Modified portion of the 1901 “Map of Arkansas,” published by George F. Cram, Chicago.
The area which is now Boone County was once home to Native Americans like the Osage. Spanish and French explorers later came through, followed by settlers from Tennessee, Kentucky, and other southern states. The land was heavily forested and hilly, so new arrivals came by river until roads could be built for wagons. In December 1818 explorer Henry R. Schoolcraft stopped at Sugarloaf Prairie near Lead Hill and said this of the inhabitants:
They raise corn for bread, and for feeding their horses previous to the commencement of long journeys in the woods, but none for exportation. No cabbages, beets, onions, potatoes, turnips, or other garden vegetables are raised. Gardens are unknown. Corn and other wild meats, chiefly bear’s meat, are the staple articles of food. In manners, morals, customs, dress, contempt for labor and hospitality, the state of society is not essentially different from that which exists among the savages.
An east-west military road, also known as the Washington Road, was built in the days when the area was part of a much larger Carroll County.Boone County was created in 1869 from a large chunk of Carroll County; a few years later a small portion of Marion County was added. The county wasn’t named after Daniel Boone, as some have claimed. Rather, its beautiful land was said to be a boon (a gift) to its settlers. Farmers found prairies and other land suitable for grazing livestock and planting such crops as cotton, corn, and fruit. Zinc and lead were mined and forests were heavily logged for such products as railroad ties, lumber, barrel staves, and tool handles. The coming of the St. Louis and North Arkansas Railroad in 1901 meant that more of Boone County’s products could be shipped to market. In 1905 the Harrison Times wrote:
There is stamped upon our people the signet of enterprise and broad-gauged public spirit; we are moving steadily onward in wealth, material prosperity and advances of culture with the courage of self-assertion... Enterprise is planning new forms; labor a new impetus; brain and brawn are at work and we are moving steadily onward and upward in progress and advancement.
Some of this progress was seen in the several health resorts that opened in the 1880s to promote the medicinal benefits of the county’s springs. Private academies flourished as did businesses, especially in the county seat of Harrison. But Boone County had its troubles over the years. During the Civil War bushwhackers and armies tore through the land, destroying homes, businesses, and families. In the early 1900s race riots drove out most of Harrison’s African American population and a railroad strike led to vandalism and a hanging.
Boone County TodayThe photos in this exhibit mainly show Boone County as it was over 100 years ago. The twentieth century saw many changes.
In 1925 pioneer aviator Early Rowland of Valley Springs won the Ford Reliability Tour air race. During the Great Depression many families left the county to find work. Following World War II, industry slowly picked up. The Duncan Parking Meter Company began operations in 1947 and a chalkboard manufacturer came in 1955. Green beans and tomatoes were big cash crops and fescue grass was planted for beef and dairy cattle farmers.
Tourism continues to be big business. The White River in the northeastern part of the county was dammed in 1951 to make way for Bull Shoals reservoir. The Ozark National Forest, Buffalo National River, and Table Rock Lake also attract their share of outdoor enthusiasts. Boone County Regional Airport opened in 1944 and today boasts of its convenience to the nearby tourist center of Branson, Missouri.
Downtown Harrison was nearly wiped out in May 1961 as floodwater from Crooked Creek furiously poured through the streets. Four people died and 331 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Harrison native John Paul Hammerschmidt was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1967, the first Republican from Arkansas since Reconstruction; he served 24 years.
The North Arkansas Community College opened in Harrison in 1974 with a two-year program; now called North Arkansas College, about 2,000 students are currently enrolled. The county has seen an increase in retirees. In the mid 1980s Harrison was listed as the seventh best place to retire in the U.S. Little crime and affordability were given as factors, as was the small-town feel.
Census results for 2000 show Boone County as having nearly 34,000 residents, most of whom are white. Several hundred Hispanic, Native American, and Asian residents were each noted, with only a few dozen African Americans. Median income is about $30,000 annually.
Harrison continues to be the biggest city in the county. Today around 13,000 people live there while towns such as Alpena, Omaha, and Everton are each home to just a few hundred folks. Tourism, wood products, and agriculture contribute much to the economy, along with manufacturing and service industries.