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Seven to save in Arkansas

All last week, people would ask me the same question: “Are you going to Ray Winder Field on Saturday and get some of the seats?”

Each time, my answer was the same: “No. It would be too painful.”

Reading the Sunday morning newspaper account of people ripping out the wooden seats caused me to be depressed the entire day.

If I had one of those orange or green seats at my home, it would represent failure in my mind each time I looked at it.

With the help of my friend Russ Meeks, I set out to save Ray Winder Field.

I failed.

What hurts so badly is that it could have — should have — been saved. City leaders with a sense of history, a sense of continuity and a sense of place would have found a way to preserve this Arkansas treasure for the American Legion, high school and other teams that were clamoring to play there.

We could have had hundreds of games there each year (I still have all the letters of commitment to prove it) and maybe even a baseball museum as well.

Alas, there was no vision.

As eager baseball fans ripped out the seats Saturday, they ripped off pieces of my heart.

I’ve thought about Ray Winder Field a lot in recent days. And I’ve thought about historic preservation — how important it is to save the landmarks from our past since they help us understand the present and chart a better course for the future.

Saving historic places says a great deal about a city, a county and a state.

I’ll let you decide what the neglect of Ray Winder says about Little Rock.

I was honored when Vanessa McKuin, the talented executive director of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, asked me to serve as the master of ceremonies for the event today at Curran Hall in downtown Little Rock that highlighted what the HPAA considers the seven most endangered places in our state.

Each year the HPAA comes out with its list of historically and/or architecturally significant properties in Arkansas that we’re in danger of losing forever.

The alliance solicits nominations from individuals and organizations across the state for places that should be considered for the list. The HPAA launched Arkansas’ Most Endangered Historic Places in 1999 to raise awareness of the importance of historic properties to the state’s heritage. Properties listed through the years faced threats such as deterioration, neglect, insufficient funds, insensitive public policy and inappropriate development.

A few of the properties that have appeared on previous lists, in addition to Ray Winder Field, are the Johnny Cash family home at Dyess, bluff shelter archaeological sites in northwest Arkansas, the Faulkner County Courthouse in Conway, the Stephen H. Chism House in Booneville, the African-American Rosenwald schools across the state and the Japanese-American relocation camps at Rohwer and Jerome.

Here’s this year’s list (known as the Seven to Save):

1. Dunagin’s Farm Battlefield in Benton County: This was the site of the first Civil War battle in Arkansas. Also called the Battle of Little Sugar Creek, it took place on Feb. 17, 1862, as part of the Pea Ridge Campaign. This site is privately owned and for sale. The property is not protected from development or the removal of artifacts.

2. The Hester-Lenz House on Arkansas Highway 5 near Benton: This may be the oldest home on its original site that’s still standing in Saline County. The house is a notable example of a two-story dogtrot log cabin and also an interesting example of German-influenced vernacular construction applied over an existing log home. The home is owned by a member of the Lenz family who would like to see it stabilized and rehabilitated. However, it has been vacant for many years. Its condition, to be charitable, is dire.

3. The Knox House in Pine Bluff: This home was built in 1885 by Richard Morris Knox, a businessman and former Confederate colonel. The Knox House is largely intact and is among the best surviving examples of Eastlake Victorian architecture in Arkansas. This home’s plight is typical of the dozens of once fine homes in Pine Bluff that are threatened by neighborhood neglect and declining property values as that city continues to lose population.

4. The Plummer Cemetery in Conway County: This cemetery is the final resting place for Samuel Plummer, who settled the area that eventually became Plumerville. Plummer’s wife, five or six of his 10 children and likely a grandchild also are buried there. The cemetery needs some tender loving care. It’s within 50 feet of railroad tracks, which presents a challenge to access and maintenance of this important burial plot.

5. The McDonald-Wait-Newton House in Little Rock: This home is commonly known as the Packet House. Constructed in 1869, it’s the last remaining example of the large homes that where built soon after the Civil War on the north side of Cantrell Road, which was then named Lincoln Avenue. The area was called Carpetbaggers’ Row or Robbers’ Row during Reconstruction because a number of the houses were built by men who had been associated with the Union during the war. The house, which is now zoned for commercial use, has been vacant and for sale for several years. Fortunately, a prospective developer has applied for a permit to rehabilitate the house for use as a restaurant. That’s an exciting turn of events. But since the sale is still pending, the house remains on the list.

6. St. Elizabeth Catholic Church at DeValls Bluff: The church was built in 1912. The history of the parish, which was established in 1904, is closely tied to the history of immigration by European farmers to the Grand Prairie. Following the death of the last remaining parishioner, the building was abandoned in 1986 and has remained unused. The building, which was further damaged by last month’s storms, is in need of structural work and maintenance.

7. The White-Baucum House in Little Rock: This house at 201 S. Izard St. was built in 1869-70 by Robert J.T. White, who was the Arkansas secretary of state from January 1864 until January 1873. The house is one of the earliest and best examples of Italianate architecture in the state. The house was sold in 1876 to George F. Baucum, a prominent businessman in Little Rock. The Baucum family lived in the house until the 1920s. The White-Baucum House is now vacant and for sale. The city of Little Rock has had to board up and secure the house since vandalism is a problem.

There you have it: The Seven to Save for 2011.

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