Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Monette Water Tower
Monette Water Tower

MONETTE WATER TOWER, MONETTE, CRAIGHEAD COUNTY

SUMMARY

The Monette Water Tower is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion C as a good example of 1930s water tank construction.  The Monette Water Tower is also being listed under Criterion A for its association with the activities of the Public Works Administration (PWA) in Craighead County during the 1930s.  The Monette Water Tower is being submitted to the National Register of Historic Places under the multiple property listing “An Ambition to be Preferred: New Deal Recovery Efforts and Architecture in Arkansas, 1933-1943.”

ELABORATION

On Wednesday October 21, 1936, John V. Hancock started the pump to fill Monette’s new water tank.  Reporters for the Monette Weekly Sun noted that by 1:00 pm the 75,000 gallon tank was filled.  Built by the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company, the tank was the key piece in Monette’s new water system.  The PWA contracted with the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company to construct the tanks while the water distribution system was constructed by the V. E. Schevenell Company of Memphis, TN.  Completed in early November, the water system had just over five miles of piping and an initial subscription of one hundred and forty-one homes. In total the project cost approximately $49,000 dollars of which, $22,000 dollars was a PWA grant and the remaining was a PWA loan.[1] The Goodspeed Publishing Company wrote, of Craighead County, in 1889 that, “The water supply, for all purposes, is abundant.  A number of springs—especially on Crowley’s Ridge—are found, and a liberal supply of good well water can, at all places, be obtained at an average depth of thirty feet, without blasting or boring through rock.”[2]  This water, from the Alluvial aquifer, fed the schools, homes, and businesses of the region.  One of these, Dr. Joseph M. Williams, was recognized as one of the first residents of Monette to have a running water system.  Dr. Williams built his home in the newly founded town in late 1899.  The Craighead County Sun reported, “This will be the neatest dwelling in the eastern part of the county and he has acted very wise…in building a water tank on top of the house.  He also erected a wind mill an [sic] when the wind mill turns it will always keep the tank full of water.  Everybody ought to have a windmill and tank.”[3]

The town of Monette lies in the eastern portion of Craighead County near the border with Mississippi County, in an area referred to locally as Buffalo Island.  The town was formed in 1898 when engineers building the Jonesboro, Lake City, and Eastern Railroad (J.L.C.&E. Railroad) surveyed and laid out the site. Prior to the arrival of the railroad, settlement in the Sunk Lands of eastern Craighead County was sparse.  Though the lands were good for farming and held significant timber reserves, travel in the area east of the St. Francis River was difficult and it was this difficulty that hindered settlement.

Travel improved with the construction of the J.L.C.&E. Railroad.  This in-turn increased settlement and economic development in the Sunk Lands.  Prior to the arrival of the railroad, the town of Stottsville, which preceded Monette, had one store, a saw mill, cotton gin, and grist mill; all of these built prior to 1889.  However, all of these were owned and operated by Arnold Stotts and served a widespread, agriculturally dependant population.  After the arrival of the railroad and subsequent economic growth, the demand for housing grew substantially.  Land rents and prices increased, and the number of stores increased to five.  Additional economic growth between 1898 and 1900 led to the construction of two hotels, a school, and several manufacturing establishments.[4]

Logging and the timber industry provided the impetus for much of the early growth of Monette.  The town was home to a stave mill, saw mill, spoke factory, and related businesses.  As the sunk lands were cut over, the land became open for farming and Monette gradually became the economic center of a larger farming community. The population of Monette grew quickly in the first decade after its founding.Estimated at 250 in 1900, the population doubled to 559 in 1910 and doubled again in the decade between 1910 and 1920 to 1,065.  Growth slowed dramatically between 1920 and 1930 as logging related interests left and farm lands were closed.  By 1930, a population that doubled each preceding census only increased by 46 people to 1,111.[5]

Despite the town’s rapid growth, the city spent little on infrastructure.  Two large fires in 1912 burned large portions of the main business district.  Larger fires in the late 1920s and 1930s destroyed hotels, schools, and homes.  Regardless, it was not until 1947 that the city had its first fire department.[6]  The period between 1920 and 1935 was a time of economic hardship for Monette and the surrounding areas of eastern Craighead County.  Gradually decreasing cotton prices placed added pressures on farmers in the area.  There was some success with diversifying farm crops, including successful programs with cantaloupes and radishes.  However, as with elsewhere in Arkansas, the loss of logging industry jobs, the decline in agricultural commodity prices, and the onset of prolonged drought served to increase pressure on already sagging wages and economic stability.

To offset this decline in economic growth, the Monette Chamber of Commerce proposed a series of modernizations to the town.  This included the construction of a modern waterworks.  First proposed in 1928, the money for the project ultimately came from the Public Works Administration.[7]  Monette’s waterworks project was one of 124 similar projects in the state funded by the PWA.[8]  The project was approved in late 1935 and construction began 9 April 1936.  The water tower was completed 21 October 1936 and the entire waterworks project in November 1936.[9]

One of the main goals of the PWA programs was to stimulate economic growth and to provide work for local residents.  In total there were sixty-one men employed in the waterworks project who were paid a total of $4,745 dollars, much of which was spent at local businesses.[10]  This PWA project was an important part of the New Deal recovery programs in the state of Arkansas.  The Monette water tower serves as a lasting reminder of the PWA’s importance in providing jobs, necessary infrastructure, and economic development in Arkansas.  Additionally the Monette Water Tower is a good example of a 1930s water tower built with PWA funds.



[1] Monette Weekly Sun, 22 October 1936; 12 November 1936.

[2] Goodspeed Publishing Company, The Goodspeed Biographical & Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas (Nashville, TN: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1889; reprint, Easley, SC: Southland Historical Press, 1978), 310.

[3] Craighead County Sun, 7 December 1899, quoted in Nan Harrell Snider Monette, Arkansas, “The Ties that Bind” a History of the People and Places that Make up the Monette Community and School District (Monette, AR: by the author, 2001), 57.

[4] Goodspeed, 316, 358; Tom Buffaloe, “Buffalo Island Essays”, Craighead County Historical Quarterly XXX, No. 1 (Winter 1992), 25.

[5] Ernestine Harrell, “Town and County History,” Copy in possession of the preparer, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock; U. S. Census Bureau, Thirteenth Census of the United States, Population, Volume II (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1913), 98.U.S. Census Bureau, Fourteenth Census of the United States, Arkansas State Compendium (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1924), 24; and U. S. Census Bureau, Fifteenth Census of the United States, Population, Volume I (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1931), 107.

[6] Harell, “Town and County”.

[7] Monette Weekly Sun, 22 October 1936.

[8] Holly Hope, “An Ambition to be Preferred: New Deal Recovery Efforts in Arkansas, 1933-1943” (Little Rock: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 2006), 22.

[9] Monette Weekly Sun, 22 October 1936; 12 November 1936.

[10] Monette Weekly Sun, 12 November 1936.

SIGNIFICANCE

The Monette Water Tower is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion C as a good example of a 1930s water tower.  The Monette Water Tower is also being nominated to the National Register under Criterion A for its association with the activities of the PWA in Monette and Craighead County during the late 1930s.  The Monette Water tower is being submitted to the National Register of Historic Places under the multiple property listing “An Ambition to be Preferred: New Deal Recovery Efforts and Architecture in Arkansas, 1933-1943.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Buffaloe, Tom. “Buffalo Island Essays.” Craighead County Historical Quarterly XXX, No. 1 (Winter, 1992): 25-36.

________. “Buffalo Island Essays.” Craighead County Historical Quarterly XXX, No. 2 (Spring, 1992): 18-29.

Goodspeed Publishing Company. The Goodspeed Biographical & Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas. Nashville, TN: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1889.Reprint, Easley, SC: Southland Historical Press, 1978.

Harrell, Ernestine. “Town and County History.” Copy in the possession of the preparer, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock.

Hope, Holly. “An Ambition to be Preferred: New Deal Recovery Efforts in Arkansas, 1933-1943.” Little Rock: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 2006.

Monette Weekly Sun.

Snider Nan Harrell. Monette, Arkansas, “The Ties that Bind” a History of the People and Places that Make up the Monette Community and School District. Monette, AR: by the author, 2001.

Stuck, Charles A. The Story of Craighead County. Jonesboro, AR: by the author, 1960.

Williams, Harry Lee. The History of Craighead County, Arkansas. Southern Historical Press, Inc.: Greenville, S.C., 1995.

U. S. Census Bureau. Thirteenth Census of the United States, Population, Volume II. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1913.

________. Fourteenth Census of the United States, Arkansas State Compendium. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1924.

________. Fifteenth Census of the United States, Population, Volume I. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1931.