Haskell (Saline County)
|Latitude and Longitude:||34°30’05″N 092°38’12″W|
|Area:||4.92 square miles (2020 Census)|
|Population:||3,956 (2020 Census)|
|Incorporation Date:||July 21, 1910|
Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:
Haskell is a city on Highway 67 in Saline County, about seven miles south of the county seat of Benton. Once recognized as a railroad town, located between the Missouri Pacific and the Rock Island tracks, Haskell is best known in the twenty-first century as the home of the Harmony Grove School District.
Southern Saline County, watered by creeks that flow into the Saline River, was a rugged wooded area when Arkansas became a state in 1836. One of the first to receive a land grant for the area that would become Haskell was Mabel Gilbert, who received land grants dated 1837 and 1838. Other early settlers included Thomas Montgomery and William Washington White.
Following the Civil War, railroads began to expand their operation in and across Arkansas. The St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad extended south from Little Rock (Pulaski County) in the 1870s. John A. White then acquired land not far from the Iron Mountain track in 1883. However, the land did not become valuable until the Chicago, Rock Island and Southern built a route extending south to Louisiana that came within a mile of the Iron Mountain—soon to become part of the Missouri Pacific system—which was completed in 1908. The depot built to serve the Rock Island line also was used by the Iron Mountain line, making the incipient community a railroad center for the region.
The name Haskell reportedly was selected because it was the first name of the man who donated land for the Rock Island system, Haskell Dickenson. Dickenson was the first postmaster at the depot when a post office was established in 1906; he also ran a general store and a hotel. The city was incorporated in the summer of 1910. At first, the nearest school was in Hickory Grove (Saline County), but a three-room school named Mount Harmony was built in Haskell in 1912.
Haskell achieved a brief moment of notoriety in May 1917, when a forged letter bearing the name of the road master for the Iron Mountain Railroad was received by the section foreman at Haskell ordering that all section men should immediately report for military duty, with half of them to leave in short order for fighting in France and Russia. The Saline County sheriff began an investigation, forwarding the letter to federal authorities in Little Rock, but the culprit was never identified.
By 1920, most of the workers in the city were involved in agriculture, with railroad work coming second and the timber industry third in importance. There were also six teachers, four merchants, two blacksmiths, a stave mill, a physician, and an insurance solicitor.
Haskell also had a jail that held people arrested for riding the train without paying a fare, as well as people guilty of selling whiskey, stealing, fighting, or gambling. The town marshal collected a dollar a day from the city government to house prisoners. He held them until the amount received matched their fine.
Around 1927, the Mount Harmony and Hickory Grove schools were consolidated, creating the Harmony Grove School District. There was also a school for African Americans, known as Juniorville. In 1929, the Arkansas State Hospital purchased 3,000 acres of land between Haskell and Benton, where it built the Benton Unit beginning in 1931. Workers for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) completed more buildings for the unit in 1934 and 1935. The facility is now known as the Arkansas Health Center.
The decline of the railroad industry led to harder days for cities like Haskell. Interstate 30, beginning in Little Rock and going to Texas, was built several miles to the west of Haskell. The post office closed in 1973, with mail being sent to Benton. However, by the end of the twentieth century, the growing population of cities such as Benton and Bryant (Saline County) meant population growth for Haskell as well. Between 2000 and 2010, the population jumped from 2,645 to 3,990. Most of the population is white, although the 2010 census counted 263 African-American and 114 Hispanic residents.
The Harmony Grove School District serves more than 1,000 students in its elementary, junior high, and high schools. A general store is the only business within the city limits, but near Haskell are a restaurant, convenience/gas stations, a golf course, and a country club. Nearby churches include a Church of Christ, an Assembly of God, Mount Harmony, and Celebration. In 2009, some residents of Haskell began a city-wide historical society. The next year, they opened a museum in Haskell. The city also has a community center and several ball fields.
For additional information:
City of Haskell. http://www.cityofhaskell.org/ (accessed June 4, 2022).
Stroud, Emaline. “Haskell, Arkansas.” The Saline 25 (Fall 2010): 33–40.
Butler Center for Arkansas Studies
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