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Sardis is a small unincorporated community located roughly twelve miles east of Benton (Saline County). Sardis is one of two communities that make up Saline County’s Hurricane Township, the other being Fairview. For many years, Sardis had a unique and beloved landmark known as the Shoe Tree.
Saline County was cut from Arkansas’s Pulaski County on November 2, 1835, by the Territorial Legislature. Afterward, the county was divided into townships, with the area around Hurricane Creek being named Hurricane Township. White settlers and farmers began to move into what are now Sardis and Fairview before statehood. In 1869, Sardis Methodist Church South was built on a parcel of land that had been donated by a woman called “Grandmother” Roark. Members of seven charter families—including “Uncle” John Green, who named the building—were the first attendees. The community that emerged around the church took its name from it. Sardis Campground, built in 1884, became the site where members of Sardis Methodist Church South held their annual revivals in a large shed surrounded by small tents. The growth of bauxite mining in nearby Bauxite (Saline County) caused the community’s population to swell. Early Sardis was split between two religious denominations, Methodists and Baptists, and remains so in the twenty-first century for the most part.
In 1900, the original Methodist church building was replaced with a larger one-room sanctuary. In 1917, this structure burned to the ground. After losing its meeting place, the Methodist congregation met in a small shed or simply merged its services with the local Baptist church, also founded in 1869. Sardis’s Methodists got a new building in 1920, and in 1939 the church was renamed Sardis Methodist Church when the three branches of Methodism merged. In the 1950s, the area blossomed again thanks to the influx of new families from outside Saline County.
The Little Rock Conference of the United Methodist Church gave Sardis an “outstanding rural church of the year” award in 1966. In 1968, Sardis chartered its United Methodist men’s program and merged with nearby Evangelical United Brethren Church to form what is now Sardis United Methodist Church. A new family life center was added in 1999, and the building was further expanded in 2005. A second Sardis UMC was built five miles away in East End (Saline County) in 2007. In 2013, the East End branch of Sardis UMC was constituted as an independent congregation.
In the late 1960s, residents of Sardis began tying pairs of shoes to the branches of an old oak tree at the intersection of Hogue and North Sardis Road. Each pair was hung there in remembrance of a loved one. After many years, the Shoe Tree became a local landmark. In June 2017, however, the tree was showing obvious signs of age and decay, and a committee was formed to discuss what to do with it. Saline County Judge Jeff Arey reported that he had been informed by arborist Greg Rooney that the tree was a safety hazard and had to be removed. On June 15, 2017, the Saline Courier reported that the Sardis Shoe Tree had been cut down. The shoes were laid to the side so they could be reclaimed. Plans were developed for another Shoe Tree to be planted in a different location by the Arkansas Forestry Commission. Kenneth Chaloner, a local sculptor, was selected by the Shoe Tree Committee to make a carving of the tree.
For additional information:
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Central Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1889.
Perry, Sarah. “Timberrrrr!” Saline Courier, June 15, 2017, pp. 1, 6.
Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Last Updated 11/9/2017
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