Named after Malvern Hill, Virginia, Malvern was founded in 1870 by the Cairo and Fulton Railroad as a city site 21 miles (34 km) south of Hot Springs. On October 15, 1878, Malvern officially became the county seat of Hot Spring County. The original inhabitants of the county were Native Americans, trappers, hunters, and farmers.
The Hot Springs Railroad, often referred to as the Diamond Jo line, was established as a narrow-gauge railroad by Chicago businessman Joseph Reynolds in 1874. Reynolds began building the Hot Springs Railroad, which extends north from Malvern Junction, a station on the Cairo & Fulton, to Hot Springs, after he had endured unsatisfactory stagecoach rides to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Because Malvern was the closest railroad station to Hot Springs, it became an important junction point for passengers transferring from rail to stagecoach 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.
The Malvern Police Department has lost Carson Smith, the deputy, and three officers in the line of duty, all shot to death during the 1930s. They were Clyde Davis, Leslie Lee Potts, and Hiram Potts. Davis and Leslie Lee Potts were both shot during a domestic dispute on April 21, 1933, a shootout in which they killed the suspect. Hiram Potts, who was related to Leslie Lee Potts, was shot and killed during his March 4, 1935 attempt to arrest two men who were boarding a train illegally.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.4 square miles (19 km2), of which 7.3 square miles (19 km2) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) of it (0.94%) is water.
The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Malvern has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.
As of the census of 2000, there were 9,021 people, 3,769 households, and 2,431 families residing in the city, and its population density was 1,227.1 people per square mile (473.9/km²). There were 4,193 housing units at an average density of 570.4 per square mile (220.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 68.16% White, 28.66% Black or African American, 0.35% Native American, 0.29% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 0.53% from other races, and 1.94% from two or more races. 1.26% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
The city had 3,769 households, out of which 29.0% contained children under the age of 18, 44.1% were married couples living together, 16.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.5% were non-families. 32.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 16.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.33 and the average family size was 2.93. Additionally, 25.0% of the city's population were under the age of 18, 9.3% from 18 to 24, 24.2% from 25 to 44, 21.5% from 45 to 64, and 20.0% were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years; for every 100 females there were 85.0 males and for every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 80.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $27,007, and the median income for a family was $34,563. Males had a median income of $27,232 versus $18,929 for females and the per capita income for the city was $14,848. About 15.7% of families and 20.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.6% of those under age 18, and 18.4% of those age 65 or over.
The city is home to three Acme Brick plants and several other manufacturing companies including Weyerhaeuser, Borden Chemical, Adams Face Veneer Company Inc and Pactiv Corporation. It is also the home of Grapette International, the manufacturer of Grapette soda. Malvern is also host to the Ouachita River Unit, a medium security prison.
Every year on the last weekend of June, Malvern City Park hosts Brickfest, an event that fills the city with music, food and activities that include a brick toss, brick car derby, and a best dressed brick contest. Malvern also hosts the Hot Spring County Fair and Rodeo each fall.
History in Malvern can be found throughout the central city, including ten National Register of Historic Places listings. Located at 210 Locust Street in downtown Malvern, the art deco Hot Spring County Courthouse has been the center of county government since its construction in 1936. Also located downtown is the Bank of Malvern building, historically notable both for its distinct variation of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture and its importance in transitioning Malvern from an agricultural-based economy to one based on industry. The Hot Spring County Museum is located in the Boyle House at 302 East Third Street in Malvern.
Malvern hosts one of two whitewater parks in the state of Arkansas, located on the Ouachita River. The other park is in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, which opened in 2013. Used for training Olympic kayakers and river rescue teams, the river-wide ledge runs year-round, and is dam-released. A zip line and nature hike is also available along Ouachita Bend.
Public education for early childhood, elementary and secondary school students is provided by:Malvern School District, which leads to graduation from Malvern High School
Magnet Cove School District, which leads to graduation from Magnet Cove High School
Glen Rose School District, which leads to graduation from Glen Rose High School
Malvern is home to the following colleges and universities:College of the Ouachitas
The city's daily newspaper is the Malvern Daily Record, which was established in 1916. It publishes an afternoon edition Tuesday through Friday with a Saturday morning "Weekend Edition" The city also has two radio stations, namely KLBL (101.5), which plays classic country, and KBOK-AM (1310), which plays country music.
Malvern is connected on road by Interstate 30, U.S. Route 270, and U.S. Route 67. Amtrak's Texas Eagle provides daily passenger train service to Malvern on a route extending from Chicago to Dallas and Los Angeles, and railroad freight service to Malvern is provided by Union Pacific Railroad and the Arkansas Midland Railroad, the latter operating over the route of the original Hot Springs Railroad. The Malvern Municipal Airport (FAA Identifier: M78) serves the Malvern area.Homer Martin Adkins, governor of Arkansas from 1941 to 1945, died in Malvern in 1964
Fran Bennett, actress, born in Malvern
Frank Bonner, born in Little Rock and raised in Malvern, an actor and director best known for playing Herb Tarlek on the classic 1970s and 1980s sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati
Bob Burrow, a retired basketball player
Beth Clayton, an award-winning operatic mezzo-soprano
Isaac Davis (American football), a former National Football League (NFL) player and member of Super Bowl XXIX runners-up team San Diego Chargers
Susan Dunn, a Grammy Award-winning operatic soprano
Blaze Foley, a country music singer-songwriter
David Delano Glover, Malvern lawyer and U.S. representative from Arkansas' former 6th congressional district, 1929 to 1935
Madre Hill, a 1995 SEC rushing champion, former NFL player, and member of Super Bowl XXXVII runners-up team Oakland Raiders
Fred Jones, a National Basketball Association (NBA) player, 2004 NBA Slam Dunk Contest winner, and current Guard-Forward for the New York Knicks
Tommy McCraw, former MLB player and hitting coach
Tony Ollison, a former defensive tackle for the Arkansas Razorbacks, former strength and conditioning coach for the Dallas Cowboys, and currently a member of the Dallas Desperados of the Arena Football League
Frank Page, radio broadcaster at KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana, who in 1954 introduced Elvis Presley to his first national radio audience; born in Malvern in 1925.
Gerald Skinner, a former National Football League player
Billy Bob Thornton, a motion picture actor, Academy Award-winning writer, and director
Keith Traylor, an NFL player and member of Super Bowl Champions Denver Broncos (in 1997 and 1998) and the New England Patriots in 2004
Jerry Van Dyke, actor and comedian, resides on his ranch near Malvern
Frederick Yates, Michigan state legislator and lawyer, was born in Malvern