There’s an interesting story behind every Arkansas town, whether large or small. Many people recognize the histories of the better known and bigger towns in the Natural State, but even the locations with less of a population than Bentonville or Jonesboro have something notable and meaningful in their past. The histories of these towns listed are just a part of all the wonderful stories Arkansas has to tell.
The town of Magness in Independence Country is named after a prominent family, more than likely that of Colonel Morgan Magness. The Magness family was held in high esteem in the county during the pre-Civil War era. The Magness family were the largest slaveholding family in the county. However, since Independence County is a mountainous area, fewer slaves were available, leaving the Magness homestead 20 slaves.
Located in White County just north of Searcy, Letona became prominent as a stop on the Missouri and North Arkansas (M&NA) Railroad. A center of the timber industry and of agriculture, primarily fruit, Letona was first settled in 1815. The area remained largely unsetted during the 19th century. A Civil War confrontation, called the Skirmish at Big Indian Creek, was fought in the area on May 27, 1862. The Doniphan Lumber Company built a lumber mill in the vicinity of what soon would become Letona at the turn of the 20th century. A post office was constructed in 1900. A rail line was built from Seligman, Missouri, to Helena on the Mississippi River. The depot near the Doniphan Lumber Company was designated Letona, likely in honor of a railroad exective or employee. The name of the post office was changed to Letona in 1908. After the community grew more, Letona was incorporated as a town in 1911.
Located in northeast Van Buren County, Arkansas, the town of Shirley is situated along the Middle Fork of the Little Red River. A one-time railroad outpost, the 21st century community of Shirley is now geared toward agriculture as well as parks and recreation due to the river and Greers Ferry Lake.
Chidester can be found in northwestern Ouachita County. The town is another great example of the positive results of railroad construction and what it did for Arkansas. Jefferson Smith acquired land in the area that would become Chidester in 1858 and established a farm. The city was named for a prominent Camden, Arkansas resident and businessman, John T. Chidester. The city grew very quickly and was incorporated in 1906.
Located in eastern Calhoun County about five miles from the county seat of Hampton, Harrell was established as a railroad depot early in the 20th-century. To this day, the town of Harrell still maintains a working sawmill. Despite other railroad towns disappearing, Harrell stayed strong. As of 2016, Harrell hosts the sawmill and a handful of trucking firms and churches.
10. Lead Hill
A mining town once located on the upper White River, Lead Hill had to be relocated after the creation of Bull Shoals Lake. The first settler of the town arrived in 1812. Afterwards, several settlers came to the area in search of precious metals. Throughout the years of 1868 to 1872 the area continued to grow, and by 1873 papers were filed to incorporate Lead Hill as an Arkansas town.
9. Hickory Ridge
Lake Township in northwest Arkansas once included what we now know as Hickory Ridge. The town's founding can be traced to the opening of the area’s post office, which took the Hickory Ridge name on October 5, 1875. A year later, ground broke on constructing the St. Louis Southwestern Railway, crossing Arkansas from the southwestern to the northeastern corner. The railroad reached Hickory Ridge in late 1882.
8. Black Oak
Before there was the classic rock band, there was the town. Located east of Jonesboro, Black Oak began as a booming timberland and evolved into a small and thriving farming community with plenty of fertile land. In the late 1800s, the low lying land surrounding present-day Black Oak flooded often. Settlers who did come to the area found home on a rise in the timber-covered flat lands called Black Oak Ridge. The area's post office was established on February 11, 1899 and the name Black Oak did not come into use until about 1902.
7. Oil Trough
Oil Trough, Arkansas can be found just southeast of Batesville in Independence County. Oil Trough is southwest of the White River in a rich area of bottomlands known as the Oil Trough Bottoms. During the 1800s, the area was a preferred hunting ground. The Oil Trough Bottoms were settled in 1817. The first post office in the area, named Pleasant Island, was established on May 2, 1832. The name was changed to Oil Trough on June 22, 1849.
6. Horseshoe Lake
Horseshoe Lake is surrounded by the remains of Native American civilizations. Artifacts dating back to around AD 600 have been found in the area. Crittenden County was carved out of Phillips County in 1825. As a result, four township divisions were created in Crittenden County. Horseshoe Lake was a part of the Lucas Township, filled with history as well as fertile and rich bottomland. Historians believe that Horseshoe Lake was where a Civil War skirmish with Texas Rangers took place.
The Arkansas state flag has its origins in Wabbaseka. Poet and educator Willie K. Hocker designed the Arkansas flag in 1912 and was one of only two females to submit accepted designs for state flags in the U.S.A. The first school in Wabbaseka was named Willie K. Hocker High School and existed until racial integration in the late 1960s, at which time it merged with Wabbaseka High School.
Located in southeast Pike County, Delight was another timber boomtown in the early 20th century. Settlers moved into the area along Wolf Creek at the end of the 18th century, and the area was known as Wolf Creek by 1832 and even had its own post office until 43 acres of land were purchased, sold, and deeded by 1853. The acres became the town of Delight. Southwest Arkansas–Indian Territory Railroad Company also invested in the town by paying money to lay down tracks in Delight, giving residents a great opportunity for employment and means to travel to nearby towns. The town recieved its name in 1904 after residents agreed the town was indeed a delightful place to live.
3. St. Charles
Once located within the territory of the Middle Mississippian culture during Native American history's Woodland Period, Frenchman Courer des Bois Pierre Pertuis was the first settler to step foot in what was not yet known as St. Charles sometime after purchasing land in 1797. Charles W. Belknap owned the site in 1839, and the area was briefly known as Belknap’s Bluff. The name St. Charles first appears after Belknap was appointed in 1850 as postmaster. St. Charles did very well during the 1850s by shipping a variety of products on the river. St. Charles is also known the site of the Battle of St. Charles where the most deadly single shot of the American Civil War was fired. (A cannon fired resulted in the deaths of 129 Union soldiers.) After the war, St. Charles was finally incorporated as an Arkansas town in 1880.
Jacksonport, a vital steamboat stop on the White River, was a transportation hub for Confederate forces during the Civil War. Steamboats that became popular in the 1800s allowed Jacksonport to become well known as a river port. The town was occupied by both Union and Confederate forces during the war. Jacksonport became county seat of Jackson County in 1854. In 1891, the county seat was moved nearby to Newport. During the Civil War the town served as a transportation hub for Confederate forces. A town bypassed by the railroad and later residents after the change of county seat now hosts a museum in the park's 1872 courthouse.
1. Arkansas City
The Arkansas City post office was started in 1872, and the community was incorporated on September 12, 1873. In 1879, it became the county seat for Desha County. Over the next four decades, Arkansas City grew into a booming river town. The town had two railroads as well as a natural steamboat port. Three sawmills were a part of the town's operations. Arkansas City's historic Commercial District, located at Desoto Avenue and Sprague Street, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Have you visited any of these small towns with big histories? Tell us about interesting stories about your hometown. Was it one of the many timber or oil or mining boomtowns? There’s so much that America should know about the people and places in the Natural State!