by Corrine Robinson
When the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad was built through Faulkner County in 1871, there was a construction camp at the site of Conway, though it was not called Conway then.
Colonel A.P. Robinson was the chief engineer in charge of construction, and when the railroad had some financial difficulty, he accepted 640 acres of land (from Prince Street one mile south) in lieu of his salary.
He and his wife were fond of stately oak trees and of hunting. In the section he chose, he set aside the northeast quarter traversed by the railroad, as the town site and set aside the south half of the section as his private hunting grounds. It is said that he drove a stake beside the graded roadbed a little north of the center of the quarter-section to designate the location of the railroad station. In his thesis, “The Evolution of Conway, Arkansas,” Dr. H. L. Minton says:
The most important factor in the selection of the site of Conway was the location of the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad. By an early survey, this line was located to pass about four miles to the west of the present site of Conway, and to cross Cadron Creek at a point near its mouth. A climb of more than 150 feet over Cadron Ridge, however, led to the choice of another location farther east in order to make use of a gap (Cadron Gap) through the ridge. And though the new location necessitated a large bend in the road at the gap, it brought the line several miles nearer to most of the people to be served. So far as the railroad was concerned, the most favorable site in this vicinity for a town was at or near the bend.
The rural road pattern also favored this site. The intersection of roads at this point (Cadron Gap), coupled with the fact that it was the only point of intersection in the vicinity, tended to favor the location of the town at or near the gap. There were other factors which strongly opposed the ridge, a site undoubtedly superior in some respects to the one selected, but it was not used because of the influence of a railroad official, Colonel A.P. Robinson, who was granted a section of land. He was guided in his choice by the location and size of the blocks of railroad land and his personal preference of certain lands.
The post office for this region was at Cadron Gap. Colonel Robinson was directly responsible for the change of the post office to Conway Station in 1872. When Faulkner County was established in 1873 his town became the county seat and was named “Conway.” Colonel Robinson donated land for the site of the courthouse, the public square, and the churches in Conway. The town was incorporated in 1875 and Colonel Robinson was one of the first mayors.
As late as 1916 Conway was the only organized municipality in a county of 651 square miles, and the principal point for territory extending 60 miles north and northwest and 20 to 40 miles in other directions. The business life, activity and growth of the city date their beginnings with the advent of the relocated and renamed Hendrix College (1890), Central Baptist College for Women (1892) and Arkansas State Normal School (1907). Farmers came for many miles to sleep in bunks at the several wagon yards at night and sell their cotton in the daytime.
Conway owes its location chiefly to two factors: the physical element, which was the establishment of the railroad; and the human element, the fact that Col. Robinson did not want to have to have to go to Cadron Gap to get his mail.