Birthday cake galore and oodles of family fun will be available this fall in Bryant as the city celebrates its 125th birthday and Fall Fest commemorates its 30th anniversary.
Festivities will take place Saturday, Sept. 30, at Bishop Park. The Greater Bryant Chamber of Commerce has partnered with the Bryant Historical Society and city of Bryant to pass out 1,000 pieces of birthday cake and offer a $1.25 coupon on entry to Kidsland according to chamber President & CEO Todd Rhoden.
To passersby on Interstate 30, Bryant may be just a stop to fill up on fuel and food before heading back out on the road. But like any town, Bryant has a storied past.
Some people may have friendly arguments over the city’s historical facts, but the one thing everyone can agree on is Bryant has grown into one of the most popular places in Arkansas for families to make their mark and send their children to school.
No one knows how Bryant got its name, says Kathy Lewallen with the Bryant Historical Society. “One wagon-trail tale points to a settler named Benjamin Bryant, a revolutionary war veteran. He settled north of Bryant on Stagecoach Road. This tale is very sketchy,” she notes.
“We do know that a group of early pioneers traveling to Texas was stopped at Hurricane Creek by high water. They camped and waited. Men in the group rode horses around looking over the territory. They liked the location and decided to make this area their home. Just where they settled is not definite. Surnames of the men were Ulmer, Elrod, and Horn. 1838 land abstracts show Joan Pratt and Amos Rowland owning land in Bryant. Foamy records show Rowland in the area between 1828 and 1833. In 1849 Joan Pratt sold land to George Elrod. Whether any of these pioneers knew Benjamin Bryant is unknown.”
“From 1838 to 1907 the population grew from designated to 300 residents,” Lewallen shares. Interstate 30 was built through Bryant during the 1950s, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, which created a new period of population growth. Between 1990 and 2000, Bryant’s population increased from 5,269 to 9,764, then increased to 16,688 by the 2010 census.
Today’s population is a little more than 20,000, according to the 2016 census. Lewallen says the 1970s saw the biggest peak in population, and the trend has continued ever since.
To mark the big birthday, Bryant Historical Society will host a birthday party at Fall Fest. “We will display ‘then and now’ pictures for people to see how the city has grown, and we urge people to come visit our display,” Lewallen says. “And if they have any pictures or memorabilia to share with us we would love to see it.”
Lewallen’s roots in Bryant run deep. She has called Bryant home her whole life, save for a few years when she lived in Tennessee and Texas for her husband’s job. They live in the house her maternal grandparents, Oscar and Eula Wise. The house was built in 1937 on the 72.5-acre lot they bought from the railroad in 1936 to build on and farm.
Oscar Wise served on the first City Council in Bryant in 1946 and was a Saline County justice of the peace from 1956 to 1965. Her paternal grandparents, B. Holland and Eula Sullivan, moved to Bryant in 1924. They farmed and owned Wonder State Poultry Farm.
Lewallen’s mother retired from Bryant Public Schools as an elementary teacher and junior high librarian. Her father taught and coached at Bryant before going on to Mabelvale and Pulaski County schools.
“In 1892 when Bryant was incorporated, people then wanted the same things Bryant residents desire now,” Lewallen says. “We had baseball, a school, lumber yard, place to eat, hotels, general stores, and doctors. Families then were as they are today, wanting a safe place to live that is a great location with access to transportation, parks, churches, doctors, sports, and connection to people willing to help keep Bryant growing in a positive way. We are all pioneers in a way as we keep the past alive to make sure that Bryant stays on course to continue to be a great city.”
“Fall Fest was started as a way to showcase these Bryant characteristics and draw attention to area businesses,” Rhoden says. “All of the city’s events are planned with the help of awesome committee members and volunteers,” he adds.
“Fall Fest brings people together while highlighting our local businesses. It’s a fun-filled, family day with entertainment going on for everyone, from kids to senior citizens. There will be a pancake breakfast, bingo, duct tape boat race, stage entertainment, fishing derby and more.”
A “Couch to 5K Race” is new this year in addition to a trackless train and mobile video game station, Rhoden notes. The event is going to be set up farther back at the park to be around more trees and shade.
Rhoden says about 5,000 people are expected to attend with 90 business vendors in participation. “The majority of attendees will be from Arkansas, but we have a barbecue competition attracting teams and families from Texas, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.”
Just as its host city, Fall Fest has continued to grow. It has moved from Mills Park to Bishop Park, and more activities and vendors are added each year, attracting more attendees. The cake will be passed out at 2 p.m. that day.