Clark County was founded on December 15, 1818, as part of Missouri Territory. One of five counties comprising Arkansas Territory when the territory was created in 1819, Clark included all or parts of at least fifteen counties in present-day Arkansas and parts of six counties in what is now Oklahoma. The county was named for Missouri Territorial Governor William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Caddo and Quapaw Indians inhabited the area. Hernando DeSoto was the first European of record to explore the region. He was followed a century later by the French who named many of the region’s topographical features. Permanent settlements by Euro-Americans were in existence by the early 1800s.
The area that is now Clark County was first documented during the exploration of William Dunbar and George Hunter in 1804-1805, commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson following the Louisiana Purchase. Less well known than the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Hunter-Dunbar expedition was the first venture by Americans to explore and document the southeastern part of the purchase in what is today Arkansas and Louisiana. A digitized version of William Dunbar’s expedition journal can be viewed on OBU’s Scholarly Commons.
In 1809, Adam Blakely established a blacksmith shop on the Ouachita River at a site that was named Blakelytown (modern-day Arkadelphia). In 1811, John Hemphill began the operation of a salt works, the earliest manufacturing establishment in Arkansas. By 1812, Jacob Barkman, often called the “Father of Clark County,” opened up traffic on the Ouachita River to New Orleans, first by pirogue and later by keel boat. By 1830, Barkman was operating a side-wheel steamboat on the river. Barkman’s home on the Caddo River was the site of the first county court, the first post office, a stagecoach stop, and an ill-fated textile mill.
Arkadelphia is the present county seat; but previously the county seat was located near Hollywood, Biscoeville, and Greenville. The county seat moved to Blakelytown (now Arkadelphia) in 1842, where it has remained.
Arkadelphia was home to the first state facility for the blind. The Arkansas Institute for the Blind operated on the banks of the Ouachita River from 1859 to 1868, when it moved to the state capital in Little Rock. Two colleges have operated in Arkadelphia since the late 19th century. Ouachita Baptist College (now University) was established in 1886, and Arkadelphia Methodist College (now Henderson State University) was founded in 1890.
For additional information on the history of Clark County, please see:
Norma S. Arnold and Wendy Richter, “Clark County,” The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.