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Batesville History

Batesville, lying in the southeastern section of the Ozarks, is one of the oldest settlements in Arkansas. It was a major shipping point on the White River when Arkansas was still a territory. Years before it became a state, it was a "port of entry" into the interior far upstream. Batesville played a commanding part in the early history and development of the Ozark region. The town has many tales of pioneer days to unfold regarding its actual settlement and how "Batesville" became its name.

In historic times, the Osage Nation used the land on which Batesville now stands as hunting grounds. Under a treaty negotiated in 1808, the Native Americans ceded their hereditary tribal lands to the United States. Native Americans never again controlled it, although the Cherokee Nation owned the territory just south and west of the river from 1817 to 1828.

Perhaps the earliest settlement on the present site of Batesville was that of the Trimbles and Laffertys in 1810 at the mouth of Poke Bayou. Traveling over the old Native American trails, a group of white men arrived at the mouth of the Poke Bayou and established the first white settlement. James Trimble, accompanied by John L. Austin, Henderson S. and Lorenzo Dow Lafferty, came overland from Kentucky driving a herd of stock cattle before them and stopped at the mouth of the Poke Bayou. There they found vast canebreaks, providing a fine winter pasture. In the spring of 1811, John Trimble, father of James Trimble, accompanied by his brothers and their families, left Kentucky in keelboats. Traveling down the White River, they landed at the mouth of Polk Bayou and there joined the settlement.

Other authorities say that by 1812 John Reed had a store at Poke Bayou. With a store of supplies and whiskey, he traded with the local Native Americans for furs and other valuables. James McGarrah claimed that he cut the first tree at Poke Bayou in 1814, when he built a house, but thatŐs too late to have been the first.

As early as 1818 Joab Hardin was living in a log hut and running a ferry across the White River. The ferry consisted of nothing but "two small canoes, lashed together with a few split clapboards laid across". Henry Rowe Schoolcraft came through Batesville a year later and recorded in his journal that the town had about a dozen houses. Poke Bayou was the name used by Schoolcraft in referring to Batesville.

During the first fifteen years of settlement, the village existed under three names: Napoleon, Poke Creek, and Batesville. "Napoleon" was the name Charles Kelly bestowed upon the house he built around 1814 a mile down from the settlement at the mouth of the Poke Bayou. There was another more important settlement on the White River near Arkansas Post by that name, so KellyŐs attempt failed. In 1824, the settlement still called Poke Bayou was officially named Batesville in honor of Judge James Woodson Bates. Judge Bates was the first territorial delegate from the Arkansas Territory to Congress. After serving in the 16th and 17th Congresses, Judge Bates established his residence in Batesville. His brother, Edward Bates of St. Louis, was Attorney General under President Lincoln. The Bates brothers were originally from Virginia. Although Bates lived in Batesville only three years, he was the most prominent man in Arkansas at that time. One of unusual ability and fidelity to public trust, as well as a man of personal charm, it was fitting for his fellow townsmen to give recognition to his standing and attainments by changing the name of the community to Batesville.

The ninth child of Thomas Flaming Bates and Caroline Matilda Woodson, James Woodson Bates was born August 25, 1777, at "Belmont" in Goochland county, Virginia. After attending Yale University, he entered Princeton as a sophomore in October 1805. During this period, he attended the trial of Aaron Burr at Richmond. He often spoke of the prominent actors in that celebrated trial, General Jackson and Wilkinson, and particularly of the very pompous manner of the latter when on the witness stand.

Soon after leaving Princeton in 1807, Bates began the study of law. In the meantime, his brother, Frederick Bates, was appointed secretary of the Territory of Missouri and was acting governor in the absence of Gov. Clark. The West was then an inviting field for young lawyers, so James followed his brother to Missouri and settled in St. Louis in 1816.

Shortly after Arkansas became a territory in 1819, Bates moved to the Post of Arkansas, the temporary seat of government, and began practicing law. He had scarcely opened his office for the reception of clients, when, on November 20, 1819, he was elected as the first delegate to Congress from the Arkansas Territory, and was reelected in 1821.

Bates was not a candidate to succeed himself in 1823, and when his Congressional term ended he moved to Batesville and resumed practicing law. President John Quincy Adams appointed him in 1825 as one of the territorial judges, but President Andrew Jackson did not renew his commission when it expired three years later. Bates soon moved to Crawford County in the western part of the territory, and after marrying Elizabeth Moore, a wealthy widow, settled on a big farm near Van Buren.

His last important public service occurred in 1835 when he served as a delegate to the state convention and helped draft the first constitution of the State of Arkansas. He died in 1846, and lies in an unmarked grave on the Moore farm near Van Buren, Arkansas.

In 1813, Samuel Miller, grandfather to Gov. William R. Miller, came to Batesville and settled on the creek, which bears their name. Col. Robert Bean came up the White River in a keelboat in 1814 and established himself at the mouth of Polk Bayou. In the same year, James Meachum and Samuel Peel came to Batesville. Other pioneers who came to Batesville prior to 1820 were: James Ringgold, Col. Hartwell Boswell, John Redmond and Henry Eagle. Among the most prominent of these was John Ringgold, whose home, erected in 1820, is known as the old Dr. Lawrence place. It stood on West Main Street, the first house west of the railroad. Owned by Ringgold and his son-in-law Charles Fenton Newton, it was one of the finest houses in Arkansas. (The brick from this home was used to build the Chamber of Commerce Building in 1964.)

Some time after 1820, Col. Charles Fenton Mercer Noland came to Batesville from Virginia. He later married John RinggoldŐs daughter. Col. Noland was one of the greatest literary celebrities of the early days. Other prominent settlers of this time were Judge Townsend Dickinson and Richard Searcy. Mr. Searcy was the first county clerk of the courts.

The town of Batesville was partially laid out in 1821, and on May 23, 1821, the land was granted by Richard Searcy, Thomas Curran and Joseph Hardin to Mark Bean. The above named grantors, on March 3, 1822, executed and recorded a bill of assurance and a plat of the town as it was then laid out. The community extended from Block number one at the foot of Main Street to Spring Street, the street running just above the First National Bank, and from there to the bridge across Polk Bayou.

Batesville became the county seat in 1821, and on November 19, 1821, the first court of common pleas was held with Judge Richard Peel and William Moore presiding. This seems to have been the last court of this nature, for in January 1822, The Hon. Richard Searcy opened the first circuit court. This was the only court in operation until April 20, 1930, when Judge James Boswell held the first county court.

The first post office was established in Batesville in 1822 with Nathan Cook as post- master. Col. Boswell, later Judge Boswell, was made postmaster in 1827.

The principle trade of the community in its early existence was supplying groceries and provisions to the settlers. Hides and furs were taken in exchange. By 1830 Batesville was described as a "busy little village with three brick buildings, three stores, and a courthouse that would do credit to any part of the union." Charles Felton Mercer Noland, in speaking of Batesville, said: "So much beef is eaten in this region that, catch a man by the ear, he will bellow like a calf".

Aaron W. Lyon came to Batesville in 1833 and engaged in teaching the first school for some years but entered the mercantile business in 1842. Mr. Lyon was one of the trustees of the Batesville Academy, the first academy incorporated in the state. Governor Conway approved the bill for its incorporation on September 25, 1836.

Other dates of interest:

1830 - First Methodist Church organized

1831 - First Steamboat arrived at Batesville

1838 - First newspaper established - Batesville News

1842 - First Presbyterian Church and Masonic Lodge organized

1846 - First Baptist Church organized

1872 - Arkansas College (now Lyon College) was first chartered at Batesville

1878 - An estimated 20,000 bales of cotton were shipped from Independence County by steamboat

1882 - Railroad was built to Batesville

1900 - Lock and Dam #1, first of three dams on the White River, was built and

steamboat traffic ceased shortly after

1928 - White River Bridge was built

1938 - The White River Water Carnival was established. The carnival was shut down during the war for several years and then resumed again.

1938 -

1940 - Current Courthouse was dedicated

1942 - Airport began as a grass strip

1960 - Highway 11 became U.S. Highway 167

1970 - Airport expansion with a 6,000' runway and commercial service began

1980 ĐArkansas Eastman opened

ConAgra or Omaha purchased Banquet Foods from RCA

1982 - Mary Stuart ecame the third straight Miss White River to become Miss


1983 - A 5.3 Million dollar expansion of the White River Medical Center began

1984 - Batesville was selected as a Main Street Arkansas pilot city.

Today the principle crops are soybeans, rice, alfalfa, lespedeza, all grains, sorghum, fruit, and vegetables. The livestock enterprises are poultry, beef cattle, hogs, and dairies. At the present time, the cityŐs economic climate is evenly divided between industry, agriculture, and tourism.

Some of the many industries include White Rodgers, GDX (rubber auto gaskets), Eastman Chemical, Townsends of Arkansas, ConAgra, LaCroix Optical, Pro Dentec, Batesville Cold Storage, Atlas Asphalt, Concord Specialty, Ideal Bakery, and McBride Stone Quarries.

State Highways 14, 25, 69, 106, 233, 394 and 122, and US Highway 167 serve the city. The Missouri Pacific Railroad provides commercial railroad service as it more or less parallels the White River.

Several major events taking place in Batesville:

February - Community International Night: A celebration of the international residents of Independence County, the evening features a community potluck dinner and entertainment by local artists with an international flare. Sponsored by Lyon College, University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville and the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

March - Ozark Hawg Barbeque Contest: A sanctioned Barbeque cook-off and concert. Winner goes to the Memphis Barbeque Contest. A Friday night concert features a major entertainer. Sponsored by the Batesville Kiwanis Club.

April - Ozark Scottish Festival: On the campus of Lyon College. Two days of Scottish games and entertainment. Sponsored by Lyon College.

May - Batesville Heritage Celebration and Tour of Homes: A weeklong celebration of Batesville and Independence County Heritage. Activities sponsored by the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Batesville Preservation Association, Old Independence Regional Museum, Independence County Historical Society, Main Street of Batesville, and the Independence County Genealogical Society, among others.

July - Celebrate America Fireworks Display sponsored by Citizens Bank.

August - White River Water Carnival: Attractions include: Miss White River Water Carnival Beauty Pageant, Golf Tournament, Volleyball Tournament, Bass Tournament, KidŐs Fishing Derby, 4 Mile Run, KidŐs _ Mile Run, Water Ski Show, Unmanned Boat Races, Skate Board Championship, Basketball Tournament, Hot Air Balloon Races, Live entertainment, Arts and crafts commercial vendors, Food, Carnival rides and other activities. Sponsored by the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

August - Independence County Fair

October - Halloween of Main Street - Batesville children trick or treat up and down Historical Main Street Batesville.

November - Downtown Christmas lighting

December - Batesville Christmas Parade on Main Street

Brief History of Independence County:

The Arkansas Territorial Legislature meeting at Arkansas Post, then the capitol of the Territory created Independence County, October 20, 1820, from part of Lawrence County. Originally, it included all or part of Jackson, Izard, Sharp and Stone counties. The county was named for the Declaration of Independence.

According to the 2000 Census, the population of Independence County is 34,233. It is located in the north central part of the state and has elevations ranging from below 250 feet to nearly 1,800 feet. Total land area is 483,200 acres or 722 square feet. 307,700 acres of it is farmland.

Seven school districts provide public education to Independence County. Lyon College, a four-year liberal arts institution, is the oldest private Christian school in the state founded in 1872 (Began as Arkansas College). U.S. News and World Report has ranked Lyon College as one of the 10 best regional liberal arts colleges. The University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville is a two-year state supported school that offers both academic and technical courses.

The Community School and White River Specialized Industries offer specialized services and training for developmentally disabled children and adults.

Development of Independence County:

1810 - 1830
Permanent settlement began - 1810
First industrial plant was a powder mill on Cave Creek - prior to 1810
Post Office established as Poke Bayou - 1811
First business firm was John ReedŐs Tavern -1810
Ferry across the White River operated by Joab Hardin
Independence County established - 1820
First courthouse began construction - 1821
William R. Miller, first native-born governor of Arkansas, born at Batesville - 1823

1830 - 1850
Methodist church organized - 1830
First steamboat arrived - 1831
First school established - 1832
First newspaper (Batesville News) - 1838
First library established by Sunday School Society - 1839
Presbyterian Church organized - 1842
Masonic Lodge organized - 1842
Baptist Church organized - 1846

1850 - 1870
Batesville occupied by Federal troops - 1862
Occupied by General Joe ShelbyŐs troops - 1863
Episcopal Church organized - 1866

1870 - 1900
Arkansas College chartered - 1872
20,000 bales of cotton shipped from county by boat - 1878
Railroad built to Batesville - 1882
First telephone exchange - 1888
First chemical fire engine - 1896
First water and power plant - 1897

Steam boating cased after 1900
Lock & Dam #1 built on White River at Batesville - 1900
Board of Trade formed - 1906
Chamber of Commerce formed - 1919
White River Bridge built - dedicated July 4, 1928

White River stadium build - 1938
Current Court House Built - 1938
Poultry industry developed - 1947
KBTA Radio Station established - 1950
Arkansas College moved to new campus - 1954
New County Library building built - 1958
Arkansas College Fine Arts building completed - 1958

1960 - 1980
Highway 11 made US Highway 167 -1960
Missouri Pacific passenger service discontinued - 1960
Gateway Vocational-Technical school opened - 1975
White River Medical Center opened - 1975

1980 - 2000
Independence County topped 30,000 in the 1980 Census
United Way of Independence County began - 1981
First commercial generation of electricity took place at the Independence Steam Electric Station near Newark - 1983
Unit 2 of the Independence Steam Electric Station went on line - 1984
Gateway Vocational-Technical School becomes the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville - 1999

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