City has deep roots; looks forward to future

The Pea Ridge we see today would not be recognized by some of the residents from 100 years ago. It's grown, changed. But, the heart of it has not.

From a population of 72 in 1940 to a 2021 population of more than 6,559, Pea Ridge has faced challenges with aplomb.

Pea Ridge dates to Aug. 6, 1850, when its first post office was established.

The town was laid out by Robert Carroll Foster. Robert H. Wallace was the first postmaster.

The influx of settlers into the Pea Ridge area of Arkansas began during the decade prior to Arkansas statehood in 1836 and continued through the 1850s.

Pea Ridge became one of the early college towns in Arkansas, offering business instruction, music education and training teachers for early northwest Arkansas schools. From the establishment of the Shelton Academy in 1851 to the Pea Ridge Academy to the current five-campus school district, area residents have supported education.

As part of the rapidly expanding economy of northwest Arkansas, Pea Ridge is poised for significant growth during the first decade of the 21st century.

The city motto is "Anchored to the Past ... Rising to the Future."

Initially, the town's name was one word, but was changed to two.

The name "Pea Ridge" came from a variety of wild peas which grew in abundance on the ridges. The Indian groups and the settlers arriving valued these peas as a food source for families and as a forage crop for livestock. The peas, commonly known as hog peanuts or turkey peas, are still found.

The Old Wire Road which passed through the area became part of the Trail of Tears in the late 1830s as the Cherokee and other tribes moved through on a forced march to the Oklahoma reservations from their homes in the southeast.

On March 7-8, 1862, the hills, hollows, fields and farms around Pea Ridge Mountain and Elkhorn Tavern became a battleground with as many as 16,000 Confederate troops and 10,500 Union troops in combat. It was the largest Civil War engagement west of the Mississippi River.

In 1956, the Pea Ridge National Military Park was created by Congress. Farms were bought and families moved into town. The park was dedicated in 1963. Some of the families who lived there still live in the area. Some of the houses in town were moved to their current locations off the land bought by the government.

This year, 162 years after that momentous battle, we are remembering some of the factors that led to the confrontation and sharing excerpts from soldiers' diaries with a series of articles published over the next five weeks.

Sometimes we trivialize that which we do not personally experience. Let us not do that with this foray into history. As John C. Scott, former superintendent of the Pea Ridge National Military Park used to say, "If we don't learn from history, we're doomed to repeat it."

This city we call home, these houses, businesses, subdivisions, schools, churches, farms, fields, hills and valleys have seen many people go before us who worked and lived and loved and died to make homes for their families. The roots from their lives create the foundation for our homes and lives.

Let us respect that and build the future with magnanimity.

Editor's note: Information garnered from Opal Beck's "History of Benton County," J. Dickson Black's "History of Benton County," "Pea Ridge, 1850-2000" and Billie Jines' "The Peas of Pea Ridge." The opinions expressed are those of the author. She can be reached at [email protected].