The city has grown from humble beginnings
DECATUR – Decatur, nestled in the gentle hills of the state’s far northwest, has seen its ups and downs – from highs like the growth of the poultry industry in 1939 to lows like the city becoming almost a ghost town in 1952, only to win Look Magazine’s All-America City award in 1954.
The city begins to experience new growth that could make Decatur as competitive as its neighbors of Gravette, Gentry and Centerton.
Decatur’s humble beginnings can be traced back to a settler by the name of William Freeman Burrow, who staked a 40-acre expanse near a spring in 1833. Burrow’s farm freshwater spring was known as the Corner Springs, which still exists near Spring Avenue. just southeast of Ramirez Auto and Bus Sales in Decatur.
A year later, Burrow received a federal deed for his land.
In 1835, the Decatur cemetery received its first permanent tenant. Over time, it would become the mainstay of several acres that it is today.
More and more settlers flocked to Corner Springs to establish farms and farms in the rich soil of the area and soon apple and peach orchards, as well as strawberry and even tobacco farms and plantations, were established. started to dot the landscape. With the growth of agriculture in the region, farmers needed a faster way to get their produce to market.
In 1887, the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad began laying tracks from Kansas City to Port Arthur, Texas. The line eventually passed through Corner Springs and gave the farming community a way to transport their crops to market. The first timber depot was built in 1892.
Earlier, in 1882, Corner Springs had requested its first post office. However, the small town in northwest Arkansas ran into a small problem. The United States Postal Service decided there were far too many towns with “Spring” in their names and quickly came up with Decatur, named after the legendary War of 1812, Commodore Stephen Decatur. It was reported at the time that one of Decatur’s descendants resided in the small town, but this turned out to be incorrect.
With a post office, train station, blacksmith shop, and the Decatur Herald newspaper, founded in 1896, the small town of Decatur was on the move.
The first bank in Decatur opened in 1906. The Bank of Decatur gave residents of the area a place where they could keep their money and access loans as needed. An incident on February 23, 1923 cemented Decatur forever in the Northwest Arkansas history books when the bank vault was removed from the building and taken to the southern end of town. There it was retrieved unopened and returned to the Bank of Decatur intact. The Depression forced the bank to close its doors in 1937.
In 1939, one of Decatur’s native sons, Lloyd Peterson, switched from trucking to raising chickens, and soon a whole new industry was born. Peterson Hatchery and Peterson Produce began production, with the hatchery operating at its 12,000 egg capacity, all with just two employees. In 1947, Peterson reorganized his company into Peterson Industries.
Meanwhile, a Kansas-based poultry production plant that eventually became Simmons was in full production and Decatur experienced its first growth spurt. However, it all fell apart when, in 1951, Simmons moved his business to Siloam Springs. Suddenly, Decatur was without its main industry.
Families began to pack their bags and go to where the work was. A year later, Peterson stepped in and bought the poultry processing plant and incorporated it into Peterson Industries.
In 1953, Peterson formed the Decatur Development Company, a group of prominent businessmen and community leaders. That same year, Peterson threw a big party, bringing together a local country group, hosting a beauty pageant, and cooking enough chicken halves to feed the town of Decatur and its surrounding neighbors. This was the birth of the long-standing Decatur barbecue.
In 1954, the Decatur State Bank opened, providing area residents with a place to transact money again.
Later, in 1954, city officials were contacted by the National Civic League and informed that Decatur had been chosen to receive the All-America City Award Under 1,000 and would appear in the February 1955 issue of Look Magazine. In a photo that appeared in the issue, almost the entire city of 390 participated in the big city photoshoot.
The same year, in August, the Decatur Chamber organized the Decatur Barbecue to celebrate the national award.
From that point on, the city of Decatur began to develop as new businesses settled down and established themselves. The population grew from 390 in 1954 to over 1,699 in 2020.
But a change was looming on the horizon that again threatened to turn Decatur into a ghost town. More in the next segment of Decatur history.