White County's Past
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White County's past comes alive during annual historic tour


Staff Writer    May 2003

In 1787, the year George Washington became the first president of the United States, the Francoeur family became the first settlers in White County in Georgetown along the banks of the White River.

During the Sixth Annual Heritage Tour, hosted Saturday by the Searcy Arts Council, participants learned from Bill Leach, president of the White County Historical Society, about how the Francoeur family is believed to have made its way from the Arkansas Post as early as 1745 to Georgetown.

According to White County Courthouse records, Francis Francoeur was given a Spanish land grant for surveyed land of not over three and one half acres on the south side of White River in a straight line below the mouth of the Red River. When he died in about 1812, documents show that the land was forfeited in the name of his estate in 1840.

Research into the Francoeur Settlement by Scott Akridge revealed that the settlement was the second earliest in the state, preceded only by the Arkansas Post on the Arkansas River. According to Akridge's research, Judge Eugene Cypert of Searcy wrote, "As the record shows, Georgetown is now the oldest settlement in the state, for Arkansas Post has long since caved into the river while Georgetown is high and dry, above all the floods this country has ever known."

With the slow rolling waters of the White River as a backdrop, Leach explained that in the early 1900s, Georgetown was known as Negro Hill. He said it received the name from a family by the name of Lafferty who wrote a letter back home to family in Kentucky talking about their encounter with a tribe of Negroes.

In 1908, however, he said Negro Hill was renamed Georgetown after three men who were all named George. Now spelled, Francure, the significance of the Francoeur family remains evident in Georgetown through the voting precinct of Francure Township.

Exactly where the Francoeur family lived remains in question, according to Leach, adding that there are several possibilities. He said that although no archeological excavation has taken place in the area where the family is believed to have resided, a few remnants of French artifacts have been found.

"It would really put Georgetown on the map if we were to determine where they lived and could do an archeological dig," Leach said.

The second stop on the tour was the Walker Plantation located in the Gum Springs area. The home of Billy Walker, which was constructed around 1900, still remains enveloped by the comforting branches of several noble oak trees. Its original Southern Belle, Willie Mae Collison, 94, who was born in an upstairs bedroom of the home in 1909, greeted visitors and shared countless memories about her family and about life on the 777.77 acre plantation of cotton, corn, hay, strawberries, sugar cane, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, she used to call home.

"At one time we had 100 people on this place, children and adults," Collison said. "We had tenant housing that was occupied year round."

Collison recalled two barns she referred to as the old one and the new one where mules and several wagons were kept. She also recalled that her father, John Walker, owned a road grader that was pulled by mules.

Although Collison said she lived in the home until she married in 1939, her childhood home is now owned by Craig and Leah Lackie, who have meticulously maintained the architectural integrity of both the exterior and the interior of the Greek revival home. Several of the original structures still stand on the plantation including a commissary, cotton seed barn, cotton gin, a tenant house, the potato house, and the cast iron fence made by Stewart Iron Works. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The tour also included stops at the Gum Springs Cumberland Church, The Deener House and The Rendezvous Cafe.






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