Walter “Wiley” Jones was a businessman in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in the late 19th century. He was noted as being one of the wealthiest African-Americans in Arkansas. Jones was the owner of the cities first streetcar company, and also owned a park in the city which housed fairgrounds.
Jones was born on July 14, 1848, in Madison County, Georgia. He was one of six children of George Jones, a white planter, and Ann, a slave. His mother named him Walter after her doctor, but he got the nickname “Wiley” for being untamed and playful.
In 1853, five-year-old Jones moved with his family to Arkansas. They settled on the former acting governor Richard Byrd’s plantation in Jefferson County, twelve miles north of Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on the Arkansas River.
Jones worked as a houseboy and carriage driver after his family was sold to James Yell, a lawyer and planter in Pine Bluff. When Jones was ten, he was given to Yell’s only son, Fountain Pitts Yell, on the occasion of Pitts Yell’s marriage. Pitts was a state representative from 1860-1861. During the US Civil War (1861-1865), James Yell became a Major General of the Arkansas State Militia and Pitts became a colonel in company S of the 26th Arkansas Infantry Regiment, in the Confederate Army.
He began to work as a barber in the shop of Ben Reed, his brother-in-law in 1868 and continued there until 1881. Jones did not learn to read or write until adulthood. After working at the barber shop, he began dealing tobacco, cigars, and other goods. His brother, James, worked as his business manager.
By August 1886, Jones had secured the charter for the first streetcar line in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He had one and one-fourth mile completed and the first car running on October 19, 1886, coinciding with the first day of the annual fair of the Colored Industrial and Fair Association, an organization of which he was treasurer. He was also the owner of the fairgrounds, which along with stables and a race track were located on a 55-acre park he owned near the main street and which was called Wiley Jones Park. Jones also opened a manual training school, the Colored Industrial Institute of Pine Bluff in 1888.
Jones was an active Republican and was a delegate to the 1880 Republican National Convention in Chicago. Jones never married and died of Bright’s disease in 1904. He was buried at the new black Masonic Temple which he founded.