In 1873, the Little Rock, Mississippi River & Texas Railroad built a line from Chicot Point in the southeast corner of the state to Pine Bluff. The plan was to eventually extend the railroad line to Little Rock.
In anticipation of growth along the planned route, James Kirkwood Brodie purchased 163 acres from the state for $71.28. That land had been seized from owners who were behind on tax payments. Brodie also bought a half-interest in another 120 acres. In August 1880, he sold the right-of-way through his property to the railroad and hired the Jefferson County surveyor to plat a city. The new town was named for John E. Redfield, president of the railroad from 1875-81.
"At first, Redfield was a lumber town with a sawmill that processed oak, hickory, gum, pine and cypress trees," Steve Teske writes for the Central Arkansas Library System's Encyclopedia of Arkansas. "Voters made Redfield a dry city by prohibiting the sale of alcohol in 1888. A one-room schoolhouse was built in 1882. By 1890, the business district included five stores, two gins, two gristmills, two warehouses, three hotels, a drugstore, a meat shop, two barbers and three physicians.
"The city also had four churches--two Baptist churches and two Methodist churches, one of each denomination for whites and African Americans. Agriculture in the region featured not only cotton but also grapes, plums, berries and vegetables. The city was incorporated in 1898 and held its first election on Jan. 3, 1899."
A fire on Feb. 24, 1903, destroyed much of the business district. Arson was suspected since another fire began that evening at the cotton gin owned by the mayor. No one was ever arrested. Businesses were rebuilt quickly since Redfield was the most important train stop between Little Rock and Pine Bluff. The Dollarway Highway was also built through Redfield in 1913, spurring additional growth. In June 1915, the Redfield Canning & Pickling Co. was incorporated and became one of the area's largest employers.
The White Bluff Generating Plant, owned by Entergy Arkansas, was the first coal-fired electrical generating plant constructed in the state. It's on the west bank of the Arkansas River near Redfield. Coal is delivered to the plant by train from Wyoming. Construction was completed in 1980 on the first unit. A second unit began commercial generation the next year. Redfield grew in population from just 277 residents in the 1970 census to 1,082 residents in the 1990 census.
Redfield also became known for the KATV, Channel 7, tower, a 2,000-foot-tall television tower that was among the largest man-made structures in the world until it collapsed in 2008. The tower was completed May 1, 1967, and was the third-tallest man-made structure in the world at the time, surpassed only by two television towers in North Dakota. When it collapsed, it was still the fifth-tallest man-made structure.
KATV's owners decided not to build a new tower at Redfield. They instead built the replacement on Shinall Mountain in west Little Rock, where most other Little Rock television and radio stations have towers. The new tower began broadcasting Feb. 1, 2009.
These days, Redfield is best known for the Mammoth Orange. The cafe was founded by Earnestine Bradshaw, who had first seen an orange-shaped restaurant at Chowchilla, Calif., when she was sharecropping with her husband. She worked for a time at the restaurant.
When Bradshaw came back to Arkansas, she decided to open a place just like it. She would later tell friends that she made a "deal with the Lord." That deal was that she would operate the restaurant seven days a week until the debt was paid off. After that, she would never be open on Sunday.
Bradshaw kept her end of the bargain, and 55 years later the restaurant is still going strong--except on Sunday. It originally was a small cinder-block structure with a large orange dome that served freshly squeezed orange juice, ice cream and burgers. There's no orange juice on the menu these days, but there are still burgers, ice cream and even catfish on Fridays. The orange dome can still be seen by travelers along Arkansas 365. Before construction of what's now Interstate 530, the Mammoth Orange was considered the place to eat between Little Rock and Pine Bluff.
Bradshaw ran the restaurant until her death in 2007. She left the Mammoth Orange to her daughter and son-in-law, Cynthia and Harmon Carter. Both died unexpectedly in recent years. The restaurant then passed on to their children--brothers Chris, Jock and Jace Carter. The brothers all work for Dassault Falcon in Little Rock and are passionate about stock-car racing. Their garage, in fact, is right behind the restaurant.
After the death of their parents, the brothers had a decision to make: Did they have time to take on the Mammoth Orange? They decided that this Arkansas classic had to be saved. Early this year--just before the pandemic--the brothers came up with a business plan that included improvements to the building, a revision of the menu, training staff members and cleaning up the property.
After the onset of the pandemic in March, they closed the dine-in area and switched to curbside service. Local residents have stepped up to ensure that the Mammoth Orange remains in business.
The brothers have used the months since the pandemic began to finish their remodeling effort. Despite the virus and the economic recession, an Arkansas classic lives on between Little Rock and Pine Bluff.
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.