Blytheville, Arkansas is one of those cities I have wanted to visit for some
time, but never pulled off Interstate 55 to do it. The name Blytheville brings back
memories of many years ago when I was assigned to the Strategic Air Command headquarters
at Offutt Air Force Base.
As a headquarters staff member I would occasionally sit in on briefings concerning various
bases in the command. Blytheville Air Force Base was one of them. I had heard a great
deal about the base but not much of the area.
So on this last trip up the interstate, we made a decision to pullover and see the area. We enjoyed meeting some of the friendly locals.
Blytheville, the largest city in Mississippi County, Arkansas, was founded by Methodist clergyman Henry T. Blythe in 1879. It received a post office in 1879, was incorporated in 1889, and became the county seat for the northern half of Mississippi County (Chickasawba District) in 1901. Blytheville received telephone service and electricity in 1903, and natural gas service in 1950.
Forestry was an early industry, spurred by the massive harvesting of lumber needed to rebuild Chicago following the Great Fire of 1871. The lumber industry brought sawmills and a rowdy crowd. The area was known for its disreputable saloon culture during the 1880s and 1890s.
The cleared forests enabled cotton farming to take hold, encouraged by ongoing levee building and waterway management; the population grew significantly after 1900. On Blytheville’s western edge lies one of the largest cotton gins in North America. Soybeans and rice have also become important crops.
The area around Blytheville continues to be farmed, though family farms have given way to large factory operations.
In the 1980s, Blytheville began to develop an industrial base, much of which centered on the steel industry.
Until 1991, Blytheville was home to Blytheville Air Force Base (later renamed Eaker Air Force Base), a major airfield that was part of the Strategic Air Command (as I mentioned at the beginning).
Mad Magazine editor Al Feldstein, who was stationed in Blytheville during World War II, later wrote a science fiction story set in Blytheville entitled "Chewed Out", for Weird Science.
Places to visit include the Ritz Civic Center, a restored opera house on Main Street that stages live shows throughout the year, and the Delta Gateway Museum, which explores the past with exhibits and photos.