- Associated Press - Sunday, October 23, 2016

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - In the late 19th century, the town of Powhatan was described as a “profitable center,” according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

The former county seat of Lawrence County had four general stores, a drugstore, a wagon wheel spoke factory, two hotels, mills and a population of just more than 200 people. Families sent their children to Powhatan Male and Female Academy and gathered for church on Sundays at either the Presbyterian or Methodist church, according to The Jonesboro Sun (https://bit.ly/2dtgFKk ).

However, as the railroad and new businesses came into the Walnut Ridge and Hoxie area, Powhatan lost its county seat and took a back seat to the eastern parts of Lawrence County.

Today, the town’s population is down to 72, and Powhatan is among a group of small towns in western Lawrence County that have dwindled in population and are struggling for economic growth and involvement in small-town government.

Mayor David Foley has served as the town’s leader for 36 years, and has never faced opposition. Lawrence County Clerk Tina Stowers said the town also hasn’t had anyone file for city council in any of the 12 years she’s been in office.

In towns with little to no city council competition, the Arkansas Constitution instructs current officeholders to continue “until their successors are elected and qualified,” according to Article 19, Section 5.

“We’re so small, nobody really comes forward wanting to serve,” Foley said.

Foley said Powhatan’s residents are mostly older people but said there are some younger people with children.

The city recently received a grant to repave its streets, but Foley said they’re going to have to reapply for a grant to renovate the community center, which hasn’t been touched in 40 years. The state park in Powhatan is managed by the state Department of Parks and Tourism.

Nearby Strawberry and Smithville also have had no one file for elected office. Stowers said Strawberry has had filings in the past, but Smithville has not had anyone file for office in her 12 years.

Smithville Mayor Mitch Whitmire said the city lacks the manpower to have diversity in government.

“The problem is we’re so small, and the rules say you’ve got to live in the city limit,” Whitmire said. “The majority of the population is either very old or very young.”

Whitmire said the town still has to have grass mowed and community needs met but said the town doesn’t look much different than it did in the past.

“Smithville hasn’t changed much in decades,” Whitmire said.

Smithville’s last full-time business, Davis Discount General Store, closed in 2008. The town currently has a population of 78.

Sedgwick, a town of 152 that sits right outside of Walnut Ridge and Hoxie, had one filing this election cycle: Beverly Fowler for alderman, Position 2. Mayor Stanley Debow said while he has faced opposition for his job, there hasn’t been as much competition for council seats.

“Nobody ever wants to run against anyone,” Debow said.

Debow, who has served as mayor since 2002, said the lack of money really hurts the small town.

“It’s a pain in the butt,” Debow said. “I have the same responsibilities as (Jonesboro mayor) Harold Perrin.”

Don Zimmerman of the Arkansas Municipal League said the process to file is easy, but in these small towns it’s not uncommon to see no one run for office.

“It shows a little disinterest if they don’t go through the simple process of filing,” Zimmerman said. “I tell people it’s easier to get these jobs than it is to get rid of them.”

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Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com


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