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Lawrence County
(Walnut Ridge, County Seat)


            Lawrence County is second only to Arkansas County in age among counties of the state. The legislature of the Territory of Missouri created it in January of 1815, and as originally drawn its boundaries encompased an area from which some 30 more counties later were formed. A US. Navy hero of the War of 1812, Capt. James Lawrence, was honored in selection of a name for the county.

     Captain Lawrence was a native of New Jersey, born in Burlington in 1781. After entering the Navy in 1798, he saw his first important service in the Tripolitanian War. His promotion to captain's rank came in 1813, the same year in which he was killed while commanding the warship "Chesapeake." Enroute northward from Boston, to intercept British vessels headed to Canada, the "Chesapeake" engaged in battle with the frigate "Shannon," which had been blockading Boston. He suffered fatal wounds while on deck, and while being carried below shouted, "Don't give up the ship." This command became a popular battle cry and Lawrence a hero.

     Settlement along the White and Black Rivers by Americans from east of the Mississippi had begun soon after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Enough residents soon came to warrant formation of the county. The first county seat was Davidsonville. This place also had the distinction of having the first postoffice in Arkansas (followed by Arkansas Post soon thereafter). In 1832 the county seat was moved to Smithville. Davidsonville's decline began, disappearing in time as a town. Today a state park takes in the townsite.

     Changes in boundaries made another move necessary, this in 1868 to Clover Bend. Then, in 1869, Powhatan became the county seat and a fine, spacious brick courthouse was erected. When the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad ran its tracks through the county in the 1870's, a railroad surveyor platted a townsite that became Walnut Ridge, or, one might say, "new" Walnut Ridge. Col. W.M. Ponder's postoffice, a few miles from the railroad, already carried the name in recognition of the ridge on which it sat and the walnut trees thereabouts. The colonel is credited with seizing the opportunity to operate at the railroad and so moved his postoffice. Walnut Ridge was incorporated in 1880, and nine years later was designated as the county's second seat of justice, sharing honors with Powhatan. As Walnut Ridge grew, Powhatan declined, and in recent years Walnut Ridge became the single county seat. Powhattan presumably was named for the Indian chieftain, famous as the father of Pocahontas, who married Capt. John Smith in early colonial times. He was also leader of the Powhatan Confederation of Indian tribes.

Taken from
"ARKANSAS PLACE NAMES"
by Ernie Deane