A little bit of Corning history

By Keith Boles - bio | email feedback

CORNING, AR(KAIT) --Depending on what history you read, whom exactly the town of Corning is named after is somewhat of a question.

Some say it was named after H.K. Corning of the old St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad, or it could be H.D. Corning an engineer who built the MO-Pac railroad and a wealthy friend of railroad millionaire Jay Gould.

Whomever it's named after, Corning has an interesting history.

This community began along the Black River and the timber industry but it was the coming of the railroad that really gave the town it's first boost.

The Cairo and Fulton railroad began running trains to Corning in February of 1873. The railroad, and small steamboats on the Black river and whatever wagons and horses could move through the bottoms, made corning into a hub of North-South transportation.

Industry in the latter part of the 1800's included lumbering. Corning basically had to be hacked out of the woods. Lumber mills and stave mills once dotted the land around the town.  Small railroads out into the woods hauled the rough lumber into town for processing. The J.W. Black sawmill, which is still present today, is the only remnant of the once flourishing timber industry.

At one time the button industry was big in corning, using black river mussels as the source of raw button material. The mussels would be dragged up from the river and then holes would be cut into the shells turning out mother-of-pearl buttons that would be finished up and sold across the country.

Clay county is one of several in Arkansas with two county seats. One courthouse is  in Corning - the other in Piggott. This was because of the difficulties in traveling to the county seat across the swamp lands.

Bickering over the county seat heated up in 1877 with the first vote on the location. Corning only received 46 votes with Boydsville which is  located to the Northwest of present day Rector, receiving the majority. That issue was far from settled! Much furor over the county seat location went on for years. In 1880 with still no formal decision made the proposed courthouse location was rented for pasture land for 22 dollars.

The matter was settled in 1881 when the Arkansas legislature passed an act dividing Clay county into districts. Corning was now the Western county seat and a courthouse was built. Piggott eventually became the Eastern county seat.

The annual 4th of July celebration was organized in 1892, that citywide celebration continues to be a major event even today.

Fires have always plagued corning. Not a year went by from the late 1800's, to well into the 1960's, that some kind of major fire didn't destroy businesses in the town costing thousands in damages. At the time most of the major businesses were located on First and Second streets.

Around 1910, Standard oil took out a lease on land Northeast of Corning. They sold stock, drilled, struck bedrock and struck out. They never found any oil in their 2500 acre lease.

Flood waters from the Black River has plagued Corning since the town first began. Although the town itself has never fully flooded, businesses located near the river were generally flooded in the Spring. Levee construction beginning in the 1930's finally directed the waters away from the town itself.

Probably the most important influence on corning was and still is agriculture.

When the timber was harvested, the land was cleared for cotton. For years, rail cars of the white stuff was shipped rolled North and South. Numerous cotton gins dotted the areas around the town. Then a change slowly came into place. Rice, Corn and soybeans gradually eased cotton out of the picture and today there aren't even old cotton gins around the city.

The founders of this town--long gone are remembered mainly in old stories and photographs. But like most towns it's those foundations that gives the town it's personality that lives on today.

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