Independence County was the ninth county to be formed in Arkansas and was the fourth after the Territory of Arkansas was created. The Act creating the county passed by the Territorial legislature was signed by Jas. Miller, governor on October 23, 1820.
As originally formed, the county included a large area of land extending from the mouth of Little Red River to the Missouri line and included all or parts of Fulton, Baxter, Sharp, Izard, Stone, Cleburne, Van Buren, White, Jackson and Woodruff Counties. The first courthouse was built at Batesville and the county seat has remained in the town of Batesville.
The first post office at Batesville was opened as Poke Creek November 7, 1820, with Charles Kelly, the county’s first sheriff, as postmaster. The name of the office was officially changed to Batesville on January 7, 1824.
One of the first settlements of Arkansas was at the Batesville site. There is a record of a John Read opening a store there in 1812 and there is also an authentic record of John Luttig’s store, which had a $5,500 stock of goods at the site in 1815. Poke Bayou was visited by the writer Henry R. Schoolcraft, who described it as a village of a dozen houses in 1819.
The county grew steadily in its first forty years of existence and in 1860 had reached a population of 14,307, although the land area had been substantially reduced. Independence County was fourth in population among the state’s counties in 1860.
The county has furnished three Arkansas governors, Thomas S. Drew, Elisha Baxter and William R. Miller.
Incorporated towns in the county in addition to Batesville are Newark, Sulphur Rock, Oil Trough, Moorefield, Pleasant Plains, Magness and Cushman.
The County’s educational needs are also served by the University of Arkansas Livestock and Forestry Branch Experiment Station (established in 1937) and, the Gateway Vocational-Technical School known today as University Arkansas Community College of Batesville was completed in the early 1970’s. The County passed a ¼ cent Sales Tax to support UACCB in 1998. Arkansas College known today as Lyon College is a four year liberal arts college, founded by the Presbyterian Church in 1872..
The county has been well known for its manganese fields, marble quarries and lime plants. Traditionally an agricultural area, the county has been a producer of row-crops and livestock, including beef, dairy and hogs. The Batesville-Floral area was a pioneer broiler producing section of Arkansas, and, today, the poultry industry in the county is an important source of employment and income.
Independence County has experienced exceptional industrial growth over the past decade and has maintained an annual payroll in excess of $25 million. This growth has been enhanced by the location of the $30 million Arkansas Eastman Company plant today known as Future Fuel. Independence County has an airport which is one of the largest in the state of Arkansas; the Batesville Municipal Regional Airport has over 6,000 paved feet of lighted runway.
To accommodate local government growth, Independence County purchased the former Main Street Post Office from the Federal Government and completely restored and renovated the structure to house the White River Regional Library, the Office of Emergency Management with a complete communication complex, housing the central 9-1-1 dispatch center, the Juvenile Courtroom, and various other offices.
In addition, through local, federal and state efforts, the county has constructed buildings to house auxiliary services, including social services, public health, mental health and cooperative extension service. Also, from 1995 to 2004, a new county jail, a solid waste transfer station, a city/county recycling center, a new district court building, and a regional juvenile detention center were constructed to enhance the services available to the area. Also during this period, the historic Independence County Courthouse underwent extensive interior and handicapped accessibility renovations. The County supports the various communities throughout the county in parks and recreational programs.
Since 1981, through an inter-local agreement, the county and the City of Batesville have furnished law enforcement services for the City through the Metropolitan Division of the Sheriff’s Office. A similar agreement is now in effect with the City of Newark. The county, city, and Area Chamber of Commerce have also cooperated in the development of a 120 acre industrial park which has been completed filled and annexed to the City. Facilities, such as water, sewer and rail are being provided for prospective industry and the Batesville-Independence County Industrial Park Commission is actively promoting development of the property by new and expanding industry.
Independence County, the City of Batesville, and Lyon College, have entered into a developmental enterprise for the construction of three hydroelectric generating plants at Lock and Dams 1, 2 and 3 on the White River. The project consists of using timber-crib and rock locks and dams built by the U.S. Corps of Engineers in circa 1900 -1908. The power (approximately 12.00 MWH) from the plants is being sold to the Clarksville Light and Water Corp., Clarksville, Arkansas, under a 30-year power sales and purchase agreement. The first plant, Lock & Dam #3, went on line in August 2006 and the remaining two are due to be complete in 2007.
Independence County today has 758.7 total square miles and an estimated population of 34,233.