Marvell, Arkansas is a city in Phillips County with a population of about 1,000 residents. It is located west of Helena along U.S. Highway 49. Although not that large, the city is home to the annual Tri-County Fair and Levon Helm Jubilee. Many municipalities across the Arkansas Delta trace their creation back to the coming of the railroad and Marvell does as well.
The city was founded when Marvell Mills Carruth sold 50 lots of land to the Arkansas Central Railroad, which planned to link Helena and Little Rock in 1872. A train depot followed, and Marvell became an un-incorporated town on May 28, 1873. This new community was named Marvell after M.M. Carruth and Robert Mitchell Jackson became its first mayor. Local merchant and former member of the 15th Illinois cavalry Daniel Milo Webster was named first postmaster on March 3, 1873. The town quickly grew and was incorporated on October 3, 1876. After the Arkansas Central went out of business, it was purchased by the Arkansas Midland Railway Company, which operated until 1952. Sadly, the tracks between Marvell and Holly Grove were abandoned in 1977, which hurt economic growth.
With agriculture being important in Phillips County, a group of men organized the first district Grange in 1874 to promote farming. Mercantilism also flourished and by 1890, Marvell boasted five general stores, four groceries, a furniture store, an undertaker, two blacksmith shops, a school, a hotel, and a cotton gin. There were also several churches. In 1896, the town reacted to the threat of smallpox nearby and local leaders closed churches and schools. Businesses were also closed at 5 p.m. and visitors were stopped from entering by what was called a "shot gun quarantine." Apparently, the people of Marvell were quick to rid their town of unwanted visitors. In 1901, they escorted a young man labeled anarchist to the Midland Depot and told him to never come back. This unfortunate outsider had praised the assassination of President William McKinley and that would not do at Marvell.
While many places worried about the coming of World War I, there was a different outlook in Phillips County. Hirsch & Company of Marvell was purchasing cotton at 10 cents a pound. Four new brick store buildings and a new high school were planned for 1914. After U.S. entry into the war in 1917, a Marvell Red Cross Chapter was established that raised nearly $16,000. Numerous young men also volunteered for service. While this was happening, Marvell continued its economic expansion with a lumber mill and bank. A weekly newspaper was even started called the "Marvell Herald."
The 1920s and 30s witnessed the Great Depression and citizens of Marvell would experience the same economic hardships faced by the nation. They would also have to deal with the Flood of 1927 that forced many county residents to seek shelter in Marvell. At least three major fires destroyed part of Main Street as well. On a positive side though, the public library was established in 1922. In 1950, the Marvell library became a branch of the Phillips County Library and continues to serve the community.
During the 1960s, state and national attention were focused on Marvell as African American parents organized a school boycott. In, February,1966, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in conjunction with parents started a boycott because they claimed the district was not following the guidelines of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and offering freedom of choice forms to all students. The Marvell district, which served Marvell and Turner, contained nearly 1,900 African American students compared to 686 white students, but only allowed 14 African American children to attend the predominantly white high school in 1965. Most African American students attended the M.M. Tate High School and Turner Elementary. A lawsuit was also brought against the district by a group of African American parents. In September, the Marvell School Board agreed to issue freedom of choice forms to all students. With this victory, the boycott ended on October 12, 1966. A new high school building, located on Highway 49, was finished two years later. That same year, Marvell High School and M.M. Tate High School were combined to become Marvell High School.
A city park and bicycle trail were built at Marvell in the 1980s. Notable people from the Marvell area include blues legend Sam Carr, Lily Peter - third poet laureate of Arkansas, community activist Annie Zachary Pike, civil rights activist Gertrude Newsome Jackson, and famed musician Levon Helm. In 2018, the Levon Helm boyhood home was moved from nearby Turkey Scratch to downtown Marvell. Two properties in Marvell are also included on the National Register of Historic Places. These are the Mayo house and the First Baptist Church. #marvellarkansas #phillipscountyhistory #arkansashistory #arkansastowns #MainStreetMonday #ArkansasDelta
Teske, Steven. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. "Marvell (Phillips County) Encyclopedia of Arkansas. 2022. Retrieved 10/17/2022. https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/.../marvell-phillips...
History - Marvell High Class Reunion Page. https://marvellhighclassreunions.home.blog
Daily Indendent (Helena, Arkansas) 30 July 1874, Thu. Page 3
The Helena Weekly World (Helena, Arkansas) 5 Feb 1896, Wed. Page 4
The Helena Weekly World (Helena, Arkansas) 18 Sep 1901, Wed. Page 3
Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas) 8 Sep 1914, Tue Page 7
Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas) 27 Jun 1917, Wed. Page 12
The El Dorado Times (El Dorado, Arkansas) 15 Feb 1966, Tue. Page 7
The El Dorado Times (El Dorado, Arkansas) 31 Aug 1966, Wed. Page 10
Hope Star (Hope, Arkansas) 13 Oct 1966, Thu. Page 5
Baxter Bulletin (Mountain Home, Arkansas) 29 Dec 1966, Thu. Page