“Since its beginning in 1813, Dardanelle has constantly redefined itself, but it has always been a place where heritage and hospitality converged”

-Diane Gleason

One of the oldest cities in the State, Dardanelle officially incorporated in 1855.  First established as a river town in the mid-1800s along the banks of the Arkansas River, Dardanelle was one of the state’s leading towns in the 19th Century.  It was a hub of transportation for hundreds of barges, boats and other vessels traveling between the state’s two largest cities of Little Rock and Fort Smith.  It is one of two county seats for Yell County; the other is Danville.

While Dardanelle is no longer one of Arkansas’s largest cities, it still plays a prominent role in state affairs.  The Port of Dardanelle is one of the busiest in the state.  The Dardanelle Lock & Dam, constructed in the 1960s as a part of the McCellan-Kerr Navigation System, led to the formation of Lake Dardanelle and helps regulate river traffic on the Arkansas River.

A Deeper History Of Dardanelle

Thomas Nuttall’s 1819 journal described Cherokee people living in log cabins along the Arkansas River south of the Dardanelle Rock surrounded by cotton fields and peach and plum orchards.  Jean Batiste Dardanelle lived west of Dardanelle Rock from 1097 until approximately 1806.  His father had a successful trading operation and was major landowner at Arkansas Post.

The Treaty of Council Oaks was signed on June 24, 1823, on what is now Front Street beneath two huge oak trees. Under the order of President James Monroe, U.S. Army Colonel David Brearley and Arkansas territorial secretary Robert Crittendon met with Chief Black Fox and several Cherokee leaders to determine boundaries.  As a result of the treaty, the Cherokees gave up all of their lands in Arkansas south of the Arkansas River.  One of the trees was destroyed in the early 1990s in a flood, but the other is still standing.  The site is now a city park.

David Brearley, along with his brothers Charles and Pearson, opened the first store in Dardanelle. David’s son Joseph H. Brearley platted the town in 1847 and in 1851, donated lands for Brearley Cemetery just south of town.  Dardanelle was officially incorporated in 1855, (Dardanelle celebrated 150th anniversary in 2005)

Dardanelle became an important river town and emerging trade center during the antebellum era, receiving weekly steamboat visits from New Orleans, Louisiana; Memphis Tennessee and Little Rock.  Dardanelle’s boomtown reputation was aided by its trade in rum, gin, and cotton.  By 1860, the town had three taverns, several mercantile businesses and cotton gins, three churches (Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian), a weekly newspaper, a doctor, a school, several attorneys and a Masonic lodge.

Civil War

Civil War action destroyed parts of Dardanelle.  Given its Arkansas River location, Dardanelle became a focal point of military activities as both Union and Confederate troops attempted to secure control of this strategic river link.  By October 1862, Union troops had control of Dardanelle, and several attempts by Confederates to retake the area between 1862 and early 1865 left much of the town in ruin.  This included a skirmish in fall 1863, the capture of the city in early summer 1864, and another skirmish in late summer 1864.  Some families left the area to avoid the bushwhacking activities and having their crop s and food stores requisitioned by union troops.  By 1866, the population of Dardanelle was 266.  Approximately 199 Dardanelle men served in the Confederate army, but, by 1862, they were mostly serving east of the Mississippi River.  The town’s remaining inhabitants were on their own enduring periodic military skirmishes and severe food shortages and deprivation.

During Reconstruction, the town began to rebuild. A hardware store opened in 1868 a wagon implement business opened in 1870, two new hotels opened in the early 1870s and new immigrants arrived, primarily from Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina. Dardanelle soon grew into a major trading center for Yell County.  River-based trade continued to promote commercial activities.  The courthouse was erected in 1878, and an ice plant-the first established in Arkansas went into operation in 1888.  The first public school was built and opened in 1895.  Numerous new mercantile businesses opened, and the first bank in town was established in 1895.

Dardanelle has a history of being one of the state’s leading, immigration centers that continue to this day. Vast numbers of Czech and German families came to town in the late 18th and early 19th centuries .Including the Balloouns, Vorazkas, Staneks, and Pfeiffers. New immigrants expanded ethnic diversity into the town’s primarily Scotch-Irish and English residents, introducing new languages and religions.  As of 2010 Dardanelle has one of the highest percentages of Hispanics in the state.

In the late 19th century, a pontoon bridge between Dardanelle and Russellville replaced ferry service.  Spanning 2208 feet, it was the longest pontoon bridge ever constructed across a moving body of water.  The bridge was completely washed out multiple times during its nearly forty years of existence.

Early Twentieth Century

In 1910, electric service was initiated.  In August 1916, a telephone cable across the Arkansas River linked Dardanelle to Russellville.  In 1914, a new county courthouse was erected. In 1927, the town paved all its streets.

The Flood of 1927 wreaked havoc in and around Dardanelle, given the related flooding of Arkansas and other area rivers.  As flood waters enveloped the entire surrounding countryside and covered the low-water areas in town, Dardanelle lost electric power on April 14, 1927; three anchorage towers of the pontoon bridge were swept away. Telephone service to Fort Smith was lost, and the town was completely surrounded by water.  Dardanelle was filled with refugees from the countryside who escaped twenty-five-foot overflows.  By April 21, 1927, the Arkansas River at Dardanelle crested at thirty-three feet.

On October 26, 1941, a tornado killed seven citizens, demolished forty homes, damaged numerous businesses and homes, and caused $100,000 in damage.  In November 1941 the Arkansas River flooded, reaching 32.1 feet, the highest river level since April 1927.  The 1941 flood caused 108 refugee county families to evacuate to Dardanelle for ten days, and 50, 000 bushels of corn were destroyed.  In February 1943, 12,000 acres of Dardanelle Bottoms were under water; 200 families were evacuated, mostly by boats sent from Dardanelle; and twenty –seven families were marooned.  With the construction of the Dardanelle Lock and Dam completed in 1969, part of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, flooding was controlled

By the 1960s, a fundamental agricultural transition

The Dardanelle Lock & Dam, constructed in the 1960’s as a part of the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System, led to the formation of Lake Dardanelle.  It is a source of hydropower and helps regulate river traffic on the Arkansas River

During the 1964-65 school years, Dardanelle schools integrated without incident.

Famous Residents

Several residents have achieved national prominence, including Henderson Madison Jacoway, U.S. congressman from 1911 to 1923. Jesse Cleveland Hart served on the Arkansas Supreme Court, first as the associate justice and then as chief justice. Bonnie Brown Ring, a member of the 1950s country music group the Browns; John Daly, a professional golfer; James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during the Bill Clinton administration.  Tom Cotton

Attorney Marcellus Davis, U.S. consul to Trinidad and the Yucatan during the late 19th century; professional golfer John Daly; The county was also featured in Charles Portis’ novel “True Grit,” with the heroine, Mattie Ross hailing from “Yell County near Dardanelle.”