From the front of his home, John Drennen could overlook the bustling port town of Van Buren, including the wharf originally known as Phillips Landing.
Until after the Civil War, the Arkansas River and the steamboats that plied its waters linked towns like Van Buren to the rest of the nation. Mail, manufactured merchandise, and news arrived by ship, only to be replaced with local products from rural plantations going to markets down river. Rewarded for their business success with money and real estate, successful men like Drennen also received civic recognition including public office. Drennen, for example, served as postmaster and state representative. When President Zachary Taylor appointed Drennen Indian agent, he inserted him into one of the most controversial issues of the day, Federal Indian policy.
Top left: Steamboats like the Lightwood, seen here running between Van Buren and Fort Smith in the early 1900s, brought the comforts and necessities of civilization to Van Buren while taking farm products and raw materials back to eastern markets.
Photo courtesy of Fort Public Library
Bottom left: Drawn in 1887, this map shows much of John Drennen's influence on the development of the City of Van Buren. From the courthouse, to the riverfront,
and including the railroad bridge, Drennen's domain extends beyond the 1800s and includes visible remains today.
Bottom right: One enduring remnant of Drennen's domain is the Crawford County Courthouse. One of the oldest active county courthouses west of the Mississippi River, the building testifies to Drennen's ability to influence government service.
Drennen sold Crawford County the square block on which the courthouse rests for one dollar. Drawing courtesy of University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections