After the Civil War community centers began to dot the Buffalo. Many centers arose because a mill or store was established; later, particularly in the late-nineteenth to early twentieth-centuries, post offices were established in many of these stores and the name selected for the post office station would become the name of the wider community area. Around the early businesses other enterprises and some residences began to gather.
Most community centers served a local population. But some became known area-wide. During the mining days of the late-nineteenth century, towns like Rush and Ponca saw the influx of workers and businesses from other areas. Probably the most outstanding example was Gilbert, created in the early twentieth-century with the arrival of the Missouri and North Arkansas railroad to the region and the establishment of a railhead on the Buffalo. Gilbert became a hub for Buffalo River traffic, as cotton, logs, and ore were taken to the center from both up and down river.
As the twentieth century expanded the world of the Buffalo River resident, people began to utilize the larger area centers, like Harrison, Yellville, and Marshall. The arrival of the state highway system in the 1920s and the erection of bridges over the Buffalo River made it easier for river residents to travel to the county centers and to unite with one another.
Although the population of these community centers remained small, they represented a wider rural area of loyalty. Thus the population center represents an area of several square miles rather than the immediate center itself. The community areas became geographical locators for area geography. Many of the names have remained as access point names for Buffalo National River. Most other have a few remnants of foundations and walls hidden in the undergrowth. Only a few, such as Boxley, retain any real sense of the community center. The dying process of these communities began with the closure of the post offices in the 1950s, consolidation of schools, and the loss of the resident population to the bigger centers. Stores, mills, schools, churches, residences, sawmills, all comprised community areas during different periods of its existence.
Schools were considered important by the early settlers. An account of the life of Solomon Cecil, a settler of the 1830s along the Buffalo noted that "In a few years, however, a school teacher moved into the settlement and opened a school in a house which was vacated by on e of the neighbors." The records of early schools are few and limited to memories passed down by oral history. The earliest schools, apparently, were subscription schools, for which each family paid a set fee. For example, when William Love (present Erbie area) died in 1867, one of the creditors against his estate was the school commissioner. School fees continued even after the public school system was established in Arkansas, because obtaining money sufficient to support the schools continued to be a problem.
The early school buildings were made of logs - as the early homes - erected by the neighboring families who would be using the building. It was said that fireplaces served as the heat source in the earliest buildings, later replaced by wood stoves.
By the 1880s the schools had been divided into districts as area population increased. Assessments were made by the county from the families served by a particular school district. Frame buildings began to replace the log buildings. These buildings usually had a door on the gable end, several windows, and a bell tower. Some buildings had separate entrances for boys and girls. Persons interviewed about early schools did not remember any structure used as an outhouse - boys and girls each had their own "place in the bushes".
Frequently, the same building served both as school and church, and as a center for community doings. In 1948 many of the small school districts were consolidated and children began attending schools in the larger town centers.
Like schools, churches were established early in the settlement history of Buffalo River. Families of similar persuasion met together in member homes until a permanent building could be erected. The Methodists and the Baptists appear to have been among the earliest groups to establish church homes in the Buffalo River area. Later, Cumberland Presbyterians and other Protestant sects sent missionaries to the hills to get churches started.
Churches and schools often used the same building. Sometimes, different religious groups shared the same building. The churches of the Buffalo River area are plain from buildings, unadorned by elaborate trim. In some areas where there no permanent church building (Rush for instance) traveling preachers came to "brush arbor" meetings held outdoors.
Church served both as a religious center and as a social center for the community. Many a courtship was carried on as part of church activities. Birth, marriage, and death centered about church functions. "Dinner-on-the-ground" was a frequent getting-together of the church community; the function continues today along the river.
Did You Know?
Did you know that the Tyler Bend Visitor Center is a great place to receive information about Buffalo National River? The center offers exhibits, books, films, and park information.