Between the time Arkansas became a state in 1836 and the
outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, a migration of families
moved into the area that was later to become Cave City.
Many of these families moved to that area from Tennessee,
North Carolina, Virginia, etc., and settled along the creeks
and waterways in the more temperate climates away from the
mosquitoes and malaria of Eastern Arkansas.
The area now known as “Cave City” was originally situated
entirely in Independence County, most of which was in Barren
Township. When Sharp County was formed in 1868, what
is now Cave City was still in Independence County, including
north of present-day Cave City to almost the Maxville area.
Then, in 1875, the current county line was established,
moving the Independence County line to its present location
and creating Cave Township.
Over the years, small communities and churches sprang up in
this area of Sharp and Independence counties, many of which
established their own post offices and schools. Some
of these were Hickory Valley, Sandtown, Curia, Clarkson,
Reed’s Creek/Fairview, Maxville, Emery, Mobley, Flat Rock,
Cedar Grove, and Loyal. It has been said that most of
the post offices and schools were about five miles distant,
as that was about as far as people were willing to walk or
ride a horse to get to these establishments!
Many of the families who lived in these smaller communities
resided in those areas for years before the town of Cave
City was ever imagined. Some of the early pioneer
families of that area were: Jackson, Horn, Barnett,
Brewer, Laman, Gray, Meacham, Wooldridge, Shanks, Rawlings,
Green, Witten, Landers, Rodgers, Ball, Crow, Wilson, Fore,
Lewis, Aldridge, Montgomery, Johnson, Gilbert, Vance,
Vaughn, Stewart, Story, Stout, Matlock, Baxter, Bain, Jones,
Chaudoin, Martin, Felts, Burge, Albright and Ford.
One of the earliest churches in this area was the Flat Rock
Methodist Church, which was established in 1858. It
was affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South,
and during part of its early years housed Curia Lodge #144,
F. & A. M. A little further north the community
of “Loyal” had been established, near the present location
of the Subway restaurant in Cave City.
The town of Cave City was started around 1890 when two
brothers, James Andrew (“Jim”) and John William (“Jack”)
Laman, moved to the present site of Cave City. This
line of the Laman family had settled on Curia Creek, about a
mile south of present-day Cave City. Ruthel Laman
Heasley, a granddaughter of Jim Laman, stated that her
grandfather and his brother were determined to create a new
town when they moved their families there in 1889.
They both built homes (on the site of the current location
of the Bank of Cave City and the parking lot to the south of
the bank building) and moved in by 1890
Apparently the Laman brothers bought large tracts of land in
the Cave City area, built their business and encouraged
other merchants to relocate at that place. They
platted off the town and reportedly gave land to other
churches and for the establishment of a school.
The first school was taught in Cave City in 1891 and was
located at the site of the present Hometown Market.
Many out-lying families moved into town soon after the
creation of the new school to better educate their children.
Other students moved into town and “boarded” with family,
friends, or in boarding houses which were made available to
entice more students to the school. The second school was
located about two blocks off Main Street on what is now East
Center Street, with the finally campus at its present site.
The nearest post office, which had been located at Loyal,
was physically “moved” to the new town of Cave City in 1892.
Town and family lore have it that the post office was
secretly spirited out of Loyal and rolled on logs to Cave
City after the presidential election of 1892 placed more
friendly Democrats in charge of the postal department!
The first post master at Cave City was Thomas J. Wooldridge,
whose term began December 16, 1892.
Another point of interest was the cave which was located in
the center of town, and from which the town received its
name. In earlier years, before the creation of the
town, the cave had belonged to the Horn family, and was
known as Horn’s Cave. Later, the cave was purchased by
Dr. G. T. (“Dock Tom”) Laman. The cave supplied the
drinking water for the local school, as well as serving as a
veritable “town refrigerator.” Many families stored their
milk, butter, and other produce in the cool cave to prevent
them from spoiling.
The cave was both a great asset to the community and a
source of mystery. Over the years, various
attempts have been made to explore the cave and to determine
the origins of the Crystal River which flows under the town
of Cave City. No one has ever been able to show where
the River begins or where it eventually ends. Although
the town of Cave City is some 150 miles from the Mississippi
River, it has been said that the Crystal River rises and
falls with the Mississippi River.
In the early 1930’, Hubert Carpenter purchased the cave
properties. With the help of C. P. (“Prince”) Matlock,
efforts were made to develop the grounds and add cabins to
what became known as Cave Courts. It had been known
for years that local Indians had used the cave for
dwellings. Mr. Carpenter retrieved many of the Indian
relics from the cave and built a museum of sorts which
housed these relics on the walkway into the entrance of the
cave. The cave at Cave City served as a source of
pride for the community for many years, and the Cave Courts
housed many tourists who traveled through that area of
Many other milestones occurred in the early years of the
history of Cave City. In the early 1890’s, what was
apparently the second church established in town was the
Methodist Episcopal (or “North Methodist”) Church. The
building for that church was completed in 1898 and existed
until the Methodist Church was united in 1939. The
First Baptist Church was organized in June of 1901.
The original church was located on the site of the current
Hometown Market. That congregation has continued to
grow and is currently adding to its present structure to
accommodate an ever-expanding membership.
The Bank of Cave City was organized in 1906, with James A.
Laman as the first president. In 1919, J. M. (“Roe”)
Street became president and served in that capacity until
his death in 1942. His son, Eagle Street, later became
president in 1942 and served until 1984. The Street
family has maintained a controlling interest in the bank
since the time of Roe Street’s election in 1919.
The town of Cave City was incorporated in 1907 with a
Mayor--City Council form of government. The first
mayor was J. T. Harrell, with W. A. Meacham as recorder.
In its earlier years, Cave City’s means of entertainment
appeared to revolve around camp and/or brush arbor meetings
and revivals at local (and often not-so local) churches.
People would travel for miles around to attend theses
“meetings”, sometimes called “union meetings” or “tent
revivals”, where two or more church de-nominations would
hold meeting at the same time and place. One of the
most favorite and anticipated of these camp meetings was the
holiness camp meeting held every year at Calamine by
ministers of the Nazarene Church.
The Fourth of July Picnic at Cave City was another major
attraction, bringing folks from all over the surrounding
country. One of the earliest references to a Fourth of
July picnic at Cave City was in the Sharp
County Record newspaper in June of 1899, planning a picnic for that year.
Another interesting mention of the picnic in 1902 related
that “The rents for swings and lemonade stands will be used
toward buying a wind mill to draw the water from the cave.”
[An article from the Record dated
July of 1928 states that the town had been celebrating the
Fourth of July each summer for 35 years, which would have
put the tradition starting as far back as 1893.] The
town celebration of the Fourth of July continued for many
years, but fell out of favor in the last few decades.
These days, the reason for Cave City’s renowned and its
place on the map is due primarily to the annual Watermelon
Festival! Held each year since 1980, Charles and Anita
Landers have spearheaded this celebration of the town and
its rich history of producing the world’s best watermelons.
Cave City’s activities in producing watermelons didn’t start
in recent times. As far back as 1938 a Melon Grower’s
Association for Sharp and Independence counties was
organized at Cave City, with the follow-ing officers
elected: President, Fred Anderson; Vice-President,
Wilburn Jackson; Secretary, Marvin Bull; and Treasurer,
Orville Girtman. By 1955, the Melon Grower’s
Association met and elected a Board of Directors, consisting
of Hassel Ford (President), Silas James, Coy Crow, Verl
Ball, and Ernest Landers (who, by the way, was Charles
Landers’ father). In August of 1958, Burnis Brown was
the manager of the Cave City Watermelon Growers’
Association, which consisted of 127 members with 1,000 acres
planted in watermelons. Ellis and Ernest Landers had
the largest acreage planted in watermelons --- 45 acres.