Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Couchwood Historic District
Couchwood Historic District

COUCHWOOD HISTORIC DISTRICT, HOT SPRINGS VICINITY, HOT SPRING COUNTY

SUMMARY

Located in Garland County and established in 1927, the Couchwood Historic District is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with statewide significance under Criterion C for its collection of buildings designed in the Rustic Style and under Criterion B as the best surviving building or grouping of buildings associated with the productive business and political career of Harvey Couch.

ELABORATION

Established in 1927, Couchwood was built for Harvey Couch an entrepreneur, whose business ventures affected the lives of all Arkansans and whose friendship and business expertise were shared with people at the local, state, and national levels. Couch’s economic, political, and social ventures included the following:

Founder of the North Louisiana Telephone Company (1904-1912); Founder and president of Arkansas Light & Power Company (later known as Arkansas Power & Light), Mississippi Power and Light Company, and Louisiana Power and Light Company; President of the Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad (purchased 1928); Chairman of the board for the Louisiana Gas and Fuel Corporation; Director of Chase National Bank (New York), Electric Power and Light Company (New York), Bankers Trust Company (Little Rock), Simmons National Bank (Pine Bluff), Arkansas National Bank (Hot Springs), and Seabord Airline Railroad Company; Federal Fuel Administrator for Arkansas during World War I; Director of Arkansas State Flood Commission; Director of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (1931-1933, appointed by President Hoover); Chairman for the American Red Cross (1927); Chairman of the Board for the Kansas City Southern Railroad (1936-1941); Trustee for the Arkansas State Normal School for Teachers and George Peabody College for Teachers; Board of Trustees at Hendrix College; Board of Trustees at Southern Methodist University; Councilor U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and President of the Chamber of Commerce Pine Bluff.

Couch built his weekend retreat “Couchwood” for the enjoyment of his family and for the entertainment of his many friends, business associates, coworkers, and political acquaintances.1

In April of 1927, Harvey Couch wrote his son Harvey C. Couch Jr., otherwise known as “Don”, and told him that he thought he would build a “cottage” on Lake Catherine. Lake Catherine, being one of Couch’s many creations, was formed by the damming of the Ouachita River with Remmel Dam (constructed in 1924 and NR listed 09/04/92). By September of 1927 the “cottage” otherwise known as the “Big House” was completed. John Parks Almand, an architect whose works are prolific in Arkansas and include being a collaborative architect for Little Rock High School (NHL Listed 05/20/82) building, designed the “Big House” that sits high on a hill overlooking Lake Catherine, as well as, two other cabins at Couchwood. In 1927 a writer described the “Big House” accurately and eloquently in the following passage:

If you should shut your eyes and give free reign to fancy you could not dream a more exquisite lake and hill and woodland picture than Couchwood...Red Cedar logs were shipped from Oregon. The bark was removed and timbers painted...An enormous chimney rose, with it the logs and planks and other things. The spaces between the log were filled with cement. An inspection will show these things in exquisite harmony. A great porch runs around the south and west sides, and on the east the house drops down to form the first story in which are located the dining room and kitchen. There is one great room in the middle of the house and the gazer’s eyes are irresistibly drawn to the mammoth fireplace that spans a large portion of the east wall. What glowing logs it will hold this winter! ...The big porch is equipped with lounge swings and rustic chairs and is an auxiliary to the bed rooms, where unexpected guests may be put to sleep in the breeze that blows across Lake Catherine.”2

By September of 1927 the construction of the “Big House” was complete. At the time of its completion Couch was living in Washington D.C. and would remain there until 1933. According to historian Stephen Wilson, the first guests at Couchwood were Couch’s former coworkers from his days on the mail car when he sorted mail for St. Louis Railroad. Another one of Couch’s first guests to visit Couchwood was Herbert Hoover, who was at that time the Commerce Secretary and was reviewing the recovery of flood areas. Less than a year and a half-later Hoover would become the President of the United States (1929-1933). Four years after his visit to Couchwood, Hoover appointed Couch as one of seven directors for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation which continued through to the Roosevelt administration.3

Couchwood, which at the time of its establishment consisted of one building the “Big House,” grew in numbers and in notoriety under the guidance of Couch. The first caretakers at Couchwood were Ellen and John LaCour and it was for them, that Couch built a small residence. During 1928 another cabin, designed by Almand, was constructed on the east side of the peninsula overlooking Tigre Bay and Couch named it “Calhoun” after the town where he spent his childhood. Constructed in the 1930s, the final cabin designed by Almand was named “Little Pine Bluff” after their place of residence at the time Couchwood was established. It was at “Little Pine Bluff” that Couch spent his final days. From the front porch of “Little Pine Bluff” Couch could see the final cabin that he and his neighbor Gordon LeCroy designed - Remmelwood. In 1941 Couch built “Remmelwood” as a seasonal home for his one and only daughter Catherine, after whom Lake Catherine was named, and her husband Pratt Remmel - hence the name “Remmelwood”. However, Couch died in July of 1941 before his daughter and son-in-law could spend the night there. In addition to Almand’s architectural designs, there are several sculptures designed and made by well-known Mexican folk sculptor Dionicio Rodriguez. Commissioned by Couch, Rodriguez designed two benches, concrete steps and planters, a soda pop cooler, and another set of stairs - all of which resemble trees in different forms (NR Listed 12/04/86).4

For fourteen years (1927-1941) Couch entertained numerous guests at Couchwood. An article in Time magazine on December 5, 1934, makes mention of a “house party” at Couchwood:

Last week Harvey Crowley Couch gave a house party at Couchwood. George H. Saw and W. Alton Jones of Cities Service dropped from the skies in a great gleaming white monoplane. Governor Futrall and a few ranking members of the state’s judiciary were already on hand. From St. Louis went a delegation headed by Tom K. Smith of Boatmen’s National Bank, who lately resigned as assistant to Secretary of the Treasury Morganthau. President Bruce Payne of Peabody College in Nashville, and Pat M. Neff of Baylor University, Waco, Texas, one-time governor of Texas represented higher education. Governor Eugene Black of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank was there to drawl his endless funny stories. Board Chairman Clarence Edmund Groosebeck of Electric Bond and Share Company went down from Manhattan, Charles Peter Couch, the host’s brother, brought more utility men from Shreveport, La. Most of the guests were already settled before Owen D. Young and Charles Gates Dawes arrived. They were met at the Hot Springs station by Mr. Couch, his close friend, Arkansas Senator Joe T. Robinson, and President Rudolf S. Hecht of the American Banker’s Association.5

Regarding the aforementioned people, Couch stated that “Their presence has no industrial or political significance whatever.”6 However, since the press was not allowed to attend whatever business may have been discussed is unknown. Other famous guests that visited Couchwood include Will Rogers, Post Master General James A. Farley, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945). In 1936, President Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor visited Arkansas to participate in Arkansas’s Centennial celebrations. Couch was chairman of the committee in charge of the festivities for the Centennial celebration. One of President Roosevelt’s many stops included lunch at Couchwood.7 Couch hosted many gatherings at Couchwood among those were his “Roundups” - parties that usually culminated with a barbecue dinner and a round of horseshoes.8 Couchwood was the site of many business and political meetings throughout the years 1927-1941.

Oftentimes Couch’s well-known guests left behind autographed photos, which are hung on the walls of the four cabins. They also gave Couch more unusual gifts such as various kinds of animals. Harvey and his wife Jessie received animals from around the United States. Harvey’s daughter Catherine remembers when there were pelicans, peacocks, bison, fawns, and numerous other animals that wandered the grounds of Couchwood. These animals were often sent as gifts by various political acquaintances and business associates. A large fence was erected to surround the property to help keep all of the animals at Couchwood. During World War II many of these animals were removed from Couchwood and sent to zoos. Don, Couch’s son, recalls the day when a raft/boat was brought to the shore of Couchwood and the bison were loaded up and taken over the lake and then sent to a zoo.

Couch’s love for Couchwood was so strong that it was to Couchwood that he returned to spend the last five months of his life. Couch’s wife Jessie responded in a letter, “We are hoping his dearly beloved Couchwood with its pure air, no noise and favorite servants will soon start him on the road to recovery.” Eventually Couch was moved to “Little Pine Bluff” where he spent his remaining days. Couch died in his sleep in “Little Pine Bluff” on 30 July 1941. In funeral arrangements made by himself before his death Couch wrote, “Whatever I am belongs to my family and Arkansas.”9

In spite of all of the important people that have visited Couchwood throughout the years, for members of the Couch family, Couchwood was more than just a place to entertain important people it was a family retreat ... a second home. Five generations of Couch’s relatives have spent countless hours at Couchwood. Family members gather at Couchwood for family reunions and to spend Christmas, Fourth of July, and other holidays. During the summer months family members return to Couchwood to spend time on the lake. When at Couchwood, family members still participate in events and traditions that date back to its establishment. Horseshoes has been a longtime favorite event at Couchwood and can be played while looking out at the lake. Family members and friends still enjoy boating on Lake Catherine. According to Cathie Matthews, Couch’s granddaughter, the very first boat brought to Couchwood may have been a Dodge Water Car that was followed by the arrival of a Chris Craft in 1930/31. The barbecue pit, which has been at Couchwood since the 1930s, continues to be a favorite gathering place that provides a spectacular view of Lake Catherine. Looking south across Lake Catherine, just out of site lies Remmel Dam, one of several dams erected by Couch that provided rural Arkansas with electricity.10

Harvey Couch is synonymous with several historic resources in Arkansas – Remmel Dam (NR listed NR listed 09/04/92); Carpenter Dam – (NR listed 09/04/92); and the Harvy C. Couch School (NR listed 06/08/93). However, all of these resources were listed under Criterion C – not under Criterion B. There is a place where Couch briefly resided in Arkadelphia, Arkansas; however, it does not best represent his active political and business career. Other resources, such as Couch’s place of residence in Pine Bluff have been destroyed; or they have lost their integrity such as his office in Pine Bluff – which now is a Penny’s Building; or they no longer exist. Thus, Couchwood is the best example of a historic resource or collection of resources associated with the productive business and political career of Harvey Couch. Couch made many contributions to Arkansas and the surrounding states of Mississippi and Louisiana. For rural areas in Arkansas, Couch provided telephone service, electricity, and a hope for a more progressive and prosperous future.

Today Couchwood is held in a family trust and is used primarily for family functions. However, families or various organizations can rent the “Big House” and other cabins for private use for nine months out of the year. Seventy-four years after its establishment, Couch’s “Rules of Couchwood” still apply:

When you come in the big gate, forget all your troubles (if any). Be sure to sign the register. Couchwood is proud of its guests. At meals take as many helpings as you desire. If you don’t see what you want, ask for it (just as you would at home). At Couchwood everything is off the record.11

1. Albert Nelson Marquis, editor, Who’s Who in America, Vol. 16. The A. N. Marquis Co. n.d.

2. Stephen Wilson, An Entrepreneur Brings Electricity to Arkansas (Little Rock: August House Publishers, 1986), 91.

3. Ibid., 91-92, 100.

4. Cathie Matthews, Interview by Kara Mills Oosterhous, 19 January 2001.

5. No Author, “Business and Finance Section”, Time Magazine, 5 December 1934.

6. Winston P. Wilson, Harvey Couch The Master Builder, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1947), 131.

7. A.B. Garnett, The Scrapbook of Arkansas Literature (American Caxton Society Press, 1939), 376; and Wendy Richter, “FDR Visits Hot Springs - 1936”, in The Record (Garland County Historical Society, 1999): 17-18.

8. Paul Morris, “Farley Will Attend Couchwood ‘Roundup’”, Commercial Appeal, 31 May 1939.

9. Wilson, An Entrepreneur Brings Electricity to Arkansas, 124- 125.

10. Matthews, Interview 19 January 2001.

11. Harvey Couch, Open Letter to Couchwood Guests, 1 June 1940.

SIGNIFICANCE

Located in Garland County and established in 1927, Couchwood Historic District is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with statewide significance under Criterion C for its collection of buildings designed in the Rustic Style and under Criterion B as the best surviving building or grouping of buildings associated with the productive business and political career of Harvey Couch.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Couch, Harvey. Open Letter to Couchwood Guests. 1 June 1940.

Dober, Elizabeth. Interview by Kara Mills Oosterhous. 31 January 2001.

Garnett, A.B. No Title. In The Scrapbook of Arkansas Literature. American Caxton Society Press, (1939): 376.

Marquis, Albert Nelson, ed. Who’s Who in America, Vol. 16. The A. N. Marquis Co., n.d.

Matthews, Cathie. Interview by Kara Mills Oosterhous. 19 January 2001.

Matthews, Cathie. Interview by Kara Mills Oosterhous. 2 February 2001.

No Author. “Business and Finance Section.” Time Magazine. 5 December 1934.

Richter, Wendy. “FDR Visits Hot Springs - 1936.” In The Record. Garland County Historical Society, (1999): 17-18.

Wilson, Stephen. An Entrepreneur Brings Electricity to Arkansas. Little Rock: August House Publishers, 1986.

Wilson, Winston P. Harvey Couch the Master Builder. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1947.