Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
School Addition Historic District
School Addition Historic District

SCHOOL ADDITION HISTORIC DISTRICT, BATESVILLE, INDEPENDENCE COUNTY

SUMMARY

The School Addition Historic District is a mid-19th to mid-20th century residential district located in the north central Arkansas city of Batesville.  Sitting on the eastern edge of the Ozark Mountains region and in the second tier of counties below the Arkansas-Missouri line, Batesville owes its existence to early 19th century transportation, trade, and settlement patterns.  The School Addition Historic District encompasses a neighborhood that developed as expanding trade and growth required the town to grow from its original location beside the confluence of Poke Bayou and White River to fill the triangle of land between the two streams.  The architectural significance of the District lies in its containing examples of typical residential structures ranging from a few substantial homes associated with leading citizens to numerous smaller homes exemplifying a range of architectural styles popular in the United States during the hundred-year time period.  The neighborhood has a long association with education, and its proximity to different schools helps account for families’ choosing to build or purchase homes in this area.  The School Addition Historic District is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria A and C with local significance.

ELABORATION

Batesville, Arkansas, is one of the state’s oldest surviving towns, with a few houses, probably log, and a trading post standing by 1812 on the point where Poke Bayou ran into the White River.  In January 1819, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft stated in his Journal that the little village marked the point where he returned to civilization after weeks of traveling through the wilderness of the Ozarks.  The town grew rapidly and was platted in 1821. By the 1830s it had an academy, a jockey club, and two newspapers.  According to Josiah H. Shinn’s Pioneers and Makers of Arkansas,

For more than twenty years Batesville was the leading town in Arkansas, excelling every other in population, wealth, cultivation, schools, and regard for law.  Each and every one of its first settlers had been in the territory since 1815, and each and all centered their endeavors on the development of a great and thriving town.  (p. 115)

Growth ceased during the disruptions of the Civil War, which saw both Union and Confederate armies occupying the town, with sympathizers of both persuasions among the citizens.  In fact, the last Reconstruction Governor of Arkansas, Elisha Baxter, came from Batesville, where he had raised some of the more than 800 Union troops originating in the county.  The 1872 Arkansas gubernatorial race pitted Baxter, originally from South Carolina but a longtime Batesville resident, against Joseph Brooks, a former Methodist minister and native of Ohio. Both sides alleged graft and fraud in the voting, with Baxter out-polling Brooks by 8,000 votes.  Animosity continued between the two men and their supporters, until Brooks finally appealed to the courts to overturn the election in his favor.  When the courts complied, Baxter refused to step down.  Both men appealed to President Grant for federal support, which was not forthcoming, and in April 1874 the opposing governors raised some 600 troops each and fought it out on the streets of Little Rock, as control, and the state Legislature met to validate his status.  The so-called Brooks-Baxter War lasted approximately one month.  Following an unsuccessful attempt in 1878 to regain the governorship, Baxter returned to Batesville, eventually building his last home and law office within the School Addition Historic District. In 1893, he also purchased two existing houses around the corner from his new home, adding to his stock of Batesville rental property.  At his death, he left these houses, at 709 and 749 Rock Street to his sons, Edward and Millard Baxter.

At the time Baxter built his home, only a few homes stood in the District, including the two properties already listed individually in the National Register, Soulesbury Institute/Glenn House and the Wycough-Jones House, both on the 600 block of Water Street, so named because at its eastern end it ran along Poke Bayou and was lined with warehouses to accommodate the extensive steamboat trade that made Batesville a commercial center. Soulesbury Institute was a Methodist school established before the Civil War and later enlarged after its purchase in 1873 by Mrs. W. W. Glenn.  The Glenns were a prominent planter family with extensive holdings in Independence County.  M. A. R. Wycough was a Confederate veteran who also owned a great deal of farmland.  Active in local politics, he served as deputy sheriff, county tax collector, and county clerk.  This house has been home for many years to the family which owns the Batesville Daily Guard, the only locally-owned daily newspaper still operating in Arkansas.  Tenant houses for servants stood at the back of these properties on the slope leading down to Poke Bayou until the 1960s, when they were demolished.

The 1870s and 1880s saw a building boom resulting from growing trade, mining, lumbering, and agriculture.  Already the last reliably navigable steamboat port on the White River, Batesville became the terminus of the first railroad into the area in the 1880s, maintaining that status for over 20 years.  With the arrival of mechanized lumber mills, extravagant decoration became part of the building tradition, and greater differences arose between the homes of the town’s wealthiest citizens (located largely on Main and Boswell Streets, just to the south of the School Addition Historic District) and those of the average man.  New neighborhoods began to grow to the north and south of the major streets, as well as across Poke Bayou in what became known as “West Side.” 

By 1890, Batesville’s population was 2,150, increasing over the next decade to 3,339.  In 1905, lumberman John Martin built a Queen Ann cottage on 8th Street but soon thereafter expanded it into the two-story American Four-Square with Colonial Revival touches still seen today.  Martin, like others in the region, moved to Batesville from a smaller outlying community as he became prosperous.  He built two other houses, one a rather plain T-shaped house on 7th Street behind his home for his mother-in-law, Jessie Moore, and another, an attractive Craftsman bungalow next door to his own home for his daughter Helen when she married Fitzhugh Hail in 1913.  Tragically, both Helen’s husband and first child died within a year of the marriage.  She remained close to home, however, eventually moving into her parents’ home with her second husband, Dr. Harry King, who was Academic Dean of Arkansas (now Lyon) College.  After his death, Mrs. King maintained her connections with the college by offering a home to a series of students.

While World War I disrupted families lives, it also brought prosperity as farm prices rose, mining of manganese expanded, and wages increased.  Although prices and wages dropped at war’s end, Batesville still saw improvements, with both the municipal water and light systems upgraded and the first bridge across White River completed in 1928.  Following the nation’s fortunes, times were hard during the 1930’s and through World War II, reflected in the School Addition Historic District by the construction of only four small houses during this period.  Two of these, typical frame bungalows, reflect the continuing importance of Batesville as a regional trade center even during hard times. Over the years these bungalows were home to families that owned a local printing company (the Shirrells at 292 N. 7th) and a downtown hardware store (the Parks family at 274 N. 7th). 

The later 1940s brought the nation’s post-war prosperity to Batesville. Industrialization reached the city with construction of the International Shoe Company plant after the war, with other manufacturing businesses following through the 1960s.  With this prosperity came popular new housing styles in the district.  In the late 1940s a young optometrist built a limestone-veneered, modified Cape Cod home at the south end of the block containing the Shirrell and Parks bungalows. Then came the newest houses in the district, ranch-style houses bringing to the city the most recent styles popular across the country at the time.  The Ernest Jones House at 729 Rock Street was the first “modern” house built in the neighborhood (ca. 1947), and rightly so, for its builder owned a local lumber and construction company.  His low-profile, sandstone-veneer house showed the town what he could do in the way of building an up-to-date home like those featured in popular house-and-garden magazines of the day.  Family members still operate a successful construction business.  Like the Jones House, the Massey House, built in 1955 at 280 N. 8th St., features sandstone veneer, but with a more traditional look.  The families of the builders (Y. M. and Betty Hail Massey) both have deep Independence County roots. The couple operated Hail Dry Goods, a leading wholesale operation, Betty Massey being a descendent of a prominent Batesville merchant and county judge, Stevadson Hail.  All three of these “new” homes reflect Batesville’s continuing growth as a business and professional hub in north central Arkansas. 

Since the 1960s, the city has remained stable, and the School Addition Historic District has remained stable with it, providing homes to a mixture of city business, political, agricultural, and organizational leaders as well as small tradesmen, craftsmen, service workers, teachers, and retirees. 

The name of the district is tied to its location in the northwest corner of the School Addition to Batesville, platted in 1849.  This addition comprised the northwest quarter of Section 16, reserved for the benefit of township schools.  Although not required to be located within the 16th section, at least three schools have direct connections to the School Addition Historic District:  first came the private Soulesbury Institute, a Methodist school in operation by 1850 in what would eventually become the Glenn House; the first public school in Batesville was the Freedman’s School, constructed in Block 62 of School Addition (at approximately the present location of the McAdams house at 809 Rock) during Reconstruction to serve
African American children; and property immediately adjacent to the Historic District has housed Batesville High School, the junior high (after the high school relocated), and finally the middle school (after the junior high also moved).  The construction of this school building in the mid-1950s was financed by pledges from families in the city, with leadership from the Chamber of Commerce, after an earlier vote on a tax increase failed.  In addition, Arkansas College, the oldest private institution in the state still operating (as Lyon College) under its original charter, opened in 1872 just three blocks from the School Addition Historic District.  Batesville had sought to become the location of the University of Arkansas the previous year, but lost out to Fayetteville.  Local leaders then banded together to open the Presbyterian-related private college.  The first location of Batesville’s public high school for white children, and now the location of one of the city’s three elementary schools, was just another block to the south of the college campus.  Proximity to schools has made and continues to make homes in the District desirable.

The Freedman’s School connection is of special interest.  A brick building, 30 x 40 feet, was constructed in 1867-68 and remained under the control of the Freedman’s Bureau until 1878, when control passed to the Batesville school district, which opened the first public school for whites in another location in that year.  The district found that 108 black students were eligible to enroll in the former Freedman’s School, while 196 white children were eligible to attend their own school.  Classes for African-American children continued in the brick schoolhouse until 1892, when the trustees refused to allow its further use, based on complaints from white property owners, whose numbers in the neighborhood had increased since the building was originally constructed.  Black education continued in rented quarters elsewhere until a new school was constructed on Oak Street, where several African American families lived, in 1905.

Nevertheless, the Freedman’s School’s location may help explain the presence of a newer African American neighborhood just to the north of the district.  In fact, the Finley House at 897 Rock (in the same block as the school property) was constructed by Samuel Finley, an African American master stonemason as a home for his family, which included seven children.  Much of the stone work on commercial buildings on Main Street and on the original National Guard Armory, now the Old Independence Regional Museum, was supervised by Finley, who passed his skills along to other African Americans in the community.  He saw to it that all his children received a college education—quite an accomplishment during a time when Batesville’s segregated schools went only through 8th grade for “colored” students. 

In the last 10 years, interest in preservation, originally focused on the substantial homes located on Main and Boswell Streets, has spread into some of the adjoining neighborhoods, including the School Addition Historic District.  During this time, six homes in the District have been extensively renovated (Elisha Baxter, Martin-King, Finley, Maxfield, Moore, and Rogers-Shirrell houses), two are currently being worked on (Gathright-Parks and Edward Baxter houses), and all others are well-maintained.  Water Street sees heavy traffic at the beginning and end of the school day, but this situation may change after the Batesville School District completes a planned reorganization, with new construction elsewhere, that will convert the present middle school to the east of the Historic District into school district offices and a pre-school center.  It is also possible that the school district will choose to sell off what will become excess land at the location for development.  Recognition of the historic character of the existing neighborhood will help it withstand future development pressures.

SIGNIFICANCE

The School Addition Historic District is a mid-19th to mid-20th century residential district located in the north central Arkansas city of Batesville.  Sitting on the eastern edge of the Ozark Mountains region and in the second tier of counties below the Arkansas-Missouri line, Batesville owes its existence to early 19th century transportation, trade, and settlement patterns.  The School Addition Historic District encompasses a neighborhood that developed as expanding trade and growth required the town to grow from its original location beside the confluence of Poke Bayou and White River to fill the triangle of land between the two streams.  The architectural significance of the District lies in its containing examples of typical residential structures ranging from a few substantial homes associated with leading citizens to numerous smaller homes exemplifying a range of architectural styles popular in the United States during the hundred-year time period.  The neighborhood has a long association with education, and its proximity to different schools helps account for families’ choosing to build or purchase homes in this area.  The School Addition Historic District is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria A and C with local significance.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

A Guidebook to Historic Homes of Batesville, Arkansas.  Batesville Preservation Association, Batesville, Arkansas, 1994.

Britton, Nancy and Diane Tebbetts, Nineteenth Century Homes of Batesville.  Independence County Chronicle XX:2, January 1979.

Fagg, Jane B., “From Rock Street to Oak: The Relocation of the Batesville Black School 1892-1905.” Independence County Chronicle XXV:3-4, April-July 1984, pp. 16-23

Lawson, Curtislene, The History of Black Education in Batesville, 1867-1875. Independence County Chronicle XXI:2, January 1980.

McGinnis, A. C., A History of Independence County, Arkansas. Independence County Chronicle XVII:3, April 1976.

Owings, Richard, “The Brooks-Baxter War.”  www.oldstatehouse.com/general_information/history/ brooksbaxter.asp.

Shinn, Josiah, Pioneers and Makers of Arkansas.  Genealogical and Historical Publishing Co., Little Rock, Arkansas, 1908.