Jonesboro's History

Jonesboro's History

The following is a highly-requested brief history and list of little known facts about Jonesboro and its past. We hope to have some more information soon.


History of Jonesboro 
The first settlers in what is now Jonesboro and Craighead County were the Indians. When white men began to arrive in Arkansas, they found the territory inhabited by Osages, Caddoes, and Quapaws. The Osages were warlike buffalo hunters who roved over northern Arkansas and the upper valleys of the Arkansas River. The Caddoes were peaceful farmers who lived along the streams of southwest Arkansas. The Quapaws (or Arkansas) Indians inhabited the east central part. It is from them that the name Arkansas (land of the Arkansas Indian) came. Voyagers, trappers, Indian traders, and adventurers were here shortly after 1800 trafficking with the Indians for furs and pelts, but no attempt at permanent settlement was made prior to 1815.
Jonesboro, located on Crowley's Ridge and bordering the Mississippi delta, was selected as permanent seat of justice in 1859 when the county was formed out of parts of Mississippi, Greene, and Poinsett counties. Jonesboro was named after William A. Jones for his support of the legislative act creating the county. The county, itself, received its name through a practical joke. Senator Thomas B. Craighead, who represented Crittenden and Mississippi counties, was against the formation of the county and campaigned actively against it. Senator Jones waited until a day when Craighead was absent to call for a vote on the act. Senator Craighead didn't know anything about it until he got back and found that the county had been named for him.


After Jonesboro had been selected as the permanent seat of justice, a two-story frame court house was planned. The site was chosen because it had the highest elevation in the city limits. (Of course, the city has spread out over outlying hills, so this is no longer the case.) After the site was chosen, however, the plans for the building were delayed because the building would be right in the middle of a deer trail and the early settlers didn't want to ruin the good deer hunting. Finally, the structure was built and stood until February 14, 1869 when it was consumed by fire. A frame store across the street was then rented and used as a court house until 1876, when it also burned. A similar building was then erected on the same ground and used as a court house until 1878 when it was destroyed in a general fire which burned most of the businesses in the downtown area. This fire reportedly started in a bar room brawl. Soon after, the court house, which is still standing, was built. The yard of this court house was the scene of a minor skirmish during the civil war.


The first railroads reached Jonesboro in 1881, when the Cotton Belt Railroad laid its tracks just north of town. The first train stuck on a hill outside of town and the supplies had to be carried up the hill. Today, the Missouri Pacific, St. Louis San Francisco Railroad, Burlington Northern, and Cotton Belt railroads provide the city with daily scheduled arrivals and departures.


Today, Jonesboro has established itself as the perennial hub of Northeast Arkansas' agricultural production. To the east lies the alluvial cotton delta and to the southwest is the fertile rice land. Large farms produce soybeans, rice, cotton, fish, and livestock. One of the world's two largest rice mills, Riceland Rice, is located here.


The city has not limited itself to agriculture. It is the trade, cultural, and medical center of a 7,000 square mile area. Because of its shopping centers, shops, restaurants, and other attractions, Jonesboro has become the major trade center for 500,000 people in northeast Arkansas and southeast Missouri. Jonesboro has a modern hospital which has been serving the area since 1902. The Arkansas Services Center provides the area with the most extensive medical facilities available. Jonesboro has several hospitals including St. Bernard's Regional Medical Center, Methodist Hospital, Northeast Arkansas Rehabilitation Hospital, and Green Leaf Center.


Jonesboro has been called the "City of Churches." It has more than 75 churches representing most major denominations. First Baptist Church and First Methodist Church are two of the oldest, coming to the city between 1911 and 1916.


Jonesboro is the home of Arkansas State University, the second largest institution of higher learning in the state. The arts and drama departments and the historical museum on campus provide a cultural background for the city


Miscellaneous Historical Facts About Jonesboro

  • At the time Jonesboro was incorporated, it had a population of 150.
  • 1860, the first complete census was made in Jonesboro, totaling 1,160.
  • In 1900, Jonesboro's first real department store was established -- The Grand Leader Department Store.
  • In 1903, the first long distance calls were made by Southwestern Telephone and Telegraph Company.
  • In 1904, Woodland College was opened, located where Annie Camp Junior High School is at present. North and East Schools were established.
  • Also in 1904, Jonesboro first heard its own band, the Jonesboro Military Band, a 20-piece group, which performed on the Bandstand at Courthouse Square, where the Soldier's Monument is now located.
  • In 1906, the first sewer lines were established, gravity fed lines as deep as 28 feet.
  • In 1907, the following were established: West School, South School, and the Y.M.C.A.
  • In 1909, Jonesboro saw its first horseless carriages which included the one-cylinder Cadillac and Reo. The Reo had a top speed of 18 miles per hour, and it took two hours to get to Nettleton (now part of Jonesboro's city limits) and six hours to Paragould, Arkansas (24 miles away).
  • In 1910, Jonesboro started growing rice, now one of its largest crops. At that time, water was provided by steam pumps and contour levees.In 1909, the State Agriculture School was established at Jonesboro, the beginning of Arkansas State University. Also that year, the downtown was paved and kept clean with a horse-drawn sweeper.
  • In September 1910, Jonesboro was honored with a visit by William Jennings Bryant, the famous stateman.
  • By 1911, Jonesboro saw its first Jonesboro High School graduation. There was a highway engineer in each county. Jonesboro had its first Trade Week and its first Craighead County Fair. Between 1911 and 1916, three new churches were established -- Presbyterian, First Baptist, and First Methodist.
  • In 1912, a new lighting system was put in for the streets of Jonesboro.
  • In 1914, John W. Snyder, famous American banker and administrator, graduated from Jonesboro High School
  • Jonesboro's Boy Scouts Council was formed.In 1930, the summer was one of the hottest on record. There was no rain for 76 days. On June 10, the temperature was 111 degrees, there were twelve days over 105 degrees, and there was a severe water shortage. In January of 1931, there were 150,000 people hungry in Northeast Arkansas due to crop failures. Eggs were $.05 per dozen, cotton sold for $.045 - $.05 per pound. It was the middle of the Depression Era, and in 1931, the Bank of Jonesboro failed.