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See Rock City

Friday, September 19, 2008

Magnolia, AR

Magnolia is a city in Columbia County, Arkansas, United States, founded in 1853. At the time of its incorporation in 1858 the city had a population of about 1950. The city grew slowly as an agricultural and regional cotton market until the discovery of oil just east of the city in March, 1938, with the Barnett #1 drilled by the Kerr-Lynn Company. The Magnolia Oil Field was an important discovery, not just for the city but for the nation, as it was the largest producing field (in volume) during the early years of World War II, helping to fuel the American war effort. According to 2006 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city is 10,478. The city is the county seat of Columbia County. Population: 11,766 as of June 2007 according to It is also home to the World's Largest Charcoal Grill and the World Championship Steak Cookoff, part of the Magnolia Blossom Festival.

Village Profile Cover

Magnolia is the home of Southern Arkansas University, a public university that offers 4-year and advanced (Master's level) degrees in business, public administration, computer information systems, education, counseling, education administration, and criminal justice. With a student body of over 3,100, its most notable programs are agriculture, business, and education. The university's cultural focus is Harton Theatre, which provides a venue for both departmental plays, concerts, and local cultural events.

Columbia County Courthouse in Magnolia during construction; circa 1905.
Courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives

Economy Magnolia when it was founded was a cotton, farm production and marketing town. Slowly the town grew and in 1909 Southern A&M now known as Southern Arkansas University was founded. During World War II Magnolia became a heavy manufacturing city. In 1938 Oil was discovered near the city and was called the Magnolia Oil Fields that produced oil and natural gas. The city soon became a producer in steel, lumber, aluminum, bromine, rubber coated products and fuel cells for the military.

Norborn Young and Sarah Elizabeth Young; circa 1870. He helped to survey Magnolia (Columbia County) in 1853, and tradition has it that she suggested Magnolia as a town name.
Courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives

Magnolia is also the home corporate office of Amfuel which is the largest designer and fabricator of composite material products for aviation, aerospace, military ground forces, and commercial transport industries.

Operator Lillie Young Dalrymple in the Magnolia (Columbia County) telephone office; circa 1907.
Courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives

The town's primary economic focus is heavy industrial, including
Albemarle Corporation's Bromine Products Division (which has two facilities near town),

Amfuel (which produces fuel cells for the military),

Sapa's extruded aluminum products facility.

Sapa Group, or Sapa, is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of various aluminium products. Swedish by origin, it currently operates in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia. It is active in three core competencies: profiles, building system and heat transfer.

The first extrusion plant was set up in Vetlanda, Sweden in 1963. Within the first decade, sales offices had been opened in Denmark, Holland and the UK and had expanded into anodising and die-making. Over the years, activities continue to spread within Europe and abroad.
In 2007, Sapa and Alcoa announce a joint venture, creating the world's largest aluminium profile company.

Also located in the area are several oil and brine drilling companies, many of which are locally owned, and timber companies, such as:

Deltic Timbers,


Weyerhaeuser is one of the largest pulp and paper companies in the world; the world's largest private owner of softwood timberland; and the second largest owner in the United States, behind International Paper. Weyerhaeuser has approximately 41,000 employees in 18 countries, including United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Mexico, Ireland, France, and Uruguay.

Antebellum two-story house built on 480 acres, west of Magnolia (Columbia County); 1958. The house was called "Frog Level" by its builder, William Frazier. The name is attributed most likely to the number of frogs in the swampy areas around the house.
Photo by Ernie Deane, courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

Festivals Magnolia is also home to the Magnolia Blossom Festival and World Championship Steak Cookoff. The festival has been featured on the Food Network and attracts 40,000+ to the event. One can visit

Festival of Lights-Late November through Late December.

Magnolia is also known locally for its downtown shopping on the square and its natural beauty. One contributing factor to its beauty is the downtown murals, one of which was signed by Charlton Heston.

Notable persons from Magnolia:

Jordan Babineaux, Seattle Seahawks, attended Southern Arkansas University,

Jordan Jude Babineaux(born August 31, 1982 in Port Arthur, Texas) is an American football defensive back for the Seattle Seahawks. He is most notable for his game-saving effort in the 2006 NFC Wild Card game when he tackled Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo after Romo infamously fumbled the snap for what might have been a game-winning field goal for the Cowboys.

Harvey C. Couch, Utility and railroad entrepreneur,

Harvey Crowley Couch, (21 August 1877–30 July 1941) was an Arkansas entrepreneur who rose from very modest beginnings to control a regional utility and railroad empire. He is regarded as the father of Arkansas Power and Light Company and other electric utilities now part of Entergy, and helped to mold the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway and the Kansas City Southern Railway into a major transportation system.

Harvey Couch was born in tiny Calhoun in Columbia County in southern Arkansas. During his youth, he assisted his parents and younger siblings with the endless work associated with a small cotton farm. As his father's health deteriorated, the family moved to nearby Magnolia, the seat of Columbia County. In 1898, Couch successfully passed a correspondence course test, qualifying him to enter the Railway Mail Service, sorting mail in one of the many railway post office cars which criss-crossed the nation. Couch initially worked on a railway post office route on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad between St. Louis and Texarkana, then a Memphis and Texarkana run over the St. Louis Southwestern Railway, before getting an assignment south into Louisiana out of his home town of Magnolia.

Robert Ellis, Rising stage performer and singer,

Benjamin Travis Laney, Governor of Arkansas,

Benjamin Travis Laney, Jr. (25 November 1896 – 21 January 1977), was the Democratic Governor of Arkansas from 1945-1949.

Laney was born in Camden, where he attended Ouachita County public schools but never graduated from high school. He was, however, admitted in 1915 to Hendrix College, a liberal arts institution in Conway.

His studies were interrupted by World War I. Laney entered the United States Navy in 1918 and served until the end of the war.

Benjamin Travis Laney Jr. breaking ground for a new building at Cummins Prison Farm near Varner (Lincoln County); 1948.
Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

In 1924, Laney earned a degree from the University of Central Arkansas (then known as Arkansas Teacher's College), also in Conway. He also took graduate courses from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Laney owned a drugstore in Conway, dealt in real estate, and had interests in cotton gins, feed, and banking. Oil was discovered on Laney's farm near Camden. He was hence called "Business Ben" because of his varied business interests.

Tracy Lawrence, Country music singer,

Tracy Lawrence (born 27 January 1968) is an American country singer-songwriter. Signed to Atlantic Records in 1991, Lawrence made his debut on the country music charts that year with the single "Sticks and Stones", which reached the top of the Billboard country charts in early 1992. His debut album, also titled Sticks and Stones, was also a Number One album on the Top Country Albums charts, and was certified platinum.

Throughout the 1990s, Lawrence continued to chart several Top Ten hits from his subsequent albums; in addition, two of his studio albums (1993's Alibis and 1996's Time Marches On) earned 2× Multi-Platinum certification, while 1994's I See It Now was certified platinum. Despite a decline in chart success in the latter half of the 1990s, Lawrence briefly rebounded in 2000 with the Top 5 title track from his album Lessons Learned.

Following the closure of Atlantic Records' country division, Lawrence moved among several labels, releasing one album each for Warner Bros. Records (2001's Tracy Lawrence), DreamWorks Nashville (2003's Strong) and Mercury Nashville (2005's Then & Now: The Hits Collection). Although all of these albums produced several chart hits for the singer, only one — 2004's "Paint Me a Birmingham" — reached Top 10. Finally, in late 2006, Lawrence founded his own label, Rocky Comfort Records. His first single for the label, "Find Out Who Your Friends Are" (from his 2007 album For the Love) reached the top of the country charts in 2007, becoming his first Number One hit in eleven years.

Overall, Lawrence has charted more than thirty singles on the country music charts, including eight Number Ones and fourteen additional Top Ten hits. He has also released a total of ten studio albums and four compilations to date.

Sidney Sanders McMath, Governor of Arkansas,

Sidney Sanders McMath (June 14, 1912 – October 4, 2003) was a decorated U.S. Marine, attorney and progressive Democratic reform Governor of Arkansas (1949–1953) who, in defiance of his state's political establishment, championed rapid rural electrification, massive highway and school construction, the building of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, strict bank and utility regulation, repeal of the poll tax, open and honest elections and broad expansion of opportunity for black citizens in the decade following World War II.

McMath remained loyal to President Harry S. Truman during the "Dixiecrat" rebellion of 1948, campaigning throughout the South for Truman's re-election. As a former governor, McMath led the opposition to segregationist Governor Orval Faubus following the 1957 Little Rock school crisis. He later became one of the nation's foremost trial lawyers, representing thousands of injured persons in precedent-setting cases and mentoring several generations of young attorneys.

Tommy Tuberville, Auburn University head football coach,

Thomas Hawley Tuberville (born September 18, 1954) is an American college football coach and current head coach of the Auburn University football team. Tuberville was the 2004 recipient of the Walter Camp and Paul Bryant Coach of the Year awards for Auburn's 13–0 perfect season. He earned his 100th career win on October 6, 2007 in a 35–7 victory over Vanderbilt. He is also the only coach in Auburn history to beat in-state rival the University of Alabama six consecutive times.

National Baseball Hall of Fame member Travis Jackson, who was born in Waldo (Columbia County) and is considered by some to be the best National League shortstop of the 1920s.
Courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, New York, www.baseballhalloffame.comNational Baseball Hall of Fame member Travis Jackson,

Welcome to Magnolia

Located deep in the beautiful pine forests of southern Arkansas, Magnolia is one of this state’s treasures. As you enjoy the fragrant blossoms on the Magnolia trees lining the courthouse square you realize you are somewhere special. Historic downtown has been revitalized and has many charming boutiques and locally owned restaurants to satisfy any appetite. Come and tour our landmark Magnolia Murals, which colorfully portray our historic downtown.

Magnolia is the home of Southern Arkansas University and our city benefits from all the amenities a university brings. In May of each year we host the Magnolia Blossom Festival and World Championship Steak Cook-Off. It is a week-end full of family fun and entertainment. Take time to visit our 100 year old classical revival courthouse, explore nature at Logoly State Park and enjoy fishing and water sports at beautiful Lake Columbia.

Waldo (Columbia County) street scene; circa 1900.
Courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives

Natural resources have been the mainstay of the Columbia County economy, from cotton in the nineteenth century; timber, oil, and gas in the mid-twentieth century; and later bromine. The county’s fortunes have also been closely tied to the evolution of Southern Arkansas University (SAU). Columbia County, named after the female personification of America, wielded significant political influence in Arkansas during the first half of the twentieth century, with family and business ties to governors Thomas McRae, Sidney McMath, and Ben T. Laney, Lieutenant Governor Lawrence E. Wilson, State Auditor T. C. Monroe, U.S. representatives Robert Minor Wallace and Wade Kitchens, and businessman Harvey Couch. Columbia County is typified geographically by low, rolling hills and is heavily forested.

Pre-European Exploration through Early Statehood
The first inhabitants of Columbia County were Native Americans. They found abundant game in the heavily wooded land drained by the Dorcheat Bayou to the west and Cornie Creek to the east. The Kadohadacho, one of the Caddo Indian tribes, enjoyed their own language and culture while making Southwest Arkansas part of their home region. The Caddo were known for their beehive-shaped homes and small farming communities. They were also a mound-building culture. However, their population declined and moved west by 1835.

Early white settlers began arriving in significant numbers to the area only after Arkansas achieved statehood in 1836, forming small communities including Spotsville, Atlanta, Calhoun, and Lamartine. Columbia County was created from portions of Lafayette, Hempstead, Ouachita, and Union counties in 1852. The county seat, Magnolia, was incorporated in 1855.

The early residents depended on an agricultural economy with cotton, and to a lesser extent corn, as a cash crop. Some settlers brought slaves. Early tax records indicate that in 1854, Columbia County had 1,675 slaves in a population of almost 6,000. The first formal federal census of the county in 1860 showed a population of 12,449, of whom 3,599 were slaves. About 1,000 farms were in operation at that time.

Civil War through the Gilded Age

Columbia County played no significant role in the Civil War, although about 1,000 men did serve in the Confederate ranks. It is estimated that about a third of the men never returned. Of historical interest are the twenty-five graves of unknown Confederate soldiers, together in a section of Magnolia Cemetery. Buried nearby is Confederate Major General John Porter McGown, who retired to Columbia County following the war.

Relative isolation and transportation difficulties have long been a problem for Columbia County. Columbia is the only one of Arkansas’s seventy-five counties not situated on a river. The county’s creeks and bayous were more of an impediment than an aid to early travelers because they were too narrow and shallow to support water traffic. The swampy conditions of the upper Dorcheat Bayou in Columbia County did not allow for practical use by boats. Rain made travel conditions worse. Only the arrival of railroads made it possible for Columbia Countians to enjoy a dependable, year-round transportation option.

Plans made prior to the Civil War for the construction of a rail line fell through, and it was not until the construction of the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railroad in the fall of 1882 that the first cotton was shipped from the county by railcar. The railroad led to the creation of the communities of McNeill (later McNeil) and Lamartine (later Waldo), which were incorporated in 1884 and 1888, respectively. Cut off from the planned railroad, civic leaders in Magnolia resolved to have a spur line built to the city. They pledged $6,000 in cash and property during a single meeting in 1881 and eventually raised more than $20,000 toward this goal. The branch was completed in 1883.

Growth of railroads was also responsible for the creation of two Columbia County communities that remain incorporated today: Emerson and Taylor. The Louisiana and North West Railroad was built between Magnolia and points in Louisiana in 1899. The town of Emerson in the southeastern part of the county was created and later incorporated in 1905. There was a post office in Taylor years before the Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad was built through the southwestern portion of the county in the 1880s. The town was incorporated in 1913.

Early Twentieth Century through the Faubus Era

Columbia County experienced a decline in farming and population during the Great Depression. Its citizens suffered the same privations that the economic crisis presented for the rest of the nation. The discovery of producing oil and gas fields starting in 1937 led to positive changes almost overnight that continued into the 1950s.

Magnolia Hospital, which is owned by the city of Magnolia, was built in 1939. The county’s population peaked at 29,822 at the 1940 census (almost ten percent above the previous decade, a rate of growth not equaled since).

The first blow of World War II struck Columbia County directly. Marine Private Carl Webb, a Waldo native, was killed aboard the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Sixty Columbia County residents died in World War II.

The war aided the development of industry in Columbia County beginning in 1942. A natural gas processing plant was built near the Macedonia community. A 130-mile pipeline linked sour gas fields in Columbia and Lafayette counties to an aluminum plant at Jones Mill in Hot Spring County. U.S. 79 in Columbia County received its first hard surface in the 1940s. The employment situation had changed so drastically by 1942 that County Judge J. B. McClurkin issued a proclamation saying that all able-bodied men who did not have jobs would be arrested for vagrancy.

Just before the war began, a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp north of Magnolia was converted into Civilian Public Service Camp No. 7. The camp was for conscientious objectors to military service and was under the direction of the Brethren Service Committee. The conscientious objectors participated in soil conservation work. A tornado destroyed the camp in 1944. The camp was reopened briefly to house Italian prisoners of war.

Columbia County voters banned the sale of beer and wine in 1943. The county remains “dry” to this day.

One of the state’s worst disasters involving firefighters happened in the Macedonia community on September 20, 1944. Three Magnolia firemen were killed and nine others injured while battling a blaze at an oil storage tank.

Magnolia grew steadily after World War II, with the city’s population more than doubling between 1940 and 1960. Housing construction filled in the two miles between downtown Magnolia and the SAU campus to the north. This period also witnessed the construction of Magnolia’s two tallest buildings, the five-story McAlester Building and the five-story Magnolia Inn. Magnolia Airport was built with a hard-surface runway in 1953. Nine years of airline passenger service to Magnolia Airport ended in 1962 with the withdrawal of Trans-Texas Airways.

Modern Era

The improvement of highways in the 1950s and 1960s led to the decline of Columbia County’s smaller communities as business centers, with more retailers concentrating in Magnolia, the county seat. The Peace and Columbia shopping centers were both in operation by the late 1960s. University Plaza shopping center arrived in 1979. Wal-Mart, a presence in Magnolia since the 1970s, opened a new “supercenter” in 2003 on the U.S. 79-82 bypass. The supercenter spurred a considerable amount of new business activity along the bypass, which had seen little retail business since its construction in the 1970s.

Civic and government leaders have recognized the usefulness of local sales taxes to promote development. The city of Magnolia used a sales tax to create the Magnolia Economic Development Corporation, which is developing a business park on the city’s north side. Another sales tax was passed in 2004 for the benefit of city-owned Magnolia Hospital. Columbia County used sales taxes in the 1990s to build a new county jail and to support solid waste collection. Under consideration in 2006 were new sales taxes in Magnolia for park development and hospital construction. Also in 2006, the city of Magnolia approved the annexation of an area housing about 1,100 people on the city’s east side.

SAU in 2006 continued its “Blue and Gold Vision” campaign toward $35 million in new construction. Since 2002, the university has seen the construction of two new dormitories and an apartment complex. The $12.3 million Donald W. Reynolds Campus and Community Center opened in 2004. Future plans include new buildings for music and science education, and an athletic center. The university also has plans to convert part of Bruce Center into an archaeological museum. The SAU Foundation announced in December 2005 the purchase of 650 acres north of campus from the estate of the late Governor Ben T. Laney and his wife, Lucile. The university’s farm will be moved to the site.


Cotton remained the chief crop of Columbia County well into the early twentieth century, and offshoots from the cotton industry provided the area with its earliest trade and manufacturing base. Chief among early manufacturing efforts was the organization by a consortium of local businessmen of the Magnolia Cotton Mill in 1928. It was the first textile mill in southwest Arkansas and the largest manufacturer of any kind in Columbia County for many years. Functions and ownership of the mill have changed through the decades. The facility is now American Fuel Cells and Coated Fabrics Company, or Amfuel. It employs about 380 people who chiefly manufacture fuel cells, mostly for military aircraft.

Another home-grown industry was Southern Extrusions, created as an aluminum extrusion plant with twelve employees in 1949, making products that included dinette trim and door thresholds. The company has experienced several expansions and ownership changes and was acquired by Alcoa in 1998. The Magnolia plant and its more than 700 workers make architectural and bathroom fixtures for homes. Alcoa officials said in 2006 that the Magnolia plant and other facilities would be sold to the Sapa Group, a division of the Norwegian-based Orkla ASA.

Various smaller companies have been created in the Magnolia area as a result of Alcoa and its predecessors. The largest is Southern Aluminum, which makes outdoor furniture.

The dramatic discovery of the Magnolia Oil Field occurred on March 5, 1938, when gushing oil topped the Barnett No. 1 derrick. This led almost overnight to the development of an oil and gas exploration industry within Columbia County that continues today.

While the importance of oil and gas drilling declined steadily, a new natural resources industry arrived in the mid-1960s as chemical companies discovered the high bromine content of brine located thousands of feet beneath the earth’s surface. Bromine is an element used in numerous chemical and manufacturing processes. On January 18, 1966, Dow Chemical Company broke ground for a bromine plant four miles west of Magnolia. A second plant soon followed (a joint venture of Ethyl Chemical Corporation and Great Lakes Chemical). Both plants eventually were consolidated under the ownership of Albemarle Corporation, which owns dozens of brine wells and pipelines that crisscross Columbia and Union counties. Albemarle also operates three chemical plants in the two counties, the largest of which is located south of Magnolia. The company employs more than 700 regular and contract workers in southern Arkansas.

Magnolia Blossom Festival

Timber also holds an important position in Columbia County industry. Deltic Timber operates a sawmill in Waldo. Weyerhaeuser owns a plywood plant in Emerson and a pine tree nursery in Calhoun. In Magnolia, three companies are involved in the wood products industry, including Unit Structures, which manufactures massive wooden beams; Partee Flooring Mill, which makes oak flooring; and Hixson Lumber Company, a sawmill.

Other major manufacturing companies are Commercial Metals Company, which makes steel fence posts from recycled scrap metals; and Columbia Sewing, which makes military uniforms.


Since Arkansas did not have a public school system until after the Civil War, the county’s earliest schools were operated as institutions where students paid tuition and board. The Civil War broke up budding institutions such as the Columbia Institute in Glenville (built in 1856), which had drawn students from across southwest Arkansas.

Magnolia Mural

Following the Civil War, education in Columbia County consisted of numerous small schools supported either by tuition or local taxes. Magnolia residents approved in 1879 their first five-mill tax for support of a public school. This led to the construction in 1894 of a new public school building in Magnolia called the Southwestern Academy, which was eventually designated as the city’s elementary school when a new high school was built in 1917.

All public schools in Columbia County were segregated until full integration was achieved in 1970. In Magnolia, formal education for African-American students was provided through the Columbia Baptist Academy until a public school, Columbia High, was built in 1940. Educational opportunities for the county’s rural black students were expanded in the late 1920s thanks to Julius Rosenwald, CEO of Sears, Roebuck and Company. His Julius Rosenwald Fund financed construction of schools for black students across the South, including several in the county (Free Hope, Edna Brown, Emerson, Forest Grove, Hobson, McNeil, Waldo, and Friendship schools).

A steady trend toward consolidation of public schools accelerated in the early twenty-first century so that only two districts remain based in the county (Magnolia and Emerson-Taylor). Also, the privately operated Columbia Christian School is located in Magnolia.

Edwin Turner Hutcheson (standing, right) in front of his Magnolia (Columbia County) drugstore; 1883.
Courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives

Higher education in Columbia County became a reality with an act of the 1909 Arkansas General Assembly, which authorized four “agricultural high schools” in the state, combining training in agriculture with high-school-level courses. County residents offered the state an inducement of $50,000 plus 390 acres just north of Magnolia for what became known as the Third District Agricultural School (TDAS). The first classes were held on January 11, 1911. The General Assembly authorized TDAS to become a junior college, and in 1925, the school was renamed Third District Agricultural and Mechanical College. High school courses were dropped in 1937, and in 1949, the school became a four-year institution. The name was changed to Southern State College (SSC) in 1951, but full accreditation did not come until 1955. SSC was renamed Southern Arkansas University in 1975. SAU now has more than 3,000 graduate and undergraduate students in four academic colleges. It is best known for its degree programs in business administration, agricultural education, elementary and secondary education, and nursing.


Among attractions in Columbia County are the Columbia County Courthouse in Magnolia, dedicated in 1906; Logoly State Park near McNeil, created in 1978 as Arkansas’s first park dedicated to environmental education; Lake Columbia, completed in 1987 as a public water supply; and outdoor murals on walls in downtown Magnolia.

World’s Championship Steak Cook-off and Magnolia Blossom Festival

Another landmark is the Frazier Plantation home on County Road 27, popularly known as “Frog Level.” William Frazier built the house in 1852, the same year Columbia County was organized. The first session of the Columbia County Court was held at the Ferguson and Morgan store on the plantation grounds. An attorney attending the court, B. F. Askew, applied the name “Frog Level” to the mansion in reference to the numerous frogs in the nearby Dorcheat Bayou bottomlands. The name stuck.

A Little Pea Festival Info

The existence of the PurpleHull Pea Festival - and its tiller race as well - is due to one man.

In early 1990, Glen Eades decided his little community needed some shaking up.

"We were so boring we didn't even have a cop," says Glen.

(For more information about Glen, click on Glen's Page. There you'll also find some of the famous newspaper columns Glen wrote.)

Glen started to work to gain support for an idea he had. He approached then Mayor Joe Mullins about beginning a festival that would pay homage to the one major delicacy grown in every local backyard garden of any worth, the purple hull pea.

A meeting was called of some of the area's finest citizens. And thus, the PurpleHull Pea Festival was born.

At one of those early meetings, Glen proposed the idea of a tiller race. Mayor Mullins remembers thinking, "Glen, I don't know what you've been drinking, but you need to change brands."

Jennifer Rasberry of Springhill, Louisiana, on her way to winning the "Powder Puff Stock" division of the the 2002 World Championship Rotary Tiller Race.

Thankfully, Glen's ideas prevailed, and now Emerson is host to one of the most unusual - some would say weirdest - award-winning festivals in the south.

Language laboratory at Southern State College (now Southern Arkansas University) in Magnolia (Columbia County); 1963.
Photo by Ernie Deane, courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

A significant addition was made to Magnolia’s park system in 2006 with the Cecil Traylor Wilson Garden, which was built with private funds a year earlier. The garden includes an arbor, gazebo, patio, and fountain surrounded by native plants.

The Famous 'Pea-Shirt' !

The 2007 Emerson PurpleHull "Pea-Shirt" is now available for purchase.

If you live some distance away, but would like to buy a 2007 Pea-Shirt, there's good news. An order form is now online. Click on Shirt Order Form, which is in the form of a PDF file. In order to download this file, you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader, a free program you can download by going to the Adobe site. Print out the form and fill it out, then mail it to PurpleHull Pea-Shirt, PO Box 1, Emerson, AR 71740, with the appropriate amount in either check or money order, and we'll send the shirts your way.

Be sure and get your 2007 Pea-Shirt soon!

Major annual events in the county include the Magnolia Blossom Festival and World Championship Steak Cook-off in May and the Columbia County Fair in September. The town of Emerson is best known as the home of the annual Purplehull Pea Festival and World Championship Rotary Tiller Race in June

Purple hull peas ripening on the vine at the Billy Williams Farm, five miles west of Emerson (Columbia County).
Photo by Bill Dailey

Emerson PurpleHull Pea Festival & World Championship Rotary Tiller Race

Emerson (Columbia County) hosts an annual gathering for fans of purple hull peas and abnormally fast garden tillers. The PurpleHull Pea Festival & World Championship Rotary Tiller Race is held the last Friday and Saturday in June on and near the grounds of Emerson High School. The festival encompasses numerous activities related to purple hull peas, some of which include the World Cup PurpleHull Pea Shelling Competition, the Great PurpleHull Peas & Cornbread Cook Off, the Senior Walk for World Peas, and the presentation of the Emerson PurpleHull Pea Farmer of the Year award.

World Cup PurpleHull Pea Shelling Competition at the Emerson PurpleHull Pea Festival (Columbia County); 2006.
Photo by Bill Dailey

Both the festival and the tiller race began as the idea of Glen Eades of Brister (Columbia County). In 1990, Eades was the local area correspondent for the Magnolia (Columbia County) Banner News. Eades put forth the idea that Emerson needed a festival, writing that the remote town needed “shaking up.” Recognizing the local popularity of purple hull peas, he approached Emerson mayor Joe Mullins about the possibility of beginning a festival to pay homage to the legume. Mullins agreed and organized a meeting of local citizens. At the first organizational meeting, Eades proposed that there be some sort of competition associated with the process of raising peas and suggested the idea of a garden tiller race. Eventually, his idea was accepted.

Lauri Waller of Parkers Chapel (Union County), the first winner of the Ladies Modified Tiller Division, a category that was added in 2002 at the Emerson PurpleHull Pea Festival & World Championship Rotary Tiller Race. She also won the division in 2003 and 2004.
Photo by Hal Miller

At the first festival in 1990, sixteen-year-old Jason Hines of Emerson arrived with a tiller that had been modified for speed, and he easily won the race. After watching the 1992 race in which two modified tillers bounced along hard ground at a high rate of speed while the racers ran behind and struggled to maintain control, some festival committee members felt something needed to be done to reduce the speed of the race. It was decided that the 1993 race would be held in plowed ground. Fans of tiller racing were split over the new rule. Some thought the festival’s rule change had merit, while others supported the position of Hines, the then three-time champ, who argued against the change. This eventually became known as the Great Tiller Racing Controversy of ’93. The race has taken place on plowed ground ever since.

R. J. Hughey of Stephens (Ouachita County), participating in the kids’ division of the World Championship Rotary Tiller Race at the Emerson PurpleHull Pea Festival; 2002.
Photo by Kelly Quinn

In the spring of 1994, the festival committee formed a governing body for the race, the semi-autonomous World Tiller Racing Federation, which was charged with setting up rules for the competition. One subsequent rule set forth was the standardization of the track’s length at 200 feet.

Since that time, the race has seen many different innovations to both the rules and the tillers themselves. There are currently several different categories of the race, including a women’s division added in 2002. Tillers are now often built from scratch, with no parts that were original to an actual garden tiller.

The current world record is held by Shane Waller of Junction City (Union County), who tilled the 200-foot track in 5.72 seconds in 2004. Erica Butler of Springhill, Louisiana, holds the record in the women’s division with a time of 6.19 seconds, set in 2005.

World Championship Steak Cook Off

Fire Up Your Grills

The 19th annual World Championship Steak Cook-off will be Saturday, May 17th 2008 and is the highlight of the many Blossom Festival activities. We would like to invite all steak lovers whether you fancy yourself as a great chef or just love the taste of a mouth watering 16oz Certified Angus Beef Ribeye steak.

Each year there are nearly 4000 steaks cooked on the square here in Magnolia, AR. You cannot imagine the smell in the air as nearly 50 grills of all shapes and sizes begin the cookoff. Be sure and get your tickets early as they will go fast. Steak tickets are available from the Magnolia Chamber office, all area banks, Carter Federal Credit Union, Jennifer’s and Magnolia Internet Services. As always this years steaks will be 16oz Ribeyes provided to us by Certified Angus Beef Brand steaks.Certified Angus Beef brand is the only Angus Brand endorsed and monitored by the American Angus Association’s 28,000 cattle ranchers.

Steak Cook Off T-Shirts

New for 2008 is World Championship Steak Cook Off T-Shirt. Be sure and pick your up! All Blossom Festival and World Championship Steak Cook Off merchandise will be going on sale soon!