PROFILES OF THE PAST
Antebellum South Tied in with Early-day Paraclifta
By Harold Mabry
Much has been written about old Paraclifta, most of it wrapped in an aura of old south charm and nostalgia. Perhaps this should be, because this segment of Sevier county's history closely resembles the popular conception of the old antebellum south, with its stories of fabulous social functions, the custom of "dressing for dinner" and of the family who would go calling in the family coach (complete with Negro coachmen) and upon arrival, before they alighted from the coach, would be preceded by a Negro footman who rolled out a red carpet to the gate.
Sevier county was formed on October 17, 1828, eight years before Arkansas became a state. Its territory was taken from the counties of Hempstead and Miller. It was then a vast area comprised of what is now Sevier, Polk, Little River and Howard counties.
Bounded on the south by the Red River and on the west by the Choctaw Nation, it was 65 miles wide in some places, from east to west.
A temporary seat of justice was erected to be established at the home of Joseph English. A second act ws passed by the Territorial Legislature on Oct. 22, 1828, appointing a board of commissioners, consisting of George T. Boring, Joseph Ladd, James Holman, David Clark and Levi Davis. They were assigned the duty to permanently locate the county seat. After considering all possible sites they located the county seat at a site which was later known as Paraclifta.
The first courthouse was built of logs at a cost of $150.00, the second, however, was built in 1841 with lumber and the only sketch of it, drawn by E.S. Byington from verbal descriptions, shows it as a large two-story building. The county records do not describe this building but it is recorded that Ira Smoot, "the undertaker and contractor" was paid $319.00 for the construction of a courthouse. This included both labor and materials.
Paraclifta was named for a Choctaw Indian chief.
A term of court was held in Paraclifta in 1829. And a post office ws established in 1830.
Along the south side of the square was a large hotel, the National House, featuring many well furnished rooms, delightful cuisine and also an up to the minute livery stable.
The block on the west side of the square was taken up by the imposing residence of L.H. Norwood, first occupied by R.C. Gilliam.
The sketch above shows the house and it is still standing, sans its old south colonial columns and upstairs porch. It has the distinction of being the oldest remaining house in Sevier county. It was the first large house built in the county and for years was the showplace of this section of the state and the center of the social and political activities. Many of the noted celebrities of the day were royally entertained here with all the southern hospitality which has made the old South a synonym for the word.
The Paraclifta Seminary, for training young women in the arts of becoming elegant southern ladies, was located here. Rev. S. Stevenson was principal of the institution.
On the large plantations cotton was the money crop and it ws hauled by mule or ox team to Hood's Landing on Little river and shipped by steamboat to New Orleans. On the return trip the wagons would bring merchandise for the businesses of the town that were clustered around the square. These supplies always included a wagonload of whiskey.
The "Belle Crooks" was the last steamboat to ply the waters of Little river.
In a business and cultural way, Paraclifta served southwest Arkansas, including the communities of Fall's Chapel, about one mile east and Ben Lomond and Brownstown, about five miles southeast of the town.
Paraclifta fostered four newspapers: "The Cossatot Twister" founded in 1857 by Gordon and Gillespie, "The Times", also founded in 1857 by James Penney, "The Red River Democrat" which succeded the "Times," first published in 1859 by Pegues and Son and the "Southwest Democrat," founded in 1861 by Thomas Scott.
The primary function of a county seat is, of course, a seat of justice and there are many stories of the eloquence and wit of the members of the bar in those days. One such story was told by Judge James S. Steel of an occasion when the courtroom was crowded and a prominent attorney had risen to present a motion to the court. While attempting to read a decision pertinent to the case, he was having considerable difficulty keeping his glasses on his nose.
Turning to the judge in desperation he apologized, "I find it difficult, your honor, to keep my glasses on my nose this morning."
The judge replied, "Your trouble, sir, is that last evening , you had too many glasses under your nose."
Between the years 1844 and 1873 the counties of Polk, Howard and Little River were taken from Sevier county. This placed Paraclifta within five miles of the county line and a demand arose for the county seat to be more centrally located.
Eventually the legal steps were taken and the site of Lockesburg was selected. The 120 acres on which the town was located was donated by the brothers, James F. , W.T. , and Matt W. Locke and the town was named Lockesburg in their honor.
The new brick courthouse was completed in 1871 and the records were moved in 1872.
The people moved almost in a body to Lockesburg. Capt Lewis H. Norwood purchased the business houses and homes of Paraclifta and he and his family remained in Paraclifta until 1885 when they also moved to Lockesburg.
Off the highways of today, Paraclifta basks in the quietude deserved by a ghost town and altho there are four cemetaries near (including a slave cemetary), there are no malicious ghosts. If any walk there, they are happy ghosts, perhaps a hoop skirted Southern Belle with her refined Southern Gentleman and they tread softly, as Will Steel would probably put it, "in the dust of old Paraclifta."
Originally published in the DeQueen Bee, DeQueen, Arkansas July 22, 1965.
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