Wednesday, Jul 22, 2020
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19th Century Settlement
For a time the area now called Carroll County was the hunting grounds for the Osage. But they were forced out as white settlement in the East began pushing other Native American groups west. In 1838 about 16,000 Native Americans were forcibly removed from their ancestral homes, moving through Arkansas to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) along the “Trail of Tears.” Some 1,200 Cherokees and enslaved people followed the Benge Route through Carroll County, from Osage and Carrollton in the east down to Huntsville (Madison County) and beyond.
Carroll County was formed in 1833. It was named for Charles Carroll of Maryland, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. The county’s boundaries changed frequently in its early years. Created from Izard County, land was added or taken from Madison, Searcy, Newton, and Boone counties.
Early settlers built log homes, farmed the land, established communities, and organized churches, schools, businesses, and governmental agencies. Some settlers brought enslaved people to work for them, but these African Americans were only a fraction of the county’s population. Still, families and neighbors split their loyalties during the Civil War over the issues of slavery and states’ rights. While no major battles were fought in Carroll County, skirmishes and lawless bushwhackers caused much harm.
The railroad was a driving force in determining whether a town prospered or faded. When Alpena Pass was created along the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad in 1900, Carrollton merchants moved their businesses and buildings to the new town. The railroad allowed markets to grow. Farmers grew fruit and vegetables to take advantage of the many canneries springing up, while sawmill operators turned trees into such materials as lumber, railroad ties, and barrel staves. Eureka Springs faded as medical practices evolved and the railroad moved its jobs to Boone County.
Carroll County wasn’t wealthy in the early part of the 20th century, so its largely rural, self-sustaining residents were better prepared to weather the economic woes of the Great Depression. Federally sponsored New Deal projects helped employ citizens in the 1930s. Workers built a gymnasium for Berryville, a water tower for Green Forest, an elementary school for Osage, and the Lake Leatherwood Park complex for Eureka. The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 provided federal loans to install electrical distribution systems. In 1938 Carroll Electric Cooperative of Berryville began constructing power lines, bringing power to many. Today their lines stretch across Northwest Arkansas and Southeast Missouri.
During World War II residents left to serve in the armed forces or work in war-related industries. But several factors led to later growth in population and economic opportunities. Large-scale chicken and turkey farming began in the 1950s when Berryville businessmen formed Carroll County Food Products. After Tyson Foods purchased the plant in the early 1970s, the county saw an influx of Latino residents. The construction of Table Rock and Beaver Lakes to the north and west brought tourism and encouraged the growth of family-style attractions such as Dinosaur World and the Great Passion Play. Eureka rebounded as a tourist destination, especially after incoming artists and others reopened long-shuttered downtown shops in the 1970s.
Today there are nearly 28,000 residents, with Berryville, Eureka Springs, and Green Forest as the county’s largest towns. Folks in Berryville and Eureka are often seen as different from one another, by outsiders and by themselves. Eurekans have a higher per-capita income than folks in Berryville, lean liberal in their politics, and look to tourism and the arts for their economy and identity. Industry is the major economic force in Berryville, politics are more conservative, and the population is twice the size of its western neighbor. With its poultry-processing plants, Tyson Foods is the largest employer in Berryville and Green Forest. Both towns have sizable, foreign-born populations.
The Carroll County Collaborative is a nonpolitical group made up of governmental, private, public, and nonprofit entities and organizations. It works to improve life for county residents and provide greater opportunities. Some of its priorities include affordable housing, new business development, conversion charter schools, and workforce development through such means as academies, incubator and apprentice programs, and a culinary institute.
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