Named after Malvern Hill in Virginia, Malvern was established in 1870 by the Cairo and Fulton Railroad as a city site 21 miles southeast of Hot Springs. Rockport, today a small city north of Malvern, was the original county seat but in 1878, because of its proximity to the railroad, Malvern became the county seat which it remains today. Originally, the county’s first residents included Native Americans, trappers, hunters and farmers. Interestingly, the first bridge to ever span a river in Arkansas was built in Hot Spring County in 1846 when the Rockport Bridge was constructed across the Ouachita River.
Malvern’s growth continued when the Hot Springs Railroad was established as a narrow-gauge railroad by wealthy Chicago businessman Joseph Reynolds in 1874. Reynolds began building the Hot Springs Railroad, which extended northwest from Malvern to Hot Springs, after he had endured unsatisfactory stagecoach rides to Hot Springs. Hot Springs was, and still is, famous for its namesake hot water springs believed to have possessed therapeutic powers.
Because Malvern was the closest railroad station to Hot Springs, it became an important junction point for passengers transferring from rail to stagecoach or onto Reynolds’ train to complete their journey to the spas in Hot Springs. This was the only railroad into Hot Springs for 15 years. The opening of the Little Rock, Hot Springs & Western Railroad in April 1900 provided a more direct access to Hot Springs from Little Rock and the north, and both the Choctaw, Oklahoma & Gulf and the Iron Mountain took advantage of this route, effectively cutting the volume of interchange traffic into Malvern. By 1902 passenger train shuttle service through Malvern had essentially ended. But today the railroad through Malvern is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad and is a major link between Dallas and St. Louis and points east.
Malvern’s economy also benefits from nearby deposits of clay. Called the “Brick Capital of the World” because of the city’s history in the brick industry dating back to the 1800s, Malvern still has two active brick plants owned by Acme Brick. Every year on the last weekend of June, Malvern comes alive hosting Brickfest, an event that fills the city with live music, food and activities that include a “Brick-B-Que,” pageants, brick car derby, and a best dressed brick contest. Malvern also hosts the Hot Spring County Fair and Rodeo each September.
Malvern boasts a population of over 10,300 residents while the county, established in 1829, has a population of 32,923. Today, Hot Spring County’s economic base consists mainly of the lumber industry, the production of bricks and medium density fiber board, utility cable, foam packing trays, rerolled aluminum, electric generation plants and water recreation.