Eureka Springs History
Powell Clayton

Powell Clayton

9th Governor of Arkansas, 1868-1871

One of the most influential figures in the early development of Eureka Springs, Arkansas was Brigadier General Powell Clayton of the Union Army, ninth governor of Arkansas, and the first governor of the state during the reconstruction period following the Civil War.

Clayton was born on August 7, 1833 in Bethel County, Pennsylvania to a family with deep roots in politics and public service. He attended Partridge Military Academy, and studied civil engineering at Wilmington, Delaware.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Clayton joined the Union Army; he first arrived in Arkansas in 1863 to participate in the Union occupation of Little Rock. Though Clayton's original party affiliation was Democratic, after Congress declared the government of Arkansas and other confederate states illegal in 1867, Clayton participated in the formation of the state's first Republican party. He was nominated as the Republican gubernatorial candidate in 1868.

Clayton campaigned on the plaform of "doctrines of loyalty, freedom, Negro rights, economic development, and free public education for both races alike," in a violent and vitriolic political race. Following his election to Governor and the unanimous ratification of the 14th Amendment by the Arkansas legislature, the state was declared "reconstructed" and Arkansas was re-admitted to representation in Congress.

Clayton's three-year term as Governor was a time of marked turmoil. He declared martial law and organized a state militia to fight the activities of the recently formed Ku Klux Klan; the Klan disbanded in Arkansas two months after Clayton revoked martial law. Clayton was known as a politician who "knew the value of patronage in maintaining political control of the state and personal control of the Republican party." Though Clayton endured numerous character attacks and charges of criminal conduct, his political enemies were never able to provide sufficient evidence for conviction.

In 1873, Clayton assumed the presidency of the Little Rock, Mississippi River and Texas Railroad Company. It was the role of railroad entrepreneur that brought Clayton, his wife Adaline, and their children to Eureka Springs in 1881, where he built a luxurious home in Eureka's "Silk Stocking District." The original Clayton residence is the present-day location of the Crescent Cottage Inn.

As president of the Eureka Springs Improvement Company (ESIC), Clayton worked to bring the railroad to Eureka Springs, a pivotal event in Eureka's development as one of the premier healing resorts of the Victorian Era. The ESIC also built one of Eureka's most famous landmarks, the Crescent Hotel, and the poem which is written on the fireplace in the Crescent Hotel lobby is attributed to Governor Clayton:

"Although, upon a summer's day,
You'll lightly turn from me away;
When autumn leaves are scattered wide,
You'll often linger by my side;
But when the snow the earth doth cover,
Then you'll be my ardent lover."

Clayton ended his political career as the United States ambassador to Mexico. He died in Washington, DC on August 25, 1914, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetary.

The Governors of Arkansas, Essays in Political Biography, Edited by Timothy P. Donovan and Willard B. Gatewood, Jr.;The University of Arkansas Press, 1981.
I Didn't Know That Either! About Eureka Springs © 2022 by Susan Schaefer. All Rights Reserved. Information presented here is used with the permission of the author.