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Home / Browse / Okolona (Clark County)
Latitude and Longitude:
0.8 square miles (2000 Census)
147 (2010 Census)
November 15, 1902
Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:
Okolona is a small town located in southwestern Clark County, near the Little Missouri River. Okolona served as a regional agricultural and transportation hub in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries before slowly fading into obscurity.
The earliest known inhabitants of the area were Caddo Indians, who constructed a mound that is today located near Main Street. The first white settlers arrived in the Okolona area in the early 1830s. They named their new community after their hometown in Mississippi. In 1858, a post office was established in the town, and by the 1860s several general stores had been opened in the area. During the Camden Expedition in 1864, the Federal army under the command of Major General Fredrick Steele passed through the town, closely pursued by Confederate cavalry.
The earliest settlers founded schools in the area, and education would continue to play an important role in the town for many years. The first school began in 1833 and a new school opened in the town in 1857. By 1871, the Okolona Male and Female Institute was founded in the community in a two-story wooden building where the former 1857 school had been. The local Masons, who owned the building, used the second floor for meetings. When the Okolona High School was built in 1890, the institute became known as “The Academy.” Other notable institutions of learning in the town include a Rosenwald school, constructed in 1928 to serve the African-American students in the area. It was consolidated with Okolona High School in 1969.
With the end of the Civil War, the town continued to slowly grow and prosper. The bulk of the community’s economy came from the cotton that was raised on the nearby farmland. By the early twentieth century, five cotton gins operated in the area. The first newspaper published in the area appeared in 1885 under the title Arkansas Messenger, which later changed to the Okolona Messenger. At least two banks operated in the early twentieth century but were unable to keep their doors open. The last bank to operate in the town, a branch of the Clark County Bank of Gurdon, opened in 1969 and closed after a few years of operation.
The first fair in Clark County was held in Okolona in 1875 and was sponsored by the local Grange. The town eventually lost its bid to host the countywide fair, as it did not have an adequate supply of water. The town continued to grow, and rail service reached the community in 1885. Originally, the railroad reached the nearby community of Burtsell (Clark County), but the citizens of Okolona raised more than $5,000 to pay for the extension of the railroad to their town. Over the years, the line was sold to several different railroads and, by 1917, became part of the Missouri Pacific.
By 1899, approximately ten businesses made up downtown Okolona, and the town was incorporated in 1902. But by the 1920s, Okolona was declining in population. Many residents traveled to Arkadelphia (Clark County) or Gurdon (Clark County) to conduct business, and the cotton market collapsed. The town made some improvements during this period, however, including the installation of a city water system in 1973 and the construction of a station for the volunteer fire department in 1982. But by 1987, the Okolona schools were closed and consolidated with adjoining districts. As of 2012, a post office is the last business to continue to operate in the town.
For additional information:May, Joe. The Way We Were: A Pictorial History of Clark County, Arkansas. Hurst, TX: Curtis Media, 1995.
Richter, Wendy, ed. Clark County, Arkansas: Past and Present. Arkadelphia, AR: Clark County Historical Association, 1992.
David SesserHenderson State University
Last Updated 5/16/2012
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