In earlier days, the Black RiverÂ Â had a large population of river mussels. In 1897, Dr. J. H. Myers found a large ball pearl two miles north of Black Rock, Arkansas . This led to a â€œpearl rush,â€ and tent camps sprouted along the river. The shells provided mother of pearl, and Myers, with others, established a button factory at Black Rock three years later. According to Myers, this was the first button factory in the South. Area museums, such as the Randolph County Heritage Museum, have button-making tools and shells from which the buttons were cut. Pearl button manufacturing reached its peak in the mid-1940s.
Overharvesting and silt in the river caused by farming and dredging have drastically reduced the mussel population. This, along with a decreased demand for mother of pearl due to the invention of plastic buttons and the zipper, virtually ended the pearling and button industries in the mid-twentieth century. However, a small number of â€œshellersâ€ still gather mussels. They cut the shells into small pellets of mother of pearl for export to Asia, to be used in the cultured pearl industry.