News Releases

1880s Powhatan School to Reopen as Park Attraction

Article follows the photos:
  • 1888 Courthouse at Powhatan

  • 1888 Courthouse at Powhatan

September 18, 2001

1880s Powhatan School
To Reopen as Park Attraction

By Craig Ogilvie, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

POWHATAN -- The restored Vernacular Queen Anne-style schoolhouse that served this historic Black River port town for almost 70 years will be dedicated as the newest addition to Powhatan Courthouse State Park on Sept. 29, during the ninth annual Pearlfest celebration.

The circa-1889 school building is the fifth restoration project to become part of the state facility, according to Park Superintendent J.J. Meals. Other buildings include the 1888 Lawrence County Courthouse, 1873 county jail, the pre-Civil War era Ficklin-Imboden log cabin and the 1887 Telephone Exchange office.

Established as the Powhatan Male and Female Academy, the institution eventually became part of the county school system and served until closed by consolidation in 1956. The structure has its original twin front entrances, one for male students and the other for females. The 2,000-sq. ft. main floor was divided into two equal classrooms by a massive pocket (or sliding) door, which may be the largest of its type in the state.

Until the academy went co-ed about 1913, the "sliding wall" remained in place, except during special school and community events. After the boys and girls started attending classes together, the "wall" was retained to divide the upper and lower grades. Reportedly, Powhatan Academy had the first factory-made student desks in Lawrence County.

Nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the school stood vacant for decades along State Highway 25, about two city blocks from the Powhatan Courthouse Museum, centerpiece of the state park. The Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council provided funding for restoration of the school. Other recent and planned improvements to the park are being funded by the state's Amendment 75 conservation tax program.

When finished, the school will feature a re-created classroom on one side of the building and exhibits on the other. The classroom will have student desks identical to the originals, a classic century-old teacher's desk and chair, an 1899 relief map of the United States, a lithograph of George Washington, two 45-star U.S. flags, wood-burning heating stoves, water pail with dipper and a rare 1913 suspended globe. Blackboards and educational charts will share the wall space with ten large windows.

"The builders were dependent on natural lighting to illuminate these rooms," Supt. Meals notes. "It would be decades before electricity became common in this part of the state." Living history demonstrations are also planned for the restored classroom.

Exhibits planned include school-related items donated by former teachers and students, text and reference books, listing of teachers, photographs and the story of the school's restoration. "We are still in need of items that help tell the story of this school," Supt. Meals explains. "Report cards, photos, certificates and other memorabilia would help make a fine exhibit even better." Persons wishing to donate items for the school exhibits may contact the park office.

The school will be dedicated at 1 p.m., a highlight of this year's Pearlfest celebration at Powhatan. Speakers will include State Rep. Don House; Lloyd Clark, president of the Lawrence County Historical Society; Richard Davies, executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism; and State Parks Director Greg Butts.

The one-day festival honors the freshwater pearl and shell industries that thrived along the Black and White rivers during the late 1800s and early 20th century. Scheduled programs and events include gospel music from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., clog-dancing demonstrations, Civil War exhibit, quilt show (at the historic Methodist Church building), a Native American camp, blacksmith and soap-making demonstrations, corn grinding, weaving and butter-making displays.

Other activities will include games for children, a pearl/shell demonstration, an exhibit of early telephones and radios, plus a display on natural herbs. All park restorations will be available for tours throughout the festival day.

For more information, call the park at (870) 878-6794 or visit


Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"