See Rock City

See Rock City

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rogers, AR

Rogers, AR

Rogers is a suburban city in Benton County, Arkansas, United States. As of the 2000 census, the city is the ninth most populous in the state, with a total population of 38,829, however, in 2006 a special census determined that Rogers had a population of 48,666. According to the 2007 Census Rogers has a population of 54,959. The city in the fast growing Fayetteville, Rogers, Bentonville metro area is expected to grow even more in the future, and now has over 400,000 residents, according to Sperling Best Places.

Rogers is famous as the location of the first Wal-Mart store. Daisy Outdoor Products, known for its air rifles, is headquartered in Rogers. The city is also where comedian Will Rogers married Betty Blake in 1908. It's thought the city was named for him in part of the numerous population of Cherokee Indians of the area referred him, but he hailed from neighboring Oklahoma where the tribal Western Cherokee Nation is located.[citation needed] In June 2007, BusinessWeek magazine ranked Rogers as 18th in its list of the 25 best affordable suburbs in the American South.

Daisy is a company that makes and sells inexpensive BB guns and other air guns.

Rogers was founded as a stop on the St. Louis and San Francisco (Frisco) Railroad and developed as a shipping point for apples and a trade center for the surrounding rural area. After World War II, agriculture remained important, but business leaders also embarked on a successful effort to recruit light industry. Rogers has several major industrial plants and retail centers and is one of the fastest-growing cities in Arkansas.

William Hope "Coin" Harvey of Rogers (Benton County), founder of Monte Ne Resort and the Ozark Trails Association, as well as the first Arkansan to run for president; circa 1930.
Courtesy of the Rogers Historical Museum (Neg. #N004935)

Louisiana Purchase through Reconstruction

Settlers began to arrive in the vicinity of what is today Rogers around 1830. Most came from the Upper South states, especially Tennessee. The foundation of the local economy in the mid-1800s was subsistence farming, with tobacco as the main cash crop. The many streams in the region provided power for grist and lumber mills, and abundant timber allowed early industrialist Peter Van Winkle to establish a lumber empire near the hamlet of War Eagle (Benton County), east of what is today Rogers.

Rogers street scene (Benton County); circa 1910.
Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville

A major state road ran through what is now the city of Rogers. This road was part of the route used by the Overland Mail Company organized in 1857 by John Butterfield to carry the United States mail from Tipton, Missouri, to California. Callahan’s Tavern, a stagecoach inn near a large spring in what is now northeastern Rogers, was a stop on the Butterfield route. The Butterfield Overland Mail route was discontinued after the outbreak of the Civil War because it ran through Confederate territory.

Apple pickers in W. E. Brown's orchard at Rogers (Benton County); circa 1900.
Courtesy of the Rogers Historical Museum (Neg. #N007936)

The Civil War put local residents in the crossfire between Union and Confederate armies. There were major military camps within a few miles of the center of town, and in March 1862, the Battle of Pea Ridge took place nearby. Many barns, mills, and homes in the area were destroyed, and the economic and social development of the region was devastated.

Betty Blake Rogers of Rogers (Benton County), with her husband, entertainer and humorist Will Rogers, and their children; circa 1921.
Courtesy of the Rogers Historical Museum (Neg. #N002415)

Residents devoted the 1870s to rebuilding. The 1880s saw the arrival of rail transportation. The Frisco followed a route through eastern Benton County, bypassing the county seat of Bentonville. The railroad established stations along the route, and around each of those stations, a town sprang up. One of those towns was Rogers.

Crowds in Rogers (Benton County) gathering for opening day of the first Wal-Mart; 1962.
Courtesy of the Rogers Historical Museum (Neg. #N009034)

Rogers celebrates May 10, 1881, as its birthday, the day the first train pulled into town to be greeted by an enthusiastic crowd. The town with an estimated population at incorporation of 600 people was named for Captain Charles Warrington Rogers, general manger of the Frisco. The railroad advertised the Rogers area across the Midwest, and as newcomers from states such as Iowa and Illinois arrived, Rogers began to grow. The town owed its growth to the fact that it was both a local trade center and a major shipping point for apples and apple products.

Exhibits at Rogers (Benton County) broiler show; March 1941.
Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

Post-Reconstruction through Early Twentieth Century

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, orchards surrounded Rogers. Along the railroad tracks were produce houses, apple evaporators where apples were sliced and dried, and an enormous apple cider vinegar plant. By the early 1900s, Rogers boasted a brick commercial district, concrete sidewalks, an electric light plant, public schools and a private academy, and an opera house. The light plant and school building are gone, but the opera house and most of the other early brick commercial buildings are still standing today.

Fire Department Hose Company No. 1 at Rogers (Benton County); circa 1890.
Courtesy of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History/Washington County Historical Society (P-4051)

By the 1920s, Rogers had grown to over 3,000 residents. The Apple Blossom Festivals, held each spring from 1924 through 1927, attracted thousands of people to Rogers to see the floats, tour the orchards in bloom, and see the Apple Blossom Queen crowned. However, bad weather often plagued the events. The apple industry itself also was in decline since disease and insects had begun to wreak havoc in the orchards. The festival ended, and soon poultry replaced apples as the main agricultural product.

Rogers (Benton County) street scene; 1938
Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

Population growth in Rogers slowed dramatically during the Great Depression. All but one of the community’s banks failed. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) offered employment to jobless residents and completed a number of local projects, including the building of Lake Atalanta. The lake became the centerpiece of a large city park still serving the community today. The Rogers Relief Association raised funds for the needy, and entertainer Will Rogers, whose wife was from the town, gave a benefit performance to help the relief effort.

The Daisy Airgun Museum in Rogers (Benton County).
Courtesy of the Cabot High School Museum

World War II through Modern Era

Merchants in Rogers (Benton County); June 1890.
Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

Late in 1940, Rogers’s National Guard unit, Battery F of the 142nd Field Artillery, was mobilized to active duty in anticipation of the outbreak of war. After World War II began, other Rogers men and women joined members of that unit in the military. Locally, the Red Cross made surgical bandages and knitted gloves, sweaters, and helmet liners. Schoolchildren participated in War Bond drives and collected scrap metal. Many residents left Rogers to work in defense plants, and some never returned. City leaders saw the need to attract industry to Rogers and began to work toward that goal.

Rogers Historical Museum’s first building.
Courtesy of the Rogers Historical Museum

After World War II, homegrown industries expanded, and companies from elsewhere opened plants. Among the first to relocate was Daisy Manufacturing, a maker of air guns that moved its entire operation to Rogers from Plymouth, Michigan, in 1958. During the next four decades, the poultry industry expanded, and new industrial plants opened. The construction of Beaver Dam, begun in 1960, created Beaver Lake, providing recreation for tourists and retirees and assuring a water supply for industry. The resulting growth brought increased ethnic diversity to what had been a largely white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant community, and by 2000, nineteen percent of the population of Rogers was Latino.

Exterior view of the modern Rogers Historical Museum in Benton County.
Courtesy of the Rogers Historical Museum

Education, Industry, Attractions, and Famous Residents

During its early years, Rogers was served by both public schools and the private Rogers Academy. By 2005, the Rogers Public Schools operated thirteen elementary schools, two middle schools, a combined elementary-middle school, two junior highs, as well as a high school with two campuses, a main campus and a sophomore center. The town also has several private schools and an arts-based charter school. Northwest Arkansas Community College, although located in Bentonville (Benton County), is supported by tax revenue from and serves Rogers.

During its early years, the economy of Rogers was dependent upon agriculture. Poultry growing and processing became important in the 1930s and remain so today. Major employers now include the Mercy Health System, Tyson Foods of Rogers, Bekaert Corporation, and Glad Manufacturing. In 1962, Sam Walton opened his very first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, and today many residents work for Wal-Mart or for one of the many Wal-Mart vendors with offices in northwest Arkansas.

Recreational attractions include Beaver Lake and the Hobbs State Park–Conservation Area, both east of Rogers. Historical and cultural attractions include the nearby Pea Ridge National Military Park. The Rogers Main Street program has worked to preserve the historic downtown, including the Rogers Historical Museum, the Daisy Airgun Museum, and the Rogers Little Theater; the latter two are included in the Rogers Commercial Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Notable residents include William H. “Coin” Harvey, a well-known political figure who moved to Rogers in 1900. He developed a resort at nearby Monte Ne (Benton County) and, in 1932, ran for president on a third party ticket. Tom Morgan, who moved to Rogers in 1890, was an author of local color stories for such national magazines as the Saturday Evening Post. Betty Blake grew up in Rogers and married Will Rogers in 1908. As Will Rogers became one of the country’s most famous entertainers, Betty helped to guide his career.

Butterfield Overland Express

John Butterfield, founder of Butterfield Overland Express, which ran through Arkansas; circa 1860.
Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

The Butterfield Overland Express carried the first overland transcontinental mail by stagecoach through Arkansas as it went from the Mississippi River to California. Though only running from 1858 through 1861, it was the longest stagecoach line in world history at approximately 2,812 miles and was a major factor in the settlement and development of Arkansas and the American West before the Civil War. Its two main routes ran through Arkansas, westward from Memphis and south from Missouri, connecting in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). Many sites in Arkansas, such as Butterfield Trails Village in Fayetteville (Washington County), still reflect the era of the Butterfield Express.

Modern view of Potts Inn, built in 1850 by John Kirkbride Potts, in Pottsville (Pope County). The inn once served the Butterfield Overland Express route.
Courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System.

Confederate monument at Pea Ridge National Military Park (Benton County); circa early 1900s.
Courtesy of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History/Washington County Historical Society (S-84-235-3)

Before modern technology, the mail was America’s lifeblood. “Post roads” were created in the original colonies even before military routes so that the mail could be carried. As the new country expanded west of the Mississippi, Congress recognized the need for an overland mail service to the Pacific. When gold was discovered in California in 1849, bringing over a quarter of a million people to the West Coast, there was a huge demand for transporting mail, supplies, and passengers. At the time, the usual route was by boat, either around South America or with an overland crossing in Panama, both of which were time-consuming, expensive, and dangerous. After California threatened to secede if a faster mail service was not established, Congress voted in 1857 to subsidize a mail run from the Mississippi River to San Francisco. It required that supplies and passengers also be safely carried in twenty-five days or less. The six-year, $600,000 contract was awarded to John Butterfield, a former stage driver from New York, who was one of the founders of the American Express Company.

Monument commemorating the Butterfield Overland Express, on the courthouse lawn at Van Buren (Crawford County); 2008.
Photo by Mike Keckhaver

Hundreds of horses, mules, harnesses, food, supplies, and wagons, along with other equipment, had to be purchased, but even before that, 141 way stations had to be established along the route. From Tipton to Fort Smith, Butterfield was able to use existing roads, though from Fort Smith westward he had to create new ones or use routes that were little more than trails.

Transition from the Boston Mountains to the Springfield Plateau, looking north from Marshall (Searcy County); 2007.
Photo by Mike Keckhaver

On September 16, 1858, the first stagecoach of the Butterfield Overland Mail originated in Tipton, and on September 18, it made its first stop in Arkansas. On this inaugural trip, John Butterfield himself rode the stage to Fort Smith. Its first Arkansas stop was at a spring near what is today Rogers (Benton County) and was called Callahan’s Tavern. It then went south to Fayetteville. This was a major stop, since the route from Fayetteville through the rugged Boston Mountains to Fort Smith required that the horses be exchanged for mules, animals that could better make the arduous trip.

Elkhorn tavern, near Pea Ridge (Benton County), site of one of the most important Civil War battles in the state; July 1907.
Courtesy of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History/Bob Besom Collection (S-82-170-51)