Both the town and county of Searcy were named for the same person: Arkansas pioneer Richard Searcy. Born in Tennessee, he headed to Arkansas with the early settlers of Davidsonville. He served as postmaster before moving to Batesville in 1820 to practice law. He became on of the territory's best-known attorneys, which led to him being appointed a territorial court judge for the Batesville district. Searcy made two attempts to become an Arkansas Territory delegate to Congress but was defeated in both. He died either in 1832 or 1833 before knowing a county and town had been named for him. The town was laid out by Israel Moore who named the original streets for streets in Philadelphia.

The Little Red River and White Sulphur Springs are both a part of Searcy's founding. The springs were developed and attracted visitors with their healing properties. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, “The home of David Crise, about halfway between the springs and the river, was the site of the first county court, held on May 23, 1836. The first post office named Frankfort was established in 1837” with the name being changed in 1838 to Searcy.

During the Civil War, the town was involved in battles comprising the Little Rock Campaign. The Action at Whitney's Lane, took place near the Little Red River. It was the first major contact between Union and Confederate troops in the state after the major Battle of Pea Ridge which took place March 6-7, 1862. This skirmish and following events led the Union army to decide to quit trying to capture Little Rock in 1862. Little Rock was later captured by Federal troops in September 1863. The Action at Whitney's Lane, according to Encyclopedia of Arkansas, revitalized the Confederate war effort in the state because of the belief that the Federal troops were retreating. Searcy saw more action in August of 1863 when the Cricket, a Union gunboat, came up the Little Rock and captured Kaskaskia and Tom Sugg, two Confederate steamboats, at the Searcy Landing. This was part of another attempt by Union forces to take Little Rock. This second Little Rock Campaign was successful.

Today Searcy is a thriving college town home to several industries. One major employer is Wal-Mart which has two large distribution warehouses here.  Harding University, a private Church of Christ institution, draws students from around the country and offers arts and athletic events for the community. A major attraction is the White County Fair which has been named by the Los Angeles Times as one of the top county fairs in the country. It began in 1930 and draws over 50,000 each year.  The historic 1874 Black House, a restored 1870s Italianate home on the National Register of Historic Places, now houses the Searcy Art Gallery. The imposing White County Courthouse, the oldest functioning courthouse in the state, is also listed on the National Register. The 1923 Rialto Theatre is a landmark with its splashy neon lighting and is one of only a few historic theatres which still shows daily movies. Each Thanksgiving Day through New Year's Day, the annual Holiday of Lights display in Searcy welcomes the season.