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Russellville’s historic Latimore Tourist Home to be moved this summer

Russellville’s Latimore to be restored by Bill Bowden | June 26, 2022 at 9:58 a.m.
This building, shown in May 2012, once housed The Latimore Tourist Home in Russellville. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and was one of the places African-Americans could stay during the Jim Crow era in the South. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)

Plans are in the works to move the Latimore Tourist Home in Russellville 2½ blocks down the street to a new location this summer.

Then, hopefully, the historic but dilapidated house can be restored.

"Truly this is a last-ditch effort, and I think it is going to be really successful," said Betsy McGuire, vice president of the board of Friends of the Latimore Tourist Home, a nonprofit organization that has raised $167,000 to help save the structure.

Built around the turn of the 20th century, the two-story Latimore house operated as a tourist home from the late 1930s until the 1970s.

"Operated by Eugene Latimore and Cora Wilson Latimore and their daughter Anna, the home offered short-term accommodations for African Americans, many of whom worked on the railroad," according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. "Eugene Latimore also worked as a veterinarian."

During the Jim Crow era, Black people traveling through the South in particular could have trouble finding places to eat, sleep, buy gasoline or get a haircut. Victor H. Green and Co. of New York City began publishing The Negro Motorist Green Book in 1936, a listing of businesses that were friendly to Black customers.

"With the introduction of this travel guide in 1936, it has been our idea to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable," read the introduction to the 1949 Green Book.

The Latimore home was listed in annual editions of the Green Book published from 1939 through 1966 and was the only lodging listed for Black travelers between North Little Rock and Fort Smith from 1948 through 1966. Publication of the Green Book was suspended during World War II but resumed in 1947.

"Carry your Green Book with you ... You may need it!" read the words on the front of the books.

Two Arkansas cities -- Little Rock and Hot Springs -- stood out in the Green Books for having many businesses that accommodated Black travelers. Arkadelphia, Camden, El Dorado, Hope, Pine Bluff and Texarkana also had several businesses that catered to Black travelers in the mid-20th century.

But it wasn't that way in the Arkansas River Valley between Fort Smith and North Little Rock, based on listings in the Green Books.

Russellville's Latimore house is at 318 S. Houston Ave., a few blocks south and west of U.S. 64, the main highway from Little Rock to Fort Smith before the construction of Interstate 40.

New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church, which owns the property where the Latimore house is currently located, needs that lot for expansion, McGuire said.

Richard Harris became mayor of Russellville in 2019 and soon began looking for a solution for the Latimore house.

"If the house were not of historic significance the city would have condemned the house by now and probably razed it," he said.

Harris said the church wasn't interested in preserving the home where it is, so he asked the clergy if they would donate the house to the city so it could be moved. Eventually, they agreed to do that.

Another church -- The Bridge Church -- has donated two vacant lots at the relocation site, McGuire said. She said additional adjacent land may be purchased.

The new site is at the corner of Houston and Fifth streets, across Houston Street from James School Park, once the site of a school for Black students.

On Friday, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program announced 41 statewide grants, including a $34,667 grant to help with Phase I of the Latimore Tourist Home project.

"Phase I is to get the home moved," McGuire said. "Then the hard work of restoration and rehabilitation will take place."

Phase I is estimated to cost $77,000, according to the grant application. Besides the $20,000 cost of physically moving the house, Phase I includes $25,000 to purchase additional property, $10,000 for engineering and site preparation, $12,000 to rebuild the original foundation at the new location and $10,000 for other expenses including installing utilities.

McGuire said she hopes they can physically move the house sometime in August.

She said Phase II, the restoration, may cost $1 million, so fundraising efforts will continue. Many businesses are donating their time and expertise.

"The community really seems to have embraced this project with open arms," McGuire said.

She said it has been a public-private partnership, and the new Latimore house site will become city property.

McGuire, who is also chair of the Russellville Historic District Commission, said she doesn't know exactly how the house will be used after it's moved and restored, although it could serve as a meeting or event center.

"I'd like to see them turn it into a bed-and-breakfast and put it on the Civil Rights Trail," Harris said. "I think it would be a big draw for the city of Russellville."

The grant application included five letters of recommendation. One was from Corliss Williamson, a Russellville native and former NBA basketball player and coach, who wrote that he was "born and raised in the James School Park community."

"I attribute a lot of my personal and career success to the community where I was raised," Williamson wrote. "Growing up, the life lessons I attained at the James School Park were invaluable. My peers and I gained a sense of community pride and the honor of representing it. The Latimore home would serve as a bridge to connect today's youth to the past. It would be a historical landmark and representation of the story of our Black community in Russellville."

In his letter, Randy Hendrix, president of the board of Friends of the Latimore Tourist Home, wrote that he is a lifelong resident of the neighborhood. He remembered when the roads were dirt and there was no park.

"We are proud of the history that we have in our community, and the Latimore home is a part of that history that must be saved, not only for the memory of the Latimores but for what they stood for, not only for our community but city, and not only for our city, for our state," Hendrix wrote.

Victor Green died in 1960 and the Green Book ceased publication in 1967, shortly after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened public facilities (at least in theory) to all Americans.

A 2018 movie called "Green Book" brought attention to the historic travel guides.

The 2 was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

In 2018, Preserve Arkansas listed the Latimore house as one of the state's Ten Most Endangered Properties: https://bit.ly/3yjbw0F.

To view the Green Books online, go to https://on.nypl.org/2DoXpO5.

For more information on Eugene and Cora Latimore, see https://bit.ly/3HVRMn5.


Print Headline: Russellville’s historic Latimore Tourist Home to be moved

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