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Lawrence County is a county located in the U.S. state of Arkansasmarker. As of 2000, the population was 17,774. The county seat is Walnut Ridgemarker. Lawrence County is Arkansas's second county, formed on January 15, 1815, and named for Captain James Lawrence who fought in the War of 1812. It is an alcohol prohibition or dry county.


The “Mother of Counties,” Lawrence County once covered a majority of north Arkansas, an enormous stretch of land ultimately forming thirty-one counties. Present-day Lawrence County straddles the Black River, a natural boundary separating the lowlands of the Arkansas Delta from the foothills of the Ozark Plateaumarker. Long dominated by cotton production, this agricultural county now produces rice, soybeans, corn, and sorghum.

Early History

Once inhabited by Osage Indians, Lawrence County was first explored in 1542–43 by Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto and became U.S. territory with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Named for War of 1812 naval hero Captain James Lawrence, the county was created in 1815 as part of Missouri Territory and was the second of five large counties in what became Arkansas Territory in 1819, preceding the creation of Arkansas Territory by four years.

White settlers first inhabited the county’s western regions, traveling on the Black River or, after 1811, over the Military Road. This route, along with the swampy conditions of the east, explains the early settlement concentration in the county’s hilly western half.

The earliest important settlement was at Davidsonvillemarker along the Black River. Named for territorial legislator John Davidson, the town served as the first county seat in 1816. Exaggerated tradition claims 3,000 Davidsonville residents before yellow fever ended the settlement. In 1829, the county seat moved to Jackson on the Military Road, and Davidsonville as a community ceased to exist.

Another major settlement was at Smithvillemarker near the county’s present western border. Named for businessman Robert Smith, the town became the county seat in 1837, a year after Arkansas attained statehood. In 1838, Smithville witnessed the Trail of Tears as a band of 1,200 Cherokee with “measles and whooping cough among them” passed through the town. Smithville also served as a staging area for local volunteers during the U.S.-Mexican War (1846–1848). Located at an intersection on the Military Road, Smithville prospered before declining with the loss of its status as the county seat in 1868. Although zinc mining offered hope in the 1890s, the enterprise ultimately failed.

Civil War and Reconstruction Era

During the Civil War, Lawrence County escaped damage while experiencing only a few minor skirmishes near Smithville and Powhatanmarker. Home guards of men incapable of regular service opposed raiding jayhawkers, the area’s only serious threat. Although some residents joined Federal forces, sentiment ran with the Confederacy, and more than seventeen units were organized, most serving in the Trans-Mississippi Theater.

During Reconstruction, Lawrence County’s western region became Sharp County, prompting the county seat to be moved from Smithville to the isolated but centrally located Clover Bend in 1868. When Democrats gained control of the county one year later, the seat moved again, this time to the rising commercial center at Powhatan.

Post Reconstruction

People were living in the area that is now Powhatan as early as 1816, though it was not platted until 1849. Eventually, the town experienced explosive growth and soon sported mills, shops, and hotels. Because of this growth, it became the county seat in 1869. The first courthouse was built in 1873 and burned in 1885. A Victorian-style replacement was constructed in 1888, using many of the bricks salvaged from the first courthouse in the interior side of the outer walls. Although the county seat until 1963, this once-bustling port began its long decline when bypassed by the railroad and a new bridge at nearby Black Rockmarker, a one-time boomtown of lumber, pearls, and buttons. Today, Powhatan attracts tourists as Powhatan Historic State Park.

Completion of the Iron Mountain Railroad through Walnut Ridge in the 1870s and the Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Memphis Railroad through the adjacent town of Hoxiemarker a decade later shifted the county’s population and economic gravity to the largely uninhabited east. By 1870, legislators divided Lawrence County into eastern and western districts as county phone service first linked the two sections. Walnut Ridge became the eastern seat, while the county seat proper remained at Powhatan. The introduction of screens, pipe wells, and other conveniences coincided with widespread lumbering and agriculture. Timber mill boomtowns sprang up across the east while Walnut Ridge–Hoxie emerged as the county’s economic and population center.

Served by local newspapers since the 1850s, Lawrence County has been home to the Walnut Ridge–based Times Dispatch since its acquisition by James Bland in 1921. Literary notoriety came to the county when nationally acclaimed author Alice French, who sometimes wrote under the pen name Octave Thanet, made Clover Bend her winter residence from 1881 to 1909. She is the author of My Name is Masak and The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach.

As elsewhere, the twentieth century brought to Lawrence County automobiles, planes, radio, and, after World War I, a greater awareness of the world. With cotton leading the way, the county enjoyed economic growth before prices collapsed in the Great Depression. New Deal programs resulted in new bridges and school buildings, and, near Clover Bend, the sale of more than to the U.S. government for distribution to landless farmers under the Resettlement Administration.

World War II

Perhaps no single event had an impact on Lawrence County as much as the construction and operation of the Walnut Ridge Army Airfield during World War II. This basic army flying school trained thousands of army and marine pilots while transforming the economic landscape of the Depression-blighted area. After the war, a massive warplane salvage facility operated at the site, and in 1947, Southern Baptist College moved to the base from Pocahontas (Randolph County). Today, the site serves as the Walnut Ridge airport and hosts several industries, while Southern, now called Williams Baptist College, thrives as a four-year liberal arts institution on a dramatically transformed campus.

Modern Era

In the 1950s, Lawrence County made national news when native daughter Anna Wallis Suh was discovered to be the voice behind "Seoul City Sue" during the Korean War, and Hoxie Public Schools willingly desegregated in the face of enormous resistance. The county also drew attention in the 1960 gubernatorial race when Southern Baptist College president Hubert E. Williams challenged popular incumbent Orval Faubus, whose campaign manager owned the Times-Dispatch. A local radio station, a state park, and a new hospital, library, courthouse, and new highway bypasses mark recent progress.

Lawrence County in the twenty-first century mirrors much of the country, with chain stores, school consolidation, and communications technology. While there are fewer farmers, they farm larger tracts of land. Yet many restoration projects, most notably the courthouse, jail, school, and telephone exchange at Powhatan, link the present with the Mother of Counties of the past.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 592 square miles (1,534 km²), of which, 587 square miles (1,519 km²) of it is land and 6 square miles (15 km²) of it (0.98%) is water.

Major highways

Adjacent counties


Age pyramid Lawrence County
As of the census of 2000, there were 17,774 people, 7,108 households, and 5,011 families residing in the county. The population density was 30 people per square mile (12/km²). There were 8,085 housing units at an average density of 14 per square mile (5/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 97.78% White, 0.44% Black or African American, 0.57% Native American, 0.05% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.12% from other races, and 1.02% from two or more races. 0.68% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 7,108 households out of which 30.80% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 57.70% were married couples living together, 9.60% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.50% were non-families. 26.70% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.20% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.42 and the average family size was 2.92.

In the county the population was spread out with 24.00% under the age of 18, 9.60% from 18 to 24, 25.90% from 25 to 44, 23.20% from 45 to 64, and 17.40% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 93.60 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.40 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $27,139, and the median income for a family was $32,163. Males had a median income of $26,288 versus $18,518 for females. The per capita income for the county was $13,785. About 13.90% of families and 18.40% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.50% of those under age 18 and 20.10% of those age 65 or over.

Cities and towns


  1. Based on 2000 census data

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