Friday, March 27, 2015

History Walk

We met at the courthouse on a chilly overcast morning; a group of about eighty to ninety who were interested in the people and the historic buildings in the town of Benton, Arkansas.

The beautiful courthouse was built in 1902. It was the third courthouse to be used by the county. My favorite part of courthouses is the clock towers. I don't know if there's a real bell in the tower or not, but it still rings out the hour.

Rachael Silva, from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, led us around town beginning inside the courthouse. The painting beside her, The Bauxite Mines, was painted by Julius Woeltz as part of the New Deal-sponsored Art in Post Office project. It was originally installed in the US Post office of Benton in 1942, but was later moved to the courthouse. Woeltz chose to depict the importance of the mining of bauxite to the surrounding area.

I love to wander around old downtown streets. I'm fascinated by the unique brickwork, doors, windows, and trims of these historic buildings. It's always interesting to hear the history and stories about these buildings. 

The Royal Theater opened in the spring of 1949 after an older theater built in 1920 was extensively remodeled and enlarged. In the 1950's the owners acquired the neon sign and marquee from the recently dismantled Royal Theater in Little Rock and remodeled the entrance. The Royal continued showing movies until 2000 when it was converted into a community playhouse. 

The Gann building was constructed in 1893 to be a medical office for Dr. Dewell Gann, Sr., by a group of patients who couldn't afford to pay for the doctor's services. The exterior walls are made of hand-cut bauxite blocks.  Bauxite is relatively soft out of the ground, the builders sawed the blocks square with handsaws and allowed them to harden in the sun for six weeks before assembling them into this gingerbread style house. This is the only know bauxite building in existence in the world. Note, Dr. Gann had separate entrances built for men and women to assure his female patients that they could avoid any rough workmen who were visiting the office at the same time. In 1946 Dr. Gann Jr. gave this building to the city to serve as a library and later a museum.

In 1895 Dr. Gann's home, a beautiful Queen Anne Structure, was built next door to his medical office.  The home's design features a rounded turret, a wrap-around porch supported by fluted columns, and leaded and stained glass windows. It's so sad to see it in such disrepair. Hopefully someday it will be restored.


I love the porch swing!

Another very interesting building was The Bell Building constructed in 1888. It housed the Bell's Hardwood, Dry Goods, and Grocery Store. The facade has been changed by the removal of some windows and the addition of stucco. What is interesting is not the front, but what's on the side of this building.

A beautiful mural, painted by Dianne Roberts and Mark Davey, has just recently been completed depicting the history of Benton. The mural concept originated with Arlene Rainey, now 97, when she shared her desire for a downtown mural. She commented that the Bell Building was "a building that is speaking to me and telling me that it would be a perfect place for a mural." The mural's story begins with the 1400's when Native Americans inhabited the area and ends in 1900 when the trains were in their heyday and pottery was a thriving industry.

The figures on the mural are painted from photographs taken of local people dressed in period costumes. 

At the end of our tour we were treated by the History and Heritage Society to cookies and punch. After two hours of walking, we were ready for a little sweetness.

Many thanks to Rachael and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program for this fun tour through Arkansas history. Most of the information I've shared here is from Rachael's research. The AHPP provides programs including Walks Through History featuring historic sites around Arkansas and Sandwiching In History featuring historic sites around central Arkansas.


  1. What a terrific idea! This is the kind of thing I love to do, too. And that bauxite looks awesome! Who knew?

  2. How neat! I would have loved to take this tour. The murals are fantastic and the history of the older buildings is so interesting.

  3. I absolutely adore old,downtowns and historic buildings! thanks for taking me along with you!

  4. what a wonderful entry, i really enjoyed this!!! these are the types of places i love to visit!!! the little building that became a library and his home, wow, i just adored both of those buildings!!!

    and the mural, i LOVE murals!!!!!

  5. Always so good to come here Cathy, I also love to go to old downtowns. I can imagine people walking around during that time the town first started with horses and carriages on dirt roads. Gosh I so love that swing on the porch.

  6. Gosh, I loved so much here. All the visual treats. First, loved the white door with the antique hardware. Second, loved the doctor's office building, the building blocks on that place so special. The doctor's house sad but yet I would love to photograph it. The mural, so beautiful, but what a lot of work.

  7. What a great group of photos, Cathy--looks like a special tour. The bauxite house is so unusual--interesting to know it's the only one of its kind! I do hope someone repairs the doctor's old home--what a treat it would be to see it brought back to life!

  8. Cathy, this is an awesome post! I can't tell you how much I enjoyed taking this tour with you. (Wish I really could have!) I'm fascinated by old buildings and like to imagine them in times past. How wonderful to be able to learn about their actual history. I agree about the lovely old Queen Anne house. It has a bit of a haunted look about it, despite its brave but faded colors. It would probably take some pretty deep pockets to love it back to life and health.

  9. What fun to go on the historical walk with you! The Gann house is wonderful - I love that architecture.

  10. Very impressive place. I like historical buildings and the stories they held. Love the murals.

  11. What a fun and historical-filled day. I love your courthouse with its beautiful ocher yellow coloring. So cheerful! And such wondrous details that you found throughout your walk.

  12. I'm coming late to this interesting entry, Cathy. I seem to have been busy doing other things and haven't got round to my favourite blogs or even done a posting myself!
    I love all the brickwork and the huge murals are wonderful and so expressive. Thank you for taking me on this visit with you!

  13. Wow there was a lot to see here and it was all so interesting. I really enjoyed this post and all your awesome photos.


Thanks so much for stopping by!!