West Valley (Polk County)
West Valley, first known as Nichols Valley, is a secluded community approximately five miles west of Hatfield (Polk County) on Highway 246 near the Oklahoma state line. Though a church was constructed in the area in 1803, the settlement became known as Nichols Valley upon the arrival of Sam and James (Jim) Nichols in the early 1840s when they moved to Polk County from Alabama and Mississippi.
The first building constructed in Nichols Valley was a church. The church was later used as both a place of worship and a school. Sam and Jim Nichols established the Nichols Cemetery upon the death of a parent. Since the cemetery was located on family land, the Nichols family had control of who could be buried there. Most of the markers list “Nichols” as the surname, but by the 1860s, a few different surnames had been added to the list of interments. A few slaves were interred in the northeastern corner, though there are no markers for their graves.
When the Civil War began, members of the community joined the Confederate cause. Their names predominately appear on the list for the Fourth Arkansas Infantry Regiment (CS), though some appear on the Second Arkansas Infantry Regiment (CS). During this time, records indicate the existence of a general store, a sorghum mill, a grist mill, and a sawmill in the community.
In 1884, the school—named West Valley School—was recognized as a Special School District by the Arkansas Board of Education, educating students through grade ten. By then, the district had outgrown its existing building and needed to construct a new one. In a letter dated for the same year, Principal J. R. Kirsch notified community members of plans to erect a modern building capable of supporting their 105 students. The building was to be completed by the following school year, and the district had purchased one acre of land and acquired an additional half-acre through donation. Plans also included the addition of grades eleven and twelve by 1886. This building, used as a church, a school, and a community center, still stands in the twenty-first century. A literary society met there every other Friday afternoon and held a public exhibition once a month.
Though the community was referred to as West Valley by this time, a post office was established at Nichols—named in honor of Arminda Nichols—in 1887, and residents received their mail through this post office for eighteen years. An 1897 warranty deed outlines the acquisition of more land for the school.
Mail was delivered through the nearby Bulger Post Office from 1905 to 1910 when the post office was discontinued. From there, all mail was routed through the Hatfield Post Office. Warranty deeds from 1914, 1916, and 1918 indicate additional land acquisitions for the district, though no additional buildings were ever constructed. At one time, the existing post office building had two rooms, but one had to be torn down due to disrepair.
School records list teacher salaries through 1925; however, West Valley’s schools did not consolidate with nearby Hatfield until 1931. Students rode the bus from West Valley to Hatfield via a gravel road and a low water bridge that crossed the Mountain Fork River.
Residents continued to use the building for community events and quilting classes well into the 1940s and 1950s, and power lines for electricity first reached West Valley in the 1950s. In 1957, residents witnessed the construction of Highway 246 as part of the highway system expansion from Oklahoma to Arkansas.
After the Hatfield school consolidated with Mena (Polk County) in 2004, members of the West Valley community combined resources to purchase the land from the school in order to preserve the community building and surrounding property. In the twenty-first century, members of the community get together periodically to ensure the building’s upkeep. Those who live near it regularly mow the property to prevent overgrowth.
For additional information:
Baker, Russell Pierce. Arkansas Township Atlas, 1819–1930. Hot Springs, AR: Arkansas Genealogical Society, 2006.
Cannon, Shirley “Gypsie.” Polk County Arkansas Schools and Teachers 1918–1925: 1937 Contracts. Polk County Genealogical Society, n.d.
First U.S. Census for Polk County, Arkansas 1850. Mena, AR: The Star Publishing Company, 1905.
Gross, Shirley. “Hatfield and Surrounding Communities.” Polk County Genealogical Society, Polk County Library, Mena, Arkansas, n.d.
Johnson, W. O. (Bobby). “Jettie Nichols Johnson.” Polk County Pioneers 14 (Fall/Winter 1999): 42.
Kannady, Nixby Daniel, and Loreda Hicks Daniel. “History of Nichols Cemetery.” In Cemetery Inscriptions of Polk County, Arkansas. Mena, AR: Polk County Genealogical Society, 1984, pp. 203–204.
Kirsch, J. R. “WEST VALLEY SCHOOL #24 – 1884.” School Records of Polk Co. AR. Mena, Arkansas: Polk County Historical Society, 1969.
Martin, Eva. History of Hatfield and Some Polk Country History. Hatfield, Arkansas: Polk County Genealogical Society, 1980.
Nichols, Jane. History of the Nichols Family. Compiled by Bill and Delma Goodwin. N.p., n.d.
“Nichols Bible Records.” Polk County Pioneers 14 (Fall/Winter 1999): 41–42.
“Schools that Consolidated with Hatfield.” Polk County Pioneers 42 (Fall/Winter 2015): 46.
Walls-Allen, Desmond. Index to the Tract Books for Polk County, Arkansas. Conway, AR: Rapid Rabbit Copy Co., 1985.
“West Valley Items.” Mena Weekly Star, December 7, 1916, p. 4.
Mysti L. Gates
University of Arkansas Rich Mountain
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