By Ken Bridges
On November 2, 2004, Union County will commemorate its 175th anniversary. The county's history has produced a number of notable figures and unforgettable characters. The land and the resources have shaped the history as well as the people. Tragedy has visited the county as well as days of happiness. Below is a brief chronology of some of the most notable events in the history of Union County, both its best days and its worst.
1700s -- French trappers and explorers trek through the region, giving such place names as "Ouachita" and "Sumac Couveur," which later became "Smackover."
1803 -- United States buys Louisiana from France for $15 million.
1804-1805 -- Hunter-Dunbar Expedition. American explorers George Hunter and William Dunbar, in a scientific expedition commissioned by Thomas Jefferson, trek along the Ouachita River.
1818 – Treaty forces Quapaws to cede land in Union County and across South and West Arkansas.
1819 -- Arkansas Territory organized. Of the five counties comprising the territory, the future Union County is a part of Hempstead County, which stretched from the Ouachita River westward across southern Arkansas.
1829 -- Union County organized on November 2 with county seat at Ecore Fabre.
1836 -- Arkansas admitted as the twenty-fifth state.
1838 – Scarborough's Landing founded as the first continuously settled community in the county.
1839 -- County seat moves to Scarborough's Landing and inhabitants change the town's name to Champagnolle.
1843 -- Mount Holly founded. Matthew Rainey opens his retail store on the site that would become El Dorado as settlers move into the area.
1843 – The first Presbyterian church in Union County is formed as First Presbyterian Church in El Dorado.
1844 -- County seat moves to El Dorado. Smackover founded.
1845 – Oldest surviving Baptist church in Union County, Union Baptist Church in Union, organized.
1846 -- The Lapile community is organized in eastern Union County.
1851 -- Thomas Chipman McRae born near Mt. Holly. McRae would serve as a United States Congressman from 1885 to 1903 and as governor of the state from 1921 to 1925. El Dorado officially incorporated.
1860 – The Union Coal Company constructs a crude refinery.
1861 -- Arkansas secedes from the Union. Among the earliest Confederate army units to organize in the county is the Third Arkansas Infantry, Company E, organized at Champagnolle that year.
1864 – "Camden Expedition." Confederate forces storm through Union County from Shreveport to thwart an attempted Union invasion of northern Louisiana.
1865 -- Civil War ends.
1891 – Norphlet founded.
1902 -- Tucker-Parnell Feud. Gunfight in downtown El Dorado leaves three dead and sparks a feud that would leave 40 more dead in the next few years.
1903 -- Victoria incorporated.
1904 – Huttig founded.
1905 -- El Dorado High School building completed at a cost of $60,000. Now commonly referred to as the Junior College Building, it serves as the present administrative building for South Arkansas Community College.
1913 – Junction City officially incorporated.
1914 -- Civil rights leader Daisy Bates born in Huttig. During the confrontation over integrating Little Rock Central High School in 1957, Bates played a key role in mediating the crisis and defusing the tensions.
1921 – "Discovery Well." Dr. Samuel T. Busey discovers a major oil well one mile southwest of El Dorado. The Busey No. 1 well touches off the South Arkansas oil boom. Five oil refineries are operating in the county within months. Warner Brown Hospital established in El Dorado as a private, non-profit hospital.
1922 – Smackover population surges to 25,000 from 131 as oil workers surge to the community in pursuit of fortune. A riot by two hundred Ku Klux Klansmen destroys businesses and property near Smackover, forcing hundreds of oil field workers to flee for their lives.
1923 – El Dorado boasts 59 oil companies.
1924 – Norphlet officially incorporated.
1925 – El Dorado population reaches its oil boom peak of 25,000.
1926 – The oil boom reaches its peak. 1927 – Tornado devastates city of Victoria. Victoria is rechristened Strong afterward as a show of spirit. El Dorado City Hall completed, costing $125,000.
1928 – The new Union County Court House completed. El Dorado Junior College opens on the El Dorado High School campus; but because of low enrollment and the pressures caused by World War II, the junior college closes by 1942.
1941 – United States enters World War II. El Dorado would house munitions and chemical plants throughout the war.
1942 – A group of Jehovah's Witnesses is assaulted for their pacifist views in El Dorado by members of the El Dorado Veterans of Foreign Wars.
1948 -- South Arkansas Regional Airport completed.
1949 -- El Dorado Junior High School completed. It was the first in the state built exclusively as a junior high school. Its name later changed to Barton Middle School.
1955 – County's first television station, KTVE, opens studio in El Dorado.
1964 -- Union Medical Center established as a public hospital by the county and opens in El Dorado.
1965 – The South Arkansas Arboretum is established on 13 acres in El Dorado through the efforts of El Dorado High School biology teacher James Riley. It is Arkansas's fiftieth state park.
1967 -- Oil Belt Vo-Tech established as a vocational school just east of El Dorado.
1970 -- Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge established along the Ouachita River between Ashley, Bradley, and Union counties. It comprises 65,000 acres, including 15,000 acres as the world's largest green-tree reservoir. South Arkansas Arts Center completed in El Dorado.
1975 -- Southern State College - El Dorado Branch established. Its name later changes to Southern Arkansas University - El Dorado Branch.
1980 – Union County population stands at 49,947.
1987 -- Warner Brown Hospital and Union Medical Center merge as Medical Center of South Arkansas. Arkansas Natural Resources Museum established near Smackover.
1992 -- Southern Arkansas University - El Dorado Branch and Oil Belt Vo-Tech merge as South Arkansas Community College.
2000 -- Union County population at 45,629, according to the census.
2004 -- Downtown El Dorado recognized as a National Historic District.