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Sugar Loaf Mountain, rising 690 feet above the fertile valley formed by Little Red River in the center of Cleburne County, is an erosional remnant. It stands as a monument to the eons of time when the river was patiently carving out the valley from the surrounding hills. Why the sandstone formation has held firm on top of the long familiar landmark is a question that geologists can explain. Because the huge rocks at the top of the formation lie in flat layers and were not folded by continental drift, they cap the mountain on which they lie. Through the centuries less resistant units of sandstone, silt stone and shale eroded away, leaving the atoka formation which the white man called Sugar Loaf.
Exactly where the mountain first got its name is a question nobody can answer today. The Indians called it Tonawanda or Ton-Wan-Dah. And from the top of Ton-Wan-Dah with its sparse growth of wind-stunted cedars and gnarled scrub oak they could see for miles in every direction. The Indian name, as tradition has it, was that of a family of renowned arrow makers. An abundance of flint chips and imperfect arrow heads remained on the mountaintop long after the white man arrived to attest to this storied heritage.
The earliest white settlers who pushed through the dense forest must have called it Sugar Loaf because of the resemblance in shape to the loaves of unrefined sugar in use at that time. The survey party that was surveying the Louisiana Purchase in 1819 took note of the feature “encountered Sugar Lofe (sic), a well-known landmark”. Presumably Indians and early day travelers on the nearby Little Red River had used it as a landmark. The name of the landmark became the name of the springs to the west and the community that developed there. The community name was later changed to Heber Springs.
Sugar Loaf Mountain is located on a section line, and consequently land transactions have always been conducted in two parcels. For several years, beginning in 1901, the Lucas brothers, Creighton and Richard, maintained a mining claim on the north side of Sugar Loaf Mountain, but apparently no ore or oil was discovered. In 1922 Dr. L.E. Robbins of Heber Springs bought the 40 acres on the south of the mountain along with other land from Richard R. Lucas. In 1951 he acquired a clear title to the 40 acres on the north side by patent from the U.S. government.
In the same year of the patent, Dr. Robbins and his wife Dotte dedicated the 80 acres to the town of Heber Springs in a 99 year lease. The lease specified that the land was to be used as a public park and picnic ground, the town should have the right to build barbecue grills, tables and benches and no lumber should be cut except as prescribed by the Arkansas Forestry Commission and then only by the grantors or their heirs. So the central picnic spot of Cleburne County, long treated as public property, and it’s heritage, was given to the people to use and enjoy.
“Climbing Sugar Loaf” has been a very popular pastime for generations of residents of Heber Springs and surrounding areas. It was an easy day trip for young people before the advent of the automobile. The increase of tourism due to the Greers Ferry Dam and lake has spread the popularity of the Sugar Loaf adventure far beyond the local area. There have even been weddings performed on the top level.