A little less than a decade after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, a stretch of open prairie land in southwest Arkansas slowly began to develop into the town that would become known as Hope.
At the time, nearby Washington, Arkansas, seemed to be the logical choice for the area’s major population center. Washington had been an important stop for many travelling the Southwest Trail since its establishment in 1824, housed volunteers during the War with Mexico in 1846, and briefly served as the base of the state government after Union forces took control of Little Rock in 1863.
Why the railroad didn’t go through at Washington has become something of a local “wives’ tale” about a bunch of aristocratic women who didn’t want the noise and smell of the railroad going through their antebellum town. The truth, however, is much simpler: it was business. Josh Williams, the curator of the state park at Historic Washington, recounted that the railroad went through Prairie DeRoan because they could get the land cheaper, and it was less labor-intensive to build on the flatter ground of the prairie rather than the hillier country around Washington.
When the Cairo & Fulton Railroad laid track a scant ten miles away, the landscape of Hempstead County was drastically changed. In 1873, the first train arrived and the first house was built in what would become Hope. The population center shifted to the settlement near the railroad, booming to over 1,000 seemingly overnight.
It is commonly believed that Hope takes its name from the daughter of James M. Loughborough, attorney for Cairo & Fulton, which had become the St. Louis, Iron Mountain, and Southern Railroad in 1874. However, there has been some dispute about the naming of the town. A local historian and Hope’s first teacher, Captain Charles Augustine Bridewell (Confederacy), wrote in his detailed History of Hope (1870-1916):
“The general impression is that this station (the original frame depot) was named for Miss Hope Loughborough, the daughter of the Attorney and Trustee of the railroad, and this fact is so stated in the History of Arkansas compiled by Fay Hempstead, of Little Rock. Miss Loughborough thought so, too, and as an appreciation thereof, she at one time donated to our churches and Sabbath schools a large number of song and other books. Col. Gus Knobel, who was one of the engineers who came with the Cairo and Fulton railroad to Hope disputes this naming. He says one of the directors of the railroad company, who lived in England, was named Hope, and this station was named for him.”
In 1875, Hope was officially incorporated as a town. Among Hope’s first elected officials were Mayor P.F. Finley, Recorder W.P. Powell, and aldermen E.K. Williamson, W.Y. Foster, A. Anderson, S.H. Bayless, and Pat Donnelly.
As was the case with the frontier towns of the Old West and the railroad towns of the day, once the initial permanent residences were built for settlers, churches came soon thereafter. The first of these in Hope to put up a permanent building was the “Old School Presbyterian Church” which was originally built in 1860 about three miles northeast of where Hope would eventually be, and was taken down and moved into the settlement proper on February 1, 1874, becoming Hope Presbyterian Church soon after reconstruction in March.
Hope’s first school was built by a Baptist preacher named Willis in 1874 between Hazel and Walnut Streets. The school was a two-story structure, measuring about 100 feet long and 20 feet wide. The building was finished in the fall of the year, but Willis died before the end of 1875. The property was left to his daughter, Cora Willis, who rented the property to C.A. Bridewell in December of 1875. From Bridewell’s History of Hope:
“On the first day of January 1876 I opened the school and continued to teach for the years 1876, 1877, 1878 and 1879. During the first few months I had no assistant, but the school began to fill up, so I wrote to Miss Mollie Malone, who has taught with me at Camden, Ark., and who was teaching in Texas, and asked her to come help me. She gave up her position at once and came to Hope.”
Hope’s first newspaper, The Star of Hope, began in the fall of 1873 under the management of Colonel Anson W. Hobson (Confederacy). Hobson came from Camden and brought his entire printing operation along. Along with R.L. Whyte (called Bob) as his printer and publisher, Claude McCorkle would also move from Camden to work for Hobson at the paper. The Star of Hope would change hands, but continued operations until 1929, when it merged with another newspaper, the Hope Daily Press, to form the Hope Star, which closed its doors in 2018.
This article is by no means a definitive history of the founding of the city of Hope, but seeks to paint a broader overview of the events, people, and places that formed the foundation of almost 150 years of history in the area. Interspersed with these more general pieces will be focus pieces on historic citizens, businesses, and events in the region. Next week, the focus piece will cover local entrepreneur Perry Campbell, for whom Perrytown is named.