Havana (Yell County)

Latitude and Longitude: 35º06’40″N 093º31’41″W
Elevation: 381 feet
Area: 0.552 square miles (2010 Census)
Population: 375 (2010 Census)
Incorporation Date: April 19, 1900

Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:

































Havana is a second-class city located on Highway 10 between the Ozark National Forest to the north and the Ouachita National Forest to the south. Highway 309 winds north from Havana to Mount Magazine, and Blue Mountain Lake on the Petit Jean River is a few miles west of Havana. The small city is the birthplace and childhood home of three major league pitchers, the most renowned of whom is Johnny Sain.

Before Havana was incorporated in 1900, several names were given to the small settlement that was developing on the north side of the Petit Jean River. Marvinville was the earliest name given to the settlement, which was a stopping-point on the Military Road which connected Dardanelle (Yell County) and Booneville (Logan County). The community was home to three doctors, several stores, a cotton gin, a sawmill, a blacksmith shop, and a post office. After the Civil War, the same settlement was known as Gardner Station, named for Richard H. Gardner, a doctor and Confederate veteran. When a railroad line (later acquired by the Rock Island Railroad) was first constructed through Yell County in 1898, the line passed a mile east of the community, so residents decided to relocate the settlement. O. J. Fergeson provided land for the city site, and G. W. Green surveyed the lots. The city at first was named Greenville to honor Green, but the name was changed to Havana in 1903, presumably to avoid confusion with other towns named Greenville. No record was kept reporting why the name Havana was selected.

The Bank of Havana was established by John E. Mitchell in 1905 with a capital of $7,500. The Valley Pine Lumber Company was established about the same time in Havana, building several saw mills and a planing mill. Cotton was a plentiful crop in the area, especially in the river bottoms south of town. By the 1920s, Havana had two hotels, five doctors, three cotton gins, a shingle mill, a theater, two cafes, five churches, and a school, as well as several general stores, barber shops, beauty parlors, and service stations for automobiles. The Winchester School for Mountain Boys, operated by the Episcopal Church, opened near Havana in 1921. Funded by a group of women in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the school was first run by Gustave Orth and later by E. T. Mabley. The school closed in 1932.

The timber industry declined during the Great Depression, and the population of Havana began to drop as well. At that time, though, the focus of the city changed from lumber and cotton to tourism. The development of Mount Magazine (which would not become a state park until 2001) by the U.S. Forest Service was assisted by both the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The latter built a road from Havana to the mountain under the guidance of engineer James W. Hardy. Hardy was so enamored with the area that he requested that his ashes be buried next to the highway; this request was fulfilled in 1954. The Petit Jean River was dammed west of Havana in the 1940s, creating Blue Mountain Lake, a popular location for freshwater recreation including fishing and boating.

Highway 10 continued to bring tourists to and through Havana throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. The Rock Island line ceased service in Yell County in March 1980. In 1985, the school systems of Havana and Belleville (Yell County) were consolidated into the Western Yell School District. A new high school was built in Havana in 2008. The same year, the Western Yell County Medical Clinic opened for business in Havana.

In addition to the high school and medical clinic, Havana is home to several businesses, mostly located along the highway. Along with these businesses, the city is home to Papa’s Diner and also has five churches—a Church of Christ, an Assembly of God, a First Baptist church, a United Methodist church, and a Presbyterian church. According to the 2010 census, the city is predominately white, although eighty-three of the city’s 375 residents are Hispanic.

The most famous person to come from Havana is Johnny Sain, a major league pitcher who won 139 games for the Boston Braves, New York Yankees, and Kansas City Athletics over eleven seasons. Sain then became a pitching coach and also a businessman with several Arkansas properties, including a service station in Belleville. Two other major league pitchers also came from Havana. They were cousins, both named Jim Walkup. The elder, born in 1895, pitched in two games for the Detroit Tigers in 1927. The younger, born in 1909, pitched a total of 116 games over six seasons for the St. Louis Browns and Detroit Tigers, compiling a record of sixteen wins and thirty-eight losses.

For additional information:
Banks, Wayne. History of Yell County, Arkansas. Van Buren, AR: the Press-Argus, 1959.

Trower, Kathy. “The Town of Havana Welcomes Visitors to Mount Magazine.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 17, 2002.

Yell County Historical & Genealogical Association. Yell County Heritage. Bedford, TX: Curtis Media, Inc., 1997.

Steven Teske
Butler Center for Arkansas Studies

Last Updated: 12/08/2021