Locust Grove (Independence County)
Locust Grove is one of the oldest towns in Independence County, having been founded in 1838, two years after Arkansas became a state. Its name derives from a grove of locust trees that pioneers found growing there. Locust Grove is on Heber Springs Road (Highway 25) just before Highway 14 splits off to become Mountain View Road. Locust Grove has traditionally had close ties with the two communities of Almond (Cleburne County) and Desha (Independence County), and with Marcella, Pleasant Grove (a.k.a. Red Stripe), and St. James (a.k.a. Buck Horn, Buckhorn) in Stone County. Locust Grove is ten miles southwest of Batesville, the county seat of Independence County, and two miles south of Lock and Dam No. 2 on the White River.
The first settlers to the area arrived in 1815. The wagon cavalcade consisted of fifteen families from southwestern Kentucky attracted to the fertile Greenbrier Bottoms. They staked their claims for land that was then part of Lawrence County in the Missouri Territory. Among the settlers were brothers Richard, John, Thomas, and James Peel, sons of Thomas Peel, who was a Virginian and Kentucky companion of Daniel Boone; Thomas Curran, a relative of famous Irishman John Philpot Curran; and Ben Hardin and his brother Joab. Other settlers were William Griffin, Thomas Wyatt, William Martin, Samuel Elvin, James Akin, John Reed, James Miller, John B. Craig, and Samuel Elms.
The children of these pioneers became major figures in Independence County and beyond. One of John Craig’s descendants, Andrew Johnson Scott Craig, served as the county judge for Independence County from 1886 to 1890 and 1910 to 1912. He was also active in organizing the local Agricultural Wheel, a farmer’s union, in Batesville. Andrew Craig’s son, Dr. Marion Stark Craig, born in Jamestown (Independence County), became a noted physician in Batesville and, with his own son, established the Craig Hospital in Batesville. Samuel Elms’s son, Carson Elms, died in a camp in Helena (Phillips County) in 1863 while fighting for the Confederate cause during the Civil War, while another of his descendants, James Andrew Elms, served as the county judge for Independence County in the twentieth century. One of Thomas Peel’s descendants, Samuel West Peel, became the first person born in Arkansas to be elected to the U.S. Congress.
Although cotton was the main crop in the Greenbrier Bottoms until supplanted by soybeans and other cash crops, some corn was grown in the mountains around Locust Grove to be used for moonshine liquor. The Locust Grove school was established in the 1890s and renovated in the 1930s. Locust Grove got its own post office in 1910, with Thomas Elms appointed first postmaster; the post office still operates in the twenty-first century. In the 1940s, the schools in both Locust Grove and Jamestown were consolidated with the Desha school. Then, in 1985, Desha consolidated with Batesville. The Locust Grove school building was razed in 2005, but the Jamestown school remains in use as a community building.
Locust Grove sits near the foot of Brock Mountain, with an elevation over 1,200 feet, a beautiful though rugged area of cascading waterfalls and caverns. Foushee Cave, located near Locust Grove, is the natural habitat for the Foushee Cave snail (Amnicola cora), an endangered mollusk found only in the Foushee Cave region.
A main attraction in Locust Grove is the Batesville Motor Speedway, where stock car racer Mark Martin got his start. Jamestown Crag (also known as the Atoka sandstone and limestone bluffs) near Locust Grove, overlooking Grassy Creek, has become a climbers’ paradise in Arkansas.
There is one active church in Locust Grove, a Missionary Baptist church. A Pentecostal group from Florida bought land near the top of Brock Mountain in 1976–77 and built Brock Mountain Camp Grounds. The group holds a two-week camp meeting there every August; the church is open air under a tin roof with a big stage and sawdust floors.
For additional information:
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1890.
McGinnis, A. C. “A History of Independence County, Ark.” Special issue. Independence County Chronicle 17 (April 1976).
Van Buren, Arkansas
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