- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

ELKINS, Ark. (AP) - City officials want to convert a century-old bank building into a museum but first must secure funding to start restoration work.

“The older people that started this city years ago are getting few and far between, and when they go, so does the history,” said Elkins Mayor Bruce Ledford. “If we’ve got a museum, that kind of keeps some of it alive here.”

Ledford, who took office in 2010, wants to devote his remaining three years in office to giving the red-brick Bank of Elkins building new life as a museum.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1X2pGda ) reports that the bank opened in 1912 and moved to another location in 1966. The old building on First Street went on to serve other purposes, including as a fire station and as a utility department, Ledford said.

Ledford wants to get the former bank placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which he said would qualify the building to receive restoration grants.

“I’d like to try and get it back (in shape) and keep some of the stuff here, the pictures on the wall and the old Elkins stuff here before all the old people pass on and you forget the history,” he said.

The city owns the building, which Ledford said is unkempt and requires extensive renovation.

“It just went downhill big time,” Ledford said. “Of course, when you don’t use something it’s hard to (maintain it). It goes down faster than if you were using it.”

The building is now being used for storage, Ledford said.

Turning the building into a museum is an important initiative, said Councilman Lloyd Stith.

“It has a lot of history behind it, and I think it would be good for that area of town, and I think the people would enjoy it,” he said.

Small cities like Elkins have history worth preserving, Stith said.

“Some of the smaller towns were instrumental in developing this country,” he said.

Elkins was an important part of the lumber industry in the early 1900s, Ledford said.

“They had a sawmill right here in Elkins,” he said. “They brought the lumber in here on wagons, and they would saw it up.”

Much of the lumber shaped at the sawmill was from trees in Elkins. The lumber went to different parts of the country.

The wood was often hand-hewn into railroad ties — the rectangular beams that support the rails of railroad tracks. Railroads were a booming industry at the time, Ledford said.

The sawmill closed sometime in the 1950s, but Elkins residents have long been self-sufficient, Ledford said.

“They raised their crops, their food, and they canned the crops,” he said.

Eighty-eight-year-old Mary Stokenbury has lived in Elkins since 1951. She married Charles Stokenbury, the son of Roe Dolph Stokenbury, who was an original member of the bank’s board of directors and one of its first incorporators.

Most Elkins residents were farmers who owned cattle and orchards in the early 1900s, Mary Stokenbury said. She said Roe Dolph Stokenbury owned a dairy farm and sold milk to Hiland Dairy.

Ledford said he plans to speak with Mary Stokenbury and other longtime residents to help develop the museum.

“To me, they’re just interesting people to talk to find out what happened years ago around here,” he said.

Stokenbury said he would be happy to see Elkins finally get a museum.

“We tried one time and didn’t have much participation, but that was back before we all got older,” she said.

Ledford said he hopes the museum will draw from deep in Elkins’ history. A baseball section could be a part of it, Ledford said. He said Elkins’ residents organized into teams for Sunday afternoon baseball games in the 1930s.

Also, Elkins produced high school state championship baseball teams in 2006 and 2009, and native sons who went on to successful baseball careers, including Jim King, Ledford said.

King played for the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Senators and other major league teams. King returned to Elkins and worked for White River Telephone and coached Little League after his professional career. He died Feb. 23, 2015.

Jeff House and his wife, Myra, moved to Elkins from northern California in August. House said he would rather see a breakfast eatery and tavern in the city before a museum, but he acknowledged that a museum would preserve Elkins’ heritage and give people a chance to learn about its history.

“It’s all about who’s going to fund it,” House said.

Ledford and Stith said they hope grants will fund the museum.

“Putting the taxpayers’ money into this is not our intent,” Stith said.


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

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