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Latitude and Longitude:
7.291 square miles (2010 Census)
3,684 (2010 Census)
December 17, 1850
Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:
Founded in 1836, Ozark is one of the state’s oldest cities. Ozark, from the French words “Aux Arc,” meaning “at the bend,” is located at the most northern bend in the Arkansas River, which flows through the city’s southern boundary.
Louisiana Purchase through Early Statehood
In the early nineteenth century, following the Louisiana Purchase, the Arkansas River was well traveled. The Cherokee lived along the river, and American military personnel used that route to travel to and from Fort Smith (Sebastian County). Local folklore claims that French explorers came up the Arkansas River in 1819. They reportedly shot an arrow and vowed to found a town where the arrow landed. The arrow allegedly landed just northeast of the present Franklin County Courthouse. Though they did not actually found a town at that time, it is claimed that they did lay the groundwork for one.
Ozark’s first post office opened on July 3, 1837, with William Hail, one of the town’s founders, serving briefly as the first postmaster. State officials named Ozark as the Franklin County seat of government in 1837, and the first courthouse was completed in 1840. The city was incorporated in 1850.
In 1852, there was talk of a railroad across Arkansas leading to the West Coast. A railroad act passed in 1853 granted thousands of areas of land in Franklin County. In 1866, another act passed that granted even more land for a railroad right-of-way.
Civil War through Reconstruction
By 1860, Ozark citizens had completed a two-story brick school building; it was partially destroyed during the Civil War. It was rebuilt after the war but no longer exists. The city lost its incorporated status during the Civil War when Union troops burned every business, church, and all but three homes. Two of those homes are still standing and are in use today. The first telegraph reached Ozark in 1862 when the Confederates put up a wire along what was later called the Old Wire Road.
The city was reincorporated in 1869. New homes were built in the 1870s, and as people moved back to town, many new businesses were founded, including banks, saloons, and general merchandise stores. Ozark eventually established itself as one of the leading horse and cattle trading centers in the Arkansas River Valley.
Post Reconstruction through the Gilded Age
Music has always been popular in Ozark, as evidenced by a brass band that existed from 1870 to 1929. The city also had an opera house during the early 1900s that attracted numerous traveling musicians and other performers.
The railroad reached Clarksville (Johnson County) in 1873. Track was being laid on a road bed to the west, which would have missed Ozark, but, overnight, this route was abandoned and rerouted through Ozark. Supposedly, the chief engineer fell in love with an Ozark girl and was “persuaded” to run the track through her town. By 1888, four passenger trains ran daily through the city.
In 1891, Ozark received its first telephone service with the first line installed at the post office.
Execution by hanging was a popular public event in Ozark during the late 1800s, and one in 1907 attracted 5,000 people to the courthouse square. The man who was to be executed reportedly sat upon his casket while on the way to the hanging.
Early Twentieth Century
Ozark has been the site of numerous fires. After the city was rebuilt following the Civil War, a fire in 1904 destroyed several buildings on the northeast corner of the courthouse square. The city council then passed a strong building code for new buildings around the square. In 1925, the Presbyterian church burned, and the following year, an entire city block burned just north of the courthouse. Eighteen years later, the courthouse was partially destroyed by fire.
Whitman Field, Ozark’s first airport, was dedicated in 1937. It was located at the present site of the Ozark-Franklin County Regional Airport.
In 1887, Arkansas Valley Bank was founded. It thrived but failed in 1926. Other banks during the early 1900s were First National and People’s Bank. The Bank of Ozark was founded in 1937 and exists today under the same name with locations throughout the state.
An electric light plant called Citizens Service Company began furnishing electricity to Ozark and Altus (Franklin County) in 1909. By 1922, the Mississippi Valley Power Company supplied electricity to the city. Today, Ozark is served by Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company along with Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative.
In 1930, pipes were laid to supply natural gas to the city, which is currently served by Arkansas Western Gas Company. City water and sewer lines were also constructed in 1930 after the city council approved.
Ozark has had twelve newspapers over the years, with The Spectator, founded in 1911, being the only survivor. A radio station began broadcasting in the 1960s.
In 1888, a vegetable canning factory became Ozark’s first industry. No longer in business, it has been replaced with larger industries such as Butterball (turkey processing), SGL Carbon, and Baldor, which makes electric motors. The city hopes to secure a marina and later a port on the Arkansas River.
Schools in the early days were usually taught by transient teachers who would teach four or five months before moving on to another school.
Ozark public schools desegregated in 1959. By all accounts, the process was a fairly peaceful one.
Modern-day Ozark schools, with an enrollment of over 1,900, are fully accredited and expanding at a rapid rate. The city also is the home of the Ozark Campus of Arkansas Tech University (ATU). Founded in 1965 as Arkansas Valley Vocational-Technical School, the university now has an enrollment of nearly 700.
Ozark has one of the few lighted bridges across the Arkansas River in the state. Other area attractions and activities include wineries in nearby Altus and Wiederkehr Village, fishing, hunting, and exploring along the many trails and waterways. Overnight camping is popular at an RV park operated by the Corps of Engineers on the south side of the Arkansas River.
Famous residents of Ozark include: guitarist Roy Buchanan; actress and 1982 Miss America, Elizabeth Ward Gracen; and artists Kathryne and Olin Travis.
For additional information:
Powell, Norman. A History of Ozark. Ozark, AR: The Spectator, 1985.
Last Updated 1/31/2018
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