City History

History of Lake City, Arkansas

Throughout the years, the area that is known as Lake City, has been a trading post, a steamboat landing, a sawmill town, a small city, and now a small town. The many settlers and pioneers that streamed into the area helped shape and form the city into it's present day community.

It is a logical assumption that the Lake City site was inhabited by indians long before white settlers migrated to the area. James M. Danley, a government surveyor, provided the first legal documentation on Sept. 30, 1848; indicating that there was a settlement at an old Indian camp known as "Old Town". growth of this particular area, from small settlement, to a village, can be easily attributed to an abundance of natural resources, such as timber, great soil, and a plentiful supply of animals for hunting and trapping. All played an integral part in the selection process people played in settling the area.

The first white man to settle at this location was a trapper and trader named Jesse Morgan. Morgan built a small log cabin close to what is now the present Main Street of Lake City. Mr. Morgan lived in the Lake City area several years, but later moved to the Lester community. However, Morgan can be attributed with paving the way for settlers to make Lake City their home.

The location has been known by three different names since Mr. Danley made the first documentation. The original names were "Old Town", then "Sunk Lands", and finally "Lake City". There are many reasons for the different name changes. Select the page links, below, to continue.

Steamboat travel, on the St. Francis River, quickly ensured growth because this enabled a quicker and safer way to travel to the area. As the population grew, this increased the need for supplies and transportation. The "Mary Avery", owned by France Varner, was the first steamboat to travel the St. Francis as far north as "Old Town".

"Old Town" remained with the title of trading post until around 1878. Many settlers, some displaced due to the Civil War, some pioneers with a desire to conquer the wilderness, and some who wanted to literally carve their fortune out of a new land, made their way to "Old Town". As the population of the trading post grew, a need arose for the establishment of a post office. On Nov. 1, 1878, an application for establishment of a post office was submitted by Samuel A. Warner. Because there was already a post office named "Old Town", the application then was revised to read "Sunk Lands".

The name "Sunk Lands" apparently stemmed from the geographic lay of the land that occurred after the 1812 earthquake. After the earthquake the land actually sunk lower than the surrounding terrain. This created slough areas that remained filled with water most of the year.

In 1881 the village of "Old Town", or what was now called "Sunk Lands", had progressed to the point where this name was no longer appropriate for the community. At that time the St. Francis River, at this location, was over one mile wide and seven miles long. The residents, along with railroad officials, decided to change the name to "Lake City". The lake remained in existence until the first levees were constructed and dredging began on the river, changing the flow of the river, and allowing trees and vegetation to grow.

By 1898 the town had grown to the point where it was felt that an organized government was needed. A petition, headed by Allen Springer, and signed by thirty-four leading citizens of the town, was presented to the county court on Jan. 5, 1898. On Feb. 7, 1898, Judge Emmett Rogers signed an order incorporating the city, officially knowan as "Lake City".

St. Francis River Bridge

In 1898 a one lane wooden bridge was constructed across the St Francis River. This bridge was over one mile long and was quite an asset to the economy of Lake City. This bridge allowed people who lived east of the river to have access to the town. Before a bridge was built across the river, a ferry was operated from Poplar Ridge to Lake City.

The wooden bridge served the community until 1912, when it was replaced with another one-lane bridge. The new bridge was modern, in its construction, in that it contained a steel frame and pilings. It was, also, over one mile long, and at each quarter-mile, a "turn out" was built to permit wagons to pass when meeting on the bridge. This second bridge stood until 1934, when it was replaced by a concrete structure.

The concrete structure was quite a marvel in its day. It provided safe travel, for the new modern automobile, across the St. Francis, but was also built with river travel in mind. A steel frame drawbridge was installed on the river end of teh bridge to allow any river traffic to travel downstream. According to all that have questioned, the draw-bridge was only raised one time. On Sept. 7, 1934 the new bridge was dedicated.

This bridge stood until construction began, in 1997, on a new concrete structure. The current bridge is a four-lane structure, built to accommodate the ever increasing commerce and commute through Lake City. The steel draw-bridge, from the 1934 structure, would be retained and moved just to the south of the new bridge; serving as a reminder of this significant piece of history.

By Louise T. Taft - Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph Division HAERARK,16-LACI,1-4, Public Domain,