Lewisville is the county seat of Lafayette County. Settled about the time that Arkansas became a state, but relocated by the building of railroads half a century later, Lewisville has weathered the storms of history with relative calm.

Louisiana Purchase through Early Statehood

Lafayette County consisted of land claimed by the Caddo until a treaty of 1835 moved them west to what was then northern Mexico and Indian Territory (now Texas and Oklahoma). Settlers of European origin quickly arrived in the newly opened land. One of them, Lewis Barnes Fort, bought land on July 6, 1836, on the site where Lewisville would later be built. Records indicate that Fort and his family came to Arkansas from Virginia. The settlement came to be known as Lewisville, taken from his first name, well before it was incorporated in 1850. The first Lafayette County courthouse was built in Chickaninny Prairie, ten miles southwest of Lewisville on the Red River, in 1828. The county’s second courthouse was built in Lewisville in 1841. Many of the landowners of the area were slave owners; in fact, black slaves outnumbered free whites in 1850 and made up just over half of the population of the county in 1860.

One of the earliest schools in Arkansas history was established in Lewisville. The Lafayette Academy existed at least as early as 1841 but ran short of funds and had to be closed by 1848.

Civil War through Reconstruction

Several Confederate units were raised in Lewisville during the Civil War, including the old Sixth Infantry, Company F, in May 1861; the Fifteenth (Johnson’s) in December 1861; the Nineteenth (Dockery) in February 1862; the Twenty-sixth Infantry, Company G, in May 1862; and Crawford’s First (Tenth Arkansas Cavalry) in July 1863. Although no major engagements were fought in the area during the war, Churchill’s Arkansas infantry wintered in the Lewisville area at the end of 1864. Because of the large number of casualties among these units, freed African Americans slightly outnumbered white citizens of Lafayette County at the conclusion of the war.

A Freedmen’s School was established in Lewisville, although the head of the school complained that students were still being mistreated by their former masters and other white neighbors. One freed slave from Lewisville, Monroe Hawkins, served in the 1868 Constitutional Convention. Hawkins had been born in North Carolina but was brought as a slave into Arkansas. At the time of the convention, he was described as a minister and farmer.

Post Reconstruction through Early Twentieth Century

In 1882, the Cotton Belt Railroad built a line between Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and Texarkana (Miller County), which passed two miles south of Lewisville. In 1888, the railroad added a line that began near Lewisville and ran south to Shreveport, Louisiana. A second line from Lewisville ran into Louisiana, built by the Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad in 1895; this line also chose the site south of downtown for its station. As a result, new homes and businesses were constructed closer to the station, until the entire town had moved to the new location. Since that time, residents speak of “Old Lewisville” and “New Lewisville” to distinguish the earlier settlement from the one prompted by the railroads. A new courthouse was built in “New Lewisville” in 1890. It was replaced by a newer courthouse in 1904, which in turn was replaced in 1940. The first bank in the county, Citizens Bank, was established in Lewisville in 1893 but lasted only a few years. People’s Bank began in Lewisville in 1911.

The Populist Party was successful in electing candidates to state office from the Lewisville area until the 1890s, when the state government enacted several laws that disenfranchised many voters, especially African Americans. Beginning in 1892, the Democratic Party was firmly in control of county government in Lafayette County. Groups of African Americans met in Lewisville during that decade to discuss immigrating to Africa, according to articles published at that time in the Arkansas Freeman. Evidently, few actually chose to make that journey. In April 1917, large numbers of African Americans gathered in Lewisville to hear patriotic speeches and to pledge their loyalty to the United States and for its involvement in World War I.

Many men from the community served in the U.S. Army in World War I. Like the rest of the nation, Lewisville suffered from the economic collapse that spurred the Great Depression. A large oil pool was discovered in the area on April 25, 1939, but, by this time, the oil boom that had transformed other parts of southern Arkansas had largely run its course; the cost of drilling for oil exceeded the expected benefits in much of the region. Works Progress Administration (WPA) efforts included the construction or improvement of 151 miles of roads in Lafayette County, as well as the new courthouse, which was completed in 1940.

World War II through the Modern Era

World War II again drew men away from the community into the war effort. Following the war, efforts were made to provide more jobs not directly dependant on agriculture. Smith Monuments, working in granite, was founded in Lewisville in 1950. Whistle Lumber began wood-processing operations in 1973. Falcon Products, which makes wooden chairs, opened a plant in Lewisville in 1980. Pilgrim’s Pride also has a feed production facility in Lewisville.

Like many other cities in south Arkansas, Lewisville began the process of desegregation of its schools only after court rulings and events in other parts of the state made such action necessary. As of the 2010 census, the population of Lewisville is 1,280, of whom 55.3 percent are black, 41.3 percent are white, and 2.8 percent are Hispanic.

Lewisville has six buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, including the county courthouse, the Methodist church, and the People’s Bank Building. The most famous person to come from Lewisville is journalist Ernie Deane.

For additional information:
Foster, Elizabeth Carroll. “Old Lewisville—Land Description and Families.” Lafayette Lookback 5 (Spring 1989): 17–32.

Knight, Wilda, ed. Lafayette County, Arkansas: Pieces of its Past and its People. Lewisville: Lafayette County Historical Society, 2002.

           Steven Teske
           Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

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