by Max Brantley
The Historic Preservation Alliance has released its annual list of endangered properties. It includes historic houses in Benton, Pine Bluff and Little Rock (one being the Packet House, which may be saved by a pending proposal to develop a restaurant there); a cemetery; a Civil War battlefield, and more.
Yesterday, on the porch of the historic Curran Hall Visitors Center, Rex Nelson announced the annual list of seven endangered properties worthy of being rehabilitated on behalf of the Historic Preservation Alliance.
The Alliance launched the Arkansas’s Most Endangered Historic Places program in 1999 to raise awareness of the importance of Arkansas’s historic properties to the state's heritage. “It is our hope this list will generate interest, discussions, and maybe even proposals on how to save these important resources—resulting in positive outcome for each of these Arkansas treasures—just as it has for properties like the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home, recently acquired by the ASU Heritage Sites Program and the Dyess Colony, the John H. Johnson house in Arkansas City, several American Four-square houses in Little Rock’s Central High School Historic District and the Chism house in Booneville, now being restored and reconstructed—just to name a few,” said Vanessa McKuin, director of the Historic Preservation Alliance.
The sites reflect threats such as deterioration, neglect, insufficient funds, insensitive public policy and inappropriate development. The following properties have been named to the Alliance’s 2011 Most Endangered Places List.
· Dunagin’s Farm Battlefield, Benton County was the site of the first Civil War battle fought in Arkansas and is part of the Pea Ridge Campaign. The Battle of Dunigan’s Farm (also called the Battle of Little Sugar Creek) took place on February 17, 1862. The site is privately owned and is currently for sale. The property is not protected from the removal of artifacts or development from nearby Fayetteville and Rogers areas. An ideal outcome for the property would be for it to be added to Pea Ridge Military Park and interpreted. As the state begins commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, it is an appropriate time to recognize and secure the future of this important piece of Civil War history.
· The Hester-Lenz House is located on Highway 5 in Benton in Saline County, on what was the Southwest Trail or Military Road in Saline County. Based on local tradition, the home may be the oldest on its original site still standing in Saline County, and may have been the site of a meeting to determine if Saline County would vote in favor of statehood. The home is a notable example of a two-story dog-trot log cabin, and an interesting example of German-influenced vernacular construction applied over the existing log home. The house is owned by a member of the Lenz family who would like to see the house stabilized and rehabilitated. However, the house is currently vacant, as it has been for many years, and its condition is dire. If nothing is done then the house and its history will likely be lost.
· The Knox House in Pine Bluff, Jefferson County was built in 1885 by Col. Richard Morris Knox, a Confederate Colonel and Pine Bluff businessman. The Knox house is largely intact and is one of the best surviving examples of Eastlake Victorian architecture in Arkansas. The house’s plight is typical of many of the once-fine houses in Pine Bluff in that it is threatened by neighborhood neglect and declining property values. The house was owned by the Knox Family until the 1990s and the current owner is dedicated to the preservation of the house, but significant resources will be needed to rehabilitate this treasure.
· Plummer Cemetery, in the Plumerville vicinity in Conway County is the final resting place for Samuel Plummer, who settled into the area which eventually became Plumerville, Arkansas. Plummer Cemetery also contains the remains of Samuel’s wife Henrietta, five or six of their ten children and likely one grandchild. Sometime between the mid-1990’s and April 2008, the site fell into disrepair. Plummer Cemetery is in dire need of cleanup and preservation efforts. This founder’s cemetery is in Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way and within 50 feet of the railroad tracks, which presents a challenge to access and maintain this important burial site.
· The MacDonald-Wait-Newton House (commonly known as the Packet House) in Little Rock, Pulaski County is a historic and architectural landmark in Little Rock. Constructed in 1869, it is the last remaining of the large houses that were built on the north side of Cantrell Road, which was then named Lincoln Avenue. The area was called “Carpetbagger’s Row” or “Robber’s Row” during Reconstruction because the large houses were built by men who were associated with the Union during the Civil War. The house, which is zoned for commercial use, has been vacant and for sale for several years. Since this building was nominated to the Most Endangered Historic Places List, a prospective developer has applied for a permit to rehabilitate the Packet House for use as a restaurant—a project that would be eligible for state and federal rehabilitation tax credits. This is a positive turn for the property. However because the sale is still pending, the future of the building remains of concern.
· St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, was built in 1912. The parish was established in 1904 and the extant building was the second church building for this congregation. Catholic priests began serving the assemblage near DeValls Bluff in the 1870s. The history of the church is tied closely to the history of immigration in Arkansas’s Grand Prairie. Following the death of the last remaining parishioner, St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church was abandoned by the Church in 1986 and was unused by the community. In 1992, Mary Sharp purchased the structure and has actively sought to preserve it as an important piece of DeValls Bluff history. The building is in need of structural work and maintenance and is in danger due to lack of funds and lack of knowledge of its existence by many. In addition, St. Elizabeth’s Church sustained wind and water damage during the storms that swept across the South in late April 2011.
· The White-Baucum House, Little Rock was built in 1869-1870 by Robert J.T. White, Arkansas Secretary of State at the time. It is one of the earliest and best examples of Italianate architecture in the state. In 1876, the house was sold to George F. Baucum, a prominent business owner in Little Rock. The Baucum family lived in the house until the mid 1920s. The house was individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The White-Baucum House is currently vacant and for sale. The City has had to board and secure the house a number of times in the past year and vandalism remains a concern.