By Ben Boulden
Town Branch once flowed along Towson Avenue and crossed Garrison Avenue in the 1000 block. It traveled down what is now (2005) a parking area between a motel and Cisterna Park, then continued on today's North 10th Street for several blocks before turning west toward the river.
Near the bend where Town Branch turned into the street's path, the Bull of the Woods mill once stood. It was a grist mill and cotton gin, and its rival, the Red Mill was on the northwest corner of North 10th and Garrison.
The Red Mill was associated with another long since forgotten site, a deep swimming hole that was popular with children. According to the Fort Smith Times Record, the pond had "many uncanny stories attached to it on account of its reported depths."
Town Branch's disappearing act began in 1890. A storm sewer was built by W.A. Doyle down Towson Avenue.
Doyle also had the contract to pave Garrison Avenue. Unfortunately much of the brick he had bought for the job was rejected by inspectors. The cost of buying more would have made the contract a money loser for Doyle except that he also had won the contract to build the storm sewer. He used the rejected paving brick, superior to the building brick he otherwise would have used, and made up the loss in savings on the sewer project.
Although it isn't known precisely where Doyle ended the storm sewer, on an 1894 map, Town Branch is shown as having a new point of origin somewhere in the vicinity of North I and North J streets.
With the water flow now contained by the brick and incorporated into the early stages of a storm drainage system, property owners were free to bury the stream under dirt and pavement.
Until then, anyone wanting to cross Town Branch had to use one of several bridges that citizens had constructed along it.
In a heavy rain, the stream swelled with water run off from the streets, often causing the bridges to wash out.
At a nearby dance hall one night before 1890, Town Branch flooded so badly that revelers were trapped until dawn. With the sun coming up, the young women were desperate to get home and the young men were anxious to open up the stores on the avenue where they worked. Finally, it was decided that the men would have to wade across, carrying the women piggyback. The Times Record said "there was a brisk market thereafter for evening clothes."
In a strong rainstorm, the section of North 10th Street near Garrison Avenue is sometimes slow to drain. Some local residents have attributed the problem to the stream continuing to work its mischief.
Nevertheless, Doyle's brick storm sewer would reduce the severity of flooding there after 1890. By 1912, the remainder of Town Branch past North I Street was incorporated into an even more ambitious drainage project. Its waters diverted into the growing underground infrastructure of the city; its banks became nothing more than a dry ditch.
On June 7, 1912, the Times Record reported complaints about stagnant pools of water and ponds left behind, but said residents had begun filling in these "mosquito breeding holes" and the waterless gully with "dry garbage." Soon, nearly every trace of Town Branch was gone.