FOURTH IN A SERIES
U.S. 67 enters the state near Corning and heads toward the southwest, crossing into Texas at Texarkana.
“It passes through 13 counties, generally following the course of the road known as the Southwest Trail, which was established across Arkansas during territorial times,” Steven Teske writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “U.S. Highway 67 extends 1,560 miles, beginning in Presidio, Texas, at the border with Mexico, and ending near Sabula, Iowa. The Arkansas portion of the highway is roughly 280 miles.”
In Arkansas, the highway separates the Ouachita and Ozark mountains to the north and west from the Delta and the Gulf Coastal Plain to the south and east.
“This boundary is such a natural path of travel that even spring and summer thunderstorms frequently move along the same route,” Teske writes. “Undoubtedly, Native Americans frequently traveled portions of this route. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, as the U.S. government began improving travel through the territory, a military road was constructed from Missouri through Little Rock and south to Fulton on the Red River. … When the Cairo & Fulton Railroad began surveying a route to connect southern Illinois to the Red River across Missouri and Arkansas, the same route was used once again. The railroad became the Iron Mountain Railroad and was later acquired by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The route is still used by the Union Pacific Railroad.
“Federal and state funding became available for highways early in the 1920s as automobile and truck traffic was beginning to take the place of railroad traffic. The roads that would become U.S. Highway 67 were first designated part of the original Arkansas State Highway System in 1923. A joint commission of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads and the American Association of State Highway Officials created the first national system of highways with nine federal highways established in Arkansas, including Highway 67. Sections of the highway were gradually improved as funds became available. Much pavement was laid for the highway from 1928-31. The highway was 18 feet wide at that time. More improvements were made by federal projects such as the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.”
Travel patterns began to change with the construction of the interstates.
“Until the 1950s, highways existed to connect cities and towns to one another,” Teske writes. “The beginning of the interstate highway system caused drivers to begin traveling directly between large cities, bypassing the smaller cities and towns. Interstate 30, from Little Rock south to Texarkana and then into Texas, was one of the original interstate highways planned for Arkansas. The new interstate highway made travel to Texas easier but took business away from many of the communities that had relied on travelers’ income to support stores, restaurants and gas stations. Meanwhile, many segments of Highway 67 were widened or replaced with wider pavement between 1952-58. Highway 67 has continued to be used by Arkansans traveling shorter distances in the southwestern quarter of the state.”
On this trip to Texarkana, we’ll pass some segments of the old road that have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places: A bridge and a rest area in Clark County built by the National Youth Administration in 1936; a stretch of almost six miles in Miller County.
We drive through the community of Haskell, which has grown from just 239 residents in the 1970 census to an estimated 4,600 people today. White flight out of Pulaski County fueled growth in the Harmony Grove School District.
“Once recognized as a railroad town, located between the Missouri Pacific and the Rock Island tracks, Haskell is best known in the 21st century as the home of Harmony Grove,” Teske writes. “Southern Saline County, watered by creeks that flow into the Saline River, was a rugged wooded area when Arkansas became a state in 1836. One of the first to receive a land grant for the area that would become Haskell was Mabel Gilbert, who received grants dated 1837 and 1838. Other early settlers included Thomas Montgomery and William Washington White. Following the Civil War, railroads began to expand their operation in and across Arkansas. The St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad extended south from Little Rock in the 1870s.
“John White acquired land not far from the Iron Mountain track in 1883. However, the land didn’t become valuable until the Chicago, Rock Island & Southern built a route extending south to Louisiana that came within a mile of the Iron Mountain — soon to become part of the Missouri Pacific system — in 1908. The depot built to serve the Rock Island also was used by the Iron Mountain, making the community a railroad center for the region.”
The community reportedly was named for the first postmaster at the depot. Haskell was incorporated in 1910. A three-room school named Mount Harmony was built in 1912.
“Haskell achieved a brief moment of notoriety in May 1917 when a forged letter bearing the name of the road master for the Iron Mountain was received by the section foreman at Haskell,” Teske writes. “The letter ordered that all section men should immediately report for military duty, with half of them to leave in short order for fighting in France and Russia. The Saline County sheriff began an investigation, forwarding the letter to federal authorities in Little Rock. The culprit was never identified.
“By 1920, most of the workers in the city were involved in agriculture, with railroad work coming second and the timber industry third in importance. There were six teachers, four merchants, two blacksmiths, a physician and an insurance solicitor at Haskell at the time. A stave mill also operated there. Haskell had a jail that held people arrested for riding the train without paying a fare, as well as people guilty of selling whiskey, stealing, fighting or gambling. The town marshal collected $1 a day from the city government to house prisoners. He held them until the amount received matched their fine.”
In the late 1920s, the Mount Harmony School consolidated with the nearby Hickory Grove school to form Harmony Grove. There also was a school for black students known as Juniorville.
“The decline of the railroad industry led to harder days for cities like Haskell,” Teske writes. “Interstate 30 was built several miles to the west of Haskell. The post office closed in 1973 with mail being sent to Benton. However, by the end of the 20th century, the growing population of cities such as Benton and Bryant meant population growth for Haskell as well. Between 2000 and 2010, the population jumped from 2,645 to 3,990. Most of the population is white, although the 2010 census counted 263 African American and 114 Hispanic residents. The Harmony Grove School District serves more than 1,000 students in its elementary, junior high and high schools.”
In 1929, 3,000 acres were purchased along U.S. 67 to build what was later known as the Benton Unit of the Arkansas State Hospital. The Arkansas State Hospital had been established in 1873 as the Arkansas Lunatic Asylum in Little Rock. The daily population in 1917-18 was an average of 1,970 with a certified capacity of 1,964. It was obvious expansion was needed. Finally in 1929, the Arkansas Legislature passed a law authorizing a bond issue to provide funds for the new unit in Saline County. The first patients arrived in 1931. WPA workers completed additional buildings at the site in 1934-35. Those buildings were used as a filming site for the psychiatric hospital that was portrayed in the 1996 movie “Sling Blade,” which starred native Arkansan Billy Bob Thornton.
The Benton Unit eventually became the Arkansas Health Center, the only state-operated nursing facility.
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “In 1961, the facility was designated to receive all African American psychiatric patients from its section of the state. In July 1963, all African American psychiatric patients from Pulaski County, including those patients receiving treatment from the Arkansas State Hospital, were transferred to AHC. Although black and white patients were housed in separate buildings, AHC was one of the only facilities of its kind in Arkansas to accept such a large black population. In October 1965, AHC became racially integrated.”
We leave Saline County and enter Hot Spring County, which was carved by the Arkansas Territorial Legislature out of part of Clark County in 1829.
“Hot Spring County is bisected by the Ouachita River and includes landforms ranging from mountains to lowlands once covered in hardwood and pine forests,” Jennifer Atkins-Gordeeva writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The combination of rock types and fault lines is responsible for the hot spring that provides the name for the county. Ironically, the spring for which Hot Spring County is named is no longer within the county limits. Garland County was created in April 1873 in response to complaints from the citizens of the city of Hot Springs about the difficult trip to the county seat, which was then Rockport. As a result, both the city of Hot Springs and the hot springs themselves (except for one near Magnet Cove) are no longer found in Hot Spring County.
“The county’s mineral resources include iron, novaculite, titanium, barite, clay and lignite. Magnet Cove got its name from the magnetic iron ore deposits that sent compasses spinning in the 1880s. There are 42 distinct mineral species and mineral combinations near Magnet Cove, some of which are only found there, in the Ural Mountains and in the Tyrolean Alps. The spring at Magnet Cove is set on the eastern edge of a series of outcroppings of novaculite that act like a sponge, soaking rainwater deep into the earth. The novaculite of the area has provided a major source for knife-sharpening whetstones. It was mined from the 1880s until the 1970s.”
Hot Spring County was Arkansas’ 18th county. The original county seat at Hot Springs was moved to Rockport in 1846. There was a toll bridge across the Ouachita River at that point. It washed away in 1848.
“This region was an important cotton-growing area, and slaves were used until the end of the Civil War,” Atkins-Gordeeva writes. “Some of the first businesses were saloons and dry goods stores. Saloons were populated by the local timber workers and were the sites of rowdy behavior.”
We next pass through Glen Rose, where life has long been based on the local school district. Glen Rose was a longtime coach at the University of Arkansas. The school district was created in 1927 with the consolidation of six small schools in the county. A four-room building opened in 1928. The district now has almost 1,000 students and is known for its strong high school football teams.
“Malvern Lumber, established in 1880, was the first of several companies to make use of the trees in Hot Spring County,” Atkins-Gordeeva writes. “Unlike many of its competitors, Malvern Lumber practiced timber conservation measures, including limited logging and planting of new trees. The cheap land and cheap labor of Arkansas were appealing for purchase and development by Northern landowners. Ferry and steamboat travel had moved people and goods along the Ouachita River. The popularity of river travel later yielded to the efficiency of rail.
“In October 1879, fast-growing Malvern officially replaced neighboring Rockport as the county seat. A two-story courthouse was built in 1888, drawing upon one of the new local industries, brick making. With plants at Malvern and Perla, Atchison Brick Co. — later known as Arkansas Brick & Tile — produced bricks for local, national and international use. The Arlington Hotel at Hot Springs was built from brick made in the Perla plant. Arkansas Brick & Tile was acquired by Acme Brick Co. of Fort Worth in 1927.”
In December 1914, Malvern and Arkadelphia were connected by electric lines strung by Harvey Couch’s Arkansas Power & Light Co. It was the state’s first electric transmission line connecting two cities.
“Early prosperity was bound up in the timber industry,” Atkins-Gordeeva writes. “Once considered inexhaustible, the supply of hardwoods had been severely reduced by World War I. Many large timber mills closed in the 1920s. Local industry turned its focus to the marketable quantities of ores. Novaculite, vanadium and magnetic ore all were found to have commercial uses. Companies were formed to exploit other rare minerals available in the Magnet Cove area.
“In 1936, at a cost of $150,000, the present three-story brick courthouse was constructed. The jail stood on the top floor, above the courtroom and offices. In 2008, the Hot Spring County Detention Center replaced that jail. The courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hot Spring County Library was established in 1928 by the Women’s Club of Malvern, During the Great Depression, the library struggled to survive. The Women’s Club made frequent appeals to the public for donations of money or books. In 1939, voters approved a one-mill tax to support the library. Malvern’s city hall, meanwhile, was built in 1930 using WPA labor.”
During his 1936 visit to Arkansas to help celebrate the state’s centennial, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Hot Spring County. He had lunch at Couchwood, which was Harvey Couch’s family compound on Lake Catherine (it’s still used by his descendants), and then attended a service at Rockport Methodist Church. The president later boarded a train at Malvern to travel to Little Rock. Hot Spring County residents had spent months preparing for FDR’s visit. The road was paved from Hot Springs to Malvern. Private property was cleaned up along the president’s route, and trees and shrubs were planted.
“World War II brought an unprecedented demand for the barite found in Hot Spring County,” Atkins-Gordeeva writes. “The solid deposits of barite were useful in drilling oil wells. Following the war, various industries were established in the county. They included Baroid Drilling Fluids in 1950, Mid-State Construction & Materials in 1962, United Minerals Corp. in 1994, Malvern Wood Products in 1951 and Anthony Timberlands in 1969.”
Ouachita Vocational Technical School was established at Malvern in 1969 to offer occupational and technical training for residents of Hot Spring, Grant, Saline, Clark and Dallas counties. It took several years to get the school up and running, but it opened in January 1972 with 292 students.
“While a permanent campus was under construction, classes met in the former Wilson High School building, which had been the African American high school prior to integration,” Marvin Schultz writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “In 1985, the state Board of Education designated OVTS a high school vocational center to provide career-oriented training to students in the area’s 11 high schools. The vocational-technical school taught automotive technology, cosmetology, food service, small-engine repair, welding, classes designed to meet the specific needs of area businesses and post-secondary practical nursing. OVTS operated until 1991, when it became Ouachita Technical College.”
In the late 1980s, a group of Arkansas business leaders had begun calling for educational reforms, including the transfer of post-secondary vocational programs from the state Board of Vocational Education to the state Board of Higher Education. The group also called for converting vocational-technical schools into two-year colleges. A 1991 legislative act made most of those recommended changes. The first bill didn’t include OVTS, but state Sen. George Hopkins of Malvern introduced separate legislation to re-designate the Malvern school as Ouachita Technical College. The bill passed and was signed by Gov. Bill Clinton.
OTC worked with Henderson State University at Arkadelphia to offer college-level credits. Henderson officials developed a curriculum and provided faculty.
Malvern voters passed a one-cent sales tax dedicated to the college, and that allowed for the construction of a 35,000-square-foot facility in 1999 that provides library, office and classroom space. A building where nurses are trained was added in 2003. The name of the school was changed to College of the Ouachitas in July 2011.
In February 2019, the college signed a merger agreement with the Arkansas State University system. In September of that year, it was announced that the new name of the school will be Arkansas State University-Three Rivers.