Print this page.
Home / Browse / Vilonia (Faulkner County)
Latitude and Longitude:
7.084 square miles (2010 Census)
3,815 (2010 Census)
August 23, 1938
Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:
Vilonia was originally known as Vilsonia, the “land of two valleys,” by the pioneers who settled the valleys near the forks of Cypress Creek in the early 1860s. The name was given to the community by members of Masonic Lodge No. 324, which was established early in the town’s history. Members of this lodge originally hailed from North Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee and came to the area now known as Vilonia in search of fertile land. When they applied for a post office, the approval came back misspelled Vilonia, but they let it stand. Vilonia is located thirteen miles east of Conway (Faulkner County) on U.S. Highway 64.
After the Civil War, families of English, Irish, German, and Scottish descent searched for fertile land to grow cotton, grains, vegetables, and fruits and moved into the settlement. Among the first to arrive was the family of Mary Downs (a Confederate soldier’s widow) from Mississippi with five daughters and a son, William James Downs. He was later the father of Dr. Joseph Henry Downs, who practiced medicine in Vilonia for fifty-four years and served on the school board for fifty years. Dr. Jessie B. Munn, uncle of Downs, came from North Carolina. Munn contributed to the community as a physician and a school leader.
Businesses were established to serve the farmers. George W. Harris erected a cotton gin powered by steam and a gristmill to grind corn into meal. Oscar Simpson owned the first drugstore. R. B. Evans was Vilonia’s dentist, and one Mr. Davis was the town’s miller. A Dr. Carr served as the community’s first medical doctor. The 1870s saw the emergence of the first mercantile businesses in town.
The first school was established in 1874. It was a private school, taught by William T. Suttle, on the ground floor of a log cabin used by the Masons. It became a public school in 1880.
In 1899, Noah Simpson and Reverend W. F. Dallas organized the Arkansas Holiness College, known originally as the Holiness Academy. It operated until 1931, when it consolidated with the Nazarene College in Bethany, Oklahoma, where it was relocated. Baptist, Methodist, and Nazarene churches were established in the community by 1900.
About 1900, a two-story frame school building was built on the north campus of the public school. In 1928, Fred Monroe Bollen became its superintendent. Not long before, a brick school building was built on the school’s main campus. All twelve grades were taught, and the school consistently won high points in countywide academic competitions.
Vilonia was incorporated on August 23, 1938, with Thomas Henry Hill as mayor.
The Great Depression, which drastically lowered the price of cotton, combined with several drought seasons greatly impacted Vilonia, as approximately eighty to ninety percent of the residents were cotton farmers. However, the population of Vilonia managed to remain steady, given the self-employed nature of farm work and the lack of jobs elsewhere.
On January 8, 1942, the brick school building burned. Classes finished the term in other buildings. One month into World War II, all resources were going to the war effort. But Vilonia citizens donated labor, money, and materials to rebuild the school. The new building was finished by the next school year. By this time, many Vilonia citizens had found employment at the Arkansas Ordnance Plant in Jacksonville (Pulaski County), which operated three daily shifts. Buses, which were granted extra gasoline during this time of rationing, transported workers to the plant for two of the three shifts.
Modern-day Vilonia has a city hall, a fire department, a police department, a park director, a city court clerk, banks, restaurants, stores, and other services. The fire department hosts Fall Fest at Halloween for the children; it includes a free carnival with games, candy, and prizes.
There is no industry in Vilonia and only minimal agriculture; most citizens now travel to the nearby cities of Conway and Little Rock (Pulaski County) for employment. However, Vilonia still boasts a noted educational system, and the school continues to be the center of the community. In 1997, its elementary school was chosen by Redbook magazine as one of the 177 outstanding schools in the nation.
On April 25, 2011, a tornado swept through Vilonia, killing five people and damaging structures. Another tornado on April 27, 2014, killed eight people, flattened homes and businesses, and destroyed the new Vilonia Intermediate School, which had been set to open in the fall. In response to the latter disaster, President Barack Obama conducted his first official visit to the state in order to survey the damage and visit with Vilonia residents on May 7, 2014.
For additional information:
Faulkner County Historical Society. Faulkner: Its Land and Its People. Conway, AR: River Road Press, 1986.
Milburn, Mr. and Mrs. Charles. “Vilonia–A Short Sketch.” Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings 10 (Spring 1968): 3–10.
Trimble, Betty Owen. The Path from the Cellar. Raleigh, NC: Pentland Press, 2001.
Trower, Kathy. “Vilonia ‘Land of Two Valleys’ Gets Spelling from Typographical Error.” Log Cabin Democrat. March 10, 2000.
Betty Owen Trimble
Last Updated 1/24/2017
About this Entry: Contact the Encyclopedia / Submit a Comment / Submit a Narrative