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McArthur (Desha County) is a historic community five miles north of McGehee (Desha County) on Arkansas Highway 1. It was first named McArthur Station in honor of Zack McArthur, an early settler in the area. A post office operated at McArthur from 1907 to 1918, but the settlement was never incorporated.
Because McArthur is located near Macon and Coon bayous, once navigable waterways, it was already somewhat populated when the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad (later called the Missouri Pacific Railroad, then Union Pacific) completed a railroad bridge over the Arkansas River at Yancopin (Desha County) in 1904. The railroad allowed timber to be harvested, processed, and shipped out. Several stores opened, and a one-room school was constructed there to support the families employed in the timber industry.
The virgin hardwood timberlands were vital to the development of McArthur, Desha County, and much of eastern Arkansas. Although the land was cheap, major capital investments were made to transport the harvested timber to Arkansas City (Desha County), then located on the Mississippi River, twenty-three miles to the east. Roads through the swampy wilderness around McArthur were almost non-existent in 1920. Short line railroad tracks were built throughout the timberland by large landholding companies such as Breece Manufacturing Company, which operated a locomotive with forty cars hauling logs to be loaded onto the Missouri Pacific train at McArthur.
Missouri Pacific could not keep pace with the demand for transportation. In October 1920, the Breech Manufacturing Company, whose short line railroad was called the Arkansas City and Coon Bayou Railroad, filed an application with the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to connect with the Missouri Pacific at McArthur and use the Missouri Pacific tracks to haul their logs themselves to their manufacturing enterprises at Arkansas City. The petition was denied in January 1921, as the general public would not benefit.
Most large timberland holding companies like Breech provided employment for a few years until the timber was decimated. Many defaulted on the county’s much needed taxes. The Flood of 1927 inundated all of Desha County. When floodwaters finally subsided, most timber companies abandoned their operations.
Some former laborers in the timber industries bought land around the McArthur area and became farmers, which is the primary industry in the twenty-first century. As of 2012, there are no businesses operating, and children are bussed to McGehee to attend school. Some residentsare educators or employed at the large Potlatch paper mill located near Arkansas City.
For additional information:Biggs, Virgil. “Life at McArthur.” Programs of the Desha County, Arkansas Historical Society 1 (1973): 8–10.
Desha County Historical Society. http://www.deshacountyhistorical.org (accessed April 3, 2012).
Interstate Commerce Commission Reports. Vol. 65. Washington DC: Interstate Commerce Commission, 1922. Online at http://archive.org/stream/interstatecomme06statgoog/interstatecomme06statgoog_djvu.txt (accessed April 3, 2012).
Helen PenningtonPine Bluff, Arkansas
Last Updated 1/2/2013
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