Historic Russellville ‘Green Book’ house moved to new location

Latimore structure to be restored, relocated again to new site

The Latimore Tourist Home in Russellville, featured in several editions of the “Green Book” as a tourist home for Black travelers from the late 1930s until the mid-1960s, was moved 2½ blocks down the street on Wednesday. More photos at arkansasonline.com/106house/. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

The historic Latimore Tourist Home in Russellville was moved 2½ blocks down the street Wednesday to a temporary location before it's eventually placed on a new foundation at the corner of South Houston and West Fifth streets.

The move was necessary to save the two-story house, which was built around the turn of the 20th century, and was featured in several editions of the "Green Book" as a tourist home for Black travelers from the late 1930s until the mid-1960s.

"Today was a huge milestone in this project moving forward," said Betsy McGuire, vice president of the board of Friends of the Latimore Tourist Home, a nonprofit organization.

Combs House Moving of Ratcliff moved the house, while police, street department workers and utility workers assisted by trimming trees or doing whatever else was needed, said McGuire.

"They started the engine and tooted the horn -- a sign they were getting ready to roll," she said. "Watching that thing move out after it had sat there for 100 years -- they're pulling that house down the street. It's much larger than what you think it is. It was overlapping the street by 15 feet."

After three hours, the house was in its temporary location, where it'll remain for six months to a year while site work is done, utilities are installed and a new foundation is built. The permanent location for the house will be across Houston Street from James School Park, once the site of a school for Black students.

"I am proud of the efforts by all those that made this move possible," said Russellville Mayor Richard Harris. "This is the first big step in ultimately restoring this home to its original beauty. Future generations will be able to see history and learn from our past."

Some restoration work can begin on the house while it's in the temporary location, said McGuire. The house sat empty for years.

After it's restored, the house could serve as a stop along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, she said. It may also be used as a meeting or event center.

"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. ... The house operated as a tourist home even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ceasing operations between 1970 and 1976."

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. It 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.

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 Bridge Church donated two vacant lots at the site that will become the permanent home of the Latimore house, said McGuire. Additional adjacent land may be purchased.

The Latimore house was previously located at 318 S. Houston Ave. on land owned by New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church. But that church needed the lot for expansion.

McGuire said the city purchased the house for $1.

The Latimore Tourist Home 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.

More information on Eugene and Cora Latimore is available at https://bit.ly/3HVRMn5.

  photo  People watch from their balconies as the Latimore Tourist Home in Russellville is moved down the street on Wednesday. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)