Fayetteville (first known as Washington Courthouse) was designated the county seat when Washington County was established in the Arkansas Territory in 1828. Situated at a high elevation along a salubrious spring, not far from a branch of the White River, in 1835 the town was officially surveyed and divided into lots radiating from the central square. Fayetteville was the first college town in the state, and from its beginning the town seemed destined to nurture education. By the mid-1840s Sophia Sawyer’s Female Seminary was established on Mountain Street not far from the square. It took students of the Fayetteville region, but also young Cherokee women from the neighboring Oklahoma Territory, and operated until 1862, a casualty of the Civil War. Ozark Institute, a school for boys three miles northwest of the city square, was formed by R. W. Mecklin and Robert Graham soon after Miss Sawyer’s seminary. In 1850 Graham took twenty students with him as a nucleus of a new school in Fayetteville, which he called Arkansas College. It began in a private residence, but within a year construction was started on a new college building on ten acres bought from early settler and landowner William McGarrah. Arkansas College was the first degree-conferring college in Arkansas. Its building burned in 1865, along with most of the commercial structures on the square, during the Battle of Fayetteville and never reopened. Under the Morrill Act of 1862, the federal government granted Arkansas 150,000 acres of public land to encourage the establishment of an industrial and agricultural university. Action was postponed until after the Civil War. When the state government invited proposals from cities for a location of the new university, Fayetteville’s bid of fifty thousand dollars dominated the only rival bidder, Batesville in Independence County, as the location for the new land-grant Agricultural and Industrial University. It was the culmination of the town’s pre—Civil War ambition to become a significant center for education.
But Fayetteville and the university, flanked on the east and south by the Ozark Mountains, remained remote and difficult to reach. Travel became easier when the St. Louis—San Francisco Railway (the Frisco) laid track from Missouri in 1881, and the railroads brought new vitality and a steady increase in enrollment to the newly completed University of Arkansas. Nevertheless, it was only after the mid-twentieth-century arrival of automobiles and paved highway systems that the university and the town could properly flourish. In the late twentieth century, the eventual arrival of the interstate (I-49) through the region enhanced additional growth, which has remained unabated to the present day.
Fayetteville has been home to several internationally significant politicians from former U.S. senator J. William Fulbright (see WA19), who established the Fulbright fellowships, to former president William Jefferson Clinton and former senator and secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Clintons’ home at 930 W. Clinton Drive, where they were married in 1975 while they taught law at the University of Arkansas, is a 1930s Tudor Revival design and is maintained as a museum to both the Clintons.
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