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Burtsell (Clark County)

Burtsell is a community in Clark County located about five miles southeast of Okolona (Clark County). An alternate spelling of the community’s name is Burtsel.

The first settlers to the area arrived in the mid-nineteenth century, attracted by the virgin timber and prime farming land near the Little Missouri River. The population of the area was never very large, and only a few families called Burtsell home at any one time. Robert Welch obtained eighty acres of land in the area in 1837, and Elijah Franklin purchased forty acres nearby in 1848. A Federal army under the command of Major General Frederick Steele passed through the area during the Camden Expedition of 1864. 

Burtsell was linked with Smithton (Clark County) by a narrow gauge railroad in the early 1880s. Timber in the Burtsell area was harvested and transported to a sawmill in Smithton. Townspeople in Okolona wanted rail access to their city and paid to have the line extended. For several years, Okolona was the last stop on the line, which went through several owners and names before becoming the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad, then part of the Missouri Pacific.

The first church organized in the community was St. Clair Baptist Church, which held its first services in 1883; the church continues to operate in the twenty-first century.

The Burtsell community had a post office for several years. Operating from 1902 until 1907, the office had four successive postmasters. With the discontinuation of the office, mail was routed through Okolona.

Burtsell was connected to the South Central Arkansas Electric Cooperative in 1941.

Two schools, including one for African Americans, operated in the community during the early twentieth century. The Burtsell School appears in publications as being in session in 1930. It consolidated with the Okolona School District in the 1946–47 school year.

The Burtsell community in the twenty-first century consists of several homes and the Baptist church.

For additional information:
Richter, Wendy, et al. Clark County Arkansas: Past and Present. Arkadelphia, AR: Clark County Historical Association, 1992.

David Sesser
Henderson State University

Last Updated 11/7/2016

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