Saline County, Arkansas
The first white man to “stake a claim” in what is now Saline County was William Lockhart. In the spring of 1815, he and his family settled four miles southwest of Benton at the road between Little Rock and Hot Springs where it intersected with the Saline River. By 1819 there was a community of about ten families.
Pioneers continued to be attracted to the gentle rolling land, which was well adapted to agriculture, and by 1835 the population had grown enough to form a new county. The county was named Saline because of the salt works which had been started in this area in 1827. During this period the salt works supplied the bulk of the salt used in the territory, as well as parts of neighboring states.
Arkansas once accounted for 97 percent of the country’s production of bauxite, used to make aluminum, and most of that came from Saline County. When state geologist John C. Branner discovered the ore in 1887, a work crew was using it to surface a new road.
Bauxite was a unique town in the county and the state. It was a company town, established in 1903 by the Pittsburgh Reduction Company of Pennsylvania (later known as Alcoa). During the 64 years of existence as a company town, all inhabitants of the town were in the employ of the company. Aluminum ore mining, smelting and metallic aluminum production as well as alumina production has played an important role in the local economic activities.
Because the Benton community was well established, was centrally located in the new county, and was located on the road to Little Rock, it was chosen as the county seat. The first courthouse and the first jail were erected in 1838. The jail was built of logs and cost $975.00.
The Traskwood community commenced in 1873 and had a railroad depot, four general stores, one hotel, a lumber yard, a gin and grist mill, and a school. In 1900 it was incorporated with a population of 256.
Bryant was incorporated in 1892 with a population of 132. It was a sawmill town with a general store and other small business. Today due to Bryant’s proximity to Little Rock, it has become the fastest growing town in Arkansas.
Potteries were important industries for the county well into the middle of the last century. The rich colorings of the Saline County clays made “Niloak” widely famous. Although the pottery is no longer produced, it has become a favorite of collectors. Today on eBay, a six inch piece of Niloak will cost about $50.
The present Saline County Courthouse was completed in 1902 at a cost of $32,000 and was placed on the national register of Historic Places in 1976. It is the third courthouse to be built on the courthouse square. It is considered by many to be the most beautiful building in the county.
Saline County is one of Arkansas’ fastest growing counties, with a population growth of 30.1% from 1990 to 2000. Currently 2010 the population is estimated at 103,000.