The Old Frazier Plantation was built in what was then still part of Lafayette County, Arkansas, in 1852…It still survives, and has become something of a landmark of regional (and in many ways state-level) importance. However, it is known now as “Frog Level.”
William Frazier built this great example of Greek revival architecture, but the current owner is attorney Joe Woodward. Yesterday I visited Frog Level for the second time (the first time was about a year ago when one of my volunteers, Vernon Perry, was initially giving me a tour of the county). Yesterday, I visited because I had run into Mr. Woodward at a historic preservation meeting in Magnolia the night before…he told me that one of the chimneys at Frog Level had fallen during the fierce winds we had had during a storm a few days earlier…He also told me that the insurance adjuster was coming out and that if I wanted to tag along, I was welcome.
So Anthony Clay Netwon (local professional archaeological technician and AAS volunteer) and I headed out to Frog Level for a look around…we got to see what a 1850s chimney fall looks like when it is fresh for a change…although the chimney had been encased in a light concrete-type stucco sometime in the 1940s-50s…beneath the stucco were the handmade bricks…soft-fired with one dry struck surface…the bright orange bricks were made of the local sandy clay and really had very few inclusions (i.e., tempering agents such as fired clay, horse hair, etc.).
Although we had come out to Frog Level to document the fall, we also wanted to look into possibly doing some archeological work at the plantation site….aside from the impressive standing home, there would have been many outbuildings and other structures that served the plantation and surrounding community.
For instance, only a few hundred feet from the house—at its current gated entrance–is a marker designating the place at which the Ferguson and Morgan store once stood. Although most folks in Columbia County think that the house itself served as the first County Courthouse, it was this store that hosted the first terms of County Court (held on March 21, 1853). At the first County Court two men, Ananias Godbolt (whose plantation site is now in Nevada County….I hope to investigate that one as well) and Andrew J. Thompson were appointed commissioners to locate a site for a permanent county seat. They found a higher elevation nearer the center of the new county—the current site of Magnolia, Arkansas.
Not only was this store the “seat of justice” for a brief time in Columbia County, but it also would have been (for a much longer period of time) an important nexus point for the larger community as a place were goods were bought and sold…and a place were neighbors met, information was passed along and, in reality, a community born.
I am very interested in using archaeology to shed some light of the Ferguson and Morgan store…as well as the many other buildings at Frazier Plantation and the other homes that made up the Frog Level community…Frog Level community….that brings me to my final point.
One of the things that clearly impressed me with Mr. Woodward was his ability to cut through many of the myths surrounding Frog Level and to more clearly understand the “history behind the story.” Early avocational historians such as Hattie Kilgore and Mary Davis Woodward used to say that the name “Frog Level” was “first given to the imposing structure by a young attorney, B. F. Askew; the name was chosen because the frogs were so numerous in the bottoms near-by” (Woodward 1949). Both Joe Woodward and I believe that Frog Level was originally a name used to refer to the greater community in the area–the name was probably taken from some settlers past experience in Frog Level, North Carolina (or Virginia, Alabama, Georgia…take your pick)…as the community shrank and moved to Magnolia, the main house at the Frazier Plantation became the only part of Frog Level left…thus the house became known as “Frog Level.”
At any rate, I plan to revisit Frog Level in the fall (when the foliage is gone) and map out the potential locations of outbuildings and other house places…maybe we’ll do our first SAU Spring Break dig at Frog Level…I’ll keep you posted.
Woodward, Mary Davis
1949 “‘Frog Level,’ Oldest House in Columbia County,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 8 (Spring 1949): 327-30.