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WBC Structure Placed on National Register

2/16/2010

One of the oldest buildings at Williams Baptist College has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Commandant’s House, which dates back to World War II, was recently approved for placement on the register by the National Park Service.

Construction on the Commandant’s House was begun in 1942 as a home for the commanding officer of the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School. Shortly after the war, WBC moved its campus from Pocahontas to the former military facility, and the house became the residence of college founder H.E. Williams, who lived there until his death in 1998.

“The Commandant's House represents a connection to a very rich history, a historical narrative that brings together the great events of world history–notably, the Second World War–with local people and places,” said Dr. Kenneth Startup, academic dean and vice president for academic affairs at WBC.

Startup, along with Dr. Brett Cooper, vice president for college relations, pursued the designation on the National Register. The placement was approved initially by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, which then passed the nomination to the National Park Service for approval.

“The designation is a high honor in itself, and it also helps in our efforts to preserve and, ultimately, to restore this house which has so much history attached to it,” said Cooper. “By being on the National Register, the house becomes eligible for grants to help with the preservation.”

The home, which has a natural stone exterior and a double-sided stone fireplace on the inside, sits on the northern edge of the WBC campus. Built in the Colonial Revival style, it has a side-gabled roof, as well as a distinct center gable over the front entrance.

Startup, whose academic background is in history, noted the historical significance of the structure. “For thousands of servicemen from across the nation, the Commandant's House represented the reality that their lives were going to be changed permanently by their wartime experiences and sacrifices. The house also represented the reality that the United States–and Lawrence County–were part of a global story with massive historical implications.”

Following the war, the house became a centerpiece of the growing WBC campus. “Indeed, more than thirty thousand students have pursued higher educational opportunities at the college. And the Commandant's House (or the President's House) was the epicenter of that educational operation for a full half century,” Startup said.

Cooper noted the significance of the Commandant’s House to local history and said he hopes the community will help support the preservation effort.

“If we are fortunate enough to receive grant funds, they will only cover part of the cost, and this will be an expensive endeavor. We will have to find ways of raising the remainder of the needed funds, and the community could be a great help to us there,” he said.

The house has been basically out of use for the past decade, according to Startup and Cooper. They said the college is currently looking at possible uses for the historic home once it is restored.

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