Sulphur Springs (Jefferson County)
aka: White Sulphur Springs (Jefferson County)
Originally named White Sulphur Springs, Sulphur Springs is an unincorporated, census-designated place (CDP) in Jefferson County located about two miles southwest of Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). It received its name due to its proximity to natural sulfur-rich springs. It was a spa and resort community during the mid-1800s and served as an important Confederate training and staging area during the Civil War. Following the war, the community once again returned to a resort community with dreams of expanding into a separate incorporated town. The expansion, however, was cut short by World War I, and the community was never incorporated.
Following a flood that consumed much of southeast Arkansas in 1844, settlers began moving into the area southwest of Pine Bluff. The first settlers in what would become Sulphur Springs were George Brummitt and his family. Brummitt obtained land as an assignee of James Freel, who had purchased the land through a War of 1812 bond and sold the claim to Brummitt. While there was a dispute over the true ownership of the land containing the springs, county land records show Brummitt received a land patent from the United States in April 1855. Other settlers were soon to follow Brummitt. Brushrod Lee, a physician, settled one mile west of Brummitt and established a medical practice at “Lee Springs Plantation.” Brummitt sold his forty acres to William Poole, who then sold twenty-one acres to other settlers in the region. Poole established a large hotel that overlooked the springs. With the combination of Poole’s hotel at Sulphur Springs and Lee’s medical practice at Lee Springs, the community thrived and attracted many Pine Bluff residents who began building summer homes in the area.
The 1850s saw a great influx of settlers into the area. It was during this time that Zachariah Wells and his wife, Mary Elizabeth German, moved to Sulphur Springs. Wells was later elected a county judge. The Sulphur Springs Methodist Church was organized in 1853, and an application was produced for a post office in 1855 under the name Sulphur Springs. A town in northwest Arkansas named Sulphur Springs already existed, so the community was renamed White Sulphur Springs. In 1858, the Masonic lodge was organized, and by 1860 the community had grown to become a popular resort area.
Once Arkansas seceded from the Union, young men began pouring into Arkansas’s communities to join the Confederate army. This was no different in White Sulphur Springs. A Confederate staging and training area called Camp White Sulphur Springs was established to organize troops that came from Pine Bluff and the surrounding areas into units and deploy them to the eastern theater. In July 1861, the Ninth Arkansas Infantry was organized and received training at White Sulphur Springs. Later, Fagan’s Guard, which became part of the Second Arkansas Infantry Division, was organized and trained at the camp.
Following the Battle of Pea Ridge in 1862, the war quickly moved southward through Arkansas. White Sulphur Springs once again played a role in the war effort. With most of the fighting forces from Arkansas shipped east, much of the state was left open to Union attacks. Governor Henry Rector began to stop troops passing through Arkansas from Texas and Oklahoma and rerouted many of them to Camp White Sulphur Springs to defend southern Arkansas. These troops brought with them the smallpox and measles viruses. The area was converted into a military hospital to care for the ill. The casualties due to the illness numbered between 150 and 175, including some civilians from the community. In late 1863, the remaining troops at camp White Sulphur Springs were transferred elsewhere. Following the fall of Pine Bluff to Union forces, the buildings housing the hospital were burned.
White Sulphur Springs was devastated by the war. Many of its citizens sold their land and moved from the area. Very few of the people who had lived in the community in 1860 lived there by the time of the 1870 census. The ownership of the land containing the springs was highly contested and changed hands several times, slowing the progress of rebuilding the community. It was twenty-five years after the war before the community would regain any of its antebellum popularity. In 1889, Edward Houston and Wiley Jones of Pine Bluff bought shared interests in the land. They filed a plat for a town to be called White Sulphur Springs and once again applied for a post office. The plat called for a twenty-three-block town with a main street, Cleveland Avenue (now State Highway 54), to run down the center of the town. Both men aspired to incorporate the town but never achieved that goal.
In the early morning hours of September 29, 1891, the old hotel building caught fire and burned to the ground. Houston and Jones announced that the old structure would be replaced by a new twenty-room hotel. The hotel opened its doors for the 1892 summer season. The duo then expanded their hotel to include a dining room that could seat 100 guests. Fire once again claimed the hotel on August 28, 1893. The thirty guests, along with the Houston family, escaped the building without injury. The hotel was again rebuilt and ready to receive guests by the summer season of 1894. Several prominent citizens of Pine Bluff built an additional twenty cottages surrounding the hotel. A billiards hall, bowling alley, dance hall, and swimming pool were added to enhance the resort community. The hotel was sold to Henry Hanf on October 10, 1912. He quickly announced plans to make White Sulphur Springs a large resort town to include a railway from Pine Bluff and other improvements. Another application for a post office was filed, this time under the name of Brookside. World War I stopped work on the railway and other projects, and Hanf was unable to raise the funds to continue the development of the community.
Following World War I, people still visited White Sulphur Springs occasionally for picnics, parties, and dancing. The community never regained its popularity, and business began leaving the area. The hotel was converted into a residential dwelling; it once again burned in the mid-1940s, never to be rebuilt. Today, the community is called Sulphur Springs and is marked by signs along State Highway 54. The majority of the community’s citizens work in Pine Bluff, and the schools have been consolidated into the Watson Chapel School District of Pine Bluff.
Football player and coach Jesse Oliver Branch was born in Sulfur Springs.
For additional information:
Camp White Sulphur Springs Confederate Cemetery, Sulphur Springs, Jefferson County. http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/JE0593.nr.pdf (accessed December 8, 2021).
Leslie, James W. Pine Bluff and Jefferson County: A Pictorial History. Virginia Beach: The Donning Company, 1981.
———. Saracen’s County. Little Rock: Rose Publishing Company, 1974.
Wallis, Dave. “Sulphur Springs: An Early Learning Center” Jefferson County Historical Quarterly 27 (June 1999): 16–23.
Henderson State University
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