The historic log cabin and school move down East Race Street. Photos by Gerald Torrence
By BILL LEACH
e have a tendency to be so busy living our history that we often forget to record it, while it is happening. In 2002, we made history by the moving of Pioneer Village. So, while it’s still fresh in our minds, let’s review the chronology of what happened.
This story actually begins 35 years ago when Oran Vaughan, W.E. Orr, Cecil Morgan, Ivan Quattlebaum and others decided to preserve our rural heritage by establishing the Pioneer Village at the White County Fair Grounds. The centerpiece of the project was the “Old Gordon House,” a circa 1870 hewn-log home that was donated by the Jim Yingling family of Providence. Oran Vaughan, who was a member of the White County Fair Board and also a charter member of the White County Historical Society, was able to obtain the 1880s schoolhouse and store/post office from Little Red. The 1906 jail from Pangburn was added to the collection, and logs from old buildings were moved in to construct a blacksmith shop and a livery. Donations of artifacts to furnish these buildings came from citizens throughout the county. Pioneer Village was first opened to the public September 12, 1967 and reopened each year during County Fair Week and by appointment. Cloie Presley spent many hours working at the new Village as a representative of the White County Historical Society and the Girl Scouts, however by the late 1980s she was no longer able to continue her volunteer work. The Home Demonstration Clubs of the county then looked after the Village until 1994, when it became obvious they were no longer able to continue the work needed to maintain the Village. In 1995 an attempt was made to organize a committee to work with the Village with an emphasis on re-enacting. This was somewhat successful but in 1999 the Village was not open at all, and beginning to show wear. The White County Historical Society opened the Village for Fair Week the following two years, before the White County Fair Board voted to end the Village’s tenure at the Fair Grounds.
The White County Historical Society began dialogue with the Fair Board in November 2001 that would give our organization control and ultimate possession of the artifacts and historic structures, in return for moving them to a different location. At the January 2002 meeting of the Society board of directors, the matter was discussed in detail. This would be a huge undertaking for our Society. Where could the Village be moved? What would the cost be? What would be the long-term commitments? While these questions were being discussed for several meetings, answers were being sought. Judge Bob Parish was contacted as to the availability of county land. The only site the county owned that would be available would be the old county dumpsite on Crosby Road. This was deemed too remote and lacking in security. Searcy Mayor David Evans was asked about the use of land belonging to the city. Several possibilities were considered, including a serious look at Riverside Park, where we found a beautiful rural setting with abundant room for expansion. Questions developed, though, about accessibility and security, then an attractive alternate site was proposed, one that the city had recently purchased on Higginson Road.
In March of 2002, the Society directors unanimously agreed to accept the Village and begin the difficult task of moving it. During this month, Tony Young and Bill Leach attended the annual meeting of the Arkansas Museum Association and learned that a “So You Want To Start A Museum” symposium was to be offered by UALR. Thednel Garner, Melinda LaFevers, Leach and Young all attended the six-day workshop, acquiring valuable information about working with museums.
In April, Dr. Kevin Klein brought students from Harding University who had volunteered to move the furnishings from the Village to storage space made available by Mayor Evans in the old Moore Street Armory.
Following this, the process of dismantling and salvaging materials from the blacksmith was begun. Miles Langford of the Fair Board put us in contact with Linda Rockwell, a supervisor with the Arkansas Department of Community Correction program, which furnished community service workers every Saturday morning from June through September. These workers dismantled the village and got it ready for the movers.
After several delays in October due to wet weather the house, school, store and jail – in a remarkable journey – were moved to the new site on Higginson Road on November 13 and 14.
Now the time of rebuilding and renovation begins. In addition to the existing buildings, plans call for the addition of the Garner Depot (a story in itself) and a small two-story log barn from Rose Bud, plus construction of sheds to display the gristmill, the blacksmith, cotton gin, sawmill and salt works – which were all important in the history and economic development of White County.
So far the work has been funded by donations. A balance of $1,596 was in the Pioneer Village bank account, turned over to the Society by the Fair Board. An additional $11,092 has been donated, making the move possible. The cost of moving the buildings was $12,500. An additional $750 has been donated specifically for the Garner Depot, which is expected to cost $4,500 to move, so $3,750 more is needed to complete this move.
In addition to the individuals mentioned above, Rebecca Frankford is reviewing grant possibilities, Tony Young has been organizing existing inventories and working on a history of the village, Marvin Henderson has signed up 17 master gardeners to work with landscaping. Don Burnett is helping with rock and brick work, Thednel Garner has helped lay out the Village, Eddie Best assists with promotion, and Judy Kubisiak of Regions Bank is serving as our treasurer. The present governing board consists of Ron Busbea, Thednel Garner, Kevin Keech and Dewitt Yingling from the WCHS and Dale English, Dan Hodge, Durward McGaha and Calvin Mitchell representing the City Council. We are also working with the Parks and Recreation Committee. Judge Parish, Mayors Evans, interim Mayor Albert Yarnell and numerous county and city employees have willingly assisted whenever they have been asked.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We have taken several steps on the journey toward a Pioneer Village that will preserve our heritage and educate our future generations. 2002 was a good year! vvv