Dallas County History

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Dallas County was first conceived in 1844, carved from the gently rolling timberlands of Clark and Bradley Counties, established as a county in 1845, and named in honor of U. S. Vice President George M. Dallas. According to Goodspeed, when it was determined that a new county was to be formed, the decision was made to build a centrally-located town which was to be the county seat. On January 1, 1845, the county was established, and this newly-created town, Princeton, was declared the governmental center.

Albert Phillips and Hawkes Coleman had been commissioned to choose the site. Joe Gray surveyed the area for a public square and Squire Ramsey, the only carpenter in the fledgling county, cleared the land. The first Courts were held in Mr. Watts? house and in 1846, a log courthouse was built on the east side of the public square and remained in service until 1852. Princeton had become a bustling small town prior to the Civil War; however, the arrival of the railroad in the southeastern corner of the county contributed to the rise of Fordyce and Princeton's loss of county seat status.

In 1908, the county seat was moved to Fordyce, which was located in the extreme southeast corner of Dallas County, and was fast becoming the agriculture and commerce center for the tri-county area. The town, incorporated in July 1884, was named for Colonel Samuel Wesley Fordyce, a Union Officer in the Civil War. The present courthouse, with its cupola and beautiful lavender-faced clock, was constructed in 1908, and the county government has, since that time, been conducted from there.

For many years, the basic economy of the area was supported by the timberlands with manufacturers which relied on the timber produced from the rich soil and moderate climate of Dallas County. In the past several years, other industries have also chosen to establish manufacturing operations in the area, enriching the lifestyles of the citizens of Dallas County.

Very important to the formation and development of Fordyce as a commerce center, were the historic St. Louis Southwestern and the Rock Island Railroads. Two major highways continue to serve the county - U. S. 167, which enters the county from the north, and U. S. 79 which bisects the county from the northeast and exits to the southwest.

Goodspeed's Biographical & Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas, 1890, offers rich historical insight into the early beginnings of Dallas County. For those interested in the biography of Colonel Samuel Wesley Fordyce, the Fordyce Papers are easily accessible and are located in the Special Collections Division of the University of Arkansas Libraries.

With special thanks to three Arkansans: Herschel Garner of Rison, Brenda Smith Doucey of White Hall, and Lynda Suffridge of Little Rock, for their very capable assistance in locating resources for this history!


Shirley Norman Gunn

February 14, 1997

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