Important Work for the New Year- Preserving the Past

      

  Social Media is the curse and the blessing of our modern day lives. These days, a casual conversation can explode into action in a matter of minutes. Sometimes the flames that result can be fanned into anger and resentment, but almost as often, it seems, amazing things happen when good ideas go viral.

        A very popular group on Facebook is called “Saline County Happenings and Memories.” Its 5800 members share old photos, recall their childhood, and even keep in touch on current events. Frequent topics range from what “used to be” in a certain location to “what they’re building” on a particular spot. It is a healthy group, well moderated so that the discussions don’t stray to unpleasant or off topic subjects.
        What is really fun is that when the right people see the posts, old photos get identified, lost and found items are returned to rightful owners. A good time is had by all.
        Recently, a seemingly innocent question sparked a plethora of posts with old pictures, ideas for preservation, and even a new Facebook group called “Save the Rowland/Nelson/Smith/Lenz House”. The spark plug of this page is Anthony Rushing, a military veteran, history teacher, and Historic Preservationist.  As a 6thgeneration Saline Countian, he has a personal interest in this property, since his own ancestors are buried in the nearby Nelson cemetery. In Anthony’s words: “I vision it as a structure to promote antebellum yeoman life as well as late 1800’s immigrant life. I think it could be used as a meeting place for anyone as a historical connection to our past.”
What might have been an idle discussion has blossomed into renewed efforts to restore and preserve a treasure that thousands have admired and wondered about on their daily journeys in Saline County.
        The house itself began as a log cabin that was built in the 1830’s, just after Arkansas became a state.  It was continuously inhabited, remodeled to suit each owner, and has watched history passing by its front porch for many generations. It acquired its most recent façade just before the turn of the 20th century, and has remained much the same on the outside for more than 100 years. The last inhabitants lived here in 1992, and with the help of “Coach” Rushing’s students, it was restored during that decade, but is now badly in need of another rescue.
        So, what is in store for this monument to our pioneer spirit? The home is already on the National Historic Register, but as the friends of the Palace Theater in Benton learned, that doesn’t always count for much. Rushing has been in contact with folks that know what to do. He has already talked to Arkansas Historic Preservation, and even some experts on log buildings, who have their own television show called “Barnwood Builders.” Funds will be needed, a lot of sweat equity will be expended, and there are legal ownership matters to be dealt with.
        The fledgling group is planning a face to face gathering, and then I am sure things will start happening quickly. The recent success of the group who is developing the old Wagon Bridge across the Saline River has inspired this new effort. If you are interested in becoming actively involved in preserving our area’s heritage, watch for future announcements about ways that you can help. Since this column only appears monthly, a better way to keep up with the developments will be to watch the Facebook groups mentioned above. If you are not a social media aficionado, send me snail mail in care of Ouachita Life, or email me at jennycarlisle@sbcglobal.net.
        An old TV show had a popular quote that said “I love it when a plan comes together.” When this discussion first started, someone posted a negative comment that said the reason the old house was not being kept up was “No-one around here cares.” That, my friends, is not true. The gauntlet has been thrown. We do care. Now, it is time to put action with our words. The future in the Ouachita region is growing brighter all the time.

        
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