New London (Union County)
New London was the main center of commerce in eastern Union County during the Civil War and the forty years afterward. After the railroad bypassed it in 1902, the town was diminished, and all that remained was a collection of houses around a steepled church with an old cemetery.
New London began with the arrival of a wagon train from Gilgal, Alabama, in 1839. The wagons carried sixteen families with livestock and some African American slave families, led by a Baptist minister, Elder C. Norsworthy. Two years later, a second wagon train brought eight families. That group came through Alabama but was from Union County, North Carolina, and followed the route that carried most of the pioneers to Texas from Alabama through Monroe, Louisiana. In Monroe, they heard from local merchants tales of good land in Arkansas and so turned north instead of continuing west. They settled in Union County upon high bluffs that had been used since the time of the first French settlers as a navigational landmark, about four hours by pirogue south of Champagnolle, then the legal seat of the county.
New London was named co-county seat with El Dorado (Union County) in 1879. It boasted a public school that evolved from the private New London Academy established in 1846. Two doctors operated a boarding hospital for seriously ill patients and a surgery clinic. Another doctor, Gilbanum Norsworthy, wrote works of fiction and was popular in Richmond, Virginia; St. Louis, Missouri; and New Orleans, Louisiana.
The second pastor of the Gilgal Regular Missionary Baptist Church of Christ—Dr. Jesse Hartwell, who came to New London from the Second Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island, and was a graduate of Brown University—was a founding member of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. He served as president of this organization for five different years between 1849 and 1856.
In 1900, postmaster James Hammons was asked by officials of the Iron Mountain and Southern Railway to go to Collinston, Louisiana, to discuss a proposed rail line to connect El Dorado and Collinston, which later became part of the Missouri Pacific system. However, Hammons did not go because he did not like trains; too, he thought that any successful venture could not afford to bypass the co-county seat. J. Soloman Coleman, who owned a large tract of land six miles south of New London in the Lapial Creek Bottoms, traveled to Collinston and made friends with a railroad executive from Urbana, Illinois, named Colonel William Strong. Strong decided to bypass New London and cross Coleman’s property, and Coleman donated property for the railroad station and named it Strong for his friend. Coleman laid out the grid for a small city and became wealthy when the first locomotive rolled through in 1902. Strong soon absorbed New London, which was six miles north, and several other villages as its commercial success drew nearby commercial elements to town. The river traffic that supplied New London disappeared, and the school, the Methodist church, and the Masonic lodge all moved to Strong.
From 1902 to 1927, Strong grew into a small city. U.S. 82 connecting Crossett (Ashley County) and El Dorado followed the railroad through Strong. In 1927, a tornado demolished most of Strong and killed thirty people.
In the twenty-first century, New London remains more a sense of community than a geographic entity. The Gilgal Missionary Baptist Church of Christ survives as the New London Baptist Church, around which are grouped over a dozen homes. Too, the blacktop road to Strong from New London is lined with homes.
For additional information:
Knox, Merle. History of Strong, Arkansas. Camden, AR: Hurley Company, Inc., 1979.
Spencer, Annie Laurie. “New London, Arkansas.” Tracks and Traces 7 (May 1985): 2–5.
William L. Frisby
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