Brief History of Rogers
Taken from the
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture
Latitude and Longitude: 36º19'55"N 094º07'06"W
Area: 33.5 square miles
Population: 38,829 (2000 Census)
Incorporation date: June 6, 1881
Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:
Rogers was founded as a stop on the St. Louis and San
Francisco (Frisco) Railroad and developed as a shipping
point for apples and a trade center for the surrounding
rural area. After World War II, agriculture remained
important, but business leaders also embarked on a
successful effort to recruit light industry. Rogers has
several major industrial plants and retail centers and is
one of the fastest-growing cities in Arkansas.
Louisiana Purchase through Reconstruction
Settlers began to arrive in the vicinity of what is today
Rogers around 1830. Most came from the Upper South states,
especially Tennessee. The foundation of the local economy in
the mid-1800s was subsistence farming, with tobacco as the
main cash crop. The many streams in the region provided
power for grist and lumber mills, and abundant timber
allowed early industrialist Peter Van Winkle to establish a
lumber empire near the hamlet of War Eagle (Benton County),
east of what is today Rogers.
A major state road ran through what is now the City of
Rogers. This road was part of the route used by the Overland
Mail Company organized in 1857 by John Butterfield to carry
the United States mail from Tipton, Missouri, to California.
Callahan’s Tavern, a stagecoach inn near a large spring in
what is now northeastern Rogers, was a stop on the
Butterfield route. The Butterfield Overland Mail route was
discontinued after the outbreak of the Civil War because it
ran through Confederate territory.
The Civil War put local residents in the crossfire between
Union and Confederate armies. There were major military
camps within a few miles of what is now the center of town,
and in March 1862, the Battle of Pea Ridge took place
nearby. Many barns, mills, and homes in the area were
destroyed, and the economic and social development of the
region was devastated.
Residents devoted the 1870s to rebuilding. The 1880s saw the
arrival of rail transportation. The Frisco followed a route
through eastern Benton County, bypassing the county seat of
Bentonville. The railroad established stations along the
route, and around each of those stations, a town sprung up.
One of those towns was Rogers.
Rogers celebrates May 10, 1881, as its birthday, the day the
first train pulled into town to be greeted by an
enthusiastic crowd. The town with an estimated population at
incorporation of 600 people was named for Captain Charles
Warrington Rogers, general manger of the Frisco. The
railroad advertised the Rogers area across the Midwest, and
as newcomers from states such as Iowa and Illinois arrived,
Rogers began to grow. The town owed its growth to the fact
that it was both a local trade center and a major shipping
point for apples and apple products.
Post Reconstruction through the Early Twentieth Century
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, orchards surrounded
Rogers. Along the railroad tracks were produce houses, apple
evaporators where apples were sliced and dried, and an
enormous apple-cider-vinegar plant. By the early 1900s,
Rogers boasted a brick commercial district, concrete
sidewalks, an electric light plant, public schools and a
private academy, and an opera house. The light plant and
school building are gone, but the opera house and most of
the other early brick commercial buildings are still
By the 1920s, Rogers had grown to over 3,000 residents. The
Apple Blossom Festivals, held each spring from 1923 through
1927, attracted thousands of people to Rogers to see the
floats, tour the orchards in bloom, and see the Apple
Blossom Queen crowned. But year after year bad weather
plagued the events. The apple industry itself also was in
decline since disease and insects had begun to wreak havoc
in the orchards. The festival ended, and soon poultry
replaced apples as the main agricultural product.
Population growth in Rogers slowed dramatically during the
Great Depression. All but one of the community’s banks
failed. The Works Projects Administration offered employment
to jobless residents and completed a number of local
projects including the building of Lake Atalanta. The lake
became the centerpiece of a large city park still serving
the community today. The Rogers Relief Association raised
funds for the needy, and entertainer Will Rogers, whose wife
was from Rogers, gave a benefit performance to help the
World War II through the Modern Era
Late in 1940, Rogers’s National Guard unit, Battery F of the
142nd Field Artillery, was mobilized to active duty in
anticipation of the outbreak of war. After World War II
began, other Rogers men and women joined members of that
unit in the military. Locally, the Red Cross made surgical
bandages and knitted gloves, sweaters, and helmet liners.
Schoolchildren participated in War Bond drives and collected
scrap metal. Many residents left Rogers to work in defense
plants, and some never returned. City leaders saw the need
to attract industry to Rogers and began to work toward that
After World War II, homegrown industries expanded, and
companies from elsewhere opened plants. Among the first to
relocate was Daisy Manufacturing, a maker of air guns that
moved its entire operation to Rogers from Plymouth,
Michigan, in 1958. During the next four decades, the poultry
industry expanded and new industrial plants opened. The
construction of Beaver Dam, begun in 1960, created Beaver
Lake, providing recreation for tourists and retirees and
assuring a water supply for industry. The resulting growth
brought increased ethnic diversity to what had been a
largely white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant community, and by
2000, nineteen percent of the population of Rogers was
Education, Industry, Attractions, and Famous Residents
During its early years, Rogers was served by both public
schools and the private Rogers Academy. By 2005, the Rogers
Public Schools operated twelve elementary schools, two
middle schools, a combined elementary-middle school, two
junior highs, as well as a high school with two campuses, a
main campus and a sophomore center. The town also has
several private schools and an arts-based charter school.
Northwest Arkansas Community College, although located in
Bentonville (Benton County), is supported by tax revenue
from and serves Rogers.
During its early years, the economy of Rogers was dependent
on agriculture. Poultry growing and processing became
important in the 1930s and remain so today. Major employers
now include the Mercy Health System, Tyson Foods of Rogers,
Bekaert Corporation, and Glad Manufacturing. In 1962, Sam
Walton opened his very first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, and
today many residents work for Wal-Mart or for one of the
many Wal-Mart vendors with offices in northwest Arkansas.
Recreational attractions include Beaver Lake and the Hobbs
State Park-Conservation Area, both east of Rogers.
Historical and cultural attractions include the nearby Pea
Ridge National Military Park. The Rogers Historical Museum,
the Daisy Airgun Museum, and the Rogers Little Theater are
located in the historic downtown, which has been preserved
through the efforts of the Rogers Main Street program. The
Daisy Airgun Museum and Rogers Little Theater are located in
the Rogers Commercial Historic District, which is on the
National Register of Historic Places.
Notable residents include William H. “Coin” Harvey, a
well-known political figure who moved to Rogers in 1900. He
developed a resort at nearby Monte Ne and, in 1932 ran, for
president on a third party ticket. Tom Morgan, who moved to
Rogers in 1890, was an author of local color stories for
such national magazines as the Saturday Evening Post. Betty
Blake grew up in Rogers and married Will Rogers in 1908. As
Will became one of the country’s most famous entertainers,
Betty helped to guide his career.
For additional information:
Collins, Marilyn. Rogers: The Town the Frisco Built.
Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.
Diamond Jubilee Edition, Rogers Daily News. August 28, 1956.
Muse, Ruth. Rogers to 1929. Unpublished manuscript. Research
Library, Rogers Historical Museum, Rogers, Arkansas.
Rogers Centennial Edition, Northwest Arkansas Morning News.
May 28, 1981.
The Benton County Pioneer. Vol. 1, No. 5 (August 1956.
Vertical files, Research Library, Rogers Historical Museum,