Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
De Valls Bluff Waterworks
De Valls Bluff Waterworks

DE VALLS BLUFF WATERWORKS, DE VALLS BLUFF, PRAIRIE COUNTY

SUMMARY

The De Valls Bluff Waterworks is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A for its association with the Public Works Administration activities in De Valls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas. It is also being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C for its excellent 1930s waterworks construction. The De Valls Bluff Waterworks is being nominated under the multiple context listing “An Ambition to Be Preferred: New Deal Recovery Efforts and Architecture in Arkansas, 1933-1943.”

ELABORATION

The earliest settlement in the area that would become Prairie County occurred around the present town of Des Arc sometime before 1810. Growth in the area became more widespread in the mid-nineteenth century, reaching to locations such as Brownsville and Hickory Plains. The earliest pioneers to Hickory Plains included A.B. Taylor and his son- in-law, Ben T. Embry (later Civil War Confederate Col. and State Senator) in 1846. In that same year, Prairie County was founded by an act of legislature. Brownsville was the site of the first county seat until 1868 when the seat was moved to De Valls Bluff. [1]

De Valls Bluff was a center of political activity even before its designation as the seat of justice for the County. In 1863, the town was taken into possession by Federal Troops. Its convenient location on the White River, nearby the Little Rock and Memphis Railroad permitted easy access to the town. Once the Federal troops took possession of the town, they made it their base of supplies. Supplies were shipped to De Valls Bluff by boat and then transported to Little Rock by the railroad.At this time the town housed several refugees, who sought protection from the war.During the Civil War, the town boasted a large population, comprised mainly of refugees, and several houses. But after the Civil War, these refugees returned to their former homes, and the county seat was moved to Des Arc, where it remains.[2] But with the remaining buildings and houses, De Valls Bluff had room for business and growth.

By the late nineteenth century, the town had a post office, general and drug store, a millinery store, two hotels, a saw mill, and a few churches. Several men were employed by the Wells and Maxwell saw mill which brought in a large sum of income, with the capacity of producing 20,000 feet of lumber per day. But the most successful and perhaps most unique business for the town of De Valls Bluff was its boat oar factory. This industry produced about 3,000 feet in oars daily that sold to major cities such as San Francisco and Liverpool, England. These oars, in addition to cotton and lumber, were principal exports for the town.[3] The shipping industry was a strong economic asset for De Valls Bluff.

In 1906, the De Valls Bluff Navigation Company formed with the purpose of purchasing steamboats and barges to be used in the carrying of freight and passengers on any river, lake, bayou, or other navigable stream within the state of Arkansas.[4]

Despite the town’s fall from county seat in 1875, De Valls Bluff continued to see political activity well into the twentieth century as it was selected for the southern district county seat, when Prairie County was split into two political districts. Furthermore, the town maintained its civil morale. Most of the town residents belonged to civic groups such as the Knights of Honor, Iron Hall and Knights of Pythias. The Knights of Honor had at least fifty members, averaging $2,000 incomes, bringing in $100,000, contributing to the wealth of the town. One report from The Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas claimed that the town “represents a wonderful amount of life insurance for so small of a place.”[5]

At the turn of the century, the town census was 500.[6] The town prospered into the mid- twentieth century despite the difficulties of the Depression. In 1934, the De Valls Bluff Waterworks was built on the south side of town by the Pittsburgh Des Moines Steel Company. The Public Works Administration assisted in the construction of the facility, with a grant of $17, 024 and a loan of $21,000.[7] Construction of the water tower began in 1935 and was completed in 1936. The waterworks which still includes the water tower from the 1930s remains a primary water source for the town today.

A shed building, aeration chamber, water tank are also included in the facility. But because these are newer additions that fall outside of the period of significance for the waterworks, they are non-contributing.

The De Valls Bluff Waterworks is representative of the town’s prosperity. It is a reminder of the Public Works Administration activities in the town.



[1] Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas (Chicago: The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1890) 673.

[2] Ibid., 679.

[3] Ibid., 680.

[4] Kay Waters Sukuris, Grand Prairie Potpourri Arkansas; A Collection of Miscellaneous Prairie and Lonoke Counties Arkansas Records Vol. 1. ( Pasadena, TX: Southern Pioneer Press, 1992), 64.

[5]Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas, 680.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Information found in the PWA files of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

SIGNIFICANCE

The De Valls Bluff Waterworks is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A for its association with the Public Works Administration activities in De Valls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas. It is also being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C for its excellent 1930s waterworks construction. The De Valls Bluff Waterworks is being nominated under the multiple context listing “An Ambition to Be Preferred: New Deal Recovery Efforts and Architecture in Arkansas, 1933-1943.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas. Chicago: The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1890.

Information on PWA found in the files of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Waters Sukuris, Kay. Grand Prairie Potpourri Arkansas; A Collection of Miscellaneous Prairie and Lonoke Counties/ Arkansas Records Vol. 1. Pasadena, TX: Southern Pioneer Press, 1992.