Pine Bluff's beginnings
Pine Bluff was first established on a high bluff of the Arkansas River. Supporting the first pine tress above the mouth of the river, the bluff furnished a safe haven for the settlers from the annual floods of the stream.
Joseph Bonne, who was half French and half Quapaw Indian, is said to have settled on this bluff in 1819. After the Quapaws signed a treaty in 1824, relinquishing their title to all of the lands they claimed in Arkansas, other settlers began to join Bonne on the bluff. Thomas Phillips claimed a half section of land where Pine Bluff is located in 1829. Jefferson County was established by the Territorial Legislature, Nov. 2, 1829 and began functioning as a county April 19, 1830.
At the August 13, 1832 county election, the pine bluff was chosen as the county seat. The Quorum Court voted to name the village "Pine Bluff Town" on October 16, 1832.
Pine Bluff was first incorporated January 8, 1839, by the order of County Judge Taylor. At the time, the village had about 50 residents. Improved transportation facilities aided in the growth of Pine Bluff during the 1840s and 1850s. More and better steamboats improved river traffic.
Days of war
From all indications, Pine Bluff was prospering at the outbreak of the Civil War. As with many small towns in the South, Pine Bluff suffered lasting effects of the War. A surprising number of citizens were opposed to secession and when the Union forces occupied Little Rock, a group of Pine Bluff citizens requested Major General Frederick Steele to send Union forces to occupy the town for protection.
The Union troops under Colonel Powell Clayton arrived September 17, 1863, and stayed until the War was over. Confederate General J.S. Marmaduke tried to expel the Union Army from Pine Bluff October 25, 1863, but was repulsed.
Because of the presence of Union forces, Pine Bluff became an over-crowded refugee center after the Emancipation
Proclamation as freed slaves flocked to the city. Schools were started by the American Missionary Society to begin education of the blacks.
The recovery from the Civil War was slow at first, but with the construction of railroads and the increased production of cotton as more farms were reactivated, the economy began to recover. The first railroad reached Pine Bluff in
December of 1873. This same year Pine Bluff's first utility was formed when Pine Bluff Gas Company began furnishing manufactured gas from coke for lighting purposes.
Beginning in the 1870s, as personal fortunes increased, large Victorian style homes were constructed west of Main Street by the community leaders. The first telephone system was placed in service March 31, 1883. Wiley Jones, a former slave and wealthy black man, built the first mule-drawn street car line in October 1886. The first light, power and water plant was completed in 1887.
Another factor in economic expansion of the 1880s and 1890s was the growth of the lumber industry.
In September of 1872, Professor Joseph C. Corbin opened the Branch Normal of the Arkansas Industrial University. This was Arkansas' first black tax-supported college. Today it comprises part of the University of Arkansas system.
The development of the community was greatly helped by the establishment of a dependable light and water system in 1912.
Turn-of-the-century Pine Bluff
The influence of the Arkansas River on the city continued into the early 1900s. River traffic was still an integral part of the local economy and community leaders were concerned that the main channel would leave the city. The United States Corps of Engineers were persuaded to build a levee opposite Pine Bluff to keep the river flowing by the city.
During a later flood, the channel of the river did leave the city and formed what is now Lake Langhofer. Even though river traffic diminished, the river remained a barrier, separating one part of the county from the other. After many years of haggling, because of the bond issue involved in raised taxes, the Free Bridge was opened in 1914, uniting the county for the first time on a permanent basis.
Two natural disasters in Pine Bluff's history had shocking effects on the area's economy. The first of these was a 100-year flood in 1927. Due to levee breaks, most of northern and southeastern Jefferson County were flooded. The second disaster was the severe drought of 1930. The failure of crops, coupled with the effects of economic conditions of the depression created many problems for Pine Bluff residents. In 1930, two of the larger banks failed.
With the inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, many government programs were enacted which benefited local communities. Pine Bluff built new schools, a football stadium and developed Oakland Park as the first major recreation facility of the city. To encourage diversification in the county's agriculture, a stockyard was built in 1936 to give a sales outlet for farmer's livestock.
Of great importance to Pine Bluff and Jefferson County was the state's highway construction program in the later 1920s and early 1930s which facilitated trade with Southeast Arkansas.
World War II brings economic diversity
World War II brought profound changes to Pine Bluff and its agriculture, timber and railroad-oriented economy. The first took the form of a new airport. Grider Field housed the Pine Bluff School of Aviation to furnish flight training for air cadets for the Army Air Corps. Approximately 10,000 flyers were trained by the time the school closed in October 1944.
Ground was broken for the Pine Bluff Arsenal December 2, 1941 on 15,000 acres bought by the Army north of the city. The arsenal and Grider Field literally changed Pine Bluff from an agricultural economy to a diversified base with a mixture of industry and agriculture.
The addition of small companies to the industrial base of Pine Bluff helped the economy remain steady in the late 1940s. The Korean War was a stabilizing factor after 1950.
In 1957, Dierks Lumber announced the construction of a kraft paper mill north of the city, followed within a short time by International Paper Co. buying a plant site five miles east of Pine Bluff. Residential developments were begun on an extensive basis.
Continuing the tradition of growth
Major construction projects during the 60s and 70s were Jefferson Hospital (now Jefferson Regional Medical Center), the dams of the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System on the Arkansas River, a Federal Building, the Pine Bluff Civic Center, the Pine Bluff Convention Center, Regional Park, two industrial parks and several large churches. One project that had a tremendous effect on trade patterns in the city was the construction of Jefferson Square, the community's first major shopping center.
The 80s and 90s saw a number of significant construction projects. In the late 1980s, the Pines Mall was constructed on
the east side of town. The mall significantly increased shopping traffic from Southeast Arkansas. The most important construction project of the 1990s was completion of a southern bypass that was designated I-530. This alternate route
greatly increased the economic benefit to Pine Bluff.
In addition, a highway and bridge across Lock and Dam 4 were completed, providing another link to the farm areas in
northeastern Jefferson County with the transportation system radiating from Pine Bluff. Through a private matching grant, a multi-million dollar Arts and Science Center was completed downtown in 1994. Pine Bluff Downtown Development began an on-going historical mural project that has resulted in increased tourism.