Thursday, June 17, 2010

Belle Grove Historic District - Fort Smith, Arkansas

Some of the most beautiful Civil War landmarks in Arkansas can be found in Fort Smith's unique Belle Grove Historic District.

Bounded by North Fifth, North H, North Eighth and North C Streets and located just a couple of blocks north of Garrison Avenue in downtown Fort Smith, Belle Grove preserves architecture spanning 130 years and numerous architectural styles. It was a thriving community at the time of the Civil War and the home of some of the most prosperous business leaders in western Arkansas.

The oldest home in the district is the John Rogers House, built in 1840 and modeled after the brick quarters of the fort from which Fort Smith takes its name. Rogers was one of the founders of the city of Fort Smith and ironically his house outlasted all but two of the buildings of the fort that was for a time the "little Gibraltar on the Arkansas."

Also dating from before the Civil War is the Casper Reutzel House. Built in 1850, it was the home of largest cotton shipper on the Arkansas River. Not only was the house built in an unusual half timber style, it was also loopholed for musketry to allow its inhabitants to hold off an attack.

The Belle Grove Historic District was actually within the fortifications erected by Union troops around the downtown area in 1864 and houses there were used to quarter troops. The city came under direct attack only once, but the fighting took place well away from the district.

To learn more about Belle Grove Historic District, please visit

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cane Hill College - An Educational Landmark in Northwest Arkansas

This old brick building on College Avenue in Canehill holds a unique place in the history of Arkansas. It was the last structure built to house Cane Hill College, one of the most remarkable educational institutions of the 19th century.

Northwest Arkansas was still the frontier in 1834. Fledgling settlements were taking root, one of the most important of which at the time was actually made up of a series of three communities located atop a ridge known as Cane Hill. Surrounded by good farm land in the shadow of the Boston Mountains, the settlement was well populated and a center of of activity by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

By the fall of 1834, the progress of the community had reached a point to allow the early settlers to think of such things as schools for their children. On October 28th of that year a group of Cumberland Presbyterians met and voted to establish Cane Hill School, which opened the following year in a two-room log building.

By the time of the Civil War, the school had progressed to become the first four-year college in Arkansas and was operating from a campus of four buildings. When most of the students of the all male school enlisted in the Confederate army in 1861, Cane Hill College closed its doors for the duration of the war.

On November 28, 1862, the Battle of Cane Hill swept across the campus as Union troops attacked Confederate forces in an important preliminary action to the Battle of Prairie Grove. Confederate artillery fired from the hill adjoining the campus and the dorm building was used as a Union military hospital after the battle. It took on more patients after the Battle of Prairie Grove on December 7, 1862.

By the end of the war much of Cane Hill had been burned to the ground and only one building from the pre-war college survived. The school would rebuild and go on to become the first coed college in Arkansas and shortly afterwards graduated the first five women to receive four-year degrees in the state.

The growth of Fayetteville and establishment of what would become the University of Arkansas, along with a destructive fire in 1885 ultimately led to a decision by the Arkansas Synod to close the doors at Cane Hill in 1891 and relocate the school to Clarksville where it continues to thrive today as the University of the Ozarks.

The building built to house the college after the 1885 fire still stands, however, and is a unique and special part of the heritage of Arkansas. To learn more, please visit