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Marianna, AR

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Marianna is located in the state's Delta Region, approximately 100 miles east of Little Rock and 50 miles southwest of West Memphis. Originally established as a trading post along the L'Anguille River, Marianna (named after the daughter of John Harland who sold the land that originally established the town) was incorporated in 1870. Marianna serves as the county seat of Lee County, which was incorporated in 1873.

Marianna's downtown is a National Historic District and the city boasts eight listings in the National Register of Historic Places. Located along the Great River Road and Crowley's Ridge Parkway National Scenic Byways, Marianna is home to the northern portion of the St. Francis National Forest, offering outdoor activities, including hunting, fishing, hiking and boating. Bear Creek Lake is noted for its abundance of largemouth bass and blue and channel catfish.


Marianna was founded as the village of Walnut Ridge in 1848. Its name was changed to Marianna four years later, and, by 1858, the city was relocated three miles downstream on higher ground and where the L’Anguille River was navigable throughout the year. Steamboats connected the young city to important Mississippi River ports such as Memphis, Tennessee, transporting cotton out and manufactured goods in.

In 1913, the Missouri Pacific Railroad completed a line connecting Marianna with Memphis. This was also the same decade that an African-American family opened and operated what is now known as Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, which continues to this day as an award-winning restaurant. Marianna became a first-class city in February 1914. In 1917, the Index and the Courier newspapers were consolidated. An August 1918 blaze downtown destroyed fourteen buildings and caused $1 million of damage.

Marianna has long been prone to flooding. Significant inundations occurred in 1912; during the Flood of 1927, when an estimated 20,000 people needed relief; and ten years later during the Flood of 1937, when the L’Anguille and St. Francis rivers overflowed.

Marianna, like other cities in the Delta region, had a significant Chinese American population during the twentieth century. In the 1940s, the Chinese ambassador to the United States visited Marianna as a guest of the local Fong family.

In August 1973, the Marianna/Lee County Airport began operations. This airport features two runways and averages sixty-nine operations a day. The McClendon, Mann & Felton Gin is situated west of the city and processes cotton from the area. Many of the city’s larger businesses are related to area agriculture. In the last decades of the twentieth century, Marianna began experiencing a population decline similar to that of the Delta overall, though not on as large a scale as in Helena-West Helena to the south.

Marianna has a number of local properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the J. M. McClintock House and the W. S. McClintock House, both of which were designed by noted architect Charles Thompson; the Marianna Commercial Historic District; as well as the courthouse and the National Guard armory. The St. Francis National Forest is located east of Marianna. The St. Francis National Scenic Byway runs through the forest. The Marianna Waterworks, made in the 1930s, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Actor Minor Watson, who had roles in more than 100 films, was born in Marianna in 1889. Robert McFerrin Sr., the first black man to appear in an opera at the Metropolitan Opera house in New York City, was born in Marianna in 1921. James Albert Banks, known as the “father of multicultural education,” was born near Marianna in 1941 and later graduated from Russa Moton High School. Mildred Griggs, economics scholar, was also born in Marianna, in 1942. C. Calvin Smith was the first black professor at Arkansas State University (ASU). Anna Strong was a nationally recognized leader in education. Writer and attorney Grif Stockley grew up in Marianna.

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