WEST FORK -- A historic building at Devil's Den State Park in Washington County has been restored and is open again after a fire nearly destroyed the store and cafe three years ago.
"It's on a great spot right there on the lake," said Mason Ellis, project architect. "I don't think it could ever be replaced."
Civilian Conservation Corps
The Civilian Conservation Corps, the “Tree Army” of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, began building at Devil’s Den State Park in the 1930s during the Great Depression. The area has been designated a National Historic District and holds what has been called the most complete example of CCC park architecture.
Source: Staff report
State park officials never considered razing the Ridge Runner Store and Cafe and replacing it with something new, said Tim Scott, assistant park superintendent. The 1939 building is too important to the park.
Instead, officials decided to improve the cafe and store. It opened in March.
Crews brought back the high ceilings and exposed beams, created a new kitchen, installed windows in the front that are more like the original ones and put in a roof with upgraded insulation, Ellis said. Beams that had deteriorated from rot were repaired.
The building was cleaned, and new electrical wiring was installed.
The Ridge Runner was closed after an electrical fire burned through the kitchen ceiling and churned smoke through the attic and vents. Flames shot through part of the roof but a lot of the building survived because of its dense, old lumber, Ellis said.
The state park system spent about $450,000 to restore the Depression-era building, Ellis and Scott said.
The building, along with the nearby Lee Creek dam and other park structures, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in a tree-filled valley near the park's central hub. The park is designated a National Historic District area and has "what has been called the most complete example of CCC park architecture," according to the Arkansas State Parks website.
The park was one of many that put young men, ages 18 to 25, to work. About 200 men worked, ate and slept at Devil's Den from 1933 until 1942, Scott said. They used local materials, including oak and rocks from local quarries, to build cabins, flagstone trails and rock culverts, Scott said.
About 20 original buildings are left at Devil's Den, along with remains of structures almost vanished. Only a handful of the CCC men who worked at Devil's Den are alive, Scott said. Some of them gather at the park for reunions.
Part of the park's allure is its CCC history, which is what makes the building so valuable, Ellis said.
"I think people came to appreciate those old structures and the history associated with those," Ellis said. "It's more an asset now than a few decades ago."
On Memorial Day weekend, at least 90 people came to the cafe and hundreds to the store, said Iris Evans, cafe cook. More people are at Devil's Den than the population of West Fork or Winslow on any given weekend, Scott said.
Even before the fire, officials had been considering renovating. A remodeling project in the 1970s put in a lowered ceiling, removed old windows and did away with the cafe's French doors. The fire sped up the renovation timeline, said Ellis.
The building is better now than before, Ellis and Scott said.
Darlene Davis, of New Orleans, who was visiting Devil's Den for the first time with her husband, stood inside the store and gazed up at the high ceiling with its painted, exposed oak beams. She said she couldn't tell there ever had been a fire in the building. There are no fire marks or smells. The building and park are beautiful, she said.
"I love it here," Davis said.
A diner (left) eats last week in the outdoor dining area of the Ridge Runner Store and Cafe at Devil’s Den State Park.
Metro on 06/18/2018
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