Fayetteville History

Native American Country

Northwest Arkansas was originally Native American Country. Used as a hunting ground by the Osage and later inhabited by the Cherokee, the first permanent settlers came into the area in the mid-1820s when Arkansas was still a territory. Fayetteville was established as the county seat on October 17, 1828. Fayetteville has long been known for its innovative spirit, as an academic center, as the "Athens of the Ozarks" and as a "hilly area" known for the seven hills around and within it.

Notable People

Over the years, Fayetteville has been home to many notable people, including Senator J. William Fulbright, President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and renowned architects Edward Durell Stone and Fay Jones. It is also home to dozens of properties on the National Register of Historic Places, many dating to before the Civil War. Among these are Headquarters House, used by both Union and Confederate forces, the Sarah Ridge House and Governor Archibald Yell's law office. Sections of both the Trail of Tears and the Butterfield Overland Stage Route traverse the city and are part of the National Trails System.

The area that would become the City of Fayetteville was founded in 1828, when pioneers settled near a spring at the base of Mount Sequoyah. The George McGarrah family was the first to establish a homestead near Big Spring (Spout Spring) at what is now the corner of Spring Street and Willow Avenue. The McGarrahs were followed by the James Leeper family and their daughter-in-law Lucy Washington. The Leepers owned all the land on the south side of Mount Sequoyah to the White River, as well as lots around the Fayetteville Downtown Square.

Washington County

On October 17, 1828, Washington County was established out of Lovely County, which had been established the previous year. Originally named Washington Courthouse, the City of Fayetteville was given its name in 1829, when Postmaster General William T. Barry ordered the name changed to avoid confusion arising from another town in Hempstead County already named Washington. County commissioners chose the name Fayetteville because 2 of the commissioners, James Buchanan and John Wooddy, hailed from Fayetteville, Tennessee.

First Permanent Courthouse

In 1829, a crude 20-foot-by-20-foot-long building with puncheon floors (made from logs that are finished flat on just one side and are very thick and strong) was erected as the first permanent courthouse. It sat where Block Avenue now passes between the present-day Bank of Fayetteville on the corner of Center Street and Block Avenue and the Old Post office located in the center of the Fayetteville Downtown Square. About 1830, John Nye opened a store on the west side of the Square and the next day another store, run by the Sevier Brothers, sprang up nearby. In 1833, Alfred Wallace opened a general store on the west side and shortly thereafter William McGarrah opened a grocery at the corner of East and Center streets where the University of Arkansas Continuing Education building now stands.

Fayetteville Original Settlement

On February 27, 1835, President Andrew Jackson issued a patent for 160 acres forming the original settlement of Fayetteville. This land was bound by what is now College Avenue on the east, Gregg Avenue on the west, Dickson Street on the north and South Street on the south. All of the lots except the Square, were auctioned off between 1835 and 1837, raising $6,339 in the course of 169 sales. The money was used to erect a courthouse and Clerk's Office. In 1836, Fayetteville's first brick house, a school house, was built on what is now called School Avenue, between Meadow and Center Streets and a military road was cut through Fayetteville en route from St. Louis, Missouri, to Fort Smith, Arkansas.

State's First Congressman

When Arkansas was granted statehood in 1836, Judge Archibald Yell, a Fayetteville resident originally from Tennessee, was elected the State's first Congressman. Yell also served as the State's second Governor, serving as Governor from 1840 to 1844. He built a home, law office and a guest house in Fayetteville on an estate he named Waxhaws in honor of President Jackson's South Carolina birthplace. Only Yell's law office remains, which was moved in 1992 to the Washington County Historical Society grounds. This law office is one of the oldest structures in the State of Arkansas.

Fayetteville Incorporated

On November 3, 1836, the first State Legislature passed an Act to incorporate the Town of Fayetteville. In 1837, a new brick county courthouse was built in the center of the Fayetteville Square and in 1839 Archibald Yell contracted for the construction of a 2-story jail, with a dungeon and debtors cell in the lower story. The jail was built by Mathew Leeper on the southeast corner of College Avenue and Rock Street for $4,460. Fayetteville was officially incorporated in 1841.

First College

On December 14, 1852, Arkansas College, which was located where the First Christian Church now stands at 220 North College Avenue, became the first degree-granting college in the State of Arkansas. The college operated until the outbreak of the Civil War. In June 1854, a contract was awarded to build yet another new county courthouse in the center of the Fayetteville Square. This third courthouse was burned during the Civil War.

Civil War and Military Activity

There was little military activity in Fayetteville until February 25, 1862, when Confederate troops moving south were ordered to destroy an arsenal in the Van Horne school building (located at the northwest corner of College and Dickson where the First Baptist Church now stands.) Soldiers were ordered to burn and loot all commercial buildings, military stores and vacant houses in Fayetteville rather than let any material fall into the hands of Union forces. After setting torch to the city, the Confederates retreated beyond the Boston Mountains, only to pass through a week later on their march north to the battle at Pea Ridge.

During the Civil War, the town was alternately possessed by both sides. Although there were skirmishes, the "Action at Fayetteville" or "Battle of Fayetteville" was the only major conflict. On the morning of April 18, 1863, the city awoke to Southern forces attacking Union troops headquartered within the city limits. Backed with cannon fire from the lower side of East Mountain (near Olive Avenue and East Dickson Street today), Confederate cavalry charged up from Big Spring but were repulsed by Union infantry and cavalry. Most of the battle raged near the intersection of Dickson Street and College Avenue, giving rise to its name as "Bloody Corner." Judge Jonas Tebbetts' home near the intersection of College Avenue and Dickson Street was used as Union headquarters by Colonel M. Larue Harrison. The battle centered on Tebbetts' home while Confederates attempted to take back the town. The battle-scarred house, known today as Headquarters House, still stands as a museum and the headquarters of the Washington County Historical Society. In the end, Confederate troops were unsuccessful and withdrew into the sheltering mountains.

National Cemetery

In 1867, a National Cemetery was established on the south side of Fayetteville. It was one of the original 14 federal cemeteries authorized by President Abraham Lincoln. On June 10, 1872, a group of Fayetteville women organized the Southern Memorial Association to secure a site for proper burial of Confederate soldiers who perished at the battles of Fayetteville, Prairie Grove and Pea Ridge. The Confederate Cemetery was eventually established on 3 acres of land on the southern edge of Mount Sequoyah (East Mountain) near the eastern end of Rock Street.

First Arkansas Public School District

In 1866, Fayetteville was organized as District Number 1, the first public school district in the State. The American Missionary Society built a brick building to school the city's African American students. Later named Henderson School after its first superintendent, it was the first public school in Fayetteville and perhaps the State. It still exists today as part of a private home. On March 20, 1871, an independent school district was organized, and the first meeting of a Fayetteville school board was held.

Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges

The Morrill Act, passed by Congress during the Civil War, provided land grants to each state to establish agricultural and mechanical colleges. Upon re-entering the Union, Arkansas became eligible for such a grant. Washington County approved a $100,000 bond issue, and Fayetteville offered another $30,000, including individual land donations, to build a college. Fayetteville's proposal was selected and the Arkansas Industrial University opened on January 22, 1872. In 1899, the Arkansas General Assembly changed the name to the University of Arkansas. In the early twentieth century, attempts were made to move the University of Arkansas to a more central location in the State.