History of Pyatt

By June Turney Young

There is really no way to relate the history of Pyatt, Arkansas, an incorporated city since 1927, situated deep in the Crooked Creek valley, with the creek itself meandering through the center, without encircling the story with facts and history of the Missouri Pacific Railroad; for without the railroad there probably would not be a "Pyatt". True, the first town as such here was named Stringtown, so-named because it was strung up and down the Crooked Creek bottom behind the present Gordon Stanley home. Stringtown was a seemingly thriving community with its own post office, cotton gin and steam mill, operated by Shelby Bryant, and a physician's residence and office, Dr. J. F. (Frank) Lair. Sometime later, approximately 1870, for reasons this writer cannot ascertain, the name of Stringtown was changed to Powell, named from the then Republican Governor of Arkansas and former Union Army leader, Powell Clayton, inaugurated July 2,1868. His free public school program for white children, which replaced the schools statewide that were almost completely ruined by the Civil War, probably is why the first public school here was named "Old Powell School". Powell was located north of Crooked Creek on the present Gordon Stanley property, and contained one store owned by Frank Davis, the Old Powell School, located on the south side of Melton Branch that runs into Crooked Creek, and a blacksmith shop operated by Bob Honeycutt. Later, when the town was again moved, the school was moved to a location near the present Rual Keeter home and called simply "Powell" School. At this point, in the year of 1905, the railroad began to shape our town's history.

When the railroad construction began for the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad, which was an important line from Newport, Arkansas, northward to a junction with other lines at Pleasant Hill, Missouri, land could not be acquired in Powell for a depot location, so land was acquired at the present Pyatt town location and the town moved there. All of the land that is now the town of Pyatt was once owned by Mary Magness and was a cotton plantation. The first land survey of Marion County, dated June 1832, shows this area all to be cleared and in cotton. The name was again changed ... from Powell to Pyatt, named after a construction engineer, Mr. Pyatt, who was working on the railroad here at that time. Older people here say he was the first section foreman. However, I have not been able to verify that as fact.

The city was laid out in plats and dedicated September 10, 1904. Land was given by A. J. Bradford, Virgie Foster, Arkie Hobson, Millie Keene and Mary L. Bradford.

A bit of folklore which is widely told and appreciated is that the name of Pyatt came from the fact that railroad workers, when laying line here, were told that they could get good "pie at" the next stop ... Thus the name Pyatt!!

It is interesting to note that the bottom land here bordering the creek at one time must have been occupied by Indians for seldom has this land been tilled without Indian artifacts being found. As recent as 1967 a tomahawk, in near-perfect condition, was uncovered near the present MFA Mill site. Also, there is recorded that in 1823 there were many buffalo grazing this area.

Pyatt soon became a prosperous little community after moving to the present location with a cotton gin (the foundation is still standing, across from the Assembly of God Church), a gristmill owned by Ed Smart and a general store owned by Briggs and Smart, a post office and several family dwellings.

According to information from Mr. Walter Fussner of the Publicity department of the Missouri Pacific Railroad in St. Louis, Missouri, lumber was shipped by rail from Pyatt at this time in history as well as vegetables and dairy products from nearby farms. The track was completed here December 31, 1904, and the first train ran in 1905. This was the White River Railroad, a company organized by the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Line and both companies came under the one name of Missouri Pacific in 1917. The first passenger train ran through Pyatt in 1907; the first depot was built in March 1918; the last passenger train ran in March 1960.

At the time of this writing, Missouri Pacific runs freight trains seven days a week -- sometimes as many as 150-200 cars to a train, and runs local service three days each week. Many products in this area are shipped into Pyatt by rail.

At one point in our history the present garage property, owned by Earl Stringer, was used as a stable point for horse buyers who bought and then shipped them out by rail. At the present time walnut logs are the only products shipped out from here.

Our Pyatt Post Office has an unusual history. The first post office in the area was privately owned, dating back before Federal Government offices and before the Civil War. It was located on Clear Creek, approximately 1 1/2 miles east (or below) the new bridge on Highway 125. The first postmaster was James Dixon (J. D.) Stanley. He later moved the office to Stringtown and named it Clear Creek Post Office, then on to Pyatt when the town location was changed, and it became the Pyatt Post Office.

Pyatt's first industry was a mill to plane lumber, owned by Homer Pierce and Gus Young. The first store was owned by Mr. Foster and located across from the present post office. J. 0. Ledbetter owned the first hotel on the west side of Main Street. The first school in the entire area was at Sugar Orchard, and Molly Brady Davis was the teacher. Pyatt Public High School was built in 1926, an endeavor the community was very proud to claim. The Young family has a copy of the first Annual Catalog and Bulletin of the Pyatt Public High School, published in 1929. The Board of Directors at that time was Ernest Young, Rex Wolfenbarger, Joe Godfrey, John Melton, P. R. Lowery and W. P. Young. The faculty consisted of Thurman Lancaster, Principal; Ruby G. Elam; Opal Elam; Wakely Stephens; Opal Hilton Owen; and Mrs. Minnie Doshier.

A few interesting notes quoted from this Bulletin are: "Pyatt has an ideal location for a trading center and a school center. It is located on the Missouri Pacific Railway and State Highway 12. Our policy is this: Pyatt does not glory in the failure or short-comings of neighboring schools, nor does it envy their success. Pyatt sticks to its policies, its features, its students, its friends, and its task of making better citizens for a better community, a better county, a better state, and a better country in which to live; it appeals to the public on its merits alone, which stand in no need of noisy advertisements. Our discipline theory is that the "Evolutionary Theory" -- all children are good and should never he punished -- is WRONG. The modern theory that a school spirit of cooperation can be maintained to take care of discipline is practiced as far as it will safely go, but the rod is not spared to the ruin of discipline."

At the time that this high school was established, Pyatt participated in and ranked very highly in basketball tournaments, county fairs, literary meets, including geometry and debate, composition and music, and track and field.

In 1973 the Bruno and Pyatt schools were merged into one single system and a new building was erected at Eros. The first semester in the new school -- now known as Bruno-Pyatt School -- was in the fall of 1974. The School Board Directors were: Everett Swafford of Bruno; Grady Gray of Bruno; C. L. Patton of Pyatt; Arl Allen of Eros; and J. C. Rea of Oakland. The new school program added an Agriculture Department and a Headstart Program; and by the second year the program had added girl's basketball and kindergarten. Literary meets and track-field meets had been dropped several years earlier.

Our present community building, which has been kept in very good condition and used for many school, community, church and other activities, was built in 1938. Garland (Red) Melton was the main rock-layer.

Ellis Sams erected a general merchandise business soon after the turn of the century and this was later bought by George David Young when he moved his family to Pyatt from Dodd City, in 1904. This store has been in the Young family under the name of the Young Store for nearly 75 years. The owners have been: George David Young; Earnest and Josie Young; George and Mable Young; then Sam and June Young. When Sam became owner in 1965, he changed the operation from Dry Goods and General Merchandise to a Feed, Fertilizer and Farm Supply Center, depending again on the Missouri Pacific Railroad for much of his merchandise. In 1972 he added a bulk fertilizer operation to this and erected metal, overhead storage bins.

F. L. Magness and wife, Leslie Taylor Magness, daughter of Jeff Taylor, moved to Pyatt in 1929 from Oklahoma and bought the Briggs and Smart business. They operated a very thriving general store business and, according to "Miss Josie" Young, as she was called by the community, competition was quite keen between the two businesses. As she related in her later years -- "If your competitor was named Magness, you sure knew you had a competitor!!" But they were always friendly competitors which is as it should be! Later businesses were owned by Wolfenbargers (1928), L. D. and Wakely Stevens Milum, the Roy Straits, Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Tucker, L. D. and Gail Harris Allen, Dorrance and Dolly Patton, Mr. and Mrs. O'Dean Patton, Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Tabor and Ronald and Beverly McLean, Hester Hendrix, Lee Purdom Cafe, Kenneth McEntire Restaurant, Bank of Pyatt with Cam Milum as President, Jim Hudson General Store and Farmers Co-op, Melton Reynolds General Merchandise, Gordan Stanley Grocery, and canning factories which will be mentioned later.

At the time of this writing, Pyatt has a post office with Gordon Stanley as Postmaster and Mary Ann Melton Sharp, Assistant; the Young Store, Sam and June Young owners; the MFA Milling Company Warehouse Point for several counties in North Arkansas which was built in 1967 and is presently managed by Larry Sharp; Tabor and Mclean's Texaco Station and Grocery, operated by J. T. and Elsie Mae Tabor and Ronald and Beverly Tabor McLean; Patton's DX Station and Grocery, operated by Dorrance and Dollie Patton; Pyatt Sand and Gravel Company, owned by McClinton's, Inc., Harrison, Arkansas; a facility for the Northern Arkansas Telephone Company, based in Flippin, Arkansas; and a receiving point for Stone Mill and Lumber Company's merchandise shipped by rail. The Pyatt Sand and Gravel Company furnishes most of the sand and gravel used by McClinton's huge operation in highway and bridge construction in North Arkansas. This gravel bar and the portion owned by the Young family furnished a large part of the gravel used in the construction of the Norfork Dam -- shipped down by rail.

Canning factory operations have played a large part in the economy of Pyatt in years past. There has been the Nelson Canning Company, located just east of the present George Young residence, built during WWI by Roy Nelson of Crane, Missouri. He had a chain of factories located on the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and they all canned tomatoes. He later bought the Lick Branch Canning Company from Babe Oxford and J. R. Crawford. In later years, he sold this to George Young. This factory burned in 1945. Sugar Orchard Canning Company was located where the old Young Lumber Company site is and was built by Earnest and Josie Young and Jim Swafford. This company canned tomatoes, apples and blackberries. This company was sold to Ernest Rogers and Ralph Hudson and burned in 1949. Rex Wolfenbarger managed canning factories at Pyatt, Zinc and Bergman in 1928 but none of these are in existence now.

One part of Pyatt's history most often recalled by the oldtimers was the storm of 1928. In May this storm, probably a tornado, destroyed all the businesses and several residences. Most of the businesses rebuilt and one landmark that still stands from that storm is in the Young Store building ... When Earnest rebuilt the store, he built it around the well which was on the outside of the old building. This well is still in use, near the center of the building, and -- until a few years ago -- the original hand pump was used. Beside the well is a concrete vat where fruits and vegetables were lowered in baskets at night to keep cool.

Another interesting story concerning the storm is that a few days prior to the storm a traveling Pentecostal evangelist was preaching in Pyatt and the surrounding area. While in Pyatt the night before the storm, he prophesied of wrath being poured out upon the town if people didn't repent and turn to God. That night he slept in the tunnel near town and, as he tells the story, was there the next day when the storm swept down from the skies, leaving much destruction in its path.

One other story about this storm concerns Uncle Tom Melton. When his home was blown off the bluff overlooking Crooked Creek, down into the Creek, he and his household furnishings were blown into the creek, also. His trunk was very valuable -- it contained his money!! So, when friends and neighbors came to his rescue -- trying to fish him out of the water, he told them not to worry about him ... "just get my trunk out, I'll take care of Tom Melton!" Sure enough, the neighbors rescued the trunk and Uncle Tom rescued himself and quickly reclaimed his trunk!!!!

It would be impossible to name all the people who have had an important part in the history of Pyatt, but some of the names that should be mentioned are: Godfrey, Patton, Melton, Smart, Milum, Young, Tippit, Rose, Whitlock, Bright, Chaney, Pierce, Ledbetter, Cheek, Tabor, Richardson, Harris, Sullivan, Keeter, Lancaster, Ply, Stanley, Brady, Martin, Tilton, Cunningham, Copeland, Dodd, Taylor, McLean, Sharp, Doshier, Magness, Honeycutt and many, many more. Perhaps, someone will add to what is written here to make a complete history of our heritage.

The first mayor of Pyatt was P. R. Lowery and our present mayor is Thurman Godfrey. The present City Council consists of Jim Whitlock, J. T. Tabor, Sam Young, George Keys, Aub Lancaster, and Mardel Ply Phillips is the City Clerk. We cannot mention City Council endeavors, however, without mentioning Carter Bright who, though for health reasons is not serving now, served as City Clerk for years. Pyatt became an incorporated city in 1925.

One of the first organized church groups here was the Assembly of God Church. According to the original First Record Book, the Church met for the first time October 11, 1937, at the home of Mrs. Gus Pierce. The following excerpt is taken from that book:

"We, the Pentecost members of Pyatt, met and organized a committee. Mrs. Walter Doshier was elected President; Mrs. Orbie Whitlock, Secretary-Treasurer. The following members were present: Mrs. Gus Pierce, Mrs. Strauss, Mrs. Delia Magness, Mrs. Minnie Magness, Mrs. Orba Whitlock, Mrs. C. E. Smart, Mrs. Bet Whitlock, Mrs. (Aunt) Bet Milum, Mrs. Lem Stonecipher, Mrs. Minnie Doshier."

This church group started taking donations for a church building and, probably, Mr. and Mrs. George Baker are to be thanked most for, what at that time was a huge donation, $50.00. People from other communities gave and the building was erected where it now stands. The first meeting in the new building was February 27, 1938. Presbyter Bro. Lack set the Church in order on this date with Bro. Paul Jones as the first Pastor; Mrs. Walter Doshier as Secretary-Treasurer; and Mrs. Minnie Magness, Mrs. Minnie Pierce and Mr. Bill Copeland as First Trustees. Of the first membership roll of 27 members, only three are still living. They are: Myrtle Tippit, Orbie Whitlock and Minnie Doshier. The membership grew to 32 members and Bro. Carl Woods was elected as the second Pastor in late 1938.

The first Baptist Church in Pyatt was moved here from Sugar Orchard and organized under the leadership of Willie and Amanda (Mandy) Brady, parents of Bryan Brady. It was a Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, organized in 1941, with Elder J. H. Marlar as Pastor. The Church dates back to 1907 when it was located at Sugar Orchard. Later, under the missionary efforts of Dick Hurst and Dale Barnett, the Church was changed from Landmark Missionary to Southern Baptist in 1961 and moved to its present location and new building in 1963.

The Church of Christ here dates back to 1951 when, under the leadership of Mrs. George Chaney, mother of Rue Chaney, a group met in Mrs. Chaney's home and established a church building in front of the present Jack Tilton residence. A new building was erected on Highway 62 and the Church moved there in late 1964 or early 1965.

The Pyatt Public High School's first Catalog and Bulletin of 1928-1930 states:

"Since the storm destroyed the old church house, the school district has donated a building site for a church building. A committee has been selected by various churches of the community to plan a community church building. Some of our best citizens are on this committee, and we expect to have an ideal church building in the near future."

This building was built on the ground where the community building now stands and was a combination churchhouse and schoolhouse. It was known as the Union Sunday School and Church. The present community building has also been used by churches of many denominations and many of the funeral services through the years have been held here.

When this writer, with her family, moved to Pyatt in 1964, it was a "village of the elderly." We were one of four couples under the age of 35. As the schools closed in the spring, the graduates, it seemed, left Pyatt and Marion County for "greener pastures". Now, the trend seems to be changing. As the young people complete their education, more and more of them are staying, or returning, to make their home in Marion County. New residents with new progressive ideas have helped make a better, healthier and happier community. We have seen the completion of a municipal water system and the completion and dedication of Highway 125 from its Junction with Highway 62, paved to the new school building at Eros and it is to be paved to Bruno soon to join the new highway there.

A special thanks to Gordon Stanley, Sam Young, Carter and Clara Bright, Thurman Godfrey, Bryan Brady, George and G. H. Young, Mable Young and Athel Sullivan for help in compiling this report. Many new businesses and places of employment have opened in Pyatt in the last few years. There are now five churches, a good school, a good business community with friendly, healthy competition, a progressive railroad that is being rebuilt with new rails to handle the increased traffic, a strong Jaycee organization and a VFW organization, and a good strong community bond and spirit. Therefore, we are very optimistic about our town, our county, and we are proud to be a resident of the HEART OF THE USA.

Reprinted with permission from History of Marion County edited by Earl Berry, copyright 1977.

Southwest Quadrant