Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Wynn-Price House
Wynn-Price House

WYNN-PRICE HOUSE, GARLAND, MILLER COUNTY

SUMMARY

Built by William Wynn, one of southwest Arkansas' most wealthy and successful antebellum plantation owners, the Wynn-Price House remains Arkansas' best example of a high-style Greek Revival plantation house in its original, rural setting.

ELABORATION

As is frequently the case in Arkansas, attempts to study even significant characters in local or regional antebellum history are frustrated by a lack of primary sources. Reconstructing the life and activities of William Wynn is no different, though we do know through census records, slave ownership records and deed information that he was a successful farmer, and probably growing cotton, the staple crop of the Red River valley during this period. However, when considered within the broader context of American and regional history during the period of 1835 (the first documented date of William Wynn's arrival in the Red River area) to 1861, the primary sources that do survive support certain additional conclusions about Wynn's investment activities and his hopes for the "city" of Garland as a major commercial river and overland transportation crossroads.

The years 1819-1830 saw a dramatic increase in the amount of white settlement in what was then Arkansas Territory: the 14,000 white settlers living in Arkansas as of 1819 had increased to 30,388 by 1830. The demand for good farmland brought on by this steadily increasing population, combined with the desire of many Southern politicians to expand the amount of slaveholding area in the United States, resulted in substantial pressure to expand west into the area that is now Texas. Mexico laid claim to this land, and though the Mexican government allowed such white settlers as Stephen F. Austin to colonize portions of that land, as of 1821 the Mexican government refused to recognize this colony. This caused no little bitterness among these American settlers, and by 1835 they declared Texas to be an independent republic. Santa Anna, the dictator of Mexico, marched his army into the new republic and attempted to overthrow the fledgling government, an attempt that was for the time being repulsed at the battle of San Jacinto in early 1836 (with the aid of such legendary characters as Sam Houston and Davy Crockett). This temporarily (Davy Crockett and many others died during their storied defense of the Alamo in San Antonio less than two months later) restored calm to this troubled region and appeared to be the first step toward the opening of this area to American settlement and trade.

For a number of other reasons also, the late 1830s proved to be watershed years for this area around the Red River. The area now known as Miller County was part of a contested area during this period, first between the state of Arkansas and Mexico and then between Arkansas and the new Republic of Texas. As of 1838, two years after Arkansas became a state, Governor James Sevier Conway dissolved Miller County as such and annexed it to Lafayette County, largely due to the perceived lack of "patriotism" displayed by its residents, many of whom preferred to throw in their lot with the new republic to the west. This allowed the state of Arkansas to collect taxes and levy fines upon its residents. Secondly, though the federal government had hired Captain Henry Miller Shreve to clear the enormous logjam (known as the Great Raft) that had stood as such a severe impediment to the navigation of the Red River as of 1833, it was not until 1836 that he had perfected his methods to the point that he was making significant progress, reaching over 130 miles above the original foot of the raft by the spring. And the election of Governor Conway in 1836 (who as a Lafayette County neighbor) was also significant due to his attempts to pass legislation that would allow for the sale of public lands to help finance the establishment of a state university: a large portion of the land along this section of the Red River was publicly owned and therefore stood the chance of being sold for settlement and development. Though his efforts were unsuccessful, the United States Congress enacted such legislation by the 1840s.

The 1850 Lafayette County census lists William Wynn's occupation as "farmer" and notes that he owned 96 slaves; and considering that most of the farmers along the Red River grew cotton to export down the river via New Orleans to international markets, it is reasonable to assume that cotton was the principle crop, though it is likely that such other crops as corn were grown also to supplement the cotton harvest (it is known that Governor Conway grew both crops on his farm at Walnut Hill, to the east of the Red River, when he retired here after serving his term of office). However, the land transactions for Lafayette County as recorded in the deeds reveal that William Wynn began purchasing large tracts of land on both sides of the Red River starting in 1835, beginning with tracts to the north of the site of Garland and then moving south. Wynn was clearly wealthy: in addition to possessing the means to purchase almost one-hundred slaves, he acquired over 14,000 acres in Township 15 and 16 South, Range 25 West, through a single purchase on April 2, 1844 from one Robert Hamilton (the land on which the house sits was part of that transaction). This obvious interest in acquiring land might well be attributed to a simple desire to expand his arable acreage; however, the vulnerability of this frontage to flooding (a vulnerability that continues to exist today) and the resulting damage to crops suggests another explanation.

There were no bridges across the Red River until after the Civil War, when the growth of the railroads and the establishment of Texas as a state after 1848 combined to make the investment in such a project feasible. Prior to this, however, all crossings of the river were achieved by ferries, of which there were several along the Red River in Arkansas. Probably the most active was that at Fulton, as this was the point where the Southwest Trail from St. Louis and Little Rock intersected the river; and yet there were documented ferries along the Red River as early as the late eighteenth century. Their owners jealously protected ferriage rights, as surviving records reveal that landowners frequently sold their river frontage while retaining the ferry rights. Moreover, by the mid-nineteenth century, there was serious talk of building a railroad across south Arkansas to connect the Mississippi, the Ouachita and the Red Rivers, the goal being to facilitate via an improved transportation network the exploitation of the inland lumber and mineral wealth of the southern half of the state and thus transform the entire region into an economic boomtown. The western leg of this rail line was to have crossed the Red River just below the present site of Garland, through land that by 1850 was owned by William Wynn.

Though this railroad - like virtually all of the railroads planned for Arkansas before the Civil War - was not constructed until after the cessation of hostilities, coming through Garland as the St. Louis and Southwestern (Cotton Belt) Railway in 1880, it was clearly in the minds of many prominent Arkansans before the Civil War. When considered with the fact that the expansion of the United States west into Texas was started as early as 1821 and was, in the minds of many scholars, the sole reason for the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, the value of the lands along the Red River near Garland become quite apparent. It is thus justifiable to speculate that William Wynn envisioned Garland as a major crossing point on the Red River, for both ferry traffic and the proposed railroad. This argument is even supported by the placement of the house itself, on what was the road leading due west from the western bank of the Red River making the road the main traffic route of any ferry traffic, thus facilitating the monitoring of traffic and the collection of tolls.

That the house was meant to be seen is obvious from the building's architectural style. This grand Greek Revival design, luxurious in both plan and elevation, was undoubtedly constructed largely from materials shipped up the Red River from New Orleans and elsewhere (we know that the marble for the two fireplaces was so ordered). The tall imposing two-story portico with its flanking single-story "temples" must have been one of the most majestic edifices in the region, and certainly survives today as the best surviving example of a high-style Greek Revival plantation house in Arkansas.

Though the site probably also retains potential to reveal further information about the occupation of the site by William Wynn, his two sons (the 1840 Lafayette County census indicates two males between the ages of 20 and 30 living with him, though not necessarily at this site) and his slaves, a professional archaeological investigation of the site remains to be done. Such investigation, upon completion, may justify additional areas of significance for the property.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ashley, Sen. Chester. A Bill for the Relief of William W. Wynn, Senate Bill S. 195, 30th Congress, 1st Session, April 6, 1848, Arkansas History Commission Pamphlet File.

Adams Horace. "An Arkansas Alderman, 1857," The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. XI, No. 2, Summer, 1952, 79-101.

Brough, Charles Hillman. "The Industrial History of Arkansas," Publications of the Arkansas Historical Association, John Hugh Reynolds, ed., Vol. 1:; Fayetteville, Arkansas, 1906, 198-199.

Donovan, Timothy P. and Willard B. Gatewood, Jr., eds., The Governors of Arkansas: Essays in Political Biography, (Fayetteville, Arkansas, 1981), 1-5.

Drago, Harry Sinclair, Red River Valley, (New York, 1962), 96-108.

Hughes, William W. Archibald Yell, (Fayetteville, Arkansas, 1988), 87-91.

Hull, Clifton E. Shortline Railroads of Arkansas, (Norman, Oklahoma, 1969), 4-13.

Jobe, Sarah S. "Facts About Fulton", Arkansas Gazette, Magazine Section, Sunday, January 16, 1938, 1-15.

Lafayette County Census Records; 1840 and 1850.

Lafayette County Deed Records; 1835-1854.

McKnight, O.E. and Boyd W. Johnson. The Arkansas Story, (Oklahoma City, 1955), 107-114.

McMath, Anne. First Ladies of Arkansas, (Little Rock, 1989), 40-45.

United States Department of the Interior Geological Survey Map of the Garland, Arkansas Quadrangle; 1952.