Lollie Plantation: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

For those of you who have lived here your whole lives, this story will not be new to you. It is one of the most well told stories in Faulkner County. But if you haven’t heard this story or just knew there had to be a story behind the name “Lollie Bottoms,” here it is.

The Lollie Plantation was located twelve miles southwest of Conway and ten miles west of Mayflower along the Arkansas River. It was developed by John Elijah Little in 1887 and was named after his first wife, Lollie Trundle, whom he married in 1885. The Trundles owned the land just across the river from what would become the Lollie Plantation.

John Elijah Little was born in Mississippi but came to Arkansas in 1883 when he was 25 years old. He worked as a “riding boss” or overseer on a plantation along the Arkansas River in Faulkner County but then began leasing land for farming across the river from Atkins in Yell County. About two years after he married Lollie, he bought the 3,200 acres that would become the Lollie Plantation.

Lollie died about a month after giving birth to her daughter in 1891. John married Sammie Ann Glenn in 1895 and they had three sons and a daughter. His oldest son, Julian, became assistant manager of the plantation in 1919.

The area was heavily covered with trees and undergrowth but the “day-laborers” cleared it. Low places were drained and a levee was built in the early 1900s. Tupelo Bayou ran through the farm. The soil was rich and black which was ideal for cotton. In addition to cotton, corn, sorghum and sorgo for feed were also grown. Little also introduced alfalfa hay to the area.

Native pecan trees were abundant and friends from around Faulkner County would gather pecans there each fall. There weren’t that many trees left by the 1960s but I remember going down to the Lollie Bottoms as a child to help pick up pecans.

The town that developed on the Lollie Plantation had a cotton gin, a sawmill for lumber and shingles, and a sorghum mill. There was also a federal post office, a commissary and a blacksmith shop. A medical doctor lived at the headquarters and there were schools for both black and white children.

Church services were held at each school. The upstairs of the white school was also used as a Woodman of the World Lodge. On the second Sunday in June, there was an “all day singin’ with dinner on the grounds.”

At the time of Little’s death in 1928, there were 32 white families and 50 black families living in Lollie. In the early 1900s, the community had a baseball team and a small band.

During the 1927 flood, half of the houses in Lollie were washed down the river and everyone gathered in the small store until they could be rescued by flat-bottom boat. They were taken to Easterwood Mountain at the south end of the plantation.

Little was a prominent leader in Conway during his last ten years. He was the majority stockholder and vice president of the Faulkner County Bank and Trust Company. He was also on the ad hoc committee to locate the State Normal School in Conway and later served on the Board of Trustees at Hendrix. He was an active member of several lodges and of the First Methodist Episcopal Church

After John Little’s death, Julian Little continued to manage the plantation until his death in 1950. He introduced the first mechanical cotton picker and also began to use low-flying planes for crop dusting. An airplane engine was installed in 1947 to replace the boiler in the Lollie gin.

In 1952, Lollie Plantation was divided among the five heirs of John Little: Mildred Ruth Little Van Valkenburgh, Lollie’s daughter, as well as William, Dana and Mary Lee Little McAlister, the children Little’s second wife, Sammie. Julian’s heirs received his portion of the estate.

Farmers in the Lollie Bottoms started switching to soybeans about fifty years ago when the heavy May rains prevented the cotton from being planted early enough to make a good crop. Research at the time indicated that cotton planted after May 25 generally had a yield reduction per acre which increased for each day after that date. Three thousand to four thousand acres would be transitioned to soybeans.

In 2007, the city of Conway, decided to relocate the municipal airport, Cantrell Field, to this land that used to be the Lollie Plantation. In 2009, 440 acres of farmland was purchased for the site. The new airport opened in September, 2014.

Information used in this article was from Faulkner County: Its Land and People (1986).

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