Selma, Arkansas

Hosted by Carolyn Haisty

Selma Methodist Church

The Selma Methodist Episcopal Church South was organized in 1860. The historical writings of the late Dorothy Lowe show the following facts:

On September 30, 1872, Joshua Thomas Westbrook Tillar and his wife, Antoinette PREWITT Tillar, deeded a lot, upon which to build a church, to James E. Spivey, John R. Shelton and Alpheus D. Breedlove, trustees.

Building began the next year. Sadly, before the building could be completed, a heavy snowstorm destroyed the structure. For years, the congregation worshiped in an old building next to the Selma school building.

(Note: The first school is reported to have been built in 1888, so this statement must have been Mrs. Lowe�s way of pointing out where that old building stood in relation to the place where the schools were later located.)

The present church property was deeded, on May 9, 1885, by M. Blalock, a deacon in the Baptist Church at Selma, to James P. Stanley (a physician), Joshua Thomas Westbrook Tillar and William H. Isom, trustees, for the amount of $790.43. The builder of the Gothic Revival style church was a Mr. Rector. Completion of the church took three years.

At one time, in later years, the spire atop the belfry rotted away and was not replaced at the time. The belfry was roofed over for a period of years. The spire was eventually rebuilt as can be evidenced by the picture in this Town Hall.

The records of the early church have been lost over the years and there remains no list of charter members. Other than the trustees listed above, the only record of early members comes from the church register dated March 1902.

That register lists only members of my family as having joined the church prior to July 1882. Those persons were listed by Dorothy Lowe as follows�.with identifications and corrections: J. S. Harvey, Mrs. M. A. Harvey, Mrs. Addie Weatherall and Mrs. Sallie K. Haisty. (J. S. Harvey was Jesse Sherwood Harvey;Mrs. M. A. Harvey was his wife Mary Ann HAMLETT Harvey; Mrs. Addie Weatherall was their daughter, Addie HARVEY Weatherall and Mrs. Sallie K. Haisty should have read Miss Sallie R. [Rebecca] Haisty, who was a granddaughter of the Harveys. Our family history shows that Sallie R. Haisty�s father, John Haisty was also a member at that time.

Haisty had donated the land for the Selma Cemetery in the 1870s.

This beautiful old church in which my ancestors worshiped, were married, had their babies christened and had their funeral services held, still boasts the original pews, which are divided down the middle, and a hand carved pulpit. Having pews which divided the sexes was a custom of Colonial days. The only time that a member of the opposite sex sat on the wrong side of the church was when a couple became engaged and wished to publicize the fact. The prospective groom then moved over to the women�s side and sat by his intended bride.

This 1874 church building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Listed on National Historic Register

Copyright 2002 by Carolyn Haisty

Selma, Arkansas

The Early Years

by Carolyn Haisty

Long before Columbus reached the shores of America or Hernando De Soto explored the region of southeast Arkansas, the native Indians blazed a trail through the area encompassing the village of Selma, Arkansas. This Indian Trail traversed the land from what we know as Gaines Landing to Pine Bluff and points to the North. There were naturally many side trails that led to points used by the Indians, namely Ables Creek, a tributary of Bayou Bartholomew near Selma. Later, this trace was used as a military road which was built around 1834.

It is said, in some accounts of the beginnings of Selma, that settlers began to arrive in Selma as early as 1852. Perhaps that statement was made because the first land patent was completed in that year. Personal family history places three Haisty men and their mother in the area in 1848. They came from North Carolina as did many other early families. Other North Carolina transplants to Selma and the surrounding areas of Florence and Mt. Tabor include Hawks, Hicks, Bartlett, Ruth, Ayecock, Spivey, King and Paschall. Perhaps they came together and perhaps other families arrived around that same time. Selma is reportedly the namesake of Selma, Alabama, where some early settlers had resided before settling along the Indian Trace. Many names of former Alabama residents appear in the early Census, but just who named the town remains unknown. One cannot speak of Selma and its residents without including the towns of Florence and Mount Tabor and their residents. Their towns and families were and still are intertwined.

Many of these early settlers crossed the Mississippi River by ferry from Mississippi to Gaines Landing. As they made their way inland and reached the high ground that rises above the Delta, some pioneers thought the land desirable and chose to stop and carve out a homestead in the lush pine and hardwood forests where wild game was abundant. Selma sits at the beginning of what older generations called �the hills�. In the 1950s this abrupt rise from the flat lands of the Delta was more noticeable than it is today. Where the road to Tillar makes a left hand curve after leaving Selma, and goes down into the area fraught with brakes, a more gradual slope was made by filling in dirt when improvements to the roadway were made. That curve and fast descent had made for many accidents.

Selma had vast timber lands and fertile soil which made it attractive to businessmen as well as farmers. Many people settled in the area without buying land. Some of them later applied for patents, with a number of years passing before they were granted. According to the late Dorothy Lowe, who was a Selma historian, the first land patent of record was to John R. Dentz for 80 acres and was issued on October 8, 1852. She also states that Samuel D. Dickson (Samuel Dunn Dickson, Sr.) is reported to have built a sawmill at Selma in 1853. Goodspeeds states that Samuel D. Dickson engaged in the sawmill business in Drew County in 1853. Samuel Dunn Dickson was a native of Dickson County, Tennessee, which was named for his family. His wife was Sarah Isabella McQuiston and they came to Drew County from Tipton County, Tennessee, where Dickson had owned sawmills with his brother, Dr. Christopher Dickson in 1851 � 52. Dickson did not live in Selma, but lived at Allis (Wilmar). Through the years, Selma has had numerous sawmills which have been a major source of income for the town.

In 1855, Jacob M. Prewitt bought land in Selma. Prewitt came from De Soto County, Mississippi and apparently one of Southeast Arkansas� most well known citizens, Joshua Thomas Westbrook Tillar, accompanied him and became a merchant in Selma. Tillar�s wife was Antoinette Prewitt, daughter of Jacob M. Prewitt.

In the fall of 1857 or spring of 1858, most likely the latter, a wagon train led by Rev. John Harding Breedlove brought a substantial number of people to the Selma / Florence / Mt. Tabor area from Wilkinson County, Georgia. His wife, Frances Elizabeth Echols, and their extended family accompanied him. Other families in this train besides that of the Breedloves, were those of Jesse Peacock, John Tillman Hoover, James H. Bush and others. Jesse Peacock filed his credentials as a Methodist elder at the Drew County Court House on June 5, 1858.

Other histories have listed additional early settlers as Robert S. Taylor, James P. Stanley, William H. Isom, Spivey, Weatherall, J. S. Harvey and M. A. Harvey. Spivey was Lovitt Spivey, J. S. Harvey was Jesse Sherwood Harvey and M. A. Harvey (who seems to have been listed as a man) was actually Mary Ann HAMLETT Harvey, wife of Jesse Sherwood Harvey. Other early names were Gibson, Talliafero, Adams, Harrell, Howell, Shelton, Barrett, Tilghmon, Lowe, Clayton, Dishongh, Posey, Stone, Touchstone, Hays, Dickson, Pittman, Youngblood, Ferguson, Whitaker, Mason, Herrington, Denton, Shumake and Sawyers.

The Selma Methodist Episcopal Church South was organized in 1860. Prior to that, many of the residents were members of or just attended the Old Florence Presbyterian Church just up the road to the North. The present day Selma Methodist Church was completed in 1874 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Selma also was served by a Baptist Church and a black church.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Robert S. Taylor recruited a company of men from the area. The �Selma Rifles� left for Gaines Landing on June 20, 1861, to travel by steamboat to Memphis, Tennessee. From there they went to Lynchburg, Virginia, where they were mustered in as Company D, Third Regiment, Arkansas Volunteers. Only eight of them remained when the Company surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Their paroles were signed on April 12, 1865 and they were released to return home.

Some young men from the Selma area served in other units and some were hidden by their families so that they did not have to serve. One of the men who saw action with Wright�s 12th Arkansas Cavalry, CSA, Company C, was James Haisty. Haisty was captured in a skirmish at Longview, on the Saline River, on March 29, 1864. He was transported to a U. S. (Union) Military Prison at Rock Island, Illinois, where he died of Pneumonia on May 31, 1864. He was one of the men who had arrived in Selma by 1848 and had married Harriet Elizabeth PEACOCK Davidson, a granddaughter of Jesse Peacock, who had arrived about 10 years later. He left three very small children.

The Civil War hit Selma hard in casualties and divisions in loyalty. A group of families, who sympathized with the Union, severed ties with their Confederate kin, and moved to Conway County, Arkansas. They were mainly related by marriage. Conway County was the home of a large concentration of Union sympathizers. Some of these men joined Company �B�, 3rd Reg., Arkansas Volunteer Cavalry.

One man who made this move was Matthew Haisty, the oldest brother of James Haisty who died in a Union prison. Matthew, his second wife, Delaney SHUMAKE Simmons and their daughter Mary Emeline moved to Solgohachia along with members of the Shumake family and other families. Matthew enlisted at Lewisburg in Conway County. On the day that James Haisty and his Confederate unit were captured at Longview, his brother, Matthew, was fighting with the Union Army near Arkadelphia. Because of Matthew�s Union sympathies, the families of his brothers, John and James Haisty, never had contact with him again. Matthew never knew what had happened to his youngest brother or knew the families of either of his brothers. About 140 years later, contact has been made between the Confederate descendants and the Union descendants.

After the Civil War, Selma continued to prosper. Joshua Thomas Westbrook Tillar, who had commanded Company L of the Third Arkansas Infantry Regiment, returned to Selma and entered the mercantile business with Jeff Dishongh under the name of Dishongh and Tillar. Tillar bought land, which had previously belonged to John R. Dentz, from his in-laws, the Prewitts, and hired T. W. Gulledge, who was Drew County�s surveyor, to plat the town of Selma. The survey was completed in January of 1871, according to Book O, page 85, of the Drew County Land Records. Parcels of land ranged from one to six acres each. Incorporation was granted in 1876. Dr. James Phillip Stanley, who had served in Company E., Morgan�s Regiment during the Civil War and attained the rank of Lt. Colonel, was mayor of the town and also a dry goods merchant. T. P. Howell and Company carried dry goods and groceries and J. R. Shelton and Son sold general merchandise and plantation supplies. All were prosperous. Several doctors and dentists practiced in the area. Many fine homes could be found in Selma at that time. Some of them were owned by Major J. T. W. Tillar, Dr. James Phillip Stanley, T. P. Howell, Robert W. Harrell, W. T. Meeks, Dr. John Hutchins, J. R. Shelton, Dr. Sam Taylor, Zachary Taylor Prewitt and Chesley C. (probably Cabot) Clayton. Dr. Stanley�s house was later known as the Barrett House and a painting of that home can be found at the Drew County Museum and Archives.

The land for the Selma Cemetery and a black church and cemetery was donated to the town by John Haisty. Some say that this donation occurred about 1876 when the town was incorporated. The earliest stone that could be found, when the cemetery was surveyed for the first edition of the Drew County Cemetery Records, was that of Minnie Tillar who was born March 5, 1871, and died July 8, 1877. She was the daughter of J. T. W. Tillar and Antionette PREWITT Tillar. John Haisty gave the land with the stipulation that he be buried under a Red Oak tree. That tree still stands, well over 126 years of age, shading his grave marked by a Confederate tombstone which lists no unit. No record of his service can be found. It is possible that his wife Permelia BARTLETT Haisty, who died in October of 1870, had been buried under that tree upon her death and when the town was incorporated, Haisty felt that the land should be a cemetery. If she is buried there, no stone remains for her or three of her grandchildren who are known to be buried there, but new markers are being placed in the cemetery for them. Many of the older tombstones have deteriorated into a pile of rubble, so it is impossible to know if there were graves which predated that of Minnie Tillar.

The coming of the railroad to the town of Tillar precipitated the decline of the town of Selma. In 1878, the Little Rock, Mississippi River and Texas Railroad was built from Pine Bluff to Chicot Point on the Mississippi River, near the north end of Lake Chicot. The railroad company had previously been known as the Little Rock, Pine Bluff and New Orleans and was later known as the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern. Wealthy merchants of Selma began to move their businesses to Tillar to utilize the services of the railroad. Tillar sits in the Delta lowlands which contains brakes and swampy areas along the Bayou Bartholomew. Such conditions harbored the mosquitoes which brought Malaria to the people who dwelled in the area. Many people, who lived near the water, died of the disease. Because of the health situation, these merchants left their families in Selma at first, and traveled by horseback to their business establishments in Tillar during the day. On days when the weather made it impossible to make the journey back to Selma in the evening, these men slept in the back of their stores. This became a difficult situation for all concerned and eventually they moved their families to Tillar permanently.

Selma�s first school was built about 1888. It was a two story, white frame structure. Several buildings succeeded this school over the years. Some young ladies, whose homes were in other towns and were just beginning their academic careers, were hired to teach in Selma and found husbands there. By the 1920s, basketball had become part of the curriculum and even young ladies were allowed to participate in the sport. The uniforms consisted of blouses with long sleeves, bloomers and long stockings. Declining population brought problems with maintaining a school in the community. The High School students were transferred to Drew Central Schools in the late 1950s and the elementary school followed.

The last store left standing in Selma had been owned by Bill Eason, then run by Edd Breedlove and finally Floyd Gibson. That store had housed the Post Office as well as being a general merchandise establishment. Sadly, that building is gone now. The Selma Methodist Church is the only structure remaining from the early days of Selma, Arkansas. At the age of 128, this church of our fathers is a magnificent reminder of our heritage.

Thanks to:

John J. Pierce, Historian of The Peacock Family Association of the South

Dr. Christopher Johnson, descendant of Dr. James Phillip Stanley

The late Dorothy Lowe, Selma Historian

Gwen Haisty Stanford

COPYRIGHT 2008 by Carolyn Haisty

Letters Concerning Dr. James Phillip Stanley of Selma, Arkansas

Last Update Saturday, 23-Feb-2013 18:04:05 MST

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