Present day Washington County was first claimed by Osage Indians
as hunting territory. In 1810's and 20's, Cherokees who were fleeing
the push by whites who were taking their lands in the southeastern U.S,
gained rights to some of the present County's area. But by 1828, these
Cherokees were moved out to Indian Territory, nearly 10 years before
the rest of the Cherokees would be forced out of the southeast along
the Trail of Tears. Some of these later Cherokees would cross parts of
Washington County in 1837-1839.
In 1816 a Major William Lovely secured a federal grant, called
"Lovely's Purchase", that included a portion of today's south
Washington County and a large section of eastern Oklahoma. In 1827
Lovely County was created from Lovely's Purchase and more land. The seat
for Lovely County was at Nicksville in Indian Territory, north of present
day Sallisaw, Oklahoma. In 1828,
the Arkansas Territorial Legislature extinguished Lovely County and
created a large Washington County which encompassed parts of present
day Madison and Carroll Counties and all of Washington and Benton
Counties. After Arkansas became a state in 1836, the present boundary
of the County was established.
Fayetteville was recognized early as the seat for the new County.
The first post office at Fayetteville was called Washington but the
postmaster realized Washington in southern Arkansas already had that
name so Fayetteville was chosen, possibly for the town in Tennessee
where some local officials had lived. The town
was incorporated in 1836.
Springdale began as a settlement around a church called Shiloh in the
1840's. After the Civil War, a town plat was laid out around the
church site. In 1875 a post office was established and given the name
of Springdale and the town was incorporated in 1878.
The earliest small communities established in the County include Cane
Hill, noted for its large mills and institutions of learning;
Evansville and Cincinnati, major trade centers in the early and
mid-1800s; Prairie Grove, settled around 1829 and the site of a major
Civil War battle; and West Fork, first settled around 1836. West Fork
did not become a thriving village until 1875-76 with construction of
water and steam mills. Elm Springs also grew after establishment of
a water mill in the early 1840s, as did Dutch Mills and Viney Grove.
Goshen was known as College Grove when it was founded in 1874. With
the building of the St.Louis and San Francisco Railroad(Frisco
Line), Winslow prospered and was incorporated in 1881. Elkins was
noted for a good school at the turn of the 20th century and was an
important stop on the St.Paul Branch of the railroad. Lincoln
developed as an apple growing center before the Civil War. Tontitown
began in 1898 when an Italian colony, having been driven from south-
eastern Arkansas by disease and unfamiliar agricultural practices,
settled in Washington County and successfully began to grow grapes.
When the Butterfield Stage route from near St.Louis to San Francisco
came through in 1858, the County was connected to the outside world.
The stage stopped at Fitzgerald's Station in present northeast
Springdale, into central Fayetteville with a station near the 1905
courthouse and stops at hotels. From Fayetteville it proceeded south
with a stop at Parks Station west of Winslow, and a flag stop at
Strickler. From there was a rugged trip across the Boston Mountains to
Van Buren. The stage line was terminated in 1861 after only three years
due to the Civil War.
The Civil War devastated most of the countryside as well as the villages
and towns that had prospered in the three to four decades before the
War. Troop movements and guerilla activities resulted in burning of
buildings in towns, destruction of crops and livestock and much loss
of life. It has been said Fayetteville largely was controlled by
the Union Army and the countryside by Confederate guerillas. The
populace was split with loyalties to both sides. Both Union and
Confederate military units were formed of County men.
After the war, Fayetteville began to rebuild fairly quickly. Springdale,
or Shiloh as it was known, began to grow as did Prairie Grove. Cane
Hill recovered and thrived for several years, including Cane Hill
Fayetteville had recovered sufficiently in 1871 to compete for, and win
as location for the State Land Grant university, called Arkansas Industrial
University initially. The name was changed to University of Arkansas
in 1899. Initial classes were held in a remodeled farmhouse and a
hastily constructed frame building. But by 1875, University Hall,
long known as "Old Main" was completed, and is now the center of a
The first railroad, St. Louis & San Francisco, known as the "Frisco"
was built in the 1870's and '80's. In each town through which the
tracks passed, development centered on the railroad. The towns of
Springdale, Fayetteville, West Fork and Winslow prospered, at least in
part because of the railroad. Other stops were sometimes made at Johnson,
Greenland, and Woolsey, south of West Fork. Winslow developed as a
considerable resort with several fine hotels. In 1886 a branch line
was built east from Fayetteville to St.Paul in Madison County, primarily
to facilitate the harvesting of the white oak trees used for railroad
ties. Towns along this route included Baldwin, Harris, Hood(Elkins),
Durham and Thompson, just into Madison County.The St.Paul Branch
railroad operated until 1937. Another rail line was built from Fayetteville
through Prairie Grove, Lincoln, Summers and on to Muskogee.
Agriculture was always important to the County, with corn and wheat
grown early and ground in the many mills in the area.
Fruit and vegetable farms were common around Washington County, with
tomatoes, grapes, apples and peaches as most common products. A canning
industry grew to preserve some of these with factories in Springdale
and West Fork in the late 1800's. Strawberries were grown commercially
and began to be shipped by rail by 1900.
The poultry business began with a small processing operation in
Fayetteville in 1916. Feed mills and hatcheries were built in and around
Springdale in the 1920's. The University and pioneer businessmen such
as Jeff Brown, developed methods for growing better chickens and control
of disease. Trucking of live chickens was developed by John Tyson and
C L George of Springdale and replaced railroads to move chickens from
the grower to the market. Companies descended from these and other local
operations have grown and form a significant part of the County's
commercial strength. Tyson has become one of the nation's
largest producers of meat.
As it was in early days, Washington County is connected with Benton
County, as a significant piece of a region that has experienced
phenomenal growth in the 1990's and into the 2000's. Development of
Beaver Lake on White River which begins in the County, has provided
water to support the growing population and industry of the area.
Interstate highway 540 runs from I-40 in the Arkansas River valley into
Washington and finally Benton Counties, and Northwest Arkansas Regional
Airport in Benton County provide the transportation links to the rest of
the world that was initially provided by the Butterfield Stage Line.
Washington County Arkansas, League of Women Voters 1989
Goodspeed's 1889 History of Washington County
Fayetteville Arkansas in the Civil War by Russell Mahan
Washington County History by Shiloh Museum 1989
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