Delta Roads and Travels: Barton, Arkansas

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James Dean

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Thursday, August 17th 2023
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     Barton is an unincorporated community located in Phillips County along Highway 85, near that road's intersection with Highway 49. Although there is no city government, Barton has a number of businesses, a post office, volunteer fire department, and school.

      Before the American Civil War, a number of families settled in and around what would become Barton. One of these early settlers was Barton W. Green, who moved to Phillips County in 1847. By 1860, he was sheriff of Phillips County. The Green home, a one-story frame building, stood just south of the present site of Barton and his adjoining pasture was a popular campground for people traveling to Helena. Several other families also lived around the Green family property. By 1872, the community was called Barton. With population growth, a post office was established on November 18, 1873, and Reese Hughes was postmaster. When the railroad from Helena to Clarendon began operation, a depot was built on land donated by Bart W. Green. Soon several merchants moved in and opened for business. A small one room schoolhouse was also constructed. With that, the town of Barton was born.
     Columbus Shackelford Belsha and his brother, James L. Belsha started a mercantile establishment at Barton that was called C.S. Belsha and Company. It would also operate as the post office, when Columbus S. Belsha was first appointed postmaster on September 21, 1876. His brother James would later assume that same position.
     Because of Barton's location, a group of investors led by the Hornor family of Helena purchased land to build a cotton mill. In 1900, Premier Cotton Mill was established, with no definite location, but near the village of Barton, on the Arkansas Midland railroad. Edward C. Hornor was president. Construction of this large mill began in 1901 and houses were constructed for the workers and their families. Operation began in 1902, but a need for employees soon had the company seeking out immigrants from other countries. Over the next few years, a number of Swiss and Italian families arrived at Barton to work in the mill. Although successful at first, the mill eventually closed in 1909.
In 1912, William H. Gibson purchased a store in Barton, which became the post office. According to reports, he also constructed one of the finest brick homes in the county. In addition to farming, Mr. Gibson owned a sawmill and cotton gin. The depot was managed by George Huggins. A cannery operated nearby, and a creamery was built about 1920.
     In September 1925, thieves blew open the post office safe at Mr. Gibson's store and made away with nearly $50. Although a Barton resident fired at the robbers, they made their escape.
     As new roads and highways were laid out, the Helena Road was rerouted about a quarter mile north of Barton and this junction became known as Walnut Corner because of a grove of walnut trees. The ever-resourceful William Gibson saw a business opportunity. In addition to constructing a new store, he built a swimming pool and ferris wheel. Mr. Gibson named this enterprise "Joyland." Unfortunately, the park closed in 1936 due to issues with the Great Depression.
     Education was important to the people of Barton and early on, they made sure a school was successful. In the mid-1920s, Barton Rural Special School began to consolidate with neighboring districts. Mr. Gibson donated ten acres for a new school, which is at the present site of Barton School. Enrollment continued to grow as other rural districts nearby were merged into Barton. Today, the school campus has been completely rebuilt with excellent sports facilities. In 2023, the district enrollment is slightly over 700 students. #bartonarkansas #arkansashistory #deltaroadsandtravels #phillipscountyhistory #ArkansasDelta
Special thank you to local historian Molly Johnston for her assistance on Barton history.
Bradford, Gene. Phillips County Historical Quarterly. Volume 11. Published by The Phillips County Historical Society. December 1972.
The Daily World (Helena, Arkansas) 20 Sept. 1926. Mon. Page 1
The Daily World (Helena, Arkansas) 13 Feb. 1923, Tue. Page 8
The Helena Weekly World (Helena, Arkansas) 30 May 1900, Wed. Page 4
Phillips County Historical Quarterly. June 1973. Published by The Phillips County Historical Society, Helena.
Postings from the Helena Museum of Phillips County @Helenamuseum

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