Another Region Of The Arkansas Delta
9 May 2011
|From E Z Daze RV Park – Southaven, MS
Our last day to explore the areas around our 5th stop along the Great River Road was today. Four small towns in another region of the Arkansas Delta had been earmarked as having some interesting points of interest according to information gathered from various sources………Marianna, Marion, Wilson & Osceola.
The route of the Great River Road that runs through this section of the Arkansas Delta tells stories of how the river was tamed. Harnessing the river and harvesting its gifts required cutting the bottomland timber, draining the swamps and developing floodways and massive drainage systems. Areas such as Mississippi County and Crittenden County have massive gridworks of drainage ditches built to take advantage of the rich soil that otherwise would be under water much of the time.
To keep the river from reclaiming the land, complex levee systems; the tallest in the world, have been built hiding the river from view. Most of these levee segments are visible from the route while others are an integral part of the route. Some have paved roads along their crown but most are topped with gravel roads and if driven they are shared with cattle that graze on either side.
In addition to the levees, major state-of-the-art pumping stations exist along the route to control water entering and leaving the lands protected by these levees. Included is the W.G. Huxtable Pumping Plant at Marianna, said to be the largest of its kind in the world. To see this world’s largest pumping plant sounded good……but NO, roads closed due to river flooding prevented our seeing them.
On to Marion, this is the county seat of Crittenden County, Arkansas and was said to have one of the oldest courthouses in Arkansas. But a more interesting fact found in the GRR material was that the worst U.S. Maritime disaster occurred on April 27, 1865 here near Crittenden County in the Arkansas Delta……The Sultana Tragedy!
The War Between the States had just ended. Union soldiers were being shipped home from Southern prison camps. The wooden-hulled steamboat Sultana embarks from Vicksburg, MS packed shoulder-to-shoulder with freed prisoners-of-war; more than 2,300, six times the boat’s legal capacity. Just north of Memphis on a bitter cold night, the Sultana’s boilers exploded and she is quickly engulfed in flames. Many are burned or scalded to death; many others drown in the swift, cold currents of the Mississippi River. The burning vessel drifts toward the Arkansas shore and sinks near Redman Point in Crittenden County. The official body count was 1,547 however the number of victims is probably closer to more than 1,800.
Today we saw the historic courthouse in Marion but getting to Redman Point proved unsuccessful due to roads once again being under floodwaters.
Our plans had us going next to Wilson another small town in the northeastern section of the Arkansas Delta and going to the Hampson Archeological Museum State Park. However after a phone call to the State Park to check on how the rising river was affecting their hours of operation and the answer being they had already closed the facility and it would remain closed at least through the end of May had us scratching this point of interest off our itinerary.
The day was fast turning into a long drive with few results…….the next town was Osceola and this proved to be our best strike of the day even though rising water on some roads prevented us from seeing all the high points referred to in the GRR informational material.
The town was said to have one of the busiest ports on the Mississippi River in the state of Arkansas loading barges with wheat, cotton and rice. Another attraction is the San Souci Landing Park with its scenic Mississippi River overlook. Both of these stops due to their close proximity to the river were inaccessible……yes, once again due to river flooding!
We did enjoy some history of this one of two county seats today in Mississippi County. Osceola was the first county seat in 1833 and Blytheville about 20 miles north became a second county seat in 1901 and they both remain county seats today. The copper-roofed dome on the Neo-Classical 1912 courthouse is one of the first things noticed as you near the center of Osceola.
This historical town was named for the famous Seminole Chief Osceola who reportedly passed through this area in the late 19th century. Rudy put the name Osceola with a Seminole Indian Chief right away remembering the words in John Anderson’s song “Seminole Wind”……..’hearing the ghost of Osceola cry’.
We visited the Mississippi County Museum housed in the 1904 Fred G. Patterson Dry Goods Store. Many of the fixtures, furniture, shelving and display cases are original to the store. After this we walked the historic district of downtown Osceola.
On our walk we saw many of the buildings that gave this town its heritage among them was the Osceola Times Building….c 1901. The newspaper was actually started in 1870 and is the oldest weekly newspaper in eastern Arkansas. The newspaper office has been housed in this building since it was built.
Another interesting find was the Violet Cemetery located near downtown. It has been used as a burial ground for over 160 years with the earliest marked grave dating 1831. This predates Mississippi County being founded in 1833 and also predates the statehood of Arkansas in 1836.
A surprise find that we discovered while trying to reach the port area and being turned away with high water was the American Greetings Plant! Built in the late ‘50s it boasted the “largest one floored building in the United States”. Its 2.6 million square foot plant is still an active greeting card maker today and Osceola’s top employer with 1300 employees.
Osceola has some favorite sons and daughters..………….
Kemmons Wilson the founder of Holiday Inn, Dale Evans, wife of cowboy Roy Rogers, Buddy Jewell the first Nashville Star Winner, Five-NFL Players, One-NBA Player and One-MLB Player to name a few.
This two-week stop on our river journey has had us seeing this section of the river reach near record levels not seen in the last 74 years. While we are seeing history being made with flood waters along the Mighty Mississippi this history at the same time is keeping us from seeing PAST history that occurred along this same river.