by Eunah McCracken, Dean Mallet, Montine Lawrence and Zelda Holloway
As early as 1818, settlers were in the vicinity of what is now Greenbrier. Four brothers by the name of Wiley lived near East Fork Cadron which is about eight miles east of the present site.
In 1837, Jonathan Hardin settled near the Wiley settlement somewhere near the Cadron Valley community. He became a large landholder and was a man of great influence. Hardin Township was named for him.
A man by the name of Hubbard homesteaded some land near the present site of the Greenbrier public schools on Greenbrier Creek. He built a house of sticks and mud about the same time.
In 1853, Henderson Moore’s family (with eighteen slaves) came from North Carolina in covered wagons drawn by oxen and bought a section of land from Hubbard. This land was just south of the Des Arc-Lewisburg road near the present business section of Greenbrier. Henderson Moore’s cousin, Sid Moore, came in 1856. He and his young wife traveled from North Carolina in a two-wheeled cart drawn by oxen. Sid Moore homesteaded some land across the road and to the northwest of Henderson Moore’s land. The log house Sid built was used until it was torn down in the early 1960s.
Virgin soils, timber land, flowing streams, springs, and a delightful climate attracted new settlers traveling westward. Corn was the staff of life and the settlers found the virgin soils to be the kind for corn.
Henderson Moore capitalized on this natural opportunity to increase his holdings and soon a horse-driven gin, a grist mill driven by a water wheel, a general store, and a blacksmith shop were set up to accommodate the settlers. At the time of his death in 1859, Henderson Moore owned a section of land (640 acres) and all of his business holdings. He built a home in 1857 which became the beginning of a prominent inn for travelers along the Des Arc-Springfield Road.
Mooresville was given as the name for this fast growing community. It was later changed to Greenbrier when the first post office was established on September 15, 1857. Henderson Moore was the first postmaster.
According to legends handed down, the name Greenbrier was suggested by a traveler who camped for a week on Greenbrier Creek a short distance from Sid Moore’s store where he bought supplies. He complained about the extensive growth of sawbriers growing along the creek and suggested Greenbrier. Joe Shaw, who taught sociology at ASTC (Arkansas State Teachers College, now the University of Central Arkansas) said the common name of wild smilax or sawbrier is Greenbrier.
Between 1860 and 1880 some of the settlers attracted to this area were J. R. Wilson, Johnnie Love, Bob Lybarger, Jerry Cantrell, J. R. Donnell, J. E. Martin, John Dickens, Sam Cooper, Jackie Glover, J.M.C. Vaughter, and Dr. A. Hinkle. Land was cheap and very fertile. Most of it was covered with virgin hardwood trees, mostly oak, interspersed with small openings covered with dense prairie grass waist high. Land was cleared with simple primitive tools and manual labor. Soon crops of corn, oats, wheat, peas, sorghum, and vegetables were harvested.
The settlers became economically independent. A story told by Frank Cantrell to his daughter, Flossie Beene, reveals how cheap land was. In surveying the land the government made a mistake and listed it as swamp land which sold for 12-1/2 cents per acre. Some land went delinquent and was auctioned at tax sales where 320 acres was bought for as little as $11. One man traded a wagon and a yoke of steers for 40 acres of land. Another gave a ten dollar bill for 160 acres.
Families would go into Little Rock once or twice each year to purchase staples that could not be bought in the village general store.
By 1871 Greenbrier was established as a fast growing inland village. By this time cotton was being grown on most farms. Road building and road improvement went forward at a rapid pace after 1873. Road overseers were appointed and a toll road was built across the Cadron bottom connecting Kings Ferry on the East Fork of the Cadron. To do this, A. Harkrider was granted a permit by the county in 1873. Poles and slabs were laid crisscross for about one mile. A fee of 25 cents was charged for wheeled vehicles. Kings Ferry was established in 1852. In 1879 a permit was granted to W.S. Terry to build a bridge over Cadron Creek. This afforded better access into Conway and Little Rock.
In 1875 mail service was established between Conway and Quitman. Twice each week, mail came from Quitman and Conway. A story is told that Jimmy Blair, who carried the mail on an old gray mule, would put red pepper in his boots to keep his feet warm. He also had a press to make apple juice and vinegar.
During this period of growth, the business section of the town was expanding in four directions. From the intersection, one part grew toward the south and Conway, another part grew north toward Quitman, and another part grew east and west along the Des Arc-Springfield road.
Large wooden buildings were erected to house the general store, the black-smith shop, the saloons, and the tanyard where leather businesses were located. Sid, James, and M.E. Moore; J.D. and J.E. Martin; I.R. Hall; Jim Walton; George Clark; and Sain Squire Wofford were the leading merchants at that time.
In 1878 a large two-story building was built to the west of town which served for many years as a school, a church for the Methodists and Baptists, and the Masonic Hall. The first church built was erected by the Baptist congregation in 1860.
Better homes changed from the log cabin type to more comfortable frame and log homes as the community developed. M.E. Moore built one of the largest homes during this period. It was a two-story frame structure built on the site of his father’s old home. He and his brother cut the white oak timber near Enders and hauled it to Greenbrier to be sawed into lumber. Wrought iron nails were used and the corners were hand pegged. After Moore’s death, his widow, Mary Hardin Moore Sims, used the home as an inn or hotel for travelers and drummers (salesmen). This house was demolished for a more modern house in the 1960s.
Greenbrier was incorporated as a town on April 5, 1880, with an estimated population of 300 people. Hardin Township at this time had 886 people and Cadron Township had 2,916 people.
Cotton production continued to increase in the surrounding area which necessitated the building of more and larger gins. The first steam-powered flour and grist mill was built in 1882 by the Moores, replacing the original horse-drawn gin built by Henderson Moore in 1857. By 1900 four gins were in operation in the incorporated area.
Improved roads led from Greenbrier into nearby villages. New homes, churches, businesses, and a better school building were a result of this prosperous period in the history of the county.
In 1905 Greenbrier could boast of eight general stores, three grist mills, four cotton gins, a steam sawmill and a shingle mill, three churches, a six room school building, and 350 people.
From 1905 to 1920 Greenbrier tried desperately to keep its position as a trade center, but the fast growing town of Conway with its railroad was strong competition and things were beginning to change. Merchants, doctors, and traders moved into Conway for more lucrative business.
Cotton prices fluctuated from 1914 until after the inflationary period of World War I, but farmers continued to grow more cotton and ignored the care of their soil. Soil depletion increased with the increase in cotton acreage causing a consequent decline in the yield.
With better roads and the coming of the automobile many people were drawn away from Greenbrier. The mercantile business was on the decline and this once thriving village entered into a period of stagnation and decline.
There was a period of uncertainty from 1920 to 1940. This was the period when Greenbrier reached its lowest point. Factors affecting this decline were the effects of the recession of 1920-21 and the routing of U.S. Highway 65 in 1923 from Little Rock to Harrison by way of Wooster, 6 miles to the west. It should be added that Wooster had emerged as a fast-growing village in spite of its nearness to Greenbrier.
The gravel road built to connect Greenbrier with Wooster increased the number of citizens trading in Conway and away from Greenbrier. After the building of this highway, the mail was brought to Greenbrier twice each day by a star route carrier. Cotton prices were low and unsteady causing many farmers to turn to other types of farming. Many turned to dairy and livestock farming. Some farmers continued to grow cotton. Paul Thompson ginned 4,048 bales of cotton in 1931 at a price of 10 cents.
Then came floods, droughts, and the Great Depression of 1929 -1935 with bank failures which plunged the town back into a state of despair. The social and cultural atmosphere displayed the feelings of uncertainty and dismay. As adjustments were made to the natural physical setbacks, there emerged a conservative type of culture. Some businesses closed permanently, others changed hands several times. Only a few stayed in business the entire period from 1920 to 1940.
Some that closed during that period were: E. Jasper McCracken – druggist; Clyde Kelso, Tom Waddle, and L.M. Castleberry – blacksmiths; J.S. Mobbs – gin; Will Parks, Drew Glover, Tom Wofford, Ernest McCracken, and Lull McCrae – general stores.
Others having businesses during this period were operated by: G.J. Woolly, Ewing Woolly, J.O. Turner, J.O. Cantrell, W.B. Love, George Lieblong, J.W. Dillaha, Harrison Reynolds, Oliver Brannon, and Jim Cantrell. The two physicians of this period were Dr. E.T. Williams and Dr. J. S. Lieblong.
After 1935 the New Deal ushered in activities that provided employment which gave a new spurt of life. Some were given jobs building roads; others were given jobs improving facilities on the school grounds. The Soil Conservation program got under way to aid the farmers in rebuilding the depleted soil. In 1936 electricity was brought to the community by the Arkansas Power and Light Company. Camp Halsey, one of the CCC Camps established as a national program, was located at Centerville, 10 miles to the east. A farm-to-market road was built by the WPA from Greenbrier to Centerville, east of Greenbrier.
The Smith-Hughes building and Home Economics building and a small heating plant were erected by the NYA Program. Three rock veneer buildings-a post office and two general stores-were erected during this period.
Dr. E.T. Williams established a summer baseball program in 1938 which became nationally known. Professional players from Greenbrier coming out of this school were: Otis and Doyle Brannon, Royce and Dibrell Williams, Fred and Lois Cato, Dibrell Lyons, and Alton Biggs.
The next two decades saw a reprieve from the earlier stagnation and people were again motivated to make Greenbrier into a thriving village.
World War II came. Many left for service for their country. Many men in Class 4 and the non-military men and women of military age worked in defense plants at Maumelle and Jacksonville. The good wages enabled them to raise their socio-economic status far above the pre-war level. New homes were built and older homes were improved. Radios, refrigerators, cars, and other luxuries came to be enjoyed by many families.
The relocation of U.S. Highway 65 through Greenbrier in 1942 gave a real boost to the town. Pride was manifested through new home building and landscaping. Soil conservation was taught in the schools and farmers were encouraged to diversify their farming and to use new and more efficient techniques. Following the drought of the early 1950’s, a rapid movement from cotton to dairy and livestock farming was observed. The income from the average farm tripled.
On September 9, 1949, the townspeople again asserted themselves and reorganized – electing Hugh Henry as mayor; P.B. Matthews, recorder; Joe Castleberry, treasurer; and these five aldermen: Div Williams, W.A. Dillaha, Marvin Cantrell, S.C. Case and C.R. Denton. J.A. Dickens was elected marshal. Mayors since 1949 have been: Royce Williams, Howard Lawrence, Percy Matthews (acting due to the resignation of Howard Lawrence), Cecil Garrett, Eddie Garrett (no relation), and D.P. (Press) Kelso.