Sheilla Lampkin

This is the sixteenth in a series of columns by State Rep. Sheilla Lampkin about historic sites in Monticello. Lampkin is active in historic preservation in Arkansas and has received several awards from the Arkansas Historical Preservation Association. She  writes a regular historical column for several area publications.

This week we will continue our tour of Monticello by looking from the town square down the south side of West Gaines Street.

The first building we see is the present municipal building for the city of Monticello. The older section was built in 1934 at a cost of $24,000. The eastern portion including the mayor’s office was added in 1978. Some remodeling for energy efficiency was done during the tenure of former mayor Joe Rogers.

At the rear of City Hall is the present Monticello Fire Department building. Built in 1938, at a cost of $14,000, the fire station originally had two apartments on the second floor.

Monticello’s second city jail once occupied the area where the fire department now sits. The first city jail was located in the northern part of town, but was torn down in 1910 after the second one was built. The second jail had a gallows that was never used. All of this was torn down when a new jail was built inside the present Drew County Courthouse in 1932.

The next building was the old post office. The first post office at Monticello was actually at a place called Dry Ridge, presumably at the old town site of Rough and Ready. This downtown structure was built as a new post office in 1936. Currently, the building houses the Monticello Economic Development Commission, Monticello District court and the code enforcement officer. The old post office was sold to the city of Monticello when a newer post office was built on North Hyatt Street. The new post office was constructed during the Clinton administration.

The corner spot on the next block that is now a parking lot once belonged to the offices of the Advance Monticellonian. Mr. C. C. Whittington owned the business then. Later the Whittington family moved the paper offices to the south side of the square. After the fire on the south side of the square in 1964 nearly destroyed the newspaper, it was sold to the Frank Jackson family of McGehee. The Jacksons moved the business to its North Main location where it sits today. Mr. Jackson owned the paper for years until he sold it to a newspaper conglomerate owned by Smith Newspapers, Inc. of Fort Payne, Alabama.

Moving along the street the next structure remembered was a narrow two-story building where the old fire house was located. The building sat on part of the present Commercial Bank parking area and is remembered as being so narrow that only the fire truck could fit into it. There was an apartment upstairs where Mr. Dodd Handley resided. He was, more or less, the fire chief.

Looking even further back in time, the Monticello Fire Department was “officially” begun in 1910 with a push cart for a truck. The first fire truck was bought in 1920. E. B. McCullough was the first fire chief.

Now we come to the area that is now the site of the Commercial Bank Community Room. This area was originally a Standard Oil gas station. Standard Oil later on changed its name to Esso and years later changed it to Exxon. The station was torn down when Commercial Bank bought the property after 1970.

The next area, now a parking lot, was once the site of a private residence belonging to a Mrs. Bond, a relative of former municipal judge and city alderman Clifton Bond.

Now we come to the property formerly occupied by a computer and electronics business that is now a beauty shop. This property was once the location of Stephenson’s Funeral Home. Before its funeral home days the property held a house belonging to a Mr. Danulea. The two-story home sitting on a lower level of the hill was once owned by Mr. Charles Porter. Later it became the residence of the Stephensons of the mortuary business.

Now we come to the building that today houses several governmental offices at the bottom of a hill. According to my good friends’ memories, a private residence once owned by a Mr. Charrier stood there. I am told that he was known as Mr. “Cherry” because the French pronunciation of his name was “foreign” to most of his acquaintances.

At the top of the hill there was an auto wrecking yard and small business. An old small white building still sits beside the government office building that now occupies the site.

The last building before Hyatt Street is also now an office building. Formerly the state revenue office was there. Hospice, Inc. and others have offices there now. Before these offices were built, a private residence stood on the site.

This concludes our hasty tour of the south side of West Gaines from Church Street to Hyatt Street. I want to thank my wonderful friends, Mrs. Henri Mason and Charles Jackson, for sharing their memories and invaluable knowledge with us.

Merry Christmas to one and all!