Friday, September 28, 2018

Poetry from Polk

Poetry enriches lives in a way other writings cannot. The Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives (SARA) holds collections by Arkansas poets, including a collection from an educator who lived in Polk County.

The regional branch has a poetry journal and some original sketches by Kittie (Kitty) L. Hughes from the late 1920s. A native of Oklahoma, Hughes moved to Vandervoort, Polk County, as a young girl. Records show she was the only child of Rivers and Cena Hughes.

Hughes was an educator, whose teaching career began in 1927 before she graduated Vandervoort School in 1933. Hughes attended college in Magnolia during the summers and completed her bachelor’s degree in education at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 1949. She earned a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas in 1952.

Hughes served as principal at Vandervoort School in the 1960s and taught fifth and sixth grades.  She was a teacher for about 45 years with the last 28 years spent at Vandervoort School. It’s unclear whether Hughes published her work anywhere.

Hughes never married. She died in 1989 and is buried in Witherspoon Cemetery in Vandervoort.

Poetry held at SARA is a small part of its collections, but the Arkansas State Archives collects a wide variety of material pertaining to Arkansas. The Hughes collection represents part of the history of Polk County, which was originally part of Hempstead County.

As one of Arkansas’s earliest counties, Hempstead County was established in 1818, prior to the creation of the Arkansas Territory in 1819. SARA is celebrating Hempstead County’s bicentennial this year and is spotlighting information from all 12 counties in its focus region. Those counties are: Columbia, Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita, Pike, Polk, Sevier and Union.

Polk County is named after U.S. President James K. Polk, whose vice president, George Dallas, gave his name to the first county seat of Dallas. Unfortunately, the county’s first two courthouses burned in 1869 and 1883, destroying much of Polk County’s records. The county has lost a large amount of its early history. 

Polk County was originally formed by carving property from 11 counties that once formed Hempstead County.  In 1844, Polk County consisted only of land formerly part of Sevier County, which also was formed from Hempstead County. Polk County eventually gained land from Montgomery, Scott and Pike counties and later ceded land to Howard County.

Existing records show the railroad figured prominently in Polk County’s history after Arthur Stillwell constructed his Kansas City Southern Lines in the late 19th century. Towns such as Mena and Vandervoort took their names from family members of Stillwell’s Dutch investors.

SARA continues to solicit donations of original materials for its Polk County collections. Hughes journal and sketches represent original materials from Polk County, where such records are limited.

For more information or to contribute to SARA, contact Archival Manager Melissa Nesbitt at or 870-983-2633.