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Palestine (St. Francis County)

 

Latitude and Longitude:

34º58'20"N 090º54'09"W

Elevation:

207 feet

Area:

3.2 square miles (2000 Census)

Population:

681 (2010 Census)

Incorporation Date:

April 23, 1889

Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:

1810

1820

1830

1840

1850

1860

1870

1880

1890

1900

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

145

163

196

1910

1920

1930

1940

1950

1960

1970

1980

1990

2000

173

297

209

345

420

532

755

976

711

741

2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

681

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palestine is located in northeast Arkansas on Interstate 40 and State Highway 70, with the L’Anguille River on its east side. It is one of the oldest towns in St. Francis County and was also the site of the first county school.

Civil War through Reconstruction
In 1840, what is now Palestine was part of the much larger L’Anguille Township, which had only nine recorded households. The Prairie Township was formed from part of the L’Anguille Township in the 1870s, and the Palestine area, located centrally within the Prairie Township, grew in population. Palestine was named in 1870, when the first post office was established there. One story about the naming holds that it was named after a fatally injured sawmill employee named Palestine, while another account claims that the town’s first postmaster selected the name from the Bible.

Post Reconstruction through the Gilded Age
The town of Palestine was incorporated in 1889. It was a bustling town that grew with the development of the Rock Island Railroad. Main Street, located along the railroad, housed early businesses that faced the tracks. Stores included D. K. Burns, Sulcer’s, and J. H. Halbert’s. A fire in the 1890s destroyed many of these businesses. Halbert’s and Sulcer’s were rebuilt, and Burns opened a parts store. D. K. Burns also took part in one of Palestine’s main industries when he acquired a cotton gin from Sam Sulcer. Burns Bros. Gin was located in the heart of Palestine on Wood Street (now Highway 70) and operated from 1896 to 1906.

The Palestine Cumberland Presbyterian Church is one of St. Francis County’s oldest active congregations. Before a church building was constructed in 1884, the congregation gathered at the local school. The original building hosted both Methodist and Presbyterian services and was located about 1.5 miles south of present-day Highway 70. A wood-framed building was constructed to house the church across from Burns Bros. Gin but then was replaced in the 1950s by a newer building with a stone façade.

Early Twentieth Century
In 1905, Palestine had a population of about 200. It had five dry-goods and general supply stores, two grocery stores, and one drugstore. School at this time was conducted nine months out of the year, with around 100 students in attendance. Free service for telephones was furnished to several phones in the area by Southwestern Bell in 1905.

Palestine Special School District was formed in 1913—the first consolidated school district in the state. The consolidation was made possible after R. J. Hubbard, who was the principal of Palestine schools in 1912, and state Representative Sam F. Sulcer wrote a bill proposing consolidation, with Sulcer as the sponsor. The bill was passed in 1913, consolidating Palestine, Sloniker’s Mill (St. Francis County), and Moon Lake (St. Francis County) schools. The original two-room schoolhouse was not large enough to hold all the new students, so the Palestine school building and the local Baptist church building were used for classes. In 1914, a new brick building housed the consolidated school district, with 110 students in attendance. For the first year, students who lived in the outer reaches of the school district had public transportation.

All the money the school district possessed, however, went into the construction of the new building, leaving no money to pay teachers’ salaries for the 1915–16 term. Three local women who were former students—Aubrey Wilkerson, Nell Stringfellow, and LaVergne Holwell—volunteered their time. By 1917, the Palestine Special School District was back on its feet financially, and enrollment increased.

World War II through the Modern Era
In 1965, ten students graduated from the high school. By 1968, the school district had 340 students and consisted of four buildings. In the 1980s, the Palestine schools and Wheatley (St. Francis County) schools consolidated to form the Palestine-Wheatley School District; the Palestine Red Devils and the Wheatley Pirates—former rivals—formed the Patriots. In the twenty-first century, Palestine houses the elementary and high schools, while the middle school is located in Wheatley. The original high school building in Palestine was demolished in the 1980s and replaced with a more modern facility.

Palestine remains an agricultural community, with many of its residents growing cotton, rice, and soybeans, as well as raising livestock. As of 2012, Littlefield’s Grocery is the only store still operating on Main Street.

For additional information:
Chowning, Robert W. History of St. Francis County, Arkansas 1954. Forrest City, AR: Times Herald Publishing Company, 1954.

Ellis, Richard Owen. Pine Tree Times: History of the L’Anguille Township in St. Francis County and the Ellis Township in Cross County. Tulsa, OK: The Printing Company, 2003.

Stephanie Darnell
Forrest City, Arkansas

Last Updated 9/7/2012

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