Fayetteville Square - Historical Walking Tour
Welcome to the Historic Fayetteville Square! For nearly 200 years it has been the heart of the city, the center for meetings, markets, parades and rallies. It has been burned down, shot at, blown away, and even deliberately destroyed in the name of progress, but has come back every time as an ever-evolving commercial and social hub for the citizens of Fayetteville.
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Originally the land of the Osage Indians, the northwest portion of the “Arkansas Territory” was declared open for white settlement in 1828. Washington County was created by the Territorial Legislature, and the county seat was initially just called “Washington Courthouse”. This designation was pretty much just on paper only, since almost nobody actually lived here yet.
Although there had been some French traders in the area, settlers officially arrived in 1828. Two of the early county commissioners were from Fayetteville, Tennessee, so they convinced the Postmaster to rename the new town “Fayetteville” in 1829. The address for Fayetteville was Washington County, A.T. (for Arkansas Territory), since Arkansas would not become a state until 1836.
The patent for the townsite was issued by President Andrew Jackson in 1835, and town lots were sold by auction between 1835 and 1837. Lot 27 was designated as the Town Square and was "ordained to be inviolate". Money from lot sales was to be used to build the first courthouse.
Sometime around 1830 a man named John Nye opened the first small log store building somewhere around here on the west side of the square. Not a terribly grand affair – it was built in only one day out of black oak poles and had no floor, but at least it was a start. Other small log and frame buildings were added piecemeal. Keep in mind that for many years Fayetteville was a fairly isolated little mountain town with no river or railroad to provide easy access to the rest of the world.
1In 1840 there were 425 people in Fayetteville. Here’s a surprising fact – 120 (nearly 30%) were African-American slaves. The first two deeds filed in Washington County were not for the sale of land, but were for the sale of slaves who were considered personal property at that sad time in our history.
Many of Fayetteville’s prominent early families were slave owners. In 1860, 92 Fayetteville families owned slaves. First settler William McGarrah owned 5, William McIlroy owned 6, Stephen Stone owned 7, David Walker owned 32 and Isaac Taylor had the most of anyone - 35.
When the Civil War began in 1861, white sentiments in Fayetteville were pretty much evenly divided and often very conflicted. Loyalties were strained when Arkansas decided to secede and join the Confederacy, and several staunch Unionists switched sides out of allegiance to their state.
Fayetteville is one of the few cities in America to have been sacked and destroyed in the Civil War.
In February 1862, fearing a major Union advance, out-of-control Confederate soldiers sacked the city and were subsequently ordered to burn every building of military or commercial value, which of course included everything on the Square. Fayetteville became a smoldering ruin.
Union forces later occupied Fayetteville, but not continuously since they were too far from their main supply lines to sustain much of a presence here.
In April of 1863 a small group of Confederate troops attacked with cavalry and cannons near what is now known as Headquarters House on Dickson Street and College Avenue, but were driven back. One door of the house still shows a bullet hole from that battle.
Later in 1863, the Square was strengthened with wagons and breastworks for a Confederate attack that never happened. In 1864, Rebel forces shelled the city with cannons and artillery. By the end of the war, very little was left standing – mostly just naked chimneys and blackened ruins.
Rebuilding was slow. The economy was wrecked. Those who had Confederate money could only burn it for fuel since it was now worthless.Although there were some lingering resentments during reconstruction, the city came back to life, and many soldiers who had passed through this area during the war returned to settle here.
The railroad from St. Louis finally came to Fayetteville in 1881, with a depot on Dickson Street. New commercial development sprang up near the railroad station, but in spite of this and wars and storms, it would be the automobile and suburban development in the 1960’s and 1970’s that would become the largest threat to the Square’s continued existence.
Urban renewal in the 1970’s took a tremendous toll on the historic buildings around the Square. New buildings now mix with the old, providing the interesting and eclectic mix of architectural styles and histories that we will be seeing and learning about today.
Let’s cross the street and begin our tour!