This is the twenty-first 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.
Last week we discussed the portion of South Main Street between the corner of South Main and East Gaines Street and the present Drew County Courthouse. This week we’ll look at the courthouse property and continue to Jackson Avenue.
The current Drew County Courthouse is the fourth courthouse to be built for the official business of Drew County since the county’s 1846 beginnings. Since a fairly thorough description of the building of the new courthouse and its history was written by me and published in the 2007 Drew County Historical Journal, I won’t repeat all of that at this time. Multiple copies of the 2007 Journal may be purchased at the museum for $5 each.
For these purposes, I just wanted to share basic information about the property prior to the courthouse construction. As far as I could determine, the Cordell Whittington family owned the property and lived in a modest home there. The Whittingtons also owned and operated the Advance Monticellonian at the time. The property was often locally referred to as “Whittington’s field” because much of it was in a natural state. We have a picture in the museum of a low fencing across the front of the property.
When a part of this property was designated for the new courthouse in 1931 the Whittingtons sold the land to the county for $9,500, reserving the right to move their home and outbuildings from the property. They soon had their house moved further west (behind the courthouse property) and turned it to face Chester Street.
At last all papers were in order, the land acquired and construction of the new courthouse began. It was completed and dedicated on July 4, 1932, at a final cost of $101,400 and still serves Drew County today.
Next to the courthouse today sits the offices of Rabb Construction Company. Earlier, this building served as offices for Farm Bureau Insurance Company before their move to Barkada Road a few years ago. Even earlier, than that, I believe the property may have been owned by Dr. Johnnie Price who formerly had offices and a residence in the last house on that block. That house/building is now owned by Dr. Mark Bryant who had his chiropractic clinic therein until his move to Hyatt Street. The buff brick structure is now offered for sale.
Before we proceed to Jackson Avenue and look at the history of the block between Jackson Avenue and College Avenue, I thought it might be as interesting to you as it was to me to learn about the naming of the streets of Monticello. First, you’ll find it interesting to know the true descriptive differences, or meanings, of the terms “street”, “avenue” and boulevard”.
Historically, streets run north and south, avenues run east and west, and boulevards have raised medians, often landscaped, between the two lines of traffic. Today we often use the terms interchangeably. That said, let’s look at the history behind the name, Jackson Avenue.
Jackson Avenue was named in honor of one James A. Jackson, who once resided on the corner of the intersection of West Jackson Avenue and South Main.
Our James A. Jackson was quite a fellow. He was born in Georgia in 1833. After graduating from Emory College, now Emory University, in 1856, Jackson came to Monticello to practice law. In 1858, he married Lucy Francis Daniel and built the large home at Main and Jackson.
Soon after his arrival in Monticello, Jackson began a career of firsts. In 1858, Monticello incorporated as a city and he was elected its first mayor. When the War Between the States began, Jackson resigned as mayor and organized one of the first infantry units in the state, Company I of the First Arkansas Infantry Regiment. Later, in 1876, the state of Arkansas passed legislation to establish public schools. Soon thereafter the Monticello Free School was established and James A. Jackson became its first president.
Jackson died of heart failure in 1879 at the young age of 46. As you can see, Jackson led a life very active in the growth and development of Monticello. In order to recognize and honor his service to his community, Jackson Avenue forever carries the name of James A. Jackson.
Jackson’s descendents are, and have been, involved in the growth and welfare of our town to this day. The highly-regarded Charles Jackson, prominent retired businessman and local historian, is the grandson of James A. Jackson.
Now let’s skip to the next street and look at the history of College Avenue. Most of you know where the new Drew County Developmental Disabilities Services complex is being built.
You may also remember this is the same site where the old 1910 two-story, red brick Monticello High School and its campus formerly sat. You may also recall that an older high school had its beginnings on the campus of Hinemon University, a school that sat on the site from 1890 to 1910.
In 1890, the West College property was bought and Hinemon University was established as a preparatory school under the leadership of John Hinemon. You may also remember that Hinemon University received a building and its president from Beauvoir College at Wilmar when circumstances forced that institution to close.
In 1899, the Monticello School Board bought the property and in 1910 Hinemon University became Monticello High School.
However, you may be totally surprised to learn that Monticello once had an even earlier institute of higher education at the same College Avenue site. This institution was named Phi Kappa Sigma University. It was established under the leadership of a Professor Barlow in the late nineteenth century. The founding and disbanding dates are uncertain, but it predates Hinemon University.A James Slemmons sold the lots to Professor Barlow and a new educational endeavor was begun. Little else is known about the institution.
You can now readily see the appropriateness of the name choice of College Avenue for the street. You can also surmise that education has always been a high priority in the goals and pursuits of the citizens in this place called Monticello.
Next week we’ll look at the history of South Main between Jackson and College avenues.