The History of Camden

Zoie Clift
I was in Camden the
other day and the visit got me thinking about the interesting slice of history
this city holds. Whenever I visit a town, I try to find out as much about the area
as I can. I feel I get so much more out of a visit (no matter where I go)
knowing the backstory of a place. Below is a quick rundown of Camden in case
you might feel the same. Enjoy!
Located on a bluff
overlooking the Ouachita River, Camden is a city rich in Civil War History. The
town is located in Ouachita County around 100 miles from Little Rock and fifty
miles north of Louisiana. 

First known as a
French trading post called Ecore Fabre, its history has been closely tied to
the Ouachita River and it was called the “Queen City” of the Ouachita during
the steamboat era. In 1864, it became the unintended focus of the Red River
Campaign, a major Civil War effort resulting in several significant battles.

Ecore Fabre ( Fabre’s
Bluff) was named after a Frenchman who first settled the land. In 1824 John
Nunn moved to the site and became one of the town’s early permanent settlers.
Steamboats arrived at the settlement in the 1820s, linking it to commercial
markets in New Orleans and helping the settlement grow.

In 1842, Ouachita
County, named for the river, was formed from the northwest portion of Union
County. Ecore Fabre was chosen as the county seat, and its name was changed to
Camden at the suggestion of one of the commissioners.

During the 1850s,
Camden served as the supply center for several counties. As a steamboat river
port, it had the accommodations and transportation to service trade to New Orleans.
By 1860, with a population of over 2,000, Camden had newspapers, churches,
schools, merchants, lawyers, and manufacturers.

During the Civil War,
Camden was the focus of the Red River Campaign of 1864. It and south Arkansas
remained in Confederate hands until the end of the war. After the Civil War,
cotton production remained important and steamboats continued to navigate the
river. In the 1880s, the Iron Mountain and the Cotton Belt Route railroad
lines were opened. Trains opened up markets for pine and hardwood forests in
the county. Though they were challenged by the railroads, the steamboats
continued to service the city until the 1930s.

Oil was discovered in
the 1920s ,bringing much change to the area. An International Paper Mill was
also constructed in the late 1920s. Camark Pottery also opened for business at
this time and operated until the 1960s, producing pottery that is still prized.
In 1939, Benjamin Tyndle Fooks developed a new grape drink named Grapette at
his Camden bottling plant that became a top-selling brand.

Attractions in town include
the McCollum-Chidester House

which served as a Union headquarters when federal
troops occupied the town during the Red River Campaign. It was featured in the
t.v. series North and South. Open for tours, the house still contains 1860s
furnishings. About 10 miles to the northwest, the site of the Battle of Poison
Springs is preserved at Poison Spring State Park,

 one of three state parks commemorating the campaign.
Oakland Cemetery, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is the
largest Confederate cemetery in the area. Artifacts related to two famous
Camden products, Camark pottery and Grapette soft drinks, as well as Civil War
and railroad relics, are exhibited at the Camden Visitors Center and Museum. 

Two major events held in the city are the Camden Daffodil
Festival and the autumn BPW Barn Sale. 

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