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Peach Orchard (Clay County)

 

Latitude and Longitude:

36º16'43"N 090º39'46"W

Elevation:

2,845 feet

Area:

0.986 square miles (2010 Census)

Population:

135 (2010 Census)

Incorporation Date:

July 3, 1910

Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:

1810

1820

1830

1840

1850

1860

1870

1880

1890

1900

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

1910

1920

1930

1940

1950

1960

1970

1980

1990

2000

-

484

361

374

327

348

256

243

197

195

2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

135

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although it was not incorporated until 1910, Peach Orchard is the oldest extant settlement in Clay County. Located on state Highway 90 a few miles south of the Black River, the city reached its peak during the timber harvesting in Clay County that followed construction of the railroad. Since that time, Peach Orchard has slowly dwindled.

French explorers traveled the Black River late in the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, and their presence in Arkansas did not abruptly end when the United States acquired the land in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Pierre Le Mieux owned a small estate on the south shore of the Black River that may have existed earlier than 1800. In 1816, he deeded that land to Lewis DeMunn; the deed shows that Le Mieux called the estate Petit Baril but that his English-speaking neighbors were already calling the estate Peach Orchard. Le Mieux (also known by his Americanized name Peter LeMew) relocated to Clover Bend (Lawrence County), where he also owned land and where his wife’s family lived. Historians speculate that the English name of his estate was due to a peach orchard planted by Le Mieux, but no evidence of that orchard remains in the twenty-first century.

A trading post continued to be maintained on the estate, and Civil War records indicate that it was raided often by guerrilla forces in the area. Other than that, Peach Orchard received little notice until 1873, when the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad was built through western Clay County; this railroad later became part of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. A post office was established in Peach Orchard in 1873. Construction of a depot at Peach Orchard led to more development; by 1889, Peach Orchard had a general store, a cotton gin (with a sorghum and corn mill attached), a post office, and several residences. The timber industry dominated the economy of the settlement, with the inevitable result that when the trees were gone, the population would decline.

Peach Orchard entered the twentieth century with a flourishing economy. Some jobs were provided by the button blank industry, which harvested freshwater mussels from the Black River. Peach Orchard incorporated as a second-class city in 1910. On August 1 and 2, 1922, the city hosted a picnic and barbecue centered around a baseball tournament including teams from Corning (Clay County), Hoxie (Lawrence County), and Piggott (Clay County). Governor Thomas McRae attended the event, at which the Orphans’ Home Brass Band also performed.

In 1957, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began to acquire land along the Black River near Peach Orchard. The Black River Wildlife Management Area was renamed for Dave Donaldson, a longtime employee of the commission, in 1977. It has grown to about 25,000 acres, largely hardwood trees, and is known both for the migrating birds that visit the wetlands and the hunters that pursue them.

By 1970, the population was steeply declining. In the 2010 census, the population had declined to 135, considerably less than one third of its peak a century earlier. The Peach Orchard post office was one of several post offices in Arkansas slated to be closed by the United States Postal Service in 2011, but it remained open. Peach Orchard is within the Corning School District.

For additional information:
The Goodspeed Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeastern Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.

McLeod, Walter E. “Early Lawrence County History.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 3 (Spring 1944): 37–52.
 

Steven Teske
Butler Center for Arkansas Studies

Last Updated 1/23/2017

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