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Greensboro, established in the 1830s, was one of northeastern Arkansas’s earliest settlements. Some sources record it as the oldest town in Craighead County. A thriving center of commerce, the town was located along one of the area’s major thoroughfares, the Greensboro Road, which connected local business establishments with the riverport town of Wittsburg (Cross County).
Long before white settlers journeyed into the area, Native Americans made their homes on this land. What would become the Greensboro Road was initially a Native American trail. As late as the mid-1830s, a group of Delaware made its home just to the north.When one of the first white settlers, Joseph Willey, came to the area in 1835, the land was a part of Greene County. Attracted by the fertile valley at the foot of Crowley’s Ridge, Willey cleared the land, establishing a homestead. Several springs and Lost Creek provided an ample water supply and also power for a grist mill built by Willey. The mill, which later included a cotton gin, was the area’s first. Arkansas statehood in 1836 prompted settlement of the area, including the families of Benjamin R. Ismael, Aquilla McCraken, Wyatt Peebles, and Dr. Edward B. Gibson.
A number of years passed until a real town began to emerge near Willey’s grist mill. Sources state that the town developed around the blacksmith shop of George Gregson, who migrated there in 1842 from Greensboro, North Carolina. While some believe the town’s name is derived from his former residence, others believe it came from Greene County. A post office named Delaware Hill was established in the area on August 24, 1844. The name was changed to Greensborough on December 12, 1850. (It later became Greensboro.) A school had also been established about 1845.
The first store, which was established by Pleasant Hamilton in 1850, was soon joined by several others. Included in these business establishments were several saloons, or “dram shops,” which gave the town an early reputation for rowdiness.
In 1859, the town became part of the recently created Craighead County. One of the community’s first doctors, Edward B. Gibson, was chosen as one of three commissioners given the task of selecting a county seat. There was some faint hope that Greensboro might be selected, but Jonesboro was chosen instead. Several town residents played important roles in the county, such as the first sheriff, W. T. E. Armstrong.
By 1860, Greensboro was a flourishing community with at least seven stores, including a jeweler. The business community also included a shoemaker, two cabinet makers, two wheel wrights, three ironsmiths, three carpenters, a basket maker, and a seamstress. The professional community included four doctors, two teachers, and one lawyer.
The town’s rapid growth would soon be hampered by the outbreak of the Civil War. When the war began in 1861, many of the area’s young men joined the Confederate army. At least one company of Confederate soldiers was raised in the town by Joel W. Weed. No major military operations were conducted in the area, but Federal forces are reported to have camped near the town. Roving bands of guerrillas and bushwhackers, however, created some problems.
With the conclusion of the war in 1865, things began to return to normal, with citizens returning and stores reopening. But true peace was slow in coming to the town. In 1868, Governor Powell Clayton, due to escalating violence largely initiated by the Ku Klux Klan, declared martial law in ten counties, including Craighead. Greensboro was said to be the headquarters of the local Klan and thus was targeted by the state militia. A confrontation with the militia occurred at Buck Snort Hill near the town. Klan members led by Steve Kitchen were traveling to Jonesboro to check on friends being held at the jail. Shots were exchanged, with the Klan retreating toward Greensboro. Member John Tyler was captured by the militia, and local tradition holds that his throat was cut. Shortly afterward, immunity was offered to Klan members who would surrender their arms, and order was eventually restored.
The town’s recovery was slow, but it had at least eight stores by the mid-1870s. A Masonic lodge was established in 1879. Violence returned to the community in 1881 when resident Mattie Ishamel was murdered. Four African Americans, accused of the crime, were taken from authorities and lynched. They were hanged in nearby woods and their bodies buried in unmarked graves.
By the early 1880s, northeastern Arkansas was beginning to be crisscrossed by railroad construction. Local citizens had high expectations that the tracks would pass through Greensboro, prompting major growth. Instead, the tracks were laid on the eastern side of Crowley’s Ridge about four miles away. As a result, the new settlement of Brookland (Craighead County) was established. People moved, and businesses were relocated alongside the tracks. By the 1890s, Greensboro was in sharp decline. In 1897, it was described as “a postal hamlet in the north central part of the county. Formerly a place of much business.” In 1906, the post office closed, and only one store, that of James W. Johnson, remained by 1910.
Soon, the once prosperous town had almost disappeared, with much of it reverting to farm fields. The school was closed and consolidated with Brookland in 1946, and only a single house remained by 1960. In 1983, a community center was constructed, and a historical marker designating the site of the town was dedicated in 1987. Today, the former town site is mainly a residential area for the growing city of Jonesboro.
For additional information:Adams, Clarence. “Ghosts of Greensboro Rest in Weeds of Desolate Church.” Craighead County Historical Quarterly 5 (Autumn 1967): 26–27.
Eaton, Hershel L. (Plug). “Brookland, Arkansas: A Brief History.” Craighead County Historical Quarterly 20 (October 1982): 1–7. Reprinted in Craighead County Historical Quarterly 44 (January 2006): 3–10.
———. “Greensboro, Arkansas: The Town That Almost Was.” Craighead County Historical Quarterly 23 (July 1985): 1–9.
Stuck, Charles A. The Story of Craighead County: A Narrative of People and Events in Northeast Arkansas. Jonesboro, AR: 1960.
Mike PolstonEncyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 7/18/2018
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