Marche (pronounced "Mar-Shay" meaning "market") is a community located in Pulaski County twelve miles north of Little Rock, Arkansas. The community began as a rural post office stop on the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad. The settlement was originally plotted as 'Warren Station' by the railroad, but in 1896 this was changed to reduce confusion with a Bradley County town of same name.
Poles resettled in the area from Milwaukee, Chicago, as well as the Polish homeland. Most of the first wave of twenty-two Marche immigrants followed Polish nobleman Charles Choinski 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 railroad was looking for colonizers of 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.
Many Polish immigrants found the Marche site unsuitable. "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. Many of the Poles began farming in the area, despite the hardships involved in clearing land 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.
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 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. They also built a church at Jasna Gora (or "Sky-Blue Hill," after a shrine in Poland) and named it the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. Men sat on the left side of the aisle and women on the right. Charles Choinski became a Democratic state legislator for Pulaski County, and died in 1890. The population of Marche proper in 1892 was only about 37 people. The postmaster at the time was Miss S. Choinski. A vinegar factory operated here under E. W. Choinski and a general store under Miss Helen Choinski.
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. Electricity did not reach the community until the 1930s, and the hills made radio reception tricky. The area was recognizably Polish for its hand-assembled shocks of hay in the fields, which locals called "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 the 1950s. 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 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. 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
In 1941 the federal government, wanting to expand Camp Robinson, relocated many of the Polish settlers. 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 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.
In the 1970s inauguration of the annual Polish 'Karnawal' at Blue Hill represented one of the more successful attempts to knit the community back together. 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."
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.
- Arkansas State Gazetteer and Business Directory (Chicago, IL: R.L. Polk Company, 1892).
- Arkansas State Highway Commission in Cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Public Roads, General Highways and Transportation Maps, Pulaski County, Arkansas, Pyeatte and Worthen Townships, 1936.
- Harry S. Ashmore, Arkansas: A History (New York: Norton Press, 1984), 115-116.
- Bernie Babcock, "First Settlers of Marche," Arkansas Gazette, February 6, 1938.
- Julia G. Besancon-Alford, "The History of Marche, Arkansas," Pulaski County Historical Review 41.4 (Winter 1993): 78-90.
- Cary Bradburn, "Marche Concerned Over Polish Crisis," Arkansas Democrat, December 19, 1981.
- Celebrating 125 Years of the Foundation of the Church of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Marche, 1878, 2003, booklet, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Marche, Arkansas, 2003.
- Trish Costello, "Father Robert Dienert: Returning to a Church from His Past," North Little Rock Times, June 6, 2002.
- "Count Led Settlers to Arkansas," Arkansas Gazette, August 26, 1989.
- Sandra Cox, "Marche Residents Hope Wetlands Drown I-40 Interchange Project," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,
- Jerry Dean, "Polish Town Sees Identity Fading Away," Arkansas Gazette, August 26, 1989.
- Ernie Deane, "European Settlers Helped Build Arkansas," Arkansas Gazette, July 9, 1961.
- Stephanie Dixon, "Marche: Time Hasn't Eroded Its Distinctly Polish Flavor," North Little Rock Times, November 12, 1981.
- "Fourth of July at Warren," Arkansas Gazette, July 2, 1876.
- L.E. Hebb, "Pioneer Settlers of Marche Still Retail Customs of Native Poland," Arkansas Democrat, June 21, 1936.
- Gene Herrington, "Polish Heritage Lives on in Marche," North Little Rock Times, Newcomers Guide, 1998.
- Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 1878-1978 Centennial Souvenir Copy, Marche, Arkansas, 1978.
- "Land Hunters," St. Louis Commercial Gazette, March 29, 1877.
- "Little Rock & Fort Smith Railroad: The Feeder to Little Rock and the Pride of the State," Arkansas Gazette, April 30, 1876.
- Richard McCue and Louise McCue, "Giving Homes for Defense Enlargement of Camp Robinson for Training Area Causes Removal of 340 Farm Families from Pulaski and Faulkner Counties in Mid-Winter," Arkansas Gazette, December 29, 1940.
- Tom McDonald, "A Back to the Future Look at Pulaski County," Maumelle Monitor, March 11, 1993.
- Linda Mills, "Marche Mock Polish Wedding Draws 250," Maumelle Monitor, February 25, 1993.
- Andrew W. Modelski, Railroad Maps of North America: The First Hundred Years (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1984).
- "The Poles," Arkansas Gazette, September 29, 1877.
- "Polish Immigrants: Fifty Thousand Acres of Land in One Tract Wanted for Five Hundred Actual Settlers," Arkansas Gazette, March 10, 1877.
- "Polish Settlement of Marche Founded by Refugees in 1870," Arkansas Gazette, July 13, 1941.
- Kate Richardson, "Polish Defector at Home in Marche; Catholic Parish Welcomes Couple," North Little Rock Times, June 11, 1987.
- Margaret Ross, "Old Town of Bartlett Turned Out to Be Only Frustrated Dreams - and Schemes," Arkansas Gazette, February 5, 1967.
- 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.
- Deborah Roush, "Holding On To History: Polish Roots, Traditions Still Central to Community," Maumelle Monitor, September 17, 2003.
- Jan Sarna, ed., "Marche, Arkansas: A Personal Reminiscence of Life and Customs," Arkansas Historical Quarterly 36.1 (Spring 1977): 31-49.
- Marcia Schnedler, "Proud People's Past Rests Behind Doors of Marche Church," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 26, 2000.
- Lisa Sharp, "The Heritage of Marche in Pulaski County: A Community of Values," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 8, 1994.
- Ladislas Sickanjec, "The Poles of Arkansas," The Polish American, April 10, 1971.
- "State News," Arkansas Gazette, August 8, 1877.
- "Tornado Tears Through Marche," Arkansas Gazette, May 5, 1908.
- Beverly Watkins, "Efforts to Encourage Immigration to Arkansas, 1865–1874," Arkansas Historical Quarterly 38 (Spring 1979): 60-62.