West Memphis, Arkansas
The City of West Memphis, Arkansas
|— City —|
|Nickname(s): Weh-Mefis; Gateway City; King City; The Gateway to the South|
|Motto: "Beautiful from every direction."
"Open for opportunity."
"Stop in, Stay awhile."
|Incorporated||May 7, 1927|
|• Type||Mayor–council government|
|• Mayor||William H. Johnson|
|• Total||30.00 sq mi (68.9 km2)|
|• Land||30.00 sq mi (68.13 km2)|
|• Water||0.3 sq mi (0.2 km2) 0.30%|
|Elevation||210 ft (64 m)|
|• Density||1,044.3/sq mi (403.2/km2)|
|• Demonym||West Memphian|
|Time zone||Central (CST) (UTC-6)|
|• Summer (DST)||CDT (UTC-5)|
|ZIP codes||72301, 72303|
|GNIS feature ID||0078727|
West Memphis is the largest city in Crittenden County, Arkansas, United States. The population was 26,245 at the 2010 census, ranking it as the state's 17th largest city, in front of Bella Vista. It is considered part of the Memphis metropolitan area, and is located directly across the Mississippi River from Memphis.
The town was notable in 1994 for convicting three teenagers—known as the West Memphis Three—of murdering three boys. Later DNA evidence undermined the conviction, but prosecutors would only offer Alford pleas: These asserted the suspects' innocence, but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict them—thus sparing the town a lawsuit for the men's 18 years in jail.
Early history 
In the summer of 1541, Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto crossed the Mississippi River into what is now Crittenden County with an army of over 300 conquistadors and almost as many captured Native American slaves. The Spanish found the land to be the most densely populated that they had seen since starting their journey on the Florida coast, two years earlier. The Spanish expedition departed Arkansas two years later leaving behind numerous old world diseases. It was one hundred and thirty years before Europeans visited this region again. The French expedition of Joliet and Marquette in 1673 found none of the towns or people that the Spanish had documented. All that remained were the many mounds that still dot the landscape along the rivers and creeks. The original inhabitants, like the later settlers were drawn to this region because of its fertile river bottom soil, abundant game, and thick forest.
Camp de la Esperanza – Hopefield 
The earliest recorded immigrant to the area that is now West Memphis, Benjamin Foy, was a native of Holland who was sent in 1795 by the Spanish governor of the large area claimed by Spain to establish a settlement on the Mississippi River. He chose a location across the river from present day Memphis, Tennessee. In 1797 the hamlet, designated Foy’s Point, took the name Camp de la Esperanza or as translated, Field of Hope. The name remained but took on an English name, “Hopefield,” when it became part of the United States with the completion the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Benjamin Foy was named to the new position of United States Magistrate of the region. Foy, noted for his honest character and extensive knowledge of the country, ran a clean and lawful town with a bright future until his death 1823.
Crittenden County 
Crittenden County is bounded on the east by the Mississippi River and was established in 1825, eleven years before Arkansas became a state. Named after Robert Crittenden, the first secretary of Arkansas Territory, the county had a population of 1,272 in 1830. Hopefield became the eastern terminal for the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad in 1857. However the Civil War forced a halt to track construction just east of the St. Francis River in 1861.
Civil War and the End of Hopefield 
During the summer of 1862 Memphis fell into the hands of the Union forces. Most Confederate soldiers were ferried across the river to Hopefield, Arkansas, and surrounding farms. Many of these soldiers were moved on to other battle fronts, but some remained to harass the Union forces and disrupt river traffic. This became such a problem that on February 19, 1863, four companies of Federal forces burned down the entire town. The town of Hopefield was rebuilt after the war but never regained the prominence it once held in Crittenden County. Hopefield was eventually destroyed by flood in 1912 through a change in the course of the Mississippi River.
Founding of West Memphis 
Crittenden County needed a new center for government and business after the Civil War. In 1884 the town of West Memphis was platted by second-generation Crittenden County residents, two sons of Robert Vance. Robert Vance, Jr., with his brother William Vance were among the first settlers of the region in the 1830s. Within a year the town had grown to over two hundred residents. Robert Vance was appointed postmaster of West Memphis in 1885. By 1888 West Memphis had three businesses owned by the Winchester brothers, the Richard brothers and C.B. Givin.
Lumber Industry 
Because of the vast resources of massive old growth forests surrounding the young town of West Memphis, the lumber industry became the fuel for its progress into the twentieth century. In 1904, Zack Bragg moved to West Memphis and opened Bragg Mill. With the construction a railroad bridge over the Mississippi River in 1892, the rail line that had once passed through Hopefield moved to Hulbert, a small farm town owned by a Memphis attorney on the edge of West Memphis. Bragg was able to ship his milled lumber and logs by rail and by river. In 1914, P.T. Bolz of St. Louis opened the Bolz Slack Barrel Cooperage plant.
20th century Growth 
With the coming of the automobile age, the first automobile bridge across the Mississippi River at Memphis was constructed in 1917. This heralded the growth of the small industrial town of West Memphis as its main street, Broadway Avenue, became a U.S. Highway and an influx of traffic began streaming through the town.
West Memphis was officially incorporated in 1923 and continued to grow to become the largest city in Crittenden County. The availability of river and rail transportation transformed West Memphis into the manufacturing and distribution hub of the county. Although in the 1930s West Memphis, along with the rest of the Mississippi Delta had fallen on hard times due to the national economic depression and the devastating 1927 flood in the Mississippi River Valley, the city grew and developed at a record pace. However, the most notable export of West Memphis from that era became its original Blues music. At one time Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Mr. Lockwood, and B.B. King all called West Memphis home.
Ever increasing automobile traffic and demand for the industrial products produced and shipped through the West Memphis rail and river traffic even during the hard times of the 1930s and war years of the 1940s instigated the growth and development of the city’s main commercial thoroughfare, Broadway Avenue. Tourist courts, restaurants, hotels and other amenities geared toward the traveler began to be constructed along the traffic corridor through West Memphis. During the World War II years, transportation of soldiers and goods through the roads, river, and rail lines in the Memphis/West Memphis area created the need for lodging and human services. Construction of a second automobile bridge across the Mississippi River connecting Memphis and West Memphis in 1949 created another influx of automobile traffic through West Memphis.
The buildings in the 700, 800, and 900 blocks of East Broadway reflect the growth of the city of West Memphis in the years 1930 to 1958. Until the national interstate system was opened in the 1950s, diverting traffic away from former routes through the middle of America’s towns, West Memphis’ Broadway Avenue was the city’s center of commerce with retail stores, tourist courts and hotels and office buildings. Decline of Broadway Avenue was rapid after the traffic through the town diminished with the opening of the interstate highways. Although the three blocks of E. Broadway contained in the West Memphis Commercial Historic District remain much as they appeared in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the remainder of the city’s major traffic corridor, Broadway Avenue, has experienced much change.
Because West Memphis and the surrounding areas in Crittenden County have been subject to some of the country’s most disastrous floods due the Mississippi River backing into the St. Francis River, the growth of the city was delayed. It was not until the importance of the automobile and its rapid rise as the major mode of transportation, did the growth of West Memphis begin in earnest. The city’s major corridor, Broadway Avenue, also U.S. Highway 70, brought thousands of travelers through the city and created the demand for the businesses that were opened in the 1930s and 1940s along the highly traveled route.
Pre-European Exploration through European Exploration and Settlement 
Native Americans lived in the Mississippi River Valley for at least 10,000 years, although much of the evidence of their presence has been buried or destroyed. The Indians of the Mississippian Period were the last native inhabitants of the West Memphis area. Mound City Road, located within the eastern portion of the West Memphis city limits, has a marker indicating that the villages of Aquixo (Aquijo) or Pacaha were in the area. Several mounds are still visible.
Explorers from both Spain and France visited the area near West Memphis. Among those explorers were Hernando de Soto and his men from Spain and Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet from France. By the time French hunters and explorers entered the region, the Mississippian towns and other settlements had been abandoned. The original site of West Memphis came from Spanish land grants issued during the 1790s. Grants were given to Benjamin Fooy, John Henry Fooy, and Isaac Fooy in the Hopefield (Crittenden County) area and to William McKenney in the Bridgeport–West Memphis area.
Post reconstruction through the gilded age 
The first buildings on the banks of the Mississippi River were a residence, built in 1875, and the railroad station. Both were built on stilts to keep out the floodwaters. In 1884, a town was laid out, and with a population of 200, West Memphis appointed its first postmaster, Robert Vance. The early West Memphis site had a grain elevator, a two-story hotel, two sawmills, and several boarding houses. Due to the change from river traffic to rail traffic and the introduction of lumbering in the area, people began to drift toward the new West Memphis.
The West Memphis area usually flooded in the spring until the St. Francis Levee District was established in 1893. However, private landowners along the Mississippi River built levees that were only three or four feet high. In 1912 and 1913, the St. Francis main levee broke, flooding the area from West Memphis to Forrest City (St. Francis County); Hopefield was washed away in 1912. The current was so strong that steel rails wrapped around trees. During the Flood of 1927, another break in the levee left the area under water, and during the Flood of 1937, the river washed over the top of the levees. However, less damage was done than in 1913. After the levees were built to help with the floodwater, people saw the need for a town government.
Early 20th century 
Both the building of the railroads and the clearing of the timberlands helped establish the second West Memphis. It was located near the area that is about three miles south of the present town’s 8th through 12th streets. General George Nettleton, an official of the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Memphis Railroad, known today as the Burlington Northern Railroad, named the town West Memphis in 1883. The surrounding land was filled with virgin timber.
In the early 1900s, Henry Ruple Dabbs and his brother Ed established their general store in a building in Hulbert, an area that was later annexed by West Memphis. This was once called Berkley’s Landing. Their business was in the two-story brick building at 1320 South Avalon, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Until the post office at the second West Memphis was established in 1920, patrons received their mail through the Hulbert office by a horseback rider.
The first river bridge opened on May 12, 1892. A second bridge, known as the Harahan Bridge, was built across the Mississippi River and opened in 1916. Before it was built, most vehicles, except trains, had to ferry across the Mississippi River. Tolls were collected to help pay for the bridge until 1930. The Harahan Bridge was damaged by fire in 1928, and it reopened after 18 months of repairs.
In 1923, West Memphis was incorporated. The first mayor was Zach T. Bragg, who established one of the first logging mills in the region. The elementary school located at 309 W. Barton Avenue is named Bragg Elementary in honor of him.
World War II through modern era 
In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, 8th Street was often called “Beale Street West,” reflecting a music and nightlife scene to equal that in Memphis. Some places in West Memphis have been associated with famous entertainers, such as the Square Deal Café—referred to as Miss Annie’s Place on South 16th Street, where B. B. King began his public entertaining—and The Coffee Cup—located at 204 East Broadway in the 1950s, outside which Elvis Presley ate his first breakfast after being inducted into the U.S. Army on March 24, 1958. Other popular night spots along Broadway Street were Willowdale Inn, the Cotton Club, and the supper club known as the Plantation Inn.
Legal greyhound racing began in the county in 1935. In the years that followed, the track closed several times—once for flooding, another due to the nation’s involvement in World War II, and another time due to fire. However, the business currently known as Southland Park Gaming & Racing and located on North Ingram Boulevard has been in the same location since 1956 and is now open every day of the week, including 24 hours on weekends.
West Memphis began its role as a trucking hub with the opening of parts of I-55 in the 1950s. With both I-55 and I-40 traveling toward the Mississippi River, West Memphis became known as the crossroads of America in the trucking industry. In 1973, a six-lane highway bridge, known as the Hernando de Soto Bridge and located north of the Harahan, opened as part of I-40.
On December 14, 1987, a tornado killed six people and caused approximately $35 million in damage. The town had not recovered from the tornado damage when it flooded from twelve inches of rain on December 25, 1987. In addition to that, seven to ten inches of snow fell on January 6, 1988. When the snow began to melt, this added to the already existing flood problems and the destruction caused by the tornado.
Some of the major employers in the city are Schneider National Carriers, Southland Park Gaming & Racing, Family Dollar Distribution, FedEx National LTL, and Robert Bosch Power Tools. Family Dollar Distribution and FedEx National LTL are located in the Mid-America Industrial Park west of the city.
The 1993 murders of three young boys and the subsequent convictions of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. brought a lot of unwanted attention to West Memphis. The three young men convicted where known as the West Memphis Three and brought about a great of public intrigue. There were a trio of documentaries about the incident, initiated by Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley were released from jail in 2011 due to a lack of DNA evidence.
West Memphis is located at .(35.150294, −90.178831)
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 26.6 square miles (69 km2), of which 26.5 square miles (69 km2) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) (0.26%) is water.
Primarily because of its central location and transportation infrastructure, West Memphis has become a hub for distribution and assembly operations. Healthcare has become a large component of the city's business with Crittenden Regional Hospital, numerous clinics and nursing homes located in town.
The city lies at the point where two of the nation's most heavily travelled interstate highways, Interstate 40 and Interstate 55, intersect with the Mississippi River (a major cargo waterway) and large rail-lines operated by BNSF and Union Pacific. Cable Television, Internet and Digital Phone is provided by Comcast. AT&T provides Phone and Internet Service.
Downtown (Broadway) 
Broadway is the downtown district for the city of West Memphis. This downtown area has more than 84 stores and restaurants lining the street and is still growing. Broadway is the host of the city's "Blues on Broadway," hosting famous blues singers. City officials are still finding ways to renovate this area.
Districts of West Memphis 
Hulbert, Downtown, Briark.
Public Parks 
- Avondale Park
- Worthington Park
- Hicks Park
- Matthew's Park
- Franklin Park
- Tenth Street Mini Park
- Horton Park
- Rowe Park
- Tilden Rodgers Sports Complex
- Meadowbrook Country Club
West Memphis Gateway 
Major highways 
- Interstate 40
- Interstate 55
- U.S. Highway 63
- U.S. Highway 64
- U.S. Highway 70 ("Broadway Boulevard")
- U.S. Highway 79
- Arkansas Highway 77
- Arkansas Highway 118
- Arkansas Highway 191
Distribution centers 
Continuing nearly $40 million in expenditures in West Memphis since 1998, Ciba Specialty Chemicals began construction of a new $1.3 million, 7,000-square-foot (650 m2) laboratory facility in December 2003, which was completed in June 2004.
West Memphis is one of only two cities in Arkansas (along with Hot Springs) with a venue for parimutuel gambling, pre-dating the casino developments in nearby Tunica County, Mississippi by many years.
In the 1990s, Southland Greyhound Park, one of West Memphis's largest employers, saw its attendance and revenues decline drastically, with a corresponding economic impact on both the town and state. This was largely attributed to the rise of casino gambling in nearby Tunica, Mississippi. By 2002, Southland struggled to survive.
Following an estimated $40 million investment by the park's owner and the addition since 2006 of electronic games of skill and video poker machines, Southland has added more than 300 new employees, making it the third largest employer in West Memphis with 660 employees.
West Memphis tends to have crime levels considerably above the national average. For the year of 2006, the violent crime index was 1989.3 violent crimes committed per 100,000 residents. The national average was 553.5 crimes committed per 100,000 residents. The same applied to all forms of property crime in the city. For 2008, the total murder risk for the city was over two and a half times the United States average, the same applied when compared to the Arkansas state average. Other forms of crime were roughly the same with the exception of larceny which was slightly above the national average. While the crime within West Memphis is typically high, it is relatively average when compared with its far larger neighbor Memphis, the same applies to other cities throughout the same region of the South.
As of the census of 2000, there were 27,666 people, 10,051 households, and 7,136 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,044.3 people per square mile (403.2/km²). There were 11,022 housing units at an average density of 416.1 per square mile (160.6/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 55.93% Black or African American, 42.16% White, 0.21% Native American, 0.53% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.51% from other races, and 0.64% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.01% of the population.
There were 10,051 households out of which 36.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.4% were married couples living together, 25.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.0% were non-families. There were 553 unmarried partner households: 475 of both sexes, 52 same-sex male, and 26 same-sex female. 24.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.70 and the average family size was 3.23.
In the city the population was spread out with 31.5% under the age of 18, 9.8% from 18 to 24, 28.2% from 25 to 44, 20.1% from 45 to 64, and 10.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 86.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 79.9 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $27,399, and the median income for a family was $32,465. Males had a median income of $29,977 versus $21,007 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,679. About 23.7% of families and 28.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 40.9% of those under age 18 and 22.3% of those age 65 or over.
Public schools 
- West Memphis High School, 10–12
- Marion High School (Arkansas) (Marion Public School District 10-12)
- West Junior High School, 7–9
- East Junior High School, 7–9
- Marion Junior High School (Marion Public School District 8-9)
- Marion Middle School (Marion Public School District 6-7)
- Bragg Elementary School, K-6
- Marion Intermediate School (Marion Public School District 4-5)
- Marion Elementary School (Marion Public School District 2-3)
- Avondale Elementary School (Marion Public School District PreK-1)
- Richland Elementary School, K-6
- Faulk Elementary School, K-6
- Jackson Elementary School, PK-6
- Maddux Elementary School, K-6
- Weaver Elementary School, K-6
- Wedlock Elementary School, K-6
- Wonder Elementary School, K-6
- Wonder Junior High School, 7–9
- Avondale Elementary School, PK-1
- Wedlock Elementary School, K-6
A portion of the city of West Memphis is located within the Marion Public School District.
Private schools 
- West Memphis Christian School, PK-12
- Crittenden Pentecostal Academy, K-12
- St. Michael's Catholic School, PK-6
Notable residents 
- Betty Blue – model and actress
- Corey Brewer – current European professional basketball player
- Marcus Brown – former NBA and European basketball player
- Shirley Brown – Grammy-nominated Stax recording artist
- Michael Cage – former NBA rebounding champion
- Sid Eudy aka Sid Vicious or Sid Justice – former four-time World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion (WWE, WCW)
- Ike Harris – former NFL player
- Howlin' Wolf – Blues guitar Chess Records artist, KWEM Radio performer
- T.J. Holmes – CNN anchor
- Wayne Jackson – trumpet player for The Memphis Horns
- B.B. King – Blues guitarist Modern Records artist, KWEM Radio performer
- Keith Lee – former NBA player
- Junior Parker- Blues musician
- Sonny Weems – current European professional basketball player
- Sonny Boy Williamson II – blues musician Trumpet Records artist, KWEM Radio performer
- Junior Wells - Blues harmonica player and vocalist
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: West Memphis, Arkansas|
- "Annual Estimates of the Population for All Incorporated Places in Arkansas" (CSV). 2005 Population Estimates. U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division. Retrieved November 16, 2006.
- Lohr, David (August 19, 2011). "'West Memphis Three' Free After Serving 17 Years". Huffington Post.
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- West Memphis Economic Development and Site Selection, Demographic, tax, and distribution park data (City Government – Tax Payer funded site)
- Mainstreet West Memphis
- Crittenden County Open Portal Website
- City of West Memphis
- The Evening Times, Crittenden County's only daily afternoon newspaper
- KWEM Radio Website
- Crittenden Regional Hospital Community Hospital