- THE WHITE-BAUCUM HOUSE: Rachel Silva stands in front one of Preserve Arkansas's successes, a once "Most Endangered" house restored by John Chandler.
Preserving old buildings benefits people in ways one might not think about. Preserve Arkansas, the new branding for the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, is not just sentimental about 19th century houses or early 20th century examples of commercial buildings by prominent architects. Its mission is not just to preserve the architectural styles of the past, or aesthetics.
Preservation is about more than that: It's about telling a story about who we were, which is why we are who we are. It keeps history tangible. And, if dollars and cents are important to you, it is also a way to encourage economic growth: Keeping significant old buildings standing makes an area more attractive to business, offers tax advantages to developers and creates jobs for laborers, designers, architects and so forth.
Preserve Arkansas's core mission is to advocate, educate and provide technical assistance to people wanting to know how to pursue grants and tax credits. Rachel Silva, the director of Preserve Arkansas since July and a former employee of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, noted the nonprofit's work in 2009 with the state legislature to pass the Rehabilitation Tax Credit and its continuing work to improve on the law. The program allows the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program of the heritage department to award up to $4 million in tax credits statewide to individuals or corporations that improve historic buildings. That amount, while good, isn't competitive with surrounding states — including Mississippi — that have higher caps; Preserve Arkansas hopes to raise the cap so more developers may take advantage of it.
Following Preserve Arkansas's "Most Endangered Places" list each year is a good way to tuck into Arkansas history. For example: The 1937 Union Chapel Community Center outside Springfield (Conway County), listed this year, is part of a continuing story of African-American migration from South Carolina and Georgia to the town after the Civil War; the building, constructed on the footprint of a Rosenwald School that burned, was once a school for the children of Union Chapel. The Sweet Home Chapel near Mount Ida, built in 1908, is an example of how people gathered for worship and community events in rural Arkansas. The Ray House at 2111 Cross St. in Little Rock was the home of the first two African-American professional employees of the Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service and where Gloria Ray Karlmark, one of the Little Rock Nine, was raised. Preserve Arkansas's "One to Remember" list in 2016 includes the Cox/Burrow House in Morrilton, a National Register house that, when it was demolished in April, was described by its nominator as "one of the last remaining links between Morrilton and the parent community of old Lewisburg."
A couple of Preserve Arkansas's biggest successes: the preservation of Johnny Cash's boyhood home in Dyess, which was acquired by Arkansas State University after being on the 2006 "Most Endangered" list, and the renovation of the White-Baucum House at 201 S. Izard St. in Little Rock by John Chandler, who bought the house in 2013 after its 2011 listing.
Besides its serious work, accomplished with only the director and an assistant, Preserve Arkansas also knows how to throw a good fundraiser. Its "Preservation Libations Master Mix-Off" has in recent years let supporters and competing mixologists mingle over wildly alcoholic drinks that hearken to pre-Prohibition days. It also has a Fall Ramble; this year's bus tour was themed around the history of beer-making in Arkansas and took participants to the Potts Inn in Pottsville and on to Fort Smith and Van Buren.
The nonprofit also pays homage to intangibles. This year its "Behind the Big House" program at Old Washington State Park focused on Arkansas's slavery period; Preserve Arkansas has applied for a grant to present the program again at Lakeport Plantation in Chicot County.
"It's easy to interpret the history of Arkansas when you have a building standing rather than a vacant lot," Silva said. Unlike colorless strip malls, which all look alike, historic buildings create a sense of place.
To support the preservation of your history and identity, go to preservearkansas.org, read about its work, how to help (including volunteering) and click on the Donate Now! button.