Denning (Franklin County)

Latitude and Longitude: 35°25’45″N 093°45’26″W
Elevation: 449 feet
Area: 1.084 square miles (2010 Census)
Population: 314 (2010 Census)
Incorporation Date: December 2, 1903

Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:

1810

1820

1830

1840

1850

1860

1870

1880

1890

1900

1910

1920

1930

1940

1950

1960

1970

1980

1990

2000

757

608

384

341

268

227

203

238

206

270

2010

314

Denning is a town in southern Franklin County. Its northern border is the southern city limit of Altus (Franklin County). Denning was at one time the largest city in Franklin County, with six coal mines providing jobs for more than 1,000 miners.

Osage used to come from the north to hunt and to fish in the Ozark Mountains. From 1819 to 1828, the area was part of a Cherokee reservation. Various treaties moved both nations farther west, opening the land to white settlement. In 1839, Samuel Davis acquired a land patent for part of the land where Denning would be established.

Coal was discovered south of Altus around 1890, and the Western Coal and Mining Company, based in St. Louis, Missouri, began purchasing land for coal mining. Benjamin Denning came to Altus to establish the company’s presence, and ground was broken for the first coal mine shaft in December 1893. At the company’s peak, six mines operated, and a large community arose around the mines. When a post office was established in 1894, it was named for Denning.

The town, which was incorporated in 1905, had seventy-seven houses, as well as a general store, a post office, a schoolhouse, and a railroad depot, served by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The mining company provided the houses for its workers and their families and owned the general store. The town also had a bank, a blacksmith shop, dance halls, saloons, gambling establishments, and four churches. Two structures were built of native stone. One was a prison, and the other was a vault for storing gold coins used to pay the miners.

At first, the mines were non-union. In 1899, the miners carried out a strike, demanding higher wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions. The strike was not resolved until 1903, at which time the miners won the right to unionize.

By 1915, the first of the company’s six mines had been worked out, and production was diminishing in the other mines as well. A large fire destroyed part of the town in 1922. The last mine closed in 1947, as the population of Denning was diminishing. By 1953, the railroad depot was closed, and the town had one general store and the post office. The school had consolidated into the Altus School District. According to a 1978 publication, at that time, Denning was notable as one of three municipalities in the United States whose entire town government consisted of women.

The post office was closed in 1965. By 1973, Denning was being described as a ghost town. The abandoned store and stone jail still stood, but the population had dropped to fewer than 100. After this time, new houses began to be built in Denning for people who worked in Altus. The Altus-Denning School District was closed in 2004, and students were enrolled in the Ozark School District.

The population was above 300 by the 2010 census and is almost entirely white. A tornado devastated Denning shortly after midnight on May 25, 2011, killing four people. The Methodist church was destroyed, as well as many homes, although some were later rebuilt.

For additional information:
Opper, Ken. “Past Haunts Denning Today.” Arkansas Gazette, June 24, 1973, p. 5E.

Owens, J. J. “Denning Basks in Glory of Its Early Days.” Arkansas Democrat Sunday Magazine, March 1, 1953, p. 3.

Powell, Norman. “Denning, Arkansas, Boom Town in Franklin County.” Franklin County Observer 2 (March 1978). Online at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~arfrankl/Town/Denning/denning.htm (accessed October 22, 2020).

Shropshire, Lola. Franklin County. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2000.

Steven Teske
Butler Center for Arkansas Studies

Last Updated: 10/22/2020