Preserving Arkansas

I had mentioned in an earlier post my plans to attend the 30th annual awards banquet of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas.

I came away from that banquet inspired, and not only because I was able to spend several hours with some of my favorite people in the state (wherever David and Barbara Pryor are, for example, is a good place to be).

It was nice to see Bill Nolan of El Dorado accept the Parker Westbrook Award for Lifetime Achievement on behalf of his mother, Theodosia Murphy Nolan. There were too many award winners to detail in a single post, but I wanted to shine the spotlight on a few of the projects.

The city where I live, Little Rock, was honored along with Thomason & Associates for its citywide preservation plan. The plan was funded by a federal Preserve America grant and matched by local resources.

A local steering committee of 14 people put in countless hours of work to help consultant Phil Thomason understand the most important preservation issues facing the city. There were representatives on the steering committee from the Quapaw Quarter Association, the Little Rock Historic District Commission, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and the Capitol Zoning District Commission. Along the way, three public meetings were held to discuss preservation issues and obtain input from Little Rock residents.

The Little Rock Historic District Commission adopted the preservation plan in October 2009, and the Little Rock Board of Directors approved the plan a month later. The HPAA calls the final product “a well-organized, informative document” that has been “instrumental in increasing interest in preservation projects within the city of Little Rock. The combined efforts of the city of Little Rock staff, the Historic District Commission and Thomason & Associates have resulted in Little Rock being one of the only cities in the state to have a completed citywide preservation plan. As the largest city and the capital of the state, it is important for Little Rock to implement a preservation plan to help encourage preservation throughout the state.”

Agreed.

Little Rock can and should set an example for other cities across Arkansas.

Some of the other notable projects included:

– The restoration of the National Bank of Commerce building in Paragould by Harry Truman and Linda Lou Moore. H.T., a well-known attorney, purchased the 1923 building in 2009. He was determined to do something to give downtown Paragould a boost. H.T. and Linda Lou were given the Excellence in Personal Projects Award for their efforts.

The HPAA describes it this way: “He is an amateur historian and wanted to make a difference in his community. He has put a great deal of love, time and money into a building that had been inappropriately altered over the years and has now brought it back to life. Although some contractors recommended sandblasting the exterior, Moore ordered environmentally approved cleaning solvents to be gently used to address the muck and grime that had grown on the structure. On the south side of the exterior, the exposed brick was cleaned.”

The west mezzanine of the bank, which was originally the board room, now houses H.T.’s personal office and provides a place for him to display his extensive collection of political memorabilia.

The top floor of the building, which housed the predecessors of Moore’s law firm from 1923-64, has loft apartments. H.T. and Linda Lou are hopeful those apartments will bring increased vibrancy to downtown. The building is now the site of numerous charity events.

– The Jones House documentation and restoration project in Fayetteville, which was given the Outstanding Achievement in Preservation Education Award. When Fay Jones joined the faculty of the School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas — just four years after graduating — he designed a home for his family. The house, which was completed in 1956, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The first building bearing the architect’s mature style, it is an icon of Ozark Modern architecture,” the HPAA notes. “Since Jones’ death in 2004, the house has received only deferred maintenance. As a result, some areas of the house were in particular need of repair. The School of Architecture, named in 2009 to honor Jones, spearheaded a course of action to preserve the house and to make it an accessible structure for learning about Fay Jones.”

A group of architecture students led by professor Gregory Herman performed projects that included reconstruction of the terrace balustrade and a full documentation of the house.

– The work of the Reed’s Bridge Preservation Society at Jacksonville, which received the Outstanding Service in Neighborhood Preservation Award. The Battle of Reed’s Bridge was part of the Little Rock Campaign of 1863. A 6,000-man Union division under the command of Gen. John Davidson tried to cross Bayou Meto on the way to Little Rock. They battled 4,000 Confederate soldiers under the command of Gen. John Marmaduke. Reed’s Bridge was burned, and Marmaduke’s men prevented Union troops from crossing the bayou.

Last September, the battle was re-enacted on two days. The HPAA says, “Without the efforts of the Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Preservation Society, the event would not have been such a resounding success. For the re-enactment, the members of the society garnered the support of several public and private organizations, organized extensive media coverage and produced high-quality materials to continue educating the public about the significance of the site. The attention that this program drew will aid in the continued preservation and appreciation of the site whose protection is threatened in this day of urban sprawl.”

– The efforts of Lakresha Diaz to create the Oakland-Fraternal Cemetery cell phone tour. Her work to increase awareness of the cemetery received the Outstanding Achievement in Preservation Education Award.

Due to the large number of soldiers dying in Little Rock hospitals and the problem of overcrowding at Mount Holly Cemetery, the city of Little Rock in December 1862 purchased the 160-acre Starbuck Estate to use as a new cemetery. The cemetery was outside the city limits at the time. It now forms the southern boundary of the Hanger Hill neighborhood, where Diaz owns the historic Edward Reichardt House.

Oakland-Fraternal Cemetery actually consists of seven cemeteries — Oakland Cemetery, National Cemetery, two Confederate cemeteries, Fraternal Cemetery for the city’s black residents and two Jewish cemeteries (the Reformed Jewish B’nai Israel Cemetery and the Orthodox Jewish Agudath Achim Cemetery).

Diaz did research that gained the cemetery complex a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. She wrote a guide to the cemetery containing 73 biographical sketches and created a website. She then obtained grants from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund the cell phone tour.

– The Washington County Courthouse restoration in Fayetteville, which received the Excellence in Preservation Through Restoration Award for a large project, and the Selma Rosenwald School restoration in Drew County, which received the same award for a small project.

The Little Rock architectural firm Polk Stanley Wilcox received recognition for its work on the Washington County Courthouse, which was designed by Charles Thompson and constructed in 1904-05.

According to the HPAA, “One of a number of county courthouses designed by Thompson, this building is an excellent example of the Richardson Romanesque style. Unfortunately, the exterior and interior had been compromised by inappropriate repairs, modernizations and replacement of materials.”

Sheilla Lampkin and Bob Ware were recognized for their efforts to save Drew County’s only Rosenwald School, which was built in 1924. The two-room school cost $2,275 with $500 coming from the local black community, $1,075 coming from public funds and $700 coming from the Rosenwald Fund. The restored building now houses the Selma Community Center.

Preservation efforts have increased dramatically since the HPAA was formed three decades ago. Last week’s event was proof that these efforts aren’t limited to just one part of the state. More and more Arkansans, it seems, are coming to the realization that tearing things down (which for decades was the Arkansas way) isn’t always the best approach.

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3 Responses to “Preserving Arkansas”

  1. kayb says:

    Interesting that I should read this immediately after reading John Brummett’s scolding of the Little Rock and state Highway Department decision-makers for their plan to tear down and rebuild the Broadway Bridge. John has a good point. St. Louis is still using the oldest bridge built across the Mississippi River.

  2. Cary Tyson says:

    Mr. Nelson,

    Thank you for your great work promoting the heritage of our state. We look forward to working with you for a long time to come.

    Cary Tyson
    Vice President of Programs
    Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas

  3. rexnelson says:

    Thanks so much, Cary. Hopefully, I will be around for a long time to come. Thanks for all you do — Rex

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