Pickens (Desha County) is located three miles south of Dumas (Desha County). The unincorporated community was called Walnut Lake until 1932, when the name was changed to “Pickens” in honor of Burton Cecil Pickens, son of Reuben A. Pickens who settled in the area in 1881 along with his brother, William S. Pickens.
The Walnut Lake/Pickens area community was established as the result of the relocation of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad from Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) to Napoleon (Desha County) in 1879. Napoleon, once the county seat, was located at the convergence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. The relocation of the railroad into the interior of the county sparked the establishment of other communities along the route. A train station was located at Pickens for a time. The train station and post office were called Walnut Lake, named after a local bayou, when they were established in 1879, but the post office name was changed to Pickens in 1932 when the community name was changed.
According to Goodspeed’s 1891 history of the area, the Pickens family owned 400 acres of fertile land with sixty acres under cotton and corn cultivation in 1891; the plantation eventually grew to 14, 294 acres. R. A. Pickens established a large mercantile store stocked with merchandise worth $5,000 to $8,000 and did an exceptional business. This store later functioned as a plantation commissary. It burned around 1948 and was rebuilt. It remains a store and popular restaurant in the twenty-first century.
Many acres were later purchased and cleared of their virgin timber, which was shipped via the railroad. The timber industry was at its height in the 1920s in Pickens and all of Desha County with many sawmills operating along the railroad track. Before mechanization in the 1950s, many farm laborers/tenant farmers/sharecroppers worked in the area. There were approximately 425 houses on the Pickens Plantation when electrical service was made available by the C&L Rural Electric Cooperative in the late 1940s.
The Pickens family donated land for the Walnut Lake Cemetery, one of the largest in the county. They also donated land and helped found the Walnut Lake Country Club, as well as other projects in the county.
With farm mechanization in the 1950s, extensive use of manual labor was no longer necessary. Houses of many tenant farmers and laborers were torn down, and the post office closed. Remaining in the twenty-first century are a few houses, the Pickens Plantation Home (which is available for tours), the Pickens Plantation Store and Restaurant, and the Walnut Lake Country Club.
For additional information:
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas. Chicago, IL: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1890.
DeArmond-Huskey, Rebecca. Bartholomew’s Song: A Bayou History. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books Inc., 2001.
Pine Bluff, Arkansas