Visitors Guide to

Crittenden County, Arkansas
along the Great River Road

Crittenden County is located in east-central Arkansas. Its eastern and southern boundaries are the Mississippi River. Crittenden is comprised entirely of bottom land of the Mississippi River which has made it a prime area for agricultural development. Humans have been living in Crittenden County since before the arrival of European explorers. Some archaeologists place the location of Pacaha, visited by the expedition of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, within the present borders of the county. The first European settler of note was a Augustine Grande, who was the commander of Fort Esperanza, built by the Spanish in 1795 on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Other land in the area was given out as grants by the Spanish. When the Americans took possession of the region after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Grande decided to remain in the area, where he held power of attorney for numerous Spanish grantees and was said to be active in numerous land transactions.

In 1825 Crittenden County became the twelfth county to be created in the state with the settlement of Marion being selected as the county seat. The county was named after Robert Crittenden who was Secretary of Arkansas Territory from 1819 to 1829. Because of the county’s location, levees and drainage districts have been essential to its development. An act of Congress in 1850 created the first organized efforts toward levee construction. The federal government donated approximately 8,600,000 acres of swampland to Arkansas to be sold to finance levee and drainage systems. By 1852, a three-foot levee had been developed along the Mississippi River for most of the county’s border. It was not until 1893, however, that major flood control efforts resulted in the Arkansas legislature’s creation of the St. Francis Levee District. These efforts weren’t enough to stop the floods of 1927 and 1937 that rendered hundreds of families in Crittenden County homeless because of backwaters from the St. Francis River.

During the Civil War there were no battles fought in the county but the war brought all government activities to a standstill. After the war the county’ electorate was predominantly African American because many supporters of the Confederacy had been declared ineligible to vote as a result of the Reconstruction Acts in 1867. This caused a number of racial difficulties during this time period. Many whites joined the Ku Klux Klan which was very active in Crittenden County and was one of fourteen counties where martial law was declared to help stem the violence. The Republican Governor, Powell Clayton, prevailed upon the legislature to create a state militia that included African Americans and this militia became involved in number of fierce skirmishes.

West Memphis is Crittenden County’s largest community. The town started out as “Hopefield” but by the 1820s had become a haven for gamblers and thieves banned from the larger city of Memphis, located across the river. Because it was not as affected as the rest of the county during the Depression, West Memphis continued to grow and more than doubled in size during the World War Islands era. One the town’s most notable export has been its original Blues music. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, 8th Street was often called “Beale Street West,” reflecting a music and nightlife scene to equal that in Memphis.

Crittenden County is home to the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge, located 20 miles northwest of Memphis. The refuge was established in 1961 to provided habitat for migrating and wintering waterfowl. The 5,484 acre refuge is located four miles west of the Mississippi River and protected from the river by a river levee. Today the refuge is a wildlife oasis in an agricultural region. An excellent diversity of habitat exists on mainly agricultural land, bottomland hardwood forest, early stage reforested hardwoods, open water and flooded cypress/willow swamp. Because of its strategic location in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway and the diverse habitat, the refuge is a major stopover for warblers and other neo-tropical birds. The refuge is also a prime wintering area for migratory waterfowl.

Explore these Great River Road Communities
in Crittenden County in Northeast Arkansas
West Memphis Earle Turrell

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