This is the twenty-sixth 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 look at the east side of South Main Street between East Jackson and East College streets. We will begin at the site of the present First United Methodist Church. I have been unable to determine the exact type of building that formerly occupied the space where the church stands today although I suspect it may have been a family home.
That said, I have learned some interesting facts about the church that I’d like to summarize for readers. Organized in 1852, this early United Methodist congregation built the first church structure in Monticello in 1853 on their land deeded to the church by Wiley Crook. This lot sat north of our present library on the fenced lot where a handsome, two-story red brick apartment building rests today. The organizer and first minister for the church congregation was Reverend H. R. Withers.
In 1890, this first church building was torn down and a new one was built on the same site. I understand that it was a large white wooden structure with beautifully stained glass windows. In 1911, the building was torn down and a new building was built at the present site of the church. This new church resembled a southern plantation home much like Jefferson’s Monticello.
When the congregation decided to build a new church in 1950, the educational building was constructed first. Then the old sanctuary was removed and the new sanctuary completed in 1954. Later remodeling projects put all facilities under one roof and created parking areas. Of course the most recent building project added the beautiful new Family Life center we see today.
The church itself is a grand structure highlighted by its tall sanctuary, its taller bell tower and its stained glass windows. The rich wooden glow of the sanctuary and the light radiating through the stained glass windows give the sanctuary a warm, almost ethereal ambiance.
In the present parking area immediately south of the church, there may have been a two-story red brick parsonage at one time. Next to the parsonage stood the family home of the Ed Wells family. The Bill Edwards family also lived there for a time. Around 1969 the Wells home was sold by a Mr. Suitt. This home and the old parsonage area were turned into a parking lot for the church.
Moving south along the street 75-plus years ago, one might come to the large two-story white-frame home of Dr. Stanley Matthews Gates. A native of Arkansas City, Dr. Gates practiced medicine in Monticello until the advent of WWII. When the war ended, Dr. Gates did not return to Monticello. Instead, he went to work for the Veterans Administration.The Gates house then became the home of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Mason (Mrs. Henri) until they developed the Mason Hill residential section and moved therein.
In the general area of the Piggly Wiggly store, a home once sat that belonged to Mrs. Mary Posey, stepmother of local businessman John Posey. John Posey was the son of Andy Posey, who once owned the Model Shoe Store in Monticello. John was a successful businessman who was involved in a variety of enterprises, including the sale of the Mason Hill property to the Carl Masons.
When Bob Leech moved his Sunflower Grocery from East Gaines to South Main Street, the Posey house was removed and a new Sunflower Grocery store was built on the site. Later the store became a Piggly Wiggly grocery.
After the Sunflower/Piggly Wiggly store came to South Main, the Gates/Mason house was moved to Glenwood Drive in the Vivian Manor subdivision. I can remember the site of the big house being slowly lifted and moved down South Main Street. Its former site became part of an expanded parking lot.
The parking lot south of Piggly Wiggly was once the location of the 1 ½ story home of Mr. Andrew Baxter, a former owner of The Leader Department Store. The tall ghostly building that still sits facing north on the end of this block began as a Coca-Cola Bottling plant.
Built in the 1930s, the Gothic style building with the cedar shake roof was undoubtedly a beauty in its heyday. Mr. Harry Daroux was its first manager and a Johnny Johnson is remembered as having worked there in some capacity. Many senior citizens recall earlier days when they would come and press their noses against the windows to watch the cokes whirl by on the assembly lines. At some point the building gained an addition.
When a new Coca-Cola Bottling Plant was built on the corner of Gaines and then Arkansas 81 (now U.S. 425 & 278) in the 1960-70s, many smaller businesses operated in the old Coke building. When my husband Damon and I moved to Drew County, Billy Ralph Hunter operated a pharmacy in the old Coke plant building. He moved after a fire damaged the property. In later years many smaller businesses have operated therein, including a church, a pawn shop, a music store, a computer store, a cafe where musicians gathered a few nights a week to play for guests and their own enjoyment, and an accessory shop. Much of the old addition was destroyed by fire a few years ago. However, the brickwork pattern of occasionally protruding bricks still identifies the original part of the building.
Two buildings sit at the rear of the parking lot: a small brown one and a long, white one. Bob Barnes operated a barber shop in the brown building before moving the business to his Bolling Avenue address. The white building once held a few small shops, including a Bible bookstore and a washateria. Now the two buildings sit alone, all boarded up, with their paint flecking away more and more with each passing season.
Now that we have covered the east side of the block, we will close for this issue and proceed further down South Main next week. Enjoy the spring like weather!