Fulton lies alongside US 67, Interstate 30, AR 195, and
the tracks of the Union Pacific, yet it's still a ghost town.
It boggles my mind.
Gateway to Texas: Fulton, Arkansas
A River's Town
The Red River is a west-to-east stream. After it begins trickling in Palo Duro Canyon, it slithers eastward across the Caprock, prairies, and
Cross Timbers until it gets to a little town called Fulton, where it meets up with the Little River. Suddenly, its tortured route bends
southward towards the Mississippi River. Fulton grew up along the Great Bend, and it became a happening place in the 19th century.

From the very beginning, Fulton - named after the first successful American investor in steam locomotion, Robert Fulton - had a very
specific destiny, and that was commerce. Around 1819, investors (among them Edward Cross and Roswell Beebe, both leaders in
southwestern Arkansas before and after the Civil War) platted the hamlet with the intention of it becoming the "go-to" place for border
crossings between the United States and Spanish Texas and as a northern-most shipping point on the Red River. Ferries - one over
Little River and one over Fulton - were chartered, hotels and taverns built, town lots sold, and docks and warehouses erected. Fulton
thrived immediately, with its economy centering on cotton, corn, and whiskey shipments. Located at the southern-most tip of the
Chihuahua Trail before it entered into Texas and across the stream from a branch of the busy
Trammel Trace, Fulton hosted many
Texas-bound migrants. Stephen F. Austin opened a temporary supply store there as some of his "original 300" gathered in Fulton to make
the trek to his land grant on the lower Brazos River in Texas.

Full Steam Ahead
Things looked up for Fulton throughout the 19th century. After the removal of the Great Raft north of Natchitoches in the late 1830s,
steamships were able to ply the Red River quite freely, and Fulton could boast of shipping the most tonnage along the Red River, and
second only to Little Rock in Arkansas. The town's reliance on trade made the citizens stoic in times of floods and droughts, and eager to
put branch out into other commercial ventures - namely, the railroad. In the 1850s, US congress debated where to place a
transcontinental railroad line. It seemed very likely that the preferred route would go from Illinois to California via Arkansas and Texas,
and to that end, the Cairo (Illinois) and Fulton Railroad was chartered. However, the
Civil War happened, and the US Congress - free of
southern Democratic congressmen - instead voted for the northern route through non-slave holding states. Fulton did not see the
railroad come through town until the 1870s.

By the turn of the 20th century, Fulton's shipping business changed from steamships to railroads, and then to
roads. The Bankhead
Highway (US 67) came through town by the early 1920s, necessitating the erection of a toll bridge, which opened in 1929. The toll bridge
came with some controversy, as the state legislature decided to fund it with loans instead of through a bond election, and a private
company sued for its purported exclusive right to operate a ferry/toll bridge at Fulton. The state prevailed in the lawsuit, and by 1927,
Arkansas declared eminent domain on all privately owned toll bridges.

And yet... a Ghost Town
Strangely, despite Fulton's ability to change its commercial traffic from steamboats to railroads to roads, the town simply withered. Today,
the old town is a small shadow of itself. While the post office still operates, Fulton no longer has a school, and the one lone commercial
building that remains on its main street is falling in on itself. Old photos only hint at what used to be... but at least we have that.
An old alignment of the Bankhead Highway (US 67) west of Fulton.
Sidewalk along Little River Street
Downtown Fulton at mid-century. (Arkansas Historical Commission).
The remains of erosion control, steamboat landings and loading platforms line the Red River along Fulton's levee.
Fulton sits directly along the Red River and is protected by levees; still, floods are not uncommon in Fulton. (Arkansas Historical Commission)
The lone remnant of old downtown Fulton was destroyed in 2015. Read more about this tragedy in my Blog.
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com
How to get there
Along the Red River in Fulton in the early 20th century.(AHS)
Read my book on the Red River Valley in Arkansas... I got my
inspiration for writing it from my numerous visits to Fulton. I'm a big fan
of this little place.