Washington County Arkansas Genealogical Society
Mark your calendars for November 20th! Russell P. Baker, CA, Archival Manager of the Arkansas History Commission and one of Arkansas’ most popular genealogical speakers, will be conducting an all day seminar on family history research. The event consists of four mini seminars:
• “Over the Mountain Men”: Genealogical Research in Tennessee
• “Echoes of the Old South”: African American Family History Research
• “I wannabe a Cherokee”: Exploring your Native American Roots
• “Looking at the Total Picture”: Reconstructing the Frontier Society
Cost for attendance is $30 pre-paid and $35 at the door for reservations made after November 15, 2004. Ticket price covers all sessions, lunch and snack. This is going to be an exciting day for all. It is being held in the historic Washington County Courthouse in a restored courtroom that is still in use today. The catered lunch will be hosted in a smaller courtroom.
For those of you who have not had the pleasure of attending one of Mr. Baker’s seminars you are in for a real treat. A native Arkansan, he is an archivist, historian, lecturer and author. In 1967 he received a BA in History from the University of Arkansas and an MA in public History at the U of A-Little Rock.
Since 1970, he has been employed at the Arkansas History Commission and State Archives in Little Rock and is currently that institution’s archival manager. Over the years, he has taught history and archival courses at several local colleges and universities, and he is the author of a number of published history and genealogical works.
He has contributed articles on southern history and religion to local, regional and national publications and is a frequent lecturer on modern family research theory at genealogical conferences. He is a member of the Society of American Archivists and the Academy of Certified Archivists, having been a Certified Archivist since 1989. He is a life member of the Arkansas Genealogical Society, serving on its board for over three decades and is a past president.
The Washington County Arkansas Genealogical Society is very pleased to be able to bring Mr. Baker to Fayetteville for this event, and we know that everyone is looking forward to attending.
At the September meeting of WCAGS, Ann Sugg, a fifth generation Washington County resident and current president of the Washington County Historical Society, shared a program with our membership about the history and evolvement of the Historical Society. The Society was founded in 1951 holding quarterly meetings in historic locations around the county and featuring programs of historic interest. As the Society grew, they began to accumulate original documents, records and objects of historical interest. In the early years the Society, run by volunteers, officed in donated space on East Street. Soon, however, they had developed a need for a paid staff. In 1960 they acquired Headquarters House located at 118 E. Dickson, the first of 3 owned properties, and moved their records, documents and other objects to that location.
The Society, in the beginning, was staffed by volunteers and then expanded to having paid employees and is now, once again, staffed only by its many volunteers. Over the years a decision was made to concentrate on historic interpretation of properties and publications and to discontinue providing a research facility for archival records and documents. There were other organizations in the area better equipped to handle those responsibilities and to protect the items from damage or loss. The original records and documents are now housed in the Special Collections Department of the University of Arkansas Library. The photo collection is at the Shiloh Museum in Springdale, and the genealogical records are at the Fayetteville Public Library.
In 1951 the first editions of the Society’s journal, Flashback, written by Walter J. Lemke of the University of Arkansas Journalism Department, were mimeographed and stapled together. Today the bound, quarterly journal is a widely used historical and genealogical reference resource for the Northwest Arkansas area. All prior copies of Flashback have been indexed and may be found at the Fayetteville Public Library. It is the goal of the Society to eventually place the Flashback journals on line at the WCHS website. In 1995 the newsletter, Flashforward, was started to notify members of upcoming events. The Society also publishes periodical bulletins on a variety of subjects of local interest. These bulletins are listed on the website and can be ordered individually. There have also been a number of books published through the years.
Today the Washington County Historical Society owns three historic properties representing 3 distinct eras of Washington County history – the Civil War years, the days of the Indian removal (“The Trail of Tears”), and the territorial days prior to statehood.
The Tebbetts’ House is also known as The Headquarters House. This antebellum home, built in 1853, stands at its original location. Much of the Battle of Fayetteville was, literally, fought on its surrounding property. The Jonas Tebbetts family was a prominent family in Fayetteville, but they were Union sympathizers and were very outspoken in their support. During the war, Confederate General Ben McCullough had Mr. Tebbetts arrested and taken to Ft Smith to be tried and hanged “after he had driven the Federals back into Missouri from Pea Ridge”. General McCullough’s death on that battlefield released Tebbetts from prison. The family moved to Kentucky, and although they visited after the War, they did not move back to the area. The name Headquarters House comes from the fact that both Union and Confederate armies used the home as a “headquarters” during their respective occupations of Fayetteville.
The Ridge House is located at 230 W. Center. The home was built prior to 1839 and is at its original location. John Ridge was a Cherokee leader who was killed by other Cherokees in a “blood execution” near Maysville in 1839. His widow, Sarah, fled to Fayetteville with her children and purchased this home.
The Law Office of Archibald Yell was moved by the Society to its present location on the grounds of the Headquarters House from the Yell ancestral home of Waxhaws. The law office is believed to have been built prior to 1836 on the grounds of Waxhaws, Yell’s estate, located west of College Avenue in what is now south Fayetteville. Archibald Yell was a territorial judge (appointed by President Andrew Jackson), a prominent lawyer, the first US Senator for the State of Arkansas and its second Governor.
In addition to maintaining the historic properties, the Society stages an annual commemoration of the Battle of Fayetteville in April, presents distinguished service awards to worthy citizens in October, operates Heritage School for 10 –17 year old students during the summer and hosts an annual ice cream social on the Headquarters House grounds in August. In June 2003 the Society provided moral support for the acquisition of Jonas Tebbetts’ journals from an E-bay auction for donation to Special Collections at the University of Arkansas Library.
If you would like to know more about The Washington County Historical Society, please contact them through their website washcohistoricalsociety.org or headquartershouse.org.
This question has been asked many times. So, in case you didn’t know, here is the answer. Fayetteville is a town that is built around a square. In most county seat towns with a square the courthouse sets in the center of the square. Not so in Fayetteville. While it is a beautiful square, with landscaped flowerbeds sparkling with lights at Christmas time and bustling with vendors on market days, the Historic Washington County Courthouse does not set in the middle of it. Why?
The first courthouse was built in 1829 on what is now Block Street, very close to the current town square. It was a crude log house, 20 x 20 feet, costing $49.75 to build (probably a $.25 reduction on a $50.00 contract). In 1836 the county realized over $6,000 in the sale of Fayetteville townsite, and the county contracted to build a proper brick courthouse at a cost of over $5,000. Records do not disclose whether this first brick courthouse was on the square or not, but it burned prior to 1854. At that time, new contracts were taken to build a second (actually 3rd) courthouse for $6,900. This one was burned during the Civil War. In April of 1868 work began on a new courthouse built in the center of the square and facing all four streets at a cost of $22,500.
In 1904, County Judge, Millard Berry, appointed James H. McIlroy as commissioner to supervise erection of a new courthouse. It was to cost $100,000 and was to be located facing Center Street on College Avenue, two city blocks off the square! It took over a year to complete. This historic courthouse, with its clock which still works, and its bell tower is a well-known landmark for the city of Fayetteville. Today it holds a working courtroom and the Washington County Archives. In the 1990’s the current Washington County Courthouse was built at the corner of Dickson Street and College Avenue in sight of it’s historic predecessor.
What happened to the 1868 Courthouse in the center of the square? In 1905 it was torn down and the square was made into a public park until the ground was deeded back to the United States for a post office. The old post office building still stands today. No longer used as post office, it is occupied by a restaurant, a coffee shop and private offices. It remains a favorite gathering place of local residents.
Washington County is establishing a Historic Washington County Courthouse Preservation Fund in which it hopes county citizens, corporations and other interested parties will donate funds to go specifically toward restoration purposes. The preservation and restoration of this historic building will help to provide an environment to showcase the history and legacy of Washington County for its citizens and for future generations, will maintain a safe repository for county archives, provide restored courtrooms and balconies for use by the courts and for educational purposes, and provide space throughout the building for displaying exhibits pertaining to the county’s history.
Portions of this article were excerpted from
One Hundred Years of Fayetteville 1828-1928 by William S Campbell
Dusty Books and Old Papers
Many times we find an ancestor’s name on an index, such as the index of miscellaneous records found on the WCAGS website. Yea! We found them! They were there! But what does an index really tell us? Not much. Don’t stop there. Take that index information and see what that record says. It may very well give you that little extra bit of information that you have been searching for.
If you have never spent time in an archive, you have missed an exciting experience. The books are old and fragile; they are hand written. Some records are very verbose and sometimes humorous (especially court minutes.) The pages are yellowed with age, but they reach out to you, and you may find yourself reading for hours. But, unlike a novel, these pages carry the story of events in your families’ lives long, long ago. If you haven’t spent time with dusty books and old papers lately, it is time to do so.
The registration form for the Family History Seminar is above. Be sure to take advantage of the prepaid price and register early. In the meantime, happy hunting and y’all take care now, y’hear.