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Monday, September 8, 2008

Blytheville, AR

Blytheville is located in the low, flat Mississippi Delta on land that was inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years. Two prominent natural forces shape Blytheville. The first is the New Madrid Seismic Zone. Blytheville, which is prone to tremors, lies near the epicenters of the record-setting New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811–1812. Almost two centuries later, abundant evidence of these quakes is still visible in the Blytheville area. The second shaping force is the Mississippi River. The river’s impact includes flooding (such as in 1882–83 and 1927), the creation of fertile farming soil, and providing waterway shipping for industry.

Early Statehood through the Gilded Age

Blytheville, originally known as Blythesville, is named for the Reverend Henry T. Blythe (1816–1904). H. T. Blythe settled in Mississippi County in 1853 and farmed land in Crooked Lake (now Armorel) between modern-day Blytheville and the Mississippi River. He was ordained to preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1862.

Highway 61 Arch U.S. 61 at State Line

The 1924 arch, spanning U. S. 61 at the Arkansas-Missouri state line, was built to commemorate completion of the first paved highway in Mississippi County. A duplicate arch once existed at the south end of the county but was torn down for highway expansion. Listed on the National Historic Register in Oct. 28, 2001.

In 1880–81, Blythe designed and formally launched the new town of Blytheville (or Blythesville) on lots filling 160 acres of land situated between the preexisting settlements of Cooketown (also known as Chickasawba) and Clear Lake. Blytheville and its neighbor, Gosnell, later blossomed at the expense of these older communities. Sources give conflicting dates for Blytheville’s incorporation: May 1891, January 1892, and May 1889.

Blytheville Commercial Historic District

Main Street between 5th and Franklin and Ash Street between 5th and 2nd

The Blytheville Commercial Historic District is associated with early development in Blytheville and contains a number of quality 20th Century commercial structures. The district's period of significance spans from 1890-1956 and represents the development of the town through its peak in the 1950s.
Beginning in the 1920s, many of the new buildings on Main Street in Blytheville were reflective of the change in industry as well as the population. The development of farming (mostly cotton at the time) meant that the population was tied to the land and therefore permanent. Blytheville was central to the farming industry in Mississippi County. The shops on Main Street catered to the farming community. There were many dry goods stores, seed stores, and hardware stores. In addition, churches, drug stores, and grocery stores sprang up in and around Main Street to service the residents. Cotton proved to be highly profitable to the small community of Blytheville, and the population and economy of the area steadily developed. More elaborate buildings such as the Ingram Apartment building, the Kress Building, and the First National Bank Building were all built during this period and are lasting signs of the wealth of the community during these years. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places May 24, 2006.

Kress Building 210 W. Main Street

1938 Art Deco commercial building currently being renovated for use as the Delta Gateway Museum. Listed on the National Historic Register June 13, 1997.

The early growth of Blytheville was spurred by the massive harvesting of lumber to rebuild after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and the lumber industry brought sawmills and a rowdy crowd. The Blytheville area was known as a loud and disreputable place during the 1880s and 1890s, given the prevalence of a saloon culture there.

Mississippi County Courthouse in Blytheville.
Photo by John Gill

Blytheville first received a post office in 1879, but the postal situation was unstable due to rivalries and redundancies among Cooketown, Blytheville, and Clear Lake. After considerable political wrangling, Blytheville permanently gained the area’s post office in 1890 and became the county seat for the northern half of Mississippi County (Chickasawba District) in 1901.

Early Twentieth Century

A combination of the quality of cleared land left behind after the area was successfully stripped of lumber, the low cost of this fresh farmland, and the success of ongoing levee building and waterway management efforts brought agriculture to the fore in Blytheville and drew farmers to the area during the first three decades of the twentieth century.

Mississippi County Courthouse, Chickasawba District 200 W. Walnut Street

1919-21 Colonial Revival courthouse. Listed on the National Historic Register Dec. 6, 1996.

In the city’s Diamond Jubilee text, Maureen King Norris documented the arrival of electricity and telephone service to Blytheville in 1903, with natural gas service not arriving until 1950. The railroads reached into Blytheville during the first decade of the twentieth century and accelerated the young city’s growth. Sadly, most of the records regarding Rev. Blythe and Blytheville’s origins burned in a 1926 fire at First Methodist Church.

Blytheville suffered terribly during the Great Depression, the effects of which came to Blytheville early in the Depression years because the agricultural community’s economic well-being was so strongly tied to the commodities market, particularly cotton. According to Jonathan Abbott, Blytheville historian and collector of northeast Arkansas historical memorabilia, during the Depression: “Everything just came to a stop. Some people kept farming. But everyone just hunkered down.” With the depletion of lumber, there was no industry to speak of in Blytheville during the Great Depression. Agriculture was dominant, and many farmers lost their land due to inability to repay financing. Thousands of people were destitute and hungry.

Influenced by the Flood of 1927 and the Great Depression, Mississippi County farmers were a dynamic force in the growth of the Arkansas Farm Bureau during the 1920's and 1930's.

The Flood of 1927 was the most destructive and costly flood in Arkansas history and one of the worst in the history of the nation. It afflicted Arkansas with a greater amount of devastation, both human and monetary, than the other affected states in the Mississippi River Valley. It had social and political ramifications which changed the way Arkansas, as well as the nation, viewed relief from natural disasters and the responsibility of government in aiding the victims, echoing the Hurricane Katrina disaster in the present day.

In largely agrarian Arkansas, the Flood of 1927 covered about 6,600 square miles, with thirty-six out of seventy-five Arkansas counties under water up to thirty feet deep in places. In Arkansas, more people were affected by the floodwaters (over 350,000), more farmland inundated (over two million acres), more Red Cross camps were needed (eighty of the 154 total), and more families received relief than any other state (41,243). In Arkansas, almost 100 people died, more than any state except Mississippi. In monetary terms, the losses in Arkansas (totaling over $1 million in 1927 dollars for relief and recovery) surpassed any other affected state.

The Flood of 1927 had its origins both in nature and in man. In the late 1920's, technological advances kept pace with the growing economy. Heavy machinery enabled the construction of a vast system of levees to hold back rivers that tended to overrun their banks. Drainage projects opened up new, low-lying lands that had once been forests but had been left bare by the timber industry.

Feeling protected from flooding by the levees, farmers borrowed money with easy credit from banks booming with the record levels of the stock market. They expanded their fields to low-lying areas on their own property or moved to new lands that were fertile from centuries of seasonal flooding. They felt safe behind the levees and secure in selling their crops to new markets, now accessible by railroad, truck, automobiles, and even international shipping. The “buy now, pay later” mindset of the 1920's encouraged people, including farmers of modest means, to purchase washing machines and other labor-saving devices on installment plans. Even nature seemed to be cooperating, as the summer of 1926 brought rain instead of drought.

The spring of 1927, however, saw warm weather and early snow melts in Canada, causing the upper Mississippi to swell. Rain fell in the upper Midwest, sending its full rivers gushing into the already swollen Mississippi. Its destination, the Gulf of Mexico, acted as a stopper when it too became full. Then, in the South, it began to rain.

April 1927 saw record rainfall in Arkansas, with more than seven inches falling on Little Rock (Pulaski County) in just a few hours. There was no place for it to go because the ground was saturated. Lakes, rivers, and streambeds were full. The swollen Mississippi River backed up into the Arkansas, White, and St. Francis rivers. The White River even ran backward at one point as torrents rushed into it from the Mississippi.

Levees could not hold, with every one between Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and Little Rock failing under the enormous surge of water. The September 1927 National Geographic said that the streets of Arkansas City (Desha County) were dry and dusty at noon, but by 2:00 p.m., “mules were drowning on Main Street faster than people could unhitch them from wagons.” Water poured in and had nowhere to go. Homes and stores stood for months in six to thirty feet of murky water. Dead animals floated everywhere. Rich Arkansas farmland was covered with sand, coated in mud, or simply washed away, still bearing shoots from spring planting.

Floods devastated Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, but the worst destruction was in Arkansas. In some places, the Mississippi River was sixty miles wide. Almost twice as much farmland was flooded in Arkansas as in Mississippi and Louisiana combined.

At first, modern technology seemed to help ease the disaster. Radios broadcasted warnings. Airplanes helped locate survivors clinging to rooftops or tree limbs. Motorboats aided the evacuation, and trains carried people to shelters on high ground. The American Red Cross, as well as fellow citizens, responded quickly, with emergency workers arriving by trains, trucks, and automobiles. In Arkansas, fifty refugee camps, using Army tents and cots, were hastily built by the Red Cross, with one in Forrest City (St. Francis County) holding more than 15,000 of the homeless. But victims kept arriving from all around Arkansas—cold, sick, and hungry. Some found shelter in public buildings or other makeshift locations. Nearly all found themselves without food, water, or dry clothing. The segregated tent cities on high ground could barely hold them all. Disease ran rampant in the overcrowded camps. Conditions then worsened.

With the floodwater having nowhere to go, much of Arkansas remained under water through the spring and summer and into September of 1927. Farmers could not plant crops. The carcasses of thousands of dead animals lay rotting in stagnant pools. Mosquitoes found perfect conditions to breed that summer, carrying malaria and typhoid to refugee camps already burdened with dysentery and the threat of smallpox. Emergency workers at the camps were also shocked at the extent of pellagra, a vitamin deficiency disease brought on by lack of protein.

The death toll from all states devastated by the flood was placed by the Red Cross at 246. (Pete Daniel in Deep’n as it Comes places the number at 443.) But the number of people left without food, water, clothing, or work numbered almost 750,000.

There were racial and socio-economic ramifications in Arkansas as elsewhere. Out-of-state emergency workers clashed with local health officials and large planters over the extent and types of aid and to whom such aid should go. In some places, the Red Cross distributed aid directly to the victims. But in others, so as not to challenge the plantation system, relief supplies were given to the large planters, who were then in charge of distributing them to their sharecroppers.

Planters feared that their sharecroppers, both black and white and most deeply in debt, might not return home from the Red Cross camps, leaving them without enough labor to put crops in the fields when the land dried out. This led to a controversial mandate in which sharecroppers, particularly black sharecroppers, were admitted to and released from the camps only under the supervision of their planters. African Americans needed a pass to enter or leave the Red Cross camps. Some were forced at gunpoint by law enforcement officials to survive on the levees indefinitely in makeshift tents as water rose around them while would-be rescue boats left empty. They were forced by the National Guard with fixed bayonets to work on the levees, in addition to other flood relief efforts.

The Red Cross maintained refugee camps for flood victims through September 15, when many people, black and white, were finally able to return to their devastated land to try to survive the winter and start over with virtually nothing.

The Flood of 1927 took place when the rest of the country was enjoying the peak of Roaring Twenties prosperity. In Washington DC, the federal response under President Calvin Coolidge to the misery in the flooded South was simple: not one dollar of federal money went in direct aid to the flood victims.

The Flood of 1927 brought Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover into the spotlight as Coolidge’s appointee to chair local and voluntary relief operations, laying the groundwork for his successful presidential campaign the following year. (In 1928, Hoover defeated Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith of New York and his running mate, Joe T. Robinson of Arkansas.) Hoover called the flood “America’s greatest peacetime disaster” and said that “the disaster felt by Arkansas farmers, planters and residents of river lowlands was of epic proportions.”

Amidst the suffering, Hoover saw the opportunity for land reform to change the plantation system which had been in place since Reconstruction. With some large planters bankrupted by the flood, leaving huge tracts of land without effective ownership, Hoover proposed the idea of dividing the land into smaller holdings and building true land ownership for both black and white tenants and sharecroppers. Requesting confidentiality, Hoover issued a memorandum describing the proposal to a few individuals, such as Harvey Couch, flood relief director in Arkansas. Hoover suggested putting aside $1–2 million from flood relief funds. This money would be specifically used for resettlement on twenty-acre farms through a resettlement corporation with directors, including “colored representation.” Nothing came of the plan. When he was elected president, Hoover established private resettlement corporations, all of which were failures.

Through the modern communications of the day, such as radio, the Flood of 1927 drew national attention to the plight of sharecroppers, black and white. It spurred a mass migration of black sharecroppers who had tired of farming, poverty, and debt. Thousands left the plantation as soon as they could, heading north to look for jobs in cities such as Detroit and Chicago. Mechanization and corporate farming replaced their labor. For white sharecroppers and independent small farmers, many family farms in Arkansas, as elsewhere, would come under corporate ownership.

In 1927, the Mississippi River remained at flood stage for a record 153 days. When Arkansans could return to their homes, often in August or September, they began to rebuild. The town of Arkansas City, near McGehee (Desha County), lay beneath the muddy water of the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers from April through August 1927. The Red Cross cared for the entire population of 1,500 people while the town was completely rebuilt.

Arkansas bridges and roads also required extensive rebuilding, and the decision to rebuild the shattered levees led to disagreement among various parties, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who were accused of using outdated manuals.

The Flood of 1927 brought about a political shift, especially among African Americans. Those who had traditionally favored the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, since the Civil War resented the Republican response, or lack of response, and shifted their allegiance to the Democratic Party.

The 1927 flood also led to a change in attitudes regarding the government’s role in helping its citizens in time of crisis. Prior to this time, people generally feared “the dole” and preferred work to “charity.” However, the enormity of the catastrophe led many to support the type of New Deal programs proposed by Franklin Roosevelt’s Democratic administration in 1932. People now looked to Washington for help, for the misery was not over.

In 1930, just three years later, when many were still recovering, the same rich land that was submerged by floodwater in 1927 turned to dust and blew away in drought. The Red Cross returned and did not conclude its assistance to the Delta until March 15, 1931.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has often been compared to the Flood of 1927, which is the tragic benchmark for such natural disasters. In the 1920s, a time when the entire federal budget was around $3 billion, the Flood of 1927 ultimately cost an estimated $1 billion, including damage and indirect costs such as relief, recovery, and lost productivity. Additionally, the 1927 flood had a social and political effect on Arkansas as elsewhere in the affected region, and it remains to be seen if the aftermath of Katrina will have a similar impact.

As in most disasters, the 1927 flood saw the best and the worst of humanity. Of the 1927 flood, author John M. Barry says in Rising Tide: “Their struggle…began as one of man against nature. It became one of man against man. Honor and money collided. White and black collided. Regional and national power structures collided. The collisions shook America.”

Hotel Noble in Blytheville (Mississippi County).
Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

For much of its history, Blytheville had a thriving Jewish community. Several early Main Street merchants were Jewish. The congregation that would become Temple Israel formed in 1924 and settled into its building in 1947. The congregation declined as the twentieth century came to a close. Most of the surviving members relocated to other areas, including Memphis, Tennessee, and Little Rock (Pulaski County), and Temple Israel officially closed in 2003. In conjunction with organizations such as the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, the congregation saw its Torah scrolls and other important objects and records carefully dispersed and stored. While Temple Israel’s building still stands on Chickasawba Street and is privately owned, its stained-glass windows are now part of Memphis’s Beth Sholom synagogue.

World War II through Modern Era

The U.S. military first opened an army airfield in Blytheville in 1942, deactivating it in 1945. The base was reactivated as Blytheville Air Force Base in the 1950s and renamed Eaker Air Force Base in 1988. It served as the home of the Ninety-seventh Bombardment Wing of the Strategic Air Command, and the base housed many B-52s. The federal government closed the base in 1992, which was a devastating blow to the Blytheville community. At its peak, it employed approximately 3,500 military personnel and 700 civilian support staff, and upon the closure of the base, the Blytheville/Gosnell area lost about 6,500 people, including the families of service members transferred elsewhere. The former base is now the Arkansas Aeroplex and houses both aviation and non-aviation-related businesses. Also on site are the Westminster Village retirement community, the Lights of the Delta holiday display, the Blytheville Research Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey, Thunder Bayou Golf Links, and the Blytheville Youth Sportsplex.

The blow from the loss of the airbase was softened by the rise of the steel industry in the Blytheville area. Barge traffic on the Mississippi River and the railroads contributed to industrial growth. Nucor-Yamato Steel began production in 1988 and expanded in 1992. Nucor Steel Arkansas, locally known as Nucor Hickman, began production in 1992 and expanded in 1998. These two raw-steel producers are surrounded by several steel-related industries, including Maverick Tube, IPSCO Inc., and Milwaukee Electric Tool.

Mississippi County has long held its place as the number one cotton-producing county in Arkansas, and Blytheville sits near ten cotton gins. One of the largest cotton gins in North America lies on Blytheville’s western edge. The area is also blanketed with soybean and rice fields. Mississippi County was ranked as the third highest soybean-producing county in Arkansas in 2004. The county also produces the feed grains corn and milo (sorghum) and a winter crop of soft red winter wheat which rotates in some soybean fields.

Modern farming in Blytheville has followed the trend of larger farms held by fewer farmers. Changing farming equipment and a shift toward more irrigated acreage also influence Blytheville farming. Transgenic crops designed for pesticide/herbicide use are revolutionizing Blytheville farmers’ planting.


Functioning under a “separate but equal” clause in the state constitution, by the late 1960s, Blytheville’s African-American high school students had “freedom of choice” to transfer from the black Harrison High School to the white Blytheville High School. A few black students chose to do so in order to receive a college preparatory education. However, other grade levels were still segregated. A federal court judge in Jonesboro (Craighead County) ordered total integration of Blytheville schools in 1970. The school board complied, closed Harrison High School, and fully integrated all grades in Blytheville City Schools.

A December 1974 vote brought Mississippi County Community College (MCCC) into existence. The college opened its doors in 1975 in buildings leased from the Blytheville school district and moved onto its current campus in 1980. MCCC’s 2003 merger with Cotton Boll Technical Institute created Arkansas Northeastern College (ANC). The college has six branch centers in addition to its main campus and, as of 2006, enrolls approximately 1,806 students.


Rev. H. T. Blythe’s grave and the tombstones of early Blytheville residents are preserved in Founders Park. The park is also the former site of the Sycamore School House (circa 1853–1893) where Rev. Blythe first preached.

Live broadcast of local radio station KLCN at the Ritz in Blytheville (Mississippi County); circa 1950s.
Courtesy of the Arts Council of Mississippi County

The Ritz in Blytheville (Mississippi County); circa 1950s.
Courtesy of the Arts Council of Mississippi County

The Ritz, Blytheville’s civic center since 1981, originated in the early 1900s and has seen several owners, fires, name changes, expansions, and renovations throughout its decades on Main Street. A popular stop for famous vaudeville performers traveling from Memphis to St. Louis, Missouri, in the early twentieth century, the Ritz later became one of the first theaters in Arkansas to present talking pictures. The Ritz was fully renovated in 1950–1951 and hosted a television lounge where many Blytheville residents got their first glimpse of the new medium.

Blytheville lies along Highway 61 of blues music fame. Generations of blues musicians passed through Blytheville as they traveled from Memphis north toward St. Louis, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois.

Former Greyhound Bus Station in Blytheville (Mississippi County) built in the Art Deco architectural style; 2005.
Courtesy of Jason Combs

The 1932 Greyhound Bus Station at 109 North 5th Street is the sole surviving Art Deco Greyhound bus station in the United States. Entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, the station had fallen into disrepair from disuse. Purchased by community effort in 2004, the Main Street Blytheville organization now owns the building. Downtown’s Kress building, also owned by Main Street Blytheville, is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

That Bookstore in Blytheville storefront.
Courtesy of That Bookstore in Blytheville

In 1976, Mary Gay Nelson Shipley opened the Book Rack, known since 1994 as That Bookstore in Blytheville (TBIB). Located in a circa-1920 building on Main Street, TBIB has put Blytheville on the American publishing map. World-renowned authors who have signed books and offered programs at TBIB include John Grisham, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Emeril Lagasse, Mary Higgins Clark, Pat Conroy, and Nicholas Sparks.

Visitors and residents can enjoy the annual Springtime on the Mall festival in early May and the Chili Cookoff in early October. Hunters and birdwatchers can take advantage of Blytheville’s position in the Mississippi Flyway bird migration path. Blytheville is home to the Mississippi County Fair each fall.

Blytheville is a city in and one of the two county seats of Mississippi County, Arkansas, United States.[1] According to 2005 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city was 16,638.[2]. According to the 2007 US Census, Blytheville has a population of 16,076.

Blytheville was founded in 1879 by the Methodist clergyman Henry T. Blythe. Blytheville is located in Mississippi County approximately 60 miles north of West Memphis. Because of the abundance of trees, the city grew quickly and was incorporated in 1889. According to records, the city had a large and diverse population in 1890. As the vast forest began to shrink, the people of Blytheville started growing cotton. Blytheville was a huge agricultural community until 1980, when farming was increasingly mechanized. After that, there was a short growth of industries, most of which have since left the area, with the exception of the steel mills. These mills provide some jobs for Blytheville's estimated population of 15,000 residents.
Nucor, a large steel manufacturer, operates two facilities east of the town near the Mississippi River.

Blytheville is the home to Arkansas Northeastern College, a two-year community college. It was formerly known as Mississippi County Community College until the merger with the Cotton Boll Technical Institute. Until the 1990s, Blytheville was home to Blytheville Air Force Base later renamed to Eaker Air Force Base, a major airfield that was part of the Strategic Air Command.

Eaker Air Force Base (1942-1992) was a front-line United States Air Force base for over 40 years. It was located 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Blytheville, Arkansas.

During its operational lifetime its mission was that of a training base during World War II and both a tactical as well as a strategic bomber base during the Cold War.

Shield Strategic Air Command

After the Cold War, the BRAC 1991 commission recommended Eaker be closed in a cost-cutting move. The facility closed on 15 December 1992.
Operational history

Oblique airphoto of Blytheville Army Airfield, looking from the southwest, about 1945

World War II

Blytheville Army Air Field was originally a 2,600-acre installation used by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II as a training airfield as part of the 70,000 Pilot Training Program. It was one of many air fields created in the country’s interior during the war. Mississippi County was a prime location because of its close proximity to the Mississippi River, where supplies could easily be shipped in.

Activated on 10 June 1942, the field was used as an advanced flying school in the Southeastern Training Command's pilot training program Flying training commenenced in the fall of 1942, advanced flying training started in the spring of 1943. Aircraft used at the facility were mostly AT-6 Texans, AT-9s, Beech AT-10s and Republic AT-12 Guardsmans. In September 1943, facilities for instrument flying training were completed. Throughout 1944, Blythville trained many female WASP pilots as B-25 co-pilots, and AT-10 pilots with TB-25 Mitchells. Assignments included engineering test pilots, instrument check pilots, ferrying, and flight checks for returning overseas pilots. The mission of the airfield changed in 1945 to that of a troop carrier combat crew training facility with C-46 Commando and C-47 Skytrain aircraft. The flight school closed in October 1945 after the war ended.

In the immediate postwar era, the airfield was then used as a processing center for military personnel who were being discharged at a rapid rate as the country demobilized. The War Assets Administration officially shut down the installation in 1946. Control of the land was transferred to the city of Blytheville.

Cold War

In the early 1950s, the United States Air Force approved a plan to convert the wartime airfield into an air base. A massive construction process began to rehabilitate the wartime facilities into a permanent base. The wartime runways were removed and reduced to aggregate, being used in the construction of a 10,000 foot main runway, capable of being used by the Air Force's largest aircraft.

Blytheville Air Force Base was officially christened as a single-mission base on July 19, 1955. It consumed 3,771 acres of area farmland, most of which had been used by the original air field; the rest was purchased from local farmers. The Tactical Air Command (TAC) 461st Bombardment Wing was relocated to the newly constructed base from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. By the following spring, the base was fully operational with three squadrons of Martin B-57A tactical bombers.

On 1 April 1958, Strategic Air Command (SAC) assumed control of Blytheville AFB. The 4229th Air Base Squadron assumed operational control in April 1958 and remained in charge until 1 July 1959, when the 97th Bombardment Wing took control. Official dedication ceremonies held on January 10, 1960, marked the arrival of the 97th BMW's first B-52G, The City of Blytheville.

In addition to the B-52G, the base also housed the KC-135A Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft. It was also used by the 42d Strategic Aerospace Division during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Blytheville Air Force Base witnessed a great deal of activity throughout the Cold War era. The 97th Bombardment Wing was placed on airborne alert on 22 October 1962, when it was discovered that nuclear missile silos were being constructed in Cuba with Soviet assistance. The following day, the SAC declared defense readiness condition (DEFCON) II for the first time in American history. Two B-52G bombers were placed on airborne alert and were ready to strike the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons if necessary. The standoff ended, and the wing returned on November 15. The wing was presented with the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for its performance during the crisis.

The 97th was also involved in the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1965, it participated in the refueling of fighter jets in Operation Young Tiger. Pilots of the wing were stationed at Andersen AFB, Guam, while the B-52s remained at the base. In 1972, all of the bombers were temporarily moved to Guam. The 97th returned to the base and resumed normal functions after the conflict ended. It launched rescue missions from the base to Grenada in 1983. After August 1990, the 97th began practicing for missions overseas in the Middle East and eventually aided in Operation Desert Storm.


Eaker Air Force Base topped the Strategic Air Command’s list of base closures in 1991. The Cold War was slowly coming to an end, and the military had decided to start retiring the large B-52G, the housing and launching of which was the single mission of the base

Official closure of Eaker Air Force Base was announced in 1991, and on March 6, 1992, the last aircraft, The City of Blytheville, left the base. The official closure ceremony was held on 15 December 1992, and the transition from military to civilian, general aviation airport began.

The military still makes use of the Arkansas International Airport in flight training maneuvers, and as a landing site to pick up and drop off local National Guard Troops.

Notable residents

R&B singer Dee Clark, known for his 1961 hit "Raindrops," was a native of Blytheville.

Dee Clark (7 November 1938 —- 7 December 1990) was an African-American soul singer best known for a string of R&B and pop hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including the ballad "Raindrops," which became a million-seller in the United States in 1961.


He was born Delectus Clark in Blytheville, Arkansas, and moved to Chicago in 1941. His mother, Delecta, was a gospel singer and encouraged her son to pursue his love of music.

Clark made his first recording in 1952 as a member of the Hambone Kids, who scored an R&B hit with the song "Hambone." In 1953, he joined an R&B group called the Goldentones, who later became the Kool Gents and were discovered by Chicago radio DJ Herb Kent upon winning a talent competition. Kent got the Kool Gents signed to Vee-Jay record label, subsidiary Falcon/Abner. The group changed its name once again, to "The Delegates," and recorded for Falcon/Abner in 1956.

Clark embarked on a solo career in 1957 and over the next four years landed several moderate hits, two of which ("Just Keep It Up" and "Hey Little Girl") reached the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100). His biggest single, "Raindrops," a power ballad augmented by heavy rain and thunder sound effects and Clark's swooping falsetto, hit in the spring of 1961 and became his biggest hit, soaring to number two on the pop chart (behind only Gary U.S. Bonds' "Quarter to Three") and number three on the R&B charts. The narrator of the song tries to convince himself that the tears he has cried since his love left him are raindrops, since "a man ain't supposed to cry." "Raindrops" sold over two million copies and remains a staple on oldies radio station playlists to this day, and has also been covered by several other artists in the years since, including David Cassidy, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and most notably Narvel Felts, who took the song to number 30 on the country chart in 1974. Clark himself recorded an updated version of "Raindrops" in 1973.

However, Clark's biggest hit was also his last. The follow-up to "Raindrops," "Don't Walk Away From Me," was a flop, and he made the pop charts in America only twice more, with "I'm Going Back to School" (1962) and "Crossfire Time" (1963). By the time "Crossfire Time" came out, Clark had moved from Vee-Jay to the Constellation label. Though he continued to record for Constellation through 1966, none of his records charted. Clark had a brief revival in 1975 when his song "Ride a Wild Horse" became a surprise top 30 hit in the UK Singles Chart, becoming his first chart hit in the UK since "Just Keep It Up."

Afterward, Clark performed mostly on the oldies circuit. By the late 1980s, he was in dire straits financially, living in a welfare hotel in Toccoa, Georgia. Despite suffering a stroke in 1987 that left him partially paralyzed and with a mild speech impediment, he continued to perform until his death on 7 December 1990, in Smyrna, Georgia, from a heart attack at the age of 52.

Actor George Hamilton

George Hamilton (born in Blytheville, Arkansas on August 12, 1939) is an American film and television actor and occasional film director. He is noted for his perpetual, chestnut-colored suntan and his colorful boulevardier lifestyle.

Early life

Hamilton was born George Stevens Hamilton, the son of Ann Potter Hamilton Hunt Spaulding (née Stevens) and band leader George "Spike" Hamilton. He was born in Blytheville, AR and lived there until the age of 12. He won many awards as a student at Palm Beach High School and was the lead in his high school's production of Brigadoon. After moving to California, he was put under contract by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who showcased him in important films such as Home from the Hill, All the Fine Young Cannibals, Light in the Piazza and Two Weeks in Another Town.

George's older brother William Potter, meanwhile, embarked on a career as an interior decorator for such prestige firms as Eva Gabor Interiors in Palm Springs where George also owned a home a few streets away from Elvis Presley and his manager "Colonel" Tom Parker, who became his good friend.


Actor George Hamilton

Hamilton began his movie career in 1952. As an actor, he is often compared to (and sometimes confused with) Warren Beatty; Beatty's movie Bulworth contained a reference to this. In the mid-1980s, he starred in the 6th season of the ABC Aaron Spelling-produced nighttime television serial and Dallas imitator, Dynasty. Hamilton was a semi-regular panelist on the 1998 revival of Match Game.

In 2003, he hosted The Family, a reality television series on ABC spanning one season in 2003. It starred ten members from a traditional Italian-American family, who were each fighting for a $1,000,000 prize. In 2006, he competed in the second season of ABC's Dancing with the Stars[3] and was voted off in round 6. At age 66 and recovering from knee injuries, Hamilton, unable to match the limber dance moves of his younger competitors, charmed the audience and judges with endearingly silly dances utilizing props including a Zorro mask and sword from his 1981 film Zorro, The Gay Blade. Hamilton is also noted for his appearances in Ritz Cracker and Wheat Thins Toasted Chips commercials and ads with Stacy Keibler, who in Dancing with the Stars, was his off-screen "sweetheart", with the tag line "I know toasted".

Along with a successful movie career, his style of dress is one of the reasons why his career has had stamina and may explain his continued notoriety. At one point he was known for having 100 bespoke suits in his closet. It has been said that his favorite tailor is in Panama. His reputation as 'the real James Bond' was noted as far back as 1981 in the movie The Cannonball Run, when a woman confuses Roger Moore, who played Bond at the time, with Hamilton.

In 2006, it was rumored Hamilton would replace Bob Barker on The Price is Right. He did an audition and in March 2007, TMZ reported that Hamilton was a frontrunner to replace Barker. At 67, Hamilton would be the oldest contender for the position, although it would not have been an unprecedented move since other game show hosts (such as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire host Regis Philbin) have debuted at about the same age. According to Reuters, Hamilton was one of the final 3 contenders to host the show, alongside Mark Steines and Todd Newton. Soon thereafter, Drew Carey was named as Barker's successor.

World War II Medal of Honor recipient Edgar H. Lloyd,

Edgar Harold Lloyd (February 28, 1922 – November 16, 1944) was a United States Army officer and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in World War II.


Lloyd joined the Army from his birth place of Blytheville, Arkansas, and by September 14, 1944 was serving as a first lieutenant in Company E, 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division. On that day, near Pompey, France, he single-handedly destroyed five enemy machine gun positions. Lloyd was killed in action two months later and, on April 7, 1945, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions near Pompey.

Lloyd, aged 22 at his death, was buried at the Courthouse Lawn in his hometown of Blytheville, Arkansas.

Birth: Feb. 28, 1922
Death: Nov. 16, 1944

World War II Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient. He served as a First Lieutenant in the United States Army in Company E, 319th Infantry, 80th Infantry Division. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for action near Pompey, France on September 14, 1944 and was killed in action. His citation reads in part "With complete disregard for his own safety, 1st Lt. Lloyd leaped to his feet and led his men on a run into the raking fire, shouting encouragement to them. He jumped into the first enemy machine-gun position, knocked out the gunner with his fist, dropped a grenade, and jumped out before it exploded. Still shouting encouragement he went from one machine-gun nest to another, pinning the enemy down with submachine-gun fire until he was within throwing distance, and then destroyed them with hand grenades. He personally destroyed five machine-guns and many of the enemy, and by his daring leadership and conspicuous bravery inspired his men to overrun the enemy positions and accomplish the objective in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds." (bio by: Don Morfe)

Mad editor Al Feldstein, who was stationed in Blytheville during World War II, later wrote a science fiction story set in Blytheville, "Chewed Out," Weird Science 12 (March 1952).

Albert "Al" B. Feldstein (born October 24, 1925) is an American painter of Western wildlife and an influential author-editor who wrote, drew and edited for EC Comics, followed by a lengthy career as the editor of Mad. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2003.

Early life and career

Al Feldstein was born on October 24, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Flatbush on East 31st Street between Avenue L and Avenue M. He attended P.S. 191, and when he was eight years old, he won a third-place medal in the annual John Wanamaker art competition. After winning an award in the 1939 New York World's Fair poster contest, he decided on a career in the art field and studied at the High School of Music and Art in upper Manhattan. When he was 15 years old, he was hired by Jerry Iger to work in the Eisner & Iger shop, an art service for the comic book industry. At Eisner & Iger, he earned three dollars a week running errands, inking balloon lines, ruling panel borders and erasing pages. When he began inking backgrounds, his salary jumped to five dollars a week.

Yellowstone Winter Stream

With his graduation, he received a scholarship to the Art Students League. He began a rigorous schedule of studying at Brooklyn College during the day, followed by night classes at the Art Students League. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Air Force in July, 1943, as an aviation cadet and began his basic training in Blytheville, Arkansas. His cadet class was held in reserve, and he was assigned to Special Services, creating signs and service club murals, decorating planes and flight jackets, drawing comic strips for field newspapers and painting squadron insignias for orderly rooms.

After his discharge, Feldstein freelanced art for comic books, including Fox Comics.

EC Comics

Arriving in 1948 at Bill Gaines' Entertaining Comics, Feldstein began as an artist but soon combined art with writing and became the editor on most of the EC titles. Although he originally wrote and illustrated approximately one story per comic, in addition to doing many covers, Feldstein eventually focused on editing and writing, reserving his artwork primarily for covers. From late 1950 through 1953, Feldstein edited and wrote stories for seven EC titles.

While developing a stable of contributing writers that included Otto Binder, Jack Oleck, Carl Wessler and Daniel Keyes, he published the first work of Harlan Ellison. EC employed the comics industry's finest artists and published promotional copy to make readers aware of their staff. Feldstein encouraged the EC illustrators to maintain their personal art styles, and this emphasis on individuality gave the EC line a unique appearance. Distinctive front cover designs framing those recognizable art styles made Feldstein's titles easy to spot on crowded newsstands.

Those comic books, known as EC's New Trend group, included Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, Piracy, Panic, Crime SuspenStories and Shock SuspenStories. After the New Trend titles folded in 1955, Feldstein edited EC's short-lived New Direction and Picto-Fiction titles.


Feldstein then moved to Mad, succeeding Harvey Kurtzman in 1956, spending the next 28years at the helm of what became one of the nation's leading and most venerable satirical magazines. Circulation more than quadrupled during Feldstein's tenure, peaking at 2,132,655 in 1974, although it declined to a third of that figure by the end of his time as editor.

Many new cartoonists and writers surfaced during the early years of Feldstein's editorship. This process leveled off in the 1960s as the magazine came to rely on a steady group of contributors. Feldstein's first issue as editor (#29) was also the first issue to display the twisted work of cartoonist Don Martin. A few months later, he hired Mort Drucker, who quickly established himself as their premier caricaturist. By 1961, with the introduction of Antonio Prohias and Dave Berg, he had fully established the format that kept the magazine a commercial success for decades.

Mother's Pride


After he retired from Mad in 1984, Feldstein began painting again.

Spring Runnoff

He left Connecticut and relocated in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he spent three years painting the Teton Range and its wildlife. Two of his paintings from that period placed in the Top 100 of Arts for the Parks, a competition created in 1986 by the National Park Academy of the Arts.

Feldstein moved in 1992 to Paradise Valley, Montana, near Livingston, finding new approaches to depict the Western way of life in his acrylic paintings. In 1999, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts degree by Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, and that year again ranked in the Top 100 of the Arts for the Parks' Competition. In 2000, he was invited to give the Commencement Address to the new century's first graduating class at Rocky Mountain College.

As of 2007, he is represented by numerous Northwest galleries, and he continues to create his Western, wildlife and landscape paintings at his 270 acre (1.1 km²) ranch south of Livingston and north of Yellowstone National Park.

Siegbert Jiedel

Jewish Community

As compared to other southern Jewish communities, Jewish settlement came relatively late to Blytheville, Arkansas, a small town tucked away in Mississippi County in the northeastern part of the state. Blytheville is located on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River Delta and began to grow in the late 19th century as the region emerged as one of the country’s most fertile cotton growing areas. The cotton industry was the economic magnet that began to bring Jewish merchants to the area in the early years of the 20th century.

Jews began as merchants and sometimes got directly involved in the local cotton industry. Silvey Sternberg, who grew up in Fort Smith, became a successful cotton broker and built one of the largest cotton ginning businesses in the area. The Sternberg family was very civic-minded, donating free milk to the town’s school kids. Silvey’s wife Mollie was very involved in local society, and helped to organize the Blytheville Women’s Club.

By the 1930s, there were over 24 Jewish-owned businesses in Blytheville, which had became a cotton trading hub. Siegbert and Richard Jiedel opened the Jiedel Cotton Company, which brokered the Delta’s main cash crop. Richard also owned a dry goods store and both brothers were longtime leaders of Temple Israel, the local synagogue. Other local merchants included: Walter Rosenthal, who owned a ladies clothing store; Jack Applebaum, who once served as head of the local chamber of commerce and whose two brothers also owned stores in town; Sam Joseph, who owned a hardware and paint store; and Joe Isaacs, who began as a peddler and later became a successful merchant and cotton broker. Building on his success as a merchant, Isaacs got involved in banking, and helped to found First National Bank in Blytheville.

Although the Ku Klux Klan was active in the area in the 1920s, Blytheville Jews were for the most part welcomed in this Arkansas Delta town. They were allowed to join the local country club and became active in civic organizations like the Masons, Elks Club, Garden Club, and the Women’s Club. Most of the Klan’s efforts in the 1920s were focused on blacks and Catholics. Anti-Catholic sentiment became rather strong in Blytheville during that decade, leading one local Jew, Walter Rosenthal, to resign from the Mason’s Lodge due to growing anti-Catholic sentiment within the group.

In 1927, 71 Jews lived in Blytheville. Their numbers increased to about a hundred by 1937, and remained at that level for the next few decades. Since Blytheville’s Jewish community was not founded until the early 20th century, most of the early Jews who settled there were immigrants from Eastern European. In 1918, Jewish men in Blytheville founded a local chapter of B’nai B’rith. Five years later, Jewish women in town founded a Ladies Aid Society, which would prove to be the catalyst in the Jewish community’s development. In 1925, thanks to the efforts of the local Ladies Aid Society, Jews in the area had founded a religious school and a congregation, later known as Temple Israel, which served Jews from surrounding towns in Arkansas and Missouri.

Samuel J. Cohen was a prominent member of the local Jewish community who did not fit the retail merchant pattern of so many of his co-religionists. Cohen was a professional engineer who had been trained in Russia before immigrating to the United States. In Blytheville, he helped to design drainage canals, levees, and highways in the area. His son Jerry came back to Blytheville after college and worked as an engineer with his father. Jerry Cohen’s daughter, Marcie Cohen Ferris, has become a leading scholar on southern Jewish foodways and culture. Her book, Matzoh Ball Gumbo was inspired by the recipes of her grandmother, Luba Cohen.

Oscar Fendler was an attorney who became very active in prison reform in Arkansas. He helped to close down several penal farms in the state due to their substandard conditions. In 1963, he served as president of the Arkansas Bar Association. Fendler was a strong advocate for Blytheville, and used to his influence to help keep the local Air Force open for many years after World War II.

After the war, Blytheville’s Jewish community enjoyed a brief resurgence. They built a new synagogue in 1947, but by the 1950s, the community had gone into decline due to changes in the local cotton economy. The Arkansas Delta became an impoverished region with little economic opportunity for Jewish merchants. By the 1990s, only three Jewish families remained in town, with many Blytheville Jews moving to nearby Memphis. In 2003, they closed the synagogue for good, as the Blytheville Jewish community finally became extinct.