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When a House Becomes History: Historic Homes of Eastern Arkansas


For Immediate Release
26 March 2008

Kimberly J. Williams, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism


"He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

They are houses built of wood, bricks and mortar but cemented by the memories that took place there. These homes were just like any other – filled with parents, children and the sounds of laughter and tears – but these dwellings would become a part of history.

Two such houses in Randolph County now claim significant historic importance. It all started when William Looney arrived in Arkansas from Tennessee in 1803 and settled along the Eleven Point River to become the first U.S. citizen to reside in Randolph County. Looney specialized in making apple brandy and distilled up to 1,500 gallons per year. As his land was adjacent to the heavily traveled Eleven Point River, not to mention his brandy making skills, Looney decided to build a structure that would serve as his family home, an inn for travelers and a tavern. Built by slave labor, the Looney-French house (also referred to as the Looney Tavern) is believed to have been built between 1833 and 1834. Dendrochronology studies on the logs used to build the dogtrot structure state that the trees began growing between 1644 and 1768.

In 1812, Reuben Rice left Tennessee on a wagon train bound for an area near the Eleven Point River in what is now Dalton. Rice and his family, as well as other relatives, relocated to the area at the urging of his cousin, William Looney. The Rices were a family of farmers, weavers, cobblers and distillers. The logs for the Rice-Upshaw House were cut in 1826, and the house was constructed between 1827 and 1828. Dendrochronology studies estimate that the trees began growing between 1700 and 1751.

Both structures are outstanding examples of log houses used during Arkansas’s early settlement period. Their historic significance is substantial – the Rice-Upshaw House is now Arkansas’s oldest standing private dwelling and the Looney-French House is the oldest standing commercial building in the state. Both properties were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. The French and Upshaw families retained ownership of both houses until 2005, when they donated the homes to Black River Technical College in Pocahontas. Black River Technical College has received grant money for the stabilization and preservation of the homes until the restoration process can begin. The historic houses are not yet open to the public. For more information on either of the houses, contact Black River Technical College at 870-248-4000.

Located at the southern end of Arkansas’s Great River Road National Scenic Byway, it stands in the middle of a cotton field – the majestic two-story house that stood the test of time. It is Lakeport Plantation, one of Arkansas’s most meaningful historic houses. Lycurgus Johnson moved to Chicot County in the mid-1830s from Kentucky, joining his father, Joel, who began amassing land in the area since his arrival in 1831. The Johnsons were an affluent family with strong political ties to the Conway and Sevier clans, who would dominate Arkansas’s political scene for decades. Upon his arrival in Arkansas, Lycurgus began to build his own plantation near his father’s in Lakeport. At the time of his death in 1846, Joel Johnson had become one of the largest landholders and wealthiest planters in the county. Lycurgus and his wife, Lydia, inherited Lakeport from his father and soon began to build a larger home befitting a wealthy plantation owner. Completed in 1859, Lakeport Plantation was a stately structure, measuring 66 feet long and 44 feet wide. When he died in 1876, Johnson was one of the wealthiest agricultural barons in the area. The house remained in the Johnson family for over 130 years, at which time the Epstein family purchased it. Lakeport received its designation to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The Epstein and Angel families donated the historic home to Arkansas State University in 2001 and the grandiose structure is now an educational center, a museum and a resource for preservation professionals. It is the last remaining antebellum home on the Mississippi River in Arkansas that has not been destroyed or altered significantly. Lakeport Plantation is located off U.S. 82 on Ark. 142 near Lake Village. For more information on the historic Lakeport Plantation or to plan a visit, visit their Web site at http://lakeport.astate.edu or phone 870-265-6031.

The charming white two-story farmhouse house sits on a corner lot on Cherry Street in downtown Piggott. Built by William Templeton in 1910, the house features a wrap-around porch that entices the visitor to visit and wile away an afternoon. Paul and Mary Pfeiffer bought the house in June 1913 and relocated their family to 1021 West Cherry Street from St. Louis after selling the family pharmaceutical business. Pfeiffer had begun buying land in Piggott in 1902 and would eventually own over 60,000 acres. Their first daughter, Pauline, was born in summer 1895 and graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1918. Pauline worked for Vanity Fair as a fashion writer before making her way to Paris to work for Vogue. It was in Paris in 1925 that Pauline Pfeiffer met the dapper writer Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Hadley, at a party. They would all become friends, including Pauline’s younger sister, Virginia. The Hemingway marriage was, to say the least, fraught with arguments and hostility. They divorced in April 1927. Ernest married Pauline in Paris on May 10 of that same year. The Pfeiffer family welcomed Hemingway into their life and their home. Pauline and Ernest visited the home frequently and the Pfeiffers converted a barn behind the home into a studio for Hemingway’s use during his stays. It was here that Hemingway wrote a large portion of one of his most famous novels, A Farewell to Arms, and various short stories. Ernest and Pauline divorced in 1940 and the home stayed in the Pfeiffer family until Mary Pfeiffer’s death in 1950. In 1982, the Pfeiffer Home and Carriage House gained placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Arkansas State University purchased the historic property in 1997. The house and the barn were restored to the period when Hemingway visited the house. The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center opened in July 1999. The museum is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Saturday from 1 – 4 p.m. The last tour of each day begins at 3 p.m. For more information, phone 870-598-3487 or visit their Web site at http://hemingway.astate.edu.

The modest white frame house stands as a testament to one man’s humble beginnings and his determination for success. John Harold Johnson was born in Arkansas City on January 19, 1918, to Leroy and Gertrude Johnson. Johnson did not have an easy childhood – his father died in a sawmill accident in 1924 and, during the Flood of 1927, Johnson and his mother had to live on the Mississippi River levee for six weeks before they were able to return home. Yet John H. Johnson would not let obstacles stand in his way. In 1933, the Johnson family left Arkansas City and moved to Chicago, where he began to build a future and an empire. Johnson’s achievements are numerous. He was the first black executive placed on the Forbes list of 400 wealthiest Americans. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton in 1996. He served as special ambassador for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He has been inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame, the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame, the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, the National Business Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame. In May 2005, the John H. Johnson Cultural and Educational Museum opened its doors in Arkansas City. The museum tells the story of Johnson’s life, from his childhood in Arkansas City to the beginning of his career in Chicago to his overwhelming success as the head of Johnson Publishing Company. The museum, built from the original wood from Johnson’s boyhood home, features photographs and video of Johnson, as well as items from his childhood. The museum is a joint effort between Arkansas City and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. John H. Johnson died in August 2005, less than three months after attending the dedication of the museum in Arkansas City. During the course of his amazing life, Johnson achieved overwhelming success. He was often quoted as saying, "Failure is a word I don’t accept." The John H. Johnson Museum is open by appointment. For more information, contact the office of the Desha County Judge at 870-877-8486.

Each of these houses is now a part of history, leading us to a better understanding of early settlers, antebellum Arkansas, a world-class writer and one of the most successful businessmen in our country. And, like most houses, they started as simply a place to call home.

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Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606
E-mail: info@arkansas.com

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"

ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF PARKS & TOURISM
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