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Clarksville is located on Spadra Creek, north of the Arkansas River. When stagecoach and train transportation became more common, land routes from Little Rock to Fort Smith were directed through Clarksville, which evolved as an important stop. A broad mix of agriculture, mining, and manufacturing has supported the town’s growth.
Clarksville was established in November 1836 after Johnson County was formed from part of Pope County. The town was established on land donated by Josiah Cravens and named after Lorenzo N. Clarke. Clarksville was incorporated on December 21, 1848.
Settlements around Clarksville’s center had been created by immigrants from Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Steamboat and stagecoach traffic were some of the early means of transportation. In 1853, county commissioners authorized the investment of $16,000 in stock of the Little Rock and Fort Smith line of the Cairo and Fulton Railroad, but the area had no rail service until after the Civil War.
Early settlers started tobacco production, but most efforts later turned to Cotton. By 1840, coal had been discovered in the Spadra area.
Augustus M. Ward established a school for the blind in 1849. A school for the deaf was founded in 1851 at the current site of the University of the Ozarks.
Early churches were of the Cumberland Presbyterian and Methodist faiths.
Local men served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Because of the town’s proximity to the river, troops of both armies passed through frequently. The Cumberland Presbyterian church was used as a hospital and then burned by departing Union troops, who also burned the Methodist church and the jail, and damaged the court house.
Immigration after the Civil War was encouraged by a group of local citizens who advertised in newspapers in the Northeast. As coal mining began, many German and Austrian families came to the county both from their home countries and from Pennsylvania mining areas. Another source of immigrants was Union soldiers who had traveled through the state during service in the war.
In 1891, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church moved the school to Clarksville, and the school opened on September 8, 1891, as Arkansas Cumberland College. The school was renamed the College of the Ozarks in 1920 and became the University of the Ozarks in 1987. The first pharmacy school in the state was established at the college in 1946.
The primary businesses of the area remained coal, gas, and agriculture through the Depression. In 1929, Clarksville’s gas field was the largest producing field in the state. Coal production was declining by 1933, but poultry later became, and remains today, a significant business.
Significant gas exploration in the early 1950s in the area resulted in new producing wells by 1957. The poultry industry continued to grow as Priebe and Sons of Chicago built and opened a processing plant in 1952. The lumber and brick industries expanded, with the Eureka Brick & Tile Co. increasing to a production of 1.5 million bricks per month in 1955. A creosoting plant opened in 1954.
The College of the Ozarks was one of the first state private colleges to open to African American applicants. In 1957, the college accepted five black applicants, all residents of Arkansas. The first of those to graduate was Lawrence Webb in 1959.
Clarksville today represents a mix of agricultural and college town environments. Tyson's poultry facilities are the largest single employer. The University of the Ozarks is now home to the Walton Fine Arts Center. The peach industry is celebrated by the annual Johnson County Peach Festival