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OPINION | REX NELSON: Caddo and the captain

by Rex Nelson | October 13, 2021 at 3:43 a.m.

Once my parents were no longer living, my sister and I sold the family home. That meant I had to do something I had never done--find a place other than the house at 648 Carter Road to spend the night when visiting Arkadelphia.

Returning several years ago for a high school reunion, I knew where I wanted to stay. I even knew the room in which I would spend the night. The Captain Henderson House, located where Henderson Street meets U.S. 67, had attracted my attention since childhood. The 9,000-square-foot mansion, which was privately owned when I was a boy, seemed both grand and mysterious.

In late 2000 and early 2001, the home was restored to its original state by Henderson State University. It became one of the finest bed-and-breakfast inns in the South. It was even featured in the March 2005 edition of Southern Living.

I vowed that if I ever stayed there, it would be in the upstairs room with a balcony looking east toward the Ouachita River and Ouachita Baptist University's campus. While back for the reunion, I rented that room and spent my mornings that weekend drinking coffee and reading the newspaper on the balcony.

HSU, whose financial problems were discussed in Sunday's column, later closed the inn. The house needed extensive upgrades, and there was no money in the university budget. To the rescue came the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council. Full disclosure: I once served on ANCRC.

The council was established by the Legislature in 1987 to invest the state's real estate transfer tax proceeds to protect and maintain state-owned historic sites and natural areas. It's a wonderful use of those funds.

A $586,688 grant from ANCRC allowed the school to address such issues as deteriorated roofing, gutters, wooden porch columns, siding, porch flooring and trim. Repairs also were made to an adjacent carriage house.

On a Thursday morning in September, I toured the house with Rita Fleming, HSU's vice president of finance and administration, to see the renovations. Fleming, who was hired two years ago to get the school's finances back in order, is now looking for a private operator to run the bed-and-breakfast inn.

There are eight guest rooms with six upstairs and two downstairs. The first floor also has an office, commercial kitchen, parlor, music room, sunroom, conference room and dining room.

Work was completed in August. In addition to housing overnight guests, Fleming also would like to host weekly luncheons to allow more people to see the home's interior woodwork and other features.

About 1870, Charles Christopher Henderson's mother moved to Arkadelphia to be near her brother and sister. Henderson, who had been born in Scott County in 1850, moved there in 1879.

"Henderson worked in multiple industries after arriving in Arkadelphia, including cotton and dairies," writes HSU historian David Sesser. "He began investing in timber and sawmills in the early 1880s and became a partner in a number of firms, including Arkadelphia Lumber Co., Nashville Lumber Co. and Brown-Henderson Improvement & Timber Co.

"The investments in timber led to additional interest in 10 railroad companies, including the Memphis, Paris & Gulf Railroad. Henderson also became active in banking in order to finance various projects, serving as president of Elk Horn Bank from 1905-16."

What had begun in 1890 as Arkadelphia Methodist College was renamed Henderson College in 1904 to honor Henderson for his support.

In 1903-04, Henderson transformed a cottage built in 1876 into the current mansion. The house was sold to HSU in 1978, and the school placed a museum inside. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Our next stop on campus is the Caddo Center, a former cafeteria. ANCRC also helped fund the renovation of that building, which was constructed in 1965. The front entrance is now used to exhibit the Hodges Collection, among the greatest collections of Caddo artifacts in existence.

Artifacts were collected during the 1930s and 1940s by Thomas and Charlotte Hodges of Bismarck. The collection of almost 50,000 objects includes everything from ceramic vessels to stone tools that were found mostly in Clark and Hot Spring counties.

The collection was acquired by the Joint Educational Consortium of Arkadelphia in 1977 and has been curated by the Arkansas Archeological Survey's research station at HSU.

According to a survey publication: "Thomas and Charlotte Hodges' interest was shared by Arkadelphia residents Robert Proctor, Vere Huddleston, Richard Reid and Charlie Richardson. In addition to visiting archeological sites and collecting artifacts, these early avocational archeologists left a legacy. They were among the founders of the Arkansas Historical Association and early version of the Arkansas Archeological Society.

"Thomas and Charlotte Hodges were active participants in early Caddo conferences, and they and Huddleston wrote several articles for publication. Proctor donated his collection to HSU's museum. ... Since they were visited by Thomas and Charlotte Hodges and Vere Huddleston more than 75 years ago, many of the Caddo mounds along the Ouachita River have been washed away by flooding, plowed for farming and bulldozed for construction."

The university plans to move its admissions, financial aid and housing offices into the building, creating a consolidated center for student services. Once the Henderson House reopens as a bed-and-breakfast inn, the Hodges Collection can serve as an attraction within walking distance.


Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.

Print Headline: Caddo and the captain

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