Thursday, June 27, 2024

Desha County

Whenver I'm in this part of the state I can't help bit think about my grandmother (who us grandkids called Memaw). She grew up in the Delta, in the small town of Watson in Desha County. It must not have been an easy time to grow up. She would have been around 11 when the Great Flood of 1927 occurred. Watson sat just a few miles away from both the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers, and Watson was flooded for over a month. They lived in a 2-story house, and had to live on the top floor while the rest of the house was under water. According to family legend, they even took in another family who floated by the house on driftwood.

Because the flood damage was so bad, Memaw was sent to North Little Rock so she could attend school. A few years later, while a high school student in NLR, she met my Papaw and they would get married in 1934. While Papaw was serving with the Navy in World War II (in Okinawa), she returned to Watson and  took a job at the Rohwer Relocation Center. After the war, they moved back to North Little Rock. They had a few kids, and then a few grandkids. When Memaw passed away in 2006, they had been married for 72 years.

This is a photo taken of Memaw, standing outside of the house in Watson. The house is gone now, it burned down sometime after the war. I tried to find the spot where it used to sit, but didn't have any luck.


The land here is flat, and mostly filled with farms and fields. Silos and other farm buildings loom tall over the landscape.





Two of the oldest towns in Arkansas used to be in this part of the Delta. In 1686, Arkansas Post was established by the French. It was the first permanent French settlement along the Mississippi River (older than St. Louis and New Orleans). It would become the capitol of the Arkansas Territory in 1819. But when Arkansas became a state, the capitol had been moved upriver to Little Rock. Arkansas Post was prone to flooding, and was under constant attack by mosquitoes. During the Civil War, the town was destroyed by Union troops. It was never rebuilt, and no buildings remain.

Nearby was the town of Napoleon, which was established in the 1830s at the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers. It became the county seat of Desha County, and quickly became a prosperous river town. In the 1840s, Napoleon was chosen as the site of a Marine Hospital. But the town was short-lived. During the Civil War, a canal was cut along the Mississippi River so that Union ships could avoid Confederate guerillas. The change in the river brought the current of the Mississippi to Napoleon, and within a few years the river had claimed the city. Nothing is left now, but it is said that sometimes you can see some ruins of the town when the river is low.

The economy of the county has always revolved around farming, and it has struggled ever since modern farming techniques were implemented. The population of the county has steadily fallen, from a high of almost 30,000 in 1940 to just around 11,000 in 2020.






This old restaurant sat along Hwy. 65 near Dumas.


And this abandoned gas station was just down the road:






This neat old Methodist church was nearby, which is open and still in use.



And one last shot, before I head to head back home. This is an old cotton gin, now abandoned and rusting away.


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