Sandtown in Independence County: Once Abundant with Commerce
Written by: Tracy L. Crain
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Sunday, February 10, 2002

Just north of Batesville, off Arkansas 69, there's a peculiar little community named Sandtown. It has a few historical roots planted firmly in the soils of Independence County, but one question begs asking. Is Sandtown still recognized as a town? Or, has it become merely a street, a place that used to be?

For the 20 or so residents residing here, Sandtown is the home they have known and loved for years. To the tourist, the thought might be, "Wow, this isn't a town. It is just a street." At least, the few well-noted houses give it some well earned distinction.

In its prime, people say Sandtown was a gorgeous, bustling type of place with abundant commerce. Much of those area activities centered on one rather ingenious man, John Marion Smith.

Local historian, Charles Prier, is about the only one raising his hand with answers about Smith and Sandtown.

He's put a lot of work into the Smith genealogy. So much that he publishes a newsletter three times a year in reference to the Smith's descendants.

"I am a part of the Smith family," he said. "The activities of John Smith are important to me."

What Prier has researched and documented is interesting. His materials show pieces of a puzzle that when placed together, form a somewhat abstract view of the town's culture.

"I know that John Marion Smith operated the store and was the postmaster. I have a store ledger that belonged to him. It shows what the people in the community were purchasing," he said. "The document, something from the early 1900’s, reflects purchases of everything from shoes to snake oil."

Although Prier unraveled a lot in reference to Sandtown's history, when the town was founded remains a mystery to him.

Smith did help the local economy. But, he was born in Missouri. Therefore, it is not believed that it started with him. One clue is evident.

Plots in the local Lee Cemetery date back as early as 1890. That's all which is known at this time.

Even though searching for Sandtown's origination date is an elusive and ominous task, Prier can remember details of the town that depict a much more recent collage of photographs.

Those photographs, when neatly arranged, reflect a one of a kind type of rural life with new innovations and commerce.

"They had one of those gas pumps that had a handle. It pumped up the gas from a reservoir and then let it in your car. I always thought that was great thing," he said. "Yet, even with its grocery store and gas pump, Sandtown was never really a town. It was never incorporated."

Prier continued, "There was a blacksmith shop, owned by John Marion Smith's brother. He not only did blacksmithing, but he built wagons and such, too."

Other information known about Smith is that he was a food preserver. "He farmed and liked to can food," Prier said. "Keeping things running smoothly was a goal for him."

Where the name Sandtown evolved from is another research effort that has peeked some tireless efforts.
Prier, one of the few to make a claim, believes the name is a result of the two area creeks uniting together.

"Sandtown has two creeks, or more correctly, two big streams, that come together. Because of that, there is a lot of silica. That silica, or white sand, can be found on the sandbar in the town." Prier said. "It'd be my guess that the name originated there."

Community activities in Sandtown have become fewer, but a massive project to restore the local cemetery and church has been initiated.

Bertha Perky, member of the Independence County Historical Society, is working on that project. "We're cleaning up the cemetery which is located past the Bayou. We'll be doing that over the next couple of months," she said.

In addition to the community restoration project, there is a yearly family and community reunion held in Sandtown.

"We have a family reunion once a year. Most of the folks are gone that were there in their heyday. However, we continue to meet the first Saturday of every June to celebrate the Smith family," Prier said.

There is also a second reunion held for community members. John Carter, a native of Sandtown, calls it the "Sandtown Homecoming." Prier calls it the "Sandtown Singing" event. That event is conducted every first Sunday in June.

Other than that, Carter describes the area as a rural place. "There is a church here, actually two churches. One is not active," he said. "The church that is not active is over a 100 years old and is the one being worked on by the historical society. A lodge group meets in the old church house each week."

Carter continues, "I've lived around here all my life. We started with a gin and a sawmill, as well as a blacksmith, post office and grocery store. My descendants used to run most of them."

The community has changed quite a bit since Carter was young. Some of those changes have occurred with the old store building that his grandfather used to run. "The man who bought the old building is using it for his hay barn now," Carter said.

Other changes include a new bridge and a few road improvements on the "big curve" that used to be in the center of the community.

Carter's most fascinating description of Sandtown is that it appears to be "a dried up place." Even so, it remains in the hearts of those who value this little piece of land.

"The town is about a quarter of a mile in radius," Carter said. "The road that runs through Sandtown is about all that is left. A town really doesn't exist here anymore."

(Sandtown is an excerpt from Road Trips; a weekly feature of small towns in Arkansas written by Tracy Crain and published by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.)