When a tornado destroyed the majority of Judsonia 50 years ago, individuals in the community worked hard to rebuild. Amid the destruction, a new community was born.
Mark Jones, a longtime resident, believes the area is now one of the safest communities in the county. "I think the people who live here are a little smarter, too. They do things a little different than they do in other places," he said. "That’s part of what makes Judsonia so unique."
There are 1,982 residents here, mostly novelty shop owners, bronze workers and furniture makers. There is also a post office and a fire department.
"Overall, it is quite a town. We have a lot of hunters and people you might call rednecks. However they really pull together when needed," Jones said. "We’re an odd bunch, but we have a lot of fun."
According to White County Historical Society resources ["That’s Judsonia" by former Society president W.E. Orr], Erastus Gregory was the town’s original founded, purchasing the land when he was in his 20s, on August 12, 1835, at the cost of $1.50 an acre.
Eddie Best, a local historian [Society editor and former president quoting Orr] said, "There was a lot of interest in Gregory’s land. In 1839, he employed Philip W. Roberts to lay off the site in town lots. It was the first area to be laid off by a surveyor in White County."
Best continued, "On February 14, 1842, before his death, records show he sold a part of his land holdings to Joseph Bennett, David Bennett, Luther C., Morrise and Moses Greenwood for $2,080. In November 1848, a tax sale is recorded by which 50 acres ‘assessed in the name of the heirs of Erastus Gregory’ was returned delinquent for the tax years 1847-48 and was sold to John W. Bond."
In the time that Gregory held the land, Judsonia was known as Prospect Bluff. The name [according to "A Humorous History of White County" by the late Claude Johnson, another Historical Society president] originated from some early settlers who paddled up the Little Red River and thought they saw a bluff there. "They didn’t really, for there was no bluff and very little prospect."
It was the coming of the steamboat that gave Prospect Bluff its greatest advantage over most of the other settlements in the county. New settlers began to arrive almost every time a boat landed. In February 1849, the second steamboat to ascend the stream docked, bringing J.B. Crow, who later entered a section of land in Searcy.
Best said, "One of the first settlers at Prospect Bluff was Joe Glosson and his wife Mary who arrived with a wagon train of 18 families from North Carolina just before the start of the Civil War. Joe became a successful blacksmith and operated a shop and owned a home on land where Orr Park is now located. Years later, a grandson, Lonnie Glosson, a native of Judsonia born in 1908, would become a nationally famous harmonica player.
As the story goes, Glosson purchased his first harmonica at the age of 14 with money earned from picking cotton.
"The French harp became a magic carpet that carried him out of the cotton patch and over the rainbow to places like Chicago and WLS Radio," Best said. "Lonnie died earlier this year at 93."
The name Prospect Bluff was changed to Judsonia on April 15, 1872. It was renamed after university professor M.R. Forey visited the area in 1869 and later relocated there, bringing 40 other residents with him.
"Forey founded Judson University and named it for a Baptist missionary, Adoniram Judson, who died at sea April 12, 1850. The building was 30-by-45 feet and had only one room," Best said. "The school grew at first but ceased to function in 1883. Attempts to jump-start it five years later were futile, lasting only a few months."
Darla Ino, another local historian, also referenced the nearby strawberry
crops as part of Judsonia’s history. "In the early days, the community was known
for the production of containers. Used by the local farmers for strawberry
crops, the containers were constructed by locals working in what was referred to
as the box factory."
She continued, "In 1917, the Judsonia Kensett Bridge was constructed on the turnstile so that riverboats could safely pass through. That bridge, one of the community’s local landmarks, is still standing today."
More Judsonia history is available by writing the White County Historical Society at P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145, or by visiting www.rootsweb.com/~arwhite