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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monticello, AR

Monticello is a city in Drew County, Arkansas, United States. According to 2006 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city is 9,327. The city is the county seat of Drew County. It is the home of the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Downtown Monticello (Drew County); 1879.
Courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System

Notable people from Monticello

Eric Reed - Major League baseball player,

Eric Shane Reed (born December 2, 1980 in Little Rock, Arkansas) is an outfielder who is currently a free agent. He is an alumnus of Texas A&M University. Reed was drafted in the 9th round in 2002 by the Marlins.

Hershel Gober - former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs,

Hershel Wayne Gober (born December 21, 1936) is a former government official and Vietnam War veteran. He served as acting United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) on two occasions during the administration of Bill Clinton. The first occasion to serve as Acting Secretary was from July 1, 1997 until January 2, 1998 between the resignation of Secretary Jesse Brown and confirmation of Acting Secretary Togo D. West, Jr. The second time to serve as Acting Secretary came on July 25, 2000 and lasted until January 20, 2001 after the resignation of Secretary West; this time Gober served in the post until the end of the Clinton presidency.

He started out in the VA as Deputy Secretary, serving from February 4, 1993 until August 10, 2000. Gober was also briefly Secretary-designate, when Clinton named him on July 31, 1997 to replace Jesse Brown. However, the nomination was withdrawn before Senate action on October 27 the same year. This happened because of fears nomination hearings for Gober would become heated due to questions about a 1993 claim of sexual misconduct made against him; he also wished to stay as Deputy Secretary.

During his tenure Gober played an important role in the Clinton (to whom he was a close and longtime aide) era VA. He headed a delegation traveled to Vietnam to seek the fullest possible accounting of missing veterans. He was also active in improving health care and expanding clinics for veterans.

Before serving in the VA, Gober was Director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs from January 4, 1988 to February 4, 1993 during President Clinton's tenure as Governor.

James Milton Carroll - Baptist pastor and historian,

James Milton Carroll (January 8, 1852 – January 11, 1931) was a Baptist pastor, leader, historian, and author. James Milton was one of twelve children born to Benajah and Mary Eliza (Mallard) Carroll. His father was a Baptist minister. He was born near Monticello, Arkansas and moved with his parents to Burleson County, Texas in 1858.

J. M. Carroll married Sudie Eliza Wamble on December 22, 1870.

Carroll was a denominational leader both in the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptist Convention. His works include Texas Baptist Statistics, A History of Texas Baptists, and B. H. Carroll, the Colossus of Baptist History, a biography of his brother Benajah Harvey Carroll. Active as an educator, he led in founding and was the first president of San Marcos Baptist Academy. He later served as president of Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, and Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas. He was an amateur ornithologist and owned a large collection of bird eggs. His lasting legacy among Baptists, for which he is both honored and vilified, is his booklet on Baptist history entitled The Trail of Blood, published in 1931. This booklet promotes the Landmarkist view of Baptist origins.

James Milton Carroll died in Fort Worth and is interred in San Antonio.

William F. Slemons - U.S. Representative from Arkansas,

William Ferguson Slemons (March 15, 1830 – December 10, 1918) was a U.S. Representative from Arkansas.

Born near Dresden, Tennessee, Slemons attended Bethel College. He moved to Arkansas in 1852. He studied law. He was admitted to the bar in 1855 and practiced in Monticello, Drew County. He served as member of the Arkansas State convention in 1861. He entered the Confederate States Army in July 1861 and served as colonel in Price's Cavalry throughout the Civil War. He resumed the practice of law. He served as district attorney 1866-1868.

Slemons was elected as a Democrat to the Forty-fourth, Forty-fifth, and Forty-sixth Congresses (March 4, 1875-March 3, 1881). He was not a candidate for renomination in 1880. He resumed the practice of his profession in Monticello, Arkansas. County and probate judge of Drew County 1903-1907. He was in the Justice of the Peace 1908-1918. He died in Monticello, Arkansas, December 10, 1918. He was interred in Union Ridge Cemetery, near Monticello, Arkansas.

Megan Ellis - National Karting Champion,

Magen Leigh Ellis (born October 11, 1986) is a beauty queen from Houston, Texas who has competed in the Miss Teen USA pageant and competed for the title Miss USA 2007 where she placed in the top 10. Ellis is one of only four Miss Texas Teen USA titleholders to also win Miss Texas USA.

Ellis graduated from Whitehouse High School in 2004 and attends the University of Houston where she studies Spanish and communications.

Magen Ellis Crowned Miss Texas USA

It was a night of celebration for one East Texas woman. Magen Ellis from Whitehouse won the title of Miss Texas USA, on Sunday. Magen made her way back from Laredo, with her new car. She visited with us about the night she was crowned.

When it came down to the final 3, Magen Ellis' heart was racing... thinking a crown could be just moments away.

"When it was the top 2 it was a repeat of Miss Houston again because she was my first runner up at Miss Houston, so I was nervous. I wasn't taking anything for granted until they called my name was the winner," says Magen Ellis, Miss Texas USA.

It's been less than 72 hours since she was crowned and she still cannot believe one of her dreams has come true.

"It hasn't sunk in yet that I'm going to be representing Texas at Miss USA. I've watched it, I tell people it's like watching super bowl for me. When Miss USA is on, don't talk I have to watch it. And I'm going to be there, I am going to be playing in my super bowl," says Magen.

She showed us some of the prizes she won as Miss Texas USA. The gift package includes: a diamond ring in the shape of her crown, a necklace, a trophy, a new Ford Mustang and other prizes which total $100,000. However, Magen says she is excited to have the opportunity to represent Texas and to touch people's lives.

"When you walk into hospital rooms and a child has a terminal disease or a chronic disease and their face light ups when you walk in because it is someone other than a doctor it's just a wonderful. It's the most wonderful feeling in the world so that what I want to do," says Magen.

She says one of the issues she is going to focus on is childhood obesity.

"It's sad because the lack of physical activity is really hurting our children its leading to diabetes, childhood diabetes, heart disease and a lot of other things and it's something that is dear to my heart because I love children," says Magen.

She says this is her opportunity to give back to the state she loves.

Magen has completed her freshman year at the University of Houston. She is majoring in Communication and Spanish, she hopes to get into television broadcasting someday. Magen will competing in the Miss USA pageant next year.

Karolyn Davis, reporting.

Monticello Arkansas the Economic, Educational and Cultural Center of Southeast Arkansas.

Drew County Courthouse in Monticello.
Photo by John Gill, courtesy of the photographer

Nestled in the rolling hills of Southeast Arkansas, you'll find Monticello, the region's fastest growing city. Here you will discover educational opportunities SEARK Concert Association, hunting in thousands of acres of pine and hardwood forests, fishing and recreational boating in Lake Monticello, and fun for the family during the annual Rough and Ready Days Festival each spring. You may just want to take a leisurely stroll down Main Street and view the pride of our past in the National Historical District, or tour the Drew County Museum. We are proud of our quality school systems, exceptional health care, active youth programs, diversified and expanding industry and a growing retail economy. We are Monticello!

Drew County Historical Museum

The Drew County Historical Museum, located on South Main Street, holds artifacts of Drew County's past and its archives offer excellent records for genealogical research. Housed in the Cavaness Home - a prime example of late 19th century architecture - the museum hosts an annual Candlelight Tour during the Christmas holiday season. Period dressed tour guides show hundreds of visitors through the two-story historic structure. The Drew County Historical Society, which operates the museum and archives, also sponsors the annual cemetery tour held in conjunction with the Rough and Ready Festival, as well as living history re-enactments and weekly tours.

Pleasant Springs School, near the present location of Pleasant Springs Baptist Church in the Coleman community north of Monticello (Drew County); circa 1890s.
Courtesy of Carolyn Tucker

North Main Historic District

For those wanting to step back in history, the North Main Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, includes homes and churches and other structures that are nostalgic of a bygone era when horse and buggy were the norm and things moved just a little slower.

A 1,520-acre lake that is rapidly gaining a reputation as a trophy bass lake. A recent catch was documented as the fourth-biggest largemouth ever caught in the state. Picnic area, concrete boat ramp, on-site bow range and model airplane airport. Entrance off Ark. 35 west of Monticello.

Author Charlie May Simon, best known for her children’s literature, who was a native of Monticello (Drew County) and later lived in Little Rock (Pulaski County) with her husband, poet John Gould Fletcher; circa 1930.
Photo by Stratton and Pintop, courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System.

Monticello (Drew County) Fire Department; 1935.
Courtesy of Carolyn Tucker

Monticello is the largest town in southeast Arkansas south of Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). Its history is one of continued growth and prosperity. Located at the intersection of two major roads and served early by railroads, it became an enduring commercial hub. A diversified infrastructure consisting of commerce, agriculture, and the timber industry created a strong foundation and sustained the town’s growth. The town also became an important educational and medical center.

Louisiana Purchase through Early Statehood

The first center of business and county court were at nearby Rough and Ready Hill, which was settled by 1836. Soon after Drew County formed in 1846, leading citizens decided that a new town should be built for the county seat. In 1849, Fountain C. and Polly Austin, early settlers, donated eighty-three acres for the town site. It is popularly believed that the citizens named the town after Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia estate.

The first courthouse was constructed in 1851 on the court square in the center of town. A second building replaced it in 1857. Lots were donated in the early 1850s for building Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. Lots were also set aside for a male academy, a female academy, and a cemetery. A library was established in the courthouse in 1857. The earliest newspaper, the Sage of Monticello, began publishing in 1857. Among the pre–Civil War establishments were G. W. Simms & Co. General Merchandise, I. A. Price Dry Goods, M. A. Wilson & Co., Charles Millerd & Alexander Hale Contractors, Henry Lephiew Grocery & Liquor, M. H. Burks & Bro. Hardware, Lephiew & Duval Grocery & Liquor, and Dr. H. F. Bailey Drug Store.

Civil War through the Gilded Age

Commercial progress continued until the Civil War. The town witnessed three minor skirmishes in 1864 (January 13–14, March 18, and September 9–11) and three in 1865 (January 26–31, March 21–23, and May 23–27). They all concerned Union forces raiding for supplies and artillery and looking for Confederate soldiers. On one occasion, they entered Colonel William F. Slemons’s house to search for him, but he eluded them by hiding in a hotel loft. Rodger’s Female Academy, established in 1857, was used as a Confederate hospital. The Confederates used Phi Kappa Sigma Male College as a storehouse for supplies. Union forces burned the building in 1865, though the Union occupied the town. The last skirmish to occur in Monticello happened after the formal surrender of the Confederacy. Word had not yet arrived that the war had ended.

The Reconstruction period witnessed the organization of the Ku Klux Klan in the county in retaliation against “carpetbagger” rule. Officials and citizens reached an agreement that whites would continue serving as county officials and African Americans would be elected representatives. Two prominent black citizens, Curl Trotter and Lynn L. Brooks, are given credit for helping ease the tension by using their influence with members of their race; Brooks served as state representative from 1866 to 1867.

A newspaper, the Monticellonian, was established in 1870; it was followed by the Drew County Advance in 1892. The long-awaited Little Rock, Mississippi River, and Texas Railroad (later known as the Iron Mountain) reached the town in 1880 and provided faster and better long-distance transportation. From 1874 to 1896, Monticello hosted the Southeast Arkansas Fair. People attended from all over southeast Arkansas and northeast Louisiana. The town’s most enduring mercantile store opened in 1881 when John J. McCloy and Virgil J. Trotter Sr. formed McCloy & Trotter Mercantile and Grocery. After McCloy’s death, the business continued as V. J. Trotter & Sons until it was sold in 1970. The first bank, Monticello Bank, opened in April 1887. Also in 1887, Hannah Hyatt began accepting orphans into her home. She donated her home and eighty acres to the State Baptist Convention in 1894, and the institution became the Arkansas Baptist Home for Children, which still exists. Telephone service reached the town in 1898. A cottonseed oil mill opened in 1890.

Early Twentieth Century

Monticello experienced immense growth in the early twentieth century. The Monticello Cotton Mill, founded by Warren Anderson, opened in 1900. Two cotton gins, a fertilizer plant, an ice plant, and a canning factory were built in connection with the cottonseed mill during this era. Several new banks formed. Mrs. James Gaston Williamson (née Lula Jackson) organized United Charities, composed of ladies from the town churches, in 1910. United Charities established a nursery for children whose mothers worked at the cotton mill and a home for women who were no longer able to work there. This effort led to the creation of the Vera Lloyd Presbyterian Home for Children in 1924; it still exists. Martin L. Sigman established a stave mill in 1914. The Sorosis Club, formed in 1902, established the Drew County Library in 1928. The next decade saw more progress. The Mack Wilson Hospital opened in 1930. The same year, Edward Lee Stephenson founded Stephenson’s Funeral Home, now the Stephenson-Dearman Funeral Home. A new courthouse was erected in 1932, and a municipal building was built two years later. A Coca-Cola plant opened in 1935, and a municipal swimming pool opened the next year.

At the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929, the Drew County Bank & Trust Company closed and was liquidated the following year. The manager, Henry Cruce, committed suicide. Although some businesses closed, the more established ones managed to stay open. The population increased during this decade as many farmers lost their farms and moved to town in search of work.

World War II through Modern Era

Soon after the outbreak of World War II, the effects of the Depression began to diminish. The Monticello Cotton Mill manufactured a coarse grade of cotton material that was used by the military for tents, cots, and awnings. It ran at full capacity throughout the war and employed many, enticing more rural people to relocate.

Drew Memorial Hospital was built in 1950, and in 1975, a modern building replaced the original. Local resident John Porter Price established the J. P. Price Lumber Company in 1965; it claims to be one of the largest wood-processing companies in the United States. Among the major industries in 1974 were Arvin (automotive exhaust systems manufacturer), L. T. Barnes (pulpwood), Burlington Industries (textiles), the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Davis Forest Services, Drew Cotton Seed Oil Mill (later Drew Foam), Dura-Craft Boats (now War Eagle Boats), Georgia-Pacific (forestry), MonArk Boat Company (now SeaArk Marine), and Wilson Sawmill. Richard Akin established Akin Industries, manufacturing furniture for healthcare customers, in 1985. The building of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the 1990s spurred commercial development west of the center of town. Chuck and David Dearman of Dearman Companies established North Park Village Shopping Center next to Wal-Mart. This commercial strip, about two miles long, did not cause the original civic center around the old courthouse town square to languish.


Monticello has always been a center for schools. Rodger’s Female Academy closed during the Civil War and reopened as Wood Thompson School for Boys. The name changed to Thompson High School when it became coeducational. Phi Kappa Sigma Male College was established by an act of the legislature in 1859. It was organized by Professor James William Barrow, who named it after his college fraternity. The Monticello Male Academy and Bessilieu Schoolhouse opened soon after the Civil War. Hinemon University, under the tutorship of John H. Hinemon, was established in 1890. The first public school opened in 1876 for a three-month session, and a nine-month school opened in 1883. The name changed to Monticello High School in 1910. A private school for black students, known as Monticello Academy or Presbyterian School, was established in the late 1890s. A public school for black students opened in the late 1920s. The Fourth District State Agricultural School, commonly called SAS, held its first classes in 1910. The name changed to Arkansas Agricultural and Mechanical College (Arkansas A&M) in 1925, and it received junior college certification in 1928. It reached senior college status in 1939 and was accredited the next year. In 1971, the college became part of the University of Arkansas system and was renamed the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM).


The Drew County Historical Museum houses impressive artifacts and serves as an archive for southeast Arkansas history. Several grandiose houses on North and South Main streets are on the National Register of Historic Places. Nearby Lake Monticello offers recreation.

A. H. Thomasson and Son Tailors in Monticello (Drew County); circa 1910. Owner Aaron Thomasson (center) was born into slavery in York County, South Carolina.
Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission