When Levon Helm of Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, went to town, usually that was the big town of Marvell, population 1000 and just seven miles down the road. Helm, Grammy-award winning drummer, songwriter and vocalist who died in 2012, grew up in and around the area, living and working on his family’s cotton farm and going to school in Marvell, where he formed his first band. Now his boyhood home, recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places, has been moved to Marvell to avoid its demolition and preserve it as part of Helm’s legacy.
Lily Peter, state poet laureate, also had deep roots in Marvell. Born in Big Cypress Bayou near Marvell, she grew up on and ultimately managed the family farming operations in the area, while becoming a distinguished author, teacher, musician, conservationist, and millionaire philanthropist. She wrote throughout her life, producing works representing a mixture of introspective, lyrical poetry and historical poetry, mostly about the Arkansas Delta. Peter is buried in the nearby Turner Cemetery.
Marvell is about 70 miles southwest of West Memphis and 100 miles southeast of Little Rock. It was first settled in 1835, but it did not begin to grow until the arrival in the early 1870s of the Arkansas Central Railroad (eventually consolidated with the Missouri Pacific). The railroad acquired land from Marvell M. Carruth, and the depot built on that land was named in Carruth’s honor. A post office was established at Marvell in 1873, and the city was incorporated in 1876.