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OPINION: Recalling those Pea Ridge building booms

September 1, 2021 at 5:30 a.m.

When we moved back to Pea Ridge in 2002, our town was in a building boom.

In that year, for example, the area where we now live was an open field, the former Vic Miller farm. The windmill, apparently the original windmill that used to pump well water for the house and farm, was still standing, but was in a state of disrepair. Soon thereafter, machinery was at work, moving topsoil, laying out streets, establishing drainage. And, by 2005, many building lots had houses completed and occupied by families.

The years 2007 and 2008 were tough years, the booming economy tanked, and for a time, the rapid rate of building and subdivision development was on hold. Some developers apparently lost money, big time. Over several years the economy recovered, and little by little, the building projects began re-appearing -- Summit Meadors, Maple Glen, Battlefield Estates, Battlefield View and, later, Elkhorn subdivision. Even the land which borders our farm on Hayden Road north has at least a dozen new houses. Pea Ridge was once a tiny town, mostly serving a farming community, with about 100 residents in town. Now, apparently we have more than 5,000 residents within the city limits, and are still growing. That makes us twice the size of 1950 Bentonville, our county seat, when Sam Walton moved to northwest Arkansas.Bentonville, at that time, had about 2,500 people, and the south edge of town was basically at Ark. Hwy. 102 (14th Street).

Today, in 2021, Pea Ridge is again experiencing a building boom. The growth of our town and the concurrent growth of all of northwest Arkansas's communities is remarkable. However, that doesn't mean that we never had building booms before. One example, I think, would be the initial white settlement of our area. Prior to 1830, this area was basically the hunting grounds for the Osage tribe, and was without developed towns. After a treaty signed in 1828 opened the area to white settlement, settlers began flocking to the area, most seeking farmland, some coming singly, but many coming by organized wagon train. Many were coming from Tennessee and Kentucky, and from the coastal Carolinas. We used to say that in the old days, everybody in Pea Ridge was kin to everybody else. There was much truth in that statement. In fact, many families coming here by those wagon trains were already kin to the others who were traveling with them. We think the little village which became the town of Pea Ridge began forming near a water spring along the east stretch of what we now call Greene St., and houses began to be built in that area and on the higher ground in the area on the west side of today's North Curtis Avenue., the area now occupied by the Telephone Company, the old original Pea Ridge Fire station and the Pea Ridge Historical Society Museum. By 1850, businesses had formed along the main street, which today we call Pickens Street or Pickens Road. Homes and small farms had developed in all directions from the village, and when the village officially became a town, with the opening of our U.S. Post Office in August of 1850, the city limits extended as far south as today's Patton Street.

My memories of our town begin during the World War II years, the early to mid-1940s. By that time, Pea Ridge had already gone through some transformations, including new buildings, new business houses, new residences and so on. The Pea Ridge Academy had opened at Buttram's Chapel in the 1870s, and in 1880 the school built its first nice brick building on the downtown school ground in Pea Ridge. The land which became the school grounds previously had been farm land owned by Mr. George Foster.

In 1879, Professor John R. Roberts purchased the initial 15 acres for the school, and throughout the year 1879 and early 1880 labor proceeded on the initial school building. The Pea Ridge Academy opened for classes in town in the fall of 1880. The building soon (in 1884) became home to the first public elementary school in the area, with the first eight grades sharing the building with the Academy students in the upper grades through high school. In 1887, a major expansion of the building made possible enrolling up to 250 students, and the Academy began offering college-level courses as well as the traditional high school courses.

In 1911, a meeting was held in the College Hall by a group of people intent on establishing a bank in Pea Ridge. The result was the Bank of Pea Ridge, which operated in the downtown business district from 1911 to about 1968. The new bank built its initial house of business in the east block of downtown, using concrete block construction. The earliest store buildings in Pea Ridge had been of wood frame construction, most of them having the characteristic high front facade which served as a sign board for the business name. The construction of the new bank building seems to have triggered other major construction projects all through the block. The old wood frame Putman Store at the intersection was moved to today's Davis Street and became the Putman home beside the Presbyterian Church. A new concrete block store building replaced the old wood frame store building. By 1920, the entire east block of downtown had been modernized with masonry construction.

To be continued.


Editor's note: Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and an award-winning columnist, is vice president of Pea Ridge Historical Society. He can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected], or call 621-1621.

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