JACKSONPORT, AR (KAIT) - The White River has always played an important part of the history of Jacksonport. From the first settlers who came by raft or canoe or flatboat. To the some of the very first steamboats that thrashed up the river from the Mississippi.
In Fact the town was initially bought and paid for by a steamboat Captain.
Captain Thomas Todd Tunstall brought his boat the "Waverly" to Jacksonport in 1834. Tunstall was carrying cargo for Batesville. He saw the value in the towns location so he bought property along the river and started a river port.
Until the railroads came through Jackson county, steamboats coming from Memphis and going up and down the White river were the primary modes of transportation.
The town boomed with cargos of farm products, timber and bear grease, which was then loaded onto steamers coming from the Mississippi...kind of like the Fed-Ex hub of today.
Park Interpreter Donna Bentley described the commerce in the early days.
Bentley, "They would transfer the goods to smaller boats that came out of Missouri and the Ozarks traveling down the White here. So it was like a switch place, a transfer point."
With so much commerce, the town population, boomed.
Bentley, "There are different numbers, some say approximately 2 Thousand, some say probably a little less than 2 Thousand." The main street stretched from the front of the present day court house then turned and ran along the river.
In 1853, Jacksonport was named the county seat...but the Civil War started before a courthouse could be built.
About 150 men volunteered from the area to form the Jackson Guards on may 5th, 1861...the day before Arkansas seceded.
Park Interpreter Sara Griffith showed me around the Civil War Exhibit in the museum that highlighted the Jackson Guards.
Griffith, "They were very gung ho about things, wanted to get into the action but they didn't fight in the area they went more toward the East."
During the war, Jacksonport changed hands several times the town generally fell without a battle as troops abandoned the area for lack of food. Troops from both sides came and went on steamboats from the town. Tinclads prowled the rivers.
Griffith. We had a few small skirmish type things. Like people firing at steamboats as they were going up and down the river."
A memorial marks the spot where Confederate General Jeff Thompson the "swamp fox of the confederacy" surrendered and pardoned 6 Thousand men in 1865.
The courthouse was finally finished in 1872 making Jacksonport the main town in Jackson County, and then the railroad came...but not to Jacksonport
Bentley, "They offered to build a side track and depot to the town if the town gave them 25 Thousand dollars."
The town said no, not realizing that the mainline was going through Newport and eventually so did the majority of the riverboats. This began to signal the end of Jacksonport as a major player in the county.
In 1892, the county voted and the county seat moved to Newport but the old courthouse remained.
It's been used as a school, a cotton gin, a county hospital, and a poor house.
Bentley, "A family or if it was just a young couple or a single person or elderly couple that could not afford to live anywhere they would come and be taken care of."
The poor house existed for nearly 40 years at the site before the last inmate left in 1953.
To call Jacksonport a "Boom Town" is not quite correct. The town, like many small towns in Arkansas faded into it's present day form as technology moved ahead.