Incorporated on February 4, 1888, the city of Huntington, Arkansas began as a coal mining town. The land, owned by L.P. Barrett, was purchased by the Missouri, Kansas, & Texas Coal Company, who had the original site of the city surveyed in August of 1887, with the main part of town laid out where it remains today because there was coal all around, but not directly beneath it.
As the hub of the mining business, the new community was almost called "Coal Town." But when J.B. Huntington, a well-liked mine superintendent, was killed after his beautiful black horse jumped from the bridge while crossing Cherokee Creek, it was decided to name the town for him.
The Central Coal & Coke Company owned and operated the three major area mines; Mine No. 2, Mine No. 3, and Mine No. 6, which was the largest. Samuel Fellows, who ran a strip mining operation on Cherokee Creek, built the first house in the area, along with the Fellows Hotel (later known as the Commercial Hotel).
The town continued to grow alongside the coal industry, with a population of 1700 at its peak around 1910. J.W. Young was elected the town’s first mayor in 1888, followed by J.C. Kendall in 1892, and Samuel Fellows in 1895. The first Postmaster was George S. Mahaney. The first Attorney was A.L. Brewster. The first store was the Missouri, Kansas, & Texas Coal Company Store where customers could buy everything from mining supplies to fresh meat. Early churches included the First Baptist (est. 1891), Huntington Methodist (est. 1894), and Arnett Chapel AME Church (est. 1894).
The late 1800’s found several newspapers being published, the most notable being the Huntington Hummer (published by Charles Nobles), the Herald (published by E.D. Bedwell), and the Democrat (published by Dan Hogan). Among the first hotels were the Commercial Hotel, the Orange Hotel, and the Drennen Hotel. The first doctors included J.H. McConnell, T.N. Callicoatt, A.C. Brewster, and R.M. Osborn.
Huntington School District #74 was formed by action of the Sebastian County Court on October 6, 1887. The school was first housed in a two-story wooden structure, which was later replaced by an elegant three-story brick building. The first floor consisted of a boiler room, one classroom, and a huge auditorium. The long hallway had a staircase at each end, both wide enough for three or four students to go up and down to and from the classrooms above. Some of the teachers were Juanita Harwell-Cunningham, Neosho Cross, Stella Barker, Lester Bull, and Patti Anderton.
The Majestic Theatre, opened in 1913 by Herman W. Jeffries, featured a number of traveling vaudeville and road show acts performing on its large stage. Audiences, donning the very latest in formalwear, stood to watch while heat was supplied by an old pot bellied stove. Another theater soon opened, ran by Harlan Spitler, and featured one movie machine. Other forms of entertainment were provided by the Huntington Opera House and the Roxie Theatre where admission ran from five to ten cents.
One of the area’s better known physicians, Dr. G.G. Woods began practicing medicine in Huntington in 1904, riding horseback to mining camps to care for local patients. While the mine’s safety measures went virtually ignored, men were injured almost daily, with Dr. Woods providing the care they needed in their home.
Having the distinction of being the youngest to enter the University of Arkansas, which he did at age 15, Dr. Merle Woods returned to Huntington in 1934. Carrying on his father’s tradition, Dr. Merle would go wherever he was needed treating everyone, rich or poor, with the same selfless devotion.
In the early to mid thirties, other resources such as electricity, gas, and oil began taking a toll from the coal industry, eventually shutting down all of the large area mines. As the mines closed, people were forced to move on in search of other means of support. The Majestic Theatre burned to the ground in 1929 and was never rebuilt. The Huntington School system consolidated with Mansfield in 1962, with the stately three story school building being torn down, leaving the glory days of the old mining town to live mostly in memories.
Today, Huntington once again stands at a crossroads in its development with many people shunning big city living for the essentials of a small town life. Located just 26 miles south of Fort Smith, Huntington is the perfect place for families longing to get away from the pitfalls of living in the city. City government consists of a mayor and city council with two councilmen per ward representing three wards. Huntington also has top-quality city, fire, and police departments intent on serving and protecting its citizens.
Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Ouachita Mountains, Huntington offers quiet, comfortable, and affordable living. Families moving to the area should consider historic Huntington, Arkansas, a good place to live both now and in the future.