A Brief History of Polk County Arkansas

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Polk County Arkansas is located in the central western portion of the State of Arkansas with its western boundary bordering the State of Oklahoma.

It was the 48th county formed in the State of Arkansas on November 30th, 1844 and being formed out of Sevier County, Arkansas.

Polk County Arkansas was named for the newly elected President of the United States, James Knox Polk (D).  He was the 11th President of the United States of America and served our country from March 4, 1845 until March 4,1849. His Vice President was George M.  Dallas. 

The initial County Seat for Polk county was located at Dallas, Arkansas, and named for Vice President George M. Dallas.  Actual settlement began in the Dallas area in the 1830s prior to Arkansas entering its statehood in 1836.   In a county wide election in June of 1897, the people of Polk County voted to move the county seat from Dallas to Mena, Arkansas.   Since August of 1897 Mena has continued to be the official county seat of Polk County, Arkansas.

According to the U. S. Census Bureau the county has 862 square miles, of which 859 square miles is land and 3 square miles is water.  Major highways serving Polk County Arkansas are:  U.S. Highways:  71, 59, 270, and 278; State Highways:  4, 8, 88, 276, 370, 375, and 980.  Rail service is provided by the Kansas City Southern Railroad.  The Mena Municipal Intermountain Airport serves the trade area.

Adjacent counties are:  Scott County to the North, Montgomery to the East, Howard to the Southeast, Sevier to the South, McCurtain County, Oklahoma to the Southwest, and Le Flore County, Oklahoma to the Northwest.

Incorporated Cities and Towns in Polk County are:  Mena, Hatfield, Cove, Vandervoort, Wickes, Grannis, and Ink.  Other local communities are:  Yocanna, Cherry Hill, Nunley, Board Camp, Opal, Ink, Shady, Eagleton, Rich Mountain and Acorn.

Hernando DeSoto was the first white man thought to have visited the Polk County area in 1541, after he visited the "Healing waters of Hot Springs".  Depending on the historical version, some feel DeSoto came into Polk County and then turned south.  Others say he turned south after battling the Caddo Indians at Caddo Gap just west of what is now known as Glenwood, Arkansas.  A monument in his honor stands at Caddo Gap, Arkansas.  He was the first known European to discover the Mississippi River.  Some say he died on the banks of the Mississippi at the present day Lake Village, Arkansas; others say he died in Louisiana. 

Arthur Edward Stilwell, a man whose dream was to build a railroad from Kansas City to the Gulf of Mexico, went to Holland in 1893 to sell $3,000,000 in stock issues for what is known as the Kansas City, Pittsburg, and Gulf Railroad.  The Dutch invested heavily and names of towns like Stotesbury, Mena, DeQueen, De Ridder, Amsterdam, and Hornbeck reflect the names of the Dutch investors.

The new railroad missed the county seat, Dallas, but stopped at a town (developed by Stillwell) called Mena.  In a short time Mena became a very important town between Fort Smith and Texarkana, Arkansas.

In June of 1897 a county wide election moved the county seat from Dallas to Mena.  The vote was 738 to 1 inside Mena and county wide 70 to 13.  The vote carried and in August of 1897 Mena became the county seat of Polk County, Arkansas.

The Ouachita National Forest dominates a great portion of Polk County's 860 square miles of land.  Rich Mountain which is Northwest of Mena is the second highest mountain in the State of Arkansas rising to the height of 2,682 feet.  The Ouachita Mountains (pronounced Wash-i-ta) with a mountain range that runs east to west.  The 54 mile U. S. Scenic Drive, the Talimena Scenic Drive, winds its way from Mena, Arkansas, to Talihina, Oklahoma, across the ridge of Rich Mountain affording vista looks-outs along the way.  The peak of Rich Mountain is 2,861 feet.  It contains, in a single square mile, more species of wild plants, flowers, and weeds in their natural state than can be found anywhere else in the world on a similar tract of land.

The economic base is made up of lumber and wood products, tree farming, cattle and poultry.  Some light manufacturing and service industries contribute to the economy.

Atop Rich Mountain, you'll find the Queen Wilhelmina State Park complete with lodge, restaurant and meeting rooms.  The original lodge was built by the railroad for Queen Wilhelmina of Holland, who helped finance the railroad.  The lodge was purchased by the State of Arkansas in 1958 and restored.  In 1973 the lodge was destroyed by fire; however, it was immediately rebuilt to its present architecture.

Polk County, Arkansas, has several major watersheds:  The Cossatot River which headwaters in the Shady community, meanders South through the Cossatot State Park, feeds into Gillham Lake, and continues south until it merges with the Little River in Sevier County.  Only experienced canoeists need to float this river.  Please check as this river can reach a Class 5 Rating.

The Ouachita River headwaters in the northwest corner of Polk County, Arkansas, and continues southeasterly feeding into Lake Ouachita in Montgomery County, Arkansas, and Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The Mountain Fork River headwaters in the Mountain Fork community of Polk County, Arkansas, and flows south down the west side of the county until it enters the eastern side of Oklahoma and feeds into Broken Bow Lake at Beavers Bend State Park near Broken Bow, Oklahoma.  This river continues south and feeds into Little River.

Polk County also has other major watersheds including the Rolling Fork River, Two Mile Creek, Six Mile Creek, Big Fork Creek, Mill Creek  The county is blessed with an abundance of forested mountains, creeks, and rivers.  Timber is one of the main industries of the county.

The City of Mena Arkansas is located at the foot of Rich Mountain, one of the tallest mountains in the State of Arkansas, and is the gateway to the 54 mile long Talimena Scenic Drive.

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