Known by thousands of travelers as the "turn-off" or last gas stop on the way to Petit Jean State Park, the small community of Oppelo had its origins many years prior to the development of the notable intersection of Highways 9 and 154. The often mispronounced name also provides recognition for this community of nearly 800.
The community began in 1850 from property owned by L. B. Opolow, who brought a sawmill and related timber operations to the area. The spelling of the community's name has changed in many
times over the years. The settlement developed around a large and reliable water source and was known as Oppelo Spring. The spring afforded fresh water for animals and humans. Area women
met there for socialization as they did laundry and bathed children; individual family clotheslines were kept at the site. The spring now feeds a stock pond about one mile west of Oppelo.
In the post-Reconstruction era, the sale of low-cost railroad lands attracted many new settlers to the area. Two communities were developed within a few miles west of present Oppelo. The
small Catholic community of St. Elizabeth began development in 1874. The larger Ada Valley developed rapidly in the 1880s and supported several stores and a school. These areas matured
near the turn of the twentieth century and relied on the retail stores, physicians and schools that were developing in Oppelo. Both communities retain an identity and are recognized as
a part of the Oppelo area.
During the mid-1950s, Winthrop Rockefeller purchased a very large tract of land west of Oppelo for the development of that portion of his cattle farm located at "the foot of the
mountain." This operation, plus the barns and facilities on top of the mountain, provided steady employment for many in the community.
Prior to the Flood of 1927, the route to Petit Jean Mountain was an often muddy dirt road that followed near the south side of the Arkansas River. Unprecedented high-volume flows resulted
in bank erosions and caused massive portions of the roadway to fall into the river. After several attempts to replace the old road, a new gravel road to Petit Jean Mountain was built
going west from Oppelo. In 1933, the stat park roads were brought into the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department system, and the route to Petit Jean Mountain through
Oppelo was firmly established. The old route now passes through the small Riverview community en route to Sequoyah Park, which is operated by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In 1965, Green Bay Packaging developed a large pulp and linerboard paper mill on the Arkansas River about two miles east of Oppelo near the intersection of Arkansas Highways 154 and
113. River water provided the steam and processing fluid, and the pine forests of the area, including the Ozark and Ouachita National Forests, provided the needed timber. The plant
and it components provided many new jobs and essentially created a new culture and community within the area.
In that era, pulp mill production was not seen as a desirable industrial development that was sought by communities. In this regard, many residents in Conway County blamed the paper
mill for keeping other "quality" industries from locating in the Morrilton (Conway County) area. It was neither Oppelo nor Green Bay that received criticism and the smell coming from
the plant; in Conway (Faulkner County) and other nearby towns, it was commonly said, "I smell Morrilton." However, steady technological improvements at the paper mill dramatically
reduced the offensive emissions. The plant has been long recognized as a highly valuable resource for Oppelo and Conway and Perry counties.
Oppelo, with its location in the Arkansas River Valley, also has recognition in the geological literature on Arkansas. An ancient volcano has surface presentation about a mile west of
Oppelo on the Payne Farm. Hershel Payne, who was once mayor of Oppelo, encouraged scientific study of the Oppelo Breccia. It was first reported in 1888, and famous geologist
Dr. Cary Croneis studied the site in 1927. The Breccia is one of four significant outcrops of igneous breccias in Arkansas. The diamond mine in Pike County and the outcrop in
Magnet Cove, both have significant economic significance. However, the Oppelo Breccia has only scientific significance.
Oppelo schools were merged with Morrilton in 1957, but the community continued to hold public recognition. Since its incorporation in 1966, the city has developed the basic community
services of parks, fire and police protection, and sewer and water services.