Marche is sited near some of the earliest historic home-sites in central Arkansas, including those of pioneer settlers at Crystal Hill in the 1820s. Fifth circuit judge Liberty Bartlett, with the help of Chicago and New York investors, attempted to establish an "industrial" community to be named Bartlett Springs here in 1872, but the effort failed. The Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad acquired the property and its land commissioner N. S. Howe plotted a settlement called 'Warren Station' near two "good-sized lakes" in 1875. The area attracted few settlers, but did serve as a rural recreation and picnic area for Little Rock residents who paid fifty cents to ride the train to Warren's platform on special days. Captain Thomas J. Atkinson built a thirty-two by one hundred foot covered dancing pavilion, an ice cream and soda water stand, a picnic basket check room for woodland promenaders not wanting to carry their lunch, and cleared brush for a rustic beach on one of the lakes in preparation for the American centennial celebrations in 1876. The Rose City Brass and String Band from Little Rock performed at the pavilion. This venture also struggled to pay for itself.
The community gained a rural post office stop in 1896, and that same year the Warren name was overturned in favor of Marche (French for "market") to reduce confusion with a Bradley County town of same name. The origin of this name is a mystery, though local legend has it that the name came about because the lowlands near the town are "marshy" - a "marche" homophone.
Marche acquired the nickname "Little Poland" after groups of ethnic Poles and Polish-Americans settled in the area in the 1870s and 1880s. Poles who settled here first considered available railroad lands in Texas, and Pope and Conway counties in Arkansas, before choosing northern Pulaski County. They arrived from urban Milwaukee and Chicago, as well as the Polish homeland. A first wave of twenty-two Marche immigrants followed Polish nobleman Timothy von Choinski, his wife the countess Loccadia Barbara Dembinski Choinski, and their ten children in 1877. Count Choinski was a college graduate and professor from Posen, Poland, who had made his way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he served as a public school teacher and then professor of German language at Engelman's Academy. This group purchased 11,000 acres from the railroad.
Choinski and many other Polish-Americans were looking for farmland and a warmer climate, and the immigration agents of the railroad were looking for colonizers in marginal, hardscrabble lands it owned in northern Pulaski County and southern Faulkner County. Some of the immigrants were fleeing directly from Russian and Prussian oppression and involuntary military service in Poland, where cultural traditions and language were under attack. Early intra-ethnic conflict emerged in Marche, in part because of the history of divided rule over Poland by Russians, Prussians, and Austrians. Differences is dialect also led to disagreements and confusion. Some of the Poles who filtered into the area were highly educated, while others were not so well educated. The differences in origin, class, and education led to misunderstandings in the new community.
Arkansas Gazette editors welcomed the new arrivals: "We learned through the local agent of the land department ... that Dr. Chowinski [sic], who was here recently, looking for lands on which to settle a colony of Poles, has created a furore in the northwest about Arkansas, and that there will be a very heavy immigration of these industrious and hardy people this part of our state this fall. They are indeed, already arriving in small parties; but about October the heavy immigration will set in. Then will our forest wake to the stroke of the woodsman's ax." New arrivals may have been misled by railroad agents into believing that considerable corn, potatoes, and other vegetables had already been planted in advance. Many Polish immigrants found the Marche site unsuitable to their needs. "When they came over here, there [were] about two hundred and something families here. And when they got off the train and saw what was here -- some of them went back," remembers one longtime resident. And in fact, many disappointed families left on the very same train that brought them to Marche. Immigrants spent their first days living in Colonel Atkinson's boarded up band pavilion. Some forty families remained in the area, despite the hardships involved in clearing land of trees and tilling the hard-packed soil. Some immigrants found work in the Argenta rail yards of the railroad. Some families left the community for Oklahoma after a few years. In 1880 a local clergyman attested that several of the hard-working families around the settlement had nearly starved to death in trying to establish a cotton crop. Choinski's prediction that five hundred families, comprising thousands of settlers, would arrive failed to materialize.
The railroad deeded over an old sawmill to the colonizers, as well as a two-story shack, which became the first community dance hall and a staging area for new arrivals. Choinski's daughter, Helen Schnable, recalled that many of the immigrants "arrived with only personal baggage, slept on straw and hay spread on [the] floor with a blanket for cover." Schnable explained that "such beds are no hardship for peasants of European descent, used to such living conditions. The immigrants "cooked our meals in iron wash kettles, ate fish, game, and other wild fowls, corn pones and mush made of corn meal. ... In the evening we all sat around camp fires and sang patriotic and church songs. ... We exchanged visions of the future, which kept our souls glowing, gave us a good night's rest and zest for the next day's work. ... There was plenty of work, but no hunger or hardship, for there was plenty to eat if a man was not lazy." The first postmaster was the count's son Charles Stanislaw Choinski, who became a Democratic state legislator for Pulaski County at age 23 in 1882. Sons Edward Vladyslaw Choinski and Joseph Choinski, and daughter Sophie Choinski operated a dry good store and vinegar manufactory. The count's daughter, Miss Helen Choinski (later Schnable), served as a telegrapher in the store and as postmistress. Another son, Paul Boleslaw Choinski, became an architect. Other daughters were Maria Choinski, who married Frank Richter of Marche, and Hattie Choinski, who married several times and died in Chicago. Three other children died in infancy or childhood.
The immigrant families each settled on 40-80 acres of land, and built their homes from scratch with financial assistance from the railroad. Most of the White Oak Bayou bottomlands remained undeveloped and were used for fishing and hunting. The Holy Ghost Fathers, a mission group of Roman Catholic priests and brothers in Morrilton, soon built a wood-frame chapel at Jasna Góra (or "Sky-Blue Hill," after a shrine of the Madonna in Częstochowa, Poland) in 1878 and named it the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. The first priest was the Reverend Anthony Jaworski Men sat on the left side of the church aisle and women on the right. The population of Marche proper in 1892 was only 37 people, thought there were many others scattered to farms in the woods.
In the first half of the twentieth century Marche residents continued to farm, picking cotton and corn, cutting hay and wood, milking cows, and slopping hogs. A tornado uprooted trees and destroyed the Hammond, Luens & Devore Lumber Company sawmill in Marche, then counting 150 among its population, in May 1908. Another cyclone hit the settlement in April 1921, damaging about two dozen Polish farms. No less than four tornados spun through Marche in the first two decades of the century. Electricity did not reach the community until the 1930s, and the hills made radio reception tricky. The post office closed in 1930. Malaria may have been endemic in the area into the 1930s. Marche was recognizably Polish at harvest time, when Polish farmers would hand-assemble shocks of hay in the fields. Locals called them kuklia. Chickens ran free and with few predators. Children picked blackberries for pies and cobblers, but rarely hunted as only a few squirrels and rabbits remained on the land. There were almost no deer in the Marche area until mid-century. Female children did not typically receive an education beyond elementary school, and worked in the home. Some settlers sought employment in North Little Rock at the Vestal Nursery, the garment factories, and the rail yards. Beyond the church, a general store operated by local postmaster Max Malachowski served as a meeting place for local residents. Malachowski's Grocery sold feed and flour, and occasionally loaned money to strapped cotton farmers. The community had no physician.
Polish traditions and customs continued. Girls raised funds for the church by preparing box suppers for boys, who would buy them and eat lunch with the preparer. Guys picked their favorite girls in a ritual called "dyngus," which involved the boy tapping the girl on the shoulder or legs with a cedar switch. Dances and weddings were popular weekend events open to the whole community. Druzba, or local elders, encouraged the festivities into the wee hours of the morning by matching up couples for dancing and gathering up the silver dollars tossed against dishes, broken by the coins in a ceremony called aes Trzepeni, for the bride and groom. At the end of the evening, the bride was carried away and put in a housedress. She was then brought back to the ceremony and hidden under a sheet with the bride's maids. If the groom could not identify his thus-swaddled bride, he was made to put on an apron and dance with all the married women. Fishing remained popular, and Palarm Creek, and the Marche lakes held catfish, sauger, grennel, drum, and gar. One of the favorite local dishes was czarnina, a soup made from goose or duck blood.
Post-World War II Marche
The federal government, wanting to expand the World War I-era Camp Pike into the present Camp Robinson, took 39,500 acres for an artillery training range, and in the process relocated about forty Polish families in 1941. The Poles, being patriotic and appalled by what Hitler was doing to their homeland, only hoped that one day they would be allowed to return to the hills around Marche being acquired by the U.S. Army. One longtime local resident remembers that "before the war ... half or close to half of Marche had to move. And that's where we lost a lot of the people. Some of them didn't have no place to go, and the government didn't care so long as you moved. So a lot of them moved to North Little Rock, a lot of them to Conway, [and] a lot of them moved closer in to Marche here, you know, where it is now [along Arkansas Highway 365]. And so the parish itself really went down during that particular time. A lot of the young men were in the service." One group of families moved together to Granite City, Illinois, to work in the wartime steel industry there. Some sons of Marche who enlisted or were drafted in World War II chose not to return after the war, or met and married women outside the community. Soldiers who left for the war playing the fiddle returned with new concertinas and accordions which they played at local dances.
Some locals found work at Camp Robinson or at the federal Maumelle Ordnance Works, established for $8 million in 1941 on six thousand acres of land to the west. Workers here manufactured picric acid needed for artillery shells. The "acid plant" attracted a considerable African American population to the area between the communities of Palarm and Marche, which is still known as the black community of West Marche. They were originally paid twenty cents per hour for the work, which turned their skin yellow.
The impact of the war in opening up the community cannot be understated. Remembers one local, "I think what ... happened after World War II was that ... you had to learn how to speak English. [If you] went out into the workplace people made fun of you because you had broken English so to speak. ... A lot of these guys that came in from other places got acquainted with [girls from elsewhere, even though before the war] there was no such thing as outer marriage. You didn't marry anybody outside of your community. You married somebody, you'd better marry a Polish girl or boy. ... Well, that changed after World War II. ... And that's when it kind of opened up."
The construction of Interstate 40 in the 1960s cut Marche in half, another blow to the already fragmenting fabric of the Polish community. The community has since become squeezed between suburban developments spilling out of North Little Rock into Oak Grove to the south, and the planned community of Maumelle to the west. The Maumelle Land Development Company established the population center that became the city of Maumelle in 1974. Says one longtime resident, "I think [the development of] Maumelle, for me, was a change because -- back there, you know, we had hunting galore. We were all by ourselves over there. All of a sudden that's restricted. And what happened then is, once that property went up, you know they had a lot of loggers who went in there, and they go in for the profit. They don't care what they leave behind. Well, they damaged the woods, and it slowly deteriorated." Beaver came into the area after the bottoms were cleared and drowned what remained of the trees in building their dams.
Only the older members of the community continue to read and speak Polish today. The community retains its pride, privacy, and kinship. In the 1970s, the inauguration of the annual Polish fall festival of 'Karnawał' at the church on Blue Hill represented one of the more successful attempts to knit the community back together. The festival celebrates Polish food - including sausages, cabbage rolls, beer, and pierogi - and polka music. In the springtime the community sometimes throws a mock Polish wedding. Local children have a more plural, multicultural outlook in the twenty-first century. The community in 2010, for example, is proud of its accomplished local "Irish dancers." About 150 families of Polish descent still live in the area.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Church
The Immaculate Heart of Mary Church was established in the Marche community in the spring of 1878 by the Holy Ghost Fathers, a mission group of Roman Catholic priests. The first priest was the Reverend Anthony Jaworski. According to Polish tradition, the men unhitched the bishop's wagon at the dedication ceremony and pulled it up the hill to the church site by hand. A larger church built between 1896 and 1898 for $3,242 at the site burned to the ground in 1932. The current Gothic Revival-style church building was designed by the firm of Thompson, Sanders, and Ginocchio, constructed for $16,240, and dedicated by Bishop John B. Morris in May 1933.
The grounds expanded in 1924 to include the Immaculate Heart of Mary School, a home for a small community of Benedictine Sisters from St. Scholastica Convent, and a rectory (built in 1933). The Stations of the Cross were added to the church nave in 1944, and a pipe organ was installed in 1947. The current school building was dedicated bu Bishop Albert L. Fletcher in 1960. The church built a new parish community center adjacent to the church in 1997-1999.
Record of parish priests:
- Anthony Jaworksi (1878-August 1885)
- Joannes Otten (1885-December 1886)
- Patricius McCormack (1887-June 1887)
- Cyrill Augustynski (1887-March 1891)
- Mathaeus Saettele (1891-1892)
- Romualdus Magott (1892-1894)
- Hippolitus Orlowski (1894-1897)
- Anthony Jakubowski (1897-September 1898)
- Henricus Chajeski (1898-February 1899)
- Adalbertus Sulek (1899-September 1903)
- A. Thrum (1903-October 1903)
- B. E. Strzelczok (1903-December 1903)
- John V. Bertke (1903-February 1904)
- John V. Robakowski (1904-June 1907)
- Charles Hertel (1907-September 1949)
- Peter Bartodziej (January 1950-September 1956)
- Thomas Prendergast (September 1956-July 1970)
- Edward J. McCormick (July 1970-1985)
- Albert Schneider (1985-1994)
- Bernard G. Malone (1994-?)
- T. J. Hart (current)
White Oak Bayou
Marche is situated inside the forty-two square mile White Oak Bayou watershed, comprising fourteen hundred acres of wetland in Pulaski County. The bayou originates withing the boundaries of Camp Robinson. The White Oak Bayou empties into the Arkansas River at Burns Park. Natural areas in the watershed are characterized by mixed forest. Trees found in the forest include blackjack oak, bur oak, cherry bark oak, green ash, loblolly pine, overcup oak, post oak, shagbark hickory, short leaf pine, southern red oak, and willow oak. The bayou is populated with bald cypress and water tupelo.
- 1890 Personal Property Tax rolls, Pulaski County, Arkansas
- Arkansas History Commission & State Archives, Map Archive #230 & #231.
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- Andrew W. Modelski, Railroad Maps of North America: The First Hundred Years (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1984).
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- Margaret Ross, "Old Town of Bartlett Got a New Name - Warren - But is Remembered as Marche," Arkansas Gazette, February 12, 1967.
- Margaret Ross, "Plans for Polish Community at Marche Began with Letter to Editor of Gazette," Arkansas Gazette, February 19, 1967.
- Margaret Ross, "Squatters Rights, Part II. Crystal Hill – Maumelle – Palarm: Settlers Prior to 1814," Pulaski County Historical Review 4 (September 1956): 33-50.
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- Jan Sarna, ed., "Marche, Arkansas: A Personal Reminiscence of Life and Customs," Arkansas Historical Quarterly 36.1 (Spring 1977): 31-49.
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- Ladislas Sickanjec, "The Poles of Arkansas," The Polish American, April 10, 1971.
- "State News," Arkansas Gazette, August 8, 1877.
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- Beverly Watkins, "Efforts to Encourage Immigration to Arkansas, 1865–1874," Arkansas Historical Quarterly 38 (Spring 1979): 60-62.