The town of St. Joe, Arkansas, was founded a few miles north of the Buffalo River around 1860 by Bill Campbell, Ben Henley, Sr., Dr. George Turner, Captain Harry Love, Decatur Robinson, and Matt Tyson. Mill Creek, near the current post office on U.S. Highway 65, was the original town location.
Wagon trains traveled from the town to Springfield, Missouri, where produce was sold and goods were purchased and brought back to the stores.
The History and Folklore of Searcy County Arkansas states that St. Joe was originally called Monkey Run. The area came by its current name around 1900, when six miners from St. Joseph, Missouri, received the largest quantity of mail to come into the post office. The outpost eventually became known as St. Joe, Arkansas.
Mines, and rumors of mines, feature largely in the story of St. Joe’s past. It is worth noting that one of the near-by settlements is named Silver Hill. According to one fable, there is a “Lost Silver Mine” that was reputed to be fabulously rich in the late 1800’s, believed to be located somewhere between Calf Creek and Bear Creek and worked by an Indian named Woodward. (http://gwiz.co//treasures/arkansas.php) A news article in the Marshall Mountain Wave, printed Friday, May 30, 1924, stated that the lost silver mine had been found by a girl searching for a lost cow. The opening, covered by vegetation, was in a gulch. The silver and mining equipment was claimed to have been found, sitting for 75 years in the mine.
Historian James Johnson claims that the Lost Silver Mine does not exist, despite many stories. He says that there was an “Indian Woodard” whose descendants still live in Arkansas, but that most of the remaining legend is untrue.
The railroad arrived in St. Joe in 1902 and operated until 1946. Mined ores were shipped from St. Joe via the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad, whose depot, faithfully restored to its early 20th century appearance, sits on U.S. Highway 65 in the middle of the present town of St. Joe. The St. Joe Lime and Crushed Rock Company flourished with the mining boom, operating in a quarry just west of town. It is said that St. Joe set the standard for lime and crushed limestone throughout the world at this time.
Johnson says that St. Joe’s heyday was during WWI with the mines. The zinc, lead, and copper deposits in the area are in large lumps, not in veins. Therefore, one cannot hit a vein and mine continuously. One depletes the one concentration, then has to go look for another.
It was during this period that the Henley Hotel, still standing to the north of Highway 65 across from the Depot, was built around 1914. St. Joe’s population was about 2,300 people from 1917-1921. The town boasted four stores, two hotels, a blacksmith, bank, mills, cafes, and post office (Boone County Historical & Railroad Society, Inc.).
The first school was an 18’ x 18’ log building that was also the church and lodge hall. There was a grist mill and several physicians. The railroad’s arrival and Highway 65 being paved caused many businesses to relocate to highway frontage, what is now called “new town” by old-time residents. The Citizens’ Bank was in business from 1913-1933.
After WWI the price of zinc dropped and it was no longer economically feasible to continue mining. The railroad to some extent depended upon the mines, and when mining stopped, this hurt the railroad. The town continued as a local outlet for produce, cattle, cotton, and timber, but population and industry gradually diminished, and the railroad pulled out in 1946.
St. Joe Today
Today, the 1920’s era buildings, ghostly remnants of a more prosperous past, sit mostly abandoned, interspersed with the still operating historic St. Joe Mercantile and two gas station, a post office, and the St. Joe school. On the outskirts are a couple of motels and eateries, which cater to the tourist traffic attracted to the outdoor activities and the natural beauty of the Buffalo National River.
While no longer a hub for farming and mining in the region, the town sees in itself an important part of the history of the Ozarks and a gateway to some of the most popular recreational areas on the Buffalo River. The revitalization of the town’s pioneering spirit is evident in the restoration of its historic buildings and the creation of the Rural Help Center as a hub of community education and services.
(taken from the book Gilbert, Arkansas, published by the Gilbert Historical Society)
In the mid 1800’s, before the railroad came to northern Arkansas, the area that was to become Gilbert was settled by families from the East, growing cotton, corn, and other staples. The land where Gilbert was established was homesteaded by William S. Moore and his wife, Agnes Jane Moore, who came there from Missouri in 1879. The title is signed by President Rutherford B. Hayes. It was first sold to Thomas Vinson and his wife, Alpha G. Vinson, in 1885. The Vinson family was from Kentucky.
The land was later sold to W.S. Mays around 1900, when the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad came to the Gilbert area. Soon after the tracks were laid, the town was formed and planned by the railroad. The town was named for Charles Gilbert, the railroad superintendent. The town grew and prospered and was incorporated in 1913. The first Town Council meeting was held on April 12, 1913.
Gilbert was a center for marketing the fine timber in the area. Several mines were operating in the Maumee area, and the ore was hauled in by wagon and loaded on railroad cars. Around 1920, a Christian colony from 13 states came to Gilbert and built most of the homes now standing. At one time Gilbert had four stores, three doctors, a cotton gin, and several other businesses. The population began to decline during the depression, and by 1948 the railroad was discontinued, escalating the decline.
Today Gilbert, Arkansas, is a sleepy little town with the charm of bye-gone days. With late Victorian era architecture mingled with rustic cabins, it caters mostly to the tourist trade visiting the Buffalo River, which flows at its borders. It has a post office, a café, and several overnight accommodations, from guest houses to cabins. It is a popular launch and pick-up spot for canoeists.
Gilbert bills itself as “the ‘coolest’ little town in Arkansas,” playing off a meterological anomaly that often has it recording the lowest low temperatures in the state in the wintertime, as well as the “cool” nature of its interesting and unique buildings, physical features, and history.