Fargo (Monroe County)

Latitude and Longitude:

34°57’05″N 091°10’48″W

Elevation:

200 feet

Area:

0.635 square miles (2010 Census)

Population:

98 (2010 Census)

Incorporation Date:

January 6, 1987

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

140

118

2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

98

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fargo is a town on U.S. Highway 49 in northern Monroe County, north of Interstate 40. Fargo came into existence due to the railroad industry and later was home to a significant school for African Americans.

Various Native American artifacts have been found in Monroe County, indicating that it has been inhabited at least sporadically for centuries. European hunters and trappers had arrived by the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the county itself was established in 1829, several years before Arkansas became a state. The northern part of the county, drained by the Cache River, was largely uninhabited throughout the nineteenth century.

The St. Louis Southwestern Railway, known as the Cotton Belt, was constructed across Arkansas from Texarkana (Miller County) to St. Francis (Clay County) between 1881 and 1883. The railroad crossed northern Monroe County, but a depot was not established at the location of Fargo until the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad (M&NA) was built to connect Seligman, Missouri, to Helena (Phillips County). The two railroads crossed at the location of Fargo, and a post office of that name was established in 1898, although a jointly owned depot was not built until 1911. It is not known whether the post office and depot were named for the city in North Dakota or for a railroad worker or executive of that name.

Floyd Brown, a recent graduate of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, visited Brinkley (Monroe County) in 1915. He decided to relocate to Arkansas and found a school to be operated similar to Tuskegee. He returned in 1919 with $2.85, and he acquired land in Fargo and began operating the Fargo Agricultural School. For the next thirty years, Brown—along with his wife, Lillie Epps Brown, and a small staff of teachers—taught African-American students English, music, history, mathematics, and science, along with vocational skills including carpentry, plumbing, farming, childcare, sewing, food preparation, and family income management. Unlike similar schools in Arkansas, the Fargo Agricultural School was privately owned and not supported by any religious organization.

Flooding in the spring of 1945 destroyed the M&NA track between Fargo and Kensett (White County). Financial struggles of the railroad, combined with the scarcity of materials due to World War II, delayed repair of the railroad. By 1947, the railroad was in receivership for the third time in its history, and the line from Fargo to Helena was acquired by the Helena and Northwestern Railroad in 1949. When that railroad went out of business, the track from Fargo to Cotton Plant (Woodruff County), about six miles, became the Cotton Plant-Fargo Railway in January 1952. Serving the Southwest Veneer Company and other Cotton Plant businesses, the line operated until the 1970s and was the last portion of the M&NA in use.

Meanwhile, Brown sold the Fargo Agricultural School to the State of Arkansas in 1949 and moved to Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). The state changed the school into the Fargo Negro Girls Training School. The school’s buildings were demolished and replaced starting in 1955. In 1960, the Floyd Brown-Fargo Agricultural Museum opened on school property, thanks to a donation from the Browns. Graduates of the school gather regularly for reunions at the museum.

Similar training schools were operated by the State of Arkansas in Alexander (Pulaski and Saline counties), Wrightsville (Pulaski County), and Pine Bluff. Because of desegregation, the system was adjusted in 1968, and the students in Fargo were transferred to the facility in Alexander. With the closing of the school in Fargo, as well as the end of the railroad, the population declined, and the post office closed in 1976. The Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation took over the school property in 1981 to provide financial assistance to rural African-American families in Monroe County.

In 1987, the remaining citizens of Fargo voted to incorporate as a town to obtain federal and state money for roads and water systems. This did not end the decline in population, which fell from 140 in 1990 to ninety-eight in 2010. Of those ninety-eight citizens, forty-three were white and fifty-five were African American. The Fargo Training School Historic District, consisting of the buildings constructed between 1955 and 1960 as well as an older gymnasium, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 27, 2010.

For additional information:
Fair, James R., Jr. The North Arkansas Line. Berkeley, CA: Howell-North Books, 1969.

“Fargo Training School Historic District.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.org/National-Register-Listings/PDF/MO0163.nr.pdf (accessed July 5, 2016).

Handley, Lawrence R. “Settlement across Northern Arkansas as Influenced by the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 33 (Winter 1974): 273–292.

Steven Teske
Butler Center for Arkansas Studies

Last Updated: 11/22/2016