Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Old Benton-Sardis Road Bridge
Old Benton-Sardis Road Bridge

OLD BENTON-SARDIS ROAD BRIDGE, BAUXITE VIC., SALINE COUNTY

SUMMARY

Constructed c.1919, the Old Benton-Sardis Road Bridge is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A for its associations with the development of vehicular transportation in Saline County and the Bauxite vicinity.  This nomination is being submitted under the multiple property listing “Historic Bridges of Arkansas” and under associated historic context “Early Transportation Era.”

ELABORATION

Settlement in Saline County began in early 1815 with the arrival of William Lockert and his family, who settled about four miles southwest of Benton where the Military Road crossed the Saline River.  Other settlers soon followed into the area, most notably Ezra M. Owen who began the settlement of Collegeville c.1823.  Owen had plans for a school that he hoped would become the state university, which was the reason for the community’s name.  (The prominence of the community almost made it the state capital in 1836, losing the title by only a few votes.)  By 1835, enough people had settled in the area that Saline County was formed from Pulaski County, and included large portions of current Grant, Perry and Garland counties.[1]

From the earliest days of the county’s settlement a system of roads existed in Saline County.  By 1839, although there were no roads in what would become the Bauxite area, roads did travel southwest across Saline County linking Little Rock with Collegeville and then splitting with one proceeding on to Benton, Rockport and Washington, and the other going to Hot Springs.[2]

The road network in Saline County expanded by 1854, adding a road that went southeast from Benton to Losur.  In addition, a road now linked the settlement of Friendship in the northeastern part of the county with Tulip in neighboring Dallas County.  At the same time, railroads had also started to appear in Saline County with a line crossing the county connecting Little Rock with the southwestern part of the state.[3]

Benton had been an established community from Saline County’s earliest days.  Joshua Smith opened a store in the area in 1834, and he began a partnership with William Calvert in 1837.  Additional businesses, including other general merchants and a hotel, also opened in the area, and Benton was incorporated in April 1839.  When a board of commissioners, consisting of Rezin Davis, Green B. Hughes, and David Dodd was elected to select the seat of government, they chose Benton because of its central location, and being in the most thickly settled part of the county.  The community continued to grow and had 900 residents by the late 1880s.[4]

The community of Sardis, also known as Hurricane at various points in its history, was also an early community in the eastern part of Saline County.  Little is known about its early history, but it is known that Hurricane was large enough to have a post office by 1860.  The post office remained until 1908 when the mail was then sent to Mabelvale.  Although the community was known as Sardis at the time of the bridge’s construction, it was labeled as Hurricane on the 1936 Saline County map.[5]

Settlement in the immediate vicinity of the Old Benton-Sardis Road Bridge began in earnest after the discovery of bauxite by John C. Branner, the state geologist.  In 1897, the General Bauxite Company built a mill in the area to process the ore, which was then taken by wagon to Bryant where it was loaded into railcars.  In 1901, the railroad extended its lines into the area, which brought about a need for more workers, many of whom settled in the area.  Two years later, an ore-drying plant was built and the General Bauxite Company also laid out a company town on its land that included churches, stores, schools, roads, and other facilities.  The community of Bauxite continued to grow, especially in the World War I era, when the war effort brought an increased need for aluminum and more companies moved into the area.[6]

The growth of the Bauxite area in the 1910s brought about the need for new and improved roads to aid in the transportation of the Bauxite ore.  According to the Third Biennial Report of the Department of State Lands, Highways, and Improvements, “Saline County has more good gravel available for her roads than any county in the state and a good deal has been accomplished in its use on the roads in the vicinity of Benton and Bauxite.”[7]  However, more needed to be constructed.

In 1919, the State Highway Department, under the Alexander Road Law, conducted a survey for a 15.32 mile-long gravel road from Benton through Bauxite and Sardis to intersect with the Little Rock-Sheridan Road (current U.S. 167).  The estimated cost for the completion of the road was $120,164.48.[8]  According to the Historical Review:Arkansas State Highway Commission and Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, 1913-1992, “the Alexander Road Law clearly specified the procedure to be followed to create a road improvement district and fixed the amount of money that could be raised against real property as 30% of the total assessed value of the property within the district.  The result was that neighbors along a particular route could form a road improvement district, contract out for the construction, borrow the money to finance the project, and in effect, mortgage their property as a debt guarantee.”[9]

The Old Benton-Sardis Road Bridge was built as a part of the new road, and employed the latest design characteristics for bridges at the time.  The Fifth Biennial Report of the Department of State Lands, Highways and Improvements, which was published c.1922, stated with respect to bridge width that, “In the past it has generally been assumed that a bridge, having a sixteen-foot roadway was ample to take care of all ordinary highway traffic.  The impetus given truck transportation by the construction of improved roads has practically forced the construction on main highways of bridges with an eighteen-foot clear roadway and in some cases it has been desirable to make them wider.”[10]  However, unlike most bridges of the period, which were constructed entirely out of concrete, the Old Benton-Sardis Road Bridge employed fieldstone for the construction of its guardrails, a material that was prevalent in Saline County and also one that gave the bridge a decorative touch.

Although the Benton-Sardis Road was the latest in highway design when it was built and met the needs of the Bauxite area in the 1910s and 1920s, by the 1940s it became inadequate.  As in World War I, the onset of World War II brought about an increased need for aluminum.  To meet the increased demand for aluminum, bauxite mining increased astronomically and the population of the Bauxite area followed suit.  In 1943, the Republic Mining and Manufacturing Company increased its workforce from 250 to 4,200.  A new plant was built to employ 5,000 people and to house the new employees barracks style apartments were built along with houses for managers.  Also by 1943, the population of Bauxite surpassed 6,000.[11]

To meet the needs of the Bauxite area residents and mining companies, improved highways had to be brought to the area.  By 1945, a new highway, Arkansas Highway 183, was beginning to appear on the state highway system map.  Initially, it traveled south from U.S. 70 to the northeast of Bauxite, although it did not reach the community.  However, by 1948, the highway was shown as going through Bauxite and connecting with Arkansas Highway 35, U.S. 70, and U.S. 67 at Benton to the west.[12]  The completion of Arkansas Highway 183 allowed easy access to Bauxite from U.S. 70 to the northeast and Arkansas Highway 35, U.S. 67 and U.S. 70 to the west and allowed easier transportation of the ore from the area.

Since the completion of the Old Benton-Sardis Road Bridge c.1919, no structural alterations have been made to the bridge to compromise its integrity.  Today, although the Benton-Sardis Road has been bypassed by Arkansas Highway 183, the old roadbed is visible in the vicinity of the bridge.  The Old Benton-Sardis Road Bridge is a rare example of an early concrete highway bridge, and it remains as an important reminder of early transportation in the Bauxite area.



[1] Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Pulaski, Jefferson, Lonoke, Faulkner, Grant, Saline, Perry, Garland, and Hot Spring Counties, Arkansas.  Chicago:  The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889, pp. 231, 233, and 237.

[2] Burr, David. H.  Map of Mississippi, Louisiana & Arkansas exhibiting the post offices, post roads, canals, rail roads, &c.  Map.  London:  J. Arrowsmith, 1839.

[3] Colton’s Railroad & Township Map of Arkansas Compiled from the U.S. Surveys and Other Authentic Sources. Map.  Unknown Publisher, New York, 1854.

[4] Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Pulaski, Jefferson, Lonoke, Faulkner, Grant, Saline, Perry, Garland, and Hot Spring Counties, Arkansas.  Chicago:  The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889, pp. 236-237.

[5] Arkansas State Highway Commission.  General Highway and Transportation Map, Saline County, Arkansas.  1936 and Baker, Russell Pierce.  From Memdag to Norsk:  A Historical Directory of Arkansas Post Offices, 1832-1971.  Hot Springs, AR:  Arkansas Genealogical Society, 1988, p. 112.

[7] Third Biennial Report of the Department of State Lands, Highways, and Improvements.  Publisher unknown, c.1918, p. 76.

[8] Ibid., p. 128.

[9] Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.  Historical Review:Arkansas State Highway Commission and Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, 1913-1992.  Little Rock:Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, 1992, p. 20.

[10] Fifth Biennial Report of the Department of State Lands, Highways and Improvements.  Little Rock:  H.G. Pugh & Co., c.1922, p. 52.

[12] Arkansas State Highway Commission. Official Highway Map of Arkansas.  Maps. 1942 and 1945-1948.

SIGNIFICANCE

Constructed c.1919, the Old Benton-Sardis Road Bridge is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A for its associations with the development of vehicular transportation in Saline County and the Bauxite vicinity.  This nomination is being submitted under the multiple property listing “Historic Bridges of Arkansas” and under associated historic context “Early Transportation Era.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.  Historical Review:  Arkansas State Highway Commission and Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, 1913-1992.  Little Rock:  Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, 1992.

Arkansas State Highway Commission.  General Highway and Transportation Map, Saline County, Arkansas.  1936.

Arkansas State Highway Commission.  Official Highway Map of Arkansas.  Maps.  1942 and 1945-1948.

Baker, Russell Pierce.  From Memdag to Norsk:  A Historical Directory of Arkansas Post Offices, 1832-1971.  Hot Springs, AR:  Arkansas Genealogical Society, 1988.

Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Pulaski, Jefferson, Lonoke, Faulkner, Grant, Saline, Perry, Garland, and Hot Spring Counties, Arkansas.  Chicago:  The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.

Burr, David. H.  Map of Mississippi, Louisiana & Arkansas exhibiting the post offices, post roads, canals, rail roads, &c. Map.  London:  J. Arrowsmith, 1839.

Colton’s Railroad & Township Map of Arkansas Compiled from the U.S. Surveys and Other Authentic Sources. Map.  Unknown Publisher, New York, 1854.

Fifth Biennial Report of the Department of State Lands, Highways and Improvements.  Little Rock: H.G. Pugh & Co., c.1922.

Hill, Julie.  Arkansas State Rock:  Bauxite.  c.2002.  Found at:  http://www.cals.lib.ar.us/butlercenter/lesson_plans/lesson%20plans/Lesson%20plans-retained/Arkansas%20state%20rock.pdf.

Third Biennial Report of the Department of State Lands, Highways, and Improvements.  Publisher unknown, c.1918.