The House That Bauxite Built

This one falls into the category of “just when you think you’ve seen everything….”   We’ve all seen buildings made of stone, brick, lumber, steel and hay bales – to name a few. Here’s a first – along with being a “one-and-only.” A structure made completely of bauxite.

Upon first sight, the building housing the Gann Museum of Saline County in Benton doesn’t look much different than others except that it has two front doors, each of which is topped by gable, making it architecturally pleasing to the eye. That in itself doesn’t make it unusual; it’s what the building is constructed of that makes it eligible for the list. The museum is the only known structure in the world made completely of bauxite.

Originally the office of Dr. Dewell Gann, Sr., the structure was built in 1893 by patients who couldn’t afford to pay the doctor for his services. At the time, they didn’t know what the ore was – they thought it was some sort of clay plentiful in the area. All the blocks were cut with handsaws and had to air dry for six weeks before being used. The bricks are a colorful mix of tans, browns, rusts, yellows and oranges with a touch of pinkish-red.

After the building was completed, it was determined by engineers that bauxite wasn’t a stable enough material to be used for construction. According to museum staff, in spite of the dire warnings the structure has held up amazingly well and is quite strong.

Inside this “roadside oddity” is an exceptional collection of Niloak pottery, made in the area during its stoneware heyday around the turn-of-the-20th century. Niloak, which is kaolin spelled backwards, is most famous for its swirl concept which is on display at the museum.

To learn more about this fascinating piece of construction history, visit the Gann Museum of Saline County at 218 Market Street in Benton. Call 501- 778-5513 for hours of operation and more information

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