FIRST IN A SERIES
It doesn’t take long to leave the Gulf Coastal Plain and enter the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains once you leave Arkadelphia and head west on Arkansas Highway 8.
We’ve decided to spend an entire Saturday poking around the Ouachitas.
When a community has a name like Alpine, you know you’re in the mountains.
“William Glover and his family, the first settlers of the area, arrived in 1848 in what would become Alpine, followed by several other families,” Jacob Worthan writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “It’s most commonly thought that the settlement received its name due to its location on the highest point in Clark County. However, several folktales also relay origins of the name. The original settlement was a mile east of the present community and was comprised of little more than a post office, a general store, a saloon and a few houses.
“According to ‘Goodspeed’s Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas,’ Alpine had about 50 inhabitants in 1890 and a post office, a general store, a hotel, a church that also served as a schoolhouse and a blacksmith shop.”
The first post office had opened in 1849. It closed after the Civil War and then was reopened in 1869.
The Works Progress Administration built a school building at Alpine in 1940. It was used until the 1957-58 school year.
The trip west through the rolling forests — which also features cattle pastures, plenty of chicken houses and some aging peach orchards — brings us to Amity, which had a population of 723 residents (fewer than it had a century before when there were 813 people living there) in the 2010 census.
A group of pioneer families led by William F. Browning began settling this area near the Caddo River in 1847.
“An abundance of water and rich bottomland drew them to the area,” Russell Baker writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Soon after his arrival, Browning built a two-story log house just west of Caney Creek. It soon became the center of an expanding community. According to Laura Scott, an early Clark County historian, Browning named his settlement Amity because he hoped to find it in ‘peace and brotherhood.’ In August 1848, Browning and a group of local citizens formed what would become the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, the first religious organization in the area. He built a large log church, which also served as Amity’s school. … The Amity post office was established nearby a few months later.”
Another sign that this is an upland part of the state is the fact that loyalties were sharply divided here during the Civil War. There was a strong Union sentiment in the hill country of Arkansas.
“After the war, the center of the community shifted to the south side of the Caddo River in an area that was first settled in about 1850 by John Hays Allen and a physician and Methodist minister named Amariah Biggs,” Baker writes. “Shortly afterward, the Amity post office was relocated to this area.”
By 1870, there was a store at the current location of Amity that was run by a Connecticut native named Philander Curtis. Baker describes him as “an old bachelor who wore a wig and kept a pet bear.”
Curtis, Riley Thompson and Jacob Lightsey purchased property from Allen in 1871 and laid out a town around a public square. A schoolhouse was built in the early 1870s, and the Amity Male and Female Academy operated from 1877-83. The rumor that gold had been discovered in the hills led to a short gold rush in 1887. Amity’s population grew from 140 in 1880 to 211 in 1890. A railroad was built through the area in 1900.
“The little town became a shipping and trade center,” Baker writes. “Large sawmills in nearby Rosboro and Glenwood provided employment for its labor force. The Bank of Amity was formed in 1905, and its old brick offices are now on the National Register of Historic Places. … In the years leading up to World War II, the worldwide shortage of cinnabar created a mining industry in the nearby Ouachita Mountains. However, with the end of the war and an increase in the world supply, the mines were abandoned.”
Continuing west on Highway 8, we leave Clark County and enter the northeast corner of Pike County. We find ourselves along the banks of the Caddo River at Glenwood. The Caddo has long defined this part of Arkansas.
“For centuries, this unique waterway has carved its way through sedimentary rock formations, creating a broad, shallow river valley and leaving miles of gravel along its path,” Brian Westfall writes for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “In some places, the nearly vertical beds of sandstone and novaculite create rapids. The Caddo, known for extremely clear water, originates from cold-water springs southeast of Mena. In this region, the springs flow from the Bigfork Chert Ridge, which sits atop the Ouachita Mountains Aquifer, known for its water quality. Bigfork Chert Ridge is often referred to as the Potato Hills due to uneven weathering that has left it looking like a potato patch.
“The stream flows generally from west to east through the Ouachita National Forest. After leaving the national forest, the Caddo meanders its way through the Athens Plateau, where the Corps of Engineers impounds it at DeGray Lake. From the base of DeGray Dam, the Caddo continues its trek southeasterly some seven miles before joining the Ouachita River.”
I’m biased since I grew up in this part of the state, but the Caddo has long been one of my favorite rivers. It’s an easy stream to fall in love with.
“Towering sycamore, sweet gum, cottonwood, ash, water oak, willow oak and river birch line the banks,” Westfall writes. “During the summer, cardinal flower, composites and other wildflowers give the river banks a colorful look. The woodlands are interspersed with pastoral settings. An old logging railroad tram parallels the river at times and gives it an added flavor. Deer, beaver, river otter, wild turkey, osprey and bald eagles are present. The Caddo Gap to Glenwood section is the most popular among canoeists. Generally, this section can be floated except during the very driest weather.”
While most other towns south of Little Rock were losing population in the early 2000s, Glenwood did well. Its population increased from 1,751 in 2000 to 2,228 in 2010. Growth slowed after 2010 with the closing of the Curt Bean Lumber Co. mill. The mill reopened under new ownership in 2017. The current population of Glenwood is about 2,100.
Construction of the Gurdon & Fort Smith Railroad through the area in the early 1900s had opened up its pine forests for harvest by wealthy families from Texas, Missouri and other states.
“In its wake, a number of new communities, most destined to be the location of large lumber mills, sprang up,” Baker writes. “Among these were Graysonia in Clark County; Rosboro and Glenwood in Pike County; and Caddo Gap and Womble in Montgomery County. In 1907, the Caddo River Lumber Co., led by Thomas Rosborough, built a large mill a few miles north of Amity at a site named Rosboro. Soon, a second company, the A.L. Clark Lumber Co. from Gilmore, Texas, purchased a former cotton field across the river from the village of Rock Creek and began construction of an even larger sawmill. It was a short distance from a newly opened railroad depot. About the same time, another timber company moved into the area from Louisiana.
“With these new mills under construction and the railroad in full operation, two local businessmen, Curt Hays and Will Fagan, laid out a new town on both sides of the depot. The business lots sold quickly, and a boomtown grew almost overnight. Because of the beautiful location of the new community, Glenwood was chosen for a name. By July 1907, Glenwood, with a population of about 250, had a post office. It replaced the post office at Rock Creek.”
Glenwood was incorporated in 1908. Its population increased from 768 in the 1910 census to 891 in the 1920 census to 1,310 in the 1930 census.
“In 1914, Glenwood received an additional economic boost when the Memphis, Dallas & Gulf Railroad opened tracks between Glenwood and Hot Springs, making the town a major rail junction as well as one of the centers of the lumber industry in the southern Ouachita Mountains,” Baker writes. “By 1916, the community included several churches, a number of new businesses, a telephone system and a new public dipping vat where farmers brought their livestock for dipping as part of the state’s tick eradication program.
“While Hays and Fagan were busy developing Glenwood proper, the Clark Lumber Co. was building its own residential community near its mill. It consisted of an area of large white frame houses for mill supervisors and office employees along Gilmer Street. Many of the smaller houses for workers, painted red and white, were built along nearby Clay Street, sometimes called Candy Street. In the fall of 1908, the company built a large frame community building near downtown. It was used for church services and a school.”
What’s now U.S. Highway 70 between Glenwood and Hot Springs was paved in the 1920s. That’s also when the peach industry began to develop in the area.
The Caddo River Lumber Co. purchased the Clark Lumber Co. in 1922 and expanded the mill. In June 1936, lightning started a fire that destroyed most of the mill. With the forests in the area cut out, the company moved its operations to Oregon.
Glenwood’s population fell from 1,310 in 1930 to 854 in 1940. It didn’t top 1,000 again until the 1970 census.
“The 1970s witnessed an aggressive campaign of industrial growth and annexation that brought the town’s population up to 1,402 by 1980,” Baker writes. “During this period, the Curt Bean Lumber Co., one of the nation’s largest independently owned lumber producers, located a lumber mill at Glenwood. During the 1990s, the Caddo River at Glenwood became one of the most popular canoeing streams in western Arkansas. The population stood at 1,354 in 1990. The Glenwood Country Club’s golf course was opened.”
A thriving poultry industry also brought a large number of Hispanic residents, who now make up almost a quarter of Glenwood’s population.
Leaving Glenwood, we travel about four miles west on U.S. Highway 70 and then continue west on Arkansas Highway 84. This route takes us across the northern part of Pike County, which was carved out of Clark and Hempstead counties by the Arkansas Territorial Legislature in November 1833 and named after explorer Zebulon Pike. Pike County is best known to Arkansans for the diamond mine near Murfreesboro and for Lake Greeson. Those attractions are to the south of us.
“In 1900, Martin White Greeson, who owned property in Pike County and also owned and operated the Murfreesboro-Nashville Southwest Railroad, started a campaign for a dam on the Little Missouri River to alleviate flooding,” Doris Russell Foshee writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Congress finally approved the project in 1941 and authorized $3 million for it. The construction began on June 1, 1948, and finished on July 12, 1951. The dam was named Narrows Dam because of its narrow site. The lake was named Lake Greeson in honor Martin Greeson.”
The southern part of the county is in the Gulf Coastal Plain with the northern part of Pike County in the Ouachita Mountains. We’re in what’s known as the Athens Plateau, the southernmost subdivision of the Ouachita Mountains.
“Although its topography is characterized by east-west ridges like most of the Ouachitas, the maximum elevations are under 1,000 feet,” Tom Foti writes for the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. “Despite the name, it isn’t a flat-topped plateau like those of the Ozarks. Rather it has been proposed that the entire set of ridges and valleys was lowered and raised as a unit after the ridges had formed. According to that scenario, the region was lowered below sea level and it rose again as a plain with the valleys filled with sediment. Streams such as the Cossatot River and Little Missouri River ran from north to south and crossed the ridges in their paths. At each crossing, they created a steep rapids or waterfall and emptied the valleys of their sediments. As a result, these streams have a much different character than those of the Ozarks, making them challenging for those in canoes and kayaks. Because of the waterfalls, this boundary has sometimes been referred to as the fall line. It has proven to be a prime location for dams that impound reservoirs built by the Corps of Engineers.
“Cities of the Athens Plateau — such as Bismarck in Hot Spring County, Wickes in Polk County and Amity in Clark County — are generally small with fewer than 1,000 residents. Larger cities such as Arkadelphia, Murfreesboro, De Queen and Glenwood are located along the boundaries of the subdivision. Some of these cities owe much of their economy to the timber produced within the Athens Plateau. The subdivision is still dominantly forested with much of it owned by the timber industry and managed for timber production.”
On the next leg of our trip, we’ll make it to the banks of the Cossatot River.