Work has begun on the Pine Bluff Plaza, located in the area across from where the new headquarters for the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library will be built near the intersection of Main Street and Sixth Avenue downtown.
According to the Department of Economic and Community Development, phase 1, consisting of paving the site’s surface, is almost complete. There is no established completion date at this time due to the changing weather, but The Commercial will provide an update when that information is known.
There are plans to dedicate the plaza to entrepreneurs that have contributed to the city, and names are being accepted.
The project is funded by an Environmental Protection Agency Grant and Community Development Block Grant and will cost around a half-million dollars to complete.
“We want to inspire the new entrepreneurs of the city by making them aware of Pine Bluff’s rich legacy,” said Lori Walker, assistant director of the Pine Bluff Department of Economic and Community Development.
Pine Bluff is known for producing many notable people, including Wiley Jones (1848-1904), one of the richest men in the South during his time.
Jones was an African-American entrepreneur in real estate, public transportation and entertainment. He also owned a 55-acre park with a half-mile racetrack. Information in the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Historical Museum says that by the turn of the 20th century, Jones had become the richest African-American man in Arkansas and one of richest in the South.
The Encyclopedia of Arkansas states that in the 1880s, Jones owned and operated the first mule-drawn streetcar line in the city; he also owned several bars and dry goods stores.
There are many others that have contributed to the city of Pine Bluff.
Harvey Couch (1877-1941) owned several railroad lines and made his fortune after the turn of the twentieth century in the newly emerging telephone exchange industry that became Southwestern Bell, and he founded what became known as the state’s largest utility, Arkansas Power and Light Company (AP&L).
Ferdinand Havis (1846-1918) was born a slave but became an alderman, state representative, assessor, and county clerk, and was called the “Colored Millionaire” of Pine Bluff (Jefferson County).
The first silent motion picture cowboy star, Broncho Billy Anderson (1880-1971), was raised in Pine Bluff; a friend of his, Freeman Owens (1890-1979), was a cinematographer for movie studios and a research assistant to broadcast pioneer Lee DeForrest when the method of producing sound on film was patented.
One of the nation’s first female pilots was Katherine Stinson (1891-1977), who was living in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) when she began her career. She also founded the Stinson School of Flying in Hot Springs (Garland County).
Track star Bill Carr (1909-1966), who was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), is the state’s only Olympic double gold medal winner; he broke a world record in the 400-meter dash and won two gold medals at the 1932 Los Angeles Games.
John Sorrells (1896-1948), a Pine Bluff native, was the executive editor of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain.
Wiley Branton Sr. (1923-1988), born in Pine Bluff in 1923, was a civil rights leader in Arkansas who helped desegregate the University of Arkansas School of Law and later filed suit against the Little Rock School Board in a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Carolyn Blakely (1936 –), Pine Bluff native, is a retired Educator and the first woman to head a four-year, state university.
Baseball star Torii Hunter (1975- ), who was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), recorded the most home runs by an Arkansan in major league history.
Martha Mitchell (1918–1976) also known as Martha Elizabeth Beall Jennings Mitchell, born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), gained worldwide recognition for her outspokenness during the Watergate scandal—a scandal that forced President Richard Nixon to resign from office on August 9, 1974. She was a renowned character in Washington DC. During President Nixon’s first term, her husband, John Mitchell, was attorney general. Nixon once said, “If it hadn’t been for Martha Mitchell, there’d have been no Watergate.”
Historical information for this article is courtesy of the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Historical Museum, located in the old train station at Fourth Avenue and State Street, 201 East Fourth Avenue, and the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.