Fitzhugh (Woodruff County)

Fitzhugh (Woodruff County) is a community six miles northeast of the county seat of Augusta (Woodruff County). Named for Rufus K. Fitzhugh Jr., the community developed and grew around his 800-acre plantation. Over time, two schools, a cotton gin, churches, and a general mercantile store came to be located at Fitzhugh; the area is mostly large farm fields in the twenty-first century, with only a few residences.

Early settlers to the Fitzhugh community were attracted by the area’s rich alluvial soil deposits that became so profitable for cotton production in the nineteenth century. Area farms benefited from Fitzhugh’s proximity to the White River just a few miles west. In 1859, Rufus King Fitzhugh Sr. brought his family and a large number of slaves from Greene County, Virginia, to the area.

During the Civil War, at the Fitzhugh family’s plantation, Confederate troops led by General Dandridge McRae engaged Union soldiers of the Third Minnesota Infantry in an April 1, 1864, engagement known as the Action at Fitzhugh’s Woods. The impact of the Rebel defeat there is said to have stalled the mission of recruitment of Confederate soldiers and retrieval of Rebel deserters in the area.

After the war, the economy of Fitzhugh was dominated by cotton production. Rufus K. Fitzhugh Jr., J. Harrison Snapp, and John G. Haralson formed a large cotton-farming cooperative that at the time owned 4,000 acres of land near Augusta.

Built in the latter part of the nineteenth century by Fitzhugh and Snapp, the Fitzhugh Snapp Company served the community as its general store for at least eighty-five years. Providing groceries and dry goods for area cotton farmers and their families, the store also stocked hardware and fertilizer. The original store was replaced with a new brick building in 1935.

The town’s post office was also located in the store for over fifty years. Its first postmaster was Fitzhugh, appointed in 1896. Snapp was postmaster from 1914 to 1945, with T. J. Looney then running the post office until it was discontinued in 1954. Mail service for the citizens of Fitzhugh was then transferred to Augusta. The store continued operation until closing in 1981. In the twenty-first century, it is used privately as a farm implement repair shop.

On March 14, 1907, Haralson, Fitzhugh, Snapp, and B. F. Spradlin incorporated the Fitzhugh Gin Company, which had a production capacity of five bales a day.

During its heyday, Fitzhugh had two public schools: the Fitzhugh School (located about one mile east of the Fitzhugh Snapp store), for white students, and the Woodruff County Training School, for black students. Both schools were built in 1927 in a modified Tudor architectural style in yellow-red brick with stucco and timbers.

Laura Davis Fitzhugh donated land for the Fitzhugh School. Serving grades one through twelve, the school had four rooms with a large auditorium and a stage. The building had electricity but no indoor bathrooms.

The Woodruff County Training School, much larger than the Fitzhugh School, was located less than a mile north of the store. It replaced other black schools in the northern part of the county, thereby consolidating schools in the Woodruff County communities of Gum Ridge, Holly Grove, Mount Olive, Jones, and Hearnton.

Roger Williams, the son-in-law of Haralson, designed both school buildings. In 1929, Williams and his wife, Aileen, moved there from Forrest City (St. Francis County) to teach school. Harvard University–educated Williams was head of the school board and taught English, biology, and drama, while his wife taught music.

In 1933, the schools had 550 children enrolled, mostly family members of farm workers. Two modern school buses provided transportation for school children, both black and white. Under innovative programs instituted by local citizens and administrators in the 1930s and 1940s, the Woodruff County Training School was rated one of the most advanced in the state. It was also the first to provide free bus service to black students. In addition to its school building, it had additional buildings housing programs such as its top-rated vocational agricultural department.

In 1935, a group of area farmers got together under the leadership of Snapp to organize the Woodruff County Farm Bureau. Serving as its first president, from 1935 to 1937, Snapp was a successful farmer and businessman who owned and operated extensive cotton farm properties in Woodruff and Jackson counties. The county organization’s objective was to advance and improve Woodruff County agriculture in affiliation with the American and Arkansas Farm Bureau federations.

The community of Fitzhugh nurtured some progressive programs. Fitzhugh citizens and school authorities advanced a “self-help” program whereby farm tenants were encouraged to work with plantation owners to improve farm property. A volunteer “fair deal” policy instituted on the farms of Snapp gave each of his forty-eight tenant farm families the opportunity to rent garden space free, along with the free use of pastures for cows and hogs; if a new family did not own a cow, Snapp lent one of his to the family at no charge, also helping fledgling farmers procure hogs and chickens.

When rural electrical lines were first run through the community, Snapp and other owners wired their tenant houses at no charge. When a tenant had been on the farm for as long as a year, Snapp paid part of the farmer’s membership dues to farm organizations. He also encouraged women to belong to home demonstration clubs and their children to join 4-H clubs.

These policies resulted in an average tenure of twenty-four years for the typical tenant on the Snapp farms, with many younger men who were born and raised on the farms remaining to farm for themselves. Some of the older tenants continued in the same location for over sixty years.

In 1949, after the Fitzhugh School burned, white students were transported to Augusta to attend school. When both schools consolidated with the Augusta schools, students at the black school began attending the George Washington Carver School.

By the early 1960s, rice, corn, and soybeans had taken over the majority of the farm acreage from cotton. Coupled with large agriculture, however, were policies that encouraged family gardening. Under the direction of Davis Fitzhugh, the Fitzhugh Gin from 1962 until 1976 provided twenty-five pounds of purple-top turnip seed to those willing to pick the vegetables. The gin provided the labor as well as equipment, resulting in more than thirty small gardens planted along the roadsides, fencerows, and turnrows around Fitzhugh.

A Methodist church held services in Fitzhugh for some years, and a Baptist church was located north of Fitzhugh. In the twenty-first century, the store building, the cotton gin, and a few residences still exist in Fitzhugh, but the school and church buildings have long since vanished. A vast expanse of farm fields dominates the area. Descendants of the Fitzhugh, Snapp, Haralson, and other early families still own and farm land there.

For additional information:
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1890.

Brandon, C. C. “Fitzhugh Citizens: From the Arkansas Central Leader, October 27, 1927.” Rivers and Roads and Points in Between 34 (2010): 82.

“Fitzhugh Snapp Company.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/!userfiles/WO0052.nr.pdf (accessed February 3, 2015).

Gipson, Minor, Jr. “History of the Woodruff County Farm Bureau.” Rivers and Roads and Points in Between 10 (Winter 1982): 20–25.

“Roger Williams, Plantation Head.” Fayetteville Daily Democrat, January 21, 1933, p. 2.

“Tenant Problem Solution Found in ‘Fair Deal Policy’ Practiced on Arkansas Farm.” Commercial Appeal, March 12, 1940.

Wallace, Michelle. “Historic Building in Fitzhugh is Symbol of Agricultural Success.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 26, 2006, p. 3S.

Wright, Ruth B. “What’s in a Name? Origin of Place Names in Woodruff County.” Rivers and Roads and Points in Between 6 (Summer 1978): 22–26.

Diane H. Norton
Snowmass Village, Colorado

Last Updated: 02/06/2015