Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Hartford Water Tower
Hartford Water Tower

HARTFORD WATER TOWER, HARTFORD, SEBASTIAN COUNTY

SUMMARY

The Hartford 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 Hartford Water Tower is also being listed under Criterion A for its association with the activities of the Public Works Administration (PWA) in Sebastian County during the 1930s.  The Hartford 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

Newspaper advertisements for Arkansas coal promoted the western Arkansas product as Smokeless Coal and Semi-Anthracite.[1]  Indeed low volatility Bituminous coal, or smokeless coal, was a desirable product of the Arkansas coal fields.  Because of its moderately high carbon content the coal burned with a high heat and gave off little smoke with little coking.  The same is true of the semi-anthracite coal mined in Arkansas; a coal with slightly higher carbon content than low volatility Bituminous.  The fact that these coals were less likely to coke, to form less ash, and less smoke than other coals made them particularly desirable for use in steam locomotives, boilers, and power plants.[2]

The coal fields of Arkansas are approximately thirty-three miles wide and sixty miles long in an area that roughly follows the Arkansas River.  The first recorded production of coal in Arkansas was in 1848.  Production reached its peak in 1909 when 2,400,000 short tons were shipped from western Arkansas mines.[3]  Hartford sits toward the southern edge of this coal field but for many years was an important location for all of Arkansas’s coal production.

Hartford sits in the Upper Sugar Loaf Valley between Poteau and Sugar Loaf Mountains.  Dr. J. D. Williams established a town at this site in 1868, naming it Hartford for a nearby ford on West Creek on property owned by the Hart family.  A formal post office was established in 1874.[4]  The Goodspeed Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Western Arkansas notes that in 1889 there were, “four blacksmith shops, one boot shop, and one shoe shop.  A grist-mill and cotton gin is owned by J. B. Forester.  The population of the village is between 200 and 300.”[5]

The United States Census of 1900 lists the population of Hartford at 460.  By 1910, the population grew dramatically to 1,780 and reached its peak in 1920 at 2,067.[6]  The explosion in population growth was attendant with an equally dramatic growth in the coal mining industry in the area.  The arrival of the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railway Company, later the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, in September 1899, opened the coal mines to larger markets in the United States.  By 1906 the Midland Valley Railway connecting with the, Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad at Hartford, offered faster connections to markets in Tulsa and Kansas City.[7]  Both railroads offered inexpensive transportation in relation to shipping volume and both encouraged the growth of the mining industry in Hartford.

Sanborn Map Company’s map of Hartford published in May 1908 shows eleven mines operating within seven miles of Hartford.  Three of these—Bolen-McDaniel Coal Company, Mine No. 1; Central Coal & Coke Company, Shaft No. 1; and McKinney Brothers Coal Company, Mine No. 6—were within the city limits of Hartford.[8]  Coal mining remained an integral part of the economy in Hartford through the early 1900s and into the 1920s.  In fact, there were sixteen coal companies headquartered in Hartford in 1922.[9]

Regardless though of the size of the town or the general economic welfare of the businesses in the area, during its boom years the city of Hartford never undertook installation of a citywide water system.  Hartford was never a true “company” town in the sense that one company controlled all that went on in the town and provided for all the inhabitants in the town. Central Coal & Coke Company provided some housing for employees in the community and had a company store in Hartford but it also had one mine in the town of Hartford.[10]  Instead, Hartford was what the U. S. Coal Commission would have called an “independent” town.  The majority of coal miners and mine workers were responsible for their homes; merchants responsible for their own shops and et cetera.

It is due to the fact that Hartford was an independent town that a city wide water distribution and sanitation system was not put in place.  In many company owned coal towns of the east it was common for the coal companies to install water supply and sanitation systems to help prevent and eradicate diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and diphtheria.[11]  Though the Central Coal & Coke Company’s operations at mines in and near Hartford included company housing and a company doctor, they did not provide a water system.[12]  Sanborn Map Company investigators continued to list private wells and cisterns as the only water sources for the town in both 1913 and 1922.[13]

With sixteen coal company headquarters in Hartford in 1922, coal mining was the largest economic force in the community.  Though there continued to be a sawmill it was never a large enough industry to be a solid economic foundation.  Additionally miners had limited opportunity for farming due to the seasonal operation of coal mining.  However, the uneven terrain, the availability of land, and the short three to four month lay off inhibited the coal miners’ opportunity to successfully farm on a large scale.  Therefore Hartford remained largely dependant on the coal industry for its economic viability.

Hartford’s miners readily embraced labor union support and control.  Many of the miners joined the Knights of Labor which later became part of the United Mine Workers.  In 1914 the owners of the largest mine in Sebastian County, the Prairie Creek Coal Mining Company, Mine No. 4, decided to close their mine to the union and make it an open mine.  Inevitably, the United Mine Workers considered this an affront to their programs and the action resulted in violence at, and the ultimate destruction of, the mine.  The United States military was called to bring an end to the violence and though unsuccessful in many ways, the union members prevented the opening of non-union mines.  Arkansas miners also participated in the nationwide strikes of 1919 in which they gained a twenty-seven percent increase in wages. [14]

While beneficial for the miners and their families, the efforts of 1914 and 1919 were short lived.  Competition from mines in Kentucky, West Virginia, Colorado and elsewhere took its toll on Arkansas mines.  The coal from Arkansas had many qualities that made it desirable for locomotives and steam coal; however, large discoveries of oil in East Texas and South Arkansas greatly reduced the demand for Arkansas coal.  Excelsior Coal Company executives stated that they lost up to seventy-five percent of their steam coal business after the discoveries of oil in the 1920s.  The same qualities that made the coal attractive to industries and railroads also proved to be detrimental; the coal was soft and would crumble during shipment.  This limited the mine owners to Midwest or mid-South customers.  Shipment to the Northeast or to eastern markets was not profitable because of the loss to crumbling.[15]

Loss of markets and competition from larger, modern mines offering lower costs caused many of the mines in and around Hartford to close during the 1920s.  The declining demand for coal led to gradual concessions on the part of labor so that by 1927 they were being paid wages equal to those of 1917 and had lost all the gains made in 1914 and 1919.  The population of Hartford began to decline as miners sought work in the mines of the east or west.  Mine closures sent workers to the furniture mills of Fort Smith or into other manufacturing jobs.  The economy of Hartford suffered from the loss of jobs and the loss of tax revenue.  Then the Great Depression began.

There is no historiography for Arkansas mines and mining in the 1930s and none for Sebastian County and Hartford particularly.  However, we do have general figures available through the U.S. census.  These figures for coal mining in Arkansas from 1909 to 1939 reveal that overall the number of mines increased slightly following World War I.  Total capitalization, the number of mines operating, and the value of products remained relatively constant from 1909 through 1929.  From 1929 to 1939 however there is a decrease in the number of mines.  The size of the mines operating becomes smaller and the value of products decreases revealing a down turn in the coal mining economy in the decade.[16]

Coal mining tends to be seasonal in nature and the federal census reports for coal mining activity in Arkansas reflect the seasonal nature of the work.  Generally employment numbers begin to drop in March and remain low through May hitting their lowest in April.  However, for 1929 and 1939 the downturn remains through June and in 1939 the number of miners is dramatically lower with only twelve percent of the yearly average working.  For the period between April and June 1939 the number of unemployed miners was between eighty-six and eighty-eight percent.[17]

It was due to these significant unemployment numbers that Hartford was selected for Public Works Administration funding.  One of the main goals of the PWA programs was to stimulate economic growth and to provide work for local residents.  Hartford’s water tower project was one of 124 similar projects in the state funded by the PWA.[18]  The project was approved in late 1935 and construction began 2 March 1936.  The water tower was completed 24 October 1936.

Similar projects across the state employed between fifty and one hundred men providing beneficial assistance to families and cities across the state.  The Hartford project coincided with the yearly slowdown in the mines and provided valuable employment in a period where many struggled.  In this way, the PWA project at Hartford was an important part of the New Deal recovery programs in the state of Arkansas.  The Hartford water tower serves as a lasting reminder of the PWA’s importance in providing jobs, necessary infrastructure, and economic development in Arkansas.  Additionally the Hartford Water Tower is a good example of a 1930s water tower built with PWA funds.


[1] Southwest American (Ft. Smith, AR)

[2] Arkansas Geological Survey, Resource Reports, “Coal,” available online at http://www.state.ar.us/agc/coal.htm, accessed 16 July 2007.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jerry H. Moore, Lonnie C. Roach, No Smoke, No Soot, No Clinkers: A History of the Coal Industry in South Sebastian County (n.p.: privately printed, 1974), not paginated.

[5] Goodspeed Publishing Company, The Goodspeed Biographical & Historical Memoirs of Western Arkansas (Nashville,TN: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1889; reprint, Easley, SC: Southland Historical Press, 1978), 776.

[6] U.S. Census Bureau, Twelfth Census of the United States, Volume I, Population, Part I (Washington: GPO, 1901); Moore, not paginated; U.S. Census Bureau, Thirteenth Census of the United States, Volume II, Population (Washington: GPO, 1913).

[7] Holden J. F. “Story of an Adventure in Railroad Building.” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume XI, no. I. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1933: 637-66 [journal on-line]; available through the Oklahoma State University Electronic Publishing Center at http://digital.library.okstate.edu/chronicles/bookshelf.html accessed 16 July 2007.

[8] Sanborn Map Company, “Hartford, Sebastian County, May 1908.” New York, 1908 [maps on-line]; available online at ProQuest Digital Sanborn Maps 1867-1970 through the Arkansas State Library at http://www.asl.lib.ar.us/remotedb.htm accessed 16 July 2007.

[9] Dallas T. Herndon, ed., Centennial History of Arkansas, vol. I (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922), 897.

[10] Moore, not paginated.

[11] Crandall A. Shifflett, Coal Towns: Life, Work, and Culture in Company Towns of the Southern Appalachia, 1880-1960 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991), 56, 57.

[12] Moore, not paginated.

[13] Sanborn Map Company, “Hartford, Sebastian County, October 1913” (New York, 1913)and “Hartford, Sebastian County, November 1922” (New York, 1922) [maps on-line]; available on-line at ProQuest Digital Sanborn Maps 1867-1970 through the Arkansas State Library at http://www.asl.lib.ar.us/remotedb.htm accessed 18 July 2007.

[14] Samuel A. Sizer “‘This is Union Man’s Country’ Sebastian County 1914” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Volume XXVII, No. 4 (Winter 1968): 306-29.See also Carl H. Moneyhon, Arkansas and the New South, 1874-1929 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997), 110, 111.

[15] Moore, not paginated.

[16] U. S. Census Bureau, Thirteenth Census of the United States, Volume XI, Mines and Quarries 1909 (Washington: GPO, 1913): 50-52, 208; U. S. Census Bureau, Fourteenth Census of the United States, Volume XI, Mines and Quarries 1919 (Washington: GPO, 1922): 72-75; U. S. Census Bureau, Fifteenth Census of the United States, Mines and Quarries 1929 (Washington: GPO, 1933): 77-80; U. S. Census Bureau, Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940, Mineral Industries 1939, Volume II, State and County Statistics (Washington: GPO, 1944): 21-24.

[17] U. S. Census Bureau, Fifteenth, 79; U. S. Census Bureau, Sixteenth, 22.

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

SIGNIFICANCE

The Hartford water tower represents an important part of the Public Works Administration programs in Arkansas.  Projects such as these provided employment and tax revenue in Arkansas communities suffering from loss of jobs and loss of residents. The water tower and tank are representative of a very common style of tank, the Horton, and representative of common engineering and construction techniques common at that time.  Therefore, the Hartford 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 Hartford Water Tower is also being listed under Criterion A for its association with the activities of the Public Works Administration (PWA) in Sebastian County during the 1930s.  The Hartford 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.”