Leslie, Arkansas, population 469, is located in southeastern Searcy County at the junction of Highways 65 and 66.
The area was first settled by Indians and was called Wiley’s Cove after an Indian chief. The first white settlers arrived in 1838, led by Samuel Leslie, and in 1887 the U.S. Postal Department changed the name of the town to Leslie in his honor. It was incorporated in 1903, the same year the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad came to town.
The abundance of oak timber in the area attracted wood product companies, and by 1910 the Williams Cooperage Company was the largest barrel manufacturer in the world, producing 3,000-5,000 barrels a day. Leslie also boasted factories, a flour mill, an ice plant and storage facility, an electric light plant, three churches, and good schools. A large fruit orchard spread across a nearby hillside, with a canning factory in the town to preserve its fruit. The farm contained over 20,000 fruit trees. In its heyday, the population reached nearly 10,000 people.
The Depression, deforestation, and loss of the railroad led to economic and population declines, and in 2004 Leslie’s award winning school was forcibly consolidated into the Searcy County School District because its enrollment was under 350.
However, anchored by several strong businesses and an unbeatable community spirit, Leslie is making a comeback. Through the Community Revitalization Project, the town is experiencing a rebirth, with residents pulling together for many improvements in economic development, education, community services, arts and heritage, education, city beautification, and natural resources. They are determined to create a bright future for this community with “small town charm and welcome home warmth.”
Nestled in a peaceful valley alongside U.S. Highway 65, the town of Leslie is an attraction in itself. Pick up a guidebook and view Leslie’s 14 homes on the National Historic Register or shop in the beautifully restored historic downtown which houses antique shops, charming cafes, and gift shops as well as other thriving retail businesses. Well known artists make their home in Leslie, as well as popular alternative and holistic medicine practitioners.
Leslie residents are steeped in traditional Ozark folklore and folkways. Drop in on Saturday night for traditional music at the Ozark Heritage Arts Center and Museum or blues at Oak Street Station. Or find a warm welcome at one of the many celebrations and festivals: The annual June Homecoming, West Fest, Ozark Mountain Market and Fishing Derby, or the Sugarplum Festival. You'll always find a friendly Ozarks welcome in Leslie, Arkansas.