See Rock City

See Rock City

Friday, September 19, 2008

Van Buren, AR

Van Buren (IPA: /væn ˈbjʊərən/) is the second largest city in the Fort Smith Arkansas-Oklahoma Statistical Area and the county seat of Crawford County, Arkansas, United States. The city is located directly northeast of Fort Smith at the Interstate 40 - Interstate 540 junction. The city was incorporated in 1842 and according to 2005 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city was 21,249, ranking it as the state's 19th largest city, behind Sherwood.

Downtown Van Buren

Phillips Landing and earlier

The area was settled by David Boyd and Thomas Martin in the year 1818. After Arkansas became a territory in 1819 Daniel and Thomas Phillips constructed a lumber yard in the community to serve as a fuel depot for river traffic. In the year 1831 a post office was constructed for the community, at the time known as Phillips Landing. This post office was named after the newly appointed Secretary of State, Martin Van Buren.

Historic Downtown Shopping District, Van Buren

John Drennen along with his partner, David Thompson, purchased the area for US$11,000. They moved their business of supplying firewood for steamboats to this new location on higher ground. The courthouse was constructed on a lot of land donated by Drennen on the condition that Van Buren become the county seat. The Drennen Reserve is one of the town's existing historical sites from the 1830s.

Historic Downtown Shopping District, Van Buren


Van Buren was first incorporated December 24, 1842.

Battle of Van Buren, 1862

On December 7, 1862, Union and Confederate forces clashed along the Arkansas River in and around the town of Van Buren resulting in a defeat for the Confederate army driving them south across the river with minimal casualties, however the Union forces captured 100 prisoners, as stated in a battle report by Samuel R. Curtis, Major General of the Union forces.

Arts and architecture

Van Buren is home of the King Opera House, a Victorian-style performance hall from the late 1800s, part of the old downtown historic area. At the south end of the historical downtown is the Crawford County courthouse, the oldest functioning courthouse west of the Mississippi River. To the north is the Old Frisco Station which was originally a station on the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, pictured at the top of this page.

The King Opera House is a performance hall and historic landmark located on Van Buren, Arkansas' Main Street. Since it was built in the late 1800s, the opera house's stage has hosted many plays and performers.

Building Style

The Victorian-era structure first opened its doors in the late 1800s, and has since undergone extensive restoration prior to reopening for use in 1979. The auditorium of the opera house has several seats below and on the balcony areas with an intricate design. Large and well-sized for performances on its stage, the opera house below consists of a basement with two couches, and two small closet-sized dressing rooms. The basement can be highly cramped in its relatively modest changing area and green room, particularly for productions with large casts.

King Opera House Today

The King Opera House is a performance space of Fort Smith's Young Actors Guild, whose past productions have included Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, and Alice in Wonderland.

Arkansas-Missouri Railroad in historic downtown Van Buren

Bargains Galore on 64

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure – and there’s plenty of antiques and collectibles to find at Bargains Galore on 64 held the second week of August each year.

Notable natives

Bob Burns - Comedian and actor,

Bob Burns (August 2, 1890 – February 2, 1956) was an American radio and film comedian during the 1930s and 1940s. Early in his career he was billed as Robert Burns.

Born Robin Burn in Greenwood, Arkansas, he was three years old when the Burn family moved to Van Buren, Arkansas. Before the age of 12, he was playing trombone and cornet in Van Buren's Queen City Silver Cornet Band. At 13, he formed his own string band. Practicing in the back of Hayman's Plumbing Shop one night, he picked up a length of gas pipe and blew into it, creating an unusual sound. With modifications, this became a musical instrument he named a bazooka (after "bazoo," meaning a windy fellow, from the Dutch bazuin for "trumpet"). A photograph shows him playing his invention in the Silver Cornet Band.

Matt Jones - Wide receiver for NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars,

Matthew Jones (born April 22, 1983 in Fort Smith, Arkansas) is an American football wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League. He was drafted by the Jaguars 21st overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. He played college football at Arkansas.

John T. Deweese - U.S. Representative from North Carolina,

John Thomas Deweese (June 4, 1835 – July 4, 1906) was a Congressional Representative from North Carolina; born in Van Buren, Arkansas, June 4, 1835; educated at home; studied law; was admitted to the bar in 1856 and commenced practice in Henderson, Kentucky; resident of Denver, Colorado, for some years; moved to Pike County, Indiana, in 1860; entered the Union Army July 6, 1861, as second lieutenant of Company E, Twenty-fourth Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and served with that command until February 15, 1862, when he resigned; mustered in as captain of Company F, Fourth Indiana Cavalry, August 8, 1862; successively promoted to rank of colonel; moved to North Carolina; upon the reorganization of the Army was appointed second lieutenant, Eighth United States Infantry, July 24, 1866; resigned August 14, 1867, having been elected to Congress; appointed register in bankruptcy for North Carolina in 1868; upon the readmission of North Carolina to representation was elected as a Republican to the Fortieth and Forty-first Congresses and served from July 6, 1868, to February 28, 1870, when he resigned, pending the investigation of certain appointments to the United States Military and Naval Academies; chairman, Committee on Expenditures in the Department of the Interior (Forty-first Congress), Committee on Revolutionary Pensions (Forty-first Congress); censured by the House of Representatives on March 1, 1870, for selling an appointment to the Naval Academy; delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1876; resumed the practice of law; died in Washington, D.C., July 4, 1906; interment in Arlington National Cemetery.

Historical Significance

Inside King Opera House

History Abounds in this River Town

Gracing Main Street for well over a hundred years, the beautifully-restored King Opera House sets the stage with its vibrant theatrical offerings and whispers the presence of a once earnest and intrepid actor, now haunting the backstage and still looking for work.

Van Buren’s Public Square presents its Italian-inspired county courthouse and rugged one-room school house in the midst of a gracefully landscaped garden setting.

Drennen-Scott House

150 years of history in a working laboratory.

Overlooking the Arkansas River, the commanding Drennen-Scott House, initially the home of the Revolutionary War descendant, John Drennen and his family, is now a “working laboratory” for university students as they recreate the century- and- a- half- old home linked to The Trail of Tears, the Underground railroad and the Civil War.

The Drennen-Scott House is not yet open to the public on a regular basis. Plans are being developed to open the working laboratory from time to time and more elaborate tours are planned in the future. Please continue to check with us about this magnificent sprawling single -story home and its contents that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic Mainstreet

Victorian Charm and Unique Treasures

Arts, Antiques and Whimsy capture those who stroll down the Victorian-bred architecture of a Main Street teeming with a bounty of treasures. Musical instruments, stoneware, antique furnishings, all one- of- a- kind reasons to linger away an afternoon. Complete the pleasures with a presentation of honest food, Ozark cuisine… homemade and fresh with ingredients of the Natural State. Calling this “Easy Street,” locals refer to the ease with which one can come and go on Main Street as well as its accessibility to both interstate and back roads travel.

The many shops and restaurants that share in the preservation of this Main Street promise a memory and a glimpse into the pride and heritage of a once rough- and- tumble river town. Typical year-round sunny days beckon the curious to leisurely take in the sights and flavors of a town defined by its own diversity.

All Aboard the Scenic Rail!!!

Step Back into the 1920's & Tour the Ozarks

Arkansas reveals her inner beauty from the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad’s route through the bluffs and valleys of the Boston Mountains. Impeccably restored and polished, the passenger train is a ride back in time and a journey forward as the wonders of Ozark wildlife and 1920s opulence merge during this two-hour excursion.

Begin your afternoon adventure at The Old Frisco Station, a Van Buren landmark and welcome center for over a century. Settle in to the plush grandeur of the comfortable passenger cars and hold your breath as the tracks take you over the Arkansas River, through a quarter mile tunnel and over a series of trestles overlooking the rugged and spectacular forestland. Laugh and wonder with the conductor, who will share his tales of lore and his knowledge of this beautiful and bountiful part of the world.

Crawford County Courthouse. In 1877, arsonists virtually destroyed the 1842 Italianate-styled courthouse. Before it was rebuilt from the remaining brick walls, it became the center of a feud between the citizens of Van Buren and Alma- the latter wanting the county seat moved to their town, Van Buren won out, however, and it was rebuilt with the addition of a front porch, side wings, a rear wing and the now well-knoiwn clock tower which was financed by donations from local citizens.

Antique shop in Van Buren's Historic District. The perfectly preserved Victorian Main Street is home to dozens of shops. The plethora of unique shops and boutiques offers a divine selection of antiques, collectibles, and fine art.

Jame Monroe was the newly elected president of the United States and Arkansas was still a district of the territory of Missouri when David Boyd, first white man set foot on the future town site of Van Buren.
David Boyd was a log raiser and his arrival in 1818 was the first recorded event in the town's history. He lived until 1885. He has a living granddaughter, Mrs. Lillie Fine, whose mother was Lydia Ann Boyd Disney, the daughter of David Boyd.
Crawford County Courthouse. In 1877, arsonists virtually destroyed the 1842 Italianate-styled courthouse. Before it was rebuilt from the remaining brick walls, it became the center of a feud between the citizens of Van Buren and Alma- the latter wanting the county seat moved to their town, Van Buren won out, however, and it was rebuilt with the addition of a front porch, side wings, a rear wing and the now well-knoiwn clock tower which was financed by donations from local citizens.

Sketch of Van Buren (Crawford County) by artist and writer William Minor Quesenbury; circa 1880.
Sketch by William Minor Quesenbury, courtesy of Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville

The first white settler was Thomas Martin who arrived shortly after David Boyd. Martin was helped byBoyd to build his log house. Thomas Martin claimed squatters rights to the land, and a few people gathered around Martin and the place became a boat landing and a small settlement.

C. G. “Crip” Hall (center) posing at Paramount Studios with actors/musicians Richard Ewing (Dick) Powell of Mountain View (Stone County) on the left and Bob Burns of Van Buren (Crawford County) on the right; circa 1940.
Photo by G. E. Richardson, courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System

Arkansas now became a territory in 1819. Daniel and Thomas Phillips cam to Martin's claim, and the Phillips, Thomas and Daniel, established a wood yard to supply fuel for the flat bottomed steam boat plying the river. The community was called Phillips Landing.

In 1831, a post office was established at Phillips Landing, which distributed mail for the area. The post office was named Van Buren for the new Secretary of Stater, Martin Van Buren, appointed by President Jackson.

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

About one mile below Phillips Landing two merchants established general stores and operated a ferry. One firm was John Henry & Company. The other firm was John Drennen and David Thompson. This new settlement was called Columbus.

By 1835, John Drennen and David Thompson were well established in Columbus Landing, they had weathered a terrible flood and had witnessed a public whipping of a criminal by Sheriff Joshua Brown.

King Opera House on historic Main Street in Van Buren (Crawford County); 2008.
Photo by Mike Keckhaver

The county seat in 1835 was at Crawford Old Court House on Arbuckle Island. In thisyear, 1835, John Drennen represented Crawford County at the Constitutional Convention, helping to write the first Constitution of Arkansas.

Building in which Albert Pike was reputed to have taught in 1832. The building now stands on the courthouse lawn at Van Buren (Crawford County); 2008.
Photo by Mike Keckhaver

In 1836 after Arkansas was admitted as a state, John Drennen and David Thompson realized that Van Buren, owned by Thomas Phillips was a better site for a town than Columbus because of the higher ground. They bought the townsite of Van Buren from Thomas Phillips for $11,000. The following year the town was surveyed and laidout according to the direction of the river, the real growth of the town began there. It soon became the center of distribution of goods for Northwest Arkansas.

The old Fort Smith at Belle Point had been discontinued and in 1837 the government began searching for a new site for a fort. The bluff at the mouth of Lee's Creek was considered but problems of water supply and transportation out weighed the advantages and the site for a fort was purchased from Captain John Rogers and it was built across the river.

The Crawford County Bank Building, located on historic Main Street in Van Buren (Crawford County), was built in 1889 and is now a small hotel/restaurant; 2008.
Photo by Mike Keckhaver

A little settlement north of Van Buren was occupied by a few families as early as 1820. In this year a son was born to Alfred Smith and his wife, Martha Matlock Smith. This child was named Ammon Payne Smith, and was the
Antique shop in Van Buren's Historic District. The perfectly preserved Victorian Main Street is home to dozens of shops. The plethora of unique shops and boutiques offers a divine selection of antiques, collectibles, and fine art.
first white child born in Crawford County. His descendants still live in Van Buren.

Postcard featuring actor/comedian Bob Burns’s childhood home in Van Buren (Crawford County).
Courtesy of Jim McDaniel

Van Buren was first incorporated as a town, by the State Legislature, December 24, 1842. The town was re-incorporated January 4, 1845. The first mayor was Alexander McLean. There have been 85 mayors of Van Buren since 1845. Several have served more than one term.

Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren.
Photo by John Gill, courtesy of the photographer

On condition that the Crawford County Court HOuse be permanently located in Van Buren as the county seat, John Drennen and David Thompson donated a public square in the center of the townin 1841-1842, it was the most imposing building in the couny. In the Battle of Van Buren, December 28, 1862, the building escaped damage by the Federal Troops, but all the records of the years 1855 to 1860 housed there, were destroyed.

Drug store in Alma (Crawford County); circa 1909. At the time, there was an opera house above the drug store.
Courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System

On the night of March 23, 1877, during the period of Reconstruction, the court house was burned. Most of the records were destroyed. A few partly burned ones were saved and re-recorded.

William Harris Crawford, for whom Crawford County is named, served as both U.S. Secretary of War and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.
Public domain

An Act of Congress on April 13, 1851 provided for two terms of Federal Court for this Western District of Arkansas to be held yearly in the town of Van Buren. The first term of Federal Court of which there is a record, was held in the county court house in May 1854, the presiding judge was Daniel Ringo. In May 1861, Judge Ringo resigned and the records were turned over to the clerk, John B. Ogden. The Federal Court ceased to function during the War Between the States. After the raid of 1862, made on Van Buren by the Federal Court of the Western District of Arkansas was moved to Fort Smith.

Monument to Parley Parker Pratt, near Rudy (Crawford County); 2008.
Photo by Mike Keckhaver

The first term of court in its new location was held May 1, 1871. Judge Story was the presiding judge. Sebastian County had been created out of Crawford County, January 1, 1851. The new seat of the Federal Court for the Western DIstrict of Arkansas was now located in Fort Smith, Sebastian County.

The first newspapers to be punlished in Van Buren was the "Intelligencer" in 1842. This paper was in existence in 1859. The same year that the "Intelligencer" was discontinued. The Van Buren Press made its appearancde with Joseph Starr Dunham as owner and editor. The first isssue was printed on July 6, 1859 and continued until January 23, 1862. Due to the Civil War it was impossible to obtain paper for printing. On February 3, 1866, the "Van Buren Press' was again printed after a lapse of 4 years. Mr. Dunham, as editor and publisher, printed the Van Buren Press" for 48 years, from 1859 until the day of his death in 1912.

The Little Rock and Fort Smith railway was organized in 1853. The first president of the Company was John Drennen of Van Buren. On June 24, 1876, the first train entered Van Buren from Little Rock. The railway continued to opposite Fort Smith where passengers and cargo was moved across the Arkansas river on big flat boats. In 1916 the St. Louis Iron Mountain and SOuthern was re-named the Missouri Pacific railway.

The Frisco, the St. Louis and San Francisco railway, was completed from St. Louis, Missouri, to Van Buren in June 1882. On March 28, 1960, the last Missouri Pacific passenger train made its last run fromVan Buren to Coffeyville, Kansas. The Frisco passenger trains made their last run on September 17, 1965.