Wiederkehr Village (Franklin County)

 

Latitude and Longitude:

35°28’23″N 093°45’53″W

Elevation:

541 feet

Area:

3.975 square miles (2010 Census)

Population:

38 (2010 Census)

Incorporation Date:

September 15, 1975

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

71

42

46

2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

38

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a population of thirty-eight citizens, Wiederkehr Village is the smallest city in Arkansas. Incorporated in 1975 to prevent the area from being annexed by nearby Altus (Franklin County), Wiederkehr Village is best known as the home of Wiederkehr Wine Cellars.

The Arkansas River Valley of western Arkansas remained sparsely populated until after the Civil War. For a time, the land was given by the U.S. government to the Cherokee, who had been removed from eastern states. Later, the Cherokee were moved farther west, and the land was opened for settlement by families of European origin. The population did not begin to grow, though, until the railroad industry and the coal mines attracted working men. Particularly in Franklin County, many of the new residents came from Germany or Switzerland, seeking jobs with the railroad or in the mines.

One of those settlers, Johann Andreas Wiederkehr, came to Altus from Switzerland with his wife, Katherine, arriving in December 1880. Wiederkehr boarded with Father Ziswyler of St. Mary’s Church in Altus until he had completed construction of a log cabin and a hand-dug wine cellar north of Altus on a formation known as St. Mary’s Mountain. Wiederkehr vinted wine, first from local berries and later from grapes grown on vines he had planted, originally solely for his family’s use. His full-time job was as a shoemaker and leatherworker. Finding eager customers for his wine in nearby coal-mining towns, Wiederkehr created a family business that was passed on to his son Herman and grandson Alcuin. During Prohibition, Wiederkehr Wine Cellars continued to produce wine that was reserved for sacramental purposes.

Wiederkehr Wine Cellars is one of several such businesses in the Altus area. To preserve Wiederkehr’s uniqueness and promote its business, Alcuin Wiederkehr led the residents along state Highway 186 north of Altus to incorporate as a second-class city. In 1975, a petition with the signatures of ninety-seven residents of the area was presented to Secretary of State Kelly Bryant. Bryant stated that this was the only occasion when an entire area in Arkansas had been unanimous in seeking incorporation. The incorporated area includes Exit 41 on Interstate 40. The highway leads from the interstate to Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, including the Weinkeller Restaurant and a nearby RV park.

In 1980, citizens discussed plans to promote the city with an amusement park, or perhaps to create a Passion Play like that in Eureka Springs (Carroll County)—a common feature of Swiss villages in Europe. Instead, development of the area has largely been left to promotion of the wines themselves. Wiederkehr Village has no post office, no schools, no churches, and no businesses aside from the wine cellar and its restaurant and gift shop. The wine cellar was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The community observes an annual wine festival in October.

City government consists of a mayor, recorder/treasurer, water superintendent, and four council members. Members of the Wiederkehr family often hold city governmental offices.

For additional information:
Shropshire, Lola. Images of America: Franklin County. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2000.

Watson, Peggy. “Bringing the Homeland to Arkansas.” Arkansas Gazette, March 27, 1980, p. 1B, 2B.

“Wiederkehr Wine Cellar.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/historic-properties/_search_nomination_popup.aspx?id=1418 (accessed May 7, 2013).

Wiederkehr Wine Cellars. http://www.wiederkehrwines.com/ (accessed May 3, 2013).

Steven Teske
Butler Center for Arkansas Studies

Last Updated: 01/24/2017