Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Walnut Grove Presbyterian Church
Walnut Grove Presbyterian Church

WALNUT GROVE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, FARMINGTON, WASHINGTON COUNTY

SUMMARY

The Walnut Grove Presbyterian Church is locally significant as the finest known example of a building designed in the Romanesque Revival style (not to mention one that also reveals the influence, however minimal, of the Gothic Revival). It is also noteworthy as one of the few documented examples of a building constructed from brick fired at the Terpening Brick and Tile Kiln, a local brickmaking company known for the brilliant random glazing that resulted from the peculiar soil content of the clay from the Illinois River basin nearby.

ELABORATION

Located in a valley to the northeast of the Illinois River, the small community of Walnut Grove was founded by settlers of European descent in the decade before the Civil War. These settlers were do doubt attracted by the rich bottomland soil and the good prospects it offered for agriculture. Walnut Grove appears to have remained a small community through the Civil War period and the remainder of the nineteenth century, until the arrival of the Ozark and Cherokee Central Railroad in 1901.

This line connected with the Frisco line in Fayetteville and extended through the Washington County communities of Farmington, Prairie Grove, Lincoln, Summers and Cincinnati before crossing the state border into Indian Territory. The earlier Frisco Railroad had contemplated laying their main track between St. Louis, Missouri and Ft. Smith, Arkansas along this route, but had been persuaded to choose the second alternative that ran the line directly through Fayetteville. Nevertheless, the citizens of this rural section of western Washington County remained interested in obtaining a railroad line, and were ultimately successful when the Ozark and Cherokee Central Railroad arrived. All of the communities along this line experienced relatively dramatic growth thereafter, particularly the community of Prairie Grove, located just three miles to the southwest of Walnut Grove.

Erected in 1903, the current Walnut Grove Presbyterian Church building was built just two years after the arrival of the railroad; yet the congregation had existed since 1856, when Henry and Eliza Tollette -- the first documented owners of this property -- gave this property to what was then the Protestant Methodist Church. Though the style and materials of the first church building have not been ascertained, it is known that a building existed as of 1887, as it was then that the congregation formally organized as the Walnut Grove Community Presbyterian Church (the earlier Methodist congregation had dwindled while the Cumberland Presbyterian Church had gained in popularity).

The identity of several of the craftspersons who worked on the 1903 building have survived, and one, the Rev. Nathan Hanks, is known to have sponsored the construction and may also have had a hand in determining the final design (though it should be noted that other Cumberland Presbyterian congregations in Arkansas that constructed new churches around this time also favored the Romanesque Revival for their buildings). George Terpening owned the brick company that provided the exterior materials; he also built the pews from walnut and sycamore trees near the site. William Thomas Hamblen II installed the beaded board on the interior, and Donnie Hammontree supervised the firing of the bricks at the Terpening brick works. The stained glass windows were fabricated in Germany and shipped to the site via the railroad.

The Walnut Grove Presbyterian Church remains one of the finest examples of the Romanesque Revival in all of Washington County. Though the large, round arched windows lack the three-dimensionality of the work of the architect who introduced this style to America, H. H. Richardson, they are typical of contemporaneous interpretations of that style, which by the turn of the century generally tended to flatten the details and emphasize the planar aspect of the wall surface. Furthermore, the low, spreading overall proportions, the heavy tower and the employment of arched openings throughout all reflect the influence of this style.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Besom, Robert, "The Golden Age of Brick In Washington County," Flashback, Vol. 31, No. 3, Aug. 1981.

Giles, Juel Hamblen, "Our Christmas Church," Rural Arkansas, Vol. XLVIII, No. 2, pp. 6-7.

Shiloh Museum, History of Washington County, Arkansas, (1989).