Floral (Independence County)
Floral is a community in Independence County located south-southwest of the county seat of Batesville (Independence County). Floral is believed to have received its name from the beautiful flowers that grow in the area, but may have been named for the Floral family who lived in the area at one time.
An early pioneer in the region was John (Johnny) Thomas, who was born in 1814 in Alabama. He and his family crossed the Mississippi River and settled in Arkansas by the 1840s; the 1860 census reported him living at Round Pond in Independence County. The same census also listed the area’s first doctor, Sterling Wesley Allen, who had come from Tennessee.
During the Civil War, lawless bands roamed the hills and hollers of north-central Arkansas. In the nearby Cedar Grove community, shortly after secession, the Reverend James Wimberly Murray, a Methodist Episcopal minister, was shot to death in his front yard, accused of being an abolitionist. Murray is said to have been the first person buried in the Mount Zion Cemetery in the Banner community, which is one of the communities that surrounds Floral.
Johnny Thomas married Elizabeth Teague, his second wife, after the war. An influx of young, industrious farmers and ranchers resulted in a turn-of-the century boom for the area, with such families as the Pearson, Wilcox, Altom, Brown, Deloach, Frazier, Stuart, Gay, Bowren (a.k.a. Bowen), Gilbert, and Johnson families playing leading roles. Several of these newcomers arrived from Alabama after the Civil War ended.
The Floral post office opened in 1879 with Joel Mark Jeffrey appointed the first postmaster. Before the post office was established, there were the small communities of Cedar Grove, Pine Grove, Starnes Spring, and Union between Pleasant Plains and Banner in Cleburne County; Banner was in Independence County until 1883 when Cleburne County was formed. Nearby in White County were Davenport and Tyler, which no longer exist. The community of Alonzo sprang up near Floral with its own post office between 1899 and 1918. The town has close ties with the surrounding communities of Hutchinson and Pleasant Plains in Independence County and with Banner and Almond in Cleburne County; residents of Hutchinson today have a Floral address.
Floral was a booming town at the beginning of the twentieth century, with two stores, a school, and a Masonic lodge. Floral also had a doctor named Charles Marion Newton who practiced medicine in Arkansas after 1880, when he first came to the state from Tennessee. Floral later hosted two movie houses, two service stations, a feed store and hatchery, and a café. Bird and Claude Brown had a general store, as did Luther Gilbert. Ollie James did his barbering in a part of the Gilbert store until he opened his own shop. Red Bickers had a country store at Cedar Grove near what is today Camp Tahkodah, a ten-acre Church of Christ camp established in the 1930s.
Floral entered the poultry business in the 1950s on a large scale with Jerome Kee (J. K.) Southerland of the Banner community becoming a successful entrepreneur providing jobs for the entire county. Southerland had once had a feed store in Floral. The local economy has also been bolstered by farmers growing peaches and raising cattle.
One-room schools through the eighth grade existed in the area in such communities as Bailey, Wilf, Thomas, Alonzo, Gay, Pleasant Hill, and Mason. The two-story consolidated Floral High School was in existence by 1930. Jane Graddy Reeves allowed students who lived a long distance away to stay with her and her husband, Lee Grand Reeves, during the school year. Floral’s school consolidated with Pleasant Plains in 1985 to form the Midland Public School.
Floral was the home of actress Lisa Blount’s family. Blount became a Hollywood star, with perhaps her biggest role being that of Lynette Pomeroy in An Officer and a Gentleman. She died in 2010 and is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery at Floral.
The Floral post office continues to operate in the twenty-first century. Floral has three churches serving the community: Floral Baptist, a Church of Christ near Banner, and a Methodist church at Cedar Grove.
For additional information:
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.
McGinnis, A. C. “A History of Independence County, Ark.” Special issue. Independence County Chronicle 17 (April 1976).
Van Buren, Arkansas
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