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 it’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
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
House, which served as a Union headquarters when federal troops occupied
the town during the Red River Campaign. It was featured in the television series The North and The 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 spring Camden Daffodil Festival and autumn BPW Barn Sale.
Other area attractions
Oak Lake State Park; the Arkansas Museum
of Natural Resources at Smackover,
which recounts the story of South Arkansas's oil boom; and El
Dorado's restored "oil boom" downtown.