The growing hub of the East Arkansas Delta, Marion’s skyrocketing rise of 38.69%, from 8.901 to 12,365 people in 10 years proves its lifestyle is an attractive one. But it’s also a great headquarters for a visit. Southern hospitality abounds in our enchanting town that waits for visitors to come and enjoy. Marion has lodging accommodations to suit your budget and taste. Visit the friendly staff at one of our local motels and restaurants where you can relax and feel right at home. The Arkansas Walking Trail, close to our historic Marion Hotel and Courthouse, will beckon you to explore and enjoy. History abounds with the diversity of the Sultana to one of the first Negro Business Men’s Association buildings in the state. The slow pace of our community is as attractive as the historical diversity of our area.
Marion, county seat of Crittenden County, lies four miles west of the Mississippi River. Early settlers found a good income source in harvesting timber to sell to steamboats for fuel. By the late 1700’s, steamboats and flatboats were moving up and down the river. Until the construction of the Mississippi River Levee in 1899, boats could travel during high-water times from the river to Marion Lake. While these normal floodwaters allowed river access, the river wasn’t always friendly. After the levee broke at St. Clair, the town was covered by floodwaters during later 1912 and early 1913.
As the timber was harvested and the heyday of the steamboats ended, the lumber firms were replaced by agricultural developments producing wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice. Agriculture continues to dominate the landscape today.
During the Age of Exploration, explorers from European nations made their way to Arkansas, and both the flags of Spain and France flew over the area that later would become Crittenden County. Most of Marion occupies portions of Spanish land grants, issued 300 years ago when Spain still held the territory west of the Mississippi River. Because the Spanish government had given much of the land in the county to individuals, many of the legal descriptions of property still reflect the Spanish Grant numbers.
In 1803, the land that would be later identified as Crittenden County was included in the Louisiana Purchase, and it became part of the United States known as the Territory of Arkansas. Crittenden was the 12th county to be carved from that territory. In 1826, commissioners selected Greenock, a small town located east of today’s Clarkedale as the county seat. Marion’s development began in 1836 when it was chosen to replace Greenock as the county seat of Crittenden County. Its growth was linked to the existence of Military Road – the first Arkansas federal highway. Those not traveling by water had to walk or ride horseback, usually following Indian trails on high ground.
As early as 1820, the Territorial Legislature petitioned for a road from Tennessee to Little Rock, one that would cross through Crittenden County. The U.S. Congress appropriated $19,000 in 1821, and work began on what is now known as the Military Road. The ground was so swampy, the entire original appropriation was used just in Crittenden County. For many years, Military Road remained the only road through the Mississippi Bottoms, known as the Great Swamp. The highway, boat traffic, and the later addition of the railroad, placed the town in a very advantageous position.
Military Road became a stagecoach mail route in 1831, and stagecoach services were provided until the beginning of the War Between the States in 1861. Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Choctaw Indians from eastern areas were moved along Military Road to the Indian Territory; subsequently, Military Road became known as the “Trail of Tears” because so many lives were lost. Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett were among the soldiers transported along the Military Road during the Mexican War of 1845-48. During the War Between the States, men and material for both sides moved along this same roadway.
The Sultana Disaster Marker, a monument at the intersection of S.H. 77 and U.S. 64 (behind the Marion City Hall), commemorates what is considered to be the nation’s worst maritime disaster. On April 27, 1865, the Sultana steamboat exploded near Marion on the Mississippi River. 1,800 passengers died in the tragedy, primarily Union soldiers released from Confederate prisons and en route home after the Civil War. The steamboat, with a legal capacity of 376, was carrying 2,300 people. Marion is home to an interim Sultana Disaster Museum that commemorates the tragedy, and plans are being finalized to begin construction on a permanent museum structure.
The Confederate Soldiers Memorial, dedicated October 4, 1936, by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), Crittenden County Chapter, is located in the magnolia grove on the Courthouse Green. It is a memorial to those who served with the Confederate military during the War Between the States. This UDC Chapter also planted the magnolia trees on the south lawn of the courthouse. One tree, separately marked with a bronze plaque, was planted in memory of Major R.F. Crittenden, Confederate soldier, 1846-1899. One of the stained glass windows in the Marion Methodist Church on Military Road is a memorial to the same man.
In 1797, Spaniards built Fort Esperanza (means field of hope) on existing mounds left by the Indians. In 1859, it was incorporated as Crittenden County’s first settlement (Arkansas’ second settlement) and was renamed Hopefield. The town was washed away by the 1912 flooding of the Mississippi, but its original name lives on in Marion’s annual Esperanza Bonanza Festival.