History - Greater Blytheville Area Chamber of Commerce

Greater Blytheville History

The Blytheville area, as part of the Mississippi River delta region of the U.S., has a lush underlying history. Literally. For deep beneath the alluvial delta soil a sophisticated pre-Columbian society has been discovered. Ongoing “digs” at the big site in Gosnell have revealed entire households, complete with pottery and artifacts galore. The region was ideal for such a big settlement, bordering the mighty Mississippi—superb for travel—and bestowing soil rich enough to grow any crop.

That history is significant, since the people of Mississippi County always have used what the land could give them. Prior to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Mississippi County had thousands of acres of cypress and hardwood trees. With the huge demand for cheap timberland for rebuilding the Windy City, Blytheville by 1890 was no longer a sleepy, backwoods town, but a rip-roaring mill camp with looking-for-trouble honky-tonks, pool halls, rooming houses, slick businessmen with waxed mustaches, and questionable ladies. After the woodlands were razed, residents looked to that fertile Delta soil for their livelihood, planting cotton and soybeans. Until a quarter-century ago, agriculture reigned supreme in the Blytheville area. With the advent of mechanization, farming required less manpower, resulting in significant cuts in the number of farm workers. Many left for jobs in other places. Cotton gins and former industry giants like Chicago Mill diminished in number or disappeared; the area suffered economic decline until the old industries were replaced by the newer industries — particularly steel-related — that now fill the industrial park and river port areas. Blytheville’s prime location on the Mississippi River appealed to the steel industry, as did the strong work ethic and ¬physical willingness of farmers who provided a perfect workforce. With the arrival in the late 1980s of Nucor Steel, the area expanded industrially as among the nation’s leading steel-producing county. The people of the Blytheville area again found new roads to success.