Independence County Historical Society

The Independence County Historical Society was founded in June 1959 by a small group of people interested in researching, preserving, and telling the history of Independence County, its seat Batesville, and the other small communities in the area. There had been an earlier attempt at organizing, led by John Quincy Wolf Jr., but the society got its real start after A. C. McGinnis, John P. Morrow Jr., and Paul Wayland, all of Batesville, attended the Arkansas Historical Association annual meeting in Monticello (Drew County) in 1959. There, James Harris Atkinson, then chairman of the Arkansas History Commission (now called the Arkansas State Archives), told them the way to start a county society was for three interested citizens to get together, declare that they were meeting, then adjourn and call a later public meeting for the purpose of organizing. When they arrived home, they adjourned and called a public meeting at the Independence County Courthouse the following month. About thirty people attended and voted to organize as the Independence County Historical Society. Wayland was elected the first president; McGinnis, volunteering as editor, prepared the first issue of the Independence County Chronicle, which was mailed to members that October.

The society meets quarterly, in conjunction with the Batesville Genealogical Society. Programs are always open to the public and have included such events as lectures and “living history” presentations at the downtown Batesville Pioneer Cemetery, a tour of the 1872 Oaklawn Cemetery, and a tour of the original town plat of Batesville.

Although it was published quarterly in the early years, the Chronicle has come out twice a year since 1989—in January and July. Since 1991, a short newsletter has been sent out in April and October. A name index for the Chronicle from 1959 through 1984 was compiled by the Regional Studies Center at Arkansas College (now Lyon College), and a limited number were printed in 1986 as an Arkansas Sesquicentennial project. In the same year, the Batesville Guard ran a year-long series titled “Independence Pioneers,” consisting of brief genealogies and stories about early county settlers. These were published in book form in 1986 and were followed in 1989 by a second volume, prepared and published by the Independence County Historical Society.

Remarkably, the Chronicle has had only two editors during its more than fifty years—McGinnis from 1959 until the mid-1980s, when he helped transition to the current editor, Nancy Britton. Through the years, the publication has won numerous awards from the Arkansas Historical Association. The society itself has sponsored an annual Heritage Award since 1990, presented each April to a person who has made major contributions to preserving the history of Independence County.

The society has been instrumental in the founding of other local historical organizations, such as the Batesville Preservation Association and Old Independence Regional Museum, and it works to encourage interest in local history among high school and college students. Winners of the History Day competition have presented programs at society meetings, and some student papers have been published in the Chronicle.

For additional information:
“Independence County Historical Society Constitution.” Independence County Chronicle 46 (January 2005): 63–66.

Nancy Britton
Batesville, Arkansas


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