SPRINGDALE -- For sale: 160-year-old barn that served as a horse stable for the longest stagecoach line in history.
Later this week, the barn will go up for sale, along with an 1870s house on the original site of Fitzgerald Station and a 1971 house that's also on the 2.15-acre lot.
The Fitzgerald farmstead's history dates back to before Arkansas became a state in 1836. An inn and tavern on the property was a way station for stagecoaches, the Trail of Tears and Civil War soldiers.
The previous owners, who tried to preserve the buildings, deeded the property back to Arvest Bank in April.
"If there's anybody out there who has a passion for a piece of history, it would be nice to hear from them soon," said Charlie Davis, a real estate agent with Crye-Leike in Fayetteville, which is handling the sale.
Davis said Friday that he wasn't sure what the asking price will be. The property was appraised last year for a total value of $111,950.
Preservationists are concerned that the new owners will tear the barn down to make way for commercial development along Old Wire Road, which is also Arkansas 265.
"Industrial plants have begun to encroach into this area," according to the barn's 2003 nomination for the National Register of Historic Places.
"I think you could make a solid argument that that is the most endangered barn in the state right now," said Rachel Patton, executive director of Preserve Arkansas, a nonprofit historic preservation advocacy association. "There are not that many of these what we call witness structures that were there during that time period left. I can't think of another barn that is more significant or more endangered."
The barn was built by crews working for John Butterfield, who from 1858 to 1861 ran a stagecoach operation carrying mail and passengers from the Mississippi River to California.
The Springdale barn is one of the few original structures left that was part of the 2,812-mile Butterfield Overland Express.
Built using native stone for the walls, the barn's original wood shake roof was destroyed by fire and replaced with a metal one, according to the National Register nomination. Glenn Jones, a former* Benton County historic preservation commissioner, said much of the wooden interior of the barn is original.
"If anything in Washington County is going to be saved, it should be this barn," he said.
The barn was 125 feet south of Fitzgerald Station on the old Military Road from Springfield, Mo., to Fort Smith.
John Fitzgerald Sr. and his wife, Mary, had moved their family from Alabama to the Springdale farmstead in the late 1820s or early 1830s, wrote Susan Young for The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.
A detachment of Cherokee Indians passed by Fitzgerald Station in 1839 as part of an exodus known today as the Trail of Tears, she wrote.
According to a plaque outside the two-story house on the Fitzgerald farmstead, the Butterfield stagecoach ran the route twice weekly. The trip took 25 days, cost $200 per passenger, and there were 140 stations along the way.
Jones said 12 horses were kept on the Fitzgerald property so fresh horses would be ready to replace the animals that had been pulling the stagecoach.
The Butterfield Overland Express was a major factor in the settlement and development of Arkansas and the American West before the Civil War, according to The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.
Branches of the Butterfield route left from Tipton, Mo., and Memphis, heading west. They converged in Fort Smith before making the rest of the journey to San Francisco.
Mark Christ, a spokesman for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, said another surviving Arkansas structure from the Butterfield Overland Express is Potts Inn in Pottsville, which was a station along the stagecoach route between Memphis and Fort Smith.
While preservationists would also like to save the two-story house that replaced Fitzgerald Station, it's mostly the barn they're worried about.
"The major significance of the property is the presence of that Butterfield barn," said Christ.
He said the new owner would be eligible for historic preservation tax credits. Although the property was listed on the National Register in 2003, that's an honorific listing and doesn't protect it from demolition, Christ said.
Allyn Lord, director of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale, said the barn is one of only two National Register structures in the city that were built before 1875.
"You can't save every building," she said, "but let's save a few."
On Friday, Jones toured the barn. He said it needs some work to preserve it. For one thing, ivy growing along one wall needs to be cleared away before the vines penetrate small cracks and damage the wall.
Jones said the 1870s house needs a considerable amount of work, and the 1971 house should be torn down to preserve the historic integrity of the site.
He pointed to Old Wire Road, the route of many famous expeditions, from the Trail of Tears through the Civil War.
"That road right there, I've walked it," said Jones, thinking of those who had walked it before him. "I can feel all of this happening. You're standing right in the middle of some of the most historic happenings in Northwest Arkansas."
Lord said she can feel it too, a spiritual connection with pioneers who had been in these buildings more than a century before.
By 1861, the Butterfield Overland Express employed several thousand people, according to the The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. But the Pony Express, which started in 1860, could carry mail faster and more economically. The Pony Express didn't carry passengers, but stagecoach passenger service proved unprofitable.
Also, in 1861, Western Union's transcontinental telegraph line was completed.
John Butterfield was forced out of the company in 1860 because of debt, but the stage line joined with Wells Fargo and continued to carry mail until 1869, according to The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed, signaling the end of the stagecoach era.
Metro on 07/09/2017
*CORRECTION: Glenn Jones is a former Benton County historical preservation commissioner. In a previous version of this article, his role with the commission was incorrect.
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