The town of Hartford was first called Gwynn when it was originally settled. Prior to 1900, the town saw the arrival of the Rock Island Railroad, and the town's name was changed to Hartford. Hartford was incorporated in 1900 and as a result, the old original town of Hartford, about one and a half miles west and named for a creek crossing belonging to the Hart family, is now generally referred to as "Old Town" or "West Hartford". According to Goodspeed's "History of Arkansas", William J. Fleming and William Stevenson opened the first store in West Hartford. By 1891 there were several businesses, a public school, and a Union Church edifice used respectively by Methodists, Baptists, and Cumberland Presbyterians.
The town of Hartford was incorporated February 28, 1900.
In 1912, Hartford elected Peter Stewart as mayor. He was the first socialist mayor elected in Arkansas.
During the early half of the twentieth century, the town was home to the Hartford Music Company, which published Gospel music and operated a singing school. The city was also home to significant mining activity, which has returned to a limited extent. Most farm owners have oil or gas pumps in farmland across the town.
The town has views of both Sugarloaf and Poteau mountains. Very close to the Oklahoma border, Hartford is a mixture of a quaint country town and a new modern touch. Hartford is the home of the last working coal mine in the state of Arkansas.