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Spirit Lake in Lafayette County, Arkansas

Updated: Jul 8

The C.W. Howell, a snagboat, dredged Spirit Lake in the late 1890s. The boat was named for the Commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers who oversaw the 1873 removal of the Great Raft of the Red River (AHS).

Fishing is one of the most popular pastimes in the Red River Valley, and we're lucky enough to have plenty of places to go and catch dinner... and one of the "most noted fishing places" and "finest bodies of water... noted far and near as a fishing resort" was historically Spirit Lake in Lafayette County, Arkansas, in the Great Bend Region.

Spirit Lake is one of Red River's oxbow lakes, formed in the distant past on the east side of what is now Garland City. Once home to a Caddoan village, it became a tourist destination at the turn of the 20th century, albeit not because of its ancient history. Instead, it was known as an excellent fishing spot, where in 1896 "a large party from Sulphur Springs [Hopkins County, Texas] reported a catch of 200 pounds of fish!" (May 28, Arkansas Daily Gazette).

The Weathersby family opened a popular resort at the lake in 1898, which at one point may have been operated by a "one-armed Irish man named Mr. Harnegan" (WPA Guide to Arkansas). Tourists who wanted to enjoy a day or weekend at the lake disembarked at the Spirit Lake whistle stop along the Cotton Belt (St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad) just outside of Garland City, then boarded a ferry boat to reach the hotel. Excursion trains operated from as far away as Pine Bluff (Jefferson County, Arkansas) that charged $2 round trip to go to the hotel and fish.

After the massive 1908 flood, when Spirit Lake overflowed into the Red River, levees and dredging and bulkheads kept the waters of Spirit Lake from finding the main channel of the Red River so that anglers could catch bass, shad, trout and other fish supplied by national fish hatcheries. However, with the advent of automobile travel along US 82, travelers stopped coming to the lake. The hotel burned in the 1930s and never re-opened, and thereafter, only locals tended to seek out Spirit Lake's bounty.

Today, Spirit Lake is still a scenic slice of southwestern Arkansas, but a quiet one.

A map published by the Cottonbelt Route shows Spirit Lake's stop between Garland City (Miller County) and Lewisville (Lafayette County). (LOC)
Spirit Lake was an actual town, too, as shown in this 1952 USGS map. Now, the old town site is home to a gin and silos.
USGS map
Spirit Lake today: the east side road is CR 5, aka Spirit Road Lake, and skirts the lake so that it's accessible. The western part of the lake is not accessible but much of this land is public (USGS).

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