A Brief History of Pine Bluff, Arkansas

The streetcar stables of Wiley Jones, an ex-slave and a leading businessman, in Pine Bluff ca. 1890. Photo courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System.

Pine Bluff is the tenth-largest city in the state of Arkansas and the county seat of Jefferson County. It is located in the Southeast section of the Arkansas Delta. In the autumn of 1819, Joseph Bonne, making his way upstream from Arkansas Post, built a crude cabin for his Quapaw wife and family on a “high bluff covered with pine trees” on the river’s south bank. The first county seat was at Bonne’s cabin. Becoming a fledgling cotton bale production center where steamboats could dock, Pine Bluff became the county seat of Jefferson County in August 1832. At their first meeting in October, commissioners recommended that the town be named Pine Bluff Town. Pine Bluff incorporated in January 1839, and the court authorized in October 1839 the construction of a brick courthouse that would become the city’s architectural centerpiece. The Arkansas River was a constant threat to the town, eating away land and, in 1908, lying fewer than 100 yards from the courthouse. The Mississippi River Flood of 1927 destroyed tens of thousands of acres of cotton and hundreds of farms and businesses in Pine Bluff. Pine Bluff citizen Wiley Jones, a former slave, became one of the state’s richest men. In the 1880s, Jones owned and operated the first mule-drawn streetcar line in the city, built a fifty-five-acre park with a half mile racetrack with stands, stables, and picnic areas. He also owned several bars and dry goods stores. Despite possessing a rich history and being home to a university, the city was in decline by the beginning of the twenty-first century, facing population loss and crumbling infrastructure (Bearden, 2019).


Bearden, Russell E. (2019, Sep. 19). Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). Retrieved from encyclopediaofarkansas.net.

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