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Joan, pronounced Jo-Ann, is a community located in Clark County about six miles east of Arkadelphia at the intersection of State Highways 51 and 128. The community was originally known as Bethlehem.
The earliest settlers to the area arrived in 1834, and Bethlehem Methodist Church was organized between 1837 and 1848. The land for the church and cemetery was donated in 1855, and the church would serve as the center of the community for decades to come. The church still operates in the twenty-first century. Pleasant Hill African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in the community in 1867 and continues to operate. With the formation of Dallas County in 1845, the portion of Clark County east of the Ouachita River was transferred to the new county. This included the Bethlehem area, which was returned to Clark County in 1869. The Bethlehem area saw a combination of small-scale farming with some larger agricultural and timber operations.
The center of the Bethlehem community for many years was the school. The Bethlehem School District No. 38 was created in January 1873 when the Manchester School District No. 18 was split. Two school buildings served the community from 1873 to 1912, when a third building was constructed at the modern intersection of Highways 51 and 128. The two-story building housed grades one through eight in two rooms on the first floor, and the high school grades were taught on the second floor. The school operated on a two-term system, with a winter term taking place November through March and a short summer term in July and August. This allowed children to help their families with the cotton crop. In the 1910s, another school was constructed in the district south of L’Eau Frais Creek for students who lived in the area. It was located about one to two miles from the main school. In the 1930s, the high school students were transported to Arkadelphia for class, and the district consolidated with the Arkadelphia School District on July 21, 1947. The elementary school closed in 1949, and all students began to attend the Arkadelphia Public Schools.
Several general stores operated in the area over the years, including one on the site of the last school, which was torn down shortly after it closed. This store closed in 2014. A post office operated in the Bethlehem community from 1886 until 1925, when service was moved to Arkadelphia.
At some point, the community became known as Joan. In the mid-1950s, an effort to pave Highway 51 between Arkadelphia and the community was undertaken. This process was completed in 1958, and the newly paved road passed through the Bethlehem community and continued to Donaldson (Hot Spring County). The Arkansas Department of Transportation erected signs in the community informing visitors that they were entering Joan. Members of the local community were unsure why this name was picked, as it had never been associated with the area. Nearby Brown Springs (Hot Spring County) received a similar treatment with a renaming to Faber. The Brown Springs residents were able to have their name returned, while those in Bethlehem were less successful. The community continues to be known as Joan.
The twenty-first-century Joan community consists of a volunteer fire department, two churches, and numerous homes.
For additional information:Richter, Wendy, et al. Clark County Arkansas: Past and Present. Arkadelphia, AR: Clark County Historical Association, 1992.
Reynolds, Ernestine Green. “Bethlehem School District #38.” Clark County Historical Journal (1989): 49–69.
David Sesser Henderson State University
Last Updated 8/2/2017
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