SIXTH IN A SERIES
We leave Malvern and continue our trip down U.S. 67, passing through the Hot Spring County community of Central.
When we would drive this old highway from Arkadelphia to my grandparents’ house in Benton when I was a boy, my father would always mention having played basketball games at Central. He had graduated from Benton High School in 1942 and later played basketball (along with other sports) at the college level at what’s now Ouachita Baptist University.
“The Central showers had dirt floors,” he said. “They had boards in there. But if you slipped off the board, your feet got muddy.”
“Several one-room schools operated in the area, and the school boards of these institutions worked together to consolidate into one larger school to offer more classes and expand the curriculum to include high school,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University. “The site for the school was selected due to its central location to each of the schools being consolidated. Included in the original consolidation were the Hickory Grove, Happy Hollow, California No. 1, California No. 2, Elmore Primary and Ebenezer schools. Later, the school at Harp and perhaps one additional school also consolidated with Central.
“The first year of operation of the new school was 1916. The area where the new school was located had been served by the Happy Hollow school. A bus was used to transport children from the surrounding area. The first school at Central was a two-story wood-frame building painted white, with a spring nearby. The school had a large enrollment, quickly outgrowing this building. In 1928, the school board took bids for a new brick building with a gymnasium. The school sponsored several sports, including women’s basketball. Dedicated on Nov. 15, 1928, the new building served the community until Central consolidated with the Malvern district in 1949.”
An elementary school operated at Central until 1985. All students in the area now attend school at Malvern.
The next community we pass through is Donaldson, a center of the area’s timber industry at one time and also a stop on the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
“John Easley was appointed the first postmaster in 1876,” Ronna Pennington writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “There are two local stories regarding the town’s naming. One version suggests that the town was named for a Mr. Donaldson who owned a sawmill there. According to another story, there was a railroad superintendent named Donald in the 1870s. His son opened a store for railroad employees. When people went shopping, they went to ‘Donald’s son.’ A third possibility is that the community was named after Williams Rhind Donaldson, the son-in-law of Thomas Allen, president of the Cairo & Fulton Railroad.
“Donaldson enjoyed the prosperity of the 1920s as a community built on railroad shipping, agriculture and the lumber industry. Donaldson had one of the largest excelsior mills in the state, a facility that supplied wood shavings used for shipping and packing. The Ohio Lumber Co. planing mill at Donaldson served several area sawmills. The Hot Spring County Bank served Donaldson from 1924-30. J.H. Beerstecher of Malvern was the publisher of the Donaldson Enterprise newspaper. The community even enjoyed concerts from its own 35-piece brass band twice a week.”
The state constructed a concrete viaduct over the railroad tracks at Donaldson in 1934 since U.S. 67 was so busy in those days. A new viaduct was completed in 2018. Students from Donaldson, which had a population of 301 in the 2010 census, attend school in the Ouachita School District. The district’s facilities are along the highway, just on the other side of the Ouachita River at Midway.
Though there are several communities that use the name Midway in Arkansas, this is the only incorporated town with that name. Midway had a population of 389 in the 2010 census.
“A network of routes known as the Southwest Trail extended across the state from Randolph County through Little Rock and south to Fulton on the Red River,” Steven Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “One of those highways passed through the Midway area, and it’s likely that the town was named because it was roughly halfway between Little Rock and Fulton. A post office opened in Midway in 1850. The Midway Cemetery was established during the Civil War. A stagecoach stop was also a prominent landmark of the community in the 19th century.
“After the Civil War, development of the Cairo & Fulton Railroad bypassed Midway in favor of Donaldson. The railroad and timber industry led Donaldson to prosper. The Midway post office closed in 1878. By the time the Goodspeed histories of the area were written in the late 1880s, the community of Midway wasn’t large enough to merit even a passing mention in the history of Hot Spring County.”
Midway residents voted to incorporate as a city in 2000.
The final community before leaving Hot Spring County is Friendship, which had 176 residents in the 2010 census. Students from here also attend the Ouachita School District.
“Explorers William Hunter and George Dunbar passed through the area during their survey of the Louisiana Purchase in 1804,” Pennington writes. “With documented stops at Arkadelphia and Rockport, the expedition certainly passed through the area known as Friendship. The community was established in the early 1850s when settlers from Hot Springs, Tennessee and Virginia moved to the area. G.M. Russell of Tennessee, W.P. Riland of Virginia and Thomas H. Hammons of Hot Springs were the first three settlers. As the area grew in population, residents decided to assign a name to their community. Russell is credited with suggesting the name of Friendship, a reflection of the close relationships forged among settlers of the community.
“A salt spring along the nearby Ouachita River proved to be important to residents of Friendship during the Civil War. With most of the men serving in the Confederate Army, women were left to do their own salt mining. Women traveled to the river in pairs or groups on horseback to get salt. The long cloth sacks they used for transporting the salt were filled with 100 to 150 pounds in each end of the sack and saddled across a horse to distribute the weight. The horses were often scalded by the irritating salt when their sweat soaked into the bags. The salt burns sometimes kept the horses from working for several days, which affected food production for the families.”
The first post office at Friendship opened in October 1886. The town didn’t officially incorporate until 1938, however.
“Friendship resident Gus McDonald donated two plots of land for a jail and town hall,” Pennington writes. “On the smaller plot, a two-cell jail was constructed in 1937 out of native stone. The larger piece of land donated by McDonald was eventually sold in order to purchase the lot across from the jail. Friendship’s town hall was built on this site in 1960. Friendship had its own high school until 1950 when it merged with Donaldson. The new consolidated school was constructed at Midway.
“The Friendship school building housed only elementary students after the consolidation. The building had been constructed in 1932. The new Ouachita Elementary School on the Midway campus opened in September 1966.”
As the trip continues to the southwest, we cross DeRoche Creek (sometimes called DeRoche Bayou) and enter Clark County, which was created in December 1818 as part of the Missouri Territory. When the Arkansas Territory was established in 1819, Clark County was one of the original five Arkansas counties.
“Clark County included all or parts of at least 15 counties in present-day Arkansas and parts of six counties in what’s now Oklahoma,” writes Wendy Richter, the former director of the Arkansas State Archives. “The county was named for the Missouri territorial governor, William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The county is part of two of Arkansas’ natural regions — the Ouachita Mountains and the Gulf Coastal Plain. Its physical characteristics made the area ideal for farming and hunting. Before Europeans arrived, Native Americans, particularly the Caddo, inhabited the land containing heavy forests, abundant game, rich soil, clear streams and salt. Archaeological evidence attests to the lengthy presence of the Indians in the area.
“In the 16th century, Hernando de Soto was the first European known to explore the Ouachita Mountain region. He was followed more than a century later by the French, who named many of the county’s topological features. By the late 1700s, Indians had largely vacated the area as the Europeans continued to explore and occupy it. Permanent settlement by Americans occurred soon after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. In 1809, William Blakely established a blacksmith shop on the west bank of the Ouachita River at a site called Blakelytown (later Arkadelphia). Across the river to the east, John Hemphill began operating a salt factory, one of the state’s earliest manufacturing concerns.”
Despite the accomplishments of Blakely and Hemphill, Jacob Barkman is the man often known as the Father of Clark County. Barkman opened river traffic from Arkadelphia all the way to New Orleans, first by pirogue and later by keelboat. In 1830, he initiated steamboat transportation.
“Barkman’s home served as the site of the first county court, the first post office, a stagecoach stop, a racetrack and an ill-fated textile mill,” Richter writes. “Blakelytown’s first general store opened in 1817, operated by J.S.T. Callaway. Jonathan O. Callaway is credited with having built the town’s first hotel in 1843. Shortly thereafter, the Spence Hotel was constructed and became a well-known stopping place in the region. Moses Collins arrived in the county in 1830 and built a sawmill and gristmill on Terre Noir Creek. A brickyard was established the same year.
“Reflecting the emphasis on the region’s abundant natural resources, agriculture dominated antebellum Clark County’s economy. As in much of Arkansas, cotton’s importance grew throughout the antebellum period, and slavery was common throughout the county. In the 1830s, the Military Road was constructed along the Southwest Trail through Clark County and passed near Barkman’s home. This road became the county’s main land transportation artery. Today, U.S. 67 and Interstate 30 cross the Caddo River within a few hundred yards of Barkman’s former residence.”
Another notable settler was Meriwether Lewis Randolph, the grandson of Thomas Jefferson. He was Arkansas’ last territorial secretary. His wife was a grand-niece of Rachel Jackson, the wife of Andrew Jackson. Randolph moved to southern Clark County in 1836. He died the next year and was buried on the grounds of his plantation near Gurdon.
“The early county seats were in or near the homes of Barkman on the Caddo and of Adam Stroud near Hollywood,” Richter writes. “The county seat was also at Biscoeville. In 1831, the seat of government was established at Greenville, where it remained until 1842, when it moved to Blakelytown. The community was renamed Arkadelphia, and a courthouse was constructed. The present courthouse was built in 1899. Churches and schools were priorities for early settlers. William Frederick Browning settled in northwest Clark County in 1841 near present-day Amity and had established a church and school there by 1848. Oakland Academy opened in 1847 as a result of the efforts of Michael Bozeman, who settled west of Arkadelphia in 1835 and began a large farming operation. His Greek Revival home is considered the county’s oldest residence.
“By 1859, three churches, the Arkansas Institute for the Blind and several academies operated in Arkadelphia. Ouachita Baptist College was founded in 1886, followed by Arkadelphia Methodist College in 1890. Today, public schools have been consolidated into three major districts — Arkadelphia, Gurdon and Centerpoint — and Arkadelphia’s two universities make education an important component of the county. Arkadelphia has even been called the Athens of Arkansas because of the number and prominence of its educational institutions.”
Before entering Arkadelphia, we pass through Caddo Valley, the home of many restaurants and motels that serve travelers on Interstate 30.
“In 1968, the Arkansas Children’s Colony — now the Arkadelphia Human Development Center — was opened in the community,” Sesser writes. “Never numbering more than a few hundred in population, the area wasn’t formally organized into a city until 1974. Incorporation was quickly followed by the construction of a city hall and creation of a police department and fire station. This move was brought on by construction of Interstate 30 in the area, with an exit placed in Caddo Valley connecting it with Arkansas 7.
“Always a transportation hub, Caddo Valley is also served by U.S. 67. The creation of the interstate led to a boom in the construction of gas stations, motels and restaurants. The slow growth exhibited during the previous century was replaced with a much faster rate of expansion, in both the economy and population. The city quickly grew into a place for travelers to stop between Little Rock and Texarkana with several restaurants and motels. It also served the visitors to the newly created DeGray Lake. Thousands of visitors to the lake each year pump money into the Caddo Valley economy.”
We cross the Caddo River as we leave Caddo Valley. It’s one of the most beautiful streams in a state filled with scenic rivers and creeks.
Here’s how the Encyclopedia of Arkansas describes it: “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 high-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 Piedmont Plateau, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impounds it at DeGray Lake. From its origin to DeGray, the Caddo flows about 45 miles and drains almost 453 square miles. From the base of DeGray Dam, the Caddo continues its trek southeasterly for seven miles before joining the Ouachita.
“The upper Caddo above Norman in Montgomery County is designated as wild and scenic. Development hasn’t affected this section of the stream as much as the rest of the river. This section of the Caddo is accessible from U.S. Forest Service Road No. 73, northwest of Norman off Arkansas 8. This stretch can be navigated only after considerable rainfall, primarily during the spring months. The channel is narrow, and the river drops steeply, averaging 29 feet per mile. This section ends at Norman, seven miles downstream. Norman to Caddo Gap, the next section of the Caddo, is also scenic. This area has long been popular with wade and float fishermen because it’s an ideal smallmouth bass habitat. Numerous creeks enter the river along this section. Limestone rock limbs and gravel shoals produce eddies that hold large numbers of smallmouth bass.
“Road construction has begun to affect the Caddo along this stretch. Some cabins and portions of Norman can be spotted from the river. Gravel mining above Norman has caused some of the deeper holes to fill in with gravel. For the most part, however, the river corridor is still natural in appearance. Towering sycamore, sweet gum, cottonwood, ash, water and willow oak and river birch line the banks. During the summer, cardinal flower, composites and other wild flowers give the river a colorful look. The woodland appearance is interspersed with a pastoral setting. Even an old logging railroad tram parallels the river and gives it an added flavor. Deer, beaver, river otter, wild turkey, osprey and bald eagles are present in the Caddo River drainage area. This section ends at the old swinging bridge near the town of Caddo Gap, about eight miles from Norman.”
The most popular stretch for those in canoes is from Caddo Cap to Glenwood. Thermal springs are in the riverbed near a low-water bridge. They average 95 degrees and can be felt by swimmers. Below Caddo Gap, the south fork of the stream (which originates near the Albert Pike Recreation Area in the Ouachita National Forest) enters the main river. Barite mining during the 1970s hurt water quality in the fork, but it has since recovered. The river passes Glenwood and enters DeGray Lake near Amity.
It’s time for us to make our way into Arkadelphia, my hometown.