History of Fayetteville, Arkansas

The enterprising town of Fayetteville dates its history from the organization of Washington County in 1828. At about that time George McGarroh, the father of James, John and William McGarroh, removed from the neighborhood of Evansville, and located near the spring in what is now known as the Masonic addition to Fayetteville. The next year James Leeper, the father of Mathew W. Leeper, came, and after living for a time in a camp, built a small log house near where the Mountain House now is. Soon after Reuben W. Reynolds and the Sweeneys arrived. One of the Sweeneys built a house, and kept a sort of hotel. In February, 1830, the first store-house was erected. It was built by James Holmsley and two other young men for one John Nye, an Eastern man. They built it of black oak poles, and covered it with boards made from a large oak tree that stood on the branch below the spring west of town. It was without a floor. It stood on the west side of the public square. This building was completed in one day, and the next day the same young men erected a similar structure for two brothers, Seviers, who opened a store near what is known as the Blockmill corner. The Seviers remained but a few months. Nye continued for two or three years.

The above were the first settlers of Fayetteville. The McGarrohs were of the true backwoods type, and not a few of the now well-worn newspaper anecdotes of early Arkansas are said to have originated with them. They were entirely uneducated, not able even to read or write, but John, or Jack, as he was more popularly known, was a man of considerable native ability, and was twice elected to the Legislature. As a member of that body he assumed much dignity, and sedulously sought to conceal his illiteracy. To this end he frequently procured a newspaper, and while sitting in his seat in the House scanned its columns long and earnestly. A member, one day observing that he held his paper upside down, accosted him with: “Uncle Jack, what is the news?” “I see they have had a thundering big storm on the river,” replied Jack, “and capsized every durned boat.” The paper was filled with advertisements of boats, each accompanied by a picture of a boat, from which, in the inverted position of the paper, he drew the inference, they had been capsized.

William McGarroh was for a long time a grocery keeper in Fayetteville. He never kept any books, and although he did a considerable credit business he is said never to have made but one mistake. On one occasion he charged a customer with a cheese, when he had purchased a grindstone. Upon settlement the customer objected to the item. McGarroh turned to the wall back of him, which was covered with marks and signs, and after studying it for a moment, broke out with: “I’ll be durned, if I didn’t forget to put an eye in that cheese.”

In a letter to Mr. J. H. Van Hoose, in 1879, Rev. John Buchanan has the following to say of the early history of Fayetteville: “The town of Fayetteville was located at the county site of Washington County in 1829. The territory now embraced in Benton and Madison Counties then belonged to Washington County. This is the reason why the location was made so far northeast of the center of what is now Washington County. Two of the commissioners who located the county site were former residents of Lincoln County, Tenn., and Fayetteville was the county site of Lincoln County, hence the name Fayetteville was given to the new town.

“So soon as the location was made Capt. Jack McGarroh moved to the place and camped there until a house was built. The first court was held there in August, 1829. Two log houses were erected at the time of the court. One was floored with hewed puncheons; the court was held in it. The other had only a dirt floor, which was used for a hotel. Forks were driven in the ground, poles laid in them, and boards placed upon the poles for a table.

“I do not remember who presided as judge of the court, but think it was Judge Johnson, father of Hon. R. W. Johnson, now of Little Rock. There were two lawyers present, but their names I do not remember.

“McGarroh’s table was well supplied with pound cake, beef, venison and turkeys, as wild game of every description was abundant about there at that time.

“The first store-house ever built in Fayetteville was put up for two brothers by the name of Sevier, nephews of the Hon. Ambrose H. Sevier, one of our first lawyers and statesmen. They brought their goods to Cane Hill, and deposited them there with Col. W. B. Woody until their house was built in Fayetteville. In December, 1829, they hired me to haul their goods to Fayetteville. They remained in business there but a short time.”

The commissioners of the seat of justice were Lewis Evans, Larkin Newton, Samuel Vaughn and John Woody. They fixed upon the site of Fayetteville, and when the government survey of land was made, it was found to be upon a sixteenth section, the school section. A special act of Congress was therefore passed transferring the school section of Township 16, Range 30 west, to the twentieth section. The patent for the town site was issued February 27, 1835. It granted to the commissioners the south half of the northeast quarter and the north half of the southeast quarter of Section 16, Township 15, Range 30 west.

Back to: Washington County, Arkansas History

Source: History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago, IL, USA: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.

1 thought on “History of Fayetteville, Arkansas”

  1. dear writer:
    My name is Aaron McGarrah. I’m descendant of the first settlers of NWA. The last name of Jack and William are misspelled in the article, it’s McGarrah not McGarroh. I do have to admit though, the whole news paper story sounds about right. My grandfather had only a 3rd grade education and jacks reply sounds like something my grandfather would say. Anyhow I liked your article and just wanted to let you know of the spelling mistake.

    Serenely Aaron McGarrah

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