Detonti (Saline County)
Detonti is an unincorporated community approximately six miles south of Benton (Saline County) and fifteen miles north of Sheridan (Grant County), near the center of Shaw Township in Saline County. The community is centered at the intersection of Arkansas Highways 35 and 190.
Notable early settlers to the area were Samuel Young, David S. Ramsey, and Hiram Shaw, all present before 1860. These and other families farmed the rich lands, developing the area into a productive agricultural region before the Civil War. These men, or their sons, all supported the South, serving in the Confederate military. After the devastation of war on their homes and lands, survivors returned and reestablished a flourishing farming community. The only organizations in the community in late 1860s and early 1870s consisted of the New Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and the Pleasant Hill Methodist Church.
The community of Detonti did not exist until the late 1800s, when the economic opportunity offered by the timber and railroad industries resulted in a concentration of settlers in the area. In 1876, Shaw Township was created from the southern portion of Saline Township. The first post office established was Merritt Post Office in 1872 by Hiram Shaw, which was approximately two miles north of the present-day Detonti community and renamed Shaw Post Office in 1881.
Some of the most influential newcomers to the area were Paul and Cicero Rucker and Henry D. Carson. Paul Rucker arrived from Georgia in 1875 and began farming. As the timber and lumber industry began to dominate the area, Paul Rucker went into partnership with David Ramsey in 1883, establishing a cotton gin, grist mill, and sawmill. His brother, Cicero Rucker, arrived that same year and also became a partner in the business. Three years later, Paul Rucker bought out Ramsey, and Cicero sold his share back to Paul in 1889.
Another new arrival was Henry D. Carson of Georgia. In partnership with Samuel Young, the two opened Young and Carson General Merchandise Store. This was later followed by the establishment of a gin, a grist mill, a sawmill, and lumber kilns operated by Carson’s son James H. Carson. The new community developed around these businesses and New Friendship Baptist Church.
In 1899, the Pine Bluff and Western Railroad Company was created. The combination of lumber, timber, and railroads attracted more people, leading to the establishment of a railroad depot near the Carson general store and sawmill. The new community sat astride the Pine Bluff and Western Railway that was later purchased by the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad in 1909. This short line, financed by the Sawyer and Austin Lumber Company, ran from Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) through Sheridan to Benton. Known to locals as the “Ponto Train,” it was a daily train, bringing goods and mail to rural communities like Detonti.
In 1906, due to the increasing population, a new post office was established at the Carson General Store and was named Detonti in honor of the French explorer, Henri de Tonti, who founded Arkansas Post. Situated on the main highway between Sheridan and Benton, Bauxite (Saline County), and Bryant (Saline County), Detonti Post Office became the hub for mail service in southern Saline County. In 1914, the Shaw Post Office closed, followed by the post office in Tull (Grant County) in 1915, with Detonti providing mail service to the patrons in those communities.
As local roadways improved and railroads were closed and dismantled, Detonti started to decline as inhabitants moved in search of employment in neighboring cities of Sheridan, Little Rock (Pulaski County), and Pine Bluff. Many residents obtained employment in the bauxite mines operated by Alcoa and Reynolds. By 1955, the postal service had established rural postal routes emanating from Bauxite and Benton, resulting in the discontinuation of the Detonti post office that same year. The circa 1940 Detonti Post Office building is located on the grounds of the Johann Shoppach House at 503 N. Main Street in Benton. It provides an excellent example of rural community post office structures in rural Arkansas.
While some rural farmsteads remain, most of the land is utilized in timber production in the twenty-first century. The community still centers on the New Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Huckaby’s Country Store, the Dollar General store, and the W. L. S. Saw Mill.
For additional information:
Benton Courier, Centennial Number, March 25, 1937.
“Chronological List of Events in the History of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway (2020)”. MOPAC Historical Society. http://mopac.org/corporate-history/57-st-louis-iron-mountain-southern-railway (accessed December 30, 2020).
“Goodspeed’s Biographies of Saline County, Arkansas: Rucker, C. H. and P. W., and Shaw, H. Carlton.” Saline County, Arkansas Genealogy. https://www.argenweb.net/saline/Goodspeed.html (accessed December 30, 2020).
Renner, William. “Detonti.” Saline County History and Heritage Society Research Archives, Benton, Arkansas.
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