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Housing history in a collection of homesOriginally Published August 25, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 24, 2013 at 3:59 p.m.
Janis West, who chairs the Hot Spring County Museum Commission, points out how the 1876 Hughes cabin was reassembled using color codes on each piece after the home was dismantled and moved in 1990. The museum has three historic buildings between Centennial Park and the Hot Spring County Library in Malvern.
Inside the Hot Spring County Museum are displays of the usual slice-of-life things that were used by area residents long ago, such as washboards and a 100-year-old swing. Then there are unusual items, unique to the museum, like an exhibit of the complex geology mined around Magnet Cove, and a collection of dolls dressed as the first ladies of the United States.
But perhaps the most important collection housed at the museum is its collection of houses.
A historic home was saved from demolition to form the museum that opened in 1981, and over the next 28 years, two log cabins were brought to the museum grounds on Third Street in Malvern.
“It started with the Boyle House,” said Janis West, chairwoman of the Hot Springs County Museum Commission. “After the Bicentennial in 1976, there was a committee working on a museum for the Sesquicentennial of the founding of the county. The family offered the house, which originally stood across the street.
“If we had known what it would take to move it and get it ready, I don’t know if we would have taken it, but we are glad we have it now.”
As usual, the first need was money. West said there were funds from the Stella Boyle Smith Trust. Smith was an Arkansas philanthropist who was raised in the house that today is the home of the museum. Business and industry donors, families and local banks aided in the effort to save the home.
“The big event for the fundraising was in 1979 at the stadium at [Malvern] High School,” West said. “We had music from the choir and the band, and people telling the stories about the history of the county.”
The event helped get the community interested in the museum and the Boyle house, but West said the fundraiser’s organizers learned an important lesson for later events.
“We found out you cannot take a huge decorated cake into an open stadium at night in the summer,” she said. “It gets redecorated with bugs.”
The museum commission raised $16,000 to move the house from what is now a bank parking lot to the site where it now stands on Third Street, between the Hot Springs County Library and Malvern’s Centennial Park.
Much of the work was done by volunteers, including the electrical work, which was done by students at Ouachita Technical College, now
College of the Ouachitas.
The white house with large windows facing the roadway houses a large collection of artifacts donated by residents that demonstrate the life, work, play and even the dreams of county residents, dating back to when Spanish explorers first crossed the Ouachita River in the area.
“Since 1981, the museum has provided a storehouse for local, state, national and international history as it pertains to the lives of generations from Hot Spring County,” according to a program published in 2009 for the dedication of one of the two log cabins that are also part of the museum home collection.
Next to join the Boyle house was a log cabin built in 1876.
“The Hughes family offered us the house, and we could not turn it down,” West said. “So we went back to the banks.”
The cabin is made up of two rooms separated by an open walkway running from the front porch to the back porch. On top, across both rooms, is a roof and an attic.
A set of steep stairs led up to the attic. West said she was told the children would sleep up there over the two rooms, with the boys on one side and the girls on the other. At the head of the stairs was a door that could be dropped into place that kept out animals at night, she said.
“The porch was made larger with some old wood, but the posts that hold the roof up are the original,” West said. “We needed a place for music and speakers to stand during events, and it needed to be big enough for a class to stand under the roof to tour the house.”
One room , which was the public room of the house, has a rope bed in a wooden frame, a fireplace and items such as a wash basin, tables and chair to give visitors a look at life in the late 19th century. The other room of the house has been made into a small schoolroom to show students who come on school tours how earlier generations studied.
Inside the house is also a mural, a hand-painted rural scene with mountains and trees. West said the painting used to hang at the entrance of Fields Elementary School near Malvern. The painting was created by Beulah Prickett, who was the principal of the school. At the end of the porch, a church swing, with a cross carved through the
center of the back, hangs from the ceiling.
West said that once again, the Hughes house had to be moved.
“Bob Rabb took it apart and marked the pieces with three colors: blue, yellow and orange,” she said. “The blue connected with the blue parts,” West said, pointing to some of the colored numbers still visible on the 4 outside walls of the Hughes House. “Over the years, the color has faded. I guess I should have refreshed the makings to demonstrate how the house came back together.”
Along with the school and frontier living room, the big porch of the Hughes house is the center of activities during special events and tours. West said there are games, arts and crafts that are available for children while they visit. The Hughes cabin opened on the museum grounds in 1990.
The latest house to be added to the collection was the John C. Gibbs House, built in 1868. The one-room cabin was built by Gibbs and his father. Gibbs and his wife, Serena Alabama Harris Gibbs, moved in after they were married in Arkadelphia.
“The story is that the couple road up from Arkadelphia that day on a single horse with her riding behind her husband,” West said. “They would have 12 children.”
The couple would build a lumber addition to the cabin and later cover the log room with lumber siding. Over time, the house grew to have seven rooms.
The house remained occupied with members of the family, and Purity Hughes George lived in the house until 1977. When the house on Waco Street was being torn down for the construction of of the state sorrectional unit in Malvern, the cabin was rediscovered as layers of the completed house were removed.
“As the house was taken away, down to the original cabin, the chimney collapsed and turned to sand,” West said. “The house was moved to the museum grounds and reconstructed, with the help of volunteers.
“We were told the logs needed to be chinked, and we had no idea what to use. We called on Acme Brick, and they gave us the powder to mix with water, and we did it.”
A large ceremony was held on Oct. 4, 2009, to dedicate the Gibbs Cabin, with a review of the history of the house and music by students from Malvern High School.
Having students take part in the ceremony was important for the members of the museum commission and the volunteers working on the project. West said students from Malvern and other parts of Hot Spring County have been the majority of the visitors to the museum, but school trips have declined in the past two years.
“We want students to see how their forefathers lived,” West said. “I go to the schools in Malvern and Bismarck with programs about the history at the museum.”
Asked if the museum wanted any more old homes or buildings, she said it seems that the area is full.
“But if someone told me about something and it needed to be saved, we would try,” West said.
The museum is open from 12:30-4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday every week. For more information about the museum or to schedule a tour, call (501) 377-4775.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at email@example.com.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.