Lavaca Chamber Of Commerce

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  •     Historical Information

    The city of Lavaca, which is located on State Highways 96 and 255 in Sebastian County, has had several name changes over its almost 200 years of settlements here. The area was first known as:

    • MYERS LANDING/MOORE'S ROCK: about 1821. Changed to
    • MILITARY GROVE: February 1870. Located approximately one mile east of the present city on what was known as the Military Road.
    • OAK BOWER: February, 1879 (a mile from Military Grove)
    • LAVACA: 1880

        In 1817, Fort Smith became the first United States military installation in the untamed Southwestern wilderness. From its advantageous location where the Arkansas and the Poteau Rivers connect, the fort served its purpose to contain the bloody border struggle between the Osage and Cherokee Indians.
        The soldiers would travel from Little Rock to the remote settlement of Fort Smith when they could, but shallow water and jutting bedrock halted boat travel at points. So it became necessary to travel by land. Some four or so years after the first settlement at Fort Smith at Belle Point, the area gained its first citizen settlers.
        In 1821, Major Benjamin Moore, a former citizen of the state of Virginia, along with William Moore and Ben Moore, Jr., settled at what became known as Moore's Rock. This location connected from north of present-day Lavaca to the Van Buren side of the Arkansas River.

        Between the years 1824 and 1827, the U. S. Congress passed a series of bills which authorized the construction of a system of military roads on the Arkansas frontier, all of which centered at Fort Smith. One of those military roads ran east from Fort Smith to Little Rock. Military engineer Lieutenant James L. Dawson was given to August 1827 to complete the first twenty miles of road connecting Fort Smith to Little Rock, along old Indian trails roughly following the south banks of the Arkansas River.
        President James Monroe signed the Road Survey Bill of 1824. The bill authorized the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers and its Board of Internal Improvements to first gather information on the ability of the military to improve Indian trails. These trails were little more than paths. Improvements meant cutting trees, pulling stumps and making the road easy for wagon travel. War Department planners believed this system of federal highways would not only improve the U. S. defense on the Southwestern frontier, but would assist the federal government in relocating eastern tribes to the Indian country just west of Fort Smith.
        This federal highway system was called simply "Military Road." Several years and the allotted seven thousand dollars later, the road was completed largely due to civilian contracted labor. This overland trail emerged as wagons traveled along the rivers edge to bring soldiers and supplies to Fort Smith. Wells were dug along the Military Road to support the soldiers and horses on their long journey between the two points.
        The land along Military Road, today's Highway 96 and Lavaca's Main Street, came to be called Military Grove in February of 1870 with the establishment of a post office. This name is derived from it's location on the Military Road and for the large growth of established oak trees that were throughout the area. The area that once was Military Grove, just one mile east of the present city of Lavaca.
        A former Fort Smith newspaper reported in 1880, "We are informed that Oak Bower has taken on new life in way of improvements. Military Grove, the rival town has surrendered all claim as a locality to Oak Bower, and in the course of a few days, James B. Harwood, a prominent merchant, Mr. Perkins, the druggist and others will have buildings. Six business houses being opened." James B. Harwood had been named Postmaster in 1877. By the 1880s, the community of Military Grove is known as Oak Bower. Meanwhile, another community settlement was rising just to the west.

        Oak Bower was located east of today's Lavaca. By 1827, the village was a thriving in the valley. They boasted a general store, a saloon and a combination blacksmith shop/ cotton gin. The stream known as Big Creek ran nearby. The creek frequently overflowed its banks and would flood local homes and businesses creating a tremendous mess. It wasn't long until the railroad was coming through, roughly following the Military Road route. The Arkansas Central Railroad Company decided that the area in the valley of Oak Bower was unsuitable for the placement of a depot, opting instead to build it further west from Big Creek. By the time of the completion of the railroad and depot in 1897, there were four daily stops in Oak Bower/Lavaca. The train station was located on the north side of Houston and Division Streets.
        It is rumored that Spanish-speaking workers in this corner of the county referred to this area as "La Vaca," the Spanish word for "the cow" in describing the area. It wasn't long until the names Oak Bower and Lavaca appear together on land plats and important documents. The loss of the depot sounded the death knell to the original Oak Bower.
        Coupled with the establishment of churches and a one-room school and the depot being located west, the area joined as one.
       J. B. Harwood built a large building and became the first postmaster of Oak Bower. But when he registered the Post Office with the U. S. government, he was told that an incorporated town in Arkansas already had the name of Oak Bower. The name is officially changed to Lavaca.

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    308 West Main Street
    Open every Saturday, 9:00 AM until 12:00 NOON or by appointment
    Contact Jack James, administrator at (479) 739-2482 for info.

    Lavaca, Arkansas Chamber of Commerce
    P.O. Box 797 Lavaca, Arkansas 72941
    (479) 719-0971
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