Denning, Arkansas



In 1890 Western Coal Co. of St. Louis, Missouri began opening coal mines about one mile south of Altus. A new town was soon built up around the mining operations. There were seventy-seven houses, a general store, churches, Post Office, schoolhouse and a railroad depot.

There was also a rock vault constructed to serve as a bank in which they kept the gold coins. Gold was used to pay off miners on their payday.

The jailhouse is still in evidence as it was built of native stone, and like the vault, was built with security in mind. Thus surrounding the coal mines a boomtown was born. The man who first came to this location and negotiated the leases was Benjamin Denning. The town of four thousand plus population was given the name of its founder, DENNING.

Jake Arbaugh turned the first spade full of dirt, which opened up one of the first industries in Franklin County. One mine after another was opened until there were six coal mines under the ownership of the Western Coal Company. In those days (as told to me by the now deceased John Zachery) there were no unions which could specify wages or working conditions. In 1899 according to Mr. Zachery, conditions became so unbearable that a union was organized. Mr. Zachery was among the first members.

In 1899 a strike was called for higher wages, shorter hours and better working conditions. Until this time the workday was ten hours and the pay was $1.25 to $2.00 per day. Payday was once each month. The miners did not receive Union recognition until 1903. During this time the mines were operated without much success by non-union labor. At last, in 1903 the settlement was achieved, and the miners went back to work on an eight-hour day, with a daily wage increase of fifty-nine cents per day. Other benefits consisted of better working conditions, new safety measures, and payday twice monthly.

As the town took its name from the man who was instrumental in opening the coalfields, Denning had other followers as all boomtowns. There were dance halls, saloons and gambling joints. There was also another side to the picture, because as Denning grew four churches were built and faithfully attended. A bank was built and Dr. Herrod, a well known and trusted citizen became its president. Dr. Herrod was a horse and buggy doctor who brought many who are still around into this world. (printed in 1978)

The mines seemed to have reached a peak by 1915 when the first mine, number one was worked out. The other five continued operating through World War 1 to 1917. Following this the mines were worked out, one by one. At this time Western Coal Company sold its interest in the operation of the coal field. Old number six was operated by various owners until 1943 during World War II. Number two was the last of the original mines to "pull Steel". This occurred in 1947.

With the closing of the mines money became scarce and almost as fast as the town grew, it also began to fade and become a ghost town. The old tipples were removed, but the first, number one remained and open hole. This later played a part in a tragedy which was never solved, that is the discovery of the body of a woman was found floating in the water of the mine.

The only remaining items to remind one of the spacious Western Coal Company were the vault where the gold for payday was stored, and the Jail, better known as the "calaboose."

John Zachery, one of the few miners who out lived the mining industry contributed much of the above information to J.J. Owens of Franklin County and later to Ena Harrington.

Denning is still a municipality consisting of lots and blocks, but the houses are few. There are a few of the noble old two story houses, and some of a more modest type, whose owners refuse to call it quits.

Denning is well known as the town run entirely by women. It is distinguished by being one of only three towns in the United States to have an all woman government.

The above was published in the Franklin County Observer by the Franklin County Historical Association. Volume 2 Number 1. Printed March 1978. Verbal permission to submit was given to Fran Frame by Norman Powell.