Arkansas

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Arkansas became a part of the United States by virtue of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 after having been in French or Spanish “possession” for more than a hundred years. Neither of those countries had facilitated European settlement, however, and the territory retained little French or Spanish colonial influence in culture, language, or architecture. Only a few French place-names and some problematic Spanish land grants reflected their occupation. Once the United States made the purchase—one that consisted of a total of 828,000 square miles and doubled the size of the young country—the Arkansas Territory was soon overwhelmed with the new Americans who implanted their own institutions and traditions.

Arkansas owes its name to an Illinois Indian guide who accompanied explorer Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette down the Mississippi River in 1673. He referred to the Quapaw Indians, who were then occupying villages on the Arkansas River near its mouth at the Mississippi, as the Acansa, meaning “downstream” people. Jolliet and Marquette gave the name its French pronunciation, and thirteen years later another Frenchman, Henri de Tonti, established a post near the Quapaw. However, Native Americans left the Toltec Mounds (LN4), located near Scott in central Arkansas. The Toltec Mounds represent the mound-building efforts of a late Woodland era (600 BC to 900 CE) Indian village of considerable significance. Although most of them are clearly burial mounds, it appears that the Toltec Mounds, which were flattened at the top, may have supported structures, a feature usually connected to the Mississippi era. Hundreds of mounds, in fact, once dotted the Arkansas landscape, and although heavily concentrated along the Mississippi and Arkansas river valleys, mounds could be found in almost every geographic region of the state. The vast majority were looted by pot hunters and flattened by agricultural practices in the twentieth century. Aside from the mounds, the earliest architectural features in the state date to the mid-nineteenth century, and most of them are associated with either primitive log structures common on the frontier or the Georgian or Greek revival styles associated with the southern states. As the cotton economy expanded in response to demand from the English textile industry, plantation agriculture and slavery increased phenomenally in the young state in the 1840s and 1850s, and some planters who settled from the Old South mimicked the architectural styles with which they were familiar.

It might seem foreordained that slavery would spread across the Mississippi River, and certainly those with their eyes on the fertile Quapaw lands in the southeast thought so. They began to agitate for the removal of the Quapaw and were eventually successful. But Arkansas Territory was formed in 1819 in the midst of a great debate over slavery that revealed the power of that issue to divide the nation into factions that would, eventually, lead to civil war. When the present state of Missouri applied for statehood, the counties below a latitude of 36 degrees 30 minutes were eliminated from the proposed state’s boundaries, leaving the present state of Arkansas in need of reorganization. Just as Missouri’s application met with antislavery opposition, so too did Arkansas’s petition for territorial status. The famous “Missouri Compromise” was the result in the former; the attempt to end slavery in Arkansas met defeat by only one vote. Slavery was free to expand unimpeded into Arkansas Territory, and both the plantation system and slavery increased significantly; the percentage of slaves rose from 11.3 percent of the population in 1820 to 25 percent by 1860. In southeastern Arkansas, the concentration of slaves was much higher. In 1850, for example, 78 percent of the population of Chicot County was enslaved.

The planters who implemented cotton plantation agriculture were “men on the make” who originated in the older South and often moved first into Mississippi after the removal of the Chickasaw Indians from that state in 1834. They began to cross the river into Arkansas soon after, bringing their slaves and a certain way of life associated with that institution. They prospered enormously as the cotton market expanded, and they became politically and economically powerful. Most of these frontier planters, however, invested their funds into buying more land and slaves rather than in building elaborate homes, but a few constructed lavish plantation mansions. Only one riverfront antebellum plantation house, Lakeport Plantation (CH5), in Chicot County, survives. The seventeen-room edifice was constructed in 1859 by planter Lycurgus Johnson, who owned over 4,000 acres of land and 155 slaves in 1860. The 1,300 bales of cotton he produced that year would have been worth approximately $70,200, a princely sum in 1860, equal to approximately $1,823,214.27 in 2014 dollars. The handsome returns to be had on cotton production were threatened by frequent overflows of the Mississippi River, however, and Johnson played a crucial role in the construction of another important architectural feature in the area: the Mississippi River levee system erected by a group of planters in the 1850s to protect their rich cotton lands.

One of the first matters considered by the territorial legislature involved the placement of the capital. Arkansas Post, the first territorial capital, was poorly positioned along a flood-prone part of the Arkansas River. Thus, the new legislature removed the capital to a more suitable location: Petit Rocher (“little rock”). Situated more centrally and more advantageously on a stretch of the Arkansas River less prone to flooding, Little Rock received a boost under Andrew Jackson’s presidency when he established a military road—also known as the Southwest Trail. The trail ran diagonally from northeast to southwest Arkansas, linking Arkansas to both Missouri and Texas. Two towns emerged as anchors on the trail: Davidsonville in northeast Arkansas and Washington in the southwest corner of the state. Both became important small towns serving agricultural economies, but Little Rock was the lynchpin of the state and became closely linked with southeastern Arkansas planters, most of whom came from the Old South and brought their slaves with them, hoping to capitalize on the growing market for cotton. They established towns in places like Pine Bluff, Helena, and Lake Village, and they demanded the removal of the Quapaw so they could develop the millions of acres they claimed. The wealth of the planters and their access to Little Rock’s politicians, many of whom had interests in plantations themselves, gave them considerable economic and political status. They soon dominated Arkansas politics through a “Dynasty” (also referred to as the “Family”) made up of brothers and cousins, all early arrivals to the territory, wedded to the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, the removal of the Osage left open northwest Arkansas to settlement, and soon the town of Fayetteville developed, another agricultural community serving a different kind of farming economy. Although a few slave owners with twenty or more slaves came to occupy northwest Arkansas, only 2 to 5 percent of the population of northwest Arkansas owned slaves. They were largely small farmers who grew a variety of crops and relied on the relatively primitive Carrollton Road, which ran almost due east and linked up with the Southwest Trail in northeastern Arkansas. At the same time, the town of Fort Smith, located south of Fayetteville and nearly due west of Little Rock on the Arkansas River, originated as an army post charged with controlling nearby “Indian territory.”

The economic and social development of the different areas of Arkansas was influenced by the natural resources available. Arkansas’s six natural regions include the (1) Mississippi Alluvial Plain, commonly referred to as “the delta”; (2) the West Gulf Coastal Plain; (3) the Arkansas River Valley; (4) the Ouachita Mountains; (5) the Ozark Plateau; and (6) Crowley’s Ridge. The delta, situated along the Mississippi River, which forms the eastern border of Arkansas, contains some of the richest soil remaining in America. Wellwatered by the Mississippi River and its tributaries, it attracted planters who hoped to capitalize on the expanding market for cotton. The Arkansas River Valley stretches from the Oklahoma border to its mouth at the Mississippi River in Phillips County. It shares some characteristics with the delta and, in fact, bisects it. Running through the state west to east, it passes through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Arkansas. The farther west one looks, the more diverse the terrain. Early travelers marveled at the changing scenery as they left the alluvial plain and arrived at Little Rock’s rolling hills. Frequently remarked upon were Mount Magazine, the highest peak in the state; Petit Jean Mountain, which has the largest number of prehistory pictographs— located in the region’s many caves—in Arkansas; and Mount Nebo, which travelers relied upon as a landmark when traversing the Arkansas River. Little Rock, as the territorial capital, has many significant architectural structures, among them the Old State House (PU8). Occupied in 1836, it was originally intended to serve as the territorial capital, but its construction became bound up in territorial politics in the early 1830s, and the first to use the building were the new state’s legislators and governor. The connection between the delta planters and the Little Rock politicians was made easy by the river as it swept eastward from Little Rock and toward some of the earliest delta settlements.

To the unpracticed eye, the West Gulf Coastal Plain might seem identical to the delta, but the resemblance is illusory. In fact, unlike the delta, which owes its richness to the constant overflow of the Mississippi River, the coastal plain became a lagoon after the water receded from the area a million or so years ago. Even within the plain, the soil varies considerably across the area. Along the Red River in the west are bottom land forests and some fertile soil, and to the east is pine-covered land with poorly drained thin soil. Given the variety of soil types and terrain across the Gulf Coastal Plain, different farming practices took root. Where the land was unsuitable to plantation agriculture, small farming and grazing became the norm. In the twentieth century, vast tracks of cultivated timber lands, much of it owned by large corporations, were put into place. A variety of minerals can be found in the area, including oil and gas near Smackover and El Dorado, which created a boom in the early twentieth century. Diamonds can still be located at the site of an ancient volcano near Murfreesboro in Pike County. Washington’s claim to fame, however, comes by way of a blacksmith who probably made the first Bowie knife. It was in Washington, Arkansas, it is said, that Jim Bowie and some of his compatriots plotted the revolution in Texas. A thriving agricultural economy developed in Hempstead County where its principal town, Washington, would become an important point on the Southwest Trail— and briefly the state’s Confederate capital. When Little Rock fell to Union forces in September 1863, the state’s Confederate government moved to the Hempstead County Courthouse (see HEI). Built in 1836, it was Greek Revival in architectural style and made from hand-hewn yellow pine timber from the local area. Washington was also the home of Arkansas’s most prominent Jewish resident in the antebellum period: Abraham Block (1780–1857). His two-story frame house (see HE4), built in 1832, is one of the oldest remaining such structures in the state. Block established a prosperous mercantile business and was one of the founders of the first Jewish synagogue west of the Mississippi in New Orleans, the Gates of Mercy Synagogue.

Lying directly north of the West Gulf Coastal Plain and stretching from Oklahoma to the western edge of Little Rock, are the Ouachita Mountains, the southern portion of the Arkansas highlights. The Ozark Plateau (often referred to as the Ozark Mountains) represents the northern portion of the highlands. To the casual observer, they might seem virtually identical, and they do share a couple of features in common. Both were the result of the continental plates driving together and pushing these lands upward; and both are eroded plateaus. However, the Ouachitas differ in one important respect. The region is much more than a plateau worn away by erosion over time, “the collision [of plates of] folded layers of rock over other layers. Riverine erosion accentuated the folds, shaping them into a series of east–west running ridges.” Although composed largely of sandstone and shale, substantial quartz crystal and novaculite deposits also exist there, the latter prized by Native Americans for tool making. Arkansas’s highest peak, Mount Magazine, is located in the Ouachitas, but one of the region’s most unique formations is the hot springs, located south and west of Little Rock. It is believed that explorer Hernando de Soto encamped there, and it is known that prehistory Indians frequented the springs in the belief that the waters had healing powers. This idea lasted well into the historic period, and a resort town, Hot Springs, developed on that premise and became a notoriously “open” town in the 1920s and 1930s where gamblers and gangsters, including the notorious Al Capone, gathered. The Arlington Hotel (GA10) played host to many such personages.

The Ozark Mountains actually consist of three plateaus. The Springfield Plateau in northwest Arkansas has some sizeable areas of tillable prairies, which drew early settlers to towns like Fayetteville, an early seat of education in the state and the location of the state’s university. Old Main (WA26.1), completed in 1875, was the first building constructed on the campus, although classes opened in 1872. The Salem Plateau is primarily located in Missouri, but a small part of it juts into north central Arkansas. The soil there is very poor and led local entrepreneurs to promote Eureka Springs as another place in Arkansas where healing waters might provide a cure. The town is located on an escarpment between the two plateaus and was particularly popular in the late nineteenth century. Guests flocked to the Palace Hotel (CR9), built in 1901, and to the Crescent Hotel (CR14), built in 1886 by a consortium that included Powell Clayton, the Republican boss of Arkansas during congressional Reconstruction. To the south is the Boston Plateau, the most rugged and poorest area of the region. Beautiful vistas of undeveloped, unspoiled wild lands can be found there.

Crowley’s Ridge is the final—and the smallest—natural feature of Arkansas. It is unique in that it is not the result of continental plates pushing against each other but of sand and silt left remaining when the waters of the Gulf of Mexico receded thousands of years ago. At one time, the Mississippi River ran west of the ridge and the Ohio River ran east. The ridge stretches about 150 miles from near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and stutters to an end—disappearing for a while near Marianna in Lee County—before playing out completely near Helena in Phillips County. It is no more than two hundred feet above the delta in any one place and from half a mile to 25 miles in width. Many of the earliest settlers in the region, particularly in northeastern Arkansas, settled on the ridge rather than in the swamp-ridden delta. The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 had “sunk” much of the land in southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas, rendering them mosquito-infested swamps, and it would take precise engineering and modern equipment to drain those swamps. Meanwhile, small towns dotted Crowley’s Ridge, many of them county seats that included land both east and west of the ridge. Craighead County, for example, is bisected by the ridge and its county seat, Jonesboro, became a lively agricultural town and the site of a new college, the First District Agricultural School in 1909, now Arkansas State University (CG6). One of the region’s most prosperous planters contributed substantially to the creation of the school and built a library, now called Wilson Hall (CG6.1).

In addition to its natural regions, Arkansas has an abundance of rivers that provided an important means of transportation. The Mississippi and the Arkansas are the largest, but other rivers stretch into virtually every corner of the state: the Red River passes through the southwest; the Ouachita moves south from Hot Springs into Louisiana; the St. Francis, the Cache, and the Little rivers cross through the northeast; the White River, with head waters in northwest Arkansas, courses north into Missouri and then moves east, crossing southward back into Arkansas at Bull Shoals in Marion County and feeds into the Arkansas River. The wild and scenic Buffalo River in north central Arkansas, which is famous for its rapids and attracts canoeing enthusiasts, was designated a National River in Desha County. Together with the abundant rainfall—an average of forty-five to fifty-five inches a year—Arkansas is well watered. Considered a subtropical climate with a hot summer and no consistent dry season, the state has a long growing season with over two hundred frost-free days per year in southern and parts of eastern Arkansas.

With this richness of its terrain and the promise of its fertile delta lands, Arkansas seemed to offer considerable promise. Those who settled here after territorial status was achieved began to push for statehood in the early 1830s and saw the desire fulfilled in 1836. However, with statehood came certain responsibilities. No longer could Arkansas depend on the federal government for support. The new state, however, found it difficult to raise the funds necessary to do the business of governing. With a planter aristocracy determined to keep taxes low—something highland farmers appreciated as well—the State made a decision to sell bonds to raise funds to improve infrastructure, such as levees on the Mississippi River. To facilitate the sale of bonds Arkansas organized two banks, the Real Estate Bank and the State Bank, but they did so just as the panic of 1837 took hold. Together with an abundance of fraud and mismanagement, the banks were doomed, and both had failed by 1844.

Arkansas was still struggling financially when the Civil War occurred. Not everyone in the state was united behind the idea of secession, however, an idea that appealed principally to slave-owning planters in eastern Arkansas. A contingent of planters and their allies laid siege to the U.S. Arsenal (PU23) built in 1840 in Little Rock during the secession crisis, but they could not mount an effective rebellion and disbanded without firing a shot. Northwest Arkansas farmers were less enamored of the idea of secession, and the first secession convention in early 1861 determined to leave the matter to a vote of the people scheduled to take place the following August. Fort Sumter changed things. When Abraham Lincoln called for troops after South Carolinians fired on the fort in April 1861, Arkansas’s moment of truth had arrived. The secession convention called itself back into session and voted almost unanimously to secede. The one vote against came from Isaac Murphy, from northwest Arkansas. Indeed, about 9,000 white Arkansans, most of them from northern Arkansas, and 5,500 blacks, most of them self-freed slaves, volunteered to serve in the Union Army while 60,000 served in the Confederate Army. The war brought considerable devastation to the state. The Mississippi River was the scene of an intense struggle as the North and South both understood control of the river was essential. Delta plantations suffered accordingly. Meanwhile, two major battles occurred in northwest Arkansas, at Pea Ridge (see BN13) and Prairie Grove (see WA30); the object of both was the capture of Missouri by the Confederates or the capture of Arkansas by the Union. The Battle of Elkhorn Tavern (or Battle of Pea Ridge) was particularly ferocious, and the Elkhorn Tavern burned in the Civil War and reconstructed afterward is one of the state’s most important architectural sites. The capture of Little Rock by Federal forces in September 1863 essentially ended the official war in Arkansas, but guerrilla activity was heavy throughout the parts of the state that were not under direct federal control.

The Reconstruction period was bitter and divisive. As elsewhere in the former Confederacy, white (former Confederate) Democrats were determined to obstruct Republican plans to remake Arkansas. African Americans served in the state legislature and won election to local offices, but their political gains were only temporary. Within two decades of the Democrats’ overthrow of Reconstruction in Arkansas in 1872, disfranchisement and segregation statutes aimed at African Americans were passed. The establishment of full civil rights for freedmen was only one of several failures of Reconstruction, but there were successes. Among them were the establishment of a free public education system, a new phenomenon in Arkansas, and the founding of the Arkansas Industrial University in Fayetteville (now the University of Arkansas; WA26). Little Rock, a nest of former Confederate Democrats, failed to mount a bid for the university, regarding it as a Yankee institution. The establishment of educational infrastructure in the state marked a new use of state funds, one that would be costly and require raising taxes, anathema to most Arkansans. Although the tax rates were far from confiscatory, as Reconstruction lore written by Confederates would have it, they were unprecedented and much resented. The State also funded other innovations, such as rebuilding levees in the delta and sponsoring railroad construction, but, unfortunately, some of these new railroads failed to materialize, and both Republicans and Democrats were implicated in fraud and corruption.

Although wasteful of public funds and fraught with problems, railroad construction in the last decades of the nineteenth century in Arkansas has to be considered a success. Less than a hundred miles of railroad existed in Arkansas on the eve of the Civil War, all of it extending from or toward Little Rock. By 1900, tens of thousands of miles of railroads crisscrossed the state. New York financier Jay Gould, eager to gain access to the vast timber resources in the state and the coal mines of western Arkansas around Fort Smith and Van Buren, extended the St. Louis and Iron Mountain (the “Iron Mountain”) into Arkansas; and James Paramour, who operated a cotton compress enterprise in St. Louis, built another rail line into Arkansas, the St. Louis and Southwestern (the “Cotton Belt”). Both these lines passed through Little Rock on a southwesterly course. Meanwhile, the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Memphis, later acquired by St. Louis investors and renamed the St. Louis–San Francisco (the “Frisco”), moved in a southeasterly direction toward Memphis. Hundreds of other short line railroads connected towns to the larger market and fostered a revolution in terms of access to the wider world of manufactured goods and articles. Although passenger service is a thing of the past and many of the old railroad depots have disappeared, some have survived as museums. The former Union Station (MO1), now the Central Delta Depot Museum, constructed in 1912 and located in Brinkley, is one very good example, as is the old Missouri Pacific Depot (PH10) of 1915 in Helena, now repurposed as the nucleus of the Delta Cultural Center. Union Station (M12) in Texarkana, built in 1929–1930, is abandoned but still standing.

Arkansas’s gilded age was shaped by the New South ideology of Henry Grady of the Atlanta Constitution,an idea that provided a blueprint for the South in negotiating an economic revival based on the use of northern investment capital in promoting industry and recovery. Only a few southern states could approach the reality of that promise. Most, like Arkansas, could only inspire northerners to invest in extractive industries like coal mining and timbering. Few of the profits of these industries remained in the state, but some Arkansans profited enough to build fine mansions and hotels like the Crescent (CR14) and the Palace (CR9) in Eureka Springs and the Arlington (GA10) in Hot Springs. While the legislature was busy disfranchising and segregating African Americans, in keeping with the New South’s white supremacy ideology, Governor James Clarke negotiated a settlement of the old bank bonds that dated back to bankruptcy of the State Bank and the Real Estate Bank in the early 1840s. The U.S. government had come into possession of those bonds, and the governor exchanged unsold federal lands and swamplands in Arkansas to buy out of the debt. Finally, the State of Arkansas, for the first time in its history, was out of debt.

Arkansas entered the twentieth century solvent but hardly flush with investment capital. Still, the state embraced certain reforms associated with the Progressive impulse that was sweeping the nation. Among them, however, were certain retrograde measures, particularly further attempts to disfranchise African Americans. Governor Jeff Davis supported the imposition of a whites-only policy for statewide primary elections. Added to the poll tax and measures that disadvantaged illiterates of both races, it greatly limited the franchise in Arkansas. Many African Americans withdrew into their churches, a venue not only for spiritual sustenance but also for social and political engagement. Among the most striking late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century buildings in Arkansas were churches built by African Americans: the Bethel AME Church (IN14) in Batesville, constructed in 1882 with an addition in 1910, and the New Zion AME Zion Church (BR3) in Warren, built in 1927. White Protestants also constructed impressive churches in this period: the Beech Street Baptist Church (M15) built in 1906 in Texarkana and the First United Methodist Church (BN24) completed in 1909 in Rogers. Although Arkansas’s Catholic population is relatively small, sufficient numbers existed to warrant the construction of a number of churches across the state, including St. Boniface (PE1) of 1907 in the Bigelow vicinity and St. Elizabeth (CR13) in Eureka Springs, completed in 1909. Catholic monks established a monastery at Subiaco (LO4) in 1878 and constructed buildings that were reconstructed over time until the present abbey and church was built in 1959. Although not the first Jewish synagogue in Arkansas, Helena’s Temple Beth El (PH2) was built in 1916. Jacob Trieber, a teenage immigrant to Helena in 1868 who became the first Jewish federal district court judge in the country, may have been an attendee. Judge Trieber was noted for delivering important decisions defending the rights of African Americans. While African Americans may have had a friend in Judge Trieber, they found few among the rest of the white politicians. Like so many small-town Jewish congregations in the delta, the Jewish population in Helena has dissipated. Temple Beth El was deconsecrated in 2006 and now houses a portion of the Delta Cultural Center.

As regressive as were some of the so-called reforms of the Progressive Era, others were more enlightened, The most important of those reforms were implemented under the governorship of George Donaghey (1909–1913), a builder from Conway, Arkansas, who invited William Jennings Bryan to the state to stump for the passage of the initiative and referendum. The initiative allowed registered voters to place a measure on the ballot; the referendum permitted them to vote to overturn a measure passed by the legislature. A prohibition amendment was an initiated measure, for example. Although it failed to secure enough votes, the legislature passed a “bone dry” law in 1915, and a referendum challenging it the next year failed. On January 1, 1916, Arkansas became “bone dry.” Donaghey also modernized state government and eliminated the notorious convict lease system in the state. He might be best remembered, however, for having overseen construction of the new Arkansas State Capitol (PU1), completed in 1915.

Governor Charles Hillman Brough (1916–1921) has a more complicated reputation as a Progressive. A college professor from the University of Arkansas, he created a literacy commission and sponsored educational reforms, and it was under his governorship that Arkansas women secured the right to vote in primary elections in 1917. Prior to his governorship, he had chaired the University Commission on the Southern Race Question, but historians have had difficulty reconciling his progressivism with the actions he took during the Elaine Race Riot of 1919. The African American struggle for civil rights had been dealt serious blows in the 1890s—and with the imposition of the white primary in 1906—but it had never been fully put to rest. Prominent African Americans in Little Rock had enjoyed careers as businessmen, doctors, and lawyers, and it was from among their numbers that the Little Rock branch of the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1918. Among its early members was John E. Bush, who founded the Mosaic Templars (PU31), a burial insurance company, and constructed a fine building for it in 1911. Sadly, it was destroyed by fire as it was being carefully restored in 2005. Funds were raised, however, to rebuild the Mosaic Templars to its original specifications, and the doors to the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center opened in 2008.

A recession following World War I struck the nation a hard blow, but most industries and businesses, save for agricultural ones, pulled out of it within two years. Unfortunately, agriculture, mining, and timbering—three industries that were most important to Arkansas—did not recover. A historic flood in 1927 and a severe drought in 1931 took what life was left in the Arkansas economy. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was warmly received in the state, particularly among planters who embraced the Agricultural Adjustment Administration’s crop reduction program. The program was designed to promote the recovery of agriculture throughout the nation, but its cotton program was important to Arkansas and the South. Farmers and planters were offered the opportunity to withdraw up to 30 percent of their cotton acreage in return for a “rental” payment from the federal government. They could continue to plant crops on the land they rented as long as they were not among those identified as AAA worthy. At the end of the crop year, if the price agriculturalists received for their crops did not reach a level considered appropriate, they received an additional “parity” payment. A problem arose, however, when some planters evicted tenants and sharecroppers and when others refused to share crop subsidy payments with their tenants and sharecroppers. A group of victimized tenants and sharecroppers in Poinsett County secured the advice of two homegrown socialists in Tyronza: H. L. Mitchell and H. Clay East. Mitchell operated a dry cleaning business, and East operated an adjacent service station. They invited Norman Thomas, the most famous socialist in the country, to Poinsett County, and he suggested the formation of a union. In July 1934, eleven white men and six black men met in a schoolhouse on the Norcross plantation and formed the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU), the first interracial agricultural union in the country. Although the schoolhouse is long gone, the building housing Mitchell’s store and East’s service station, which was constructed in the 1920s, remains standing and is today the home of the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum (PO1) in Tyronza.

Another New Deal program emerged out of the situation confronting landless farmers, the Resettlement Administration—later the Farm Security Administration (FSA)—and the first Resettlement Community in Arkansas, Dyess Colony, constructed between 1934 and 1939, was located in nearby Mississippi County. The Dyess Colony Center (MS10) is a landmark in the delta, but the colony is probably best known as the boyhood home of singer Johnny Cash. Several other FSA communities were established in Arkansas, as they were throughout the country during this period. Nearly all Arkansas resettlements were in the delta region where the Jim Crow practice was strictly adhered to. Despite some nominal attempts to establish a more equitable policy at the federal level, the FSA camps were segregated, and the two exclusively black communities were designed with noticeably more meager accommodations.

Arkansas’s dramatic mountain vistas and lush, rugged scenery, particularly in the Ouachita region, made it an ideal site for several parks, cabins, and lodges designed and built under the auspices of the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC). Among the most dramatic and enduring examples of these is the 1933 Mather Lodge (CN6) on Mount Magazine, a confection of log and rock reminiscent of earlier Rocky Mountain lodges. Such sites are many in Arkansas, where opportunities abounded for young men to find employment as CCC laborers.

World War II had a tremendous impact on Arkansas as many men joined the military or moved out of the state to work in war industries. As men moved away from the countryside, their families moved to urban areas (often small towns), and shortages in housing and crucial services developed. For planters and farmers the most pressing shortage was labor, but the rural countryside’s schools were also in crisis. Some rural schools failed to open in the fall of 1942 because of the lack of teachers. One school that faced a different kind of crisis was Dunbar High School in Little Rock, arguably the state’s premier black school. The high school is gone, but Dunbar Junior High School (PU42; now Dunbar Magnet Middle School) and the Dunbar neighborhood (see PU41) remain, signifying powerful symbols of black education and community in Little Rock. In keeping with the rising activism of African Americans, Sue Morris, a black English teacher at Dunbar, sued the Little Rock School Board for the equalization of white and black teacher salaries. She was aided by NAACP officials locally but also nationally. Future U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, then working as an attorney for the NAACP, came to Little Rock to advise on the case. Morris’s principal, John H. Lewis, whose young son, David Levering Lewis, would grow up to become a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, testified on her behalf. After the federal district judge ruled in favor of the school board, Morris was fired, and Lewis’s contract was not renewed. In June 1945, however, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision, but it was too late. The school board simply revised the rubric it used to evaluate teachers so that only those who attended white colleges could compete. Since segregation was entrenched, that left black teachers out in the cold. More than a decade later, Little Rock’s reputation would be further tarnished when nine black children were initially refused admittance to Central High School (PU44); the school is now a National Historic Site.

Among the more difficult histories faced by Americans during World War II was the establishment of the War Relocation Authority (WRA), whose policies established several internment camps for Americans of Japanese descent. Two of the camps were in Arkansas, both in the delta: Rohwer (DE1) and Jerome, about twenty-five miles apart in Desha and Drew counties. Jerome was established on the grounds of a short-lived, decommissioned FSA community, Chicot Farms, and with the termination of the WRA and subsequent closure of the internment camps, it was converted to a camp for German prisoners of war.

When historian Morton Sosna declared in his presidential address before the Southern Historical Association in 1982 that “World War II rather than the Civil War was the crucial event of Southern history,” he was referring only in part to the emergence of the civil rights movement. He was also speaking to other significant changes in the state’s economy and in the transformation of agriculture. The mechanization of the cotton crop and the emergence of a variety of new chemicals heralded the rise of scientific agriculture. One of the most striking consequences was the depopulation of the rural areas, a phenomenon that presented challenges to many small towns in the old cotton-growing areas of the state. Without customers and clientele, smalltown merchants, doctors, and lawyers faced a crisis. An Industrial Development Commission attracted small industries to many parts of Arkansas but offered low wage and low-skill jobs that did not add much to the local tax base, and in any case, many of the manufacturers moved southward after a decade or so, largely in search of even cheaper labor. It was in this period that many old buildings—train stations, post offices, historic homes, and churches—became the province of local historical societies and cultural centers. The Cavaness House (DR6) in Monticello, begun in 1906, came to house the Drew County Museum; the First Presbyterian Church (HO3) of Nashville is now the Howard County Museum; and Bill Clinton’s birthplace in Hope is now the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site (HE2).

Rural transplants to Little Rock found a city in transition as it too attempted to attract industry and develop its financial and banking infrastructure. The city enjoyed some success as industries were moving out of the old northeastern “rust belt” and heading south in search of lower wages. In fact, manufacturing was in decline, and the new high-tech and service industries marked the new American economy. While some southern states enjoyed a burst of economic activity in this realm, earning the name Sunbelt South, Arkansas lagged behind, largely because its population and technological infrastructure was insufficient. There were some successes, however, as banking and finance expanded in Little Rock. As if to herald the new economic order, the Tower Building (PU19) was constructed in 1960, a symbol of the modern city and the possibilities of the future.

In the last two decades of the twentieth century, northwest Arkansas experienced an unprecedented economic renaissance, in part because of the emergence of the Tyson Corporation but largely because of the phenomenal growth of Walmart in Bentonville into an international corporation. The state’s architectural reputation was similarly bolstered by the work of two talented architects at the University of Arkansas, Edward Durell Stone and E. Fay Jones. Stone is perhaps best known for having designed the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., but he also produced many fine buildings in Arkansas, including the Civic Center (JE7) in Pine Bluff and the Jay Lewis House (DE6) in McGehee. In addition to designing a home for Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, Jones designed the Don and Ellen Edmondson House (SF1) in Forrest City and the renowned Thorncrown Chapel (CR17) in Eureka Springs. The latter was acknowledged for its significant contribution to the profession by the American institute of Architects (AIA) with the Twenty-Five Year Award in 2006.

Two buildings constructed in the early twenty-first century, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library (PU12) in Little Rock and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (BN12) in Bentonville, speak not only to architectural excellence but also to a renaissance in Arkansas cultural, economic, and political history. The museum reflects a demographic revolution in northwest Arkansas that, by the end of the twentieth century, made it a rival population center to Little Rock, as well as a cultural one. Alice Walton, daughter of famed retailer Sam Walton of the Walmart Corporation, who envisioned a world-class museum situated in Bentonville, was inspired by a love of art and the desire to share it with the Arkansas community. As one of the richest women in the world, she had the means to see it to fruition. The Clinton Library reflects the presidency of Bill Clinton, a political fact of tremendous significance to Arkansans. It occurred in the context of changing political winds that began to sweep the South in the last three decades of the twentieth century but reached Arkansas relatively late. As political scientist Diane Blair has argued, while many southern states were leaving the Democratic Party and electing Republicans to state and national office, Arkansas continued to elect relatively moderate Democrats: Dale Bumpers (1971–1975), David Hampton Pryor (1975–1979), and Bill Clinton (1979–1981, 1983–1992). The election of these three men is largely a reflection of two intertwining facts: (1) Arkansas voters are accustomed to politicians who appeal to them on a personal level; and (2) many Arkansans, not so long removed from a rabid politics of racism dating back to the Central High Crisis, tend to elect men to the governor’s office who do not use reactionary rhetoric. The first chink in the Democratic armor occurred when a Republican, Mike Huckabee, who was then lieutenant governor, took office after Governor James Guy Tucker Jr. resigned after conviction for conspiracy and fraud. When Huckabee then won election in his own right in 1994 with 58 percent of the vote, it seemed that Arkansas might be on the verge of embracing the Republican Party more fully. However, Huckabee was then fairly moderate and a careful politician, who understood the Arkansas electorate. He would later change his tune but not until after he left his governor’s post. The election of another moderate Democrat, Mike Beebe in 2008, led to renewed speculation that Arkansas was not following the southern abandonment of the Democratic Party but that speculation was premature, for in 2014 Arkansans elected as governor Republican Asa Hutchison, a former congressman.

From the magnificent Toltec Mounds (LN4) of the Woodland prehistory period to iconic Thorncrown Chapel (CR17) of the late twentieth century, Arkansas has witnessed the creation of unique structures of lasting significance. The former speak to the presence of a substantial and significant population of Native Americans; the latter personifies the brilliance of modern architecture. One particularly fine example of a functioning antebellum plantation home—Lakeport (CH5) in Chicot County—attests to the emergence of the slave plantation in the early nineteenth century and an economic order that dominated Arkansas politics and culture and led the state into the morass of the Civil War. The fine hotels constructed in the late nineteenth century in Hot Springs and Eureka Springs signaled the emergence of a New South but obscured nagging economic problems that lasted well into the twentieth century. The Farm Security Administration buildings at Dyess (MS10) and the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum (PO1) in northeast Arkansas speak to these lingering problems and the persistence of an agricultural economy that defied modernization. Since World War II, however, the transformation of the agricultural economy has been accompanied by the rise of an alternative economic model for the state. Although agriculture remains a particularly significant part of the Arkansas economy, some industrial development occurred. In the late twentieth century, Arkansas began to move into the new “service sector” economy that marked the nation’s transition to a new economic order. Modern architectural forms are taking shape in Arkansas that reflect the twenty-first-century ideal.

NOTES

Jeannie M. Whayne, Thomas A. DeBlack, George Sabo III, and Morris S. Arnold, Arkansas: A Narrative History,2nd ed. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2013); Michael B. Dougan, Arkansas Odyssey: The Saga of Arkansas from Prehistoric Times to the Present (Little Rock: Rose, 1994); Leslie Newell, Crossroads of the Past: 12,000 Years of Indian Life in Arkansas (Fayetteville: Arkansas Archeological Survey Popular Series no. 2, 1990); Gloria A. Young and Michael P. Hoffman, The Expedition of Hernando de Soto West of the Mississippi, 1541–1543 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1993); Jeannie M. Whayne, ed., Cultural Encounters in the Early South: Indians and Europeans in Arkansas (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1995); W. David Baird, The Quapaws: A History of the Downstream People (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980); Donald P. McNeilly, The Old South Frontier: Cotton Plantations and the Making of Arkansas Society, 1819–1861 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000).

 

 

Kelly Houston Jones, “The Peculiar Institution on the Periphery: Slavery in Arkansas,” PhD diss., University of Arkansas, 2014; McNeilly, Old South Frontier;Orville W. Taylor, Negro Slavery in Arkansas (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1958; reprint, Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000); Gary Battershell, “The Socioeconomic Role of Slavery in the Upcountry,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly58 (Spring 1999): 45–60; Carolyn Earle Billingsley, Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004); S. Charles Bolton, “Slavery and the Defining of Arkansas,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly58 (Spring 1999): 1–23.

 

Thomas Deblack, “A Garden in the Wilderness: The Johnsons and the Making of Lakeport Plantation, 1831–1876,” PhD diss., University of Arkansas, 1995; Whayne et al., Arkansas,234.

Whayne et al., Arkansas,114–15, 121, 125; Michael B. Dougan, “A Look at the Family in Arkansas Politics, 1858–1865,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly29 (Summer 1970): 99–111; Robert Walz, “Arkansas Slaveholdings and Slaveholders in 1850,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly12 (Spring 1953): 38–73.

Whayne et al., Arkansas,4–13, 126; Mattie Brown, “River Transportation in Arkansas, 1819–1890,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly1 (December 1942): 342–54; Roger E. Coleman, The Arkansas Post Story: Arkansas Post National Memorial (Santa Fe: National Park Service, 1987); Mary Medearis, Washington, Arkansas: History on the Southwest Trail,rev. ed. (Hope, Ark.: Etter Printing, 1984).

Mary L. Kwas, Digging for History at Old Washington (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2009); Carolyn Gray LeMaster, A Corner of the Tapestry: A History of the Jewish Experience in Arkansas, 1820s–1990s (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994); Nikki Senn, “Hempstead County Courthouse,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture,http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia /entry-detail.aspx?entryID=8069.

Whayne et al., Arkansas,6; Diane D. Blair and Jay Barth, Arkansas Politics and Government: Do the People Rule?, 2nd ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005).

W. S. Campbell, 100 Years of Fayetteville, 1828–1928 (Fayetteville, Ark.: Washington County Historical Society, 1928); Robert A. Leflar, The First 100 Years: Centennial History of the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1972); Ethel C. Simpson, Image and Reflection: A Pictorial History of the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1990); Lee A. Dew, “From Trails to Rails in Eureka Springs,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly41 (Autumn 1982): 203–14; “Crescent Hotel,” http://www.crescent-hotel.com/; “Crescent Hotel History,” http://www.crescent-hotel.com/history.shtml; “Palace Hotel,” http://www.palacehotelbathhouse.com/index.html.

Whayne et al., Arkansas,11–12, 111–12; Larry D. Ball and William M. Clements, Voices from State: An Oral History of Arkansas State University (State University: Arkansas State University Press, 1984); Brady M. Banta, “Arkansas State University (ASU),” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture,http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail. aspx?entryID=2374.

Whayne et al., Arkansas,8–11; Aaron M. Rogers, “White River,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture,http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail. aspx?entryID=2310.

Whayne et al., Arkansas,145–46; Marie Cash, “Arkansas Achieves Statehood,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly2 (December 1943): 292–94; Carey M. Roberts, “Arkansas Real Estate Bank,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture,http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail. aspx?search=1&entryID=2548.

Carl H. Moneyhon, The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on Arkansas: Persistence in the Midst of Ruin (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994); William L. Shea, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Shea, Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992).

Moneyhon, Impact of the Civil War; George H. Thompson, Arkansas and Reconstruction: The Influence of Geography, Economics, and Personality (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1976); Powell Clayton, The Aftermath of the Civil War in Arkansas (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969); Thomas A. DeBlack, “Civil War through Reconstruction, 1861 through 1874,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture,http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail. aspx?search=1&entryID=388.

Whayne et al., Arkansas,144, 170–71, 263–66, 268; Bill Sagyer, “Central Delta Depot Museum,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture,http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail .aspx?entryID=4083; “Texarkana, AR (TXA),” The Great American Stations, http://www.greatamericanstations.com/Stations/TXA.

Whayne et al., Arkansas,269–72.

Ibid., 296–98; National Register of Historic Places Nomination for Bethel African American Episcopal Church,” Arkansas Historic Preservation; “New Zion,” Churches in Warren AR, Church Finder, http://www.churchfinder.com/churches/ar/warren; “Beech Street First Baptist Church,” Texarkana, Ark., http://www.beechstreetfbc.org/; “First United Methodist Church,” Rogers, Ark., http://www.fumcrogers.org/; “St. Boniface Church—Bigelow (New Dixie),” Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, http://www.dolr.org/parishes/st-boniface-church-bigelow-new-dixie; “St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church,” Arkansas—The Natural State, http://www.arkansas.com/attractions/detail/st-elizabeths-catholic -church/18028; James Metrailer, “Subiaco Abbey and Academy,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture,http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail .aspx?entryID=2523; “Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Life—Temple Bethel, Helena, Arkansas,” Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, http://www.isjl.org/arkansas-helena-temple-beth-el-encyclopedia.html.

Timothy P. Donavan, Willard B. Gatewood Jr., and Jeannie M. Whayne, The Governors of Arkansas: Essays in Political Biography,2nd ed. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1995), 134–38.

Ibid., 150–56; Whayne et al., Arkansas,282–83; Blake Wintory and Ashan R. Hampton, “Mosaic Templars of America,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture,http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/ entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=1186.

Whayne et al., Arkansas,347–50; William H. Cobb, “Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture,http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/ entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=35.

Whayne et al., Arkansas,350–51; Historic Dyess Colony: Johnny Cash Boyhood Home, http://dyesscash.astate.edu/.

Whayne et al., Arkansas,351, 357.

Ibid., 363–89.

Ibid.

Ibid., 453–73; Mary Heady, “Drew County Museum and Archives: Aka: Southeast Arkansas Research and Archives Center,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture,http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/ entry-detail.aspx?entryID=6895; Richard Kastl, “History of Howard County,” Howard County Historical Society, 1982, http://howardcountymuseum.org/files_uploaded/ 4c179dd37ed56fo11ao14dac88c83c7e.doc; Holly Hope, “Corinth (Howard County), Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture,http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/ entry-detail.aspx?entryID=7056; “President Bill Clinton’s First Home,” Clinton Birthplace Foundation, http://clintonchildhoodhomemuseum.com/.

Rachel Silva, “Sandwiching in History: Tower Building,” December 7, 2012, Sandwiching in History Archives, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/Learn-More/ sandwiching-in-history-archives.

Whayne et al., Arkansas,459–73; “Pine Bluff Civic Center,” Tours by Josh Whitehead, http://toursbyjoshwhitehead.blogspot.com/ 2013/01/pine-bluff-civic-center.html; Thorncrown Chapel, http://www.thorncrown.com/.

Diane D. Blair, Arkansas Politics and Government: Do the People Rule? (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988).

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Credits

Author: 
Cyrus A. Sutherland with Gregory Herman, Claudia Shannon, Jean Sizemore Jeannie M. Whayne and Contributors

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