It was 100 years ago today — on Feb. 10, 1910 — that the Board of Trustees for the Second District Agricultural School (now known as Arkansas Tech University) selected Russellville as the school’s location.
The story of how Arkansas Tech came to be located in Russellville is evidence of the impact that concerned, civic-minded leadership — and a little good fortune — can have on the future of a community.
It was the winter of 1910, and the Board of Trustees for the Second District Agricultural School was looking for a place to locate the newly-created school.
Gov. George Donaghey had been elected in 1908 on the promise of creating four agricultural schools for the people of Arkansas, and he delivered on April 1, 1909, when he signed Act 100 of the 37th Arkansas General Assembly into law.
By Sept. 30, 1909, Donaghey had appointed a Board of Trustees for the Second District Agricultural School in the northwest quadrant of the state.
The board was charged with the task of accepting bids and selecting the town that would become the new school’s home.
Fort Smith, Morrilton, Ozark and Russellville were among the communities that submitted bids. All met the minimum requirements of 200 acres of land and $40,000, but Morrilton upped the ante by making a bid of $46,000.
As the Second District Agricultural School Board of Trustees prepared to meet in February 1910 it looked as if Morrilton would receive the school, and along with it the educational opportunities and economic boost that it was sure to bring.
That is when those concerned citizens from Russellville — and that good luck — came into play.
The Russellville delegation was led by Judge R.B. Wilson, and the judge had an ace in the hole. Just three months before the decision on the location of the Second District Agricultural School was made, construction of a new dam on the Illinois Bayou near Russellville was completed.
The completion of that dam in November 1909 made it possible for the city of Russellville to make one final addition to its bid — the town offered to provide the Second District Agricultural School with free water and electricity for three years.
That offer tipped the balance in favor of Russellville, and it turned out to be a pretty good investment for the city of Russellville.
Arkansas Tech University pumped $187.8 million into the local economy during the 2007-08 fiscal year and the university’s economic impact represents 18.6 percent of the total economy for the three counties in its immediate service area — Pope, Yell and Johnson.
Construction of the Main Building (photographed as it appeared in 1917) began on April 21, 1910, and the school opened its doors to an initial class of 186 students on Oct. 26, 1910.