This is the twenty-eighth 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’ll begin at the charming grey house with the white trim and the welcoming porches where we stopped last week. This home was built by Harry Wells (William T. Wells and brother to Mary Phenton and Myrtle Wells) around 1910. Mr. Wells was a businessman who also served in one of the county’s clerk positions for a time. The Wells family members are patriarchs in the history of Monticello and Drew County. Let’s go back and look briefly at this family since the grey house and the next one are tied to them and to the history of Drew County.
The family history in Drew County began in 1846 when brothers William Harrison Wells and David Sloan Wells came here from Maury County, Tennessee. The descendents of both Wells brothers are legendary in the county’s history.
David Sloan Wells settled about eight miles west of Monticello down Barkada Road. He served as sheriff, legislator and businessman in Drew County. David’s descendents include: son, Henry Wallace (H. W.) Wells; grandson, Adolphus Taylor (A. T.) Wells; and granddaughters, Mrs. Henri Wells Mason and Liz Chandler. (There are many others too.)
William Harrison Wells served as the first county judge and was a respected attorney and gentleman farmer throughout his lifetime. The Wells family owned a large farm three miles south of Monticello. When the Fourth District Agricultural School (later Arkansas A&M College and now UAM) was founded, the Wells family gave part of their land for the site of the institution.
Judge Wells’ progeny included William T. Wells, also a judge, attorney and farmer. William T’s children included Harry Wells, Myrtle Wells and Mary Phenton Wells. Mary Phenton married Garvin Cavaness and they built the Garvin Cavaness house that now serves as the Drew County Historical Museum.
Myrtle Wells married Walter Moffatt, Sr., who had been born in Ohio and came to Monticello in 1905. While Mary P. and Garvin Cavaness had no children, Myrtle and Walter Moffatt had four – Walter Jr., Wells, Minnie May and Pattie Phenton Moffatt.
As stated earlier, brother Harry built the charming grey house where we began this week. However, its history is related to the next house – the Moffatt house – so let’s skip the grey house for the moment and look closer at the history of the Moffatt house.
This charming wood frame home is the oldest home in Monticello. Dr. William Preston Ragland practiced medicine in Drew County from 1858 until his death in 1886. As the legend goes, he started the house in 1859 for himself, his wife and their children, but never lived in it. When the Civil War began, Dr. Ragland went “off to war”. Dr. Ragland’s wife died while he was away and the children were sent to live with various relatives and others. When he returned to Monticello, the broken-hearted doctor gathered his family but could not bear to live in the house he’d built for his deceased wife. Dr. Ragland settled his practice near Wilmar and lived there until his death.
The Wells family purchased the Ragland home and newlyweds Myrtle and Walter Moffatt, Sr. raised their family there. Ms. Pattie (Moffatt) lived her entire life there, I believe. Three of the four children, excluding Wells, lived there together from 1977 until their deaths. Everyone who knew them knew the Wells family as “the salt of the earth” people.
The house itself, with its hipped roof, tall windows and porch held up by the large square columns exudes an air of welcome that is only bested by the warmth and friendliness of its former inhabitants.
The house once sat farther north in the middle of a large lot shared with the grey house today. When brother Harry Wells decided to build his home in 1910, the Moffatt house was moved south to its present location and Mr. Wells built the attractive grey and white home. Today Mr. and Mrs., Paul Becker own and lovingly maintain the house.
Finally we come to the last “space” on the block. Long ago the home of Mrs. Effie Daniel Hyatt sat there on the corner. Later, it became the home of George Campster. Now the lot holds the Monticello office of the Arkansas Employment Security Division.
This concludes our look at the east side of the block of South Main between College and Bolling. I have likely left something, or someone, out. For that, I apologize. I hope you have found this story as fascinating as I have!