Hickory Ridge (Cross County)

Latitude and Longitude 35°23’50″N 090°59’47″W
Elevation: 239 feet
Area: 0.656 square miles (2010 Census)
Population: 272 (2010 Census)
Incorporation Date: November 7, 1949

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

345

364

410

478

436

384

2010

272

Like much of northeast Arkansas, Cross County was relatively undeveloped in the years following the Civil War. Brushy Lake Township, which included the future Hickory Ridge, registered only 313 people in the 1870 Census. According to the authors of 35º24′ North – 91º West: A Town Called Hickory Ridge, “cotton farming had not yet reached the Western side of Crowley’s Ridge….The Western part of the county was much too wet and subject to flooding, at the time, for the long growing season of cotton.” The founding of Hickory Ridge is often dated to the opening of the area’s post office, which took that name, on October 5, 1875. The 1880 population of the township increased to 342. The following year, construction began on the St. Louis Southwestern Railway, more commonly known as the Cotton Belt, crossing Arkansas from the southwestern to the northeastern corner. The railroad likely reached Hickory Ridge in late 1882. The first railroad tracks were of a narrow gauge, though standard gauge track was laid in 1886.

With the railroad came the sort of prosperity that was common across northeast Arkansas in this era. New arrivals to the Hickory Ridge area may have been attracted by the emerging timber industry and related enterprises, such as stave mills and handle mills. The post office, which had quickly gone defunct, was reestablished in 1892, and that same decade witnessed the opening of the first general store as well as a school, which was originally held in a railroad-tie shack. A saloon and hotel were also constructed. Rice production had reached Hickory Ridge by 1909, and, by the 1910 Census, fully one-third of those listed as farmers were involved in the production of rice. In 1913, a Union church was built for use by both the Methodists and the Baptists.

The Cotton Belt Railroad divided the city, with whites living on the higher, eastern side of the city, while African Americans lived on the west “in a run-down slum area called the ‘holler.’” According to a 1961 folklore report by L. A. “Buddy” Diebold Jr., the white residents violently expelled local African Americans around the year 1910, dynamiting the black portion of the city, ostensibly in response to a case of interracial rape. Afterward, no African Americans lived in Hickory Ridge, which quickly gained a reputation for possessing an “unwritten law that [blacks] must be out of town before sun-down.”

Hickory Ridge planters also reportedly engaged in the system of peonage. In a 1911 letter to the U.S. attorney general, A. C. Hervey wrote that a man named Mr. Frank, who cultivated both cotton and rice, worked with local law enforcement to ensure a supply of captive labor for his operation. The Buckhead Rice Company was organized in Hickory Ridge around 1911.

In 1909, a new school building was erected on the northern end of city. Additions were made to the school until 1918, when a two-story brick building was constructed to serve not only this city but also two other nearby communities, the schools of which were consolidated with Hickory Ridge. In 1950, the Tilton (Cross County) school was consolidated with Hickory Ridge. On May 5, 1953, the high school was destroyed by fire and, in 1954, the elementary school was destroyed due to a butane explosion. The residents of Hickory Ridge later fought a court-ordered consolidation with nearby Vanndale (Cross County) schools, which was part of a desegregation initiative and included the latter town’s black school.

During the 1930s, what is now Highway 42 was built between Hickory Ridge and Cherry Valley (Cross County); it remained a graveled highway until 1956. Soybeans soon began to be grown in the Hickory Ridge area. During World War II, area resident George Lewis Hydrick was awarded the Purple Heart with Oak Clusters, the Belgium Fourreagers Medal of Honor, the Silver Star, and nine Battle Stars. In 1945, construction began on the first unit of what eventually became a multi-unit plant for the Hickory Ridge Grain Drying Cooperative, the fifth cooperative in the state affiliated with the Arkansas Rice Growers Cooperative Association. That same decade, Shaw & House Manufacturing Company began operations, making grain carts, though the company moved to Cherry Valley after its plant burned in 1977. The Hickory Ridge Volunteer Fire Department was organized on August 19, 1957. In 1959, the Arkansas Grain Corporation was established at the Hickory Ridge facility and began to handle soybeans for its members. That same year, Cross County Bank opened a branch in Hickory Ridge, being the first bank in the city since Citizens Bank failed in 1934.

In November 1973, Norsworthy and Wofford, a dealer in farming equipment, opened a shop in the city. In 1974, work began on the Hickory Ridge Rural Water System, which was eventually the largest rural water system in the state. A tornado on March 1, 1997, destroyed numerous houses and businesses in Hickory Ridge, but these were soon rebuilt. The city remains a regional center for rice farming and other agricultural enterprises.

For additional information:
Diebold, L. A. “Buddy,” Jr. “My Home Town—Hickory Ridge, Arkansas.” May 22, 1961, Folklore Class Reports, Mary Celestia Parler Research Materials, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Jeffers, James O., Johnny H. Wilson, Isaac A. Batcher, and Don Evans. 35º24′ North – 91º West: A Town Called Hickory Ridge. Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing, 2006.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 12/19/2016

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