Listed on Arkansas’s 2007 “Most Endangered Places” by The Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, the Woodruff House remains one of Arkansas’s most notable properties…Unfortunately, it stands a very serious chance of being lost forever, unless larger forces intervene.
First, the back story (drawn largely from The Quapaw Quarter Association’s web site). In 1851 Mr. William E. Woodruff, founder of The Arkansas Gazette, bought 23 1/3 acres of land, then just outside the city limits, on the East side of the city. His family was growing so rapidly he wished more rooms for them, also to gratify his own desire and love for a desirable country home, and the leisure and privacy that such a home afforded him. Facing Ninth Street, near College Street, he built a beautiful substantial two and one-half story thirteen room, brick home, full of comfort and so roomy (7,000 sq. ft.) that not only his own family, but many friends and many strangers found pleasure visiting within its walls. The immediate enclosure about his home and garden occupied ten city blocks (today it has been winnowed down to three lots).
When the Federal army took possession of Little Rock, the Woodruff House was confiscated. This lovely old home, with the exception of two rooms allowed for Mrs. Woodruff to occupy, was used for the white officers of a black Union regiment as their headquarters, and later used as a hospital for Federal officers. After the war, the family occupied it again until Mr. Woodruff died on June 19, 1885. After Mr. Woodruff’s death the home became the property of the oldest child, Alden Mills Woodruff, and he and his family occupied it for a period of five years, from July, 1886, to March, 1891.
At the turn of the century, the house was remodeled into apartments, and fronted on East Eighth Street. In September, 1921, it was purchased for a home for business girls and was renamed “The Business Girls Cottage Home.” It was last used as apartments, but a fire in recent years damaged some of the rooms. It now needs total restoration.
Its prime location near the Clinton Presidential Center, the headquarters of Heifer International, and the future Lion’s World Services for the Blind Headquarters, puts it at possible risk of being eventually demolished for a hotel, condos, or other retail establishment. However, an even more immediate threat is the high level of vagrant activity in the area. Preservationists are all too painfully aware of what happened to the historic Mosaic Templars Building in March of 2005–destroyed by fire. The same fate could befall the Woodruff House as well if immediate steps are not taken to secure and protect the property.
It would be a tremendous loss for Little Rock and the State of Arkansas if this home was not preserved and refurbished.
I am, of course, a bit biased…I am interested in the Woodruff House from not only a preservation perspective, but also an archeological one. The Woodruff House is a prime example of what my colleague Leslie C. “Skip” Stewart-Abernathy has calls an “urban farmstead.” The house once had a substantial garden to the east of the structure, and north of the house was the servants’ quarters, a wood yard, a large chicken house, barns, and other ancillary structures one would expect to find on a nineteenth century farm of the genteel class. On the west side was a large laundry house built over a large cistern, which furnished the water for washing. Farther to the West extending to Rector Avenue was a fine orchard, cornfield, potato patch, and so on. Archeological excavations at the Woodruff house could not only shed light on the daily life of the Woodruff family–an important family in Arkansas history by all measures–but it could also give us insights into the workings of these urban farmsteads, the trauma of the Civil War in Little Rock, the dawning of the modern, consumer age and what life was life for those enslaved in the urban South.
The Arkansas Archeological Survey is looking for ways that we can help save and conduct research on the Woodruff House as we speak. And I hope to report in the near future that either myself of Dr. Stewart-Abernathy will begin work on the project soon…In the meantime, consider donating to The Quapaw Quarter Association’s effort to save the Woodruff House…
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