Perla (Hot Spring County)

Latitude and Longitude: 34º21’52″N 092º46’18″W
Elevation: 335 feet
Area: 0.96 square miles (2020 Census)
Population: 257 (2020 Census)
Incorporation Date: September 23, 1960

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

227

149

145

116

2010

2020

241

257

Perla of Hot Spring County is one-tenth of a mile east of the city of Malvern (Hot Spring County) on U.S. Highway 67/270. Known for its clay pits, this incorporated community is home to the Perla East Gate Plant and Perla Plant No. 2 of Acme Brick.

Later influenced by the brick industry, Perla was actually founded on its timber prospects. Malvern Lumber Company was established in 1880 by Adalbert Strauss. Strauss was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1848. He graduated from the College of Preceptors and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1864. He worked in the lumber industry there as well as in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Shreveport, Louisiana. On a train headed to the spas in Hot Springs (Garland County), he noticed the abundance of timber. He bought 45,000 acres of timberland along the railroad tracks, paying fifty cents an acre. He started a sawmill and planer mill and then built housing to accommodate his employees. He named the community after his oldest daughter, Perla Marie Strauss. The lumber company also constructed a small private railroad to Lonsdale (Garland County) called Perla Northern. At one time, the lumber company employed 150 laborers.

Twentieth-century industries in Perla included a factory that made ammunition boxes used in World War I, the Owasso screen door factory, and the Atchison Brick Plant. Perhaps the biggest development for Perla in the twentieth century was the opening of Acme Brick’s Perla East Gate plant in 1919. Acme bought the Atchison plant in 1926, making it Perla Plant No. 2.

The Perla community opened a new Rosenwald school for African-American students for the 1925–26 school year. The school for white children was torn down in 1939 when Perla merged with Malvern’s white school district.

The Great Depression was hard for the Perla community. In many cases, workers exchanged their labor for housing and groceries, with no paychecks being given. Strauss’s sawmill burned in the early 1930s, and he did not rebuild it since portable sawmills were replacing the large mills at this point. The planer mill closed in 1938 because there was no more timber to process.

The Perla East Gate Plant was automated in 1967. Malvern Lumber was sold to Missouri Pacific in 1968. The Acme plants in Perla and Malvern were the reason behind the establishment of Malvern’s annual Brickfest, which has been held since 1981.

In 2010, Dr. Samuel George Benson Jr. created the Perla-based Henson Benson Heritage Foundation, which helps fund scholarships in the Malvern Wilson Alumni Scholarship Program. He also turned the store his mother, Frances Henson Benson, owned and operated for many years into a Perla museum and community center. Frances Benson’s old cash register and meat-cutting block from her Frances Hall store are included in the museum collection.

In February 2018, the City of Malvern sued Perla, the municipal water system of which purchases water wholesale from Malvern, for unpaid bills. In December 2021, the local circuit court ordered Perla to pay the accumulated debt. Central Arkansas Water took over the troubled system and, in February 2022, announced plans for the utility to borrow $3 million to improve the system and refinance debt.

For additional information:
Bennett, Mrs. Jack, Sr. “Lumber Built Perla.” Malvern Daily Record, October 7, 1941, p. 21.

Flaherty, Joseph. “Perla Told to Pay Malvern for Water.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 3, 2021, pp. 1B, 3B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/dec/03/judge-denies-malverns-request-to-put-perla-water/ (accessed August 5, 2022).

Maroney, Tom. “History of Perla.” The Heritage 30 (2003): 53–57.

Marquis, Albert Nelson, ed. The Book of St. Louisans. St. Louis: St. Louis Republic, 1912.

Ronna Pennington
Arkadelphia, Arkansas

Last Updated: 08/05/2022