Thursday, July 07, 2011

A History of Izard County: Mount Olive

The photo Glenda Wommack sent to us last week provided a perfect   visual for the first subject as we begin our 2011 Summer Series, "A History of Izard County: People & Places" quoting passages from Karr Shannon's 1947 book. That timely illustration? A postcard photo looking up the hill and across the tracks along Main Street Mount Olive in 1910!
The settlement of Mount Olive is arguably the most important site in Izard County's history. It was here where Jehoiada Jeffery's vision of a  functioning, well-ordered society in the New West was born. It was here that his dream grew to blossom into the seat of government of the county for 39 years. It was here during the turn of the 20th Century and beyond, Mount Olive was a center of trade, commerce, and manufacturing. Had Jehoiada the ability to view the 1910 photograph of the town he founded, I think he would have been satisfied...even knowing that in just a very few years, it would practically cease to exist.

Note - Click images to enlarge them.

Following are some excerpts from Karr Shannon's 1947 book, A History of Izard County, discussing Mount Olive:
The Place

Mt. Olive
 "The present town site of Mt. Olive is probably the oldest in the county. The first post office in the county was established here December 27, 1831. At that time, the place was called "Pine Bayou: and the post office went by that name. John A. Allen was the first postmaster. The county seat of Izard County was moved here from old Athens in 1836 and remained here until May 10, 1875, when it was permanently established at Melbourne.

"The town was changed to "New Athens" January 29, 1842, with Asa M. Fitch as the first postmaster under the new name. On January 4, 1947, the name of the town and post office was changed to "Mt. Olive," the name being taken from the hill east of the town.

"Mrs. Pearl Dixon is the present postmaster and has held the position since 1922."
 *      *      *      *      *      *
"The main points of location of the early settlers were in general, along White and Strawberry rivers. Among the early settlers in the vicinity of the former stream were Henry and Elbert Benbrook, Daniel Hively, William Clifton, Daniel McCoy, Moses Bishop, George and James Partee, the Harrises, the Dillards, and the Jefferys. Daniel Jeffery settled below what is now the town of Mt. Olive. Jehoiada Jeffery, brother of Daniel, settled about a mile above, and James, another brother, near the mouth of Piney Creek."
        *      *      *      *      *      *         
 "When the courthouse was erected in Athens, no provision was made for heating the room, so late in the fall it was decided to build a chimney. A meeting was called for the purpose of making the necessary arrangements. At this meeting some extravagant persons who were in favor of progress advocated the building of a stone chimney. They declared that old Peter Young and Sol Hess were both skilled in this kind of work and could build a chimney of stone that would look much better than one built of "stick and clay" and would last forever. Jim Creswell took a very decided stand against the motion, and in bursts of oratory, declared that he was not in favor of "grinding the people to death with taxes." He also said he was in favor of holding to old landmarks and building chimneys of stick and dirt as all had been accustomed to, and which would be much cheaper. The arguments of this staunch servant of the people were too logical to be disregarded - so the first courthouse ever built in what is now Izard County had a stick and dirt chimney.

"The courthouse in the new county seat at Mt. Olive was a two-room log structure, and and administration had come into power with so little mercy for the taxpayers that a stone chimney was built at the time the house was erected. Extravagance continued and about three years later, the log building was weatherboarded. This house was so substantial that it stood for over a hundred years. After the county seat was moved from Mt. Olive in 1875 the building was used as a dwelling many years. It finally came into use as a barn by a resident of the town and was not torn down until about 1938."
    *      *      *      *      *      *
" The Watkinses settles in this county about 1844. They were great landowners and at times before the Civil War owned the greater part of the territory of the county. They also kept a large number of negro slaves. They established themselves in two main locations, one about atwo miles east of the present town of LaCrosse ans the other about three miles south of the present location of Franklin.

"Prior to 1848 there was no post office in Izard County except at New Athens (Mt. Olive), and the Watkinses had been getting their mail at Batesville about thirty miles away. This distance was covered on horseback, and the trip meant two days of hard riding. There were no settlers along the routes, and wild animals lurked in the woods. Hence the rider had to be well armed and usually accompanied by his dogs. If he happened to be after dark getting back home he was very likely to have a chase with a pack of wolves."
 *      *      *      *      *      *
"In 1866 the Arkansas Legislature granted a charter to the Mt. Olive Male and Female Academy. A two-story brick building was erected for the institution, which continues operation until about time the county seat was moved from Mt. Olive to Melbourne. Several good teachers taught in the academy, but the outstanding terms seem to have been held in 1871-75 when Prof. John Stackpole of New York headed the school, and was assisted by two other teachers from the state of New York - J. Smothers and John Songers. One year the enrollment in the upper grades was 45. Of this number, 30 were Jefferys. Prof. Stackpole taught two terms.
"Teachers and boarding students stayed at "The Mount Olive Tavern" which was operated by a Mrs. Compton, whose son, T.S. Compton, now lives at Batesville.  This was a very popular tavern in the county-seat days, also being the lodging place of the circuit judge, prosecuting attorney and other officials during court sessions."
*      *      *      *      *      *
The People
"Jehoiada Jeffery came to the White River country from his native Illinois in 1816 and settled two miles above the present site of Mt. Olive. He was a soldier of 1812 and was in the Battle of New Orleans under General Jackson. He was also in the service against the Indians between the Missouri River and the upper Mississippi. In a fight with Indians he encountered a Sioux warrior single-handed and killed and scalped him. He brought his scalp to Izard County.

"He was a member of the Territorial Legislature from Independence County about the year 1824, and bought forward the bill creating Izard County. After this he became a member of the Legislature from Izard County and this time brought about a bill to create a new county, Fulton, with territory taken from Izard County. The county was named to honor the governor at that time.

"Mr Jeffery was judge of Izard County from 1833 to 1838. He died at his home on White River in 1846.

"Robert Emmett Jeffery, the only Izard County native ever to become a minister to a foreign country, was born at Mt. Olive January 30, 1875. Early in 1915 he was named minister to the Republic of Uruguay, South America, by President Woodrow Wilson and represented the United States in that country until 1921. He died May 19, 1935.
      *      *      *      *      *      *
While Karr Shannon paid respect to Jehoiada and other Jefferys who were vital to the progress made in the county from the very beginning, it's striking that so little was included about the Jeffery Family and the fascinating stories told about Mount Olive by early Izard County historian, Augustus Curran  (A.C.)  Jeffery. Mr. Shannon does include an example A.C.'s  writings published in the Melbourne Clipper during the 1870s  but it covers only his description of the early settlers. It's also surprising that little information about the people of Mount Olive during the Civil-War was discussed.

The story of the town of Mount Olive and its people is fascinating and one we will revisit often.  There's a wonderful article on the little town's rise and fall in one of the early Izard County Historian editions. If you have access to the Historian, the article by another fine area historian, Dale Hanks, would be worth your time to read!

Here's an excerpt of  Mr. Hanks' article  from that Izard County Historian published in April of 1972, Volume 6 Number 7:
"A hundred years ago, Mt. Olive was a bustling river town and a major steamboat terminal. It served as the hub of an extensive social and economic area in North Central Arkansas. Mt. Olive was one of the first towns established in Arkansas and was the seat of government for Izard County for many years. White River, the main route of communication in the early 1800’s, nourished Mt. Olive with trade and commerce for half a century. Then came the railroads and Mt. Olive kept pace. The Missouri-Pacific lines paralleled the river down its left bank right through Mt. Olive which further strengthened the town’s position as an important social-commercial hub of the area.
In its heyday, around the turn of the century, Mt. Olive had grown to just under 1,000 population. It boasted a major manufacturing firm, the Mt. Olive Stave Company which employed almost 100 men at one time. This firm also operated a finishing plant in connection with the stave mill. Another major firm at Mt. Olive manufactured cedar posts for many farms in the region as well as cross ties for the railroad.
A major cotton gin and grist mill were located at Mt. Olive along with a substantial number of retail stores. The town had a “modern” drug store and two physicians Dr. W. R. Hayden and Dr. Robert Jeffery. There were three hotels at one time as well as a number of rooming houses. White River afforded a thriving mussel shell business which provided employment for hundreds of men duringthe summer months. Some days a man could make up to $10.00 digging mussel shells. That was big money for that time and place."

Dale Hanks has written many articles about Izard County's history. Like Karr Shannon before him, Mr. Hanks inspires future generations to keep uncovering and sharing the amazing story of Izard! We hope by sharing the works of both, some will be inspired to continue the legacy of rediscovering the county's lost and forgotten past.

Note - Top vintage post-card photo by permission of Glenda Wommack, Director Stone County Museum. Bottom vintage photos from Izard County Historian Volume 6 Number 2. Color photo of Elijah Jeffery House which was likely the "tavern" referred to in the passage about the academy.


Mike Landers said...

Very interesting....Dr. Jeffery and Dr. Hayden were the two renowned physicians in Izard County in the 1850 to 1890 era. My grandfather was born in Lunenberg, Izard County in 1881. His name is Jeffery Hayden Landers. I believe this proves how highly regarded these gentlemen were to the Landers family!

Tiffney Fields said...

Jehoiada Jeffrey is my 5th Great Grandfather and Dr. Robert Emmett Jeffery is my 3rd Great Grand Uncle. Its very interesting to find this information, as I am currently working on my family's genealogy.

Al-Ozarka said...

Tiffney, I would like to direct you to a facebook group, "The Jeffery Historical Society". You will be rewarded with all SORTS of historical and genealogical data about your amazing family's history. The Society has just published a new book containing all 8 of the original Jeffery Historical Society Quarterlies produced in the early '70s as well as the complete works of A.C. Jeffery from his series of sketches in 1877 for the Melbourne Clipper.Just search for "Jeffery Historical Society" on Facebook!