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County Seat Spotlight: Wynne

County Seat Spotlight: Wynne, with the west slope of Crowley’s Ridge to the east and the L’Anguille River on the west, started off as a small railroad town and grew to become the county seat of Cross County. The town dates its history to the 1880s when the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad laid tracks in the area.

In the summer of 1885, Wynne became the headquarters for construction of the railroad being built from Bald Knob to Memphis. By 1887, Wynne had grown to include six general stores, seven grocers, two drug stores, two hotels, three doctors, a jeweler, a blacksmith, a lawyer, a gent’s furnishing store, two saloons, two barbers, and two meat markets. Development slowed in September that year when a fire destroyed more than two-thirds of the town’s business district. Damage was estimated at $200,000, but the buildings were quickly rebuilt. The following year, Lon D. Freeman established the town’s first newspaper, the Wynne Ripsaw. The Cross County Democrat was established around 1895. The two papers went through several owners and stock companies. For a time, only one weekly paper was published.

In 1888, the east-west line of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad was finished. This location was called “Wynne Junction, and later that year, the town was incorporated as Wynne. The town was named for Captain Jesse Wynne of Forrest City who was influential in starting Forrest City’s first bank, the Bank of Eastern Arkansas. (The bank is now known as the First National Bank of Eastern Arkansas, with branches in Forrest City and Wynne). By 1903, the county seat moved from Vanndale to Wynne, which had grown larger than Vanndale, and because of its railroad connections, Wynne was easier to access for many people. The courthouse was built in 1905.

In 1897, the first telephone system came to Wynne. By 1955, more than 1,500 people had telephone lines via the Wynne Exchange. Between 1918 and 1926, water and light companies were built and major streets were paved. Wynne’s schools were dispersed throughout the community, dating back to 1886, but in 1902, a two-story brick school was built to serve all grades. When a high school was built in 1950, the original building was used for elementary grades. There were also several community schools for children living outside of town. From 1896 until 1902, a Catholic School called St. Anselm’s School was also located in Wynne.

The last passenger trains came through Wynne on August 28, 1965, signaling the decline of the railroad era and the rise of improved highways for the transportation of people and freight. Wynne continues to grow, home to several retail businesses, a community hospital, and five major manufacturers. Agriculture is also a leading industry that includes rice, soybeans, wheat, cotton, milo and corn.

In the 1890 census, Wynne shows a population of a mere 565. By 1960, 4,922 people were located there and according to the 2010 census, 8,367 folks call Wynne home.

Wynne’s largest attraction is Village Creek State Park. Opened in 1976, Village Creek is approximately 7,000 acres located about five miles outside of Wynne on Crowley’s Ridge. Village Creek is the second largest state park in Arkansas. Another attraction is the Caboose Museum in the Jess W. Wallin Memorial Park. The caboose was donated by the Union Pacific Railroad; it displays memorabilia of Wynne’s railroad days. The Cross County Veterans Memorial Monument and Museum is on the grounds of the Cross County Courthouse. This museum displays memorabilia donated from veterans and others in the community to remember the veterans from the Civil War to the present who have served from Cross County. Wynne has a county museum, directed and established by the Cross County Historical Society, located on the grounds of the Cross County Courthouse. The structure was originally one of the first schools in Wynne.

For more, visit the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

 Photographs by Thomas R Machnitzki.