker named Elton Mitchell was hanged by a mob for allegedly shooting and wounding the wife of a cotton planter.

“Mitchell’s personal history is a bit confusing with public records placing him in several adjacent counties in northeast Arkansas and northwest Mississippi,” Nancy Snell Griffith writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The Pine Bluff Daily Graphic reported that on June 12, 1918, Mitchell shot and wounded the wife of W.M. Langston. This is probably Earle resident William Monroe Langston, a farmer. His wife was listed as Peachie Maude Langston.

“According to the Graphic, Mitchell approached the Langstons in their garden to discuss a dispute over plowing. He was armed with a revolver, and when Mrs. Langston tried to run into the house, he shot her in the hip. W.M. Langton then got a shotgun, and the two exchanged fire. Mitchell’s shots missed, but Langston managed to wound him. Mitchell then ran to the farm of a black planter near Grassy Lake, three miles from Earle.”

Mitchell was advised by the planter to hide in the woods. The planter then went into Earle and told authorities where Mitchell was.

“On June 13, a posse approached Mitchell’s hiding place, and he fired on them,” Griffith writes. “They returned fire, killing him. Mrs. Langston was expected to live, which she apparently did. By 1920, she was living in Earle with her husband.”

In 1936, Earle town marshal Paul D. Peacher used the occasion of a strike by the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union to begin making arrests for vagrancy.

“Townsend S. Mitchell, Earle’s mayor and acting justice of the peace, then put 13 of the men Peacher arrested on trial, which was really no more than a sentencing,” Miller writes. “The men were found guilty of vagrancy and were sentenced to a fine and 30 days of labor on land worked by Peacher. This practice of debt repayment through peonage was common and had persisted in some places throughout the South since the end of the Civil War.”

The incident came to the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice. Peacher was found guilty in 1936 of violating an 1866 slave-kidnapping statute.

In 1970, Earle erupted again over school conditions.

“A group of unarmed black protestors was marching toward city hall to complain about inequality in segregated schools when a group of armed whites attacked them,” Miller writes. “This followed a student protest just a few days prior during which black children had been arrested.”

Probably the most famous person to have grown up in the Earle area was Carroll Cloar, a painter whose landscapes were based on memories of his childhood in the area. Cloar was born in January 1913 on a farm about 10 miles north of Earle. He had three brothers and one sister, and spent his childhood on his parents’ cotton farm. He moved to Memphis at age 17 and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from what’s now Rhodes College.

“After graduating in 1934, he traveled to Europe for a carefree vacation, then returned to Memphis and enrolled at the Memphis Academy of Art,” Erin Branham writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “He studied there with painter George Oberteuffer.

“In 1936, Cloar moved to New York and attended the Art Students League, studying under Arnold Blanch, William McNulty and Harry Sternberg. Cloar focused on drawing with an ambition to be a comic strip artist. Teacher Ernest Fiene gave him his first experience with oil painting. It was at this time that Cloar also became interested in lithography, a printing method that allows the artist to draw on a flat stone.”

Cloar used family photos to create a series of lithographic prints from 1938-40. While in Mexico City in 1941, Cloar began to use his Arkansas heritage as a basis for his work.

Cloar joined the U.S. Army Air Corps at the start of World War II and served in the Pacific, often painting pin-up girls on the noses of bombers.

In 1948, Life magazine did a spread on Cloar headlined “Backwoods Boyhood.” He returned to Memphis in 1953.

“Cloar continued to produce paintings for the rest of his life, working in casein tempera — and later acrylic — on large canvases, depicting images drawn from photographs and his own memories,” Branham writes. “Cloar’s work almost always contains a strong narrative strain, and even if the story being told is not straightforward, its power can be sensed in the mysteriousness of the circumstances, whether that be a tree full of panthers or a football team lining up against an unseen opponent. His style has been described as both primitive and progressively modern.”

Cloar committed suicide in April 1993 after a long battle with cancer. His ashes were scattered across the former family farm near Earle.

Leaving Earle, I cross into Cross County as I head west on U.S. 64. It won’t be long until I’m climbing Crowley’s Ridge.

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Heading toward Earle

Thursday, January 20th, 2022

THIRD IN A SERIES

Levees and drainage districts have played a major role in the development of Crittenden County, where we’re beginning our trip across the state on U.S. Highway 64.

“An act of Congress in 1850 created the first organized efforts toward levee construction as well as the donation of about 8.6 million acres of swampland to Arkansas to be sold to make levee and drainage systems possible,” says well-known Arkansas writer Grif Stockley. “By 1852, a three-foot levee had been developed along the Mississippi River for most of the county’s border. It wasn’t until 1893, however, that major flood-control efforts resulted in the Arkansas Legislature’s creation of the St. Francis Levee District. Bonds were issued, and a levee had been constructed almost from the Missouri state line to Crittenden County in 1897 when spring floods turned the county into what one writer called ‘a perfect Venice.’

“Though there have been no Mississippi River levee breaks since 1927, the floods of 1927 and 1937 rendered hundreds of families in Crittenden County homeless because of backwaters from the St. Francis River. Because natural drains were blocked by the levee, Crittenden County landowners have been forced to rely on the creation of drainage districts. … Completion of the ditches eliminating swamps and brakes have allowed thousands of acres to be used for agricultural purposes.”

Before heading west on U.S. Highway 64, I visit the 1911 Crittenden County Courthouse at Marion.

According to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program: “The present-day courthouse is one of three structures that have been built in Marion to serve as the county’s seat of government. The original courthouse at Marion was a frame building, which was destroyed by a tornado several years after it was built. For many years afterward, court was held in various places, including churches and vacant storehouses. In 1873, a two-story brick courthouse was erected in the same location as the frame building at a cost of more than $100,000. The brick courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1909.

“The current courthouse at 85 Jackson St. is on the site of the previous two buildings. The structure was designed by Chamberlain & Co. of Fort Worth and was built by Falls City Construction Co. of Louisville. The cost to build the courthouse and jail was more than $100,000. … The interior of the courthouse was extensively remodeled in 1945 and 1955, resulting in lowered ceilings, paneled walls, carpeted floors and a remodeled courtroom. The original tile floor in the front entrance hall and the exterior of the building remained unaltered.”

Like most of the Arkansas Delta, Crittenden County has a troubled history of race relations.

“With a county electorate after the Civil War that was 67 percent African-American — because many supporters of the Confederacy had been declared ineligible to vote in 1867 as a result of the Reconstruction Acts — racial difficulties … became the rule rather than the exception,” Stockley writes. “As a terrorist organization that refused to accept the new Republican order, the Ku Klux Klan was extremely active in Crittenden County.

“Throughout parts of Arkansas, the Klan intimidated, threatened and murdered African-Americans as well as whites who supported the Republican Party. The response of the Republican governor, Powell Clayton, was to declare martial law in 14 counties, including Crittenden County. To implement his decision, Clayton prevailed upon the Arkansas Legislature to create a state militia that included African-Americans. A number of fierce skirmishes ensued. Only the intervention of William Monks, who commanded 600 troops from Missouri, saved a detachment of black militiamen from being slaughtered at the county courthouse in Marion.”

Reconstruction in Arkansas had ended by 1874, and Democrats were back in power.

“With its heavily black population now empowered with the right to vote for adult males, the eastern part of the state presented a major problem for powerful whites trying to keep black workers satisfied enough to stay in Arkansas and provide the essential labor force that kept the plantation system going,” Stockley writes. “The political solution in most of these counties, including Crittenden, was known as fusion. White and black residents agreed in advance each election cycle upon a division of county offices and representation in the Legislature. Though whites invariably retained most of the important offices, fusion worked for a while.

“By 1888, African-Americans occupied the following major offices in Crittenden County: county judge, county clerk, county assessor and a representative in the Legislature. Margaret Woolfolk (the author of the 1993 book “A History of Crittenden County”) writes that a group ‘of about 80 whites assembled at Marion about 10 a.m. July 13, 1888, and marched to the courthouse where county clerk David Ferguson was forced to resign at the muzzle of a Winchester rifle. … Other blacks were taken by wagon to the Mississippi River, then by boat to Memphis and released.’ Despite the fact that Crittenden County was overwhelmingly black in 1888, no African-Americans were elected to county office for the next 100 years.”

It’s documented that six black men were lynched in Crittenden County from 1900-36.

“It may well have been more,” Stockley writes. “With the Great Depression, Crittenden County exhibited some of the worst abuses perpetrated in the name of white supremacy. In 1936, a gang of white riding bosses and planters entered the Providence Methodist Church outside Earle, where 450 black sharecroppers were gathered for a meeting of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union. They began beating the sharecroppers with ax handles and pistol butts. That same year, Paul D. Peacher, a deputy sheriff who had a farming operation on the side, was revealed to be engaging in peonage. ‘Slavery in Arkansas’ was the headline in Time magazine on Dec. 7, 1936.

“Historian Michael Dougan of Jonesboro has written that Crawfordsville spent $57 on white education for every dollar spent on education for African-Americans. According to Woolfolk, Marion ‘never had a school building for the sole purpose of Negroes’ education.’ It wasn’t until 1925 that an elementary school for black children was built outside Marion in the all-black community of Sunset. Though some high school courses were available after 1935, people wanting higher education were forced to go to schools in Memphis, Little Rock, St. Louis and elsewhere. Even the high school courses available at Phelix High School in Sunset weren’t free to black students. Though buses were provided for white students, buses for black students weren’t used until the fall of 1946.”

A school building at Sunset, which is still a largely black community, is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Former slaves continued to live in the area as sharecroppers and tenant farmers after the Civil War.

“Friendship Lodge No. 39, a Masonic association for African-Americans, was organized in 1873,” writes Steve Teske of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. “A school for African-American children was built in 1924 with money provided by the Julius Rosenwald Fund. The school served children from Marion and the surrounding area through the eighth grade. High school classes were added in 1937 with families required to pay $8 a year until 1943.

“The original Rosenwald building became the high school when a new elementary school for African-Americans was built next door in 1955. Streets and homes were built around the school, and the community became known as the Sunset subdivision. Only a few businesses developed in Sunset — two cotton gins, a funeral home and some stores and cafes. There was also a lamp-manufacturing firm founded in 1963 by M.L. Pike Jr. The plant burned in 1973. It was rebuilt, but as the company grew, it built a larger plant south of Marion.”

The Rosenwald school building was no longer needed once Crittenden County schools were desegregated in 1970.

“The elementary school continued to be used for classes, serving both white and black children,” Teske writes. “Occasionally, the elementary school used the high school building for special events. The Rosenwald building was designated the Marion Colored High School, but locally it was known as Phelix High School. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 23, 1995.

“The subdivision received city services from Marion, but Sunset incorporated as a town in 1970 and began to seek federal funding to provide water and sewer services. Sewer service became available in 1978. When it incorporated, Sunset had about 450 residents, most of whom were African-American.”

The population was down to 182 by the 2020 census.

Two other communities with interesting histories that are located just north of Sunset are Jericho and Clarkedale.

Like Sunset, most of the residents of Jericho are black these days. The community was settled in the 1840s by a riverboat captain named Stephen Stonewall James and brother John James. They built a cotton gin and sawmill. They then named the community after a city in the Bible.

Railroad construction picked up in Crittenden County in the 1880s.

“The Frisco line ran through Jericho, where another line connected with the Frisco to carry logs from the diminishing forests,” Teske writes. “A post office was established at Jericho in 1886. A boardwalk east of the Frisco tracks led to Jericho’s main business establishment, a saloon with a gaming hall. Other stores were also built near the railroad.”

Jericho’s white population began to decline in the early 1900s.

“In 1910, a black man, Steve Green, fled the state after killing his white employer near Jericho,” Teske writes. “He claimed self-defense. Green was later arrested in Chicago, but activists and lawyers successfully prevented his return to Arkansas due to fears of mob violence.

“A Church of God in Christ was formed in 1916. It disbanded after a few years and then was reorganized in 1924. In the 1920s, Jericho was home to the East Arkansas Baptist Association Academy, one of the largest African-American schools in the area. In some years, more than 100 students were enrolled at the academy, many of whom boarded with local families.”

Jericho was incorporated as a town in 1986, and a renovated cotton gin was converted into the city hall. Clarkedale, meanwhile, wasn’t incorporated until 2001 even though it’s one of the oldest settlements in the county. Crittenden County’s first county seat of Greenock was within the current boundaries of Clarkedale.

After the railroad came through in the early 1880s, Cleveland B. Clarke opened a store and was named postmaster.

“At first, the post office and settlement were called Clarkton,” Teske writes. “Clarke had come to Arkansas from Peoria, Ill., where he had become wealthy manufacturing and selling rye whiskey. He established a plantation in a largely wooded area near the railroad and maintained a summer home there. A Missionary Baptist church was established in 1884.

“The name of the post office was changed from Clarkton to Clarkedale in 1910. A second plantation was established nearby by Henry Banks and William Danner, residents of Mississippi. They had a large number of tenant farmers, mostly African-Americans, who used more than 200 mules to cultivate the land.”

Clarke’s store was destroyed by a tornado in 1921 but rebuilt.

I finally head west out of Marion on U.S. 64 and soon find myself in Crawfordsville. The community has fewer than 500 residents, but a number of new homes have been built in recent years by people who work in downtown Memphis.

“Crawfordsville benefits from a slightly higher elevation in comparison to its immediate neighbors, and its history is largely unblemished by the devastation that floods have exacted on nearby communities,” Adam Miller writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The establishment of Crawfordsville began as an outgrowth of the timber industry in east Arkansas during the post-Civil War era. The opening of a railroad line through the community sustained city growth as its economy transitioned from timber to farming during the early 20th century.

“Unlike other communities in Crittenden County that diminished or disappeared once the timber-rich acreage had been cleared, Crawfordsville continued to prosper as an agricultural community after its formal incorporation in 1912. Crawfordsville was named for Adolphus Fountain Crawford, who fought for the Confederacy as a young man and settled in the area to work at the R.C. Wallace & Co. store, which was in Vincent (about two miles southeast of present-day Crawfordsville). Crawford is credited with opening the first store in what’s now Crawfordsville and also served briefly as the city’s first postmaster in 1870.”

The Swepston family was also prominent in the area. John Swepston originally was from Ohio and operated the Ware & Swepston mill on Cypress Bayou. He also operated a gristmill and sawmill on Alligator Bayou. His brother Smiley was a state representative.

“Wilsie Wise Swepston, one of John Swepston’s six children, became a leading area merchant and gin owner, establishing a store in Marion,” Miller writes. “He moved back to Crawfordsville in 1882, where he built a gin and opened another general mercantile business. He was a member of the district school board and served as Crawfordsville postmaster, county assessor, county sheriff and state representative. Beside the Swepstons, other families who migrated to the area are commemorated since almost every street is named for an early resident.

“Timber clearing and sawmill operations dominated local trade following the Civil War. The opening of a rail line through the city in 1888 encouraged timber interests near Crawfordsville to expand. Businesses that once thrived in Crawfordsville included St. John Rod & Pump Sucker Co., who daily loaded out two or three railroad cars of hickory, and the Gilt Edge Cooperage Co., which employed 70 people and produced 50,000 hoops each year. This railroad access facilitated commerce and also brought traveling salesmen.”

There once were four hotels within walking distance of Crawfordsville’s depot. In 1944, a camp for German prisoners of war was established just outside Crawfordsville. Local farmers used the prisoners for labor. The Crawfordsville camp closed in May 1946.

The first school district here was formed in 1869. Crawfordsville High School was built in 1911. It was enlarged in 1935 and burned in 1966. Incremental desegregation began in 1966, and the district was integrated by 1969.

“Following legal action from the U.S. Department of Justice, the district completely integrated, causing outlying wing schools to be closed,” Miller writes. “Students in the area now go to school in Marion or West Memphis.”

Crawfordsville was once the home of one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Arkansas, Uncle John’s. The restaurant on Main Street burned in June 2018 and wasn’t rebuilt.

Uncle John’s was opened in 1984 by John and Lucille Marconi. The couple had seven children. The youngest, Michael, ran the restaurant after his father died.

I get hungry just thinking about it as I leave Crawfordsville and enter Earle, named for Confederate officer and KKK member Josiah Francis Earle.

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From Marion west

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

SECOND IN A SERIES

In recent decades, Marion has been known as the place where Toyota almost built automobile assembly plants twice before deciding on locations in Texas and Mississippi. There’s still an excellent site adjacent to a Union Pacific Railroad Co. intermodal terminal. Five Class One railroads operate in the area, which Southern Business & Development magazine once designated as the best place in the South for an automobile assembly plant.

Like so many other river towns, Marion once had a reputation as an unruly place.

“The ferry landing at Hopefield was known as a haven for drinking halls, gambling, horse racing and robbery,” Ralph Hardin writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “However, the traffic of local inns and rooming houses was indicative of a steady rate of growth. … The railroad later became important to the continued growth of Marion.”

As the Marion School District became more of an attraction for families, the city’s population soared from just 881 in the 1960 census to 12,345 in the 2010 census. During the next 10 years, Marion grew another 11.4 percent to 13,752 in the 2020 census. During that same 10-year period, nearby West Memphis’ population fell 6.6 percent to 24,520.

Marion became the county seat of Crittenden County in 1836 because it was easier to reach in this swampy area of the state than the original county seat of Greenock. The current Crittenden County Courthouse was completed in 1911.

“Marion’s history can be traced back to its settlement by Native American tribes, including the Quapaw,” Hardin writes. “Spanish exploration of the region occurred in the 1500s, and Spanish land grants in the area that’s now Marion were later granted to Francis Gragen and Justo Mecham. Fort Esperanza, established in 1797, was commanded by Augustine Grandee.

“The French government controlled the area for a short time until the Louisiana Purchase added the land to the United States. Grandee remained in the area and settled near Marion Lake, then known as Alligator Lake or Cypress Lake. Marion Lake was a lifeline for the area, which then included Mound City and Hopefield. In 1918, the lake was drained, creating between 600 and 800 acres of farmland. All that remains of the lake is a drainage ditch.”

It’s not clear how the town became known as Marion. When postal service began there in 1829, the name was already being used.

The Military Road southwest of Marion Lake was considered the center of town. Marion was first incorporated on April 19, 1851. A St. Louis land speculator named William Russell promoted settlement in the area, and Robertson Tally became the first mayor in 1851.

Early settlers included the Burgett, Cherry, Fooy and Welch families.

“On the southern edge of the New Madrid Fault zone, the area was rocked by earthquakes in 1811-12 with further significant seismic activity occurring in 1847, 1895 and other occasions,” Hardin writes. “Marion developed a reputation for unruliness like its neighbor across the Mississippi River. Marion’s population rose throughout the 1800s. Prominent families at this time included the Fogleman, Hodges and Pirani clans.

“Some of the businesses in operation at this time included L.D. Rhodes’ livery stable and Samuel Gilbert’s tavern. … The first levees to protect the city were three-foot earthworks erected during the 1850s. They were washed away by floods in 1858-59.”

As in the rest of Arkansas, the Civil War led to the widespread disruption of economic activity. Reconstruction wasn’t much easier.

“When the newly liberated African-American population gained a majority of elected positions in the town and county, there was outrage and disdain,” Hardin writes. “Ku Klux Klan-led terrorism and racial antagonism led to martial law being in place in Marion for a few months in 1869. In 1888, city and county governments were overturned by threats and violence, and African-American leaders who didn’t flee voluntarily were forcibly deported to Memphis.”

Beginning in 1853, two railroads were built in the area. By the 1880s, there was also a major effort in place to improve roads.

“With the advent of automobile use in the early 1900s, state and federal highways were built,” Hardin writes. “U.S. Highways 61 and 63 brought northbound and southbound traffic through the area while U.S. 70 (known as the Broadway of America) was a major east-west thoroughfare. These were largely supplanted by two of the nation’s busiest interstates, Interstate 40 and Interstate 55, which intersect two miles south of Marion.”

Major floods occurred in 1912, 1927, 1937, 1964 and 1987. There also was a series of major fires.

“Following World War II, Marion’s population grew steadily, nearly doubling from 758 in 1940 to 1,431 in 1970,” Hardin writes. “The primary focus remained on agriculture with many residents commuting to Memphis to work. … Marion’s first real attempt to stimulate commercial development began in the 1970s with the building of a shopping center, a new post office, law offices, a dentist’s office and several banks.

“A wave of commercial development beginning in the 1990s brought national chains to Marion as well as auto parts manufacturer Hino and a distribution hub for Family Dollar Stores.”

Crittenden County was named for Robert Crittenden, the first secretary of the Arkansas Territory. It was created in October 1825 and was the 12th Arkansas county. One of the county’s early and most promising settlements was Greenock, which was near the banks of the Mississippi River and was the first county seat.

“Alexander Ferguson, his wife and three sons (William, Horatio and Allen) arrived in the Arkansas Territory in 1820 and settled in present-day Crittenden County near the river,” writes Arkansas historian Mike Polston. “During the next few years, the family established its homestead and began plans for the founding of a town. Horatio Ferguson provided 50 acres for the sum of $1 with John Fooy supplying an additional five acres.

“In 1827, William Ferguson, who was serving as justice of the peace and county sheriff, surveyed the townsite, which was about 900 feet from the banks of the river. Ferguson also served in the Territorial Legislature and first state General Assembly. The town plat provided for streets with a width of about 50 feet enclosing a town square measuring 300 square feet. The name Greenock was chosen to commemorate Alexander Ferguson’s hometown in Scotland. Hopes ran high for the new town when in 1826 it was named as the first Crittenden County seat.”

A post office was established there the next year. But the town’s founders were disappointed by the lack of growth.

“Despite expectations that the town would become an important port on the Mississippi River, Greenock never grew to any substantial size,” Polston writes. “When the Military Road was built out of Memphis in the 1830s, it bypassed Greenock, isolating the town from a major transportation route. An even more severe blow occurred in 1836 when the seat of government was moved to Marion. Once the county seat moved, Horatio Ferguson regained title to most of the land he had donated.”

The post office at Greenock closed in 1846. It was briefly re-established in 1851. The railroad bypassed the town in the 1880s. The only reminder of the town these days is the Grenock Cemetery.

There’s one story about Greenock that may or may not be true.

Polston writes: “In 1831, a young man of 22 traveled up the Mississippi River on a return trip from delivering cargo to New Orleans. Sometime during the trip north, he was robbed of his money and was near destitute. When the boat docked at Greenock, the Ferguson family gave the young man a job cutting wood and a place to stay in their house for a short time. The story of Abraham Lincoln’s brief stay at Greenock is poorly documented and may be no more than local legend. However, it’s documented that Lincoln made such a trip to New Orleans in 1831 and would have passed by the Arkansas town.”

Hopefield was another town on the river that no longer exists. It served as both a railroad terminal and river landing.

Adam Miller writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas that Hopefield was “pivotal in the development of transportation and commerce between Tennessee and Arkansas during the 19th century. But devastation from war, disease, commercial setbacks and the power of the Mississippi River ultimately destroyed Hopefield in the early 20th century.”

Dutch immigrant Benjamin Fooy established an encampment known as Foy’s Point in the area in 1795. He was appointed by the Spanish governor of Louisiana as an agent to Native Americans and was in charge of tariff collections from river traffic.

“Fooy and several family members had also received generous land grants from the Spanish,” Miller writes. “The settlement was renamed Campo de la Esperanza in 1797 and was renamed Hopefield in 1803 after what’s now Arkansas was acquired by the United States with the Louisiana Purchase. Fooy remained at Hopefield after the land acquisition and served as a justice of the peace and U.S. magistrate. He was respected as a businessman and judge, and this reputation boosted the status of Hopefield until Fooy’s death in 1823. After that, Hopefield gained repute as a location for dueling and a rendezvous for gamblers seeking refuge from prosecution across the river in Memphis.”

In 1824, there were congressional appropriations made to construct the Military Road from Memphis to Little Rock. The road was completed by 1831, but it was often flooded in the Hopefield area. Flooding also prevented a railroad line to Little Rock from being completed until well after the Civil War.

“Before large-scale construction of railroads in Arkansas began, factions within the state argued about the geographical distribution of the lines and fought for federal dollars and land grants to implement their visions,” Miller writes. “In 1853, the Cairo & Fulton Railroad received a federal grant to develop a railroad that ran northeast to southwest across Arkansas, terminating at the Red River near Fulton. Implementation of this new railroad eventually shifted more toward Memphis and St. Louis. That benefited Hopefield.

“Efforts to connect the Memphis & Little Rock line to the Cairo & Fulton line began in 1854, but the work was slow due to the cost of constructing lines on embankments that would be safe from floods. A machine shop, rail depot and railroad support services boosted employment and growth, which led to the establishment of the Hopefield post office in 1858.”

The railroad shops at Hopefield were used as a Confederate armory during the Civil War.

“Its facilities were abandoned when Union forces seized Memphis in June 1862,” Miller writes. “Confederate guerrillas went on to sabotage the partially completed Memphis & Little Rock line and harassed Union operations. By February 1863, even the ferry service between Memphis and Hopefield was disrupted, which prompted the Union commanders in Memphis to give orders that Hopefield be burned to counteract the insurgency. The town was peacefully evacuated on Feb. 19, and Hopefield was burned.

“Following the Civil War, Hopefield was rebuilt to accommodate renewed construction of the railroad. Ferry operations across the river to Memphis flourished. The Memphis & Little Rock line was completed in 1871, but growth at Hopefield was stunted with an outbreak of yellow fever that ravaged Memphis beginning in 1873. Quarantine in Hopefield was effective at first, but another epidemic in 1878 decimated the town’s population. Continuous erosion from the flooding Mississippi did little to help matters. In 1887-88, several hundred feet of Hopefield shoreline were swallowed by the river, which necessitated the relocation of buildings and railroad tracks.”

The Kansas, Fort Scott & Memphis and Iron Mountain, St. Lous & Southern railroad lines established terminals and ferry inclines downriver from Hopefield. The first railroad bridge to Memphis was completed in 1892.

“Its high usage tolls compelled other lines to continue using the Hopefield ferry until another railroad bridge was completed in 1916,” Miller writes. “Levee construction in eastern Arkansas had been ongoing for several decades and was largely completed by the 20th century. Protective levees in Crittenden County had been erected back from the Mississippi, which left Hopefield defenseless against floods. The town was eradicated by a severe flood in 1912. After this flood, all railroad freight was transferred over the Frisco bridge (the one built in 1892). The opening of the Harahan bridge in 1916 eliminated demand for ferry services at Hopefield.

“Hopefield remained abandoned. The supporting piers of the Interstate 40 bridge rest atop the location. Several markers placed by a Boy Scout troop once detailed significant events and locations in town history, but years of neglect took their toll. Some building foundations and the railroad embankment remain. When the Mississippi is low, the submerged vessels then visible attest to the traffic that once flowed through the town.

 

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The Sultana

Tuesday, January 18th, 2022

FIRST IN A SERIES

It was quiet that day in Marion when I pulled up to the Sultana Disaster Museum at 104 Washington St.

I was the only visitor, but that didn’t discourage me. The museum tells a story that needs to be told, and it’s my first stop as I take U.S. Highway 64 from east to west across Arkansas.

The worst maritime disaster in U.S. history occurred April 27, 1865, in the Mississippi River near here. It’s estimated that between 1,200 and 1,800 of the Sultana’s 2,400 passengers were killed when three of the ship’s four boilers exploded and the Sultana burned. The sinking of the Titanic claimed 1,517 lives.

The Sultana disaster didn’t receive widespread attention due to the timing. President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated just 13 days earlier. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia had surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9. Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, had been killed the day before the explosion as Union troops tracked him to a Virginia farm and shot him.

Sultana survivors formed a national association in the 1880s, and their descendants began holding reunions on the anniversary of the tragedy. City officials at Marion joined forces with historians several years ago to create this small museum. The goal was to attract some of the tens of thousands of annual visitors to Memphis. The photographs and interpretive panels, which record the names of soldiers, crew members and civilians on the Sultana, explain the events of that night.

The museum has accumulated far more material than it has room to exhibit, and fundraising efforts are ongoing so a larger facility can be built.

“The way I understand it, they used a raft to remove people from the wreckage and put them up in the treetops and then came back for everyone once all the survivors were away from the wreckage and the fire,” says Marion Mayor Frank Fogleman.

The Sultana left New Orleans on April 21 with between 75 and 100 cabin passengers. Livestock bound for market in St. Louis was also aboard the ship. The Sultana docked at Vicksburg so repairs could be made to the ship’s boilers. It was also a chance to take on more passengers.

The boat had a defective boiler that should have been replaced. In order to save time and money, a small patch reinforced the area that was leaking. That repair took one day. A complete replacement would have taken about three days. Meanwhile, hundreds of new passengers came aboard.

Nancy Hendricks writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas that those who boarded were “mostly Union soldiers from Midwestern states such as Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. Having been taken as prisoners of war, they were sent to the notoriously overcrowded Confederate prisons of Cahaba in Alabama and Andersonville in Georgia. Those who survived at war’s end were marched to Vicksburg for their return north.

“When the survivors came in sight of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, they shouted and sang with joy. The Army was paying the Sultana’s captain — who was part-owner of the boat — $5 for each enlisted man and $10 for each officer taken aboard. Those who boarded the side-wheeler found a boat built for 376 that took on, by some reports, almost 2,400 men, as well as women and children who were in passenger cabins.”

The boilers were taxed to their limits as the crowded ship made its way upstream against strong currents. The river was swollen by spring rains. It was 2 a.m. on April 27, and the Sultana was a few miles upstream from Memphis when the nightmare began.

“It was like a tremendous bomb going off in the middle of where these men were,” said Jerry Potter, the author of “The Sultana Tragedy” and a Memphis lawyer. “And the shrapnel, the steam and the boiling water killed hundreds.”

One of the boilers had exploded, leading two of the other three boilers to also explode. Many survivors ended up on the Arkansas side of the river, which was still under Confederate control. One local resident who helped rescue survivors was an ancestor of the current Marion mayor.

Most boats on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River had been confiscated by Union solders during the previous months in an attempt to discourage Confederate raids. Arkansas residents set out in what few boats they had. Logs were strung together to form rafts.

In a story for National Public Radio, Jon Hamilton said the best explanation for why the tragedy didn’t receive much attention is that “after years of bloody conflict, the nation was simply tired of hearing about war and death. Today, though, the city of Marion thinks people are ready to learn about the Sultana. The museum it has created near City Hall includes pictures, personal items from soldiers, pieces of the Sultana and a 14-foot replica of the boat. But what the museum really has to offer is a powerful story of soldiers who died just days away from seeing their families and loved ones.”

The New York Times devoted only three lines to a disaster that resulted in all those deaths. Most Americans were unaware of what had happened.

The Union soldiers had somehow survived two of the worst prisons in American history, only to die on the way home. The story is a sad one, but it’s one Arkansans should know. Thanks to the folks at Marion, the Sultana disaster is no longer a forgotten part of Arkansas and American history.

And the museum is about to get much bigger and better.

John Fogleman, who served 26 years as a circuit judge in this area, walks me into an old gymnasium near downtown Marion and lays out his vision for the future.

He’s part of a group trying to raise $10 million. Some of that money will be used to turn this gym, which was built by the Works Progress Administration in the late 1930s, into a state-of-the-art museum that will attract history buffs from across the country. The rest will be used as an endowment to fund future operations.

“We’ve already raised $3.4 million,” John Fogleman says. “And that was done during a pandemic.”

The gym was once a showplace in the Arkansas Delta. In 1939, LSU’s basketball team came up from Baton Rouge to play Southwestern of Memphis (now Rhodes) there. Fogleman remembers high school shop classes being taught in the building.

“We built furniture in here,” he tells me. “We’re giving new life to a historic structure.”

There will be more room to tell the stories of men such as survivor William Warner, who wrote: “I found myself floundering about in the water while the screams and cries of the injured and those who were unable to swim could be heard on all sides.”

Another survivor, James Kimberline, said: “The water around the boat for a distance of 20 to 40 feet was a solid, seething mass of humanity clinging to one another.”

In April 2021, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that the state will contribute $750,000 to the effort. On a day when more than 100 area business and civic leaders turned out, the governor said: “How can you understand the history of the Mississippi River without coming here to learn about the Sultana? This has never gotten the attention it should have received.”

Once the museum opens, it will mark the culmination of a decades-long effort to honor those who died. In 1885, Sultana survivors began meeting with the hope that the disaster wouldn’t be forgotten. The last reunion was in 1933.

In 1987, a Knoxville, Tenn., lawyer named Norman Shaw wanted to determine if there was still interest in the disaster. Dozens of people turned out at Knoxville’s Mount Olive Cemetery, and the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends was founded.

In 2011, the first public exhibition of Sultana artifacts took place on the Arkansas State University campus at Jonesboro. In 2013, the History Channel presented the first professionally produced Sultana documentary.

The Sultana Historical Preservation Society Inc. was formed in 2013, and the current museum opened two years later. In 2016, the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum” aired a Sultana segment. The next year, a 90-minute documentary titled “Remember the Sultana” was released.

In 2019, the Arkansas Legislature established April 27 each year as Sultana Remembrance Day. That year also saw an exhibition of Sultana artifacts at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock.

Those working on the project are hopeful than an expanded facility (the current museum has 1,000 square feet; the new museum will have 23,000) will be an integral part of a future tourism corridor that will see people stay at the high-rise hotel now under construction at Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis and then head north on Interstate 55 to visit the Sultana exhibit, the model Delta town of Wilson, the Johnny Cash boyhood home at Dyess and the Cold War museum that’s being developed on the grounds of the former Eaker Air Force Base near Blytheville.

The Marion Advertising and Promotion Commission has pledged $500,000 toward the project while Sultana Historical Preservation Society members have pledged another $150,000. Studies funded by the society estimate the museum will attract 50,000 visitors each year.

“That could lead to additional shops and restaurants downtown,” John Fogleman says. “I can see people spending an hour in the museum, an hour shopping and another hour eating out. The bulk of the money raised so far has come from this area, but we’re reaching out to foundations across the country who take an interest in Civil War sites. We’ll never know if we don’t ask.”

I first was made aware of the efforts in Marion by Louis Intres, a Fort Smith native who graduated from what’s now the University of Central Arkansas at Conway and then spent 38 years in banking. Interested in history his entire life, Intres retired from banking at age 58 and went to Arkansas State University in Jonesboro to obtain a master’s degree and a doctorate so he could teach history.

Being from Fort Smith, he was well aware of the patience it has taken officials there to raise enough money for the U.S. Marshals Museum. Those involved in that effort had hoped to complete the almost $60 million facility so its opening would coincide with the 230th anniversary of the Marshals Service in September 2019. The museum still isn’t open.

But consider how fascinated Americans still are with the sinking of the Titanic. If an Arkansas museum could bring to life a tragedy that claimed as many or more victims, a lot more of the tourists visiting Memphis would have a reason to cross the river.

“I get emails every day from people across the country who are fascinated by the Sultana,” Intres told me several years ago. “What’s left of the boat is 37 feet beneath a soybean field. It’s now a mile to the river channel. We consider this hallowed ground, and there’s no way to remove what’s down there.

“What we can do is to build a museum that will tell the story of the people who were aboard. There’s a lot of competition for charitable dollars these days. I realize that. I also realize that we have one of the most significant events in American maritime history, and that story needs to be told here in Arkansas where what’s left of the Sultana now rests. If we don’t tell the story now, it could be lost forever.”

When the Sultana was launched in 1863, the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune described it as “one of the largest and best business steamers ever constructed.”

The Sultana was built to haul cotton. But the captain, J. Cass Mason, had financial difficulties and viewed it as his path to prosperity.

In Vicksburg, Mason entered into an arrangement with a Union officer named Reuben Hatch, whose family had connections to President Lincoln. Mason agreed to give Hatch a cut of his earnings if Hatch would guarantee a large load. Mason made the deal even though he knew that one boiler was dripping water through a ruptured seam.

Rumors were spread in Vicksburg that other available boats were tainted with disease. So it was that the Sultana was loaded far beyond capacity while two other steamboats left Vicksburg practically empty.

“The sites of most major battles of the Civil War have become either national parks or state parks,” Intres once told me. “People just don’t know about the Sultana. For more than a century, virtually nothing was written or said about it. A small group of people then began researching the incident.

“We’ve uncovered the life stories of those who were aboard the boat, and some of those stories are amazing. There are stories of heroism. There are stories of corruption. This has it all. We want to build the jewel of the Delta in Marion and use it to tell those stories.”

 

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From Washington to Fulton

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

NINETEENTH IN A SERIES

My mother, who died five years ago this week at age 90, loved attending the annual Jonquil Festival at Washington in Hempstead County.

And I enjoyed taking her.

While she liked the arts and crafts, I was fascinated by the history of this place.

The festival, which normally (at least when there’s not a worldwide pandemic) takes place the third weekend of March, attracts people from across Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. It began in 1966 with a small tour around town that coincided with the blooming of thousands of jonquils.

By the late 1960s, the weekend event was known as the Jonquil Trail. What was then Old Washington Historic State Park was created in 1973 and took over management of the event.

“It has continued to grow and expand into a festival that offers arts and crafts, food, music and carriage rides to visitors,” Jade Fitch writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “There are also activities such as games, tours and candle making. The Jonquil Festival relies on the state park staff, staff members from other state parks and volunteers. The Jonquil Festival is committed to teaching Arkansas history through the events at the festival.

“The setting itself is educational because it’s part of Historic Washington State Park. Exhibit tours are available for visitors to learn more about the history of the area, and historical interpreters are available to display the 19th-century clothing relative to the sites where they’re stationed. The flowers are the highlight of the festival. As visitors make their way into the event, they’re able to see yellow, white and orange jonquils. In the early years of the festival, park staff would order jonquils to increase the number of flowers on the grounds. Now there is an adequate number of flowers. Larger groups are divided, and the bulbs are relocated to various areas of the park.”

Historic Washington State Park includes more than 50 buildings on 101 acres. Thirty of those buildings are considered historically significant. Several of them are open for tours. The story of how most of this once important town became a state park is an interesting one.

“In the late 1870s, Hope began to promote the idea that the county seat should be relocated from Washington,” Bryan McDade writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “For 60 years, and several elections, Hope tried to gain the county seat. Unethical behavior abounded on both sides, consisting of lies, cheating, mudslinging and election fraud. Finally, the Arkansas Supreme Court intervened and in a May 1939 ruling declared that Hope was the Hempstead County seat. The historic preservation movement centering on Washington had begun a decade earlier. Members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy were able to secure money from the Legislature in 1929 to fund restoration of the 1836 Hempstead County courthouse.

“In 1958, a group of Washington residents formed the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation to preserve the town’s structures and interpret its history. They operated tours of some historic homes for 15 years and were able to get the Washington Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 1972. In 1973, they invited officials from what’s now the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism to help preserve and interpret the town. The foundation donated buildings and antiques. Old Washington Historic State Park became the 34th state park when it opened July 1, 1973.”

There are now 52 state parks. In September 2006, the state Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission voted to change the name of the park to Historic Washington State Park.

McDade writes: “Among the many notable structures are the 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse; the Works Progress Administration gymnasium; Pioneer and Presbyterian cemeteries, where many notable early Arkansans are buried; the Washington post office; the James Black School of Bladesmithing and Historic Trades, a project of the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana; and the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives. The Royston Magnolia on the park grounds, which was planted in about 1839, is part of the Arkansas Famous and Historic Tree Program. The American Bladesmith Society’s Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing, the world’s first college dedicated to teaching the art of making knives and swords by hand, operated at the park from 1988-2019 when it relocated to Texarkana.”

We leave Washington, make our way back to U.S. 67 and head to Fulton, which had 201 residents in the 2010 census, down from 647 a century earlier.

Steve Teske of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies notes that some people claim that Fulton is “the oldest continually settled community in the state. Located at a convenient crossing of the Red River, Fulton has long been a transportation hub of southern Arkansas. Due to floods and river erosion, none of the early historic structures have survived into the 21st century. The Caddo tribe inhabited the Red River valley of Arkansas long before European explorers reached the area. A party of French explorers passed through the region in 1687 and noted several Caddo villages, one of which may have been at the site of contemporary Fulton.

“The network of footpaths used by Native Americans and early American settlers known as the Southwest Trail ran through the area. A boat landing and ferry across the river were established early in the 19th century. According to a 1938 Arkansas Gazette article, records as early as 1807 referred to ‘the little town of Fulton on the Red River.’ White settlements on both sides of the river relied on Fulton for food, merchandise and other necessities of life.”

Robert Stone received a land deed from Juan Dulac of the township of Little Prairie in 1808 for the land where Fulton is now located. Another early investor in the town was Amos Wheeler of St. Louis.

“On Dec. 11, 1819, notices appeared in Arkansas and Missouri newspapers that James Bryan (an agent of Stephen F. Austin) was selling lots in Fulton at an auction scheduled for April 29, 1820,” Teske writes. “The Treaty of Doaks Stand, made between the federal government and the Choctaw in 1820, recognized Fulton as a landmark on the line that separated Choctaw land from land open to American settlers. Many American pioneers already had established themselves west of Fulton on land the treaty granted to the Choctaw.

“The military highway that improved the Southwest Trail made Fulton the gateway to Mexico and later the American Southwest. Most of the pioneers from the United States who settled in the northern part of Mexico known as Texas crossed the Red River at Fulton on the way to their new homes. In 1834, a group of investors that included Roswell Beebe and Edward Cross surveyed and platted a larger settlement for Fulton with streets, homes, a hotel and warehouses. George Featherstonhaugh visited the town on Dec. 10, 1834, and wrote about it in his travel diary.”

A post office was established in 1838 and was first called Red River. That was changed to Fulton in 1840. A school and church were operating at Fulton by then.

“During the Mexican War, American soldiers entered Mexico from several directions, but at the conclusion of the war, many of the returning soldiers came home by way of the crossing at Fulton,” Teske writes. “Meanwhile, steamboats regularly landed, unloading passengers and supplies and then receiving cargoes of cotton. One of the first rails planned for Arkansas was to have its southern terminus at Fulton. Beebe, Grandison Royston and Cross incorporated the Cairo & Fulton Railroad on April 1, 1852, planning to link southern Illinois with the Red River crossing by way of Missouri and Arkansas.

“Surveyors had  already planned a route across Hempstead County before the incorporation of the railroad. A second railroad, planned to cross southern Arkansas from the Mississippi River to the Red River, was planned. The Mississippi, Ouachita & Red River Railroad was surveyed from Gaines Landing on the Mississippi River to Fulton. In December 1852, the federal government approved legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Solon Borland to fund both railroads as well as a third line connecting Memphis to Little Rock. Some rails were laid during the 1850s, but the Civil War delayed construction of these planned railroads for several years.”

There was a Confederate supply depot at Fulton during the Civil War. Both Confederate and Union troops on their way to Texas passed through the town.

“In 1868, Elijah Smith laid out an addition to Fulton, seeing that much of the original town was in danger of being washed away by the Red River,” Teske writes. “The railroad finally arrived in 1874. The Cairo & Fulton had by this time become the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad. A railroad bridge across the Red River opened March 20, 1874. The railroad affected many parts of Arkansas, creating new cities like Hope while older cities faded. Fulton neither prospered nor disappeared. For a time, it thrived as a lumber town while remaining a center for shipping cotton.

“According to a 1936 Hope Star article, Fulton had African Americans during its days as a timber center serving as postmaster, school board member, city council member and constable. There were also two black justices of the peace. As Smith had foreseen, the older section of Fulton was removed by the Red River. The current town now encompasses his addition. In the 20th century, railroads began to give way to automobile and truck traffic. A 22-mile road was completed in 1922, linking Fulton with Emmet. U.S. 67 was completed in 1934, and construction began on Interstate 30 in the 1960s, each with its own bridge over the Red River. The interstate bridge was opened in 1966, but the full interstate highway wasn’t finished in the area until 1972.”

We cross the river into Miller County and continue to Texarkana, which we wrote about extensively in our previous series on U.S. 82.

This concludes our series on the stretch of U.S. 67 from Benton to Texarkana.

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Slice of the good life

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

SEVENTEENTH IN A SERIES

Long before it was known as the birthplace of President Bill Clinton, Hope was known for its big watermelons.

One of my best assignments in recent years has been to emcee the celebrity watermelon-eating contest at the Hope Watermelon Festival. The event was canceled this year due to the pandemic.

“The festival originated in 1926 and has been ongoing, though not continuous, since 1977,” writes southwest Arkansas historian Mary Nell Turner. “There’s no admission fee for the four-day event, usually held the second week in August at Hope’s Fair Park. Activities include watermelon-eating and seed-spitting contests, fiddling, arm-wrestling contests and as many as 200 vendors displaying their wares. The competition for growing big melons was a creation of John S. Gibson. In 1916, he began to offer modest prizes for the largest vegetables and watermelons.

“Local farmers Hugh and Edgar Laseter developed a seed line in an attempt to win the contest. Hugh grew Arkansas’ first giant watermelon. The 136-pound melon was harvested Aug. 12, 1925, and generated so much excitement that the first watermelon festival was held the next year. The first five festivals drew large crowds. The crowd was estimated at 30,000 people in 1928. Visitors traveled on Missouri Pacific, Frisco and Louisiana & Arkansas special trains from Little Rock, Shreveport and towns in Oklahoma.”

Events were filmed by Fox, Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and other studios to be shown in newsreels in theaters across the country. Large speakers were borrowed from Arkansas Power & Light Co. so the crowds could hear.

“The program included a parade with floats, bands and decorated cars,” Turner writes. “At Fair Park, a coronation ceremony was held. Introduction of the maids and the crowning of a queen was followed by a speech from a visiting dignitary. Visitors were served free iced watermelon. The day ended with dances in the Elks Hall, a skating rink or in the streets. In 1928, two trains were stopped at noon so passengers could be served slices of watermelon. The first queen was Laurine Lewis of Hope, who was chosen from the festival maids. The maids, in turn, had been selected by a vote in each political township.

“Speakers also attracted visitors. Congressman Tilman B. Parks crowned the first and second queens. The Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Joe T. Robinson of Arkansas, was the guest speaker at the third festival in 1928. He returned to speak and crown the queen in 1930. Oklahoma Gov. William J. Holloway spoke in 1929, and Arkansas Gov. Harvey Parnell crowned the queen. In addition to problems caused by the Great Depression, the handling of the large crowd became too much for the small town.”

Oscar Middlebrooks briefly revived watermelon fever in the area when he grew a 195-pound watermelon in a field near Patmos in Hempstead County in 1935.

“The melon was shipped to movie star Dick Powell, an Arkansas native,” Turner writes. “President Calvin Coolidge was another recipient of a big melon from Hope.”

By the 1970s, Pod Rogers of the Hope Star was traveling across the country promoting Hope watermelons. He urged officials at the local chamber of commerce to start the festival again, and they did in 1977.

Meanwhile, the Bright family began receiving nationwide attention for the big melons being grown on the family farm just east of Hope. Lloyd Bright wrote a 1978 book titled “Producing Giant Watermelons.”

With the 1992 election of Clinton as president, Hope had another reason for people to pull off the interstate. Clinton had spent the first four years of his life in his grandparents’ house at 117 S. Hervey St. The house opened to the public as a museum in June 1997.

“The house was built in 1917 for Dr. H.S. Garrett, who evidently designed it to imitate his previous dwelling in France,” the late Bill Norman wrote for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The 2,100-square-foot home contains six rooms, including a kitchen, living room, bedroom and the nursery where Clinton slept. The house was purchased in 1938 by Eldridge Cassidy and Edith Grisham Cassidy, Clinton’s grandparents. Their daughter, Virginia Cassidy Blythe, made her home with them after the death of her husband, William Jefferson Blythe III, while she was still expecting their only child.

“Clinton was born at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope. The building no longer stands, but a plaque marks the spot where it once existed. Clinton’s grandparents raised him in their home while their daughter studied nursing in New Orleans. When he married Roger Clinton, the Clintons acquired a house at 321 E. 13th St. in Hope in 1950. They moved to Hot Springs in 1953. The Cassidy family continued to own the house on South Hervey Street until 1956. The house passed through other owners and was vacant after 1992, when it was damaged by an electrical fire.”

After Clinton became president in January 1993, a foundation was formed to acquire the house and restore it.

“The Clinton Birthplace Foundation sought to raise $1.5 million over five years, 40 percent of which was intended to create an endowed fund to maintain the house for perpetuity,” Norman wrote. “Controversy was ignited when accusations were made that wealthy donors, some from other nations, hoped for favors from the president’s administration because of their gifts. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 1994, bypassing the usual rule that a structure must have achieved significance more than 50 years before being registered.

“An exception to the 50-year benchmark was granted because the home was ‘the single property most significantly and exclusively associated with President William Jefferson Clinton’s humble beginnings, the inner strength that he learned from his mother and the dedication to purpose that has sustained him through his distinguished career.'”

The foundation had to repair the roof while adding new siding. It later acquired furniture to make the house look like it had in the late 1940s.

“The president’s mother and former neighbors described the house as they remembered it, and some residents of Hope contributed furniture and other articles for the museum,” Norman wrote. “A visitors’ center was added outside the house, and a rose garden was dedicated to Clinton’s mother. The museum opened to the public on June 1, 1997. In December 2010, it was designated a National Historic Site by the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

A Christmas Day fire in 2015 damaged the home. It reopened to the public on July 30, 2016.

One of the things that helps Hope retain its viability as a regional center these days is the presence of a community college, the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana. The school was founded as the Red River Vocational-Technical School in 1965. As part of a statewide effort to transform technical schools into two-year colleges, it was renamed Red River Technical College in 1991.

In March 1996, Hempstead County residents approved a quarter-cent sales tax to support the college. The school became an affiliate of the University of Arkansas System and was renamed the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope in July 1996. A branch campus opened at Texarkana in the fall of 2012. In early 2019, the college changed its name to University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana as the number of college students at Texarkana grew.

For those interested in history, a trip to nearby Washington is a must. I’ve always considered Historic Washington State Park to be our state’s version of Colonial Williamsburg.

Washington, which had a population of 730 in the 1880 census, was down to just 180 residents by the 2010 census. The community is now dominated by the state park.

“The Southwest Trail was built during Arkansas’ territorial period, linking St. Louis to Texas and crossing Arkansas from the northeast corner to the southwest corner,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “William Stevenson, a Methodist preacher, established Ebenezer Campground for revival meetings on a sandy hill that would soon become the site of Washington. Elijah Stuart built a log house on the same hill, perhaps as early as 1818, and his house also served as an inn and tavern. Hempstead County was organized in December 1818 and designated Stuart’s tavern as its first permanent seat of government in 1824 because of its central location.

“The land around the tavern was surveyed and laid out in square blocks oriented along the Southwest Trail. A land auction in 1826 created the structure of the city, and merchants began to conduct business there soon thereafter. Washington applied for incorporation in 1830. Incorporation lapsed following the Civil War and wasn’t reinstated until 1880. Important early settlers in the city included John Johnson, Ephraim Mirick and Abraham Block. James Black established a blacksmith shop in which he reportedly fashioned the first bowie knife for James Bowie in 1831.”

Stevenson, a circuit-riding preacher, is the person credited with bringing Methodism to Arkansas.

“Swept into the enthusiastic Methodism of the Second Great Awakening, he felt a desire to spread the faith that led him into sparsely settled areas,” Michael Johnson writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Stevenson, who was born in October 1768 in South Carolina on the border of Cherokee territory, had Presbyterian parents. His mother later converted to the Baptist faith. Stevenson heard a Methodist preacher for the first time at age 20. He converted at age 31.

Stevenson and his wife moved with their eight children to Missouri in 1809. He wrote one of the earliest accounts of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12. He also ran unsuccessfully against Stephen F. Austin for a seat in the Missouri Territorial Legislature in 1815.

Stevenson moved to Hempstead County in 1816.

“In 1817, he was appointed by the Methodists’ Missouri Conference as a circuit rider, along with John Harris, for the Hot Springs Circuit,” Johnson writes. “The circuit included all of Arkansas south of the Arkansas River. From 1818-25, Stevenson served as a presiding elder in Arkansas, except for a couple of years when he suffered from poor health. His ministry reached out to frontier families over a large area of Arkansas, often traveling through difficult conditions. Most of his work was with white settlers, though he did record small numbers of black and native American converts.

“Stevenson’s leadership of Arkansas Methodism was highly energetic. Methodist ministries in Arkansas shrank after Stevenson relocated to Louisiana in 1826. Stevenson was also involved in early Arkansas politics. He was elected as the representative from Hempstead County to the first General Assembly of the Arkansas Territory in 1820. He was chosen to serve as speaker but resigned the position after one day for reasons that are unclear. … It was Stevenson who proposed the motion to make Little Rock the capital of the territory.”

The territorial capital moved from Arkansas Post to Little Rock in 1821.

Washington became quite cosmopolitan for its time. In addition to Methodists attracted by Stevenson, there were Jews such as Block, who was the patriarch of the first documented Jewish family to come to Arkansas.

Block was born in either 1780 or 1781 in Bohemia. He came to Virginia at about age 12. He served with the Richmond Light Infantry Blues in the War of 1812. He and his wife had 14 children.

“In 1823, Block began to liquidate property inherited from his father-in-law and began the process of moving the family westward toward Arkansas,” David Markus writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “This move was probably brought about by limited economic opportunities in Richmond, as well as the influx of capital from his wife’s inheritance. While his wife Fanny was pregnant with the couple’s seventh child, Block left for New Orleans to begin establishing economic ties to the area. By 1825, he had started a business in Washington and summoned his family west. With seven young children in tow, Fanny left for Arkansas via New Orleans in 1826. As was family custom, she and the children didn’t join Block in Washington until a suitable house was built in 1827.

“Although the Blocks had strong ties to the Jewish community in New Orleans, they were unable to attract others in that community to join them in Washington. As a result, their only connections to the broader American Jewish community were periodicals and occasional business trips to New Orleans. This lack of community did not, however, diminish the family’s ties to the Jewish faith. When the first congregation, Shangrai Chesed (Gates of Mercy), formed in New Orleans in 1827, Block joined as a founding member. This limited contact with other Jews did, however, restrict the manner in which the Blocks practiced their faith in the home. As a consequence of their religious isolation in Arkansas, the family did not keep kosher, and the majority of the Block children married and left the faith.”

Along with his sons, Block established businesses not only at Washington but also at Fulton, at Paraclifta in Sevier County, at New Orleans and at several stops along the railroad that ran from Houston to Dallas. The family home was restored and became part of Historic Washington State Park.

Block died in March 1857 on a trip to New Orleans and is buried there.

Meanwhile, James Black, who was born in May 1800 in New Jersey, ran away from home at age 8 and went to Philadelphia. He became an apprentice to a silverplater there. His apprenticeship expired when Black was 18, and he headed west. He first settled at Bayou Sara in Louisiana and set up a blacksmith shop.

“Some think that Black met Jim Bowie for the first time there in 1822,” writes Josh Williams of Historic Washington State Park. “In late 1823, after battling disease and major floods, Black decided to move. He went up the Red River to Fulton and settled in the vicinity of Washington. Around 1824, Black was hired by local blacksmith William Shaw. While working for Shaw, Black made a reputation for himself in the community as a skilled craftsman and blacksmith, and Shaw offered to make Black a partner in his business. Shaw had nine children. The eldest daughter was Anne, age 16. Black and Anne Shaw fell in love, but her father objected to the relationship. Black decided to move from Washington to western Arkansas Territory.”

Black settled along the Rolling Fork River just west of Paraclifta. He built a dam on the river and established a gristmill along with a blacksmith shop.

“James and Gilbert Clark also settled in the vicinity and set up a salt works,” Williams writes. “Not long after they were settled, the U.S. government declared that the land they settled was part of Indian Territory. Black, the Clark brothers  and other settlers had to move to other lands. Black moved back to Washington. He hadn’t forgotten Anne Shaw. There were married June 29, 1828, at the Hempstead County Courthouse in Washington without the consent of William Shaw. There were married for seven years and had five children.”

Black set up his blacksmith shop and became known for the quality of his knives. An article in the Washington Telegraph on Dec. 8, 1841, said he had made Bowie’s famous knife in late 1831.

Bill Worthen, the former director of the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock and an expert on frontier knives, writes: “The bowie knife, made popular in the 1830s, has evolved into a specific form in current use. The bowie knife was worn for defensive purposes. Its primary function was for personal combat. It was designed to be part of a gentleman’s attire, and the key difference between the bowie knife and a hunting knife, a dagger or a dirk was initially the quality of finish of the bowie. Bowie knives came in a variety of forms — with or without guards, with differently shaped blades — and often were adorned with silver and other decoration, sometimes including etching or engraving on their metal surfaces.

“The knife got its name from a pioneer family who settled in early Arkansas and Louisiana. Jim Bowie, the best known of the brothers, killed one man and seriously injured another with a ‘big knife’ in what was known as the Sandbar Duel on Sept. 19, 1827, upriver from Natchez, Miss. Bowie later moved to Texas and died at the Alamo. In the early 1830s, the term ‘bowie knife’ began to be used — possibly shorthand for ‘knives like Bowie’s’ — for the Mississippi River Valley region. Jim Bowie’s brother Rezin promoted the knife’s association with the Bowie name by giving away several presentation knives and attributing the design of the first bowie knife — the one wielded by Jim at the Sandbar Duel — to Rezin himself.”

Early Arkansas leaders Daniel Webster Jones and August Garland said they heard stories from James Black stating that he had made the knife for Bowie at Washington.

“Black’s knives, embellished with silver plating on the ricasso (the part of the blade immediately above the handle) and silver around the distinctive, coffin-shaped handle, became the most copied of all bowie knives,” Worthen writes. “Many Sheffiled, England, cutlers produced knives with the coffin handle and/or elements of the silver wrap around the handle. The connection of these knives to Arkansas, and the state’s reputation for the use of the blade, inspired an alternative term to ‘bowie knife.’ The ‘Arkansas knife’ and then ‘Arkansas toothpick’ were used synonymously for the bowie knife in the antebellum period. Only a few references from that period make a distinction between an Arkansas toothpick and a bowie knife.

“In the 1830s, several states passed laws establishing sanctions against the use of the bowie knife and the Arkansas toothpick. The state’s reputation suffered because of its association with violence and the toothpick, and some people called Arkansas the Toothpick State. By the time of the Civil War, the term ‘bowie knife’ had come to be used for any large knife, and many soldiers went off to war with such knives. Today, ‘bowie knife’ usually is defined as a large knife with a cross guard and a blade with a clipped point, while the ‘Arkansas toothpick’ is a knife with a double-edged blade coming to a point.”

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A place called Hope

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

SIXTEENTH IN A SERIES

The Harry Thomason film that introduced nominee Bill Clinton to the Democratic National Convention in 1992 made Hope famous.

For those of us who grew up in Arkansas, Bill Clinton was from Hot Springs. After all, that’s where he came of age and graduated from high school. But he was born at Hope and lived there through kindergarten.

And “I still believe in a place called Hope” has a better ring to it than “I hail from the loose buckle on the Bible Belt.”

What’s now Hope was part of a blackland prairie known as the Prairie De Roan.

“The town developed as the Cairo & Fulton tracks were being laid from Argenta (now North Little Rock) to Fulton,” writes southwest Arkansas historian Mary Nell Turner. “The first passenger train pulled into what was known as Hope Station on Feb. 1, 1872. By the time the railway offered lots for sale, the wood-frame depot was almost complete. James Loughborough, the railroad company’s land commissioner, named the workmen’s camp in honor of his daughter, Hope. The company drew a plat of the town and sold the first lots on Aug. 28, 1873. The state had given the land to the company to defray building expenses.

“Walter Shiver built the first house near the depot in 1873. The town was incorporated April 8, 1875, and the first officials were elected May 14 of that year. The Barlow Hotel opened in 1886, seeking to fill the need for lodging and dining. Three more railways arrived in Hope by 1902, and passenger service continued until 1971. By 1900, the town had begun to produce electricity, an idea promoted by retired steamboat captain Judson T. West, who had moved to Hope in 1875. An artesian well supplied water for the city.”

The Barlow Hotel operated until 1964 and became well known throughout the region.

“The Barlow was built as the Lamar Hotel by local merchant J.C. McKee,” writes former Hope resident and Arkansas historian Revis Edmonds. “It initially sought to attract a clientele dominated by railroad passengers, as Hope was built around what would become two major railroad lines — the north-south Louisiana & Arkansas line (now Kansas City Southern) and the east-west Cairo & Fulton (now Union Pacific). In 1886, M.H. Barlow, a hardware merchant who hailed from Cory, Pa., was persuaded that the hotel in a growing railroad town was a good investment and began almost eight decades of family ownership.

“Barlow had four children, three of whom went into the hotel business. John D. Barlow took over the operation of the Hope hotel in 1904. R.P. ‘Dick’ Barlow took over a Malvern hotel in 1928. Henry Barlow operated the Barlow Hotel in De Queen from 1931 until poor health forced his retirement 10 years later. M.S. Barlow’s daughter, Dr. Alice Barlow Brown, served many years as a medical missionary in China.”

John Barlow announced plans in 1930 for a 10-story replacement for the hotel, but those plans never came to fruition due to the Great Depression.

“Barlow, however, continually upgraded the popular establishment,” Edmonds writes. “It was the first facility in the city to have hot and cold running water and was said to be the first customer of Hope Water & Light in about 1910. For years, the hotel’s strawberry shortcake was popular with both local and traveling diners. William Jennings Bryan visited the Barlow in the early 1920s. The hotel became the hub of community meetings and banquets in the community. In time, the hotel accommodated retail businesses such as Middlebrooks Grocery, Singer Sewing Machines, Ladies’ Specialty Shop and Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co.

“Arkla president Witt Stephens was close friends with Barlow, and Barlow was an initial investor in Arkla when Stephens purchased the firm from Cities Service Oil Co. Witt Stephens’ younger brother Jack worked several summers at the Barlow Hotel as a busboy. Barlow sold the hotel in 1943 to the Lampkin estate while still remaining a leader in hotel trade associations. Ben Owen, a Hope businessman with department stores in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, purchased the hotel in 1960 and made long-awaited upgrades such as a standalone coffee shop and an enlarged 250-seat banquet room.”

On Sept. 14, 1964, an electrical fire began in the kitchen and destroyed the hotel. Three guests were killed in the fire.

An 1888 article had stated that the growing railroad town of Hope included lumber mills, a wagon factory, a cotton compress, two banks, a newspaper, a public school and an opera house in addition to the hotel. U.S. 67 was sometimes known as the Broadway of America, and its route through Hope later brought additional businesses.

“The Arkansas Supreme Court declared Hope the county seat on May 11, 1939, after five bitterly fought elections to move the courthouse from Washington to Hope,” Turner writes. “An act of Congress in May 1824 had named Washington the county seat, but Hope citizens believed their town had become the commercial center of the county. The federal Public Works Administration built Hope’s courthouse in 1939. On July 1, 1941, the government announced a land condemnation order and work began on the Southwestern Proving Ground. The government built the Army ordnance plant on 50,000 acres of farmland just north of Hope.

“Four dozen Army officers directed the activities and were assisted by an Army Air Corps detachment of about 150 men. Civilian employees — more than 750 daily — were transported by bus from Hope and surrounding counties. The plant was completed and the first ammunition was tested Jan. 1, 1942. Work continued until the end of the war in 1945. Some of the employees, both civilian and Army, remained in Hope.”

One of those employees was Paul W. Klipsch, who had been born in March 1904 in Elkhart, Ind.

“As a boy, he enjoyed music and was fascinated with sound,” Nancy Hendricks writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “At age 15, he built a radio receiver a year before the first scheduled commercial U.S. radio broadcast in 1920 at station KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh. Klipsch attended college at New Mexico A&M (now New Mexico State University), graduating with a degree in electrical engineering in 1926. He joined the radio division of General Electric. In 1928, his passion for trains led him to Chile, where he was a locomotive maintenance supervisor for three years. Returning to the United States in 1931, he entered Stanford University and received an engineering degree.

“For the next seven years, he worked in oil exploration in Texas, researching the design of audio speakers in his spare time and submitting his first patent application for speaker horn design. With the coming of World War II in 1941, Klipsch was stationed at the Southwestern Proving Ground at Hope. After the war, he remained in Hope and devoted his career to designing and building superior loudspeakers. He rented a tin shack behind a dry cleaner in Hope and manufactured components for his first Klipschorn.”

Klipsch registered the name Klipsch & Associates in 1946 and hired his first employee in 1948. He was granted 12 patents in acoustics, eight in geophysics and three in ballistics.

“The high-frequency section was granted a patent in 1951,” Hendricks writes. “The Klipschorn as a complete system never received a patent for acoustical or electrical properties but was granted a patent for ornamental design in 1951. It’s considered one of the finest loudspeakers ever made and is the world’s only speaker to be in continuous production for more than 70 years. The sound moves from the speaker, using the walls of the corner of the room as part of the speaker to create a rich audio quality similar to an orchestral setting.

“Klipsch’s many awards and recognition include being chosen 1985 Citizen of the Year in Hope, which named its municipal auditorium in his honor in 1995. In 2001, the Little Rock Arts and Humanities Promotion Commission recognized Klipsch with its Award of Distinction. … His national honors include the Silver Medal from the Audio Engineering Society, induction into the Audio Hall of Fame in 1984 and his 1997 induction into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame, where he was recognized along with fellow members Thomas Edison, Jonas Salk and the Wright Brothers.”

Klipsch sold the company to a distant cousin named Fred Klipsch in 1989. Audiovox purchased the company in 2011. Paul Klipsch died at age 98 in May 2002.

The Klipsch Museum of Audio History was later established. Work began last year to restore a 1921 house that had been empty since 2008 into a vistors’ center for the company. The house is adjacent to the Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site, which is operated by the National Park Service.

“The Southwestern Proving Ground Airport was deeded to the city and dedicated as the Hope Municipal Airport on April 27, 1947, with an air show,” Turner writes. “In June of that year, the government deeded 750 acres near the airport to be leased in support of the airport. The War Assets Administration turned over to the city the deeds for 2,500 acres of the Southwestern Proving Ground land for an industrial area. … The federal government sold much of the original 50,000 acres of proving ground land to former owners.”

The final section of Interstate 30 in the area was officially opened in November 1972. That led to a shift of businesses from downtown Hope to the interstate exits.

An extensive effort to bring life back to downtown Hope has been taking place in recent years. Hope became part of the Arkansas Downtown Network in 2018. Since that time, downtown has:

— Welcomed nine new businesses with a couple of more expansions

— Seen four building rehabilitations

— Seen the placement of a large “Welcome to Historic Downtown Hope” sign

— Seen all streetlight poles painted and LED lighting installed

— Seen the formation of a beautification committee that has transformed flower beds along the perimeter of the historic district

— Celebrated the opening of Pavilion Park

— Seen the relocation of the Hope Chamber of Commerce offices

— Seen the placement of three statues, red trash receptacles and black benches along with the purchase of new Christmas decorations

— Seen an increased interest in upper-level living in downtown buildings along with an increased number of events downtown

The Hempstead County Courthouse is being relocated to a former bank building downtown.

The Cairo & Fulton depot, built in 1912, served as a freight depot for 53 years and then spent more than three decades as the offices of the Stephens Grocer Co. In 1999, the Harold Stephens family donated the building to the city. It now serves as a visitors’ center.

As noted, President Clinton was born at Hope. Gov. Mike Huckabee was born and raised at Hope. So was Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty, Clinton’s first White House chief of staff and now an internationally known business leader and consultant.

In addition to those raised at Hope, some interesting people such as Klipsch moved there through the years. One of the most interesting was Alex Washburn, the editor and publisher of the Hope Star for 54 years.

Washburn was born in Toronto in 1899 to parents from Pennsylvania and Illinois. The family later relocated to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Washburn graduated from a Pennsylvania Methodist prep school known as Wyoming Seminary in 1917. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio for two years, spent a year in the journalism school at Columbia University and then graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri in 1923.

“The day after graduation, Washburn began his carer in a university-arranged job at the El Dorado Daily News,” Edmonds writes. “Three years later, he was promoted to editor, the youngest in Arkansas at that time. A year after Washburn’s promotion, Clyde Palmer of Texarkana purchased the Daily News, and Washburn began seeking an opportunity to strike out on his own. In 1929, after obtaining a loan from his father, Washburn purchased the evening Star of Hope and the morning Hope Daily Press and consolidated them into the Hope Star.

“At the last moment, Palmer and Washburn entered into a half-interest in the paper, which lasted until Palmer’s death in 1958. Palmer’s capital was reportedly critical to updating the newspaper’s technology, but Washburn long remained displeased at the necessity of the partnership.”

In 1948, Washburn formed the Hope Broadcasting Co. and put KXAR-AM on the air. Federal regulations forced the sale of the station in 1976.

“The Star under Washburn was noted for its crusading conservative editorial stance in both local and state affairs, and a limited-government philosophy at the national level, all consistent with Washburn’s well-known frugality and insistence on efficiency,” Edmonds writes. “His one-man editorial page — ‘Our Daily Bread: Sliced Thin by the Editor, Alex H. Washburn’ — was a smorgasbord of opinions on topics such as government waste, reform, liquor prohibition and the misdeeds of local politicos. In the Saturday edition, editorial contributions from other papers were shared in a section titled ‘With Other Editors.’

“Washburn was vehemently opposed to urban renewal and revenue sharing, and he continually blasted federal planning. However, he considered one of his chief victories to be the extension of a municipal water supply from Millwood Lake to Hope, an action for which he had lobbied in the lake’s initial planning process in the 1950s. The Hope water facility was dedicated two weeks before his death.”

Washburn died May 16, 1983. He had never married or had children. The paper was sold a year after his death and no longer exists.

“Hope’s economy long depended on farming,” Turner writes. “Cotton was the chief crop until the 1920s. More than 30,000 bales a year were produced in the mid-1930s. So many buyers had offices on Second Street that it was known as Cotton Row. The United Cotton Seed Oil mill was a successful industry as long as cotton was grown. More diversified farming began to be encouraged when the University of Arkansas established an experiment station near Hope. The poultry industry in the area began when Freda R. Greenan moved her business from Illinois in 1951, helping to revive the economy by encouraging farmers to raise chickens. She sold Corn Belt Hatcheries of Arkansas in 1964.

“Hempstead County’s hardwood forests provided timber for lumber companies and manufacturers. The Ivory handle factory, incorporated in 1901, produced hardwood handles that were shipped worldwide. It became Bruner Ivory handle factory in 1933, was sold to a Tennessee company in 1980 and closed in 2004. The clay soil of land south of Hope was used to make pottery and bricks for many years. Norris P. O’Neal came to town in May 1901 to establish Hope Brick Works. The last bricks were made there in November 2000.”

Hope’s population soared from 1,644 in 1900 to 7,475 in 1940. The city continued to grow, hitting 10,290 residents in the 1980 census.

Like most towns in south Arkansas, it has struggled to prevent population losses during the past 40 years. The population is now estimated at 9,700.

“Hope had a dual educational system until desegregation was accomplished in 1969,” Turner writes. “Hope’s first public school for white children began in a small former Presbyterian church in 1880. The first teacher, Charles Bridewell, had operated a private school the previous four years. The school board’s first building venture was a two-story red frame building in 1888. Its ad for a design was answered by 15-year-old Willis Jefferson Polk, an Illinois architect’s apprentice. The building was used for 20 years for the entire school. When increased enrollment demanded a new facility, what was described as a dream school was built in 1908. It was named Garland Grammar School and became Garland High School in 1922. It was condemned in 1930 because of poor construction.

“With the sale of its property to the county and revenue from consolidation of several rural schools, a modern three-story brick building was constructed at the south end of Main Street in 1931. It has been used as a high school since then. The first school for black children was in a one-room building on South Hazel Street that opened Oct. 1, 1886, with Henry Clay Yerger the only teacher. A few years later, Yerger built Shover Street School. Later, Yerger was instrumental in securing funding for his educational projects from the General Education Board, the Rosenwald Foundation and the Smith-Hughes and Slater Funds.”

Yerger built a dormitory in 1918 to accommodate girls who wanted to attend high school. He also established a teacher training summer school for black teachers that operated from 1895 until 1935. Yerger was honored in October 1935 when the high school for black students was named Henry Clay Yerger High School.

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Headed toward Hope

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

FIFTEENTH IN A SERIES

The population of Prescott more than tripled from 1,287 in the 1890 census to 3,960 in the 1950 census as the town became the center of timber operations in this part of southwest Arkansas.

Timber companies built small railroad lines across the region to haul out logs. One of the most famous short lines was what became known as the Reader Railroad.

Debbie Fenwick Ponder writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “Sayre Narrow Gauge, the railroad’s original name, was constructed in 1889 to move the virgin timber that was being harvested south of Reader, which is on the Nevada County-Ouachita County border, for a sawmill in Gurdon. In 1910, the line was purchased by the McVay Lumber Co. In 1913, it was taken over by the Valley Lumber Co., which extended it to tracts of timber in lower Nevada County. A.S. Johnson purchased the sawmill in 1921. In 1925, he organized Reader Railroad, named after the small community and postal stop of Reader. He also used the railroad to transport freight to and front newly discovered oilfields near Waterloo in Nevada County.

“Reader Railroad continued to work the river bottoms and creek valleys, hauling timber and freight until the 1950s when the parent company was dissolved. Tom Long purchased the railroad and began an upgrade. He promoted it for passenger and freight traffic, but the energy crisis of the early 1970s closed the refinery in Waterloo. Declining tourist traffic couldn’t sustain the little railroad. Long abandoned his plans, and the railroad was sold to a group of businessmen who worked to preserve it. They, in turn, sold it in 1980 to R.A. Grigsby, who emphasized the history of Reader Railroad and the role it played in the development of south Arkansas.”

Parents would bring their children for the trip through the pine woods.

“At the end of the track, the engine was turned by hand on a turntable,” Ponder writes. “The engine then picked up the train while the caboose was placed on the rear for the return trip. In 1985, ABC and Warner Brothers came to south Arkansas and used the railroad cars and stations for the filming of the miniseries ‘North & South.’ Equipment from Reader Railroad was also used in filming the 2007 movies ‘3:10 To Yuma’ and ‘There Will Be Blood.’ The railroad operated until 1992, when it couldn’t meet new federal safety regulations.”

Back in Prescott, visitors can see the old buildings that make up the Prescott Commercial Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in December 2008. Many of the buildings are empty since Prescott has been losing population for the past 40 years.

“Prescott was founded after the railroad passed through the area, and an active line still runs through the historic district in the 21st century,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University at Arkadelphia. “Many of the businesses in town were located near the tracks for easy access receiving and shipping goods. A row of 11 buildings is on West First Street South. Facing the railroad tracks, the single-story structures were constructed between 1900-05. The buildings are good examples of commercial properties constructed in this period. The majority of buildings in the district are single story, though several two-story buildings are present.

“Most of the structures are of simple design, constructed from brick with little or no ornamentation. Notable exceptions to this include the post office at 206 East Elm St. Constructed in 1926-27, the building is designed in a Colonial Revival style. The First United Methodist Church and associated education building include some Gothic Revival details. The two-story church has a corner tower and is connected by a covered walkway. It’s the only church included in the district.”

The Nevada County Bank building at 100 West Main St. was constructed in 1912 in the Classical Revival style. Two stone columns flank the front door. The red-brick Gilbert Lumber Co. building was constructed in 1924. The brick building that once housed Logan Grocery was built in 1912.

Prescott has one of the newer county courthouses in Arkansas. It was built in 1964.

“Three permanent purpose-built courthouses have served the county,” Sesser writes. “The first was constructed in Prescott in 1884. It was razed in 1911 and replaced by a structure the same year with a county investment of about $60,000. The condition of the 1911 courthouse deteriorated through the decades. By the 1950s, the county was considering options to replace it. An effort to pass a bond issue to support construction of a courthouse failed in 1961. During the next two years, Prescott experienced significant growth and investment, leading to another vote in September 1963. This time, the bond issue was approved by voters, and demolition of the 1911 courthouse began in January 1964.

“Construction of the new building on the same site was completed by Oct. 31, and most of the county offices were occupied in early November. The building was dedicated on Dec. 4. 1964. The courthouse was designed by the Weaver & Hiegel firm of Little Rock and constructed by the E.W. Johnson Construction Co. of Texarkana. The flat-roofed building is designed in the New Formalism style and constructed from red brick with cast-stone accent. The courthouse sits on a continuous cast concrete foundation. The structure faces northwest and measures 12,850 square feet.”

We leave Prescott and continue toward the southwest on U.S. 67, crossing Terre Rouge Creek and passing through Emmet, which had 518 residents in the 2010 census.

Emmet was established as a railroad stop along the Cairo & Fulton

“Nevada County wasn’t created until 1871,” writes Steve Teske of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. “Before the arrival of European explorers and settlers, the land was home to the Caddo until it was acquired by the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Dominated by pine forests, the land was only gradually cleared for cotton and other crops. Larger plantations were built to the south while northern Nevada County consisted mostly of small farms. In 1837, Martin Edwards acquired the land on which Emmet would be built. A Methodist church was organized in the area around 1855. Until the construction of railroads after the Civil War, the region attracted little attention.

“The Cairo & Fulton was established in 1853 with a plan to create a line that would run from the Arkansas-Missouri line across Arkansas and into Texas. After several name changes, the line eventually became part of Union Pacific. The line that ran through southwest Arkansas bypassed important cities such as Washington while creating new cities such as Prescott and Hope. Edwards’ farm was halfway between Prescott and Hope and became the location of a depot. It reportedly was named for one of the railroad employees. Robert F. Elgin was the first depot agent.”

A post office was established in 1871 with the name Burkville. The name was changed to Emmet in 1874. Alfred Eaves was the first postmaster.

The oldest burial date in Ephesus Cemetery at Emmet is 1876. The city was incorporated in 1883.

“During an election in 1890 when many parts of Arkansas, including areas of Nevada County, voted to prohibit the sale of alcohol, Emmet voters decided to remain wet,” Teske writes. “High prices for cotton during World War I brought brief prosperity. The timber industry and truck farming also provided jobs. Among the crops shipped from Emmet during the 1920s were cantaloupes, peas, beans, radishes, mustard plants, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries and watermelons.”

By the 1950s, row-crop farming had almost disappeared from northern Nevada County.

In 1959, Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co. opened Arkla Village as a tourist attraction along U.S. 67. It was a pet project for Arkla boss Witt Stephens.

“It featured a saloon and general store, a livery stable and a museum,” Teske writes. “Connected with the village was a factory that built horse-drawn carriages. Employing 34 workers, the factory included Amish farmers and Hollywood movie makers among its customers. Both the village and the factory had closed by 1970.”

The construction of Interstate 30, causing traffic to abandon U.S. 67, spelled doom for attractions such as Arkla Village.

I will always remember where I was in 1980 when the United States defeated the Soviet Union in hockey — the so-called Miracle on Ice — during the Winter Olympics. Okolona High School had a basketball sensation named Ricky Norton, and I was calling Okolona’s postseason games that season for KVRC-AM in Arkadelphia. I was at a district tournament game in the old Emmet gymnasium when L.D. Hoover, working back in the studio, interrupted me and said: “Rex, there has probably never been a hockey score given on KVRC. But you might be interested to know that the U.S. just beat the Russians.”

I’m in Hempstead County after leaving Emmet. I pass through Perrytown, which had 272 residents in the 2010 census. Named for businessman Perry Campbell, Perrytown was incorporated in 1963.

“Robert Carrington, James Cantley, William Easley and David Mouser all received land patents in this area in 1837,” Teske writes. “Carrington owned the largest portion of land. By this time, the Southwest Trail had been established through Arkansas, running through Washington and Fulton. The Cairo & Fulton, intended to connect southern Illinois with towns along the Southwest Trail in Missouri and Arkansas, was first surveyed in the 1850s. When tracks were finally laid in Hempstead County in the 1870s, they swung to the south of Carrington’s land but helped to create the city of Hope. The land continued to produce cotton and other crops into the 20th century.

“U.S. 67 was created, following the route of the Southwest Trail and parallel to the railroad. The highway crossed the area that would become Perrytown. Campbell established a truck stop next to the highway in 1955. During the next eight years, he added a garage, a restaurant and a motel he called Perry’s Congress Motel. By 1963, Campbell had competition from a second motel. The area also supported a cabinet shop, a grocery store, a gift shop, a clothing store, a shoe store, two greenhouses and two watermelon stands.”

Residents voted to incorporate in 1963. They decided to name the community Perrytown, against Campbell’s wishes. An October 1963 story by Wick Temple in the Arkansas Gazette was headlined “New State Municipality Spawned by Thriving Truck Stop and a Dream.”

Campbell served as mayor. He died in 2005 and was honored in a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Mike Ross from Prescott.

Hempstead County was established in December 1818 before Arkansas even became a territory.

“The Missouri Territorial Legislature had created additional counties from Arkansas County,” writes southwest Arkansas historian Mary Nell Turner. “The county was named for Edward Hempstead, the first delegate to Congress from Missouri Territory. It has been home to four Arkansas governors — Augustus Garland, Daniel Webster Jones, Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee.”

Settlers came up the Red River and also down the Southwest Trail into to this area, beginning in the early 1800s.

“Mound Prairie, their first settlement, was not far from the Red River on rich black land,” Turner writes. “Some grew wealthy from cotton production, but no town developed. Nearby Columbus became the trading center. Three days after the county was organized, commissioners reviewed, marked and laid out a road for the crossing of the Southwest Trail at the Little Missouri River. … Washington was established as the first county seat in 1824. It was on the Southwest Trail and, because of its proximity to the border, was a stopover for those traveling west. Sam Houston and Davy Crockett were two of those travelers. Washington was on the Trail of Tears for Indian removal from 1832-38. It was also the rendezvous point in 1846 for volunteers to be mustered in for the Mexican War.

“Before Arkansas statehood, wealthy Virginians with plantations on the Red River were building their homes in Spring Hill for educational and social advantages. They established the Spring Hill Female Academy in 1837 and later added a male academy. Also during this time, families with few slaves came from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and the Carolinas. Some rented small farms until they could purchase land. They started neighborhood schools and churches. Hempstead County ranked fifth in slave-owned counties in Arkansas. The 1850 census showed 296 owners and 2,394 slaves.”

The economy of Hempstead County continued to be based on cotton and timber after the Civil War.

“Steamboats moved up and down the Red River, transporting cotton to be sold in New Orleans and returning with merchandise for stores,” Turner writes. “The first roads had been cut out under the supervision of the county courts, which kept them passable with landowner overseers. Railroads crisscrossed the county beginning with the Cairo & Fulton, for which the laying of tracks was completed by 1873 with the first steam engine arriving at Fulton. The Cairo & Fulton was reorganized as the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern, then became the Missouri Pacific and finally the Union Pacific. A branch later ran from Hope to Nashville in Howard County. The Louisiana & Arkansas also ran from Shreveport to Hope for many years. The Frisco ran from Hope to Oklahoma.

“By 1880, the rich earth near Columbus was producing 1,120 pounds of cotton per acre. Total production of cotton for the county was 13,985 bales, worth an estimated $1,425,000. By 1890, cotton production had increased to 15,985 bales. Cotton continued to be king until after World War I. With the development of the automobile, good roads were in demand. In 1922, the road from Emmet to Fulton was improved as part of the Bankhead Highway. It ran on the north side of the railroad tracks. In 1934, the first cars drove on the south side of the tracks on paved U.S. 67. Interstate 30 was completed in 1972.”

Hope replaced Washington as county seat in 1939. Fulton also declined in importance as river traffic ceased. A ferry there remained in operation until the U.S. 67 bridge was completed in 1930. In 1941, the federal government constructed the Southwestern Proving Ground on more than 50,000 acres in the center of the county. Ammunition was tested there. The facility closed in 1946. Some of the land was then used for industrial sites.

“Army Maj. Paul W. Klipsch was in the ballistics department at the proving ground from 1942-46,” Turner writes. “He stayed in Hope and eventually began to manufacture audio speakers. He became known internationally for his products, making some of the world’s finest concert-quality loudspeakers, speaker systems and electronic audio products. … From the beginning, the county’s timber was a source of income. Capt. Judson Timothy West, who retired to Hope from steamboating in 1876, organized the Hope Lumber Co. in 1890. It was one of the largest in the area, shipping lumber throughout the country. Ivory Handle Co., incorporated in 1901, used hickory. Small sawmills dotted the county. Most of the hardwoods are now gone, and pine is grown for harvest.

“The University of Arkansas Southwest Branch Experiment Station was founded in 1929 as a fruit and vegetable station near Hope. In the 1950s, work changed to beef cattle, forestry and crops other than vegetables. Poultry has become the leading part of the agricultural sector in Hempstead County. The county rates in the top 10 of broiler growers in the state. Many farmers raise poultry and cattle while growing timber part time.”

The Rick Evans Grandview Prairie Conservation Education Center was established by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission in 1997. It includes almost 5,000 acres on the site of Mound Prairie and its former plantations.

“This land represents one of the largest tracts of blackland prairie in public ownership in the nation,” Turner writes. “The land is being allowed to return to its original condition. Recreation is also provided by the Lester Sitzes Bois d’Arc Wildlife Management Area south of Spring Hill. The Grassy Lake and Yellow Creek clubs near Saratoga are privately owned and are known for their virgin cypress trees and alligators. Millwood Dam and Millwood Lake are on the northwest edge of the county and in adjoining Little River County.”

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On to Prescott

Monday, November 16th, 2020

FOURTEENTH IN A SERIES

Before reaching Prescott, I turn off U.S. 67 and take a county road to the banks of the Little Missouri River. I want to see where the Engagement at Elkin’s Ferry was fought during the Civil War.

Confederate troops attacked a Union column there during what was known as the Camden Expedition.

“The battle site is commonly known as Elkin’s Ferry because that’s how the name was printed in the official records of the Civil War, but the Elkins family owned the ferry at the time so the name is more properly rendered Elkins’ Ferry,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University at Arkadelphia. “After capturing Little Rock and Fort Smith in September 1863, Union forces were in control of much of the state. From these two occupied cities, Union troops could launch an attack into southern Arkansas, northern Louisiana or eastern Texas. In March 1864, an attack on northwest Louisiana and eastern Texas was launched from both Arkansas and New Orleans.

“Leaving Little Rock on March 23, Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele set out to help the Union column from New Orleans capture Shreveport, then the headquarters for the Confederate Trans-Mississippi. Arriving in Arkadelphia on March 29, Steele remained for three days, waiting for reinforcements from Fort Smith under the command of Brig. Gen. John Thayer. Thayer’s Frontier Division’s progress was hampered by bad roads and a lack of provisions. After three days, Steele was forced to continue his mission without the extra men.”

Steele reached the Little Missouri River on April 3. He was running short on supplies and decided that the best strategy would be to capture Camden and get supplies there.

“Camden was rumored to have a large supply of food, but it was occupied by the main body of the Confederate Army in Arkansas, led by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price,” Sesser writes. “Steele decided to move toward Washington — then the Confederate capital of Arkansas — and draw Price’s army from Camden, leaving the town open for the taking. To move toward Washington, Steele needed to cross the Little Missouri. Leaving one brigade of infantry on the north bank of the river near Okolona to act as a rear guard and look for Thayer, Steele moved most of his 8,500 men to the river. Price, meanwhile, had dispatched Brig. Gen. Joseph Shelby to harass the column from the rear and Brig. Gen. John Marmaduke to stop the enemy’s advance.

“Each commander had a brigade of cavalry under his command. Price was unable to send any infantry because both of his divisions were sent to Louisiana to counter the Union thrust from New Orleans. Shelby decided to attack the Union rear guard while it was still isolated. At 9 a.m. on April 3, he attacked with his cavalry. Soon, a hailstorm moved into the area. Amid lightning and thunder, Union and Confederate forces continued their fight. The Confederates weren’t driven off by Union troops or even the weather. After three hours, Union artillery fire upset several beehives near the Confederate positions, forcing a hasty retreat.”

While Shelby was launching his attack on the Union rear guard near Okolona, Marmaduke went after the head of the column on the south bank of the Little Missouri. He was driven back, but Marmaduke’s forces resumed the attack at 6 a.m. the next day.

“Marmaduke’s attack succeeded at first, pushing Union troops back toward the river,” Sesser writes. “As more Union troops crossed the river, it became harder for the Confederates to continue their attack. They fell back to their original positions by 11 a.m. The rest of the Union Army crossed the river April 4. The next day, Steele resumed his march. He halted his army again only six miles from the Little Missouri when word reached him of Thayer’s approach. Marmaduke and Shelby had withdrawn 16 miles to Prairie D’Ane, where they went into camp and awaited the Union forces.”

Sesser calls the Engagement at Elkin’s Ferry “the Confederates’ best chance of containing the Union advance into southwest Arkansas, but the lack of infantry units and the piecemeal use of the available cavalry units hindered their efforts. The lack of commitment exhibited by the Confederate forces let the Union advance continue.”

We continue our trip down U.S. 67 to Prescott, where the Prairie D’Ane battlefield is within sight of Interstate 30.

“Price’s main objective was to protect Washington,” Sesser writes. “Two cavalry brigades under Col. Richard Gano reinforced Shelby and Marmaduke on April 6. On April 7, the rest of the Confederate forces in Camden further reinforced the units in the field. When the units from Camden arrived, Price took control of the entire army. Federal troops were also receiving long-awaited reinforcements. … On April 9, Thayer finally reached Steele, and the combined armies continued their march.

“Thayer’s men were short of food, and Steele had to request that rations be sent immediately from Little Rock. On April 10, Steele’s men reached Prairie D’Ane. The Confederates had been building earthworks for six days, and the Union troops immediately began building their own defensive positions about a mile away. Prairie D’Ane consists of about 30 square miles of open, rolling land surrounded by forests. For the next two days, the Union and Confederate armies exchanged an occasional artillery shell and engaged in limited skirmishing. Neither side wished to force a major engagement, and the bulk of the two armies received a short respite from the war. The men were able to relax and do everything from hunt rabbits to write letters home.”

There were several small attacks. The last fighting occurred about midnight on April 11.

“On April 11, Steele formed his army into a battle line that stretched more than two miles but didn’t move on the Confederate positions until the next day, when he found them abandoned,” Sesser writes. “Price had withdrawn under the cover of darkness to positions near Washington, where he prepared to defend the capital. With the Confederate Army defending Washington and leaving Camden undefended, Steele turned his troops to the east and moved on the city. His men entered Camden on April 15 despite Confederate attacks along the column.

“The skirmish at Prairie D’Ane allowed Steele to confuse the Confederates and force them to defend Washington while Union troops moved into Camden. Little loss of life resulted from the skirmish, but it was the turning point of the Camden Expedition. Without provisions, the Union advance into southwest Arkansas had been stopped and turned away. There was little hope of Steele reaching his ultimate objective of Shreveport and east Texas.”

The battlefield at Prairie D’Ane still looks much as it did at the time of the Civil War. On Feb. 23, 2018, an acquisition ceremony was held to present the deed for 808 acres of the battlefield to the Nevada County Depot & Museum.”

The museum at Prescott, which was founded in 1976, is a good place to learn more about the history of southwest Arkansas. It’s located in a 1912 depot. Passenger service to Prescott was suspended in 1968.

According to the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “The city of Prescott purchased the building and its adjoining parking lots from Missouri Pacific in 1970 for $1. During the next two years, the building was used for a variety of purposes, but the noise of passing trains soon forced the city simply to use the depot for storage. During the 1972 Prescott centennial celebration, several museum exhibits were set up in the depot, and excursion trains stopped in Prescott for the first time in years. It was during the centennial that a group of local citizens formed an organization to create a state park at the Prairie D’Ane battlefield. The depot served as the headquarters of the Nevada County State Park Association, as the group was known.

“In 1976, the Prescott Chamber of Commerce moved into the building. John Teeter became the first curator as several exhibits were installed. A replica of a pioneer cabin and some Civil War artifacts were among the first exhibits. In 1977, the Nevada County Historical Society successfully nominated the depot for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, and it was placed on the register on Nov. 17, 1978. The Nevada County State Park Association was also incorporated in 1978. In 1982, it became a nonprofit organization tasked with keeping the museum open to the public while at the same time furthering its goal of bringing a state park to Prairie D’Ane.”

No state park ever came to Prescott. In 1992, the depot received a grant from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program for renovations. Another grant came in 2000 from the Arkansas Highway Commission. The name of the association was changed to the Nevada County Depot & Museum.

When I was a boy growing up in Arkadelphia, people often would travel to Prescott to view Old Mike, the name of a traveling salesman who died there in 1911. The body was embalmed and open for public viewing for more than 60 years.

“Mike visited Prescott about once a month to sell pens, paper and thread to homes and businesses near the railroad tracks in the center of town,” Sesser writes. “He would arrive on the southbound 3 p.m. train and stay overnight. The next day, he would board the 3 p.m. train and continue his journey. On April 11, 1911, Mike probably attended an outdoor revival in the city park. The next day, his body was found underneath a tree in the park, where he had apparently died of a heart attack or stroke. The body was taken to Cornish Funeral Home, where it was embalmed. A search of Mike’s belongings didn’t turn up any identification.

“What was known about Mike was that he was 40 to 45 years old, spoke English with little accent, was probably Italian, had suffered some type of injury to his right arm and left leg (possibly the effects of a stroke) and had had elaborate dental work done. The body was placed on display at the funeral home in hopes of someone identifying it. No one came forward to identify or claim the body. As the years passed, it became more unlikely that Mike would ever be identified. The body turned into somewhat of a tourist attraction. People traveled from surrounding areas to view the remains. In 1975, the Arkansas attorney general’s office asked Cornish Funeral Home to bury the body. On May 12, 1975, a quiet ceremony was held at the DeAnn Cemetery, and Old Mike was put to rest.”

Prescott’s population has declined from 4,103 in the 1980 census to an estimated 3,000 residents today.

The land that is now Nevada County was sparsely populated for much of Arkansas’ history as a territory and state.

“It remained wilderness with a few cotton plantations introduced to the area in the first half of the 19th century,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “An important transportation corridor traversed the area, connecting Camden and Washington. This route, which ran several miles south of present-day Prescott, was part of the Indian removal route and also served as a major corridor for shipping goods and transporting people from the Washington area to the navigable head of the Ouachita River.”

The Cairo & Fulton Railroad was constructed across the north end of Nevada County in the early 1870s. Robert Burns moved from Little Rock to the Nevada County town of Moscow, two miles south of the tracks.

“He persuaded railroad surveyors to place a town on the line near Moscow,” Teske writes. “In August 1873, four surveyors, including W.H. Prescott, laid out 24 blocks on each side of the rails. Within two weeks, Burns had constructed a frame storehouse. A second store, a restaurant and a hotel quickly followed. The railroad had established a depot in the city by November. On Nov. 24, Prescott received a post office. Burns was named postmaster. Prescott was said to resemble an oil boom town in the speed of its growth.

“Controversy exists surrounding the name of the town. Most historians assume that it was named for the surveyor, but others note that railroad executives Thomas Allen and Henry Marquand had a friend of the same name for whom the city might have been named. A Methodist preacher led services in Burns’ store. The first church was a Cumberland Presbyterian church built in 1875. The first newspaper, called the Banner, was published in January of that year.”

A charter for the city was granted in October 1874, but the first election wasn’t held until 1876. E.A. Warren was the first mayor.

In 1877, Nevada County voters decided to move the county seat from Rosston to Prescott. A school district also was established that year. The Nevada County Picayune began publishing in 1878, and the first bank was established at Prescott in 1880.

“Prescott continued to grow and thrive as the 20th century approached,” Teske writes. “Ozan Lumber Co. was established at Prescott in 1891 to harvest the timber of southwest Arkansas. The Reader Railroad was created to link timber operations to the Cairo & Fulton line. Various crops, including peaches, were raised in the Prescott area. Icehouses in the city helped to preserve the fruit while it awaited shipping. Hines Trucking, an early transportation company, was established at Prescott in 1936.”

James Bemis and Benjamin Whitaker opened a sawmill in Prescott in April 1891. In July of that year, it was incorporated as Ozan Lumber Co. with the name apparently taken from the nearby town of Ozan in Hempstead County.

“Whitaker remained a part of the business for only a short period before selling out and embarking on other ventures,” Sesser writes. “The lumber business proved to be successful with timber shipped on the company-owned Prescott & Northwestern Railroad. The company opened a wholesale land office in 1901 under the control of Bemis and his sons, William N. Bemis and J.W. Bemis. The company continued to grow and began harvesting timber in the southern Ouachita Mountains in 1905, building a rail extension into the area that was known colloquially as the Pea Vine.

“Thomas Rosborough began working for the company around 1905. The brother-in-law of William Bemis, Rosborough had experience in the lumber industry, holding positions in Kansas and Louisiana. The company owned timberland in the Ouachita Mountains, but the terrain made it difficult to access. With the support of the Bemis family, Rosborough organized financial backers from Kansas City and founded the Caddo River Lumber Co. Rosborough built a mill about four miles northwest of Amity for Ozan Lumber Co. and began harvesting timber in the area. The area surrounding the mill was named Rosboro in honor of Rosborough. In 1908, Caddo River Lumber Co. purchased the mill and associated timberland from Ozan Lumber Co.”

In December 1915, Ozan Lumber Co. merged with the Grayson-McLeod Co. to form the Ozan-Graysonia Lumber Co.

“James Bemis died in 1918, and his sons continued to operate the company together until J.W. Bemis died in 1922,” Sesser writes. “J.R. Bemis, the son of William Bemis, joined his father in a partnership to operate a new company as a wholesale lumber company in St. Louis under the name Ozan Lumber Co. This company moved to Prescott in July 1929 and formally incorporated. Starting as a wholesale lumber business, the company expanded into manufacturing the next year. This mill was replaced in 1933 by a two-story mill on the same site. It burned in 1936. A second mill operated during the same period at Whelen Springs in Clark County and a third was constructed at Delight in Pike County.”

The Delight mill opened in 1937. The Whelen Springs mill closed in 1938, but a mill opened at Rosboro the following year.

“Rough lumber from the Rosboro mill was placed onto flat railcars and transferred to the Delight mill, where it was dried and finished,” Sesser writes. “With the death of William Bemis in 1935, the Ozan-Graysonia Lumber Co. and the Ozan Lumber Co. merged under the latter’s name. Four retail lumber yards and about 52,000 acres of land were transferred to the new company. The lumber yards were sold by 1941, but the company continued to purchase additional land. It focused on selective harvesting of timber, moving away from large-scale clear cutting. By 1956, the company owned more than 132,000 acres of timber.

“The company cut smaller second- and third-growth timber, as the large virgin forests had almost disappeared. This business model led the company to invest in education programs in nearby schools to teach children the importance of replanting trees after a harvest. The mill at Delight was destroyed by fire in March 1952. In order to continue to supply other operatons of the company, including a planing mill at Delight, the Rosboro mill was moved from one shift to two shifts. This second shift remained until November 1953. The company focused on other businesses outside of the timber and rail industries. Ozan Lumber Co. even owned automobile dealerships at Prescott and Smackover.”

What was then the Potlatch Corp. purchased the company in 1964. With the housing industry battered by the Great Recession, Potlatch closed its Prescott mill in 2008.

 

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Home of the Hoo-Hoo

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

THIRTEENTH IN A SERIES

It was Jan. 21, 1892, when six men formed a fraternal organization of lumbermen with a unique name: The Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.

The birthplace of the organization was Gurdon, which we pass through on our trip toward Texarkana on U.S. 67.

“The men saw a need for an organization to promote unity and fellowship among lumbermen and to combat a possible split brought on by the lumbermen’s broad range of pursuits,” Rachel Bridges writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The six men — Bolling Arthur Johnson, a journalist for the publication Timberman in Chicago; George Washington Schwartz of the Vandalia Railroad in St. Louis; William Starr Mitchell of the Arkansas Democrat at Little Rock; William Eddy Barns of the publication St. Louis Lumberman; George Kimball Smith, secretary of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers Association; and Rudolph Strauss of the Malvern Lumber Co. — began discussing the idea of an organization for lumbermen.

“In Hotel Hall at Gurdon, the men set up the basic tenets of the order. Hoo-Hoo was to be an organization comprised of men with high ideals, and the order’s motto became Health, Happiness and Long Life. The group, led by Johnson, decided that the board of directors would be called the Supreme Nine.”

The directors were given these names:

— The president was the Snark of the Universe.

— The chaplain was the Bojum.

— The secretary was the Scrivenoter.

— The sergeant at arms was the Gurdon.

— At-large members were Senior Hoo-Hoo, Junior Hoo-Hoo, Custocacian, Arcanoper and Bandersnatch (later changed to Jabberwock).

“Some of the names were derived from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Hunting of the Snark,’ which one of the founders had recently read,” Bridges writes. “The name Hoo-Hoo also had a unique origin. In Kansas City, about a month before the founding of the order, Johnson had used the term to refer to an unusual tuft of hair on the head of Charles McCarer, who became the first Snark of the Universe and was given membership No. 1.

“Consistent with their unconventionality, the group chose as its mascot a black cat with its tail curved into the number nine. Membership in Hoo-Hoo was to be limited to 9,999 members. As the order increased in popularity, this number was changed to 99,999. Meetings were held on the ninth day of the ninth month at nine minutes after the ninth hour. Annual dues were $9.99, and the initiation fee was 99 cents.”

The organization would grow to include more than 13,000 members.

“The first club established outside the United States was founded in Canada in 1924, and other groups sprouted up in places as far away as Australia,” Bridges writes. “Though the Hoo-Hoo experienced a slump from 1929-38, when membership dropped to around 700, the order recovered and membership began to rise again. Two U.S. presidents have had membership. Theodore Roosevelt was given the reserved membership No. 999 for his work promoting the importance of forests. Warren Harding was No. 14,945 and was ‘concatenated’ in 1905.”

In 1981, the organization moved its headquarters from Boston back to Gurdon.

In the southeastern corner of the parking lot for Gurdon’s depot, there’s a granite-and-bronze Hoo-Hoo monument by artist George Zolnay. The monument was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 1999.

“In 1891, there were many local and state associations of lumbermen but no national order had been established,” writes Arkansas historian Mark Christ. “In order to promote communications, foster cooperation and create a shared code of ethics for the lumber industry and its workers, Johnson aspired to create a fraternity of lumbermen.”

The men who formed the association had been in Camden for a meeting of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers Association. A delayed train stranded them in Gurdon for five hours.

“The organization borrowed some concepts from historical Egyptian lore for the titles, symbols and rituals of the fraternity,” Christ writes. “The theme of ‘nine’ came from the legendary number of a cat’s lives. In 1909, five of the founding members of the order — Johnson, Barns, Mitchell, Schwartz and Smith — gathered in Gurdon to dedicate the Hoo-Hoo monument. The plaque, cast from the copper in pennies donated by Hoo-Hoo members, was affixed to the building that stood on the site of Hotel Hall.

“In 1927, the building holding the Hoo-Hoo monument was scheduled for demolition, and the bronze plaque was moved across Main Street to its current location adjacent to the Missouri Pacific Railroad depot. There, it was affixed to a permanent barre granite base and dedicated for a second time. The bronze plaque inset on the northwestern side is divided into three horizontal levels and is decorated with Egyptian revival-influenced reliefs and engravings, as well as a small relief of Hotel Hall. The names of all Hoo-Hoo presidents — or Snarks of the Universe — were engraved on the opposite sides of the monument, and two statues of cats, as they appear on the Hoo-Hoo logo, were placed atop the new monument.”

Zolnay had been born in Hungary in July 1863. He moved to the United States in 1892 after having studied at the Imperial Academy in Vienna and the National Academy in Bucharest. He was a member of artists’ unions in Europe and the United States.

“Zolnay specialized in large memorial sculptures and architectural sculptures,” Christ writes. “In addition to the Hoo-Hoo monument, he’s known to have executed other small-scale bronze works, including the relief panel on the monument for Gen. Richard L. Hoxie and his wife at Arlington National Cemetery. Zolnay died on May 1, 1949, in New York City. The identities of the sculptor of the cats and the fabricator of the granite monument on which the Zolnay plaque is set are unknown. However, these elements have been a part of the monument since its 1927 relocation and contribute to the overall integrity of the Hoo-Hoo monument.

“After its move to the current location, the monument remained a center point of the group’s identity. The names of succeeding generations of Rameses — the title given to Snarks of the Universe after their tenure as president of the organization ended — were engraved on its reverse side, providing additional historic and traditional importance to the monument in its 1927 location and manifestation. In fact, the monument was utilized by the organization continually until 1988, when there was no additional space to inscribe the names of Snarks. Two smaller granite monuments were purchased to carry the names of future Snarks. Those monuments flank the original monument.”

The first white settlers had arrived in the Gurdon area shortly before 1820.

“Capt. Robert Tate, his siblings and other family members were the first group to travel up the Ouachita River and arrive in the area,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University. “Each purchased several hundred acres of land from the government land office at Washington in southwest Arkansas. This initial purchase included the land where Gurdon now stands. The population grew slowly. In 1836, Meriwether Lewis Randolph, grandson of Thomas Jefferson, arrived in the area. He bought several thousand acres near the present-day location of Gurdon but died of malaria in 1837 before much work was completed on his holdings.

“Settlers continued to slowly enter the area in small numbers during the next several decades. The area next experienced a large influx of settlers in 1874 when the Cairo & Fulton Railroad was constructed. On July 12, 1875, a post office was opened but closed that same year on Oct. 18. On March 15, 1876, the post office at Tate was renamed Gurdon. A small depot was constructed, and by 1880 the town had been laid out. That year, 33 citizens petitioned the court to incorporate the city of Gurdon, which was approved.”

Gurdon appears to have been named for Gurdon Cunningham, who surveyed the right of way for the railroad in the area. Gurdon became an important center of both the railroad and timber industries.

“The number of mills operating in the area reached a peak of 10 in the late 19th century,” Sesser writes. “The combination of people passing through town on the railroad and the rough nature of the timber business brought many unsavory characters to Gurdon. When the first minister arrived in 1881, he found a community of 500 people with three saloons and no churches. The situation changed by 1887 when all saloons were banned. Several churches were founded during this period.

“The first newspaper was founded at Gurdon in 1886 and was called the Gurdon Advocate. After several changes in both name and ownership, it became the Gurdon Times. In 1892, an African American known only by his surname of Bowles was lynched for the alleged rape of a young white woman, Nellie Wilkes. In 1903, an African American man named Alex Thompson was lynched for allegedly attacking a local doctor.”

Gurdon has always been an interesting place. Not only do you have those cats curled atop the Hoo-Hoo monument, its high school athletic teams are known as the Go-Devils (which is actually a type of equipment used to drag heavy logs).

And then there’s the Gurdon Light.

Staci Morrow writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “The Gurdon Light is a mysterious floating light near Gurdon. It was first sighted during the 1930s. Many theories exist to explain the light, including one which connects it to the 1931 murder of William McClain, a railroad worker. The popular local legend drew national attention in December 1994 when NBC’s ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ documented the phenomenon.

“The light is said to appear along a stretch of former railroad tracks outside of town. Some people believe the light originates from the reflection of headlights of cars off Interstate 30. However, the site is more than two miles from the interstate, and people began seeing the light decades before Interstate 30 was built in the 1970s. Others believe that swamp gas creates the light, though the light appears in all kinds of weather. A somewhat popular story is that a railroad worker was working outside of town one night when he accidentally fell into the path of a train and was killed. Since his head was severed from his body, many locals say the light is the lantern his ghost uses while looking for his head.”

McClain was a foreman for the Missouri Pacific Railroad in December 1931 when he got into a heated argument with employee Louis McBride regarding how many days McBride was being allowed to work.

“During the Great Depression, the company didn’t have the option of giving McBride more hours on the job,” Morrow writes. “McBride became angry, hit McClain on the head with a shovel and beat him to death with a railroad spike maul or a spike hammer. The Gurdon Light was first sighted shortly after this murder, and many have come to believe that the light is actually McClain’s ghostly lantern glowing.”

The site is a popular place for college students from Arkadelphia to visit, especially around Halloween.

We leave Gurdon and continue toward the southwest on U.S. 67 and soon find ourselves in the Little Missouri River bottoms. The river begins in the Ouachita Mountains of Polk County and flows to the southeast through Montgomery and Pike counties. Narrows Dam on the river was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The dam was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1941 and built in 1950 about six miles from Murfreesboro.

Below the dam, the river leaves the Ouachita foothills and enters the Gulf Coastal Plain. We cross it a bit to the west of where it empties into the Ouachita River.

We exit Clark County as we cross the river and enter Nevada County. The Legislature formed the county in 1871 from parts of Hempstead, Ouachita and Columbia counties.

“The reason for the selection of the county’s name has been lost,” Peggy Lloyd writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Sierra nevada, as in the Sierra Nevada in California, means ‘snowy range’ in Spanish. The county has no snowy mountains, but one theory holds that the shape of the county resembles that of the state of Nevada. Another perhaps more plausible theory is that the county was named for the silver-rich state of Nevada. The name may have been chosen in the hope that it would suggest riches comparable to those from Nevada’s famed Comstock mines. However, the county’s name isn’t pronounced like that of the state, featuring instead a long ‘a’ sound for the middle syllable.”

Stephen Vaughan and his wife Polly came up the Ouachita and Little Missouri rivers in about 1812, settling at a place on the Little Missouri later known as Janes Ferry.

“Vaughan was the first person in the county to be granted a federal land patent,” Lloyd writes. “He bought four tracts along the Little Missouri from the public domain. But he had been dead for two years by the time the patents were granted on Dec. 5, 1823. His widow established her claim to his estate and for years ran a ferry and an inn for travelers heading north to Hot Springs. Land patents in the county were few in the 1820s. Statehood in 1836 and the opening of the Red River to steamboat navigation spurred land sales in the late 1830s. Small farmers, larger planters with slaves and land speculators began to buy land out of the public domain. The flood of immigration in the 1850s accelerated the trend, which continued to the brink of the Civil War.

“Many settlers were Southerners and brought their slaves to establish cotton as a major cash crop. Larger slaveholders were especially prevalent in a band across southern Nevada County. Thomas Mendenhall of Jackson Township (then in Ouachita County) was a North Carolina native who spent years in Alabama before moving to Arkansas. With 99 slaves, he was the largest slaveholder in his township in 1860. Many African Americans in the region still bear the names of these early planters. In this mix were smaller farmers who owned few slaves, if any. Many of the planters and farmers moved to Prescott after the railroad arrived in 1873 to pursue careers as merchants, businessmen, professional men and public officials.”

The northern part of the county had fewer large farms and slaveholders. At the time of the Civil War, there were no towns of any size in what would become Nevada County.

“The first county court convened on May 8, 1871, at Mount Moriah, a country church that served as a temporary county seat since no incorporated cities or towns existed in the new county,” Lloyd writes. “Mount Moriah is still an active Methodist church between Prescott and Rosston. In 1872, a governor-appointed commission established Rosston as the county seat. On May 19, 1877, voters elected to move the government to the newly created railroad town of Prescott, where it has remained since July 2, 1877.

“The building of the Cairo & Fulton Railroad in 1873 shifted the focus to the new railroad towns of Boughton, Prescott and Emmet. By early 1874, the railroad was completed to Texarkana. In May 1874, it was reorganized as the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern. The railroad attracted merchants from nearby counties such as Pike and Ouachita. Immigrants from other Southern and Midwestern states, as well as those from Canada and Europe, were in Nevada County by the 1880s.”

The population of the county grew from 12,959 in the 1880 census to 21,934 in the 1920 census. It has been falling ever since. There were just 8,997 Nevada County residents in the 2010 census.

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