- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Quapaw Quarter Association is still looking for the right person or group to purchase the historic Little Rock home of Arkansas Gazette founder William E. Woodruff, but until then the association will buy the property and tend to its upkeep.

The association’s acquisition of the property is made possible by a grant from the city and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, which together gave the association $99,500 in exchange for a facade easement that will guarantee the exterior of the house remains preserved as much as possible, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/139Sici ) reported.

The facade easement is important, said association Executive Director Rhea Roberts, because it prevents any future owner from tearing down the house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The house, located at 1017 and 1023 E. 8th St., was built by Woodruff in 1853 in a Greek Revival style on a 25-acre property that included slave quarters, a stable and laundry facilities. It started as a 13-room, two-and-a-half story home with 10 bedrooms, a large porch that faced south and a circular upper-floor balcony.

Over time, the home’s orientation was switched to face north, and in 1921 it was remodeled into a 12-bedroom cottage for out-of-town businesswomen. Many of the original historic features have been removed, as the house was used as apartments until an interior fire heavily damaged the structure in 2005.

The Quapaw Quarter Association has focused on the property since 2007, when the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas placed the house on its list of most endangered places.

The association obtained a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for a condition report in 2008. According to preservation architect John Greer, the home was a viable structure with good bones that could be built upon, but there were significant deterioration and structural problems to deal with.

“Is it going to be expensive? Absolutely,” Greer said. “But the main thing we’ve discovered is that with the rich history and the good structural integrity that we have that we can build upon, we do have a building that has an alternative. Now we’ve got to find somebody to be able to invest some time and money into that alternative.”

Roberts said the property is privately owned by someone who lives in Arkadelphia. The Quapaw Quarter Association is paying $107,000 to obtain ownership. The group also has a second grant from the National Trust for a feasibility study. That will give the group a better idea on how to proceed with restoring the property and what it could become.

The home is significant because of its original owner and its colonial style. Antebellum homes are rare around the state, according to Rachel Silva with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.

Woodruff founded the Arkansas Gazette in 1819, the same year Arkansas was established as a territory. The newspaper was the first published west of the Mississippi River. It was originally set up in Arkansas Post, the then-capital of the territory, but was moved to Little Rock when it became the capital in 1821. Woodruff spent the rest of his life in the city, dying at age 90 in 1885.

He’s credited with establishing Arkansas’ first library in Little Rock in 1843, and he also served a two-year term as state treasurer beginning in 1836. He’s said to have had significant involvement in politics and helped moderate the debate on tax assessment in the state.

Woodruff became a colonel in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After federal troops occupied Little Rock in 1863, they banned Woodruff from the city and took over his home. The antebellum house was converted into a Union hospital and office headquarters. The family reoccupied the house after the war ended.

Woodruff built the home the same year he sold his newspaper. (Years later, the Gazette was bought by Gannett Co. Inc., a large newspaper company. After a newspaper war between it and the Arkansas Democrat, the Gazette closed Oct. 18, 1991, and was purchased by a subsidiary of WEHCO Media, Inc., which owned the Democrat. The Democrat’s name was then changed to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.)

Northwest of the Woodruff house on the current property, the brick foundation from the former slave quarters can still be seen.

“These have not been excavated, but would be a prime site for archaeological evidence of an urban farmstead which has been continuously occupied since 1853,” according to a biography of the house published on the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program website.

The article states that it has been reported Woodruff brought the first crepe myrtles and tomatoes into Arkansas to plant at his homestead. He was originally from Long Island, New York, and worked briefly in Louisville, Kentucky, before moving to Nashville, Tennessee, and then Arkansas.

“Without preservation and restoration, this home will continue to decay and remain unlivable,” Roberts said. “With limited documentation of the home’s original construction, a restoration could reveal so much more about the home’s history and its remarkable past.”

She said now is a good time to focus on restoring the house because there’s been investment in other areas of downtown. She describes the location around the Woodruff property, which is surrounded by vacant lots, as an “underutilized” part of downtown that “could serve as an anchor for revitalization efforts in the area.”

Vanessa McKuin, executive director of the Historic Preservation Alliance, said the condition of the home is becoming more dire every day.

Greer, the preservation architect, said repairing the house gives back to future generations.

“It’s important to have historical architecture because it tells the story of our history in a nutshell. … The history of the Woodruff family and William Woodruff starting the first newspaper in Arkansas. It’s so important to tell that story, and here is the great opportunity of the urban farmstead and William Woodruff and his family living there,” Greer said.

“So being able to restore the house and tell that story, we give back when we do that.”


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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