Chicot County, AR Historical and Genealogical Page


History of Bellaire

Gaines Landing Once Important Riverport

Grand Lake Riverport






Mrs. Ray Bailey

This article is reprinted from the Sesquicentennial Edition

BELLAIRE. How did it get its name is a question often asked by the curious. Hearing the name Bellaire, one envisions mountain streams, birds singing and spring flowers rippling in the breeze.

However romantic the name, it was acquired in a very prosaic manner, according to the story told by Mrs. Harvey Parnell. A man by the name of Bell once owned a large acreage in the community. At his death, the land became the property of his heirs. People in referring to this land spoke of it as the Bell Heir property, hence the name Bellaire.

An old family cemetery provides a clue to the early history of the community. It is located on what is now known as the Harry Daniels farm just off state road 208. The burial plot measures approximately 24 by 14 feet, and is encased in an iron rail fence. A covering of cement over the grave gives additional protection to those who lie there. Evidently several persons are buried here, but only two headstones have withstood the ravages of time.

These markers, by thoughtful hands, have been embedded in the cement covering, and bear these inscriptions: To Susan, Wife of J. A. Anderson, born Augsut 27th, 1835; died April 18, 1881. The second reads: Dick Wells, Son of C. F. and A. C. Wells, Born August 24, 1882; died August 17, 1893.

Captain J. A. Anderson was a native of Mississippi. During the Civil War he fought and won his captaincy with the Confederate Army. At the close of the conflict, Captain Anderson and his family moved to Southeast Arkansas, where he had purchased land. This became known as the Anderson Plantation. On the banks of Crooked Bayou, and on the site where the C. F. Brown home is now located, Captain Anderson built a two-story log house. So far as can be ascertained, this was the second house built in the community by a white man. In addition to his farming interests, owned and operated the first cotton gin to be located in the community. Teams of mules furnished power for the operation of the gin. Negroes were the principal source of labor for growing cotton, which, then as now, was the chief commodity.

Mrs. Anderson died soon after moving to Arkansas, and was buried in the family plot near her home. Sometime later, Captain Anderson was married to a Mrs. Winston, a widow of with a five year old daughter. This little girl was destined to become one of Arkansas first ladies, Mrs. Harvey Parnell, wife of Governor Parnell.

After the death of Captain Anderson in 1905, and after her own marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Parnell purchased a large part of the Anderson Estate.

Though the Andersons were early settlers in the community, there is some evidence that they were not the first whites to settle there. Two Negro women, Emma and Viola Vickory, who now live in Halley, say that they were born in Bellaire. Their father was a white man who came from the North, their mother a Negress. They say that they were born in a two story log house which stood where the Glen Adams home now stands. This is thought to have been the first house in the community built by a white man. Emma, the eldest of the two women, gives the year 1878 as the year of her birth. They could recall no other white people in the community and were certain that, at this time, it was an all-Negro settlement. A colored school was located in Hurd, but these women insist that the teacher was a white man whose name they could not recall.

There was a cabin in the community where religious services were held by the people. This, the first Primitive Church, was located on what is now the J. B. Griswood farm. They did not know whether their father owned the land which he farmed, or was an overseer for an absentee landlord. When Emma was 10 years old, her father returned to New York, where he died. During this period of early history, Chicot County had many Negroes holding public offices. The Sheriff was a Negro named Holland. J. A. Richardson, a Negro, was postmaster in Hurd, and also owned a general mercantile store which he operated. Negroes were serving on the school board, and at this time Negroes seemed to have owned much of the land in the county.

In 1905, the M. R. Haisty family, accompanied by the families of Frank Bowmen, Lige Nolan, William Sims, and Hiram Russell, moved from Cominto to Bellaire. Mrs. Herbert Lemley, daughter of M. R. Haisty, recalls that after her father purchased land in the Bellaire community, he and the aforesaid men chartered a freight car. This car was loaded with household furnishings and farm equipment of the five families and shipped to Hurd. Here, due to a heavy rain which had been falling for days, the new families unloaded their possessions in what appeared to be a sea of water. Surely not a happy introduction to a new home. In 1907 the Porter Brothers, Ed, Walter, John and Charles, purchased the Bellaire or Anderson plantation, and employed T. J. Lamb to manage the farm. Within the next few years, other families began moving into the community. among them were the Lee Bakers, the Mode and Rial Collins families, and the Williams and Ellington family. In 1919, the Griswood and Donaldson families moved into Bellaire.

Recreation and entertainment facilities such as we enjoy today were unknown to early residents, but as we listen to senior citizens tell their stories of these happy, early days, we agree that they were unnecessary. Many were the pleasant hours spent together as the young people gathered in a home for the weekly singing. Parties, too, were frequent and enjoyed by young and old. The women of the community found pleasure in their quilting bees, and no doubt tongues flew as fast as needles. Hunting and fishing were popular sports for men and boys. In fact, fish fries held on the banks of bayou or lake were outings especially enjoyed by the entire community. During Christmas week, it was the custom for families to pack their festive goodies in baskets, and spend the day at the home of one of the neighbors. This would be repeated throughout the week until every family in the community had been visited.

Road conditions in the early days were primitive. Usually mere trails cut through forests, Mrs. Harvey Parnell relates a story told by her grandmother, Mrs. Fannie Emmons. The family came by oxdrawn covered wagon from Collingston, Miss., to Southeast Arkansas. Many times, as they stopped and made camp for the night, they could look back over the route traveled that day and see smoke rising from the smoldering fire of the camp they had left that morning. For several years the family supplies were purchased from the river boats plying the Mississippi, and docking at Gaines Landing.

Doctors practicing in early days well knew the meaning of hardship. They traveled by horseback, buggy and frequently on foot as they ministered to patients living in rural areas. Doctor S. C. Riley of Halley is said to have developed a unique mode of travel. Using a bicycle equipped with four wheels, grooved to fit the two rails, he would travel as far as possible toward the patients home. The machine would then be lifted from the rail, and he would continue on his way on foot, or perhaps riding if he could get the loan of a horse. Many times a relative or a friend of the sick would wait beside a rain swollen stream with a horse to ferry the doctor across. Dr. J. A. Thompson was another pioneer physician, practicing in the Bellaire community at the turn of the century, and well-acquainted with road conditions of that day. George Kelley of Halley remembers his father purchasing the first automobile in Halley. The machine was bought in Little Rock and two days were required to drive it home.

It was the custom of the family before setting out for a drive to include a shovel and several rubber boots, along with the spare tire. These were necessary aids to travel in those days. Even so, many were the nights spent in Dermott hotels when an unexpected rain made roads impassable for the return home. Once in a fine mood for adventure, the Kelleys set out for a drive to see how far they could travel in one day. They made it to Winchester. Mr. Kelley also recalls a man named Bowie having lived in Halley for a number of years. Legend has it that he was the brother of the famous Jim Bowie. (Ed. note: this was Rezin Bowie, after whom the township is named.) another legend tells of an old chest being unearthed by a Negro plowing on a farm in the vicinity. It was filled with ancient coins and pieces of jewelry. When, or by whom, it was buried remains a mystery.

By 1907 there were several children residing in the community of Bellaire, so the first rural white school was organized. A vacant log cabin was used, and the first teachers were two sisters, Carrie and Nonie Joyce from Star City. When the weather was extremely warm classes were often held out of doors beneath the shade trees. Here, too, was the beginning of the first Sunday School for whites with Mode Collins, the elected superintendent.

In 1908, M. R. Haisty donated land on which to build the first white rural school in district 7, Bowie Township. He was also the first white director to serve on what had been, until 1907, an all-Negro school board. The contractor who built the school, assisted by two others, was Preston Berryman, the helpers being Flowers.

Mrs. Mamie Jones of Dermott taught the first term of school in the new building in 1908. In 1910 Miss Annie Gibson, who in 1911 was to become Mrs. Tom Lamb, taught the second term. In 1911, U. C. Barnett, superintendent of schools in Dermott, taught summer school in Bellaire. Part of the time he rode a horse from Dermott to Bellaire, many times he walked. In these early school years, Mrs. T. J. Lamb wrote all the contracts and warrants for the seven colored schools and the white school in the township. In 1921, Act 215 of the General Assembly brought about the consolidation of the Bellaire school with the Dermott school. Through efforts of Bellaire residents, the community obtained a lease on the old school building, to be used as a house of worship.

As we have seen, the religious life of the community dates from its early settlement. In 1911, Reverend N. C. Denson, who had organized the Baptist Church in Dermott, came to Bellaire and preached once a month. He would come by train to Hurd on the old Pete Robinson passenger train, as it was called in honor of its popular engineer. Here a member of his Bellaire congregation would be waiting with buggy and horse to complete the journey. Rev. Denson held a revival at Bellaire that summer.

Seven years later, in 1918, Reverend E. C. (Clark) Sims organized the Bellaire Baptist Church. Mr. Sims was, at that time, pastor of both the Dermott and Eudora churches.

This founder and organizer of Bellaire Baptist Church, Mr. Sims, was born in Cedartown, Georgia, in 1886. He moved with his family to Ashley County when nine years of age. He was a graduate of Southwestern Theological Seminary and Ouachita Baptist College. He married Miss Willie Gaster of Collins in 1908. He died in 1918 in Dermott, a victim of the deadly influenza epidemic of that year.

Mr. and Mrs. T. J. Lamb and members of the Haisty family are among the known charter members of the church. So Bellaire Church, beginning in 1907, as a small Sunday School, purchasing its first literature through the sale of eggs, which a little girl, Maud Haisty, and her teacher, Miss Annie Gibson, had collected from the families in the community, has grown and prospered through the years. Credit is due many - to Mode Collins, its first Sunday School Superintendent, to early pastors so faithful in service, and to early church members, the Haistys, Collins and Lambs. Too, we would give credit to one whose life, since coming to Bellaire in 1919, has been so closely interwoven with the life of the church and community, J. B. Griswood. Mr. and Mrs. Griswood made it a practice in those early years of poor roads and isolated living conditions to furnish transportation to any who could and would attend church services. To see the community grow and prosper not only in a material way, but also in the spiritual realm has been their chief concern. With the dedication of the new modern church building in January, 1951, Mr. and Mrs. Griswood saw the fulfillment of their lives for so many years.

In addition to the church, the school and homelife, an important factor to the community has been the mail service. The first rural mail service out of Dermott was begun in 1914. This was Route 1, serving Bellaire. Mail carriers, in order of service, were: Will Splawn, McFadden, Cecil Mathis, and Laron Offutt. All of these carriers rode horses to deliver mail on the route. For the past 44 years, the mail has been carried by the Perry brothers. In 1920, Merving Perry began carrying the mail. Two years later, in 1922, Collins Perry took over the route, and was the first carrier to use a buggy with a top (truly this was high fashion for Bellaire). W. B. Perry began his 38 years of service September 1, 1925, using an automobile. At that time the route was 19 miles long, and was providing mail service to 80 boxes and about 400 patrons. Today the route is 83 miles long, with 246 boxes, serving 378 families or 1510 persons.

Time has brought many changes to the community. Once it was sparsely settled. Today there are 56 families living in the community, most of them owning the land which they farm. There is a modern rural church with a membership of 200 serving not only the community, but extending out into the surrounding areas.

A pastor now lives on the field and a complete church program is carried out. Good roads make year round travel possible throughout the community. School busses transport the children to Dermott schools. Later, many of them will seek college education.



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Reprinted from the Sesquicentennial Edition

One of the most important points on the Mississippi River during pioneer days was Gaines Landing.

Major William Gaines from Kentucky entered land along the Mississippi River in Chicot County, Arkansas in 1833, in 1836 and in 1839. With others, he built a landing on his plantation.

He made a road from the landing through the plantation, lining it with stems of young trees, and later with planks, and placed houses along it for collection of tax from travelers.

The landing became the gateway to Southeast Arkansas. Immigrants came from the southern states, and settled along the rivers and bayous, and back in the hills. They brought slaves, carriages, extensive libraries and rare pieces of furniture. It also became the gateway for the through route from Virginia and the Carolinas to Texas.

The landing grew to be the first shipping point between Helena and Vicksburg, with the finest wharf boat on the River up to 1861. Bales of cotton that had been carried in on oxwagons were piled high on the steamboats for New Orleans.

It was linked with a stage coach route with Independence, which became Monticello, and with Camden.

During the Civil War the landing was guarded by Confederate soldiers. The Chicot Rangers, with Captain Daniel Reynolds commanding, steamed from there for a rendezvous at Pocahontas. They became a part of General Thos. Churchills Mounted Rifles.

The railway was built from Chicot City to Collins about 1872, the river station being removed to Arkansas City in 1878. With the coming of the railway, the service of the landing closed.



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Reprinted from Sesquicentennial Edition, 1973

In June 1866 Herman Weis was operating the only mercantile establishment at Grand Lake.

Capt. C. P. Bennett had been the owner of the (later) Fiebleman plantation before the Civil War.

At that time the Weis store was operated under the name of H. Weis and Company. It was owned by Herman Weis and his brother in law Abe Cahn, who had operated a store there prior to the Civil War.

There were but four white families in Grand Lake in 1866.

In 1868 a man by the name of J.G. Morgan opened a store but he died a few years later and his business establishment went out of existence. In 1869 or 1870 I. Drewfus and A. Meyer opened a partnership store.

About 1872 the Mississippi River formed a land bar in front of Grand Lake, making it impossible for the boats to bank at the usual landing. A new town was started about a mile north of Grand Lake, and it was known as Barnard. Some of the Grand Lake stores moved to the new landing, but H. Weis and Company continued to operate at their original location. However, they did establish a branch store at Barnard. About two weeks after the founding of this new town and river landing, the river banks began to cave badly at that place until finally the business houses were forced to relocate at Grand Lake.

A few years later the River played the same havoc at Grand Lake. The caving and sluffing finally forced the business houses to seek new locations. So, in 1885, the H. Weis & Co. store was moved west of Rush Bayou on the Eudora road. From the close of the Civil War up to the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Grand Lake was the largest shipping point in Arkansas south of Memphis, except Helena. Farmers and merchants as far west as Hamburg, southwest into Morehouse Parish, and almost to Bastrop, in Louisiana, and south into Carroll Parish to Old Floyd had to haul their cotton to the Grand Lake merchants or shipped it by boat to commission merchants in New Orleans. In turn, they purchased their supplies at the trading point. The farmers who purchased at retail hauled their personal supplies to their respective homes, while the back country merchants purchased their supplies at wholesale and hauled their purchases to their interior stores. Numerous steamboats plied up and down the River carrying passengers and freight; mail, including newspapers, came to Grand Lake three times a week and usually from twenty-four to forty-eight hours behind schedule.

There were also two star mail routes leading out of Grand Lake after the Civil War, and continued until about 1873. One of these routes led through Boueff Swamp buckshop to Hamburg, and the other to Delhi, La. It took the mail riders three days to make these trips.



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