The Observer was alarmed at first to see construction crews removing the roof of the brick building next to the Woodruff House on the grounds of the Historic Arkansas Museum. Next thing we knew, the whole enchilada was gone.
Swannee Bennett had the scoop: HAM, with the help of grant money, is going to rebuild the print shop where Arkansas Gazette founder William Woodruff once toiled. The new old print shop will be brick, two stories, with the press on the top floor, as Woodruff had it. Recreated on the bottom floor will be Woodruff's lending library and his counting room. Just as it did in 1823, when he built it, on the spot where he built it. The structure torn down was a 1940s reproduction of an auxiliary structure, built for the Territorial Restoration, HAM's antecedent.
The house at 2nd and Cumberland is now more accurately called the William Field House, named for the merchant who built it. It was built adjacent to the print shop; a century later, in the 1930s, it had become the Black Cat Cafe. It was restored along with the auxiliary building, though a second floor was lopped off.
The press has been in a building just west of the site where Woodruff actually churned out pages of the Gazette, but it was not the real site.
The project will cost around $800,000, provided by the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council. This being 2009, it will take a year to erect the building true to its 1820s construction, complete with forged hardware.
The Observer likes to do the economically responsible thing and bring our lunch to work. We fail at that goal about 90 percent of the time. So when lunchtime rolls around we set off toward the River Market to rustle up some vittles.
We were standing in the doorway pondering our options — Thai? Mexican? Cajun? — and taking in the sights and smells when BOOM! A loud clap was followed by a crash and a few shrieks from the crowd.
We looked over to our right, toward Kent's Downtown, where the glass front of the buffet case that housed servings of barbecue, mashed potatoes, green beans, meat loaf and other sundry savory items, had just busted out. Exploded might be a better word. Customers looked around, both in search of the culprit and to assert their innocence.
Though the case uses a heat lamp, Kent Berry, restaurant and meat-market owner, said he didn't think that caused the break. “Somebody just put too much pressure on it, I guess,” Berry said. “We had a customer who was leaning up against the glass, you know, looking pretty excited about what they were gonna order, kinda drooling. The next thing you know it was like a gunshot going off.”
Luckily, said Berry, no one was hurt, except for the day's business.
“We were right in the middle of lunch, rockin' and rollin.' But that glass just showered down all over the food. We had to shut down for the rest of the day. Glass was just everywhere.”
When asked about the customer's reaction to the incident, Berry said he couldn't tell because he was concentrating on working the cash register.
“I bet it was one of aghast dumbfoundment,” he said. “I don't know if dumbfoundment is a word, but that's probably what it was.”
The Observer got a notice that the Artesian Arts League was holding a workshop for “aspiring novelists” in Prescott. What, we wondered, makes the arts league “artesian”? Is it because the work springs from the well of the soul?
The Observer has seen and heard of other things artesian. Once, in the Governor's Mansion about a decade ago, we were told that the carving on the staircase was done by an artesian. Then, we read on a menu in a downtown restaurant that artesian bread was served. Apparently, if it's artesian, it's special.
We're going to get us something artesian. Maybe to help craft The Observer better. Then the words will flow, drowning our dumbfoundment.