Fordyce Cotton Belt Festival

Zoie Clift

Heads up on an upcoming
festival in Fordyce: the Fordyce Cotton Belt Festival (April 19-24).  This will be the 30th anniversary of the
city-wide festival which celebrates the town’s heritage.

Here’s a bit about the
town’s history: Located in Dallas County, Fordyce is well known for it’s role in
the Railroad Era. Four major railroad lines were constructed in the county
beginning in 1881. These lines spurred the development of many new towns. The
Cotton Belt line was constructed through the southeast part of the county,
leading to the development of Fordyce a year later.

The town was named for
Samuel Fordyce who surveyed the railroad line and later became president of the
railway company. By 1890 Fordyce was the largest town in the county and in 1908
it became the Dallas County seat. Soon after, a courthouse reflecting the town’s prosperity was constructed in town. With
the railroads came the lumber industry. The largest of the lumber companies was
located in town and was appropriately named The Fordyce Lumber Company.

While the lumber
industry had grown in importance, the railroad started becoming less so. The
last train load of logs pulled into town in 1940. Contract logging by trucks
started taking center stage and logging by trains eventually became obsolete.
Railroad lines were abandoned and, as a result, the town developed into and is
today an area trading center supported largely by sawmills located in
surrounding communities.

Today, the city’s
historic architecture can be viewed at the Charlotte Street Historic District, which hosts a collection of vintage structures
listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Wynne Phillips House, a bed and breakfast lodging located in town, is also
on the National Register. Downtown points of interest include the Dallas County Museum, which hosts a multitude of historical artifacts from
Native American and Civil War relics to an exhibit dedicated to Paul “Bear” Bryant. Fordyce boasts the site where the local wrestled a bear
at the age of 13 as a promotion for the Lyric Theatre. A marker is now standing
where the stunt took place that earned the football legend his
nickname. Klappenbach Bakery is a city landmark and Civil War buffs will want to
make a stop at the nearby Marks’ Mills State Park.
Below is a shot of Johnny Cash and his wife ( June) and son riding in the Cotton Belt Festival in 1982. The photo comes courtesy of Paula Reaves via The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. 

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