Searcy-Batesville Road proved providential for Providence


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 16, 2000

The White County community of Providence lies in fertile farm country about 10 miles north of Searcy on Arkansas 157, the old Searcy-Batesville Road.

Providence likely owes its birth to the building of that road. It was built in the 1830s, said Paul E. Miller, past president of the White County Historical Society and retired principal of White County Central School. The road was widely traveled in Arkansas’ early years. It became the primary artery for those migrating to northeastern Texas. The Old Southwest Trail/Military Road was not convenient to the larger towns, so the Searcy-Batesville Road was built to route traffic through Searcy and on toward Little Rock.

A short feature written by Providence schoolchildren and printed in the White County Record in 1938 says the community grew from Elijah Little’s farm. In fact, Little was in charge of the Providence Post Office. His farm was established in 1832 when he moved from Tennessee.

Miller noted in a recent telephone conversation that Little was a slaveholder and the old Providence cemetery was originally begun as a burial place for Little’s slaves. It was later enlarged to accommodate families of white settlers as the area grew. The log cabin now on the grounds of the White County Fair Pioneer Village exhibit was moved there from Providence, Miller said.

The area was cultivated in cotton fields before the Civil War. During the war, the area saw some skirmishes, and food and supplies were foraged there by German immigrant Union Army troops stationed near Batesville. Much of the farming there in the late 19th and early 20th century was food crops, most notably Arkansas strawberries. Now the Providence area, still mostly farmland, relies on poultry and cattle for its primary products.

Much of the activity in Providence revolves around White County Central School just south of the community’s center. There were schools about every two or three miles in the area early in the 20th century since most of the students had to walk to school. In the late 1920s and early ‘30s the Plainview and Providence schools consolidated many nearby rural schools into their districts.

Jackie Stewart, history teacher at White County Central School. Said the Work Projects Administration built the second Providence school building during the Depression. Part of the foundation is still visible on this farm.

In the 1946-47 school year Providence and Plainview schools began the consolidation process to form White County Central School, which celebrated its 50th year September 6, 1999.

According to Principal Jerry Lacy, North-Central accredited White County Central School has continued to grow, adding new AP English and chemistry classes and more new computers this year. The school is proud that one of its students, Lisa Lamb, was named eighth in the United States in public speaking this year by the Future Business Leaders of America. Continuing in the agricultural tradition of the area, the school's agriculture teacher, Robert Reedy, recently received a grant to build a computerized greenhouse for the school.

Sports has been a unifying factor for the community of Providence and the school. The White County basketball tournament was held at the school in December.

Providence’s location near many larger towns has enables many descendents of early settlers to remain there to work on family farms and allowed others to work at the consolidated school and in the nearby towns of White and Independence counties.