SECOND IN A SERIES
Breakfast is at Johnny B’s in downtown Texarkana on this second day of the road trip.
After our pancakes and eggs, we take the obligatory photos while straddling the state line at the U.S. post office and federal building downtown. It’s cold and windy, so we don’t waste much time.
We head north on State Line Avenue and leave town on U.S. Highway 71. We’re briefly in Texas with its higher speed limit (those Texans love to drive fast) before crossing back into Arkansas after crossing the Red River.
The Red River begins in the Texas Panhandle and forms the border between Oklahoma and Texas during part of its 1,290-mile route. At this point, it forms the border between Arkansas and Texas (Oklahoma is just a few miles to the west).
The river continues flowing east from here to Fulton, where it suddenly turns to the south and flows through southwest Arkansas and into Louisiana.
The French established trading posts along the Red River in the 1700s.
“Until the late 19th century, the Red River’s utility as a transportation corridor between the Mississippi River and points west of present-day Shreveport was impeded by the Great Raft (or Red River Raft), an enormous logjam that clogged the lower part of the river,” Guy Lancaster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “It extended to more than 130 miles at one point. The raft likely existed for hundreds of years. It was so old that, according to some sources, it actually became a part of Caddo mythology.
“In 1828, Congress set aside $25,000 for the raft’s removal, and Capt. Henry Miller Shreve, then serving as the superintendent of Western river improvement, was assigned the task of clearing the raft in 1832. In 1838, he completed the task, though it re-formed farther up the river soon thereafter and eventually extended to the Arkansas border. Congress hesitated in setting aside more money for the clearance project with many members feeling it to be a lost cause.”
The part of the raft that had re-formed was removed in 1873. Dams were placed along Red River tributaries to keep the raft from forming again.
“Despite the eventual clearing of the river, no major towns in Arkansas were established upon the Red, though Texarkana, Hope and Lewisville all lie at a few miles’ remove,” Lancaster writes. “Until 1900, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers straightened the channel of the river with the result that steamboat traffic increased as boats were able to transport goods from the mouth of the Mississippi River through Arkansas and into Texas and Oklahoma and back again. The river was navigable all year to Garland in Miller County where the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railway (Cotton Belt) crossed the river. The railroad — as well as the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway, which crossed the River River at Fulton — provided stiff competition for steamboats, soon replacing them entirely.”
We’ve entered Little River County, which the Legislature carved out of parts of Hempstead and Sevier counties in 1867.
“The land in and around Little River County is rich and fertile,” Martha Trusley writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “It contains an abundance of lime formations in some areas near White Cliffs, Okay and Foreman. Because of the available limestone, the Western Portland Cement Co. once thrived at White Cliffs, though now only its ruins exist. Much later, because of the limestone running through Little River County, Sevier County and Hempstead County, Ideal Cement Co. was built at Okay. It made quality cement for years but was later sold to a German company that did not want to make the costly repairs that were needed.
“At the same time that Ideal Cement Co. was operating full scale, Foreman Cement Co., owned by Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co., was producing an abundance of quality cement. Eventually Foreman Cement became the leading producer of cement in the southwest region of Arkansas. It is still a thriving plant owned by Ash Grove Cement Co.”
Members of the Caddo tribe had moved out of this area by 1778 as white settlers began to move in.
“The first town to be plotted was Laynesport in 1836 on land donated for development by Benjamin Layne,” Trusley writes. “By 1845, Willow Springs, later renamed Rocky Comfort, began to flourish in the western part of the county. By 1854, the community of Richmond had begun to thrive. … After the legal establishment of Little River County in 1867, the first courthouse and jail in the county were located near the area that’s now known as Alleene on land owned by the first sheriff, William M. Freeman. In 1868, Gov. Powell Clayton had all county records moved to Rocky Comfort.
“In 1880, the citizens of Richmond built a new courthouse. The property on which the courthouse was built was deeded to the county on the condition that Richmond would remain the county seat. After this courthouse burned, citizens of Richmond built another courthouse at no cost to the county because they wanted to keep the county seat in Richmond. In 1902, the county seat was moved from Richmond to Foreman, formerly called Rocky Comfort. Foreman and Ashdown later competed for the county seat. When an election was held in 1906, Ashdown won the most votes to become the new county seat. After this election, records were moved from Foreman to a vacant building known as the Mizell Building. A new courthouse was constructed in Ashdown in 1907.”
We make our way through Ogden, which had just 180 residents in the 2010 census.
A century ago, Ogden had a number of businesses that served those who lived on cotton farms in the area.
“M.W. Bates arrived around 1878 and named the settlement Ogden, which was the maiden name of his second wife,” Steven Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Bates, who served as Little River County judge from 1884-88, owned the first cotton gin, first sawmill and first store built in the community. His son-in-law, R.L. Bright, was the first doctor in Ogden. A school with seven students was established in the Methodist church, which was organized in 1892. A post office had opened the previous year.”
The population of Little River County began to increase as the railroads entered the area. The first railroad entered the county in 1889. The Arkansas & Choctaw Railroad had made it to Ashdown by 1895, and the Texas & Fort Smith Railroad brought additional settlers.
“Cotton was the leading crop, and most of the early communities had cotton gins,” Trusley writes. “Corn was the second-largest crop, but later the timber industry would become the leading industry in the county. Many of the small settlements in Little River County were located near sawmills, cotton gins or rivers. … The presence of the Kansas City Southern Railroad, the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad and the Memphis, Dallas & Gulf Railroad caused the county to grow rapidly. Before the construction of railroads, the rivers were used to transport goods by way of ferries, steamboats and flatboats. Passenger trains began operating in the county in the late 1890s. After the emergence of railroads, electrical and telephone services became available to parts of the county by 1912, and natural gas came to Ashdown in 1930.”
The construction of what’s now Highway 71 had an even bigger effect on the county than the railroads.
Teske writes: “In 1915, the Arkansas General Assembly passed the Alexander Road Improvement Act. Ogden was one of the first communities in the state to benefit. According to the Third Biennial Report of the Department of State Lands, Highways and Improvements: ‘The first permanent road built under the Alexander law was the road from Ashdown to Ogden and Richmond in Little River County. It is about 15 miles long and cost about $60,000.’ The road eventually would become U.S. Highway 71. Increased traffic meant increased business, and Ogden grew large enough to seek incorporation in 1920. … The highway through Ogden was paved in 1940. It continued to endure heavy use for the next 30 years until a bypass to the east of the city was created about 1970. The old highway through town continues to be used for local traffic. In 2013, the road was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a well-preserved stretch of concrete highway built in the 1940s.”
We head north to Ashdown and pass the paper mill that led to growth here in the late 1960s and the 1970s.
“The development of Millwood Lake in 1966 was a major boost to Ashdown’s industrial growth,” Trusley writes. “The Nekoosa paper mill was built at Ashdown in 1968. … The mill was sold to Georgia-Pacific in 1991 and sold again to Domtar in 2001. Ashdown is known for its timber industry, and Domtar is a major employer.”
Ashdown first was known as Turkey Flats and then Keller. It was incorporated as Ashdown in June 1892. The town was named by Lawrence Alexander Byrne, who owned sawmills in the area. When his mill at Keller burned, he said that though it was reduced to ashes, he would help grow a town there and call it Ashdown.
We spend about an hour at the Two Rivers Museum in downtown Ashdown. It’s at the intersection of Main Street and Highway 71. The museum was created in 2005 by the Little River County Historical Society.
The museum is in the Bishop Building, which was built in 1908. The building once housed a pharmacy and later an antiques store. A mural depicts the Little River County Courthouse, the lumber industry, cotton fields and a train. One exhibit in the museum honors Henry Kaufman, an immigrant of German-Jewish descent who founded Kaufman Seeds at Ashdown.
After visiting the museum, we take a side trip to Millwood Lake.
The construction of Millwood Dam by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took place from 1961-66 at a cost of $46.1 million. The dam is on the Little River and was designed to control flooding downstream along the Red River. The earthen dam is 3.3 miles long. The lake it created is in parts of four counties — Little River, Howard, Hempstead and Sevier.
“Millwood Dam was made possible by the federal Flood Control Act of 1946, though opposition within the state and from neighboring states delayed the project,” Lancaster writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Within Arkansas, Dierks Forests Inc. faced the loss of 6,465 acres of land in an area that would become the reservoir. Ideal Cement Co. of Okay initially objected on the basis of its quarries potentially being flooded. A Corps of Engineers proposal to build a $2.5 million levee with pumps to protect the plant, along with plans to relocate a railway servicing the plant, allayed the resistance of the latter. However, the Little River Valley Improvement Association maintained its objections, especially the point that the dam would be sited in profitable bottomland, used for both farming and lumber rather than hillier areas upstream, and that it would leave too little free-flowing water for the development of industry in the area. The governments of Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma argued about who had the right to dam the tributaries of the Red River. The government of Louisiana expressed concern that Millwood Dam would hinder a navigation project on the lower Red River.”
Congressman Oren Harris broke the deadlock during a 1956 meeting of the Red River Valley Association.
Harris, who was born in rural Hempstead County in 1903 and graduated from what’s now Henderson State University at Arkadelphia in 1929, picked peaches and played semi-professional baseball to pay for college. He received his law degree from the Cumberland Law School in Tennessee in 1930 and practiced law at El Dorado before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1940. Harris served in Congress for almost 25 years before being appointed by President Lyndon Johnson as a federal judge in 1965. Harris died in February 1997 at age 93.
“Harris presented a plan whereby the proposed dam was reduced in size by 25 percent and redesigned to provide a stable water supply as well as flood control,” Lancaster writes. “A provision was made for the construction of smaller dams elsewhere in the Little River basin — three in Oklahoma and three in Arkansas — making Millwood Dam the centerpiece of a seven-dam system. The compromise was accepted and written into the Flood Control Act of 1958.”
Construction began in September 1961. The dam was dedicated in December 1966. The lake covers 29,200 acres. Timber was left standing in much of the reservoir, which made it one of the hottest fishing lakes in the country in its early years.
“Millwood Lake provides drinking water to a number of nearby communities, including Texarkana,” Lancaster writes. “Companies such as Domtar use water from the lake for their operations.”